A large crowd wearing masks commutes through Shinagawa Station in Tokyo, Japan, Mar. 3, 2020 (AP photo by Jae C. Hong).

For everyone around the world, in every country and continent, 2020 was dominated by a single story: COVID-19. For all of us, though the date may have varied, there was a definitive before and after the onset of the coronavirus pandemic. The thirst for thoughtful analysis of such a historic world event—from big picture articles examining the broad sweep of the pandemic’s global impact to more focused pieces detailing its implications for particular countries—is reflected in our list of this year’s most-read stories. Of course, WPR also closely covered the U.S. presidential election, the Black Lives Matter protests that spread […]

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan at a meeting of NATO’s Mediterranean Dialogue, in Ankara, Turkey, May 6, 2019 (Presidential Press Service photo via AP Images).

In response to strong bipartisan pressure from Congress, the U.S. State Department imposed sanctions on Turkey earlier this month to punish it for purchasing a sophisticated anti-aircraft missile system from Russia in 2019. The narrowly targeted sanctions include a ban on export licenses for Turkey’s main military procurement agency, as well as asset freezes and visa restrictions on senior officials at the organization. Not surprisingly, Turkey, a major NATO ally, called the move a “grave mistake” and threatened to retaliate. The yearslong fracas over Turkey’s purchase of the S-400 missile defense system, reportedly for around $2.5 billion, will go down […]

Russian President Vladimir Putin and the president of Sudan’s Sovereignty Council, Abdel Fattah al-Burhan, at the Russia-Africa summit in Sochi, Russia, Oct. 23, 2019 (TASS pool photo by Gavriil Grigorov via AP).

Following Russian Prime Minister Mikhail Mishustin’s approval last month of a new naval base to be built on Sudan’s Red Sea coast, official Kremlin statements have billed the facility as a logistics center that will be defensive in nature—for principal use as a resupply station for Russian warships. In spite of these assurances, Russian media outlets have touted the base as Moscow’s gateway to the Red Sea and Indian Ocean, widening the reach of its naval forces. The basing agreement’s terms, which were released on Dec. 8, appear to support this latter view: In exchange for military aid, Sudan will […]

Photo by 692 Productions, courtesy of Dambisa Moyo.

“It’s very easy for us to forget that things in the global economy and geopolitically were already somewhat precarious before COVID hit in earnest,” says Dr. Dambisa Moyo. “As we start to think about what a post-pandemic recovery looks like, I think it’s very important to have that context in mind.” This is why, for Dr. Moyo, “COVID is an accelerator to the challenged environment that was already occurring.” Dr. Moyo is a widely acclaimed economist and author of four New York Times bestselling books, most recently, “Edge of Chaos: Why Democracy Is Failing to Deliver Economic Growth—and How to […]

An Egyptian protester waves the national flag during a demonstration in Tahrir Square, Cairo, Egypt, Feb. 3, 2012 (AP photo by Nathalie Bardou).

Editor’s Note: Middle East Memo will be off for the holidays next week. It will return Jan. 4. Subscribers can adjust their newsletter settings to receive Middle East Memo by email every week. Ten years ago this week, the protests were spreading across Tunisia. The young fruit seller whose name would soon reverberate across the Arab world—Mohamed Bouazizi—had set himself on fire days earlier, to protest against the police who kept harassing him for bribes. He was fed up with the kind of daily abuse by authorities at all levels of government that Egyptians, Libyans, Syrians and so many others […]

A protester waves the Sahrawi flag during a demonstration in front of the Spanish Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Madrid, Dec. 10, 2020 (Photo by Diego Radames for Sipa via AP Images).

U.S. President Donald Trump’s surprise move last week to recognize Morocco’s claim to the disputed region of Western Sahara, in exchange for Morocco normalizing relations with Israel, ushered a long-frozen conflict into a new and more volatile phase. In one sense, it is formal acknowledgement of the reality that Morocco has cemented its de facto control over most of Western Sahara. With U.S. backing, Morocco now has even less incentive to cooperate with the United Nations in its decades-long effort to determine the fate of the coastal desert territory through a referendum on self-determination, promised after the U.N. brokered a […]

Egyptian girls at a rally in Tahrir Square, Cairo, Egypt, Jan. 25, 2012 (AP photo by Maya Alleruzzo).

CAIRO—With hundreds of women flooding social media in recent months with accusations of sexual harassment and assault, a growing #MeToo movement is taking Egypt by storm. Their online testimonials have garnered massive public support and prompted reforms to the country’s sexual harassment laws, like granting anonymity to victims and witnesses in sexual assault cases. More broadly, they are challenging the culture of victim-blaming that is often associated with sexual harassment and assault in Egypt. Activists are hoping to build on this momentum in a country where gender-based violence has become all too common. After the Arab Spring protests in 2011 […]

President Donald Trump during a roundtable on Venezuela in Doral, Florida, July 10, 2020 (AP photo by Evan Vucci).

When President-elect Joe Biden takes office on Jan. 20, he will inherit two types of problems from his predecessor. The first will involve repairing the damage President Donald Trump created through neglect: the alliances, partnerships, multilateral organizations and U.S. government institutions to which Trump paid too little attention the past four years. Though not negligible, these problems will in most cases be relatively straightforward to address through methodical diplomacy—the simple art of showing up. The second category of problems has to do with the damage Trump created by paying too much attention to an issue: most of all, his campaigns […]

A woman casts her vote for parliamentary elections in the town of Hawally, Kuwait, Dec. 5, 2020 (AP photo by Jaber Abdulkhaleg).

There was a high level of public interest when Kuwaiti voters went to the polls on Dec. 5 to elect a new National Assembly, reflected in voter turnout of more than 60 percent, despite initial concerns that the coronavirus pandemic would suppress participation. Incumbent lawmakers fared poorly, with 24 of the 43 who were up for reelection losing their seats, as voters registered their dissatisfaction with the previous parliament. But while many commentators have described the results as a win for the opposition, which appeared to boost its numbers, the direction the new National Assembly will take remains to be […]

A young girl waves a Moroccan and a Palestinian flag during a protest against normalizing relations with Israel, in Rabat, Morocco, Sept. 18, 2020 (AP photo by Mosa’ab Elshamy).

Editor’s Note: Every Monday, Managing Editor Frederick Deknatel highlights a major unfolding story in the Middle East, while curating some of the best news and analysis from the region. Subscribers can adjust their newsletter settings to receive Middle East Memo by email every week. The United Arab Emirates got armed Reaper drones and the coveted F-35, becoming the first Arab county to fly the most advanced U.S. fighter jet, despite Israel’s initial objections. Sudan got much-needed economic aid and the promise of being removed from Washington’s list of state sponsors of terrorism, freeing up billions of dollars in more international […]

Protesters burn pictures of U.S. President Donald Trump and President-elect Joe Biden outside the Iranian Foreign Ministry, Tehran, Nov. 28, 2020 (AP photo by Vahid Salemi).

Many world leaders, dismayed by four years of Donald Trump, are hoping that President-elect Joe Biden will return to an American foreign policy that is more pragmatic and balanced, less fickle and pettily punitive. One region crying out for an urgent recalibration in the U.S. approach is the Persian Gulf. Thanks to an emerging European initiative to help bring a modicum of calm to the tense region, Biden will have the opportunity to do a lot of good early in his term without having to invest too much political capital. Ever since the 1979 Iranian revolution, tensions between Iran and […]

Refugees and migrants wait to get on a bus after their arrival at the port of Piraeus, near Athens, May 4, 2020 (AP photo by Petros Giannakouris).

COVID-19 is a global menace, but its impact falls heaviest on the most vulnerable. In the world’s poorest states, the pandemic-induced recession threatens to throw decades of development into reverse and place hundreds of millions in desperate circumstances. Last week, the United Nations released its Global Humanitarian Overview, outlining the additional devastation in store if the multilateral system fails to close the yawning gap between urgent humanitarian needs and funds available to meet them. In other words, the list of global challenges the incoming Biden administration will face just got longer. For the world’s poorest nations, the main threat is […]

Saudi Prince Turki al-Faisal during an interview in Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates, Nov. 24, 2018 (AP photo by Kamran Jebreili).

Editor’s Note: Every Monday, Managing Editor Frederick Deknatel highlights a major unfolding story in the Middle East, while curating some of the best news and analysis from the region. Subscribers can adjust their newsletter settings to receive Middle East Memo by email every week. Was it a warning shot to Israel, and neighboring Gulf countries like the United Arab Emirates, sanctioned by the Saudi king himself? Was it a more carefully calibrated speech meant to curry favor with the Saudi public, and other countries in the Arab world, by pushing back on the idea of normalization with Israel? Or was […]

Mina Al Fahal Shell refinery in Muscat, Oman, Oct. 1, 2019 (DPA photo by Alexander Farnsworth via AP).

In early November, Oman’s government announced plans to institute an income tax on high earners by 2022. The policy will break precedent in the oil-rich Gulf, where states tend to pay their citizens, rather than requiring citizens to pay the state. The question now is whether this decision will fundamentally shift the social contract in Oman, which has been an absolute monarchy for decades. Oman’s neighboring rentier economies will be watching closely to see whether direct taxation leads Omanis to more vocally demand representation in government. Oman’s experience will also have implications for U.S. engagement with the region. That Oman […]

Russian President Vladimir Putin and Abu Dhabi Crown Prince Mohamed bin Zayed Al Nahyan attend an official welcome ceremony in Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates, Oct. 15, 2019 (AP photo by Alexander Zemlianichenko).

Reports this week that the United Arab Emirates is potentially financing Russian mercenaries in Libya affiliated with the notorious Wagner Group, according to a Pentagon watchdog, appear to be sending mini shockwaves through Washington. But the UAE has long had a fixation on mercenaries, and the fact that Russia is a regular supplier of soldiers of fortune should surprise no one. Much more worrying is the lack of policy coherence in Washington on what to do about it. A seemingly insatiable appetite for proxy wars and hired guns has helped fuel the rise of these shadow armies. President-elect Joe Biden’s […]

Jordan’s King Abdullah II, right, meets with then-Vice President Joe Biden at the Husseiniya Palace in Amman, Jordan, March 10, 2016 (AP photo by Raad Adayleh).

Few governments were as relieved as Jordan’s at the results of last month’s presidential election in the United States. King Abdullah II was one of the first world leaders to congratulate Joe Biden for his victory over Donald Trump, and Biden spoke with Abdullah by phone last week, his first call with an Arab leader since winning office. Despite a long history of cooperation on economic and security issues, U.S. ties with Jordan were strained under Trump’s presidency, largely due to Trump’s lopsided approach to the Israeli-Palestinian peace process. Under Biden, the relationship is likely to “go back to what […]

Jordan’s King Abdullah II and President Donald Trump during a meeting in the Oval Office of the White House, Washington, June 25, 2018 (AP photo by Evan Vucci).

The usually warm relationship between the United States and Jordan has come under strain during President Donald Trump’s time in office. Jordanian leaders have criticized many of Trump’s policies in the region, especially his support for Israeli settlements in the West Bank, his decision to recognize Jerusalem as the capital of Israel and his one-sided proposal for a peace deal between Israel and the Palestinians. It was no surprise, then, that Jordan’s King Abdullah II was one of the first world leaders to congratulate Joe Biden for his victory over Trump in last month’s presidential election. And in a phone […]

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