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May 28, 2013

Turkey’s Foreign Policy: No Longer Neutral, Far From a Leader

January 29, 2013 by

Responding to Turkey’s request for protection against a possible attack from Syria, the NATO Council mobilized six Patriot missile batteries to assist Ankara in defending the country’s south-east and south-central provinces. With materiel and personnel support becoming increasingly operational over the coming days, Turkey is further shifting its ‘zero problems with neighbors’ policy in favor of a proactive response to regional issues, which affords Ankara the opportunity to forge a new path in its foreign policy initiatives.

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Copts Represent the Struggle and Power of Minorities in Egypt

December 13, 2012 by

Coptic Christians have long been discriminated against in Egypt. Mohamed Omar/EPA

There was hope for minorities in Egypt during the recent overthrow of the Mubarak regime. Dramatic images of revolution streamed into the West including women handing soldiers flowers, Christians making protective body barriers around Muslims praying in the streets during protests, and food handouts in Tahrir Square.

However, the days of rebel-momentum are over. Minority groups in Egypt have faced uncertainty with the ousting of the previous 30-year leadership, all trying to determine their new place in a rapidly changing political and social landscape.

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From Lisbon to Barcelona: Forgotten EU Instruments

December 13, 2012 by

Flags in front of the European Commission building in Brussels. Photo by Sébastien Bertrand

The cynical and misleading claim currently circulating European Union (EU) policymaker circles is: ‘multiculturalism is dead in Europe’.  Truth be told, the EU has silently handed over one of its most important debates – that of European identity – to the wing-parties for years. In turn, it is no wonder that recent selective foreign policy actions serve to challenge EU-member cohesion.

Europe’s economic unity, its fundamental future realignment as well as the maintenance of its overall public standing are embodied in the credibility of its strategic neighborhood and its enduring partnership. The reinvigoration of the EUs “everything but institutions” transformative powers including the European Neighborhood Policy, primarily that of the Barcelona Process, and the Euro-Med partnership (OSCE) remains a forgotten lever of consequential progress available.

By correlating the hydrocarbons with the present political and socio-economic landscape, scholar Larry Diamond’s research suggests that 22 states in the world, which earn 60 percent or more of their respective GDP from oil (and gas), are non-democratic/authoritarian regimes. All of these nations maintain huge disparities, steep socio-economic cleavages, sharp political inequalities and lasting exclusions, not to mention extremely dismal human rights records.

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The Talented Mr. Morsi

November 22, 2012 by

Egypt’s new president, Mohamed Morsi, must be feeling rather pleased with himself. Having been instrumental in bringing Hamas and Israel to the bargaining table, he has now issued several decrees that he believes will determine the shape of Egypt’s constitution. Intended to safeguard the country’s ‘revolutionary’ future, two of the decrees provide a good indication of what may be expected from Mr. Morsi and his allies going forward – the Islamist Shura Council (the upper house of Egypt’s parliament) cannot be dissolved by any authority, and none of the decisions he has made since being elected, or until a new constitution and parliament are in place, may be reversed.

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The Arab Spring Didn’t Buy the West Many Friends

November 20, 2012 by

Anti-Mubarak rally in Tahrir Square. Photo by Jonathan Rashad

The Arab Spring brought about regime change. At the same time it emboldened a new generation of Salafi Islamists– spurred on by ultraconservative imams who had been muzzled for years.

The Salafi Islamist movement wants to control the governing process. Tunisia was the first to see regime change, followed by Egypt and Libya. Quick action by Algeria’s leader in reducing food prices, and modifying oppressive government actions saved him from the same fate. Morocco also fared better, with the monarchy allowing new parliamentary elections, addressing human rights issues, and giving up some sovereign rights. An Islamist recently won the election in Morocco, and became the prime minister. Salafi Islamists will continue to gain influence in the North African countries. These rulers have temporarily survived, but there is still underlying discontentment that won’t go away. Drought related issues, rising food prices, and high unemployment continue to be major concerns across the Maghreb.

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World Braces for Syrian Trainwreck

November 20, 2012 by

Free Syrian Army fighter Mohammad Jaffar patrols a street in Bustan Al Basha, one of Aleppo’s most volatile front lines, Oct. 22, 2012. Sebastiano Tomada/Sipa USA

According to Russia’s TASS news agency, a grim milestone was achieved in Syria a few days ago: several peaceful demonstrators in Aleppo were massacred.  The twist is that the demonstrators were calling for protection by the Syrian army to end the destruction of the city; they were shot by insurgents.

A single, thinly sourced news item is not needed to demonstrate the profound moral and strategic disarray afflicting the Syrian insurrection as the country totters toward collapse. A handier and more reliable reference point is the abrupt and forcible reorganization of the overseas Syrian opposition at the behest of the United States.

The Syrian National Council (SNC) is now just a junior partner in a broader opposition grouping, the “Syrian National Coalition for Opposition and Revolutionary Forces” (SNCORF). Reportedly, this new group was formed at the insistence of US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton. She is retiring in a few weeks and apparently wished to pull the plug on the ineffectual SNC and replace it with something less overtly Sunni/Muslim Brotherhood-esque. The SNC’s major sponsor, Qatar, and the great minds at the Doha branch of the Brookings Institute responded with the marvel that is SNCORF.

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US Foreign Policy and the Middle East: The Next Four Years

November 11, 2012 by

Syrian fighter during fighting in Aleppo, Syria. Goran Tomasevic/Reuters

Syria

The most immediate problem in the region is the on-going civil war in Syria, a conflict with local and international ramifications. The war—which the oppressive regime of Bashar al-Assad ignited by its crushing of pro-democracy protests— has drawn in Turkey, Lebanon, Jordan, Israel, Iran, and the monarchies of the Persian Gulf, in particular Saudi Arabia and Qatar. The U.S., France and Great Britain are also heavily involved in the effort to overthrow the Assad government.

The war has killed more than 30,000 people and generated several hundred thousand refugees, who have flooded into Turkey, Lebanon, Jordan, and Iraq. It has also badly damaged relations between Turkey and Iran. The former supports the insurrection, the latter supports the Assad regime. Pitting Shite Iran (and to a certain extent, Shite Iraq and the Shite-based Hezbollah in Lebanon) against the largely Sunni Muslim opposition has sharpened sectarian tensions throughout the region.

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Will the Rest of Africa Be the Next Phase of the “Arab” Awakening?

October 23, 2012 by

Tuareg rebels in Northern Mali. Image via Al Jazeera

As the Syrian conflict descends into an abyss, Libya has become a land of battles between security forces and jihadists, and Egypt is struggling to adjust to its evolving version of ‘democracy.’ Little seems predictable — in the short or longer term — in the countries that have to date experienced the Arab Awakening. Little has turned out as had been hoped — by these countries’ people, regional governments, or the larger global community — and optimists about the future are rare.

Now that the genie has been let out of its bottle, there is of course no turning back. It remains to be seen whether events to date will prove to be watershed moments in the Middle East and North Africa’s political history, or simply a transferal of autocratic power from one despotic political force to another. One has to wonder what the real prospects for long-term success are among the heterogeneous countries of the Middle East and North Africa (MENA). A realist would have to say that there is a chance that some of the countries that have experimented with democracy to date will end up looking more like Iran than Turkey.

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Salafi Islamists may gain Political Control (Part II)

October 22, 2012 by

Tuareg fighters in Northern Mali. Image via Magharebia

In the Arab Spring dissidents involved in the uprisings used the U.S. and European allies for financial and military support, which led to regime change, but not to the democratic outcome that everyone had expected. The ultraconservative Salafi Islamists may well become the beneficiaries of our efforts to achieve democratic governance. In the North African countries Salafists are pressing to institute Sharia, the strict Islamic law.

Time will tell if the fragile governments formed to date will succeed, and whether the existing autocratic rulers will survive. If economic changes, needed to improve the poverty conditions in these countries, are not instituted quickly, we can expect more uprisings in which the Salafi Islamists will try to turn the countries into Islamic states.

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Salafi Islamists may gain Political Control (Part I)

October 20, 2012 by

The Arab Spring started with uprisings by dissidents in Tunisia, and spread across North Africa, and to the Arabian Peninsula. Today Syria is under siege by rebel militias, and al-Qaeda linked affiliates are taking advantage of the destabilization by instituting their own style of terrorist attacks. The Islamist groups include Al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP), Ansar al-Sharia, and Al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM) which reportedly receive financing from Saudi Arabia and Qatar sources. In Syria the overthrow of Bashar al-Assad may not lead to democratic governance, a goal of the Arab Spring, as we are witnessing in North Africa. These radical Islamists with their large cache of arms can outwait the U.S. supported rebel militias, to participate in government change under Islamic law.

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Jihadists on the March in West Africa

October 4, 2012 by

Tuareg rebels in Northern Mali. Image via Al Jazeera

While the world’s attention has been focused on Iran, Syria, and the evolving results of ‘democracy’ in Egypt, Libya and Tunisia, groups like Boko Haram, the Movement for Unity and Jihad in West Africa (MUJWA), Al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM) and other splinter terrorist organizations have made substantial progress in either heavily influencing or controlling significant swathes of territory in some countries in West Africa. The west of Libya, northern Nigeria and northern Mali are all experiencing extreme levels of violence at the hands of Boko Haram and likeminded Islamic militant groups.

A primary reason West Africa is experiencing so much violence and upheaval from so many Islamist militant groups is because the area is so expansive and the local governments are incapable of exerting control outside of major population areas.

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A Post ‘Arab Spring’ Palestine

July 3, 2012 by

President Mahmoud Abbas in Paris. Photo by Olivier Pacteau

Will the Arab Spring serve the cause of Palestine?” is a question that has been repeatedly asked, in various ways, over the last year and a half. Many media discussions have been formulated around this very inquiry, although the answer is far from a simple “yes” or “no.”

Why should the question be asked in the first place? Hasn’t the Arab link to the Palestinian struggle been consistently strong, regardless of the prevalent form of government in any single Arab country? Rhetorically, at least, the Arab bond to Palestine remained incessantly strong at every significant historical turn.

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What’s Changed in Egypt?

June 3, 2012 by

Anti-Mubarak rally in Tahrir Square. Photo by Jonathan Rashad

The day of judgment for Hosni Mubarak arrived on June 2. The 84-year-old deposed president was given a life sentence with his interior minister, Habib al-Adly, for the killing of hundreds of protesters during last year’s uprising. Mubarak and his sons, Gamal and Alaa, were acquitted of corruption charges. The court also acquitted a number of key interior ministry officials and security chiefs.  Some Egyptians celebrated immediately after the verdicts were announced. Soon, however, the mood turned angry, because many thought that the verdicts were too lenient. Both Mubarak and Adly will have the right to appeal. Other factors, too, continue to foment anxiety in the country.

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Has Chaos Redefined the ‘Arab Spring’?

May 23, 2012 by

The age of revolutionary romance is over. Various Arab countries are now facing hard truths. Millions of Arabs merely want to live with a semblance of dignity, free from tyranny and continuous anxiety over the future. This unromantic reality also includes outside ‘players’, whose presence is of no positive value to genuine revolutionary movements, whether in Egypt, Syria, or anywhere else.  Shortly after longtime President Zine El Abidine Ben Ali was ousted in the Tunisian revolution in January 2011, some of us warned that the initial euphoria could eventually give way to unhelpful simplification. Suddenly, all Arabs looked the same, sounded the same and were expected to duplicate each other’s collective action.

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Politics and Islam in Central Asia and MENA

April 24, 2012 by

Following the democratization of predominantly Muslim countries in Central Asia and MENA there are many challenges still yet to be met. For the overall development of the region to progress and to assure alternatives to the autocratic governments that dominate these two regions, more will need to be done by the West and international institutions.  Following the Six-Day War in 1967 there was a movement towards radical Islam.

Since that time, radical politicized Islam has become an alarming trend that adversely affects the development of MENA and Central Asia, and also adversely affects its people and their economies. Anti-Western ideologies do not promote democracy and they adversely affect opportunities to provide economic growth.

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