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  • Publication Date: 07-2011
  • Content Type: Working Paper
  • Institution: International Crisis Group
  • Abstract: The Syrian uprising has defied conventional expectations and patterns established elsewhere in the region from the outset. It happened, first of all, and to many that in itself was surprising enough. The regime was not alone in believing in a form of Syrian exceptionalism that would shield it from serious popular unrest. Once the uprising began, it did not develop quickly, as in Egypt or Tunisia. Although it did not remain peaceful, it did not descend into a violent civil war, as in Libya, or sectarian affair, as in Bahrain. To this day, the outcome remains in doubt. Demonstrations have been growing in impressive fashion but have yet to attain critical mass. Regime support has been declining as the security services' brutality has intensified, but many constituents still prefer the status quo to an uncertain and potentially chaotic future. What is clear, however, is the degree to which a wide array of social groups, many once pillars of the regime, have turned against it and how relations between state and society have been forever altered.
  • Topic: Democratization
  • Political Geography: Middle East, Libya, Arabia, Syria, Egypt, Bahrain, Tunisia
  • Publication Date: 07-2011
  • Content Type: Working Paper
  • Institution: International Crisis Group
  • Abstract: Desperate to survive at all costs, Syria's regime appears to be digging its grave. It did not have to be so. The protest movement is strong and getting stronger but yet to reach critical mass. Unlike toppled Arab leaders, President Bashar Assad enjoyed some genuine popularity. Many Syrians dread chaos and their nation's fragmentation. But whatever opportunity the regime once possessed is being jeopardised by its actions. Brutal repression has overshadowed belated, half-hearted reform suggestions; Bashar has squandered credibility; his regime has lost much of the legitimacy derived from its foreign policy. The international community, largely from fear of the alternative to the status quo, waits and watches, eschewing for now direct involvement. That is the right policy, as there is little to gain and much to lose from a more interventionist approach, but not necessarily for the right reasons. The Syrian people have proved remarkably resistant to sectarian or divisive tendencies, defying regime prophecies of confessional strife and Islamisation. That does not guarantee a stable, democratic future. But is a good start that deserves recognition and support.
  • Topic: Conflict Resolution, Political Violence, Regime Change, Insurgency
  • Political Geography: Middle East, Arabia, North Africa, Syria
  • Publication Date: 03-2011
  • Content Type: Policy Brief
  • Institution: International Crisis Group
  • Abstract: Will the next Middle East conflagration involve Israelis and Palestinians? After the serious escalation of the past week in which eight Gazans, including children, were killed in a single day, and the 23 March 2011 bombing in Jerusalem, that took the life of one and wounded dozens, there is real reason to worry. The sharp deterioration on this front is not directly related, nor is it in any way similar to the events that have engulfed the Middle East and North Africa. But the overall context of instability and uncertainty undoubtedly has made a volatile situation even more so. Israelis' anxiety is rising and with it the fear that outside parties might seek to provoke hostilities to divert attention from domestic problems and shift the focus back to Israel. Hamas has been emboldened by regional events and is therefore less likely to back down from a challenge. The combination, as recent days have shown, has proven combustible.
  • Topic: Conflict Resolution, War
  • Political Geography: Middle East, Israel, Arabia, Jerusalem, Gaza, Arab Countries, North Africa
  • Publication Date: 11-2011
  • Content Type: Policy Brief
  • Institution: International Crisis Group
  • Abstract: The Syrian crisis may or may not have entered its final phase, but it undoubtedly has entered its most dangerous one to date. The current stage is defined by an explosive mix of heightened strategic stakes tying into a regional and wider international competition on the one hand and emotionally charged attitudes, communal polarisation and political wishful thinking on the other. As dynamics in both Syria and the broader international arena turn squarely against the regime, reactions are ranging from hysterical defiance on the part of its supporters, optimism among protesters that a bloody stalemate finally might end and fears of sectarian retribution or even civil war shared by many, through to triumphalism among those who view the crisis as an historic opportunity to decisively tilt the regional balance of power.
  • Topic: Conflict Resolution, Security, Civil War, Regime Change
  • Political Geography: Middle East, Arabia, Arab Countries, Syria
  • Publication Date: 02-2010
  • Content Type: Working Paper
  • Institution: International Crisis Group
  • Abstract: As a rule, Iraq's post-Saddam elections have tended to magnify pre-existing negative trends. The parliamentary polls to be held on 7 March are no exception. The focus on electoral politics is good, no doubt, but the run-up has highlighted deep-seated problems that threaten the fragile recovery: recurring election-related violence; ethnic tensions over Kirkuk; the re-emergence of sectarianism; and blatant political manipulation of state institutions. The most egregious development was the decision to disqualify over 500 candidates, a dangerous, arbitrary step lacking due process, yet endorsed by the Shiite ruling parties. Under normal circumstances, that alone might have sufficed to discredit the elections. But these are not normal circumstances, and for the sake of Iraq's stability, the elections must go on. At a minimum, however, the international community should ramp up its electoral monitoring and define clear red lines that need to be respected if the results are to be considered legitimate. And it should press the next government to seriously tackle the issue – long-neglected yet never more critical – of national reconciliation.
  • Topic: Conflict Resolution, Democratization, Governance
  • Political Geography: Iraq, Middle East, Arabia
  • Publication Date: 04-2010
  • Content Type: Working Paper
  • Institution: International Crisis Group
  • Abstract: Turkey is launching initiative after ambitious initiative aimed at stabilising the Middle East. Building on the successes of its normalisation with Syria and Iraq, it is facilitating efforts to reduce conflicts, expanding visafree travel, ramping up trade, integrating infrastructure, forging strategic relationships and engaging in multilateral regional platforms. For some, this new activism is evidence that Turkey is turning from its traditional allies in Europe and the United States. In fact, its increased role in the Middle East is a complement to and even dependent on its ties to the West.
  • Topic: Conflict Prevention, Foreign Policy, Diplomacy, Islam, Bilateral Relations
  • Political Geography: United States, Europe, Turkey, Middle East, Arabia
  • Publication Date: 04-2010
  • Content Type: Working Paper
  • Institution: International Crisis Group
  • Abstract: To those familiar with the rhythms of Israeli-Palestinian negotiation, this has been a year of surprises. Palestinians, suffering most from the status quo, so most in need of a resolution, balk at resuming talks even as Israel expresses eagerness. In Obama, they have a president more willing to engage and to confront Israel, yet they have denied him the chance to advance talks. Seventeen years after Oslo, the best he can do is get the parties to talk indirectly – and even then, not without overcoming huge Palestinian reluctance. What is going on? The Palestinian approach may seem tactically suspect or politically self-defeating but is not without logic. It is rooted in almost two decades of unsuccessful U.S.-sponsored bilateral negotiations and manifested in embryonic effort s to change the balance of power with Israel. It is premature to speak of a new Palestinian strategy but not to respond and rectify past flaws. After an often perplexing, ineffective start, the U.S. seems poised for a more fundamental policy review involving the presentation of American ideas to resolve the conflict. Done right and at the right time, it would be welcome.
  • Topic: Conflict Prevention, Diplomacy
  • Political Geography: United States, America, Middle East, Israel, Palestine
  • Publication Date: 05-2010
  • Content Type: Working Paper
  • Institution: International Crisis Group
  • Abstract: The June 2009 swearing in as prime minister of Saad Hariri, leader of the Sunni Future Current movement, marks a turning point, the end of a period of exceptional domestic political turbulence and regional tensions that began with the 2005 murder of his father, Rafic; led to institutional paralysis; and culminated with the violent May 2008 showdown between government and opposition. It also presents the new leader with a host of novel challenges. The man who took the helm of a once deeply divided Sunni community must discard much of what enabled his rise, if he is to succeed now that he is in power. With Hizbollah, the principal Shiite movement, he must move away from the sectarianism that has become Lebanon's political stock-and-trade. The Future Current should initiate the process of becoming a more genuine, institutionalised party, breaking from the clientelism that will otherwise inhibit the prime minister's transition from community leader to statesman. And Hariri must continue to navigate the difficult normalisation with Syria, over coming deep mistrust among his constituency toward Damascus.
  • Topic: Islam, Politics, Governance, Sectarian violence
  • Political Geography: Middle East, Lebanon, Syria
  • Publication Date: 08-2010
  • Content Type: Working Paper
  • Institution: International Crisis Group
  • Abstract: Of all the explanations why calm has prevailed in the Israeli-Lebanese arena since the end of the 2006 war, the principal one also should be cause for greatest concern: fear among the parties that the next confrontation would be far more devastating and broader in scope. None of the most directly relevant actors – Israel, Hizbollah, Syria and Iran – relishes this prospect, so all, for now, are intent on keeping their powder dry. But the political roots of the crisis remain unaddressed, the underlying dynamics are still explosive, and miscalculations cannot be ruled out. The only truly effective approach is one that would seek to resume – and conclude – meaningful Israeli-Syrian and Israeli-Lebanese peace talks. There is no other answer to the Hizbollah dilemma and, for now, few better ways to affect Tehran's calculations. Short of such an initiative, deeper political involvement by the international community is needed to enhance communications between the parties, defuse tensions and avoid costly missteps.
  • Topic: Islam, Armed Struggle, Hegemony, Peacekeeping
  • Political Geography: Iran, Middle East, Israel, Tehran, Arabia, Lebanon, Syria
  • Publication Date: 09-2010
  • Content Type: Working Paper
  • Institution: International Crisis Group
  • Abstract: Who could be against Palestinian security reform? In the past few years, the Palestinian Authority (PA) largely has restored order and a sense of personal safety in the West Bank, something unthinkable during the second intifada. Militias no longer roam streets, uniformed security forces are back, Palestinians mostly seem pleased; even Israel – with reason to be sceptical and despite recent attacks on West Bank settlers – is encouraged. Initial steps, long overdue, have been taken to reorganise an unwieldy security sector, where overlapping, unaccountable branches had become fiefdoms of powerful chiefs. West Bankers applaud the changes but are far less comfortable with their accompaniment: unparalleled security cooperation with Israel and crackdown on opposition groups – notably but not exclusively Hamas – affecting civil society broadly. Without serious progress toward ending the occupation and intra-Palestinian divisions, support for the security measures risks diminishing, PA legitimacy could further shrivel, and ordinary Palestinians' patience – without which none of this can be sustained – will wear thin.
  • Topic: Security, Regional Cooperation, Counterinsurgency
  • Political Geography: Middle East, Israel, Palestine, Arabia