POMEPS Briefings

POMEPS publishes briefing booklets throughout the year. These briefings are collections of relevant Monkey Cage articles from WashingtonPost.com, and, previously 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.

Syria and the Islamic State

October 1, 2014

Syria and the Islamic StateSyria and the Islamic State

POMEPS Briefing 25 — October 1, 2014 

Syria’s nearly four year civil war took a dramatic new turn this month as the United States and its coalition partners began bombing militants from the Islamic State group (formerly know as the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria) and al-Qaeda’s Syrian affiliate Jubhat al-Nusra. The U.S. intervention opens up profound uncertainties about the objective and targets of the military action, the responses of the dizzying array of actors on the ground, and the potential for escalation. In December 2013, POMEPS published “The Political Science of Syria’s War,” a collection of original essays by many of the top civil wars and insurgencies scholars, which helped to place the Syrian war into a broad theoretical and comparative perspective. This new collection of articles originally published on “The Monkey Cage” explores the evolution of the conflict, the nature of the Islamic State, and key debates about Syria’s horrific war.

Syria’s war itself has evolved into a complex, multipolar, and highly localized struggle. What began as a civic uprising against a repressive regime has long since morphed into an insurgency with a high degree of external involvement on all sides. The enormous complexity of local alliances and power struggles undermines the master narratives, as Kevin Mazur’s detailed examination of northeastern Syria makes clear. Those local complexities are made even more difficult by the uncertain relations between external patrons and local actors, as Ora Szekely notes. Fighters have multiple motivations, as Vera Mironova, Loubna Mrie, and Sam Whitt explore with unique survey data. Even counting the war dead poses real problems, as Laia Balcells, Lionel Beehner, and Jonah Schulhofer-Wohl demonstrate. And, as evidence of massive war crimes has mounted, Mark Kersten ponders the implications of referring Syrian President Bashar al-Assad and the conflict to the International Criminal Court.

Would earlier U.S. efforts to arm the opposition have made a difference? There has been a spirited debate over this question, with the answers of great relevance to renewed efforts to build a moderate rebel force. I argue that the literature suggests that arming the fragmented rebels would not likely have made much difference, and that Americans had little interest in doing so, at least until confronted with videos of the beheading of two U.S. citizens. Beehner offers an alternative reading of the literature, while Jonah Shulhofer-Wohl argues that it was the failure of the United States to act that fragmented the rebels in the first place.

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Iraq Between Maliki and the Islamic StateIraq Between Maliki and the Islamic State

POMEPS Briefing 24 — July 9, 2014

Iraq’s long-simmering political conflicts and violence erupted in June with the stunning capture of Mosul and advances toward Baghdad by the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS). The collapse of the Iraqi army and the rapid seizure of territory by ISIS took most observers by surprise, but the crisis had been developing for years. This POMEPS Briefing collects more than a dozen recent articles by academics writing for The Monkey Cage and other leading online publications that explore both the immediate crisis and its underlying causes.

ISIS may have been galvanized by the Syrian civil war and insurgency, but its traction with Iraqi Sunni political factions and armed groups has a longer history. Toby Dodge and Zaid Al-Ali each trace the roots of the crisis to the sectarian governance and attempts to monopolize power by Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, and his heavy-handed response to an emergent Sunni protest movement. The stunning collapse of the Iraqi army is equally rooted in this sectarian governance, as Keren Fraiman, Austin Long and Caitlin Talmadge demonstrate. Removing Maliki would not itself solve the crisis, argues Fanar Haddad, given the urgency of the military challenge to Baghdad and the deeper problems of the Iraqi political order. It is difficult to see how Iraq’s Sunnis could be reincorporated into the political system and separated from ISIS while he remains, however.

How should we understand ISIS, particularly after its declaration of an Islamic caliphate? Thomas Hegghammer argues that the caliphate declaration represented a rational but risky stratagem for the group. Its remarkable use of violence has multiple goals, warns Stathis Kalyvas, and it is far too early to project its ultimate success or failure. The experience of similar groups suggests that numerous problems await the Islamic State as it tries to consolidate its power. The seizure of resources such as cash, oil and water have given ISIS real power, but the rapid infusion of such resources has crippled many other insurgencies, notes Ariel Ahram. Paul Staniland lays out reasons to wonder whether ISIS could be the rare insurgency that can overcome its organizational coherence problems.

There are few obvious policy choices for actors outside of Iraq. A longer U.S. occupation of Iraq would not likely have prevented the crisis, argues Jason Brownlee. Nor, I argue, would a return of U.S. troops make a decisive difference without resolving the underlying political problems, which alienated Iraq’s Sunnis. Andrew Shaver and Gabriel Tenoria present evidence that better services, such as electricity, might entice Sunni communities back into the political fold, at least over the longer term. And while many analysts and U.S. officials have argued for the arming of Syria’s moderate rebels as the key to fighting ISIS in both Syria and Iraq, I note the awkward reality that most of the Arab backers of the Syrian rebels actually support what they see as a Sunni uprising in Iraq.

The essays in POMEPS Briefing #24 Iraq Between Maliki and the Islamic State offer a variety of perspectives on Iraq’s ongoing crisis by leading scholars. Please download and share!

                                                                                   — Marc Lynch, Director of POMEPS

                                                                                                            July 9, 2014


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…]



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…


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…




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…


Kuwait’s Moment of Truth

November 1, 2012

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


Morsi’s Egypt

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.


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