Archive for the ‘Middle East’ Category

11
Apr

 

The self-immolation of a Syrian refugee in Lebanon last month is a harrowing reminder of the desperate circumstances of those who have fled the war. But the hardship extends beyond just Syrians. Today, Lebanon and Jordan provide sanctuary to one million and some 600,000 Syrian refugees, respectively – about 20 and 10 percent of their respective populations – and the social and economic stresses are taking a heavy toll. Worse, the prospect that many of these refugees might never return home threatens the long-term stability of these states.

 

Demography is a central problem for Lebanon. Syrian exiles are overwhelmingly Sunni Muslims, and the influx has skewed Lebanon’s delicate sectarian balance of Sunnis, Shiites, and Christians. Adding to the religious strains are the ubiquitous complaints about Syrian workers driving down wages, and the burden refugees place on Lebanon’s already overtaxed and underfunded infrastructure. According to a recent World Bank report, over the next three years, Lebanon – which had a $4 billion budget deficit in 2013 – will require an additional $2 billion just to provide basic services to its new residents and to “address the expected additional impoverishment of the Lebanese people generated from the Syrian crisis.”

 

Absorbing refugees is also a burden for Jordan. While a fifth of Syrian expatriates currently reside in refugee camps, most live in the kingdom’s cities, where they are driving up rents – by up to 25 percent, the United Nations says – and taking scarce jobs from Jordanians who are already enduring an unofficial unemployment rate estimated at 30 percent. At the same time, despite a substantial budget deficit, Amman is providing free healthcare and education to these Syrians, 63 percent of whom receive monetary assistance from the United Nations.

 

Not surprisingly, the kingdom’s generosity toward its Syrian guests is starting to fuel resentment among the locals. As one Jordanian tribesman complained to me a few months ago, “They are taking the food out of our mouths.”

 

As refugees continue to flow into Lebanon and Jordan, tensions are mounting. Until now, incidents of violence between Syrians and host country nationals have been relatively limited. The worst attack occurred in December, when residents of a Lebanese village in the Beqa Valley reportedly torched a makeshift refugee encampment, leaving hundreds without shelter. To date, the incidents have been isolated, but a more concerted and sustained popular backlash is likely to materialize if the Syrian refugee crisis persists.

 

Alas, there is good reason to believe the problem will endure for some time. Syria’s nominally Shiite al-Assad regime is currently in no danger of imminent collapse. Meanwhile, the largely Sunni Muslim opposition is divided as secular fighters battle not only the regime, but rival Islamist militias, many of which are affiliated with al Qaeda. And even if al-Assad falls, Syria seems destined to face a lengthy and bloody struggle between ideologically opposed Sunni militias for the future of the state. At any rate, with an estimated one-third of all Syrian housing destroyed, there is little to which the refugees can return. Read more…

David Schenker is the Aufzien Fellow and director of the Program on Arab Politics at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy.   Published on April 10 in http://globalpublicsquare.blogs.cnn.com

 

7
Apr

seminar 4

On Friday 4 April, the IE School of International Relations in cooperation with the LSE enterprise and Citpax,  hosted  Dr. Fawaz Gerges , Professor of International Relations at the Middle East  Centre of the London School of Economics and Dr. Peter Jones, Associate Professor at the Graduate School of Public and International Affairs at the University of Ottawa. In this very interesting seminar both academics addressed the complicated issue of Iran’s relations with Syria, Lebanon and Iraq.

According to the Dr. Gerges, in order to understand these complex relationships, one has to acknowledge the deep rivalry between Iran and Saudi Arabia in the region. This rivalry is considered to be “the Cold War in the Middle East” and has been ongoing for decades. The sectarian divide between Sunnis and Shiites is central but it is not the only cause of the rift between the two countries. According to Dr. Gerges the geostrategic struggle between the two nations is even more important. This would explain Iran’s current role in the Syrian conflict. In order to consolidate and deepen its influence in the region, Iran has made a critical commitment to prop up the Assad regime in Syria at any cost. They have been sending weapons and combatants from Hezbollah in order to uphold the regime. It is in large part because of the Hezbollah forces fighting on his side that Assad is still in power almost three years into the conflict. This investment in Syria comes at great cost for Iran but for them the cost is offset by the benefits of influence in Syria and the direct access it gives the country to Israel.

One of the clear costs of Hezbollah’s role in Syria is reflected in its diminished influence in Lebanon. Until now Hezbollah represented a movement that was even more important and influential than the formal state in Lebanon. Their role propping up a dictatorship that is killing civilians has greatly undermined Hezbollah’s legitimacy (and hence Iran’s standing) in Lebanon. The sectarian fault line between Sunnis and Shiites that we see in Syria is spreading to Lebanon and to Iraq and could polarize the entire region. Saudi Arabia is adding fuel to the sectarian divide.

Finally, according to Dr. Gerges, Iran also plays an instrumental role in Iraq today and assists the government in battling Sunni minorities and in controlling the Shiite majority. Iran funnels its weapons and assistance to Syria through Iraq. It could not do so without the approval of the Iraqi government.

To Dr. Gerges, Iran’s strategy is one of defensive realism. It does not want to invade or attack its neighbors but it does wish to consolidate its influence. Dr. Peter Jones in his comments agreed with almost all of Dr. Gerges’ remarks but did disagree in one thing. According to him, Iran does not have a clear strategy. It has a defensive set of activities. It is only reacting to events, such as the Arab Spring, as they unfold, always two steps behind.

The audience had many questions for both speakers, but perhaps the most heartfelt one came from one of the IE students who asked: what about the humanitarian catastrophe that is currently occurring in Syria? What can we do to stop it? Both speakers were very pessimistic about the prospects of the Syrian conflict ending any time soon. For Dr. Peter Jones, the only glimmer of hope came from the possibility of a nuclear agreement between the US and Iran. Only then would Iran lose interest in having access to Israel and hence might no longer prop up Assad. But the possibility is quite low indeed.

25
Mar

 

International Relations

IE School of International Relations is pleased to invite you to “Iran & the Conflicts in Syria, Lebanon and Irak: Troubled Waters or Room for a Conversation” with Dr. Fawaz Gerges and Dr. Peter Jones

Iran’s relations with the Arab world are complex and at first sight, seemingly contradictory. Today, as negotiations between the West and Iran advance on the nuclear file and new regional alignments are in play, the repercussions of Iran´s relations with Iraq, Syria and Lebanon may become more important than ever. Dr. Gerges will address these themes and the importance of these countries for Iran.  Dr. Peter Jones will comment from his perspective.

Dr. Fawaz Gerges is Professor of International Relations in the Middle East  Centre of the London School of Economics, and holds the Emirates Chair in Contemporary Middle East Studies. His special interests include Islam and the political process, social movements, including mainstream Islamist movements and jihadist groups, Arab politics and Muslim politics in the 20th century, the international relations of the Middle East, the Arab-Israeli conflict, state and society in the Middle East, American foreign policy towards the Muslim world, the modern history of the Middle East, history of conflict, diplomacy and foreign policy, and historical sociology. His most recent book, “The New Middle East” is published by Cambridge University Press. Dr. Gerges is also a regular commentator on CNN.

Dr. Peter Jones is an associate professor in the Graduate School of Public and International Affairs at the University of Ottawa. He is also an Annenberg distinguished visiting fellow at the Hoover Institution at Stanford University. Before joining the University of Ottawa, he served as a senior analyst for the Security and Intelligence Secretariat of the Privy Council of Canada. Previously, he held various positions related to international affairs and security at the Department of Foreign Affairs, the Privy Council Office, and the Department of Defence (Canada). An expert on security in the Middle East and track-two diplomacy, he led the Middle East Security and Arms Control Project at the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI) in Sweden in the 1990s. He is presently leading several Track Two initiatives in South Asia and the Middle East, and is also widely published on Iran.

The event will take place on Friday 4 April at 16.30h in Room 402 (Maria de Molina 31)

Please kindly confirm attendance to International.Relations@ie.edu

18
Feb

On Thursday February 13th, the IE School of International Relations, with the collaboration of the Toledo International Centre for Peace (CITpax), had the honor of hosting the lecture “Iran and Europe: Friend or Foe?” given by Dr. Rouzbeh Parsi. Dr. Parsi is Senior Lecturer in the Department of Human Rights at Lund University, Director of the European Iran Research Group and former a Senior Analyst at the EU Institute for Security Studies (2009-2013).

ConfParsi

 

After the institutional presentation by Dean de Areilza and Ambassador Casinello, Director General of CitPax, Dr. Emma Hooper introduced the theme of the lecture: the EU- Iran relationship.

Dr. Parsi began his lecture with a historic overview of Iran, starting with the revolution of 1979. He defined the term revolution and its consequences, which is usually exemplified by the wish to spread ideals, such as in the Russian Revolution. In his introduction Dr. Parsi highlighted the incongruity of the term Islamic Republic. Iran is neither purely a Theocracy nor is it a Republic. This is because the revolution did not have a religious origin. If they remove the term Republic, then they would have to renounce the revolution as well. Hence the inherent contradiction in the name.

After these preliminary words, Dr. Parsi discussed modern Iran. He believes that the Islamic republic is a post-revolutionary state that “everyone considers to be predictable but the truth is that every time there is a presidential election everyone is surprised by the person elected”. He supported this argument by giving the example of how the Iranian government dealt with the crisis in Bahrain, preferring to keep ties with the Sunni regimen instead of supporting its Shiite counterparts.

Dr. Parsi then discussed the defense situation of Iran. He considers it to be quite weak without an air force and with a non-existing fleet which was bombed by the US in the 80s. The Iranian situation has nothing to do with that of Egypt. Using an XVIII century Prussian quote to illustrate this point, he stated that Egypt was “not a state with an army but an army with a state”. The fact that after 18 years the Iran nuclear program remains in its infancy demonstrates how controversial this theme is in domestic politics.

The last part of the lecture was dedicated to Iran–EU international relations, which used to be quite good until the UN sanctions. Because of its proximity the EU was a closer commercial partner to Iran than the US. EU has always followed US policy on the Middle East. Here lies the main issue as US is not clear in foreign affairs. For instance the Obama administration wants to lift Iranian sanctions but the Republican Party controlled Congress is against it. The EU works as an intermediary in the US-Iran relations. Dr. Parsi concluded his lecture stating “officially neither of them wants to reestablish relations, but in reality both of them are looking forward to it”.

At the end of the conference the floor was opened to questions. Most of them addressed Iranian foreign policy, the US Democratic Party split over the issue and the role of Israel.

14
Feb

Local leadership key in Arab world

Written on February 14, 2014 by Waya Quiviger in Democracy & Human Rights, Middle East, Op Ed

It’s popular these days to say the Arab Spring has gone badly awry. It’s a bit early to make these judgments – think of what America looked like in 1779, three years after its revolution – but if you were to compile a mid-term report, Syria would get a failing grade, Egypt’s revolution has faltered badly, Libya is a mess. But there is one spark of hope for the revolutions of the Middle East, and it’s a country that could be a model for all the others: Tunisia, which was the birthplace of the Arab Spring.

What has Tunisia done right?

Well, let’s start with history. Tunisia has been quite different from Egypt and its neighbors for centuries. It was the first Arab state to develop a modern constitution, all the way back in 1861. Over time, Tunisia has developed stronger civic institutions than its Arab neighbors, including a human rights league that was founded nearly four decades ago. About a fifth of the government’s budget has been allocated to education. And the demographics are largely homogenous: while Syria and Iraq are divided along sectarian lines – Shia or Sunni – some 98 percent of Tunisians are Sunni Muslims.

But perhaps more important than all of these historic differences are the choices that modern Tunisians have made.

Tunisia’s military has stayed out of active politics. Contrast that with Egypt, where the military controls anywhere from 10 percent to 40 percent of the economy and business. Four of Egypt’s last five presidents came from the military. And the one that didn’t – Mohammed Morsy – was toppled by the military.

Another factor behind Tunisia’s relative success is the foresight of its civilian leaders.

Three years ago, Tunisia had a similar trajectory to Egypt. Both nations voted for Islamist leaders whose movements had either been suppressed, banned, or exiled. Look at what happened next. In Egypt, when a fresh spate of protests began, President Morsy battened down the hatches and refused to reach out to his detractors. He was removed by force. On the other hand, in Tunisia, the coalition government actually stepped aside of its own accord, handing power to a temporary government. Now that is how democracy is supposed to work – by making painful compromises.

In Cairo, people didn’t make those concessions. Egypt’s Islamists wanted to push through a constitution that would be unacceptable to liberals, and then to rule by presidential decree. Tunisia’s new constitution – which was approved overwhelmingly by a majority of Islamists – is being hailed as the most progressive constitution in the Arab world, with equal rights for women and minorities.

Last month at the World Economic Forum in Davos, with top leaders from the Arab world, Tunisia’s Rachid Ghannouchi explained why his party, the Islamist party, willingly stepped down from government last year in Tunisia. “We had two choices,” he said. “Either we stay in power and we lose democracy … or we gain democracy and give up power.” He chose the latter. It was a selfless choice, but also a savvy one: It wouldn’t be surprising if he and his party are back in power later this year.

The Tunisian model is not flawless, but it has powerful lessons for the rest of the Arab world. This is a country that has learned the most difficult lesson of democracy: how to be inclusive and how to compromise. It has learned this lesson without the West, without aid money, without compromising on its religious ideas (remember, the new constitution firmly enshrines Islam, but alongside women’s and minority’s rights.) So before we start blaming Washington or the West for not doing enough in the Arab world, let’s learn from Tunisia that local leadership is the key – and that right now there is little of it in the Arab world.

BY GPS editor, Jason Miks

Published on Feb. 9th, 2014 http://globalpublicsquare.blogs.cnn.com

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