Archive for the ‘Middle East’ Category


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).



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.


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



Written on February 13, 2014 by Waya Quiviger in Master in International Relations (MIR), Middle East, Op Ed

Los kurdos son una población de unos 20 millones de habitantes que antes de la I Guerra Mundial se extendían por la geografía de Irán y el Imperio Otomano pero que, desde las particiones del Tratado de Versalles, quedaron también bajo la soberanía de Siria e Irak. Es entonces cuando los problemas de los kurdos se hacen de verdad existenciales. Esas nuevas entidades políticas, Turquía, Irak y Siria, e incluso Irán, se basan en el constructo del Estado nación y el desafío de encajar a los kurdos en ese modelo de convivencia está todavía abierto. Y es que como ya nos previno el magisterio de Hossbawn, el Estado nación no es la única ni la más universal manera de acomodar poblaciones y poder.

Es en Turquía donde el enfrentamiento ha resultado más sangriento y duradero. Si bien el Tratado de Sèvres (1920) recogía la obligatoriedad de un referéndum para la autodeterminación del pueblo kurdo, el golpe de estado de Kemal Ataturk y sus victorias en la Guerra de Independencia dieron nacimiento a un nuevo Tratado, el de Lausanne, donde desapareció esa exigencia. Los kurdos se definieron como “turcos que han olvidado su idioma en las montañas” y hablar en kurdo empezó a castigarse como traición. Sucede, sin embargo, que cuando un país subdesarrollado y sin historia nacional intenta imponer al 20% de su población, igualmente subdesarrollada pero con aguda conciencia étnica, las exigencias de un Estado nación, no puede conseguirlo a la francesa, con unas pocas guillotinas. Ha de emplear a sus Fuerzas Armadas en guerra abierta. Así fue y ya en 1925 se produce el levantamiento de Sheik Said, ahogado en sangre. Ya fuese “reaccionario” como lo quiere la narrativa turca o “nacional” como lo describe la kurda, lo cierto es que su derrota resultó uno de los pilares del kemalismo, junto con la purga que siguió al intento de asesinato del propio Kemal Ataturk en 1926. Así pudieron promulgarse los tres pilares de la revolución kemalista. La Ley del Vestido (1925) la Ley del Alfabeto Latino (1928) y el Código Civil (1928).

Cuando un país subdesarrollado y sin historia nacional intenta imponer al 20% de su población, igualmente subdesarrollada pero con aguda conciencia étnica, las exigencias de un Estado nación, no puede conseguirlo a la francesa, con unas pocas guillotinas. Ha de emplear a sus Fuerzas Armadas en guerra abiertaLa rebelión de Sheik Said no fue el final de la insurgencia, sino más bien lo contrario. Consta que de 1924 a 1938 hubo 17 enfrentamientos entre el Ejército turco y los kurdos.

La cuestión kurda toma un giro nuevo en 1945, esta vez en Irán. Como el shah Rheza (1925-1941) parecía demasiado cercano al Eje, Inglaterra y EEUU ocuparon el país; Inglaterra y los EEUU el Sur, la URSS el Norte. Al abandonar la URSS Irán, dejó un recuerdo en forma de República Independiente de Mehabad, primera entidad política kurda y única soberana hasta hoy. Duró once meses. Su Jefe Militar fue el iraquí Mustafa Barzani.

En 1958 la caída de la monarquía en Irak abre el capítulo kurdo de la República, con antecedentes de rebelión tribal antes y después de la II Guerra Mundial, ocasiones que le permitieron a Inglaterra ensayar el arma química en poblaciones civiles. Leer mas…

Por el Embajador Jose A. Zorrilla, publicado el 8.02 en el


Theme: Egypt has undergone a frantic succession of political and social changes since January 2011. Today it is possible to envisage three different ‘futures’ for Egypt, described here as the good, the bad and the ugly.

Summary: Egypt is in a central position in the Arab world. Whatever happens there will have a substantial impact on the future of its wider neighbourhood. Three interconnected factors will determine its transition: the economy, security and its capacity for political and social integration. The main actors need to reach a consensus on basic issues that are essential to stabilising the country, salvaging the economy and pushing the democratic process forwards. The first half of 2014 will provide some clue as to which of the three ‘futures’ outlined here will be most likely.

Analysis: Three years after the fall of Hosni Mubarak, Egypt is in a state of profound uncertainty. The euphoria of world-wide resonance that emerged from Tahrir Square in January and February 2011 has given way to other moods, ranging from impatience and disenchantment to stupefaction and disappointment. In Egypt there are not too many people who look back at what has happened over the past 36 months with optimism. Even less optimistic are many of the foreign observers who have followed the events of the Egyptian transition and its continual upheavals, surprising twists and turns and too many serious collective mistakes.

Since 25 January 2011, Egypt has undergone a frantic succession of political and social changes, including: (1) the loss of fear that led the population to demand the overthrow of a President in 2011 and again in 2013; (2) the first democratic election of a head of state in the country’s history (June 2012); (3) the coming to power through the ballot box of an Islamist, Mohamed Morsi; (4) a military coup with considerable social support that deposed Morsi after just a year in office; (5) the drafting of two constitutions in only two years, neither of which was based on a consensus; (6) a bloody repression, including modern history’s biggest one-day massacre between Egyptians; (7) unprecedented levels of social polarisation; and (8) a rapid return to the old police-state methods that kept Mubarak in power for three decades.

Egypt’s turbulent transition has so far been marked by: (1) repeated changes in the rules of the game, in a mixture of improvisation and political interference of the courts, sometimes with a questionable legal basis; (2) the inability to reach a consensus on basic issues that would be essential to stabilising the country, salvaging the economy and pushing the democratic process forwards; and (3) a ‘zero-sum’ attitude among the main players (the military, the Muslim Brotherhood and the state bureaucracy), according to which any improvement in the positions of one can only be achieved at the expense of the others.

To these difficulties, which are present in other transitions after decades of authoritarian rule, should be added other factors, such as the inability so far to create stable alliances with clear objectives that are shared by large segments of society, the emphasis on battles over identity (the role of sharia law, etc.) to the detriment of the discussions on the institutions and mechanisms that ensure good governance and, finally, the repetition of mistakes made by others in the recent past. One of these mistakes has been the drafting of constitutions that are far from providing a framework for coexistence that is both inclusive and widely accepted.

Egypt has devoted much energy and precious time in 2013 to internecine struggles for control over the ‘legitimacy’ necessary to impose conditions on opponents. Despite their sectarian and incompetent management, Morsi and the Muslim Brotherhood considered that their electoral victory, albeit with 51.7% of the vote, gave them the right to legislate at will, to be above the law and to impose a tailored constitution. The problem that Egypt now faces is that those who have taken over the country after Morsi’s overthrow also claim to possess the ‘legitimacy of the masses’ to approve laws that restrict rights, to draft a non-inclusive constitution and to impose a narrative of ‘fighting against terrorism’, which is blamed on the Muslim Brotherhood as a whole. This has been done even at the risk of such a generic accusation becoming a self-fulfilling prophecy in the case of some of the Brotherhood’s members.

Egypt is in a central position in the Arab world. Whatever happens there will have a substantial impact on the future of its neighbours. Similarly, the implications of its sociopolitical developments will be felt throughout the entire Euro-Mediterranean area. Today, it is possible to envisage three different ‘futures’ for Egypt, described here as the good, the bad and the ugly. Read more…

Haizam Amirah-Fernández
Senior Analyst for the Mediterranean and Arab World at the Elcano Royal Institute and Professor of International Relations at IE Business School.

[1] This article was originally published in Spanish as ‘Los futuros de Egipto: el bueno, el malo y el feo’ in Política Exterior, nr 157, January-February 2014, pp. 140-9.




On Friday 31 January, the IE School of International Relations and the Toledo International Centre for Peace (CITpax) had the honor of hosting a fascinating panel discussion entitled An Overview of the Political and Social Transformation in the Arab Region.

Three distinguished guest speakers from the region composed the “A Team”, as Ambassador Emilio Cassinello, Director General of CitPax quipped.  The panel included  Marwan Muasher,    Vice President for Studies at Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, and Former Minister of Foreign Affairs of Jordan; Nassif Hitti, Senior Arab League Official, former Head of the Arab League Mission in Paris, and permanent observer at UNESCO; and Dr. Mohammad-Mahmoud Ould Mohamedou, Visiting Professor at the Graduate Institute and Head of Program at the Geneva Center for Security Policy.

Mr. Muasher began the seminar by presenting his latest book The Second Arab Awakening and the Battle for Pluralism. The Second Awakening is a referral to the First Awakening in the Arab region that started as an intellectual movement in the mid-20th century. It later led to the independence of many Arab states, but not to democratic rule in these countries. If the Second Awakening that is taking place today in the Arab world is to be a successful continuation of the First one, it must necessarily lead to the creation of a pluralistic government. Three years after the Arab Spring, achieving pluralistic rule is no easy task. What we see today is the struggle between religious and secular elements that are exclusionist in their desire to control power. Yet Islam as a solution in the Arab world has lost its appeal. The “Arab street”, as Mr. Muasher calls it, does not want more religion (they are quite religious as it is). What they want is a better economy, an improved livelihood. In his words, performance trumps ideology. People will judge whomever is in power not by their religion or values but by how the economy is doing under their mandate. In the end, neither a theological government such as the one seen in Iran or a secular dictatorship such as the Mubarak regime is the solution. Both types oppress the people and strip them of their rights. A pluralistic government should be the end goal.

How long will a successful transition to democracy take in the Arab world? According to Muasher and his co-panelists, perhaps decades. Democracy took centuries to get established in Europe, so how can one expect it to be firmly consolidated in the Arab region in only just 3 years? This is an unrealistic expectation.  Pluralistic rule will be achieved over time through toil and sacrifice.  For this, education is fundamental and this entails teaching the youth critical thinking , not just absolute truths as it is being done today.

What are the threats to a transition to pluralism? All three panelists agree that a big problem in the Arab region is the lack of national unity or national identity. Iraq, Syria, Lebanon, Libya were created as states without taking into account the different nations or minorities that composed them. The result is a lot of sectarian violence within these countries and a struggle for citizenship. Another threat is the rise of extremism. Indeed the road to democracy means that everyone has a voice including extremists that use ideology and demagogy to control power. Linked to this is the threat of transnationalism as we are currently seeing in Syria, where jihadists from other countries come to fight the secular oppressor but only add to the turmoil.

To conclude: is there reason for optimism? Yes. In spite of many problems and obstacles, the road to democracy is being paved by the new generation. This generation will need leaders who are willing to sweat and toil in order to make pluralism a reality. Tunisia is an example of an Arab state that is slowly transitioning to a democracy without the interference of the armed forces or the West. Let us hope this model is followed in the rest of the region.

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