An Emirati gunner aboard a Chinook military helicopter, Yemen, Sept. 16, 2015 (AP photo by Adam Schreck).

Earlier this month the minister of state for foreign affairs of the United Arab Emirates, Anwar Gargash, announced that the tiny federation of Persian Gulf emirates had declared an end to combat operations in Yemen, where it is part of a Saudi-led military coalition. In a June 15 speech, Gargash was quoted as saying that the Yemen war “is over for our troops,” and that the UAE was now focused on monitoring the political situation and “empowering Yemenis in liberated areas.” The speech was valedictory in tone, reiterating the oft-made point that the Emirati military has exceeded expectations in the […]

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan at a press conference during the World Humanitarian Summit, Istanbul, May 24, 2016 (OCHA photo by Berk Özkan).

The cycle of violence between the Turkish state and insurgents of the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) is reaching proportions not seen since the 1990s. The fighting has left approximately 11,000 homes destroyed, leading The Financial Times to declare Turkey “the most dangerous country in Europe” and others to begin speaking of the “Syrianization” of the country’s southeastern region, where the brunt of the conflict has taken place. The fighting in the provinces of Diyarbakir, Sirnak, Hakkari, Van and Bingol has taken a heavy toll on civilians. About 1.3 million people have been impacted, with tens of thousands forced to flee […]

Saudi King Salman greets U.K. Prime Minister David Cameron, Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, Jan. 24, 2015 (AP photo via SPA).

The Brexit bombshell is bad news for the Middle East region on a number of scores, in particular what it says about Western attitudes toward migrants and Muslims, and about loss of support for economic integration, a big idea that would improve prospects for the Arab world. The shock waves after the U.K. referendum are being felt in the Middle East, but so far the reactions are fairly superficial and self-interested. Judging from comments on Twitter and other social media quoted by Arab media, the focus for many in the Arab world has been on the weakness of the major […]

Bahraini anti-government protesters hold posters of top Shiite cleric Sheik Isa Qassim, Karrana, Bahrain, May 17, 2013 (AP photo by Hasan Jamali).

Last week, authorities in Bahrain stripped Sheikh Isa Qassim, the country’s most prominent Shiite cleric, of his citizenship. His crime: “Serving foreign interests” and spreading sectarian discord. The move wasn’t in isolation. One week prior, a Bahraini court suspended the activities of al-Wefaq, Bahrain’s main Shiite opposition group, on charges of terrorism, extremism and violence. Days before, Bahraini police detained Najeel Rajab, president of the Bahrain Center for Human Rights, during a raid on his home. Zainab al-Khawaja, a political dissident, also fled the country earlier this month after being released from prison. In May, an appeals court extended the […]

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu with former Israeli Defense Minister Moshe Yaalon, Jerusalem, Feb. 16, 2015 (AP photo by Sebastian Scheiner).

It wasn’t exactly Gen. Douglas MacArthur vowing, “I shall return.” But when former Israeli Defense Minister Moshe Yaalon announced on May 20 that he was stepping down from the Knesset, Israel’s parliament, and taking a temporary leave from politics after losing his post in the Cabinet, he added a caveat laced with more than a little bravado: “I have no intention of [permanently] leaving public life,” he declared. And in case his former boss, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, missed the thrust of the promise, Yaalon added, “I will return as a candidate for national leadership.” With that, the former chief […]

German Chancellor Angela Merkel and Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan during the World Humanitarian Summit, Istanbul, Monday, May 23, 2016 (AP photo by Salih Zeki Fazlioglu).

Earlier this month, the German parliament voted to recognize the 1915 killing of Armenians by Ottoman Turks as genocide, a motion that passed with support from all parties in the parliament. Turkey, unsurprisingly, was furious about the vote, and immediately recalled its ambassador in Berlin. Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, on a visit to Kenya at the time, said “the decision will seriously impact Turkish-German relations.” Erdogan also took aim at German parliamentarians of Turkish origin, saying they should have blood tests to prove their Turkish identity since “their blood is impure,” statements that infuriated the Turkish community in Germany. […]

Iranians in line at a polling station during the parliamentary and Assembly of Experts elections, Qom, Feb. 26, 2016 (AP photo by Ebrahim Noroozi).

There is a crackdown underway in Iran. But it is no longer just a crackdown on dissent. Rather it is an attempt to crush views or expressions that depart from the insular and rigid worldview of an increasingly small band of hard-liners. It is not opposition parties, secularists or even reformists that are the latest targets of repression, but longtime insiders and scions of the Islamic Republic; a conservative and clerically vetted president and his administration; and revered cultural figures whose music, art and writings have long been the pride of Iranians. These are the new targets of repression, and […]

Tunisian President Beji Caid Essebsi with Ennahda party leader Rachid Ghannouchi and Ennahda party vice-president Abdelfattah Mourou, Rades, Tunisia, May 20, 2016 (AP photo by Hassene Dridi).

One of the secondary effects of the terrible shooting in Orlando, Florida, has been to relaunch the debate on whether public officials have misidentified the terrorist threat at home by failing to call it “radical Islam” or “Islamic extremism.” At another point along the spectrum of Islamic political activism is Tunisia’s Ennahda party. Often described as a “moderate Islamist” party, its leaders recently decided to separate Ennahda’s political and religious activities, going so far as to ban party leaders from preaching in mosques or holding positions in religious associations. That raises the question of whether a party whose followers would […]

Syrian President Bashar al-Assad addressing the newly-elected parliament, Damascus, June 7, 2016 (Syrian Arab News Agency photo via AP).

In his defiant speech to Syria’s parliament earlier this month, President Bashar al-Assad, as he always has, cast all of Syria’s rebels as terrorists. “Just like we liberated Palmyra and many other areas before it, we are going to liberate each and every inch of Syria from their hands,” he said. The speech struck a decidedly different chord from Assad’s last national address, in July 2015, when he admitted that his army was tired, running out of soldiers, and had given up territory. A little over a month after that speech, Russia intervened in Syria, propping up Assad through airstrikes […]

Migrants and refugees crowd the tracks of a railway station used as a makeshift camp, Idomeni, Greece, May 5, 2016 (AP photo by Gregorio Borgia).

On Friday, the aid group Doctors Without Borders, known by its French acronym, MSF, announced that it will no longer take money from the European Union or any of its member states, in a denunciation of the union’s “intensifying attempts to push people and their suffering away from European shores.” In 2015, the group received about $42 million from member states and nearly $21 million from the EU itself. The move is a response to a deal between the EU and Turkey, in which Turkey agreed to take back all migrants, including Syrian refugees, who arrived on Greek islands, in […]

Saudi King Salman bin Abdul Aziz meets with U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry, May 15, 2016, Jiddah, Saudi Arabia (Saudi Press Agency via AP).

When Hillary Clinton, the presumptive Democratic presidential nominee, delivered her first speech after the weekend massacre at an Orlando LGBT nightclub, she listed a predictable collection of problems contributing to the killings, from the availability of assault rifles in the U.S. to the proliferation of extremist ideologies emanating from the Middle East. Then she delivered a surprisingly blunt message to America’s Arab allies: It is “long past time,” she declared, for Saudi Arabia, Kuwait and Qatar to stop their citizens from funding extremist organizations, as well as from “supporting radical schools and mosques” that send young people into extremism. The […]

Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Iranian President Hassan Rouhani during a welcoming ceremony at the Saadabad Palace, Tehran, May 23, 2016 (Iranian Presidency Office via AP).

With international sanctions against Iran lifted, India is keen to get ties with Tehran back to their pre-sanctions level. This was reflected in the flurry of high-level visits that took place this year in the run-up to Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s visit to Iran in late May. While India is looking to Iran to help in its transition to an economy fueled by natural gas, it is also betting on Iran to be its gateway into markets in Central Asia, through the development of the Iranian port of Chabahar. For its part, Iran seems keen to deepen its strategic economic […]

Chinese President Xi Jinping meeting with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, along with their delegates, Beijing, May 9, 2013 (AP photo by Kim Kyung-Hoon).

For more than 20 years, Israel’s ties with countries in Asia have gradually increased, enough to warrant talk of Israel’s own pivot to the region. But it is not just a pivot. Instead, it is a major realignment of Israel’s foreign policy on a broad scale, supported by geopolitical developments and motivated by Israel’s slowly eroding political relations with Europe and the United States. The origins of this process can be found in Israel’s desire to stake out a claim in booming world trade with China, whose massive growth in recent decades could leave no trading partner indifferent. But what […]

Iranian President Hassan Rouhani and Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan during a joint news conference, Ankara, Turkey, April 16, 2016 (AP photo by Burhan Ozbilici).

Last week, a Turkish energy firm signed a $4.2 billion deal for the construction of seven natural gas power plants in Iran, the largest investment deal in Iran since international sanctions over its nuclear program were lifted. In an email interview, Nader Habibi, the Henry J. Leir professor of economics of the Middle East in Brandeis University’s Crown Center for Middle East Studies, discussed the evolution of Turkish-Iranian ties. WPR: What were the main areas of political, economic and energy cooperation between Turkey and Iran pre-2011, and what impact did international sanctions on Iran and the Syrian conflict subsequently have […]

Muslim pilgrims walk toward the Grand Mosque in the holy city of Mecca, Saudi Arabia, Sept. 13, 2015 (AP photo by Mosa'ab Elshamy).

RIYADH, Saudi Arabia—Since ascending to the Saudi throne in January 2015, King Salman has launched a range of reform initiatives. One of the more radical, but least sign-posted, is a drive for greater accountability and transparency in public life. Saudi commentators believe the move is aimed in part at cutting the ground out from under the scores of critics on social media who accuse senior Saudi officials and members of the royal family of pocketing a large share of the country’s huge oil revenue. The initiative may also be intended to compensate for the absence of political reform in the […]

A demonstration in support of refugees and migrants entering Europe, Barcelona, Spain, March 19, 2016 (AP photo by Emilio Morenatti).

BARCELONA, Spain—The countries around the Mediterranean basin are a diverse lot, ranging from the European Union and NATO’s southernmost members to the states of the Balkans, the Middle East and North Africa. One thing almost all of them share is a constant tension from the seemingly contradictory trends toward separation and integration. In the early 21st century, each trajectory has its appeal in this maritime region, but neither represents a panacea. Over time, the Mediterranean will continue to teach us about independence, interdependence and integration as parts of a natural cycle for states and societies. Traveling from the lands of […]

A convoy of aid vehicles loaded with food and other supplies travels to Madaya, Syria, Jan. 11, 2016 (AP photo).

When the United Nations Security Council tries to micromanage a conflict, as some of its members are poised to do with regard to Syria’s civil war, it is a pretty good bet that the situation will very soon get worse. The council offers a useful, if often malfunctioning, mechanism for creating diplomatic frameworks to handle crises. When it is united, it can bring pressure to bear on warring parties. Yet when the council gets into the operational details of conflict management, such as how to protect specific cities from attack or to deliver aid, it is liable to wade out […]

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