POMEPS Briefings

POMEPS publishes briefing booklets throughout the year. These briefings are collections of relevant Middle East Channel articles from ForeignPolicy.com with an original introduction by POMEPS Director Marc Lynch. Briefings are available as free PDF downloads and can be used in the classroom. Click here for a complete list.

Visions of Gulf Security

March 25, 2014

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Visions of Gulf Security

POMEPS Studies 25 — March 25, 2014

The turbulence in Gulf security politics today is difficult to miss: unusually sharp public splits in the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC), rising sectarian tensions, tough moves against the Muslim Brotherhood and other Islamist movements, and markedly harsh crackdowns on even minor forms of public dissent. Gulf elites are openly airing profound doubts about the future of the U.S. regional role, worries about blowback from Syria, and fears about the implications of a Western rapprochement with Iran. Regime efforts to insulate themselves from popular dissent have included potentially unsustainable economic commitments and self-defeating internal repression. Meanwhile, deep political divisions are disrupting the long-standing security partnership between Washington and the GCC states.

How has the turbulence of the last three years affected security in the Gulf? Do new domestic, regional, or international trends fundamentally alter how the regimes, political movements, and people of the region grapple with challenges to their security? How new are these challenges, and how extraordinary the responses? What is gained, and what potentially distorted, by viewing these events through a security lens? Which assumptions in the academic literature about Gulf security have proven resilient, and which require rethinking? On March 9, 2014, POMEPS and Matteo Legrenzi at Ca’ Foscari University brought together more than a dozen scholars based in the Middle East, Europe, and the United States to Venice, Italy to look closely at the new – or not so new – questions about Gulf security. [click to continue…]

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Rethinking Islamist Politics

February 11, 2014

Rethinking Islamist Politics

Rethinking Islamist Politics

POMEPS Briefing 24 – February 11, 2014

The Arab uprisings of 2011 radically reshaped the environment within which Islamist movements had evolved over the preceding decades, causing rapid, disorienting changes in their strategies, ideologies, and organizations. The last three years have produced an enormous amount of new information about these movements: detailed election results; factional and generational and intra-Islamist rivalries spilling out into public; varying degrees of political polarization between Islamists and their rivals; the erratic performance of Egypt’s Muslim Brotherhood after coming to power through elections and the fallout from its removal through popular protest and military coup; the emergence of a sharp public backlash against the Brotherhood in Egypt, at least, and a crackdown on its social services; a new regionwide campaign designating the Brotherhood as a terrorist organization; the surprising evolution of al Qaeda and jihadist movements from Syria and Iraq through North Africa.

In January 2014, the Project on Middle East Political Science therefore convened a workshop with fifteen leading academic specialists on Islamist movements in the Arab Middle East and charged them with rethinking key assumptions, arguments, evidence and research programs in light of these three tumultuous years. The workshop brought together European and American academics with specialties ranging from mainstream movements such as the Muslim Brotherhood to jihadists and non-violent Salafists, and with expertise on countries ranging from the Gulf through Egypt and the Levant to North Africa. This special POMEPS Briefing collects the memos prepared for the workshop. The short essays collected here touch on many of these issues, pointing towards a rich set of compelling new theoretical and empirical questions with which the field must now grapple. [click to continue…]

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Turkey’s Turmoil

January 13, 2014

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Turkey’s Turmoil

POMEPS Briefing 23 – January 13, 2014

Turkey’s Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan occupied a dominant political position not too long ago. In June 2011, his Justice and Development Party (AKP) won nearly 60 percent of the seats in parliament while expanding its lead over its closest competitor. Turkey seemed well primed to take advantage of the Arab uprisings, with its independent foreign policy and criticism of Israel playing well with Arab audiences. Erdogan even seemed keen to find a resolution to the long-running struggle with the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) and reconcile with the country’s Kurdish citizens.

Those days seem distant indeed. For at least the last six months, Erdogan has struggled to respond to sustained popular protests, a growing corruption scandal, a stalled peace process with the PKK, a deeply unpopular and ineffective Syria policy, and dissent from within his own party. How did Erdogan’s fortunes reverse so quickly? Are his problems primarily the natural decay of a leader too long in power or do they speak to deeper problems with his party’s ideology or the foundations of Turkish democracy? The 14 deeply researched and analytically powerful Foreign Policy Middle East Channel essays collected in this POMEPS Briefing go deeply into the origins, dynamics, and likely implications of Turkey’s new political scene. [click to continue…]

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Briefing 22

The Political Science of Syria’s War

POMEPS Briefing 22 – December 18, 2013

* For more references on Syria and civil wars click here.

Syria is about to enter its third year of a brutal conflict which has killed more than 100,000 people and driven millions from their homes. What began as a peaceful civil uprising inspired by the successful Egyptian and Tunisian uprisings has long since devolved into a complex, protracted civil war fueled by an array of external interventions on all sides. It’s hardly the first complex civil war to scar the modern world, though. Indeed, the study of civil wars is arguably among the richest current research programs in all of political science.

So what does the political science literature on civil wars and insurgencies have to say about Syria’s evolving war and how it might be ended? To find out, last month I convened a workshop through the Project on Middle East Political Science (which also sponsors the Middle East Channel). I invited more than a dozen of the leading scholars of civil wars to write memos applying their research to the Syrian case. These scholars were joined by a number of Syria specialists, and a range of current and former U.S. government officials with responsibility for Syria.

This special POMEPS Brief collects the memos prepared for that conference, along with several articles previously published on the Middle East Channel. The overall conclusion of most of the contributors will come as no surprise: The prospects for either a military or a negotiated resolution of Syria’s war are exceedingly grim. But that’s only part of the story. More interesting, perhaps, are the reasons that Syria seems so resistant to resolution — and how international policies have contributed to the problem. Read more…

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The Politics of Sectarianism

November 14, 2013

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POMEPS Briefing 21 – November 13, 2013

A group of Syrian-Americans arrived at an academic conference at Lehigh University last week in Bashar al-Assad t-shirts and draped in Syrian flags adorned with Assad’s face. They repeatedly heckled and interrupted speakers, and one told an opposition figure that he deserved a bullet in the head. When a speaker showed a slide picturing dead Syrian children, they burst into loud applause. When another speaker cynically predicted that Bashar would win a 2014 presidential vote, they cheered. In the final session, they aggressively interrupted and denounced a Lebanese journalist, with one ultimately throwing his shoe at the stage. The panel degenerated into a screaming match, until police arrived to clear the room.

This spectacle might seem notable in that it unfolded at a U.S. university, but otherwise it would pass for an alarmingly normal day at the office in today’s toxically polarized Middle East. Such intense mutual hostility, irreconcilable narratives, and public denunciations are typical of any number of highly polarized political arenas across the region. A similar scene between supporters and opponents of Egypt’s military coup is all too easily imagined — just add bullets. That’s why the disproportionate focus on sectarian conflict as the defining feature of the emerging Middle East seems dangerously misplaced. Sunni-Shiite tensions are only one manifestation of how a number of deeper trends have come together in recent years to give frightening new power to identity politics writ large.

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Egypt’s Political Reset

POMEPS Briefing 20 – July 23, 2013

How should analysts understand the combination of the June 30 massive popular mobilization and the July 3 military coup against then-President Mohamed Morsi? Should these events be understood as a continuation of the January 25 revolution, a second revolution, a straightforward military coup, or a restoration of the Mubarak-era order? Does the blame for the failure of Egypt’s first popularly elected presidency lie with Morsi and the Muslim Brotherhood, with a recalcitrant opposition, with a resistant state, or with the deep problems which any transitional leadership would have confronted? Can a pathway toward a democratic order still be found?

Egypt’s Political Reset, the latest in the POMEPS Arab Uprisings Briefing Series, collects 15 recent Middle East Channel and Foreign Policy essays written by academics grappling with these issues. The essays range widely across a diverse range of interpretations and analysis. They include historical comparisons and cross-national comparisons alongside close examinations of the Egyptian police, the military, the state, and the Muslim Brotherhood. These essays offer no  analytical consensus nor a clear path forward — and nor should they.

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Yemen’s National Dialogue

POMEPS Briefing 19 – March 21, 2013

Yemen began its long-awaited National Dialogue Conference this week in Sanaa. The NDC hoped to find some zone of consensus for moving forward in its transition from the long rule of Ali Abdullah Saleh. It has been beset by many problems of representation, withdrawals and boycotts, deeply entrenched divisions, and the perception of irrelevance to the real problems of Yemenis. For a while it looked like it might never actually convene.

The stakes are high, as April Alley argues in an October essay, in a country facing a slide back into political collapse and mass violence. As Danya Greenfield argues, the urgency of the situation leaves few options: “despite opposition to the dialogue, it is clear that the status quo is unsustainable. The oft-repeated mantra among many Yemenis is that the question is one of dialogue or civil war.” But just because something is needed does not make it possible. “Yemen’s National Dialogue” collects outstanding recent Middle East Channel analysis of the National Dialogue, its challenges, and its prospects. Read more…

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Cover The Egypt Policy Challenge

 POMEPS Briefing 18 – March 4, 2013

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry’s visit to Cairo this weekend laid bare some of the deep limitations of U.S. policy toward Egypt. Kerry struggled to find a bridge between supporting a staggering Egypt and pushing it in a more democratic direction. The hotly polarized political environment in Egypt made such a balancing act excruciatingly difficult, as some prominent leaders of the opposition refused to meet with him publicly (although Mohamed ElBaradei found time for a phone call and Amr Moussa sat down with him off-camera) and protestors angrily denounced U.S. policy.

Kerry announced $250 million in immediate economic assistance, including a new $60 million Egyptian-American Enterprise Fund. He said many of the right things about U.S. priorities, pushing President Mohamed Morsi to compromise and the opposition to participate in the elections. His statement on the trip made clear that “more hard work and compromise will be required to restore unity, political stability and economic health to Egypt. The upcoming parliamentary elections are a particularly critical step in Egypt’s democratic transition. We spoke in depth about the need to ensure they are free, fair and transparent. We also discussed the need for reform in the police sector, protection for non-governmental organizations, and the importance of advancing the rights and freedoms of all Egyptians under the law — men and women, and people of all faiths.” Read more…

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The Battle for Egypt’s Constitution

POMEPS Briefing 17 – January 11, 2013

On December 26, 2012, Egyptian President Mohamed Morsi signed off on a new constitution. It was not a cheerful occasion for many politically active Egyptians, following one of the most intensely, dangerously polarized months in recent Egyptian history. The bitterly controversial two-round referendum approving the constitution revealed the depth of the political and social chasm which had been torn through the political class. I offered my own thoughts on the meaning of these events late last month in my “Requiem for Calvinball,” but that was only one part of the wide range of coverage on the Middle East Channel of coverage of the crisis. So I’m pleased to announce here the release of POMEPS Briefing #17: The Battle for Egypt’s Constitution, collecting our articles on the constitution and the political landscape left in the wake of this explosive crisis.

The constitutional drafting process, as Nathan Brown pointed out just before the explosion of the crisis, had been a shambolic mess for over a year and little resembled academic conceptions of how a constitutional process should unfold. There was little high-minded public discourse here, little search for wide national consensus, little attempt to reach beyond political interest to seek a higher dimension of political agreement. Rebuilding a ship at sea, in Jon Elster’s endlessly evocative phrase, never looked so perilous. Complaints about Islamist domination of the constituent assembly had led to mass resignations by non-Islamist members and excoriating commentary in the Egyptian public sphere. Backroom battles over the powers of state institutions intersected with principled arguments over matters such as the role of Islam and public freedoms. This was not the heady stuff of the great constitutional assemblies celebrated in the history textbooks — even before the surreal, late-night, non-deliberative ratification process. Read more…

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The Arab Monarchy Debate

December 20, 2012

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The Arab Monarchy Debate

POMEPS Briefing 16 – December 19, 2012

It has been widely noted that monarchies have done better at surviving the Arab uprisings that began two years ago. Three Presidents (Ben Ali, Mubarak, and Saleh) have fallen, along with Muammar al-Qaddafi’s unique Jamahiriaya, while Bashar al-Assad’s Baathist presidential regime faces a mortal threat. For some analysts and academics, this pattern suggests a fairly obvious “monarchical exception” which demands explanation.

In August, I launched a debate on Foreign Policy about whether and how monarchy matters in explaining the resilience of Arab regimes. I was not impressed. Against arguments that monarchies face some kind of unique legitimacy commanding the loyalty of their people, I noted that Arab monarchies have in fact faced significant popular mobilization over the last two years: Bahrain has had one of the most intense and protracted uprisings anywhere; Kuwait is facing the deepest political crisis in its post-occupation history; Jordan experienced unprecedented protests; Saudi Arabia has had a protracted challenge in its Eastern Province; Oman experienced unusual levels of protest; Morocco’s protest movement drove the king to adopt a significant (if underwhelming) constitutional initiative. I concluded, “the monarchies look like fairly typical Arab authoritarian regimes, surviving because they enjoy greater financial resources, less demanding international allies, and powerful media assets to perpetuate their legitimation myths.” Read more

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