Tag: Saudi Arabia

Peace picks February 27 – March 3

  1. Conflict Prevention and Resolution Forum: Negotiation Day – Negotiators’ Behavior in the End Game | Monday, February 27 | 9 – 10:30am | SAIS Johns Hopkins | Register Here | No analytical work has ever addressed the subject of How Negotiations End. We know that negotiators act differently in the endgame–when they see the end is in sight, good or bad, and they work to that end. This project addresses that situation, examining way in which the endgame ends positively or negatively, and the way in which typical behavioral patterns are encountered on the way. A path breaking study of a neglected topic. The book is now in press with Cambridge University Press, the latest study of the Process of International Negotiation (PIN) Program at Clingendael, Netherlands.
  2. Potential Negotiations in the Upcoming Year | Monday, February 27 | 11 am – 12:30 pm | SAIS Johns Hopkins | Register Here | We are faced today with an international situation filled with challenges for negotiation. These represent opportunities open for pursuit; others represent situations looking for an opportunity. In this situation, what are the prospects for pursuing and developing negotiations as a means of managing conflict and of furthering US policy goals.Speakers:Thomas Pickering, former US Ambassador to the United Nations, the Russian Federation, India, Israel, and JordanPrinceton Lyman, former US Ambassador to Nigerial and South Africa

    Galia Golan, Professor at the School of Government, Diplomacy and Strategy at the Interdisciplinary Center in Herzliya

    Vali Nasr, Dean of Johns Hopkins SAIS

    I WIlliam Zartman, Jacob Blaustein Professor Emeritus of International Organizations and Conflict Resolution, SAIS – Moderator

    Location Kenney Herter Auditorium, 1740 Massachusetts Avenue NW

  3. Crude Strategy: Rethinking the U.S. Military Commitment to Defend Persian Gulf Oil | Monday, February 27 | 11 – 12:30pm | Cato Institute | Register Here | Should the United States continue to use its military to guarantee the flow of oil from the Persian Gulf? For more than 30 years, U.S. foreign policy has been shaped by a commitment to safeguard the flow of oil from the Persian Gulf. Yet profound changes in international oil markets, growth in domestic U.S. energy production, and dramatic shifts in the Middle Eastern balance of power suggest that it may be time to reconsider whether this commitment is still warranted. In Crude Strategy, a multidisciplinary team of political scientists, economists, and historians set out to explore the links between Persian Gulf oil and U.S. national security. Their essays explore key questions such as the potential economic cost of disruption in oil supply, whether disruptions can be blunted with nonmilitary tools, the potential for instability in Saudi Arabia, and the most effective U.S. military posture for the region. By clarifying the assumptions underlying the U.S. military presence in the Persian Gulf, the authors conclude that the case for revising America’s grand strategy towards the region is far stronger than is commonly assumed.
  4. The Trump Administration and the Future of the Kurds | Monday February 27 | 2 – 3:30pm | Wilson Center | Register Here | The Kurdish issue in the Middle East is at an important juncture. The Iraqi Kurds, faced with an unsettled Iraq, are itching to declare their independence. The Syrian Kurds have managed to affiliate themselves with the United States against ISIS but face a hostile reaction from Turkey, their northern neighbor, intent on rolling back their successes. The Turkish Kurds have to contend with the effects of government attempts at suppressing their legal political representatives and the war between the Turkish state and the PKK, which are challenging the country’s stability. Our panel will discuss these and other issues pertaining to the future Kurdish political landscape.
  5. U.S. – Turkey Cooperation in Syria and the Role of the U.S. in the Middle East | Monday February 27 | 3 – 4:30pm | Turkish Heritage Organization | Register Here | The Trump administration has inherited numerous, complex challenges in the Middle East. Regional instability caused by the Syrian civil war continues to have a profound impact on one of the U.S.’s most strategic NATO allies – Turkey – and on the bilateral relationship between Washington and Ankara. As the Trump administration prepares to tackle these issues and re-shape America’s role in the region, experts will discuss the choices and challenges facing the U.S. and Turkey.
  6. The Impact of Shifting Geopolitics on MENA Energy | Tuesday February 28 | 12 – 1:30pm | Middle East Institute | Register Here | Changes in the energy market, new entrants, and conflicting economic and national security interests at the regional and global level have altered the market power of Middle Eastern oil and gas producers. Industry developments and new policies under the Trump administration are likely to lead to the expansion of U.S. shale oil and gas production and increased exports. Russia vies daily with Saudi Arabia to be the world’s largest producer, while prices remain far below levels of a few years ago. How are Middle Eastern states coping politically and economically with the challenges of a global energy market in an historic transition?
  7. Obama’s Legacy, Trump’s Inheritance in the Middle East (Annual Kuwait Chair Lecture) | Tuesday February 28 | 6:30 – 7:45pm | Elliott School of International Affairs | Register Here | Join us as Ambassador Edward “Skip” Gnehm examines the environment in the Middle East that President Trump inherits from his predecessor and explores the parameters for action by the new administration.
  8. Food for Humanity | Wednesday March 1 | 12:15 – 1:30pm | Middle East Institute | Register Here | The Middle East Institute’s Arts & Culture Program is pleased to host a conversation about the political, emotional and symbolic significance of food for displaced and diaspora communities. The panel will explore the unifying role of food, its ability to generate empathy, and its power to build community among diverse peoples through the ritual sharing of a meal. The panel will also discuss how food can serve as a source of income, a form of cultural resistance, and as a means of preserving identity and heritage for refugee communities in the face of loss.
  9. How People Become Terrorists | Wednesday March 1 | 12:15 – 1:45pm | New America | Register Here | In the years since 9/11 the scope and nature of the global neo-jihadi threat to the West has changed radically, prompting reassessments from those following the threat. In his latest book Misunderstanding Terrorism, Marc Sageman examines the current threat and articulates a new model of how people become terrorists, which has strong implications for the fight against terrorists that go against the conventional wisdom. New America welcomes Dr. Sageman for a discussion of what is driving the current generation of jihadists to become terrorists and how the U.S. should adapt to the threat. Marc Sageman is a Senior Fellow of the Foreign Policy Research Institute and the author of Misunderstanding Terrorism and two other critically acclaimed books: Understanding Terror Networks (University of Pennsylvania Press, 2004) and Leaderless Jihad (UPP, 2007).
  10. Women of the Caliphate: Gender Dynamics in State-Building Jihadi Organizations | Thursday March 2 | 5:30 – 7pm | American University | Register Here | A Talk with Hamoon Khelghat-Doost, from the National University of Singapore. Hamoon Khelghat-Doost looks at gender dynamics within jihadi organizations by examining their standpoint on the state-building process. His talk will explore the reasons for jihadi organizations, such as ISIS, to incorporate a relatively high number of women. Khelghat-Doost has conducted fieldwork in Afghanistan, Iraq, Iran, Lebanon and along Syrian borders in southern Turkey.
  11. Prospects for the Next Generation of Palestinian Leadership | Friday March 3 | 12 – 1:30pm | Middle East Institute | Register Here | President Trump’s backpedaling on the U.S. commitment to a two-state solution shines a spotlight on the Palestinians’ looming leadership crisis. Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas, now 81, has yet to cultivate a successor, and his administration faces growing concerns about its credibility twelve years after the last national elections. How should the next generation of Palestinian leaders approach such complex issues as Israeli settlement expansion, a Fatah-Hamas reconciliation, economic troubles, and engagement on the international stage?
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Challenges to Yemen’s peace process

In an event held by the Atlantic Council on Monday February 13, experts gathered together to discuss challenges to the Yemeni peace process and its outlook for success. Moderated by Mirette F. Mabrouk, Deputy Director and Director for Research & Programs at the Rafik Hariri Center for the Middle East at the Atlantic Council, the panel included H.E. Khaled Ayemany, Permanent Representative of Yemen to the United States, Nawda Al-Dawsari, Nonresident Senior Fellow at the Project on Middle East Democracy, Mohammed Khalid Alyahya, Nonresident Senior Fellow at the Rafik Hariri Center for the Middle East at the Atlantic Council, and Nabeel Khoury, Nonresident Senior Fellow at the Rafik Hariri Center for the Middle East at the Atlantic Council.

Ayemany said UN Resolution 2216, passed in 2015, is the most important legal instrument the international community has to end the conflict by recovering legitimate governance and law and order. But the Obama administration has kidnapped the entire peace process and negatively impacted the outcome. According to Ayemany, the United States has always had a special relationship with Yemen, especially in the war against terrorism. But the “deceiving alliance” with America under Obama led to obstacles in the peace process largely due to other regional American concerns in Syria and with Iran. Ayemany feared that Yemen would become worse than Somalia if the government was dissolved completely, and hoped that the Trump administration would reverse the Obama administration’s damaging effec. Iran is also a significant actor in the conflict, though Ayemany felt Iran had lost its ability to gain control or influence in Yemen.

Al-Dawsari discussed her research into civilians’ perspectives on the peace talks, noting there is deep resentment and distrust of both the negotiations as well as the actors involved in the peace talks. The UN-sponsored peace process is deeply flawed because it is elite-centric and neither inclusive of Yemenis nor understanding of the conflict. There are two major reasons for the conflict—power struggles between former president Saleh and his traditional allies, and local grievances and resentment towards elite. Because the UN and the international community have only addressed the former cause, peace talks have and will continue to fall short. Allowing elite actors and issues to monopolize peace talks, Al-Dawsari argues, will not end the conflict. It is important to engage local actors who have the potential to develop a more comprehensive solution.

Alyahya discussed the role of Saudi Arabia in the Yemen conflict. Because Yemen is in its back yard, Saudi Arabia is interested in having a stable and prosperous neighbor. The Kingdom has attempted to keep Yemen afloat with aid. Alyahya highlighted the achievements of the coalition, which he said now controls 80% of land in Yemen. Saudi Arabia’s help is far preferable than what Yemen might look like had the Kingdom not intervened at all.

He also discussed Iran’s role in the conflict. With a wide network of militias across the Arab world, Iran maintains influence over the Houthis and provides material support in the form of weapons and training. Saudi Arabia is frustrated with the roll back of US operational support and wants the Trump administration to increase assistance through intelligence sharing as well as political and logistical support.

Khoury provided insight into the bigger picture of the conflict as well as obstacles to peace on the national, regional, and international level. On the national level, Saleh’s departure left a void that Yemen struggled to fill; if Yemenis had gotten together to form a power-sharing arrangement for governance, the country would not today be entrenched in conflict. Regionally, Khoury echoed Alyahya in saying that it is important for Saudi Arabia to have a stable Yemen, but intervention further complicated the picture by throwing Yemen into the greater regional struggle between Saudi Arabia and Iran. On the international level, Khoury identified three goals the United States has in Yemen: pursuing its counterterrorism efforts, supporting Saudi Arabia’s operations, and countering Iran’s influence. There is no “Yemen first” approach; if the country were to fall apart, it would be worse than Afghanistan.

The panelists also discussed the various rounds of peace talks, the role the international community has played, and what the outcome of the current process might be. Al-Dawsari said that tribal leaders, whose local capacity can better resolve internal conflicts, could more effectively mitigate the broader conflict in Yemen. Khoury agreed that the crux is at the local level and that the peace process has not empowered traditional tribal mediation skills. To truly be successful, the talks must bring major tribal powers together. Alyahya believes that the coalition should stand behind a legitimate Yemeni government and in support of stability on the ground.

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Rewriting social contracts in the Middle East

Authors and experts convened last Wednesday to launch of the report Carnegie Endowment Arab Fractures: Citizens, States, and Social Contracts and the future of Arab regional order. The first panel included Amr Hamzawy, Senior Fellow at the Carnegie Endowment and Bassma Kodmani, Co-Founder and Executive Director at the Arab Reform Initiative. Perry Cammack, Fellow at the Carnegie Endowment acted as moderator. The second panel included Hafsa Halawa, an independent political analyst and lawyer, Mehrezia Labidi, member of the Tunisian Assembly of the Representatives of the People, and George Abed, Distinguished Scholar in Residence at the International Institute of Finance. Marwan Muasher, Vice President for Studies at the Carnegie Endowment acted as moderator.

Cammack discussed the broad themes of the report, which aims to understand the Middle East based on the experiences of people in the region expressed in a survey of more than 100 Arab intellectuals. They assessed the top regional challenges to include authoritarianism and corruption. Cammack said that the report operates within three main frameworks—the citizen, state, and institutions to better examine these challenges. The authoritarian bargain and prevailing social structures have collapsed post-Arab Spring, and new social contracts must be developed for the future.

Kodmani commented on Arab resilience and institutions as well as Syria in particular. She sees the onus of leadership in Syria now falling on society, especially youth, to manage diversity and unify the country after conflict. Local governance within communities works well, so she advocates negotiating a decentralized political system (not de facto partition). By grooming national leaders at the local level, government can be reconstructed with greater transparency and accountability. Kodmani sees the new social contract and a new balance with the army and security forces, so people feel protected by trusted security forces.

Hamzawy discussed the situation in Egypt, in which deep distrust of institutions and lack of social services have led to a revival of pockets of activism in unions and associations, universities, and among Egyptian youth. Although many have lost faith in the formal political arena, Hamzawy expressed hope in the new wave of activism and demands for a new social contract in which government is held accountable and citizens participate in the decision-making process.

Asked to assess what went wrong in Syria and Egypt respectively, Kodmani said that opposition figures failed to incorporate the younger generations into the movement, so the vision of the initial protests was never realized. The opposition was subsequently radicalized and militarized while youth turned to civil society organizations. She believes democracy could make government accountable to the people and incorporate mechanisms to combat corruption. In Egypt, Hamzawy said that an obsession with identity politics obscured the need to build democratic institutions and effect substantive policy change, resulting in an empowered military apparatus taking the reins in 2013.

In the second panel, Labidi discussed the progress Tunisia has made in building trust between the state and citizens. Many citizens feel ownership in the new system and do not want to abandon it or give it up. This translates into a spirit of consensus and participation. Although there are still difficulties, such as economic development and infrastructure building, Tunisian youth and previously marginalized regions now have a stake in the system.

Abed suggested that in states such as Saudi Arabia, oil revenue allows the government to pay its citizens in exchange for carte blanche political power, but with declining oil prices the people will start to ask questions and demand more accountability. Similarly, countries with a history of anti-colonial struggle and failed industrial nationalization must reckon with what Abed called a second Arab awakening as more people demand liberty, dignity, and transparency.

Speaking about Egyptian youth, Halawa said that civil society must balance conversations about governance with debates over identity and visions for Egypt’s future. Egyptians underestimated the entrenched nature of the country’s institutions and do not trust them. Thus, the problem is not political engagement but rather the disconnect between civil society and politics, called “the trust deficit,” which deprives Egypt of any real drivers of change.

The panelists were asked how best to engage the next generation in a way that will create change and how national and civic identity might play into this dynamic. Halawa said that there is only a bottom up approach, getting civil society actors to buy into the system and further explore what civic engagement means and how it’s expressed. Labidi said Tunisians must still define a unifying national identity that prevents fighting among themselves. Abed remained doubtful that regional governments recognized human rights as natural rights, and hoped that governments could be built to protect these rights for their citizens.

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Still damaging

President Trump’s Executive Order affects a minor portion of international travelers, and is a first step towards reestablishing control over America’s borders and national security.

This in essence is the administration’s defense of the President’s executive order barring citizens of seven Muslim-majority countries from the US. It completely misses the point.

First: the US already has control over its borders. Vetting of refugees is intense. Vetting of people who get visas and green cards is as well. I suppose there are ways of tightening things up, but it could have been done without presidential executive orders and worldwide publicity inimical to US interests. I know of no evidence that immigrants or refugees pose a serious national security threat.

Just as important: the executive order’s main impact is on people with no intention of traveling to the US, first and foremost the world’s rapidly growing population of 1.6 or more billion Muslims, including 3.3 million who already reside in the US. They will view the order as unjustified and prejudicial, causing at least some to be disillusioned, alienated, hostile, and even radicalized. It will help ISIS and Al Qaeda recruit and inspire retaliation. If I understand correctly, Iran and Iraq have already responded by blocking the entry of Americans.

The ban is in fact part of a long history of barring immigration: by Chinese, Jews, anarchists, Communists, Iranians, and HIV positive people. In almost all these cases, the bans have proven useless, regrettable, unconstitutional, or immoral.

The current ban is likely all of the above. Immigrants from the countries in question (Syria, Iraq, Iran, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, and Yemen) have conducted no terrorist attacks in the US since 9/11, though Somalis born in the US have been accused of plotting them. The odds of the ban blocking someone plotting such an attack are essentially zero. They might be higher if people coming from the United Kingdom, France, Germany, Belgium, Turkey, Egypt, Saudi Arabia, and other allied countries (not to mention Pakistan, Afghanistan, and Tunisia) were barred, but Trump won’t block them for fear of the reaction.

The administration already appears to be regretting that the ban blocked Iraqis who had supported the US military. The President’s indication that Christians will be given priority in the future is clearly unconstitutional, but of course any court decision on that question might be years in the future. Singling out Christians will, as Michael Hanna suggested this morning in a tweet, put them at heightened risk throughout the Middle East, where some Muslims will regard the favoritism as aligning Christians politically and militarily with the US. “Do no harm” is the moral imperative most of us like to see applied in international relations. Or at least do more good than harm. The administration ignores that dictum at its peril.

The courts last night blocked application of the ban to people who have already arrived at US airports. But it remains in effect for 90 days for those who have not yet reached US shores. Airlines are blocking people with passports from the countries in question from boarding, even if they have valid visas or green cards.

In other words: the demonstrations last night at airports were great, but Trump continues to cause real harm to American interests and ideals throughout the Muslim world. Our European allies recognize this and are protesting, sometimes loudly. But it is up to Americans to get Trump to reverse his foolish and counter-productive decisions.

PS: Fareed Zakaria says it well:

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More own goals

Donald Trump continues to score goals against his own and America’s interests. Just a few examples from the last couple of days:

  1. He announced the building of the border wall shortly before the planned visit of Mexican President Peña Nieto. This has put the visit in doubt and makes it nigh on impossible for Peña Nieto to cooperate with the effort in any way, least of all by paying a dime for the unnecessary and expensive project. Trump continues to claim the Mexicans will pay, but he doesn’t say how and admits it may be complicated. More likely done with smoke and mirrors, not a clear and verifiable transfer of resources.
  2. Trump continues to say that the US should have “taken” Iraq’s oil, has returned to claiming that torture works, and is considering an executive order reviving the “black sites” abroad in which much of it was done. Torture of course does work in the sense that it gets most people to talk, but the information they provide is mostly useless. The draft executive order on “black sites” reportedly denies access to the International Committee of the Red Cross, which is required by the Geneva Conventions. The Islamic State and Al Qaeda will welcome all three of these points, as they help with extremist recruitment and put Americans serving abroad (military and civilian) at heightened risk.
  3. He has revived the Keystone XL pipeline to bring Canadian oil to the US. This will benefit Canada but put excessive amounts of crude into an already oversupplied US market. My bet is that it won’t be built, even if the permits are forthcoming, both because of environmental opposition in Canada and because the economics just don’t work at current oil prices in the mid-$50 range.
  4. He intends to block Syrian refugees from entering the US indefinitely as well as refugees from several other countries temporarily. Blocking carefully vetted Syrians when Europe is taking in many more will strain relations with the European Union, especially as he paired this announcement with repeat of his pledge to create a safe zone in Syria for which there are currently no clear plans. The other countries to be blocked temporarily from sending refugees (Iran, Iraq, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, and Yemen) have produced few terrorists operating in the US, so this will be seen in those countries as arbitrary discrimination. Countries that have produced more terrorists, like Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Pakistan, Afghanistan, and Tunisia, are unaffected, presumably because their governments are friendly to the US.
  5. The Administration is preparing to cut UN funding dramatically. Press reports . say the overall cut will be 40%, which would save at most $2.8 billion, or much less than 1% of the defense budget. Such a cut will reduce US influence in the world organization and its specialized agencies, which are a relatively efficient way of dealing with issues the US does not want to handle on its own. The UN currently has over 117,000 troops in 16 peacekeeping operations, for which the US pays 22% of the total costs.
  6. Trump has pledged an investigation of fraudulent voting in the US. He is citing as evidence for his claim that millions voted illegally a story he says was told him by a non-citizen [sic] who stood in line to vote with people he doubted were citizens. He has also emphasized his concern with people who are registered to vote in two states. Both Trump’s strategist Steve Bannon and his daughter Tiffany are reported to fall in this category. Trump has failed to object to laws and practices intended to suppress voting, mostly by people unlikely to vote for him.

Anyone expecting Trump to moderate once in power should by now be admitting that this is a radical administration that intends to pursue all the bad ideas it campaigned on. There will be no maturation until he is blocked, and even then he is less likely to mature than simply retreat in order to fight another day. He is governing to please his supporters, whose adulation he craves. The rest of us are consigned to opposition. The next big anti-Trump demonstrations will be April 15. I think this time I’ll plan to be in the US.

 

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The still growing Sunni-Shia divide

The Atlantic Council yesterday introduced a book by a Senior Fellow at the Atlantic Council’s Rafik Hariri Center, Geneive Abdo, titled A New Sectarianism: The Arab Spring and the Rebirth of the Sunni-Shia Divide. Abdo was interviewed by Joyce Karam, Washington Bureau Chief of the Al-Hayat newspaper, and the conversation was broadcast on CSPAN.

Abdo‘s book focuses on the aftermath of the Arab Spring and how the divide between Sunni and Shia factions has widened since 2011. She specifically studied Egypt, Yemen, Iraq, Syria, Bahrain and Saudi Arabia. The divides undermine already unstable states and may lead to more conflict in the future.

Abdo explained that while many of the revolutionaries of 2011 were optimistic that all the various factions would come together to build a better government—particularly in Egypt—in reality, every faction wanted dominance more than peace. Radical factions took advantage of the chaos to take power and left more moderate factions behind. The competition for dominance over religious messaging is still increasing.

The Sunni-Shia divide has increased as Saudi Arabia and Iran have tried to co-opt the respective Sunni and Shia causes throughout the region. This rivalry between Saudi and Iran comes at the expense of the majority of Sunnis and Shias in the region, who identify more with their own unique brand of Shiism or Sunnism rather than the Iranian or Saudi brand. For example, many Arab Shias feel that Iran controls the Shia who dominate the Iraqi government, which therefore does not represent the Iraq’s interests. The divide between Sunnis and Shias is further exacerbated by intra-Shia and intra-Sunni conflicts throughout the Arab world.

Abdo considers Saudi and Iranian meddling in regional affairs highly detrimental to the pursuit of peace in the Middle East. For example, the Arab Spring in Bahrain was initially a joint Shia-Sunni effort against the government. However, once Saudi Arabia intervened, the conflict became Sunni Bahranis and Saudis versus Shia Bahranis. As a result, Shia Bahranis are virtually silenced in public discourse, to the detriment of the country.

Despite the general animosity between Sunnis and Shias in the region, many governments have avoided uprisings by warning their people that their country could become like Syria. In Morocco, Abdo met individuals who were unhappy with their government, but do not dare protest for fear that Morocco could become the next Syria. Even the Syrian government has been using this tactic. Bashar Al-Assad has often reminded Syrians that as bad as his rule is, it’s better than ISIS rule—if Assad were to leave, the alternative could be much worse.

Too often, according to Abdo, Washington analysts overlook radical tweets and Facebook posts because they are in Arabic or because they are not considered to be reliable. However, radical anti-Sunni or anti-Shia tweets are widely disseminated and significantly contribute to sectarian hatred. The anonymity of social media allows information and ideas to spread without the burden of individual responsibility.

Though Abdo was hesitant to speculate on how a Trump administration would affect the Sunni-Shia divide, she expects Trump to be much tougher on Iranian interventions than Obama was. But his hyper-focus on countering violent extremism will not leave much room for paying attention to sectarian reconciliation in the region.

When asked if she sees any room for Saudi-Iranian reconciliation, Abdo said that a real peace between these two countries is unlikely. Both Saudi and Iran benefit from the regional rivalry, so it is unlikely that either country will take any steps towards rapprochement. Additionally, there is little that the US can do to encourage these regional rivals to reconcile—the best that we can do is work with them and around them.

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