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  • Author: Thomas Pierret
  • Publication Date: 11-2013
  • Content Type: Policy Brief
  • Institution: United States Institute of Peace
  • Abstract: The Syrian conflict's internal dynamics have reshuffled regional alignments alongside unprecedentedly clear-cut sectarian dividing lines; this has often occurred against the preferences of regional state actors−including Saudi Arabia and Iran. Foreign states have generally adopted expedient policies that followed sectarian patterns for lack of alternatives. Iran bears significant responsibility for exacerbating the conflict's sectarian character at the regional level. There is no such “diplomatic shortcut” to regional appeasement; it is the domestic Syrian deadlock that must be broken in order to alleviate sectarian tensions across the Middle East, not the opposite.
  • Topic: Conflict Resolution, International Relations, Foreign Policy
  • Political Geography: Middle East, Arabia, Syria
  • Author: Frederic M. Wehrey
  • Publication Date: 11-2013
  • Content Type: Policy Brief
  • Institution: United States Institute of Peace
  • Abstract: Like the Iraq war and, to a lesser extent, Lebanon's 2006 war, Syria's internecine conflict has enabled the Gulf's ruling families, media commentators, clerics, parliamentarians, and activists to invoke and amplify Sunni-Shia identities, often for goals that are rooted in local power politics. By-products of the mounting sectarian tension include the fraying of reform cooperation among sects and regions, and pressure on the Gulf's formal political institutions. Traditional and social media have served to amplify the most polarizing voices as well as provide reform activists new means for cross-sectarian communication that circumvent governmental efforts to control or block such activities.
  • Topic: Conflict Resolution, Islam, Sectarian violence
  • Political Geography: Middle East, Arabia, Syria
  • Author: Joseph Bahout
  • Publication Date: 11-2013
  • Content Type: Policy Brief
  • Institution: United States Institute of Peace
  • Abstract: When the Arab revolutions reached Syria, the Sunni-Shia cleavage in Lebanon was already well in the making. Syria's turmoil only added fuel to an existing fire in Lebanon. Syria's crisis is intensifying Sunni-Shia tensions in Lebanon on two levels, symbolic and identity-based on the one hand, and geopolitical or interest based, on the other hand. The shift toward identity-based or symbolic forms of sectarianism can probably be explained by the existential character the struggle in the Levant is taking, whereby both “communities,” however imagined or over-constructed, are coming to perceive themselves as defending not only their share of resources or power, but their very survival. Lebanon's minority communities – including Christian and Druze – are increasingly anxious about the changing regional environment. Lebanon and Syria must face the difficult equation of sectarian diversity and national unity.
  • Topic: Conflict Resolution, Islam, Insurgency, Sectarian violence
  • Political Geography: Middle East, Arabia, Lebanon, Syria
  • Author: Melani Cammett
  • Publication Date: 11-2013
  • Content Type: Policy Brief
  • Institution: United States Institute of Peace
  • Abstract: The Syrian crisis has had a negative impact on Lebanon's political scene, including the dynamics among political factions within and across the country's major sectarian communities. The political fragmentation of the Sunni community has implications for the growing trend toward political violence triggered by the Syrian conflict. The rise of challengers and the decline of centralized authority within the Sunni community further increase the probability of violence perpetrated by in-group factions. Despite the pressures from the Syrian conflict, mounting sectarian tensions will not inexorably spark another all-out civil war. If Lebanon does not move past the current political deadlock and stagnation, the spillover from the Syrian crisis stands to undermine the country's stability in the longer term.
  • Topic: Conflict Resolution, Islam, Insurgency, Sectarian violence
  • Political Geography: Middle East, Arabia, Lebanon, Syria
  • Author: Amr al-Azm
  • Publication Date: 10-2011
  • Content Type: Policy Brief
  • Institution: United States Institute of Peace
  • Abstract: The Syrian regime was initially able to count on its neighbors in two key areas: ensuring that their territories do not become a safe haven for Syrian dissidents and continuing to receive their support on the regional and international level. This support has since eroded as a result of the regime's inability to contain the ever-escalating level of violence being perpetrated against the protesters. The gravest concern for the regime is the emergence of a Benghazi scenario in a city like Aleppo as a result of Turkish military intervention. The Syrian regime now finds itself in an ever-increasing cycle of isolation and increased internal repression.
  • Topic: Regime Change
  • Political Geography: Middle East, Arabia, Syria
  • Author: Yigal Schleifer
  • Publication Date: 10-2011
  • Content Type: Policy Brief
  • Institution: United States Institute of Peace
  • Abstract: Turkish relations with the Syrian regime have developed at a dizzying pace over the last 15 years, going from outright hostility to close cooperation and back to estrangement. Prior to the current uprising, Turkey looked at Syria as a cornerstone in its plans to become a political, economic and “moral” leader in the Middle East. Ankara has deep concerns regarding developments in Syria, particularly in terms of the domestic repercussions of any Syrian political instability or social upheaval. These concerns shaped Ankara's initial caution in completely breaking with Damascus and could still limit the scope of Turkish action against the Assad regime.
  • Topic: Regime Change, Bilateral Relations
  • Political Geography: Turkey, Arabia, Syria
  • Author: Sean Kane, Elie Abouaoun
  • Publication Date: 10-2011
  • Content Type: Policy Brief
  • Institution: United States Institute of Peace
  • Abstract: Iraq's reaction to the popular uprising in Syria is mostly determined by the chaos its Shiite-led government believes would follow the sudden collapse of Bashar al-Assad's regime. Baghdad possesses limited ability to influence the course of events in Syria, but is using this to provide modest support to the Assad regime. The fractured and sectarian nature of Iraqi politics, however, militates against Baghdad developing a decisive position on the way forward in Syria.
  • Topic: Bilateral Relations, Sectarianism
  • Political Geography: Middle East, Arabia, Syria
  • Author: Mona Yacoubian
  • Publication Date: 10-2011
  • Content Type: Policy Brief
  • Institution: United States Institute of Peace
  • Abstract: Lebanese society is starkly divided on Syria, but all sides fear the country's potential descent into a sectarian civil war and seek to insulate Lebanon from its fallout. Lebanon's key political actors hold vastly different views on their definitions of interests, threat perceptions and desirable outcomes in Syria. Lebanon has already witnessed some negative Syrian spillover. Going forward, key concerns will center on both directed threats and uncontrolled fallout from worsening instability inside Syria. Lebanon's ability to influence the conflict dynamics inside Syria is limited.
  • Topic: Islam, Armed Struggle, Regime Change, Insurgency
  • Political Geography: Middle East, Arabia, Syria
  • Author: Emile Hokayem
  • Publication Date: 11-2011
  • Content Type: Policy Brief
  • Institution: United States Institute of Peace
  • Abstract: The unrest in Syria offers the Gulf States an opportunity to weaken or even dislodge an Assad regime aligned with Iran, but their ability to project power or shape events in Syria is limited. Dislike of the Assad regime doesn't necessarily align Gulf interests and long-term vision for Syria. Moreover, cooperation on diplomacy and strategy is lacking. Sectarianism, most evidenced in media commentary and clerical statements, is already a major feature of Gulf discourse on Syria. Parts of the Syrian opposition have approached and have been courted by Gulf governments. Still, a degree of unease and mistrust continues to define their relations.
  • Topic: Conflict Resolution, Political Violence, Regime Change
  • Political Geography: Iran, Middle East, Arab Countries, Syria
  • Author: Ehud Eiran
  • Publication Date: 11-2011
  • Content Type: Policy Brief
  • Institution: United States Institute of Peace
  • Abstract: Israel has been generally quiet regarding the recent turmoil in Syria, a reflection of the issue\'s relative low priority, as well as Israel\'s limited influence on internal Syrian matters. Israel\'s preferred outcome would be a stable Syrian regime that disassociates itself from the “axis of resistance,” poses no bilateral threats, and controls the border area—though Israel sees no clear path for achieving these aims. The view in Israel is that the basic structure of deterrence still holds vis-à-vis Syria and the regime—even in its desperate circumstances—is unlikely to provoke Israel in dramatic ways.
  • Topic: Security, Regime Change
  • Political Geography: Middle East, Israel, Arab Countries, Syria