In last week’s column I raised the question of whether the United States can succeed in achieving its strategic objectives with regard to stability in Afghanistan and curtailing Iran’s nuclear ambitions through negotiations with the Taliban and the new government of Iranian President Hasan Rouhani. But if the reaction of U.S. pundits to the Obama administration’s efforts to get accused NSA leaker Edward Snowden extradited are any indication, then the sort of protracted diplomatic efforts needed to resolve the Iran and Afghanistan crises are likely to run into considerable domestic political resistance. American commentators on the left and the right […]

The protests that began in Istanbul last month and soon spread throughout Turkey have become a globally watched demonstration against Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan and his recent policies. By their nature and, most importantly, because this crisis was so badly managed by the prime minister, the protests will undoubtedly represent a turning point in the country’s political life, affecting Turkish society and democracy. However, the past month’s events, while alarming, do not necessarily represent the worst-case scenario for Turkish democracy that many have made them out to be. In fact, the protests in Turkey are reinvigorating public debate in […]

One year ago this Sunday, on June 30, 2012, Mohammed Morsi became president of Egypt, 18 months after revolutionary euphoria had flooded Cairo’s sweltering streets. The Muslim Brotherhood stalwart had come to power in the wake of the Tahrir Square pro-democracy uprising that toppled the three-decades-old dictatorship of Hosni Mubarak. It would count as a massive understatement to call Morsi’s first year in office a disappointment. To see just how thoroughly Egyptians feel Morsi has let them down, follow events in Cairo and elsewhere in the country this Sunday, as the country marks the anniversary with expected massive protests calling […]

This week, followers of a radical Sunni cleric fought for two days with Lebanese security forces in the southern city of Sidon, in clashes that reportedly killed 18 soldiers and up to 40 of the cleric’s followers. In an email interview, Oren Barak, associate professor of political science and international relations at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, explained the Lebanese armed forces’ position within Lebanese society and its efforts to maintain stability amid spillover from Syria’s civil war. WPR: What is the Lebanese army’s position within Lebanon’s factional society, and who does it answer to? Oren Barak: The Lebanese armed […]

In Kuwait, where the Constitutional Court has ordered the dissolution of parliament for the second time in a year, the Cabinet decided in an emergency meeting to call parliamentary elections for next month. Now the timing of those elections is in question after the Cabinet moved Monday to delay the vote. Initially scheduled for July 25, when held the elections will be the sixth in seven years for the Persian Gulf state, where, as Al Jazeera reported, “political upheaval has stalled infrastructure development and delayed economic reforms.” “Kuwait is passing through a period of extended political turbulence and uncertainty, as […]

Last week, Syria’s currency lost nearly a third of its value, the latest blow to an economy damaged by years of sanctions and war. In an email interview, Samer Abboud, an assistant professor at Arcadia University who has researched Syria’s political economy, explained the sanctions against Syria and the sectors most deeply affected by them. WPR: What is the state of the sanctions regime on Syria, in terms of measures existing before the war began and those enacted since? Samer Abboud: The U.S. sanctions prior to the conflict were mostly symbolic and had limited material impact on the economy. After […]

Can regional powers replace the U.S. and Europe in policing perennial trouble spots such as the Middle East and West Africa? Or are their own weaknesses going to create new problems for the West? Recent events in Turkey and Nigeria have illustrated the dilemmas involved. Both countries have faced very different internal security challenges in recent months. Nigeria has tried to extirpate the Boko Haram Islamist rebel group with a major military offensive in the northeast of the country. Turkey has made a mess of handling widespread public protests stemming from arguments over a popular park in Istanbul. These episodes […]

Can dialogue be effective in securing America’s strategic interests? This is the challenge extended to U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry, who this past week received two opportunities to show that diplomacy rather than force can bring results in solving two long-standing quandaries. The first was the election of Iran’s former nuclear negotiator Hasan Rowhani to the presidency. An establishment cleric known for his diplomatic finesse, Rowhani replaces the bombastic Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, whose fiery rhetoric and outspoken commitment to the country’s nuclear program inflamed Western sensibilities and whose efforts to strengthen the position of the presidency put him on a […]

Turkish Cypriot President Dervis Eroglu appointed Sibel Siber to head a caretaker government last week after the government of the territory, which is recognized only by Turkey following its 1974 invasion, collapsed on June 5. In an email interview, Michális Michael, research fellow and deputy director of the center for dialogue at La Trobe University, explained the background of the political crisis and its ramifications for the island’s peace process. WPR: What led to the vote of no confidence against former Prime Minister Irsen Kucuk? Michális S. Michael: Eight disaffected deputies from the ruling Ulusal Birlik Partisi (National Ruling Party, […]

Azerbaijani foreign policy officials and analysts see few signs that the election of Hasan Rowhani as Iran’s next president will bring about any meaningful changes in Iran’s foreign policies—whether regarding Israel, Tehran’s controversial nuclear program or Azerbaijan’s tense relationship with the Islamic Republic. Azerbaijan’s foreign policy elites’ main concern is that the West will continue to undervalue Azerbaijan’s importance, leaving Baku in a position where it is forced to accommodate Tehran’s demands, as well as pressures from Russia, to abandon its Western-leaning foreign policy. During four days in Baku this past week, I had the opportunity to discuss Azerbaijan’s relationship […]

The unexpected victory of centrist candidate Hasan Rowhani in Iran’s presidential election last week signals a significant shift in Iranian politics. Rowhani began his campaign as a moderate who was unlikely to cause trouble for Iran’s supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, or the conservative ruling elite. After the disqualification of former President Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani and the decision by reformist candidate Mohammad Reza Aref to drop out of the race, however, the reformists and supporters of Rafsanjani rallied around Rowhani. As a result, large segments of the electorate came to see him as an alternative to the conservative candidates favored […]

Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki recently concluded his first trip in years to Irbil, capital of the Kurdistan region of Iraq, without having made any tangible progress toward resolving the feud between the central Iraqi government and the Iraqi Kurds, who are developing their own energy industry and exporting oil to Turkey. Discussing the position of the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) amid regional turmoil, the experts who spoke with Trend Lines emphasized the Kurds’ interest in normalizing relations with Iraq’s central government in Baghdad. “By seeking a future with Turkey instead of Iraq, some Kurdish leaders may think they do […]

Will the Syrian government and its opponents ever sit down for negotiations in Geneva? It has been more than a month since U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry and Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov announced plans for a peace conference in the Swiss city. There were suggestions that the meeting could happen in May or June. But it has been pushed back repeatedly, while Russia and the U.S. appear to be edging closer to a full-scale proxy war in Syria. The promise of talks in Geneva may even have made the conflict worse. When Kerry met Lavrov in Moscow in […]

The Obama administration yesterday announced that it would provide military assistance to Syrian rebels, after having concluded that the regime of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad has used chemical weapons against opposition fighters in the ongoing civil war. The move comes after months of criticism of the administration, from both left and right, for its apparent fecklessness with regard to the ongoing civil war in Syria. Washington ought to have been doing more to protect the Syrian populace from the repressions of the Baathist dictatorship, cry the liberal interventionists. The president’s “inaction” has strengthened America’s foes and disheartens its allies, argue […]

Reports are spreading and speculation is rising that Qatar is nearing a major leadership transition, with the crown prince expected to become prime minister in the next few weeks before replacing his father as emir. Both Qatari Prime Minister Sheikh Hamad bin Jassim Al Thani and Qatari Emir Sheikh Hamad bin Khalifa are expected to step down and cede power to Crown Prince Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad bin Khalifa Al Thani. Michael Stephens, a researcher at the Royal United Services Institute for Defense and Security Studies, said the question is not whether the transition will happen but when and how […]

Ethiopia’s construction of the Grand Renaissance Dam on the Blue Nile River is creating serious tension among Egypt, Sudan and Ethiopia. There is a fear in Egypt that the large storage capability of the dam will put control of valuable Nile water in the hands of upstream Ethiopia. Egyptian leaders have regularly issued threats to deter Ethiopia from completing the project, without much success. Meanwhile, Sudan, which has had a water-sharing agreement with Egypt on the Nile since 1959, has sided with Ethiopia, heightening uncertainty in Cairo over the future of Nile water sharing. The Renaissance Dam project has been […]

Last month, Turkish President Abdullah Gul visited Turekmenistan to discuss bilateral ties. In an email interview, Bayram Balci, a visiting scholar focusing on Turkish foreign policy at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, explained Turkey’s broader relationship with the Central Asian republics. WPR: What has been the recent evolution of Turkey’s relationship with Central Asia, and why does Turkey prioritize the region in terms of its foreign aid? Bayram Balci: The last major political event between Turkey and Central Asia was the 10th summit of Turkey and the other Turkic republics—Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan, Kyrgyzstan, Turkmenistan and Azerbaijan—which took place in Istanbul […]

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