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…
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…
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…
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…
Kuwait’s Moment of Truth
POMEPS Briefing 15 – November 1, 2012
Last night’s violent clashes in Kuwait have brought its long-brewing political crisis to a dangerous point. It did not have to be this way, in a Gulf state that has long stood out for its robust public sphere, electoral traditions and vibrant parliament. But a series of unusually provocative steps by both the royal family and the opposition, in the context of a long-running battle over the powers of parliament and accountability for the royal family, have taken their toll and tempers are running hot. After months of growing popular mobilization and a complex crisis of political institutions, Kuwait’s political future suddenly seems deeply uncertain.
Before it gets too late to de-escalate, the Kuwaiti leadership needs to offer meaningful political concessions, including standing down on its deeply controversial plans for a December election, relaxing its attempt to shut down public dissent, and allowing a greater parliamentary role in the selection of cabinet ministers. It seems to have instead decided that now is the time to crack down hard before things get out of hand. Its repressive turn and the galvanizing effect on a mostly moderate opposition offers a troubling echo of Bahrain’s brutal path … one which the Kuwaitis seemed uniquely well-placed to avoid, but now looms large. Kuwait’s long-developing political crisis is discussed in depth in the essays collected in today’s new POMEPS Briefing, “Kuwait’s Moment of Truth.” click to continue
The New Salafi Politics
POMEPS Briefing 14 – October 16, 2012
Few developments associated with the Arab uprisings have generated as much concern as the rapid emergence of Salafi movements into the public arena. The performance of al-Nour Party in Egypt’s parliamentary elections stunned many observers. Waves of attacks on Sufi shrines in Tunisia and Libya, denunciations of secular citizens, and loud calls for the imposition of sharia have raised fears at home and abroad. The violent protests over the anti-Islam YouTube film, the deadly attack on the U.S. consulate in Benghazi, and the emergence of Salafi-jihadist trends within the Syrian opposition have made these political concerns ever more urgent.
Who are these new Salafi movements? How should we interpret their rise? This new POMEPS Brief collects more than a dozen recent ForeignPolicy.com essays on Salafis across the Arab world, including a detailed look at Salafi politics in Egypt, Tunisia, Libya, Lebanon, Bahrain, Syria, and Saudi Arabia. The picture that emerges is troubling — but also unexpectedly reassuring. These well-funded and well-entrenched sub
cultures will likely continue to thrive in the open, contentious new Arab political realm. But how they will behave, the response they will generate from other political trends and societal sectors, and how they will approach political institutions remains very much in question. [click to continue…]
POMEPS Briefing 13 – August 20, 2012
Egyptian President Mohamed Morsi’s sudden move last week to oust the senior leadership of the Egyptian military broke a long period of political stagnation and began to bring into view the contours of the emerging political order. It reversed views of Morsi almost overnight. Only two weeks ago, most analysts had written Morsi off as a weak and ineffective executive boxed in by the ascendant military leadership of the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (SCAF). After his bold move against the SCAF and reversal of its constitutional decrees, many now fear that he and the Muslim Brotherhood stand at the brink of nigh-totalitarian domination. [click to continue…]
Drawn from essays originally published on ForeignPolicy.com‘s Middle East Channel, this collection offers well-informed, timely, and highly readable analysis of the Islamist movements which are reshaping the politics and society of the Middle East. The election of the Muslim Brotherhood’s Mohamed Morsi as president of Egypt has sharpened the focus on the role of Islamist movements in a rapidly changing Arab world. Social and political movements based on a political reading of Islam have for decades been among the largest, best organized and most effective forces in many Arab countries. Since the Arab uprisings, they have faced new opportunities and challenges — from elections in Tunisia and Egypt to fighting in Syria and Libya. Who are these Islamists? What do they want? How do they fit within the political arenas in which they operate? Islamists in a Changing Middle East, edited by Marc Lynch, brings together reporting and analysis from nearly two dozen of the world’s top experts on such movements — including Khalil el-Anani, Nathan Brown, Shadi Hamid, Michael Wahid Hanna, Laila al-Lalami, Stephane Lacroix, Nir Rosen, Olivier Roy, and many more. This special ebook, edited by the Project on Middle East Political Science’s Marc Lynch, assembles an exclusive collection of top writers and scholars writing on the region today. Buy it now for just $4.99.
New Opportunities for Political Science
POMEPS Briefing 12 – June 12, 2012
The uprisings that swept the Arab world following the fall of Tunisia’s President Zine el-Abidine Ben Ali in January 2011 represented a stunning moment in the region’s political history. For political scientists specializing in the region, the events of the last year and a half represented an exhilarating moment of potential change but also an important opportunity to develop new research questions, engage in new comparisons, and exploit new data and information. The Arab uprisings challenged long-held theories dominant in the field, particularly about the resilience of authoritarian regimes, while opening up entirely new areas of legitimate social scientific inquiry.
The Project on Middle East Political Science (POMEPS) was created in 2010 in part to build the capacity of Middle East experts to engage and inform policy-makers, the public sphere, and other political scientists about the region. On May 29 to 30, 2012, POMEPS convened a group of leading political scientists who specialize in the Middle East for its third annual conference at George Washington University to discuss the opportunities and challenges that the Arab uprisings pose to the subfield. Participants were asked:
“What new and innovative research questions do you think have become particularly urgent, feasible, or relevant? How would those research questions fit into wider debates in the field of political science?”
This special POMEPS Briefing collects nearly two dozen of the memos written for the conference. The authors are all academic political scientists and Middle East specialists who speak Arabic and have lived in and studied Arab countries for extended periods. They include scholars at all career levels, from senior faculty at top universities to advanced graduate students still writing their dissertations. The memos reflect on a wide range of debates and paradigms within political science, and taken together lay out an impressive set of marching orders for the subfield. Graduate students looking for dissertation topics and junior faculty looking for articles that might make a big splash take note.
Jordan, Forever on the Brink
POMEPS Briefing 11 – May 9, 2012
The sudden, unprecedented resignation by Jordan’s Prime Minister Awn Khasawnah last week threw a sudden spotlight on the ongoing shortcomings of political reform in the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan. The deficient new election law rolled out last month, like every step the king has taken over the last year and a half, did too little, too late to respond to the concerns of Jordanian citizens. Limited reforms have done little to stem a rising tide of protest across the towns of the south, a deeply struggling economy, loud complaints of corruption, and an intensifying edge of political anger. Add in the potential impact of the ongoing crisis in Syria or of a new escalation in the West Bank, and concerns for Jordan’s political future seem merited.
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