After 12 years of American pressure, al-Qaida’s core is, as President Barack Obama put it, “on the path to defeat.” That’s a good thing, but no one believes that crushing al-Qaida Central deep in its Pakistani sanctuary will mean the demise of the entire movement. Whether of necessity or as part of a deliberate strategy, al-Qaida has endorsed or adopted franchises across the Islamic world. Now American policymakers must assess the comparative danger posed by each of these and identify the most strategically significant ones. Counterterrorism experts often rate al-Qaida in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) the most active and lethal […]

The Gezi Park protests in Istanbul’s Taksim Square, which shook Turkey at the end of May, represent a turning point in Turkey’s contemporary political history. Although their main target was Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan and his style of government, the protests, in combination with developments in Syria’s civil war, will have significant consequences for the ongoing peace process with the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK). At the same time, the need to effectively address the Kurdish issue could accelerate recent shifts in Turkey’s stance on the Syrian crisis. Though the Turkish-PKK peace process currently appears deadlocked due to natural mistrust […]

There have been many diplomatic efforts to end the Syrian war, and few if any are worth commemorating. But this week brings the second anniversary of one attempt that, despite making no difference on the ground, offered some evidence of how the international system is evolving. On Aug. 3, 2011, the Security Council agreed a statement calling for an immediate halt to violence in Syria. This was the council’s first significant declaration on the already six-month-old crisis. But it was also notable because of the three countries that championed it: Brazil, India and South Africa, all temporary members of the […]

Last week, al-Qaida’s Iraqi branch staged major simultaneous raids on two Iraqi prisons, afterward claiming to have freed more than 500 Iraqi detainees in the operation. In an email interview, Myriam Benraad, senior Middle East research fellow and Iraq specialist at Sciences Po Paris, explained Iraq’s detention system and the U.S. role in it. WPR: What is Iraq’s system for handling fighters captured on the battlefield? Myriam Benraad: Following the enforcement of the U.S.-Iraq Security Agreement in 2009, U.S.-run prison facilities were officially transferred to the Iraqi government. Specific “rehabilitation” and “deradicalization” programs were developed and implemented, intended to thwart […]

When the European Union voted to add Hezbollah’s name to its list of terrorist organizations, it simultaneously added one more item to the growing list of costs the Lebanese group is incurring for its brazen intervention in Syria’s civil war. Jumping into the Syrian fray is taking a significant toll on Hezbollah, and it could ultimately take an even greater one on Lebanon. Still, Hezbollah calculates the risk would be even greater if it sat out the uprising against Syrian President Bashar al-Assad. Whether that decision will pay off is yet to be seen. Europe was careful to name Hezbollah’s […]

With hopes ranging from better living standards and a more open and fair society, to improved public services and higher levels of security, Yemenis have justifiably high expectations of the country’s National Dialogue Conference, underway since March 18, 2013. The conference, part of the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) plan for the Arab Spring’s only negotiated transition so far, is of great significance not only for Yemen, but also for the wider region and beyond. Making a success of the conference is vital for the continued existence of Yemen as a state—literally, by offering a credible alternative to Southern secessionists, and […]

Two and a half years after Tunisia launched the wave of uprisings that spread across the Arab world, the North African country still provides the best hope for the establishment of a sustainable democracy in the region. The development of Tunisia’s transition has been fraught and at times precarious, but at critical moments the country’s political evolution has displayed a self-correcting character. Every time Tunisia has confronted the risk of a breakdown of politics or the fracturing of society, it has managed to pull back from the brink. Tunisia remains dangerously polarized, but the country’s political and social groups have […]

In July 2012, amid the euphoria of historic elections, Libya’s future seemed brighter than ever. The polls were Libya’s first democratic elections in more than 52 years, and the promise of Libya’s Arab Spring seemed closer at hand. Many obstacles had been surmounted to demonstrate to the world that the nation could prevail against strong odds. But those obstacles have not for the most part been overcome. One year after the elections and two years after the fall of Tripoli and the toppling of Moammar Gadhafi, Libya’s transition continues to confound and dismay most observers. This is due in part […]

With its parent organization, the Muslim Brotherhood, ousted from power in Egypt, Hamas is once again facing a new reality in the Middle East. “Hamas considers itself to be an extension of the Muslim Brotherhood, so any attack or weakening of the Muslim Brotherhood is bound to impact Hamas itself,” said Hisham Ahmed, a professor of politics at St. Mary’s College of California. Hamas, the Palestinian organization that governs the Gaza Strip, saw the election of the Muslim Brotherhood’s Mohammed Morsi to Egypt’s presidency as a signal of political and ideological support from the largest Arab country in the region. […]

At the heart of the turmoil that continues to afflict Egypt lies the sharp ideological divide that separates liberals and Islamists. But ideology alone—differences of opinion over the role of religion, separation of powers and women’s rights, among other issues—does not explain the extent to which the renewed conflict has engulfed the country. Ideology fires up the most die-hard activists on both sides, but something much more mundane mobilizes the masses: The economy is the thing for all but the most committed. Personal privation—a decrease in living standards that has cut across much of Egyptian society—is what has produced the […]

Should the West attempt to make the Syrian civil war drag on for as long as possible? The question may sound morally offensive and politically wrong-headed. The U.S. and its allies have consistently called for a rapid cessation of hostilities and a negotiated settlement. Yet they are currently pursuing military, diplomatic and humanitarian strategies that could contribute to prolonging the conflict. This could result in either a stalemate inside Syria or even more violence in the country and across the Middle East. As the Syrian war escalated from steady but limited violence to large-scale bloodletting in 2012, many Western observers […]

Latin America holds lessons for understanding—and pointing the way through—the current upheaval in Egypt. As Egypt enters a new phase of polarization following the military intervention in the wake of massive protests against its elected leader, recent Latin American experience points to the risks of moving forward without addressing the roots of this polarization. It also shows some of the requirements for constructing a democratic bargain to overcome the social and political exclusion of important sectors of society. In Latin America, 13 leaders were forced to end their terms prematurely, without having been constitutionally impeached, between 1990 and 2009. Eight […]

The Egyptian military’s ouster of President Mohammed Morsi has placed Egypt’s ultraconservative Islamists Salafis in a position of distinct power. The Times of Israel described the reaction among Salafis to the coup in Egypt as one of jumping on the “revolutionary bandwagon,” with the Salafi al-Watan party, fearing political marginalization, calling for national unity following the coup. And even as Egyptian security forces rounded up Muslim Brotherhood leaders, the new interim president called for Islamists to participate in building the new Egypt, in a statement that could serve as an invitation to the Salafis to play a more prominent role. […]

The confusing web of alliances in Middle Eastern politics has gotten even more tangled after the forcible deposition of Egyptian President Mohammed Morsi and the attempt by the military to decapitate the Muslim Brotherhood from power. Dividing lines once seen in Washington as unchangeable may now be in flux as a result of the Egyptian turmoil. The implications for Syria, in particular, are most compelling. Amid concerns that the Syrian opposition to President Bashar al-Assad—which contains a number of pro-Muslim Brotherhood factions—might line up with their Egyptian counterparts in opposing the new government, the provisional administration in Cairo has now […]

Qatar made a name for itself in recent years with its bold, headline-grabbing foreign policy. Among its many controversial moves, as I noted in earlier articles, none looked as risky as the decision to give strong support to the Muslim Brotherhood in the wake of the Arab uprisings. Now, with the Muslim Brotherhood out of power in Egypt, one of the potential downsides of that risk equation has materialized, leaving Doha at a foreign policy crossroads. For Qatar, the turn of events in Egypt is the most significant, but it is only one in a series of recent reverses to […]

Last month, the government of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu announced plans to export up to 40 percent of the gas from Israel’s Eastern Mediterranean fields, with expected earnings of up to $60 billion over a 20-year period. This is, however, only the first step toward realizing export revenues from Israel’s gas reserves, a process fraught with complicated choices over the route and destination of those exports. Rather than aiming to use its gas for any great geopolitical gains, Israel currently seems happy to avoid unsettling interested parties while it reaps long-term economic gains from its gas bounty. Domestically sourced […]

In 2011 a revolution in Tunisia inspired a revolution in Egypt. Both countries subsequently elected Islamist governments. Egypt has now ousted its new rulers. Tunisia does not look set to do the same. The grassroots opposition movement Tamarod, which sparked the recent mass protests in Egypt, has struggled to make the same impact in Tunisia. Its petition to dissolve Tunisia’s National Constituent Assembly and scrap the constitution has collected fewer than 200,000 Tunisian signatures—representing barely 2 percent of the population. In contrast, Egypt’s Tamarod claimed to have gathered 22 million signatures for its own petition—more than a quarter of the […]

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