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  • Author: Matthew Levitt
  • Publication Date: 08-2010
  • Content Type: Policy Brief
  • Institution: The Washington Institute for Near East Policy
  • Abstract: The State Department's recently released Country Reports on Terrorism 2009 (CRT 2009) reveals several important trends in the evolution of global terrorism. The good news is that al-Qaeda is facing significant pressure, even as the organization and its affiliates and followers retain the intent and capability to carry out attacks. What remains to be seen is if the dispersion of the global jihadist threat from the heart of the Middle East to South Asia and Africa foreshadows organizational decline or revival for al-Qaeda itself and the radical jihadist ideology it espouses. How governments and civil society alike organize to contend with the changing threat will be central to this determination. The bad news is that governments and civil society remain woefully ineffective at reducing the spread and appeal of radical Islamist extremism.
  • Topic: Government, Islam, Terrorism
  • Political Geography: Africa, Middle East, Israel
  • Author: Simon Henderson
  • Publication Date: 08-2010
  • Content Type: Policy Brief
  • Institution: The Washington Institute for Near East Policy
  • Abstract: For nearly two weeks, the Persian Gulf island state of Bahrain has experienced near-daily disturbances following government arrests of opposition activists from the majority Shiite community. The timing of the arrests seemed geared toward preempting trouble in advance of the scheduled October 23 parliamentary and municipal elections, which minority Sunni parties and candidates are currently projected to win. The street violence and other incidents are of particular concern to the United States because Bahrain hosts the headquarters of the U.S. Fifth Fleet and Naval Forces Central Command, whose mission is to "deter and counter disruptive countries" -- a wording likely aimed at Iran, which claimed the island as its territory prior to 1970.
  • Topic: Political Violence, Government
  • Political Geography: United States, Iran, Middle East, Asia, Arabia
  • Author: Michael Knights, Ahmed Ali
  • Publication Date: 08-2010
  • Content Type: Policy Brief
  • Institution: The Washington Institute for Near East Policy
  • Abstract: In an August 2 speech, President Obama confirmed that regardless of the status of government formation in Iraq, the U.S. military remained committed to the withdrawal of all combat forces by the month's end. Meanwhile, Iraq is still struggling to form a government in the long wake of the March elections, and the Muslim fasting period of Ramadan -- when much political and business life slows almost to a standstill -- begins next week. If an Iraqi government does not form fairly quickly after Ramadan ends in mid-September, Iraq's political scene may worsen, including an increased risk for violence. Ramadan has always existed in Iraqi and U.S. minds as a break point, when a new government may finally come together. Failure to make progress during the month is thus likely to elicit at least mild panic amongst politicians and the public. So how might the deadlock be broken?
  • Topic: Government, Politics
  • Political Geography: United States, Iraq
  • Author: Mehdi Khalaji
  • Publication Date: 08-2009
  • Content Type: Policy Brief
  • Institution: The Washington Institute for Near East Policy
  • Abstract: On August 19, Iranian president Mahmoud Ahmadinezhad submitted his list of cabinet nominees to the Majlis (Iran's parliament). The president's choice of individuals clearly shows his preference for loyalty over efficiency, as he fired every minister who, while strongly supportive of him on most issues, opposed him recently on his controversial decision to appoint a family relative as first vice president. Ahmadinezhad's drive to install loyalists involves placing members of the military and intelligence community in the cabinet, as well as in other important government positions. Despite the president's positioning, Iran's top leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, remains in firm control of the country's vital ministries.
  • Topic: Government, Politics
  • Political Geography: Iran, Middle East
  • Author: Mohammad Yaghi
  • Publication Date: 08-2009
  • Content Type: Policy Brief
  • Institution: The Washington Institute for Near East Policy
  • Abstract: On August 10, Fatah concluded its sixth congress, the first in twenty years. Although media attention has focused on some of the summit's disturbing pronouncements, significant political developments have occurred. Over the span of seven days, Fatah leaders discussed the key issues and challenges facing the party, including organizational and political issues affecting its unity, the role of its power centers, the peace process, and the group's relationship with Hamas and the Palestinian government. Whether Fatah is now able to overcome its organizational deficits and restore its popularity and leadership among the Palestinian people remains to be seen. But Palestinian Authority (PA) president Mahmoud Abbas has undoubtedly emerged stronger, competing powers within Fatah seem to have accepted coexistence, and the conflict between Fatah and Hamas is expected to escalate.
  • Topic: Government, Politics, Political Power Sharing
  • Political Geography: Middle East
  • Author: Mehdi Khalaji
  • Publication Date: 08-2009
  • Content Type: Policy Brief
  • Institution: The Washington Institute for Near East Policy
  • Abstract: Widespread reports suggest that Sadeq Larijani, a young and inexperienced cleric with close ties to Iran's military and intelligence agencies, will officially replace Mahmoud Hashemi Shahroudi as head of the Iranian judiciary on August 16. This appointment is particularly significant, since the judiciary in Iran wields considerable power -- albeit through the approval of Iran's top leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei -- and has a great deal of latitude to make decisions without reference to law or Islamic concepts, especially when "safeguarding the interests of the regime" is deemed necessary.
  • Topic: Government, Power Politics, Law Enforcement, Law
  • Political Geography: Iran, Middle East
  • Author: David Schenker
  • Publication Date: 07-2009
  • Content Type: Policy Brief
  • Institution: The Washington Institute for Near East Policy
  • Abstract: Six weeks after the pro-West March 14 coalition defeated the Hizballah-led alliance in Lebanon's parliamentary elections, no new government has been formed in Beirut. Although March 14 leader Saad Hariri was given a mandate back in early June to become prime minister and form a cabinet, he has still not completed the sensitive and contentious negotiations with the opposition. Hariri's difficulties in allocating seats among his coalition allies and political adversaries were anticipated, and to a certain extent are routine for Lebanon. But the calm that followed the free and fair elections is eroding, as Hizballah and its allies in Damascus press for more political concessions from Hariri. These developments, coupled with the apparent failure of Saudi-Syrian reconciliation efforts, are elevating tensions, threatening a banner tourism season, and raising the possibility of a return to violence in Beirut.
  • Topic: Political Violence, Democratization, Government
  • Political Geography: Middle East, Arabia
  • Author: Simon Henderson, Robert Jordan
  • Publication Date: 07-2009
  • Content Type: Policy Brief
  • Institution: The Washington Institute for Near East Policy
  • Abstract: On July 13, 2009, Ambassador Robert Jordan and Simon Henderson addressed a special Policy Forum luncheon at The Washington Institute to discuss succession in Saudi Arabia and the challenges it could pose for the United States. Simon Henderson is the Baker fellow and director of the Gulf and Energy Policy Program at The Washington Institute. His most recent Policy Focus, After King Abdullah: Succession in Saudi Arabia, will be released this month. Robert Jordan is a former U.S. ambassador to Saudi Arabia, where he was posted shortly after the September 11 terror attacks.
  • Topic: Foreign Policy, Government, Islam, Regime Change, Bilateral Relations
  • Political Geography: Middle East, Arabia
  • Author: Simon Henderson
  • Publication Date: 08-2008
  • Content Type: Policy Brief
  • Institution: The Washington Institute for Near East Policy
  • Abstract: Today's resignation of Pakistani president Pervez Musharraf creates a power vacuum in the most crucial country in the fight against al-Qaeda and Islamic extremism. For the foreseeable future, political power in Pakistan will not be in the hands of lackluster prime minister Yousef Raza Gilani, but in those of the ruling coalition rivals -- Benazir Bhutto's widower Asif Ali Zardari and former prime minister Nawaz Sharif. Future political contests will likely emphasize Musharraf's perceived closeness to Washington, an issue that united domestic opinion against him. This growing political reality, in addition to Islamabad's unwillingness to confront Islamic militants, further complicates U.S. policy toward Pakistan.
  • Topic: Government, Islam, Terrorism
  • Political Geography: Pakistan, United States, Asia
  • Author: Nazar Janabi
  • Publication Date: 08-2008
  • Content Type: Policy Brief
  • Institution: The Washington Institute for Near East Policy
  • Abstract: On August 7, the Iraqi parliament went on summer recess after failing to pass a critical election law, delaying the country's provincial elections until sometime next year. The failure comes after the parliament successfully passed the law on July 22, only to be vetoed by the Iraqi Presidency Council in less than thirty-six hours. The core dispute involves the oil-rich Kirkuk province, which is currently witnessing an alarming escalation of demonstrations and politically motivated attacks. This forced Iraqi prime minister Nouri al-Maliki to send his defense minister and an Iraqi brigade to the region in an attempt to deter further problems. As a result of Baghdad's political squabbling, the desperately needed provincial elections may seem unattainable.
  • Topic: Government, Politics
  • Political Geography: Iraq, Middle East
  • Author: Mohammad Yaghi
  • Publication Date: 08-2008
  • Content Type: Policy Brief
  • Institution: The Washington Institute for Near East Policy
  • Abstract: Palestinian prime minister Salam Fayad recently appealed to the World Bank in an effort to bridge the current budget gap preventing the Palestinian Authority (PA) from paying government salaries this month. Despite a three-year $7.5 billion assistance pledge from the 2007 Paris donor conference, the PA remains in a financial crisis, with a projected shortfall of $400 million for the second half of 2008, as reported by the Ad Hoc Liaison Committee in May. Since Fayad's technocratic government has no independent political base, its legitimacy stems from the PA's financial solvency. He has survived ongoing attacks from rival Fatah leaders only because Palestinian president Mahmoud Abbas recognizes him as the linchpin to Western donor assistance. If the financial crisis persists, however, Fayad's political future is in doubt.
  • Topic: Government, International Political Economy, Financial Crisis, World Bank
  • Political Geography: Middle East, Palestine
  • Author: David Schenker
  • Publication Date: 07-2008
  • Content Type: Policy Brief
  • Institution: The Washington Institute for Near East Policy
  • Abstract: This week, Lebanon's new national unity government is slated to announce its ministerial statement (bayan waziri), the policy document that will define Beirut's working parameters and agenda through the spring 2009 elections. For the pro-West majority March 14 coalition, the priority will be to incorporate into the statement a reference to UN Security Council Resolution (UNSCR) 1701, which prohibits weapons movement to Hizballah and expands government sovereignty throughout Lebanon. Hizballah, for its part, will look to maintain the legitimacy of "the resistance." Although March 14 still maintains a government majority, three years of hostility and self-inflicted wounds have left the ruling party dramatically weakened, making it unclear whether the coalition will be able to prevent Hizballah from consolidating further political gains.
  • Topic: Government, Politics, Terrorism
  • Political Geography: Middle East, Lebanon
  • Author: David Schenker
  • Publication Date: 07-2008
  • Content Type: Policy Brief
  • Institution: The Washington Institute for Near East Policy
  • Abstract: This week, Lebanon's new national unity government is slated to announce its ministerial statement (bayan waziri), the policy document that will define Beirut's working parameters and agenda through the spring 2009 elections. For the pro-West majority March 14 coalition, the priority will be to incorporate into the statement a reference to UN Security Council Resolution (UNSCR) 1701, which prohibits weapons movement to Hizballah and expands government sovereignty throughout Lebanon. Hizballah, for its part, will look to maintain the legitimacy of "the resistance." Although March 14 still maintains a government majority, three years of hostility and self-inflicted wounds have left the ruling party dramatically weakened, making it unclear whether the coalition will be able to prevent Hizballah from consolidating further political gains.
  • Topic: Government
  • Political Geography: Middle East, Lebanon
  • Author: Mohammad Yaghi
  • Publication Date: 06-2008
  • Content Type: Policy Brief
  • Institution: The Washington Institute for Near East Policy
  • Abstract: On June 4, Palestinian president Mahmoud Abbas marked the anniversary of the 1967 War by making a surprise call for dialogue with Hamas. In response to multiple challenges to his authority -- impasse on the peace process, ongoing dissent within Fatah, and regional pressure to resolve the internal Palestinian conflict -- Abbas has abandoned his demands for Hamas to return Gaza to its pre-June 2007 condition and apologize for its violent coup. However, a gulf remains between Hamas and Fatah, and it is unlikely that renewed dialogue can bridge the gap. Abbas's move may be an effort to pressure the United States to become more involved, and to maintain a fallback position if peace is not achieved. Accordingly, his call to Hamas should be seen as tactical, rather than a strategic, turning point toward Palestinian reconciliation.
  • Topic: Government, Terrorism
  • Political Geography: Middle East, Israel
  • Author: Jean-Pierre Katrib
  • Publication Date: 06-2008
  • Content Type: Policy Brief
  • Institution: The Washington Institute for Near East Policy
  • Abstract: The May 25 election of Gen. Michel Suleiman as Lebanon's twelfth president was a central element of the Qatari-brokered compromise between the March 14 coalition and the Hizballah-led opposition. The agreement was greeted with relief in Washington and other international capitals, allaying fears that Lebanon was once again heading toward civil war. Now that Fouad Siniora has been re-designated as prime minister, the Doha agreement's remaining elements include the difficult task of establishing a "national unity government" and holding parliamentary elections in 2009. The new law governing those elections will determine whether Lebanon will have a solid future foundation or if the day of final reckoning has been merely postponed.
  • Topic: Government, Politics
  • Political Geography: Washington, Middle East, Lebanon
  • Author: Mehdi Khalaji
  • Publication Date: 06-2008
  • Content Type: Policy Brief
  • Institution: The Washington Institute for Near East Policy
  • Abstract: On May 14, the Iranian government arrested six prominent Bahai leaders and accused them of "endangering national security." The timing of the arrests has led some to speculate that the Iranian government is trying to link these leaders to the April explosion at a religious center in Shiraz that killed fourteen people. Considering Iran's clerical establishment believes the existence of religious minorities undermines official Shiite orthodoxy, these latest arrests are just another black mark on Iran's long and dismal record of protecting individual human rights and religious freedom.
  • Topic: Government, Human Rights, Human Welfare, Religion
  • Political Geography: Iran, Middle East
  • Author: David Schenker
  • Publication Date: 05-2008
  • Content Type: Policy Brief
  • Institution: The Washington Institute for Near East Policy
  • Abstract: On May 21, after five days of mediation, Qatari officials announced a compromise solution to the Lebanese crisis between the pro-Western government and Hizballah-led opposition backed by Iran and Syria. According to preliminary reports, the negotiations centered on presidential elections and electoral reform, yet avoided the critical issue of Hizballah's weapons. Although details are still emerging, the broad outline of the agreement suggests that Hizballah has translated, at least temporarily, its May 7 military victory into a political victory. But given the potential outcome of the 2009 parliamentary elections, the Shiite group's victory may be short lived.
  • Topic: Government, Treaties and Agreements
  • Political Geography: Iran, Middle East, Lebanon, Syria
  • Author: Mehdi Khalaji, David Pollock
  • Publication Date: 05-2008
  • Content Type: Policy Brief
  • Institution: The Washington Institute for Near East Policy
  • Abstract: Tomorrow, Kuwait's nearly 400,000 voters -- more than half of them women -- will go to the polls to elect a new parliament. The incoming body will replace the 2006 parliament that was dissolved by the ruling emir, Sheikh Sabah al-Sabah, for failing to work together with the cabinet. Kuwait's parliament is relatively powerful compared to others in the region, but tension with the royal family has often produced only deadlock. Still, the elections are an important and interesting exercise in Arab democracy and may even produce a more constructive political environment.
  • Topic: Democratization, Gender Issues, Government, Politics
  • Political Geography: Middle East, Kuwait
  • Author: David Schenker
  • Publication Date: 05-2008
  • Content Type: Policy Brief
  • Institution: The Washington Institute for Near East Policy
  • Abstract: This week, the democratically elected, pro-Western Lebanese government took the bold and unprecedented decision to confront Hizballah. Since its election in 2005, the government had avoided direct conflict with the well-armed Shiite militant political party, but several of the organization's activities -- including apparent preparations for yet another war with Israel -- led the government to provoke a showdown. In response to a May 8 cabinet statement that focused on Hizballah's "attack on the sovereignty of the state," the Shiite organization took to the streets. In the ensuing violence -- the most intense since Lebanon's civil war -- Hizballah began occupying parts of Beirut, leaving the future of Lebanon in doubt.
  • Topic: Government, Terrorism
  • Political Geography: Middle East, Israel, Lebanon, Beirut
  • Author: Patrick Clawson
  • Publication Date: 04-2008
  • Content Type: Policy Brief
  • Institution: The Washington Institute for Near East Policy
  • Abstract: Although the Foreign Terrorist Organizations list has a set of criteria for designating groups, there is little clarity in practice about the process for revocation. Even after organizations have renounced terrorism for many years, their designations persist without a clear explanation, and are based on the assumption that historical violence indicates future potential.
  • Topic: Government, Terrorism
  • Political Geography: United States