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  • Publication Date: 01-2015
  • Content Type: Policy Brief
  • Institution: International Crisis Group
  • Abstract: Growing numbers of Central Asian citizens, male and female, are travelling to the Middle East to fight or otherwise support the Islamic State (IS, formerly ISIL or ISIS). Prompted in part by political marginalisation and bleak economic prospects that characterise their post-Soviet region, 2,000-4,000 have in the past three years turned their back on their secular states to seek a radical alternative. IS beckons not only to those who seek combat experience, but also to those who envision a more devout, purposeful, fundamentalist religious life. This presents a complex problem to the governments of Central Asia. They are tempted to exploit the phenomenon to crack down on dissent. The more promising solution, however, requires addressing multiple political and administrative failures, revising discriminatory laws and policies, implementing outreach programs for both men and women and creating jobs at home for disadvantaged youths, as well as ensuring better coordination between security services.
  • Topic: Islam, Religion, Terrorism, International Security
  • Political Geography: Central Asia, Middle East, Asia
  • Publication Date: 02-2015
  • Content Type: Policy Brief
  • Institution: The Soufan Group
  • Abstract: King Salman has confirmed his reputation as a religious conservative through the reappointment of traditionalist clerics However he has also made some effort to streamline the Saudi government Recent changes have given considerable power to two men from the next generation: King Salman's son and his nephew The result may be good for hard security measures, but less certain for the soft measures necessary for Saudi Arabia to weather the storm.
  • Topic: Security, Development, Economics, Islam, Political Economy, Governance
  • Political Geography: Middle East, Arabia
  • Publication Date: 02-2015
  • Content Type: Policy Brief
  • Institution: The Soufan Group
  • Abstract: The Islamic State's murder of Jordanian hostage Lt Moaz al-Kasasbeh was both a message to the group's fighters that it can counter the coalition's relentless airstrikes as well as an offensive move designed to provoke a high-profile overreaction The air campaign against the Islamic State has been relentless while at the same time has receded from the headlines-a double blow to the group in that it suffers the losses but doesn't benefit from the attendant spectacle The drawn-out 'negotiations' over this past month-while the hostage was already dead-were likely intended to sow division and tension in Jordan, and draw attention to the issue as long as possible before the gruesome finale While Jordan is understandably enraged and will have to strike back, the most effective response might be an escalation that continues to kill the group's fighters away from the headlines.
  • Topic: Security, Political Violence, Islam, Terrorism, Armed Struggle, Counterinsurgency
  • Political Geography: Middle East, Arabia
  • Publication Date: 02-2015
  • Content Type: Policy Brief
  • Institution: The Soufan Group
  • Abstract: Like a page out of the 2004 extremist manifesto "Management of Savagery," the Islamic State has tried to goad the international community into near-sighted reactions without long-term approaches by highlighting the barbarity of its executions of hostages This tactic has thus far failed to ignite the overreaction (outside of press reporting) of Western powers, leaving the group without an important recruitment and incitement tool The Islamic State needs consistent replenishment of fear to overcome its inherently terrible local governance, and so it depends on shocking savagery to serve as both its recruitment magnet and opposition suppression As the group encounters less and less Westerners, given the danger of their presence in the region, it will find increasingly fewer ways to incite the 'us-versus-them' battle it needs to survive.
  • Topic: Political Violence, Islam, Terrorism, Counterinsurgency
  • Political Geography: Middle East, Arabia
  • Publication Date: 02-2015
  • Content Type: Policy Brief
  • Institution: The Soufan Group
  • Abstract: While the threat of an immediate escalation between Israel and Hizballah appears to have subsided after deadly tit-for-tat attacks, the trend lines suggest greater conflict ahead In an important and ominous speech on January 30, Hizballah leader Hassan Nasrallah created, in effect, one long front against Israel that now includes Syria and the Golan Heights as well as Lebanon, increasing the potential for conflict with Israel Iran is no longer moving in the shadows but rather is openly coordinating strategy with its proxy Hizballah as the two seek to strengthen and expand 'the resistance' against Israel All parties involved have specific reasons to avoid a near-term conflict-the upcoming Israeli elections, ongoing Iranian nuclear negotiations, Hizballah's commitments in Syria-but shifting regional power dynamics will only increase the likelihood of serious fighting between them.
  • Topic: Political Violence, Islam, Terrorism, Armed Struggle, Counterinsurgency
  • Political Geography: Iran, Middle East, Israel, Arabia
  • Publication Date: 01-2015
  • Content Type: Policy Brief
  • Institution: The Soufan Group
  • Abstract: The still-unresolved hostage situation involving Jordan, Japan, and the Islamic State is unlike any of the group's previous kidnappings Jordan is in a precarious position, as it seeks the release of one of its citizens-a national hero who comes from a prominent tribe-while not wanting to free one of the perpetrators of the worst terrorist attack in the country's history By demanding the release of failed suicide-bomber Sajida al-Rishawi from Jordanian custody, the Islamic State is trying to elevate itself to the status of negotiating nation-state, and weaken and embarrass a vital member of the coalition seeking its destruction In a striking difference with previous Islamic State hostage situations, current circumstances provide a chance for the group to bolster its standing in the vital Iraqi province of al-Anbar-where al-Rishawi is from-and perhaps slightly lessen tribal pressure on the group The issue is causing tensions between the Iraqi-born leadership of the Islamic State, who want to make the exchange, and a small faction of primarily Saudi fighters, who want to execute the Jordanian pilot for bombing the group.
  • Topic: Political Violence, Islam, Terrorism, Counterinsurgency
  • Political Geography: Japan, Middle East, Arab Countries, Jordan
  • Publication Date: 03-2015
  • Content Type: Policy Brief
  • Institution: The Soufan Group
  • Abstract: The Islamic State and al-Qaeda have more in common than sets them apart, as both groups embrace 'bin Ladinism' even as their leaderships differ on tactics and priorities As the fortunes of the two groups wax and wane, their shared characteristics are likely to become more pronounced and their rivalries less so For the moment, the competition between them weakens their appeal and blunts their impact; any trend towards reconciliation or partnership could magnify the threat they pose across the Arab world.
  • Topic: Islam
  • Political Geography: Middle East, Yemen, Arabia
  • Author: Bilal Y. Saab
  • Publication Date: 12-2015
  • Content Type: Policy Brief
  • Institution: Atlantic Council
  • Abstract: September 2015 marked the one-year anniversary of President Barack Obama's speech outlining the administration's strategy to "degrade and ultimately destroy" the Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham (ISIS). Yet, ISIS celebrated in June its own first-year anniversary of setting up a state by conducting three nearly simultaneous terrorist operations in three different countries—France, Tunisia, and Kuwait. Just this past month, ISIS also shocked the world with its attacks in Paris and Beirut and its downing of a Russian airliner in Egypt, killing more than 400 people combined and injuring hundreds more. While nobody expected the destruction of a resilient and agile foe such as ISIS within a couple of years, it is deeply troubling that the coalition is having such a hard time even disrupting its activities.
  • Topic: Islam, Terrorism, War, Counterinsurgency, Fragile/Failed State, ISIS
  • Political Geography: Middle East
  • Author: Aaron Rock-Singer
  • Publication Date: 11-2015
  • Content Type: Policy Brief
  • Institution: Foreign Policy Research Institute
  • Abstract: Religion was a pillar of pre-modern political identity in the Middle East, arising out of Muslims’ understanding of Islam’s foundational moment and state institutions that developed with the spread of Islamic Empire. Beginning at the turn of the 19th century, European colonial powers and indigenous reformers questioned the centrality of religious identity; instead, it was to be the nation that defined the political community. Since then, the nationalist project has permeated 20th century ideological conflicts in the region, equally shaping the claims of secularists and Islamists. Today, advocates of religious change refer back to early Islamic history as they seek to place religious over national identity, yet they, like their competitors, are unmistakably shaped by the secular nationalist project.
  • Topic: Islam, Nationalism, Post Colonialism, Religion
  • Political Geography: Middle East, Arab Countries
  • Author: Lev Weitz
  • Publication Date: 11-2015
  • Content Type: Policy Brief
  • Institution: Foreign Policy Research Institute
  • Abstract: The majority of the Middle East’s population today is Muslim, as it has been for centuries. However, as the place of origin of a range of world religions – including Judaism, Christianity, Zoroastrianism, and many lesser-known faiths – it remains a region of remarkable religious diversity. This article considers the place of religious minorities in the modern Middle East from three angles: their distinctive religious and communal identities, their place in the major transformations of the region’s political landscape from the nineteenth century to the post-World War I era, and the challenges of contemporary political conditions.
  • Topic: Demographics, Islam, Religion, Sectarianism
  • Political Geography: Middle East, Arab Countries
  • Publication Date: 10-2015
  • Content Type: Policy Brief
  • Institution: Foreign Policy Research Institute
  • Abstract: We live in an age of identity politics. We define ourselves by one or more objective measures: measures of race, ethnicity, gender, politics, religion, sexual orientation, to name just a few. Those measures then define who we are to others. They determine our place in society, the communities with which we identify, our attitudes towards others and other communities. The politics of identity are fraught, and they interact in ways that both liberate and confine. On the one hand we prize diversity. On the whole, this is a good thing, since it reflects a larger transformation in American life. Like it or not, the fact is that we are becoming, have become, a “multi-cultural society.” No matter what terms we use to define diversity—racial, ethnic, religious, sexual, gender, whatever—we are more diverse now than we have ever been, and we are destined to grow more so. Multi-culturalism is not an option; it is the future. The only question is how, and how well, we are going to deal with it.
  • Topic: Conflict Resolution, Islam, Religion, Sectarianism
  • Political Geography: Middle East
  • Author: Michele Flournoy, Richard Fontaine
  • Publication Date: 08-2015
  • Content Type: Policy Brief
  • Institution: Center for a New American Security
  • Abstract: In the 11 months since President Barack Obama committed the United States to “degrade and ultimately destroy” the so-called Islamic State of Iraq and al Sham (ISIS), the group has expanded its international reach, metastasized to form offshoots across multiple regions, and increased its perceived momentum. Although U.S. government officials cite a reduction in the overall size of the group’s sanctuary in Iraq and Syria and the killing of thousands of ISIS fighters, the fall of Ramadi and much of Anbar province to the Islamic State served as a wakeup call that current efforts to counter ISIS are not adequate to the task.2 Meanwhile, the threat posed by the terrorist group to Americans at home and abroad appears to be growing as ISIS-inspired individuals conduct attacks targeting Westerners around the globe, including here in the United States.
  • Topic: Conflict Resolution, Security, Civil War, Islam, Terrorism
  • Political Geography: Middle East, Arab Countries
  • Author: Michael Rubin
  • Publication Date: 01-2014
  • Content Type: Policy Brief
  • Institution: American Enterprise Institute for Public Policy Research
  • Abstract: Since Azerbaijan regained its independence in 1991, it has been only the world's second Shi'ite-led state after Iran. Azerbaijan respects separation of mosque and state, and despite pressure from its neighbors, remains independent from political domination. Given its strategic importance, safeguarding the country's independence remains a US priority. And the threat from Iranian meddling is particularly acute. From Tehran's perspective, the combination of Azerbaijan's pre-19th-century Iranian past, modern Azerbaijan's embrace of secularism, and its relative economic success challenge Iran's legitimacy. As Iranian authorities have sought to undermine and destabilize Azerbaijan through political, clerical, charitable, and media channels, Azerbaijan's counterstrategy has been both restrained and effective.
  • Topic: Foreign Policy, Islam, Sovereignty, Governance
  • Political Geography: United States, Iran, Middle East
  • Author: Rabab el-Mahdi
  • Publication Date: 05-2014
  • Content Type: Policy Brief
  • Institution: Norwegian Peacebuilding Resource Centre
  • Abstract: The puzzle of Egypt's apparently wild swings from the Mubarak regime to a Muslim Brotherhood government and then back to a military dictatorship have been manipulated to fit the simplistic linear and binary categorical models of democratic transition, with an emphasis on procedural outcomes, when in fact deeper structural issues are at stake. Three challenges explain mainstream Egyptians' choices and the tumultuous path the revolution has been following. The first is the structural economic crisis facing Egypt, coupled with lack of state administrative capacity, which no government has been able to effectively deal with. The second is the repercussions of Egypt's post-colonial history, which as a consequence tends to see the army as the "saviour" and "liberator" of the nation. The third is the failure of alternative groups to to provide solid political alternatives for the majority to rally around against the two reactionary poles and their inability to devise strategies to break loose from and reconstruct the hegemonic discourse . Consequently, international actors who throw their weight behind one reactionary faction or the other based solely on pragmatic considerations of their ability to bring about stability will be backing the wrong horse.
  • Topic: Economics, Islam, Armed Struggle, Regime Change, Popular Revolt
  • Political Geography: Middle East, Egypt
  • Author: Aaron Y. Zelin
  • Publication Date: 06-2014
  • Content Type: Policy Brief
  • Institution: The Washington Institute for Near East Policy
  • Abstract: The Mosul crisis highlights how ISIS has established a potent cadre of foreign jihadists who freely operate across the rapidly disappearing Iraq-Syria border.
  • Topic: Islam, Terrorism, Armed Struggle
  • Political Geography: Iraq, Middle East, Syria
  • Author: Phillip Smyth
  • Publication Date: 06-2014
  • Content Type: Policy Brief
  • Institution: The Washington Institute for Near East Policy
  • Abstract: Iran's proxy groups have been working closely with Iraqi government forces for some time and will likely become more important to Baghdad in light of recent events.
  • Topic: Islam, Terrorism, Armed Struggle, Sectarian violence
  • Political Geography: Iraq, Iran, Middle East
  • Publication Date: 06-2014
  • Content Type: Policy Brief
  • Institution: The Soufan Group
  • Abstract: The number of foreign fighters is high, 12,000 and counting, and the spread of countries they come from covers much of the globe. Two recent events involving foreign fighters show the radicalizing influence of the war. With the support to bolster Syria's more secular rebel forces at times inconsistent and tepid, the lack of an alternative has accelerated a natural gravitation towards extremist elements. It will be hard to know which returnees pose a threat, and harder still to deal with them. Given that the number of foreign fighters already exceeds those that went to Afghanistan, government resources will be severely strained to monitor all returnees and will have to rely on the help of local communities.
  • Topic: Conflict Resolution, Foreign Policy, Islam, Terrorism, Counterinsurgency
  • Political Geography: Afghanistan, United Kingdom, Middle East, Syria
  • Publication Date: 10-2014
  • Content Type: Policy Brief
  • Institution: The Soufan Group
  • Abstract: No region has seen more of its people travel to fight in Syria than North Africa; more than 3,000 Tunisians have traveled there as of last April, and more than 1,500 Moroccans This is a repeat of a decade ago when large numbers of North Africans traveled to Iraq to fight there as well, in proportions far above those of neighboring countries A significant number of recent North African fighters have conducted suicide bombings in both Iraq and Syria, highlighting that the deadly ideological message of the so-called Islamic State (IS) and other extremist groups is finding purchase in North Africa The reasons for this export of extremists include incomplete political reforms that have failed to redress serious societal issues, persistent high youth unemployment, and a failure to cope with the apparent high levels of disaffection, despair, and anger that drive people to choose violent extremism.
  • Topic: Conflict Resolution, Islam, Terrorism, Counterinsurgency
  • Political Geography: Iraq, Middle East, Arabia, North Africa, Syria
  • Publication Date: 10-2014
  • Content Type: Policy Brief
  • Institution: The Soufan Group
  • Abstract: Attacking the finances of the so-called Islamic State (IS) with limited collateral damage will be orders of magnitude more difficult than attacking its military factions The group has thoroughly embedded itself into local and regional economies in Syria and Iraq, and damaging its finances while not devastating civilian populations will be as difficult as it is necessary IS oil revenues might be the easiest to disrupt but such action comes with significant collateral economic damage, while taxes, tolls, extortion, and food sales generate more income while remaining highly resistant to external forces In the areas under its control, IS has been providing social services as well as delivering levels of fuel, electricity, and food to populations utterly without recourse, meaning the group needs to be replaced and not simply removed.
  • Topic: Conflict Resolution, Islam, Terrorism, Insurgency, Counterinsurgency
  • Political Geography: Middle East, Arabia
  • Publication Date: 10-2014
  • Content Type: Policy Brief
  • Institution: The Soufan Group
  • Abstract: The Turkish parliament's vote to authorize the deployment of military forces in Syria and Iraq provided a legal and official framework for such action It may appear to be a positive step in degrading and destroying the putative Islamic State (IS), however, the parliament in its vote used the broader term "terrorist organizations," thus the landscape for Turkey, Syria-Iraq, and regional states and interests remains exceptionally complex Though there is nearly universal and implacable opposition to IS among all actors in Syria and Iraq, Turkey's future role-depending on steps taken-could aggravate tensions not only with Arab Gulf states and Kurdish elements in Syria and Iraq, but Iran, Russia, and the Iraqi government Turkey's desire to create a buffer zone on the Syrian side of its common border remains one of the most sensitive issues Amid reports of increased IS pressure on Kobani, Kurdish PKK has insinuated Turkey will be to blame-not IS-for creating conditions for the refugee crisis, and threatens to resume opposition activity in Turkey. The Turkish parliament's vote Thursday to authorize use of its army and military facilities in the fight against the so-called Islamic State (IS) may appear at first look to be a positive step for the broader coalition. The measures-to be determined-are in addition to any financial, diplomatic, humanitarian, and support activities for the anti-IS coalition. However, parliament's vote did not entail Turkey's officially joining the coalition. After the recent deal-details yet to be revealed-to bring home over 40 hostages IS had taken from Turkey's consulate in Mosul, Iraq, in June 2014, pressure increased for Turkey to take military steps in the anti-IS fight. A factor increasing the possibility of military action is Turkish special operations forces' guarding the tomb of Suleyman Shah, a Turkish enclave in Syria reported to be increasingly surrounded by IS. Though there is almost universal animus toward IS in the region, there is also nearly uniform resistance to Turkey's perceived unilateral military involvement in Syria and Iraq, outside the framework of the anti-IS coalition. Turkey's next moves may cause more conflict than benefit in the anti-IS fight. Indeed, the political landscape for Turkey's moves at home and abroad remains extraordinarily complex.
  • Topic: Conflict Resolution, Foreign Policy, Islam, Terrorism
  • Political Geography: Iraq, Turkey, Middle East, Syria
  • Publication Date: 11-2014
  • Content Type: Policy Brief
  • Institution: The Soufan Group
  • Abstract: There are clear and compelling economic imperatives for Iran to accept a nuclear agreement with the P5+1 (U.S., Britain, France, Russia, China, and Germany) by a November 24 deadline. The Iranian public has chafed under comprehensive sanctions since 2010 and expect President Hassan Rouhani to deliver a nuclear agreement that enables the economy to recover and grow. U.S. and other P5+1 officials stress the economic opportunities for Iran that will result, including the eventual re-opening of Iran's oil and gas sector to foreign investment. Major international firms are poised to re-enter the Iranian market in the event of a nuclear deal, although firms will initially be cautious due to lingering uncertainty.
  • Topic: Conflict Prevention, Arms Control and Proliferation, Islam, Nuclear Weapons, Treaties and Agreements, Nuclear Power
  • Political Geography: Russia, China, Middle East
  • Publication Date: 11-2014
  • Content Type: Policy Brief
  • Institution: The Soufan Group
  • Abstract: The following IntelBrief is excerpted from The Soufan Group's recent long-form report on The Islamic State, which takes an in-depth look at the extremist group's operations across Iraq and Syria. From late 2011 up to today, The Islamic State has shown itself both tactically and strategically adept. After years of surviving as a persistently violent criminal/terrorist gang able to mount multiple synchronized attacks in urban areas in Iraq but little more, it achieved unparalleled gains when the collapse of government in northern and eastern Syria allowed it to expand across the border. At the same time, the sectarian approach of then-Prime Minister Nuri al Maliki had made the Sunni minority in Iraq ready to support any group that appeared to have the potential to reverse its increasing marginalization. It's accurate to say the group would still exist-but in nothing like its current form-had only one of those two catastrophes-Syria and Maliki-occurred; that both played out as they did made what has happened seem an almost inevitable accident of history.
  • Topic: Conflict Resolution, Islam, Terrorism, Armed Struggle, Counterinsurgency
  • Political Geography: Iraq, Middle East
  • Publication Date: 10-2014
  • Content Type: Policy Brief
  • Institution: The Soufan Group
  • Abstract: The reshaping of what is now the Islamic State (IS) began among the detainee populations in military prisons such as Camp Bucca in Iraq, where violent extremists and former regime personalities forged mutual interests over years of confinement IS is now a chimera of Ba'athist and takfiri ideologies, with the organizational skills of the former helping channel the motivational fervor of the latter It is more than a marriage of convenience between the two seemingly at-odds groups; the former Ba'athists among the group and the religious ideologues now have visions of a return to Sunni glory that merges Usama bin Ladin with Saddam Hussein While at smaller unit levels there will be conflict between the two halves of the whole-as witnessed in the fighting between IS and the Naqshbandi Army after the fall of Mosul-the former regime officers who are now senior leaders in IS appear fully committed to the ideals and goals of the group, a result of a thorough radicalization that has extended from imprisonment years ago up to now These prison-hardened fighters were so important to IS that they undertook a year-long campaign (2012-2013) called "Breaking the Walls" to free what would prove to be the last pieces needed for expansion.
  • Topic: Islam, Terrorism, Counterinsurgency
  • Political Geography: Middle East, Arabia
  • Publication Date: 10-2014
  • Content Type: Policy Brief
  • Institution: The Soufan Group
  • Abstract: While there is understandable concern that an unknown percentage of foreign fighters fighting for the so-called Islamic State (IS) might return to their home countries intent on continuing the fight, IS appears intent on using them in suicide attacks in both Iraq and Syria IS goes to great length to publicize the foreign fighters who die in suicide attacks, which greatly enhances the group in the eyes of unstable people looking for martyrdom, creating a feedback loop of death A recent statement by IS showed that 80% of the suicide attacks in Iraq between September and early October were committed by foreign fighters; this continues a trend of IS using their foreign fighters in suicide attacks while Iraqi fighters take on the role of traditional soldiers Along with Saudi nationals, who conducted 60% of the suicide attacks referenced above, fighters from North Africa consistently feature prominently in IS suicide attacks, which closely matches the suicide bombing statistics from the 2003 Iraq war, though now there are more suicide operatives from western Europe
  • Topic: Islam, Terrorism, Armed Struggle, Insurgency, Counterinsurgency
  • Political Geography: Middle East, Arabia
  • Publication Date: 10-2014
  • Content Type: Policy Brief
  • Institution: The Soufan Group
  • Abstract: Coalition airstrikes are intended to blunt the momentum of the self-declared Islamic State (IS) and provide time for a popular Sunni uprising that might never happen given the understandable lack of trust among all sides The Sunni Awakening that helped diminish the precursor group to IS in 2006-2009 is the successful outlier in Iraq's history of tragic uprisings; and it will not likely be replicated since the conditions that allowed it to succeed no longer exist To that end, one of the foundational assumptions of the effort to dismantle IS-that the Sunni tribes will soon rise up and oppose IS in a second Awakening-is built on uncertain ground Sunni tribal leaders realize there won't be anything near 2007-levels of support (material, financial, training) if they oppose IS en masse, and after gaining next to nothing politically after the first Awakening, there is no trust in a different outcome for any second Awakening Reports of a failed Sunni uprising in eastern Syria are additional disincentives for both Syrian and Iraqi Sunni populations to fight IS, and additional incentive to wait and see what external factors will emerge to change the status quo.
  • Topic: Islam, Terrorism, Armed Struggle, Insurgency, Sectarian violence
  • Political Geography: Middle East, Arab Countries
  • Publication Date: 10-2014
  • Content Type: Policy Brief
  • Institution: The Soufan Group
  • Abstract: In neighboring Iraq, over 1,100 Jordanians are believed to be fighting for the so-called Islamic State (IS) according to Jordanian former Prime Minister Maruf al-Bakhit, with another 200 having already died fighting Although that's only 0.0203% of Jordan's 6.4 million population, and enough for serious concern, it's testament to Jordanian society that with the constant fighting next door such a small percentage have taken up arms for IS After the 2005 Amman bombings, al Qaeda in Iraq (the precursor to IS) was widely despised in Jordan; now nine years later, over a thousand Jordanians are fighting for the same group In his October 18, 2014 remarks, Bakhit stated that there were between 2,000-4,000 Jordanians who adhere to the violent takfiri ideology most famously espoused by the late Jordanian Abu Mus'ab al Zarqawi Along with the fear of a radicalized population after a decade of war raging across two of its borders is the fear of what happens next in Iraq and Syria According to Bakhit, a partitioned Iraq is too problematic to work despite its obvious appeal amid the current fighting, with resources unevenly distributed across the country and Baghdad far too mixed for one side to claim.
  • Topic: Islam, Terrorism, Armed Struggle, Insurgency, Sectarian violence
  • Political Geography: Middle East, Arab Countries
  • Publication Date: 10-2014
  • Content Type: Policy Brief
  • Institution: The Soufan Group
  • Abstract: As King Abdullah remains out of sight, worries persist over Saudi Arabia's ability to handle its many domestic and foreign issues The Sunni-Shi'a divide is now seen largely in terms of competition for influence between Saudi Arabia and Iran But it is not just the Sunni-Shi'a tension which impacts the region as Saudi Arabia and Turkey also compete for primacy in the Arab Middle East; the three-way competition has been a key factor in the chronic conflicts in Syria, Iraq, and Yemen Common antipathy toward the self-declared Islamic State is the only glue that holds together the US-led coalition at this time: there's no consensus on how to defeat it, what to put in its place, and the role of Iran-issues made more complicated by questions about Saudi Arabia's internal decision process.
  • Topic: Foreign Policy, Islam, Power Politics, Counterinsurgency, Sectarian violence
  • Political Geography: Iraq, Turkey, Middle East, Yemen, Saudi Arabia, Syria
  • Publication Date: 10-2014
  • Content Type: Policy Brief
  • Institution: The Soufan Group
  • Abstract: The self-declared Islamic State (IS)'s strategy of exploiting and exacerbating divisions among its opponents ranks as one of its greatest weapons, and one of the coalition's greatest weaknesses Turkey's airstrikes against the Kurdistan Workers' Party in southeast Turkey are the latest example-and perhaps most damaging in the near-term-of opponents of IS fighting each other instead of the group IS was sustained during its weakest period (2008-2010) in part by exploiting real tensions between various groups-Sunni vs Shi'a, Sunni vs Sunni, Sunni vs Kurd, etc-that prevented an "everybody vs IS" opposition that remains the only way to defeat the group IS will continue to create/exacerbate/leverage the differences between the US and Turkey, Saudi Arabia/UAE and Qatar, the Kurds and various parties, so much so that focus is more on tactically keeping the coalition together and less on strategically strangling IS.
  • Topic: Islam, Terrorism, Armed Struggle, Insurgency, Sectarian violence
  • Political Geography: Turkey, Middle East, Arab Countries, Kurdistan
  • Author: Tiziana Trotta
  • Publication Date: 01-2014
  • Content Type: Policy Brief
  • Institution: IEMed/EuroMeSCo
  • Abstract: The United Nations Peace Conference on Syria is due to take place on 22nd January in Geneva. The Syrian Government and opposition will meet for the first time since the outbreak of the conflict in March 2011. Nevertheless, there are very few prospects of finding a satisfactory solution to end the conflict.
  • Topic: Conflict Resolution, Civil War, Islam, Peace Studies
  • Political Geography: Middle East, Arab Countries
  • Author: Şadi Ergüvenç
  • Publication Date: 04-2013
  • Content Type: Policy Brief
  • Institution: Global Political Trends Center
  • Abstract: The Mediterranean is where the atmosphere of mutual distrust, fear and polarization prevail. Arab Israeli dispute and Turkish Greek differences over the Aegean and Cyprus impede efforts for developing mutual confidence and co operation. Recently, economic and financial crises and the “Arab Risings” have brought along more reasons for concern. Islamophobia and racism versus Islamic jihadism increase the risk of confrontation. Turkey together with Spain appeals for an “Alliance of Civilizations” and exploits its double identity, European and Muslim, through a proactive and multilateral poli cy for finding peaceful solutions to chronic regional solutions. Greece and Greek Cypriot governments should refrain from unilateral attempts to declare maritime borders.
  • Topic: Conflict Resolution, Foreign Policy, Islam, Territorial Disputes
  • Political Geography: Europe, Middle East, Arabia
  • Author: Carolyn Barnett
  • Publication Date: 08-2013
  • Content Type: Policy Brief
  • Institution: Center for Strategic and International Studies
  • Abstract: While rulers in the Maghreb and the Gulf have long engaged one an-other, until recently neither region held essential strategic importance for the other. Now, several GCC countries are seeking greater influence around the region, including in the Maghreb. Gulf countries have demonstrated their growing interest in the Maghreb through aid and investment, though aid disbursements have been slow to materialize. Tunisia, Libya, Morocco and Algeria all have delicate relationships with the Gulf that intersect with domestic politics, debates over Islam and authority, concerns about instability, the need for stronger economic growth, and aversion to foreign interference. Promoting constructive GCC-Maghreb relations will be most feasible on the economic front. Successful management of enduring tensions will not ensure political and economic stability, but it will make that stability much more likely.
  • Topic: Foreign Policy, Diplomacy, International Political Economy, Islam
  • Political Geography: Middle East, Libya, Arabia, Algeria, Morocco, Tunisia
  • Publication Date: 08-2013
  • Content Type: Policy Brief
  • Institution: International Crisis Group
  • Abstract: In a region that recently has produced virtually nothing but bad news, Hassan Rouhani's 4 August swearing in as Iran's president offers a rare and welcome glimmer of hope. There are still far more questions than answers: about the extent of his authority; his views on his country's nuclear program, with which he long has been associated; and the West's ability to display requisite flexibility and patience. But, although both sides can be expected to show caution, now is the time to put more ambitious proposals on the table, complement the multilateral talks with a bilateral U.S.-Iranian channel and expand the dialogue to encompass regional security issues.
  • Topic: Conflict Resolution, Foreign Policy, Arms Control and Proliferation, Democratization, Diplomacy, Islam, Nuclear Weapons, Sanctions
  • Political Geography: United States, Iran, Middle East
  • Author: Rouzbeh Parsi
  • Publication Date: 06-2013
  • Content Type: Policy Brief
  • Institution: European Union Institute for Security Studies
  • Abstract: When the 2009 presidential election in Iran went awry, and its aftermath rocked the authority and legitimacy of the system (nezam), it seemed that nothing could bring the Islamic Republic back to normalcy. Back then, the next presidential elections looked far away and beyond anyone's ability to imagine. Yet, for all other things that can be said about the Islamic Republic, it has insistently and regularly held its presidential polls, wars and political crises notwithstanding. And now, in 2013, we are yet again trying to grapple with the complicated game of politics in Tehran as the official campaign has started. Doubts exist about how many citizens will actually go to the polls this time (it was a remarkable 80 per cent in 2009), but the fact that - on 14 June - presidential elections are to be held in conjunction with local and city council votes may increase the chances of a decent voter turnout.
  • Topic: Democratization, Islam, Regime Change, Governance
  • Political Geography: Iran, Middle East, Tehran
  • 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: Fanar Haddad
  • Publication Date: 11-2013
  • Content Type: Policy Brief
  • Institution: United States Institute of Peace
  • Abstract: In Iraq, as elsewhere in the Middle East, the social, political, and technological changes of the 21st century are giving birth to a new sectarian landscape. The three most consequential drivers behind the change in sectarian relations have been the political change in Iraq of 2003; the near simultaneous spread of new media and social networking in the Arab world; and – perhaps as a consequence of the first two – the ongoing search for alternatives to familiar but moribund forms of authoritarianism, as demonstrated most dramatically by the “Arab Spring.” 2003 highlighted the uncomfortable fact that there were multiple, indeed contradictory, visions of what it meant to be an Iraqi and by extension what it meant to be a part of the Arab world. New media, social networking, user-generated websites, and private satellite channels helped to make Iraq's accelerated sectarianization contagious. The mainstreaming of sectarian polemics has increased the relevance of religious, doctrinal, and dogmatic differences in views regarding the sectarian “other,” a particularly dangerous development.
  • Topic: Conflict Resolution, Islam, Sectarian violence
  • Political Geography: Iraq, Middle East, Arabia
  • 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: Laurent Bonnefoy
  • Publication Date: 09-2013
  • Content Type: Policy Brief
  • Institution: Norwegian Peacebuilding Resource Centre
  • Abstract: Due to the specific history of Saudi Arabia, the export of religious ideologies has long been seen as an important tool of Saudi "soft power". Through a variety of institutions and actors, only some of which can be linked to Wahhabism or even to Islam, interactions between Saudi Arabia and the world are complex and diverse. While mechanisms aiming to export a conservative interpretation of Islam that have been labelled Salafism may be manifest, this policy brief intends to question the efficiency of such mechanisms for the dissemination of religious ideologies. In order to do so, it will first define Salafism. It will then highlight the diversity of this concept, in particular when it comes to its relations with the Saudi monarchy. Finally, it will conclude by highlighting some changes triggered by the "Arab Spring" uprisings that affect the relationship among Salafi movements in the Middle East and Saudi Arabia.
  • Topic: Islam, Politics, Governance
  • Political Geography: Middle East, Saudi Arabia
  • Author: Rachid Tlemçani, Derek Lutterbeck
  • Publication Date: 09-2013
  • Content Type: Policy Brief
  • Institution: Norwegian Peacebuilding Resource Centre
  • Abstract: Even though many of the socioeconomic conditions that have driven the popular Arab Spring uprisings and toppled several regimes across the Middle East have been present in Algeria as well, the Algerian regime has thus far been able to weather the winds of change. This policy brief takes a closer look at the "Algerian exception" by examining the protest movement in Algeria and why it has been more limited than elsewhere, as well as recent political "reforms" adopted in response to the protests. It argues that in addition to the experiences of the bloody decade of the 1990s, a number of factors account for the more limited protest movement in Algeria, such as the regime's larger spending power and its experience in dealing with large-scale protests. While the Algerian regime has introduced reforms over the last two years, these have been mainly cosmetic, largely consolidating the political status quo. The policy brief also briefly discusses the threat of Islamist terrorism in the Sahel region, with particular reference to the recent In Amenas hostage crisis in Algeria. As for Algeria's future evolution and prospects for political reform, fundamental change seems unlikely, at least in the short to medium term.
  • Topic: Democratization, Islam, Regime Change
  • Political Geography: Middle East, Arabia, North Africa
  • Author: Madawi al-Rasheed
  • Publication Date: 08-2013
  • Content Type: Policy Brief
  • Institution: Norwegian Peacebuilding Resource Centre
  • Abstract: The Saudi regime has a vested interest in the Saudi public remaining fragmented and unable to bridge the Sunni-Shia sectarian divide. Both Shia and Sunnis in Saudi Arabia have been invigorated by the ongoing Arab uprisings, and in their own regions have staged minor protests demanding similar rights. However, the regime's entrenched sectarian propaganda has succeeded in isolating the Shia and delaying a confrontation with Sunni Islamists. In the short term this may be a successful strategy, but in the long term it may fail to contain the frustration of Saudis who want serious political reform.
  • Topic: Conflict Resolution, Democratization, Islam, Sectarianism
  • Political Geography: Middle East, Saudi Arabia
  • Author: Bernard Haykel
  • Publication Date: 05-2013
  • Content Type: Policy Brief
  • Institution: Norwegian Peacebuilding Resource Centre
  • Abstract: Yemen is politically fragmented by three decades of misrule. Many political actors and constituencies oppose the Salih legacy and they need to be included in any future political framework if the country is to become stable. The main regional actor is Saudi Arabia, whereas the U.S. remains the principal hegemon in the region. Saudi Arabia's policy towards Yemen is in flux, whereas the U.S. is too narrowly focused on the threat posed by al-Qaeda. Unless the U.S. and the Saudis change their policies, Yemen will not develop a strong central government.
  • Topic: Foreign Policy, Corruption, Islam, Armed Struggle, Fragile/Failed State, Governance
  • Political Geography: United States, Middle East, Saudi Arabia
  • Author: Evanthia Balla
  • Publication Date: 04-2013
  • Content Type: Policy Brief
  • Institution: Norwegian Peacebuilding Resource Centre
  • Abstract: The South Caucasus, situated as it is at the crossroads of Eurasia's major energy and transport corridors, continues to play a vital role in the world's security affairs. After the end of the cold war the South Caucasus emerged as a key region in the geopolitical contest among regional and global powers. The South Caucasus states of Armenia, Azerbaijan and Georgia are constantly performing a balancing act in their relations with the U.S., Russia, Turkey and Iran. Armenia has developed strong political and economic ties with Iran in order to counter the Turkish-Azerbaijani axis. Azerbaijan seeks to reinforce its links with the West, especially the U.S., as its main extraregional source of diplomatic and economic support, while it remains cautious towards both Russian and Iranian ambitions in the region. Especially after the 2008 war with Russia and the loss of its provinces of Abkhazia and South Ossetia, Georgia has reinforced its links to Western powers and structures while strengthening its ties with Turkey. Both Turkey and Iran are trying to increase their influence in the region, while promoting their national interests in the international arena.
  • Topic: Foreign Policy, Diplomacy, Economics, Islam, Power Politics
  • Political Geography: Russia, United States, Turkey, Middle East
  • Publication Date: 04-2013
  • Content Type: Policy Brief
  • Institution: Human Rights First
  • Abstract: The Obama Administration has dramatically escalated targeted killing by drones as a central feature of its counterterrorism response. Over the past two years, the administration has begun to reveal more about the targeted killing program, including in a leaked Department of Justice White paper on targeted killing and in public remarks by several senior officials. While this information is welcome, it does not fully address our concerns.
  • Topic: Arms Control and Proliferation, Islam, Science and Technology, Terrorism, War, Counterinsurgency
  • Political Geography: United States, South Asia, Middle East
  • Author: Dario Cristiani, Kacper Rękawek
  • Publication Date: 09-2013
  • Content Type: Policy Brief
  • Institution: The Polish Institute of International Affairs
  • Abstract: Just before another anniversary of the September 11 terrorist attacks, Al Qaeda (AQ) turned 25. Although after more than a decade of the war on terrorism the so called Al Qaeda Central is far from thriving operationally, it still advises and inspires jihadists around the world. Moreover, in the aftermath of the Arab Spring AQ Central affiliates and allies have re-constituted themselves and are growing in various parts of Northern Africa and the Middle East. Nonetheless, de-centralisation of the world's counter-terrorism effort, with the focus not on AQ Central but on its "subordinates," may in the longer term lead to a serious disruption of the totality of the organisation, already riddled with internal contradictions.
  • Topic: Islam, Counterinsurgency
  • Political Geography: Middle East, North Africa
  • Author: Ahmad Khalid Majidyar
  • Publication Date: 10-2013
  • Content Type: Policy Brief
  • Institution: American Enterprise Institute for Public Policy Research
  • Abstract: The Persian Gulf states of Oman, Qatar, and the United Arab Emirates (UAE) have largely been immune to the rising tide of sectarianism that has rocked the Middle East in the wake of the Arab Spring. The three monarchies have successfully integrated their Shi'ite minority populations into their countries' sociopolitical and economic spheres, giving those populations little reason to engage in violence or seek political guidance from Iran or Iraq. Omani, Qatari, and Emirati Shi'ites strongly identify themselves as citizens of their respective countries and remain loyal to their ruling regimes. However, the spillover effects of the Syrian civil war—a sectarian conflict between the Shi'ite Iran-Hezbollah-Assad axis and the opposition groups backed by regional Sunni governments—are threatening Sunni-Shi'ite stability in the UAE, Qatar, and to a lesser degree, Oman. The United States should help maintain harmony in these states by reaching out to independent Shi'ite business communities and by working with regional leaders to ensure equal citizenship, political rights, and religious freedom among minority populations.
  • Topic: Conflict Prevention, Security, Islam, Post Colonialism, Insurgency, Sectarian violence
  • Political Geography: Iraq, Middle East, Arabia, Oman, United Arab Emirates
  • Author: Ahmad Khalid Majidyar
  • Publication Date: 08-2013
  • Content Type: Policy Brief
  • Institution: American Enterprise Institute for Public Policy Research
  • Abstract: For decades the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia has been America's indispensable ally in the Middle East, and the ­Kingdom's stability remains vital for US strategic interests in the region. While antigovernment protests in the Kingdom's Sunni-majority regions have been small and sporadic in the wake of Arab Spring, there has been an unremitting unrest in the strategic Eastern Province, home to Saudi Arabia's marginalized Shi'ite minority and major oil fields. As in the 1980s, if government repression and discrimination push the Shi'ites to extremes, some may resort to violence and terrorism, jeopardizing American interests in the region, benefitting Iran and ­al-Qaeda, disrupting the equilibrium of global oil markets, and adversely affecting economic recovery in the West. To ensure lasting stability in the Kingdom, the United States must work with the Saudi government to achieve gradual but meaningful reforms that include integrating the Shi'ites into the Kingdom's sociopolitical system.
  • Topic: Conflict Prevention, Security, Islam, Sectarian violence
  • Political Geography: United States, Middle East, Arabia, Saudi Arabia
  • Author: Michael Rubin
  • Publication Date: 08-2013
  • Content Type: Policy Brief
  • Institution: American Enterprise Institute for Public Policy Research
  • Abstract: Kuwait is perhaps America's closest Arab ally; it remains the only country in the Middle East on whose behalf the United States went to war. Although the Islamic Republic of Iran has at times tried to leverage Kuwait's large Shi'ite minority against the Kuwaiti state, it has mostly been unsuccessful. Indeed, Kuwait's Shi'ite ­community has repeatedly worked to prove its loyalty to Kuwait. Recent political instability, however, is again opening the door for sectarian forces to undermine Kuwait and, by extension, an important pillar of US defense strategy.
  • Topic: Conflict Prevention, Defense Policy, Islam, Bilateral Relations, Sectarian violence
  • Political Geography: United States, Iran, Middle East, Arabia
  • Author: Barbara Slavin, Yasmin Alem
  • Publication Date: 05-2013
  • Content Type: Policy Brief
  • Institution: Atlantic Council
  • Abstract: Iran has never had what the West would regard as free, fair, and competitive elections. Some would point to the brief periods following the 1906 Constitutional Revolution and between the end of World War II and 1953, when a CIA-backed coup re-installed Shah Mohammad Reza Pahlavi, as possible exceptions to this rule. The upcoming presidential elections this June will be no such exception, with candidates restricted to eight proven loyalists to the regime. Nevertheless, the vote will be an important barometer of the stability and durability of an embattled regime that is increasingly unpopular domestically and isolated internationally. The elections will also produce a new turn of the kaleidoscope within Iran's shrinking political elite, as existing factions break apart and regroup. The next president is likely to be more moderate in tone, if not in policy, and more competent and less divisive than the outgoing Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. This could have important implications not just for the country's domestic course but for Iran's confrontation with the United States and the international community over the nuclear question.
  • Topic: International Relations, Democratization, Islam, Nuclear Weapons, Nuclear Power
  • Political Geography: United States, Middle East
  • Author: Samuel Helfont
  • Publication Date: 12-2013
  • Content Type: Policy Brief
  • Institution: Foreign Policy Research Institute
  • Abstract: In 2006, during the heart of the Global War on Terrorism, a New York Times reporter went to Washington in an attempt to ascertain the extent that American officials understood the ideologies underpinning Islamist terrorism. The reporter began with a simple question: could senior counterterrorism officials identify which groups were Sunnis and which were Shi'is? Remarkably senior officials and lawmakers – including the Chief of the F.B.I.‟s national security branch, and members of the U.S. House of Representatives‟ committees on intelligence and counter terrorism – had “no clue” whether actors such as Iran, Hezbollah, or al-Qaida were Sunnis or Shi„is. A number of questions emerged from this encounter. First, who are the Sunnis and Shi„is? Second, where are they located? And, finally, does it matter?
  • Topic: Conflict Prevention, Islam, Religion, Terrorism, Armed Struggle, Counterinsurgency, Sectarianism
  • Political Geography: Middle East
  • Author: Aitemad Muhanna
  • Publication Date: 06-2012
  • Content Type: Policy Brief
  • Institution: Norwegian Peacebuilding Resource Centre
  • Abstract: Women's participation in the Arab uprisings has been inspired by the expansion of an Islamist-based model of Arab women's activism and a gradual shrinking of secular liberal women's activism. The uprisings have provided outcomes that prove the possibility of combining Islam with democracy through the political success of Islamist parties in the post-uprisings era, like in Tunisia and Egypt. Although this new de facto political map of the region has largely frightened liberal women, the victory of moderate Islamist voices may also be promising, especially when they are in a position to provide a state governance model. The determining factor in combining Islam with democracy is the willingness of the two major players – Islamist parties and the international community – to ensure that the main debatable issues – religion, gender and human rights – are not discriminated against in the name of either religion or Western democracy. However, the actual practice and outcomes of moderate Islamist discourse remains under experimentation, and it is a space for Islamist and secular women's and human rights organisations to co-operate, monitor, negotiate and strategise, to ensure that gender issues are engaged in policy discussions and formulations as a substantial issue for real democratisation.
  • Topic: Democratization, Gender Issues, Islam
  • Political Geography: Middle East, Arabia, Egypt, Tunisia