As Iran's economy continues to deteriorate, the labor movement is a key player to watch because of its ability to pressure the Islamic Republic through protests and strikes. Iranian labor, encompassing unskilled workers from rural areas and lower-class urban laborers is not a homogenous group. And thus far, Iranian laborers have not joined the opposition Green Movement en masse. But the economic pains caused by the Iranian regime's mismanagement, corruption, and international sanctions have dealt serious blows to worker wages, benefits, and job security -- enough reason for Iranian laborers to organize and oppose the regime. Parallels can be drawn between the Islamic Republic's treatment of the labor movement today and the Shah's treatment of Iranian workers before his overthrow, particularly in the regime's denial of the right to organize, the quashing of protests and strikes, and its refusal to address worker's rights.
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Sudan and South Sudan reached a deal in the early hours of March 12, after a week of negotiations in Ethiopia's capital Addis Ababa, which should spark the beginning of exports of South Sudanese oil from Sudan's Port Sudan, on the Red Sea coast, for the first time in more than 15 months. Companies are already gearing up for production from the oil-rich states of Unity and Upper Nile in the north of South Sudan, and the first shipments of oil are due to be made by the end of May. Yet although the resumption of oil will bring the first meaningful income to South Sudan since early 2012, as well as help ease a severe economic crisis north of the border, there is still a feeling that what has been left undone by the deal is just as significant as what has been achieved.
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Commentators have offered numerous theories for what caused the Egyptian and Tunisian revolutions and who participated in them. They range from youth and their chronic unemployment, to liberal activists and their demands for civil rights, to workers and absolute levels of material deprivation. Stories of individual participants and analyses of specific groups taking part in the uprisings have provided much insight into this question, but only a representative sample of participants can help weigh the importance of different factors driving protesters. The latest wave of the Arab Barometer, a nationally representative survey administered in the wake of the protests, provides some answers.
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In early February, a car made its way along the winding road from the southern Yemeni port city of Aden to Dhale, a dusty mountain town of traditional mud-brick houses. As the car sped toward its destination, the flags and checkpoints increased in regularity with every passing mile.
Yemen's flag is made up of three horizontal stripes of red, white, and black. Those flying from the rooftops along the roadside sported an additional blue triangle dotted with a single red star. The flags, a remnant of the south's independent past, are a symbol of defiance; the checkpoints, manned by soldiers from Yemen's north, a source of simmering tension.
"See," said Fatima, an Adeni college professor, as the car stopped at yet another checkpoint so that a uniformed youth, his cheek bulging with the narcotic qat leaf and an AK-47 casually slung across his shoulder, could take a look inside. "How can they say that this is not an occupation?"
In some respects, Jordan's recent electoral process began and ended with Abdullah an-Nsour. Nsour was first appointed prime minister of Jordan in October 2012, replacing Fayez Tarawneh, who had served a mere five months. At that time, Nsour became the fifth prime minister of Jordan since the start of the regional Arab Spring at the end of 2010. Now, apparently, he is also the sixth, tapped to form a new government following Jordan's January 2013 parliamentary elections.
There are other signs of continuity amidst all the discussion of reform. Immediately after the elections, the new parliament elected Saad Hayel Srour to be speaker of parliament. Srour had served in the post several times before. Along similar lines, former Prime Minister Tarawneh was appointed Chief of the Royal Hashemite Court. Both men are conservative veteran officials. Similarly, the shift from Nsour to Nsour as prime minister doesn't exactly cry out "change," yet parts of the process were actually new and different.
Two years after the Police Day demonstrations that forced former President Hosni Mubarak from office, Egypt's political transformation has only just begun. The uncertainty that necessarily accompanies this change presents particular dilemmas for the United States, for whom partnership with Egypt has been a bedrock of regional policy for decades. Bedeviled by uncertainty and mutual mistrust, U.S.-Egyptian ties have been fraught since the revolution -- and on both sides there are those who say it's time to cut the cord. Yet these two countries still have many core interests in common and, as the November 2012 Gaza crisis proved, they can work together effectively to advance them.
For the United States, Egypt's revolution presents a once-in-a-generation opportunity to build a more robust and reliable strategic partnership than was ever possible before, based on mutual interests with a government rooted in the consent of the Egyptian people and accountable to them. But realizing this opportunity will require an adroit, long-term approach, one that eschews transactional bargains with specific Egyptian actors in favor of a consistent commitment to supporting the emergence of a pluralistic Egyptian political system.
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On Friday, February 22, I flew from London to Dubai to participate in a conference jointly organized by the Middle East Centre of the London School of Economics (LSE) -- where I work -- and the American University of Sharjah (AUS). The theme of the conference was "The New Middle East: Transition in the Arab World," and my paper was entitled "Bahrain's Uprising: Domestic Implications and Regional and International Perspectives." The one-day event was scheduled to take place on Sunday, February 24 at the AUS campus. However, the LSE abruptly pulled out of the conference on Thursday after the United Arab Emirates (UAE) government intervened to inform AUS that no discussion of Bahrain would be permitted. By leaving their decision until the very last minute -- the weekend immediately prior to the conference -- the authorities may have hoped that AUS and the LSE would accept it as a "fait accompli" and proceed. To their credit, the LSE immediately withdrew from the event, citing "restrictions imposed on the intellectual control of the event that threatened academic freedom." With many of the U.S.-based workshop speakers already in Dubai or in the air, we took the decision to continue with our trip; for me it was the first leg of a three-country visit in the Gulf, and I also had been invited to lecture at Zayed University on February 25.
On arrival at Dubai International Airport, I was stopped by immigration officials and separated from the two LSE colleagues with whom I had been traveling. My passport clearly had triggered a red flag in the system and the official called over his supervisor. I was separated from my colleagues and taken to a backroom where security personnel examined each page of my passport in minute detail. An official then disappeared with my passport for 45 minutes before returning with a representative from Emirates Airline who informed me that I was being denied entry to the UAE and sent back to London. I had to purchase my own ticket to fly back to Gatwick -- but not before randomly being approached by an airport staffer who asked if I would complete a customer satisfaction survey.
The brouhaha over Israel's recent settlement announcements faded as suddenly as it emerged. After the United Nations General Assembly vote on November 29, 2012 that granted Palestine non-member observer status, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu authorized an aggressive push in and around East Jerusalem. Construction plans, some of which already were on the fast track, were further accelerated and thousands of new housing units were approved, both to deter the Palestinian leadership from taking further steps in the international arena and as an unsuccessful election gambit to shore up his right flank. Within weeks, the bureaucracy reverted to a plodding pace, partly because the brouhaha had served its purpose, partly because of the quick and relatively forceful international response.
International condemnations of Israeli settlement activity are often pro forma. Not this time. The United States and European Union have been sensitive to these particular plans for nearly a decade already because they are seen to pose potentially insurmountable obstacles to a peaceful resolution of the conflict. The most provocative project in question -- a development in the area known as E-1, an approximately 4.5 square mile zone east of Jerusalem that stretches to the settlement of Maale Adumim -- would all but separate the putative Palestinian capital from its Arab hinterland and foreclose the possibility of suturing the West Bank's urban continuum.
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Only a few years back, the idea of an independent Kurdistan bordering Turkey would have had Ankara up in arms. Not anymore. Past tensions have been supplanted by a new energy partnership and Turkey seems far less worried about the prospect of an independent Kurdistan. In May 2012, Turkey and the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) cut a deal to build one gas and two oil pipelines directly from Kurdish-controlled northern Iraq to Turkey without the approval of Baghdad, taking the rapprochement started between the two in 2009 one step further. If realized, the Kurdish pipelines will for the first time provide the Kurds direct access to world markets, bypassing the Baghdad controlled Kirkuk-Ceyhan (Turkey) pipeline bringing the KRG one step closer to the long-held dream of Kurdish independence.
Some pundits have argued that for this very reason Turkish approval of a Kurdish pipeline is a long shot. But the construction seems to be underway. According to Turkish press, the KRG has already begun construction on the oil and gas pipelines which are due to be operational by early 2014.
On the night before Christmas, the streets of downtown Ramallah were relatively tame. A car drove around the traffic circle at Manara Square with a passenger dressed as Santa Claus leaning halfway out the window ringing a bell. It was quiet aside from the occasional car horn, and most shops were closed by 8:00 p.m.
"Normally, it is more crowded for the holiday," said my taxi driver as we passed through the roundabout. Where are all the people? I asked. "The people?" He chuckled sadly. "The people have no money."
On January 25, thousands of Egyptians will gather in Tahrir Square and across Egypt to commemorate the uprising that toppled the Hosni Mubarak dictatorship. They will celebrate with good reason. When Mubarak, pressured by millions in the streets and ultimately betrayed by his own top generals, resigned on February 11, 2011, a military-backed dictatorship that had ruled and largely abused Egypt for more than half a century came to an end. Most Egyptians were euphoric, and the world was transfixed by the unexpected power of the Tahrir Square freedom movement.
However, in the two years since, the transition remains fragile, and Egypt's politics remain dangerously polarized. In fact, in addition to celebration, there may also be clashes on January 25. Today Egypt has an elected president, a new constitution, and will soon hold parliamentary elections. But if Egypt has made halting steps toward democracy, worrying signs of illiberalism and poor governance are increasingly apparent. The outcome of the revolution in the Arab world's most populous country remains uncertain, and the threat of violence looms large.
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Many analyses have been made about Iran's strategic and geopolitical role in the Syrian regime, but not enough attention has been paid to the crucial and changing economic relations between the two countries. By analyzing Iran-Syria relations through this prism, one can shed light on the more nuanced, unconventional, and complicated aspects of Iran's role in Syria.
Iran has historically invested a considerable amount of money, resources, skilled forces, and labor in Syria. These investments were ratcheted up, particularly, in the last few years before uprisings began erupting in March 2011 across Syria. Although large sums of money and resources were allocated to investments in Syrian transportation and infrastructure, Iranian and Syrian economic ties are not limited to these spheres. A few months before the popular uprisings were ignited, Iranian authorities signed a $10 billion natural gas agreement with Syria and Iraq for the construction of gas pipeline that would start in Iran, run through Syria, Lebanon, and the Mediterranean, and reach several Western countries. According to the agreement, Iraq and Syria would receive a specified amount of cubic meters of natural gas per day. This proposal was endorsed by Iranian Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei, who also supported the allocation of $5.8 billion in aid to Syria by Iran's Center for Strategic Research (CSR), which concentrates on the Islamic Republic of Iran's strategies in six different arenas including Foreign Policy Research, Middle East and Persian Gulf research, and International political economy research.
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While the gradual meltdown of the Egyptian constitution-drafting process has been at center stage in Cairo over the past few months, the negotiations between the Egyptian government and the International Monetary Fund (IMF) for a $4.8 billion loan have rapidly become central to political conversations in Egypt. Egypt has a checkered past with the IMF. While it views Egypt as a success story for structural adjustment and privatization during the infitah, Anwar Sadat's economic liberalization, and the Hosni Mubarak-era transition away from state ownership, the Egyptian public associates the IMF with the human downside of structural adjustment policies: unemployment, rising prices, and increasing poverty. Even the IMF's own policy papers on Egypt now admit that the "social outcomes were unsatisfactory" during the 1990s and early 2000s.
President Mohamed Morsi's government has a real economic problem: a budget deficit around 11 percent of gross domestic product (GDP), falling tourism revenue, and difficulty encouraging international investment. Bilateral financial support has been forthcoming over the past few months, particularly from the Gulf states, but the IMF loan would be a key international indicator of approval for the regime, and would provide critical support for Egypt's position in the world market. In fact, the loan has been supported by both the Muslim Brotherhood and some Salafi leaders, despite concern among other Islamists that the interest on the loan counts as usury and that the loan has been rendered haram. (The counterargument is that the low interest rate counts as a fee, and that no profit is being made; this is less than convincing to Islamist opponents, but serves as effective ideological cover for the Brotherhood.) The IMF had expressed a willingness to offer a loan package, provided that the Egyptian government drafted an economic plan that met with its approval.
While few noticed in the midst of an intense political crisis, Egypt's President Mohamed Morsi issued another controversial decree recently: Decree no. 97 of 2012, introducing a few important amendments to Egypt's long-standing 1976 labor law. The highly controversial law has already garnered significant opposition from a wide array of labor activists especially as it threatens to extend a long history of state control over labor affairs. While this may not be directly linked to the battle over Morsi's decree claiming unlimited Presidential power, many Egyptians see it as part of a broader bid for executive and partisan power.
The most controversial amendments include a provision to remove any Egyptian Trade Union Federation (ETUF) union board member who is over 60 years of age. The ETUF has been historically close to Egypt's rulers and most of its current top leadership is comprised of loyalists to the Mubarak regime. The current leadership was elected in 2006, a year that many activists claim was particularly marred with state intervention to prevent reformist candidates from running and ensure the success of loyalist candidates. According to the law, removed unionists would be replaced by candidates who had received the second largest number of votes in the last union elections (2006). Importantly, however, the law authorizes the highest authority (in this case the minister of manpower -- currently also a member of the Freedom and Justice Party (FJP), the political arm of the Muslim Brotherhood, Khaled al-Azhari) to fill any remaining posts that could not be filled for whatever legal reason. Another amendment entails extending the current electoral term for ETUF leaders for an additional six months or until a new trade union law is enacted, whichever comes first.
These amendments raise two key questions: what implications does the content have for the future of state-labor relations in Egypt; and what is the significance of the timing of these amendments?
If one is to believe what's in the papers, it's a bad year for Jordan. It's got a violent civil war going on in its northern neighbor, which has sent more than 100,000 refugees fleeing over the border, and constantly threatens more spillover. Internally, it's facing a massive budget crisis, and its two-year-old, Arab Spring-inspired political protest movement just won't seem to go away.
In the past few months, I've read a dozen or more news articles and think tank reports that claim, with greater or lesser degrees of hysteria, that Jordan is finished. If King Abdullah II does not bow to the will of the protesters in the streets, and implement reforms that are less cosmetic than those of the past two years, it's all over. The regime will fall, the country will be destabilized and either "collapse" or "explode," or be taken over by Jihadi Islamist Fanatics, the Muslim Brotherhood, or people from a scary alternate universe in which the Muslim Brotherhood are Jihadi Islamist Fanatics.
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Why does monarchy march on while republican dictatorships precariously wobble in the Arab world? The undertow of the Arab Spring reveals how unevenly revolutionary unrest spread throughout the region. While popular uprisings rocked the autocratic republics, not a single ruling monarchy fell. Opposition stood quiet in Qatar and the United Arab Emirates (UAE), while Oman and Saudi Arabia saw only isolated agitation. Popular reform movements mobilized in Jordan and Morocco, but they fizzled out. Ongoing protests in Kuwait reflect a longstanding tradition of civic activism and political contestation that far predates the Arab Spring. Only Bahrain experienced new large-scale unrest, but military intervention by the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) ended the troubles.
During his recent visit to the United States, President Abed Rabbo Mansour Hadi of Yemen expressed his concerns that if the National Dialogue -- a forum supposedly representing the major political players in Yemen -- fails, Yemen could slide into a civil war that will be worse than those in Somalia or Afghanistan. Part of this rhetoric was strategic, intended to nudge the so-called "Friends of Yemen" to commit to much needed (although potentially pernicious) aid. Nevertheless, Hadi is only slightly exaggerating the dangers Yemen could face, and recent developments -- such as the delay of the National Dialogue -- make his predictions more worrisome.
Hadi, who ran unopposed in February, was elected after a prolonged stalemate since January 2011. The Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC)-engineered compromise that ensured the transfer of power from then President Ali Abdullah Saleh to Hadi helped avert the civil war that Yemen was dangerously skirting at that time. Many groups in Yemen, however, view the GCC deal as a failure and an imposition that ensured that formal and informal power remain in the hands of old elites. As the International Crisis Group (ICG) reports, Yemeni elites have kept their hold on power as they continue to play musical chairs with government positions. Meanwhile, the Houthi rebels in the North, the Hiraaki separatists in the South, as well as various youth groups who were the backbone of the early days of the revolution, are left out of the deal.
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Iran this week marked "Ten Years of Nuclear Resistance," a celebration at the University of Tehran to commemorate Iran's nuclear program, despite international efforts to limit it. The central message that emerged from this event was articulated by Iran's Deputy Secretary of the National Security Council, who said that the "dual strategy based on pressure and diplomacy the West insists on is failed and illogical."
It is time for the United States and its Western allies to realize, as the official, Ali Bagheri, stated, that the policy of more sanctions, intimidation, and pressure is counter-productive to the stated goal of changing the regime's behavior on the nuclear issue. Not only is the Iranian government becoming more belligerent, but according to polling data collected in recent weeks, the Iranian public overwhelming supports many of the government's positions on the nuclear program and related issues.
Oman's Basic Law (Implemented November 6, 1996)
Article 18: Personal freedom is guaranteed according to the Law, and it is unlawful to arrest, search, detain, or imprison any person or have his place of residence or freedom of movement or residence restricted except in accordance with the provisions of the Law.
Article 29: The freedom of opinion and expression thereof through speech, writing or other forms of expression is guaranteed within the limits of the Law.
Article 32: The citizens have the right to assemble within the limits of the Law.
It started with a road trip.
On May 31, two Omani human rights activists, Ismail al-Muqbali and Habeeba al-Hina'i, and a prominent local lawyer, Yaqoub al-Kharousi, drive to Fahud, a major oil facility about 217 miles southwest of Muscat.
Hundreds, if not thousands, of oil workers had taken part in strikes across the country demanding better working conditions and pay over the previous few days, and they were keen to see for themselves how the strikers were being treated by the police.
In 2011, shortly after the Tunisian people threw out Zine el-Abidine Ben Ali and pressed the restart button on their government, I gave an interview in which I was asked what it was about events in Tunisia that led me to be such an early believer that something important was happening. At the time I said one word: enthusiasm. The enthusiasm of the Tunisian people for reform is what caught my attention. It was an enthusiasm for change that I had not seen before in the Arab world. A few weeks ago, as I completed a 10-day trip to the country, including meetings with the prime minister's office, civil society, and private sector leadership, I concluded that while the enthusiasm is still there, it is at risk due to challenges facing the economy and lack of investment.
Tunisia is a small state, with a population of just over 10 million, and as such requires some unique natural or developed resources to compete with larger countries in the global market. Because Tunisia lacks natural resources, since its independence from France in 1956, it has attempted to develop its people, and has succeeded in establishing one of the best education systems in the Arab world, ranking second behind Jordan in the 2007 Human Development Index. Ironically, the 2011 revolution was fueled by the unmet expectations for jobs of those well-educated young people and their parents. The 2010 unemployment rate in Tunisia was approximately 14 percent and that almost certainly is an underestimate.
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Egypt's January 25, 2011 revolution gave the country's workers a golden opportunity to press their agenda. Workers played a key role in the wave of societal unrest that led to Hosni Mubarak's downfall, and after the long-time president's departure many restrictions on political organization and dissent were relaxed. But workers have not been able to seize that opportunity to cohesively advance their demands. Instead, fragmentation has emerged as the dominant feature of post-Mubarak labor politics. Egyptian workers have struggled to find their own voice as they navigate the legacy of state control over labor organizations and a complicated new political situation.
In the years preceding the revolution and in the lead-up to Mubarak's ousting, Egyptian workers demonstrated their willingness to pioneer new forms of collective action, take risks to engage in collective action, and push the boundaries of their relationship to the state. Workers have become even more emboldened in the post-Mubarak period. Egypt's political leadership will thus need to take workers' concerns seriously if it is to avoid continued social and political unrest. One of the key questions for Egypt's transition is precisely what system will be used to regulate workers' representation.
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It's easy to be distracted by Egypt's super-charged political combat. But the struggle for post-revolutionary Egypt isn't a high-stakes game of political chicken so much as an economic marathon that has no clear finish line. The ability of the Muslim Brotherhood to pry ultimate authority away from the generals will depend less on the ins and outs of the front page political jousting than on how well they manage Egypt's economic recovery. And that's going to be easier said than done.
Meeting the public's understandably high expectations will require balancing short- and long-term economic goals while simultaneously navigating all manner of vested interests -- including its own -- which have heretofore kept Egypt's economy mired in inefficiency. This is a tall order for an organization whose economic discourse has been notoriously vacuous. What should we expect?
During its latest meeting on the Middle East peace process, the Council of the European Union repeated its warning that the emergence of a viable Palestinian state living peacefully beside Israel was in jeopardy. Perhaps angered by reports that more than 60 development projects funded by the European Commission and several EU states had been deliberately demolished by Israel, the Council blamed the Israeli government for threatening to make a two-state solution "impossible" through increased settlement construction, house demolitions, forced population transfers, and revoking Palestinian residency rights in Jerusalem. The EU urged the donor community -- especially donors from the Middle East -- to do more to assist the Palestinians by providing financial assistance for donor-funded projects in areas under Palestinian Authority (PA) control.
The leaders of the six Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) states (Saudi Arabia, Qatar, Bahrain, the United Arab Emirates, Oman, and Kuwait) will meet in May to discuss creating a closer federal unit among the states. The idea of closer integration was first put forward in December 2011 by King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia and recently fleshed out in a speech in the name of Saudi Foreign Minister Saud al-Faisal. The potential benefits of creating a $1.4 trillion economic area of 42 million people were championed, as were the potential benefits of close cooperation and coordination in defense and security policy. While all this makes sense superficially, it is all but impossible to see how a meaningful GCC Union could take place.
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The Formula One (F1) has always been a loss-leader for Bahrain. The country pays a fee to host it -- estimated to be at least $40 million each year -- and doesn't recoup this in direct ticket sales. Rather, the race is supposed to stimulate business worth hundreds of millions of dollars through its knock-on effect on other business. A 2008 study commissioned by the state sovereign wealth fund, Mumtalakat, suggested that the race added $600 million -- or about 2.7 percentage points -- to Bahrain's gross domestic product (GDP) that year. This is mostly through the boost that the race gives to tourism, including flights on Bahrain's state-owned Gulf Air, and through the development of Bahrain's international "country brand," as millions of viewers around the world watch the race on television.
But this year, tourism is unlikely to perform well -- and if anything, the "country branding" impact looks likely to be negative. Internationally, the publicity around the race has drawn attention to the country's continuing protests and violence, to a new Amnesty International report on the continuing allegations of torture and human rights abuses, and even to a controversial video that shows police taking part in the looting of a Shiite-owned supermarket. Without the race, these developments might not make the news in the West.
BERLIN - If at one time European governments believed the threat of a nuclear-armed Iran was far more frightening for the United States than for those across the Atlantic, those days are in the past. As talks near on Iran's nuclear program, Tehran should know that European officials' views are somewhere in the middle between America's caution and Israel's alarm.
This major shift among European states was on display during a recent closed-door meeting in Berlin, co-organized by the Heinrich Boell Stiftung, the political foundation affiliated with Germany's Green Party, and the American Jewish Committee Berlin. Not only did officials and experts agree with many in the Obama administration that the policy of containment has failed, all backed the demand that Iran must agree in upcoming talks scheduled for April 13 with the 5+1 permanent members of the United Nations Security Council to stop enriching uranium for a certain period.
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In late 2011, the British government sent one of its top humanitarian advisors to Yemen after a year of protests, bloody crackdowns, and inter-elite fighting. Drawing on his experience from a career spanning three decades, the advisor reported back that Yemen faced the most complex set of circumstances he had ever seen.
Some of the key issues at the time, such as fighting between elite military and tribal factions in the capital of Sanaa and north Yemen's second largest city, Taiz, have since eased off. But others, including rising violence between Shiite Houthi tribesmen, government forces, and Sunni Salafists in the northern Saada province and the rise of Ansar al-Sharia -- the local al Qaeda affiliate -- in the south, are still causing mass displacement on a daily basis.
MOHAMMED HUWAIS/AFP/Getty Images
The escalating bloodshed in Syria has rapidly become the center of regional and international attention. While the United States and its allies struggle to find ways to effectively help the Syrian people, the body count mounts and the prospects of a negotiated transition grow dim. Meanwhile, a growing chorus calls for a military intervention to protect Syrian civilians or to accelerate the fall of the regime of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad. The response to the Syrian crisis is shaped by its unique combination of humanitarian crisis and strategic significance. The horrifying death toll and the political failures of the Syrian regime are real, urgent, and undeniable. So are the strategic stakes of a potential regime change in a long-time adversary of the United States and its allies, and the key Arab ally of Iran. The Syrian crisis has revealed and exacerbated the profound tension between the narrative of "Resistance" which has long shaped regional discourse and the narrative of the Arab uprisings.
Our new POMEPS briefing, "The Syria Crisis" -- to which this post is the introduction -- surveys the issues posed by the ongoing struggle in Syria. The the ninth in our Arab Uprising Briefing series, "The Syrian Crisis" collects recent analysis and commentary from the Middle East Channel on these urgent questions.
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With daily massacres in Homs and prosecution of U.S. non-governmental organizations (NGOs) in Cairo, the simmering conflict in Sanaa has faded into the background. Yet on February 21 attention will turn again to Yemen on the occasion of its presidential election. The election might seem hollow, as there is only one candidate in the race, however, it is still a pivotal step in Yemen's political transition -- and the United States should use this moment to press for a real shift away from the former regime of President Ali Abdullah Saleh. The national vote could be more aptly named a referendum, as the current Vice President Abed Rabbo Hadi Mansour, who assumed temporary authority via a deal advanced by the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC), will be anointed Yemen's next leader barring any catastrophic outbreaks of violence.
While on the surface the election might seem like window-dressing at best, the psychological impact for Yemen of moving into the next phase is powerful. At a minimum, the election turns the page on decades of disappointment, despair, and disillusionment. And definitively removing Saleh from power could pave the way for opening new space for real political competition and accountable governance. He is a man who has ruled Yemen for 33 years, in his own words, "by dancing on the heads of snakes," through masterful skill in manipulating tribal alliances, political allegiances, and patronage networks. After prior pledges to leave power were reversed -- and months of hand-wringing when Saleh agreed to sign the deal and then three times reneged -- just having this official exit stamp is a relief.
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As the prospects for negotiations with Iran over its nuclear program dim, and an anxious American public contemplates the grim prospect of military action, attention has turned again to the prospect of changing Iran's regime. But is U.S. regime change in Iran, whether through sanctions or direct action, really a viable prospect?
Reuel Marc Gerecht and Mark Dubowitz have argued that the United States should pursue sanctions that lead to regime change. According to them, through sanctions, "a democratic counterrevolution in Persia might be reborn. A democratic Iran might keep the bomb that Khamenei built. But the U.S., Israel, Europe, and probably most of the Arab world would likely live with it without that much fear." The attraction of removing the Islamic Republic may be obvious. Sanctions may slow down Iran's nuclear drive but most likely will not roll back the program. Military strikes would do damage but are hardly guaranteed to destroy major facilities such as the recently opened Qom enrichment plant, buried beneath 300 feet of rock. For many, only a change of the regime would diminish the threat of a nuclear-armed Iran.
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