Skip to content

Category archive for: Middle East & North Africa

Giulio Regeni, Egypt, and the deafening silence of Europe

Written by Catherine Gegout.

Giulio Regeni, a doctoral student at the University of Cambridge, disappeared in Cairo on 25 January, and was found dead with signs of torture on his body on 3 February. Giulio Regeni conducted research which contributed to our knowledge of social and global justice, the impact of civil movements on power structures before and during revolutions, the role of women in political activism, and the role of trade unions in providing living wages to citizens.

Over 4,600 academics worldwide asked the Egyptian authorities to ‘cooperate with an independent and impartial investigation into all instances of forced disappearances, cases of torture and deaths in detention during January and February this year, alongside investigations by criminal prosecutors into Giulio’s death, in order that those responsible for these crimes can be identified and brought to justice.’ Continue reading Giulio Regeni, Egypt, and the deafening silence of Europe

Is the Iraqi army a lost cause?

Written by Jon Moran.

Building an army in a short space of time is a very difficult task. To be sure, there are some impressive examples. Cromwell’s republican New Model Army was put together while the English Civil War was already underway; Washington’s army of US Independence quickly wore down and beat the British in the 18th century; Napoleon’s revolutionary army was born from the French Revolution and swept all Europe before it; the Red Army of the Soviet Union was forged from the chaos of its defeat in World War I.

But the list of failures is just as spectacular. The South Vietnamese Army boasted billions of dollars, up-to-date equipment and state-of-the-art training, but couldn’t control even South Vietnam itself. It ultimately surprised observers only by holding on as long as it did after the Americans left. Continue reading Is the Iraqi army a lost cause?

A New World Order: The importance of the 1991 Gulf War

Written by Louise Kettle.

Twenty five years ago, on 17th January 1991, the offensive operations of the Gulf War began. A coalition of 39 countries launched a campaign to roll back the invasion of Kuwait by Saddam Hussein. The war saw the deployment of around 45,000 British forces, the largest since the Second World War.

Throughout the previous year, tensions between Kuwait and Iraq had escalated. The bitter Iran-Iraq war had left Iraq in severe economic difficulties with its per capita income halved and an estimated $67 billion worth of damage to infrastructure. In addition, Baghdad had borrowed around $80 billion from other countries and, following the war, foreign debt servicing and defence costs consumed seven-eighths of Iraq’s oil export revenue. Continue reading A New World Order: The importance of the 1991 Gulf War

After years of proxy war, Saudi Arabia and Iran are finally squaring up in the open

Written by Simon Mabon.

Ever since Saudi Arabia executed Shia Cleric Nimr al-Nimr for terrorist offences, tensions between Iran and Saudi Arabia have been escalating by the day. After the execution, the Saudi embassy was stormed by protesters in Tehran. Riyadh has now severed diplomatic relations with Tehran – and the UAE, Bahrain and Sudan, staunch Saudi allies, have followed suit, spurred on by Iran’s portentous prediction of “divine vengeance” for the execution.

Iran’s president, Hassan Rouhani, condemned those who stormed the embassy, but was also critical of the Saudis’ behaviour, suggesting that “the Saudi government has damaged its image, more than before, among the countries in the world, in particular [among] Islamic countries, by this un-Islamic act”.

The concerns that led to Sheikh Nimr’s execution – that he was an agent of “foreign meddling” in the kingdom – are not new. A Shia cleric who spent time in Iran and Syria, Nimr was an outspoken critic of the house of Saud and played a prominent role in the 2011 uprisings in the Shia-dominated Eastern Province. Continue reading After years of proxy war, Saudi Arabia and Iran are finally squaring up in the open

Obama shows the flaws in America’s efforts to combat ISIS

Written by Simon Reich.

Winston Churchill famously suggested that:

You can always count on Americans to do the right thing – after they’ve tried everything else.

Speaking with his characteristic mix of the compassionate and cerebral, the articulate and analytic, President Obama reminded Americans of the need for “strategic patience” in battling ISIS on Sunday night. He largely rejected Churchillian grand rhetoric. The nearest he got was when he said that “freedom is more powerful than fear.”

What he did was to lay out America’s policy approach. It is one that mixes the domestic and the foreign: a greater emphasis on the regulation of the visa program, community outreach and gun control at home; intensified support for the multilateral forces and the use of intelligence abroad. Continue reading Obama shows the flaws in America’s efforts to combat ISIS

Netanyahu’s narrative: how the Israeli PM is rewriting history to suit himself

Written by Yoav Galai.

What more can be said about Netanyahu’s flagrant Holocaust revisionism? Rainer Schultze summarised the incident nicely. By claiming the Palestinian mufti, Haj Amin al-Husseini, inspired Hitler to plan the Holocaust, Netanyahu was engaging in blatant historical revisionism for the sake of contemporary politics. It certainly is worth repeating Netanyahu’s claim:

Hitler didn’t want to exterminate the Jews at the time, he wanted to expel the Jews. And Haj Amin al-Husseini went to Hitler and said: ‘If you expel them, they’ll all come here.’ ‘So what should I do with them?’ he asked. He said: ‘Burn them.’

Recently there has been renewed activity in the project of accrediting this alternative historical narrative. Haaretz’s Chemi Shalev dug out a reference-laden article by Joseph Spoerl on the website of the Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs which attempts to link Husseini with Nazi ideology. Similar accounts have been published in Hebrew by right-leaning Israeli think tanks Mida, which defines itself as “conservative-liberal” and the Kedem Forum, an organisation specialising in public diplomacy. Continue reading Netanyahu’s narrative: how the Israeli PM is rewriting history to suit himself

Russian cooperation with Iran and Iraq has broader consequences than saving Assad

Written by Nader Habibi and Harith Hasan Al-Qarawee.

The sudden launch of Russia’s military operations in Syria late last month caught the United States and regional players by surprise.

It began with an announcement that defined the primary objective of the mission as a confrontation with the Islamic State (ISIS) in cooperation with the Syrian government of President Bashar Assad.

The strategy involves three components. First, Russia is expanding its military facilities in Syria. Second, Russia remains committed to the survival of Assad’s regime and its fight against ISIS in Syria. Third, Russia announced an intelligence sharing and flight corridor agreement with Iran and Iraq. Continue reading Russian cooperation with Iran and Iraq has broader consequences than saving Assad

Why defeating ISIS with military might is starry eyed idealism

Written by David Alpher.

This past weekend, US-led coalition aircraft targeted the ISIS stronghold of Raqqa in Syria. It was one of the “largest deliberate engagements to date,” said a coalition spokesman, and it was executed “to deny [ISIS] the ability to move military capabilities throughout Syria and into Iraq.” The scale of these responses gives a hint both to how concerned we are about such groups–and to how badly we misunderstand how to deal with them.

ISIS–the self-proclaimed “Islamic State”–is the monster of our times, our Grendel. Every pundit, commentator, armchair warrior and presidential candidate, declared and otherwise, claims to have a strategy to defeat them. A steady stream of political statements offering answers to “what do we do about them?” have gotten progressively more hawkish.

Continue reading Why defeating ISIS with military might is starry eyed idealism

Jerusalem: an intifada by any other name is just as dangerous

Written by Luisa Gandolfo.

The next visit of the Middle East Quartet to Jerusalem and Ramallah will take place against a backdrop of serious unrest. The violence re-emerged last month and clashes have become a daily occurrence in Jerusalem, Gaza and the West Bank, resulting in the deaths of 24 Palestinians and four Israelis.

This has been fuelled by an array of issues, among them restrictions on movement around the Old City and al-Aqsa mosque compound; tensions at the checkpoints; the sustained construction of illegal settlements; attacks by settlers on Palestinians and vice versa; home demolitions and peace talks that have yet to effectively promote a higher, equal price on life on the ground.

In response to the unrest, the mayor of Jerusalem, Nir Barkat, advised gun-owning civilians to carry their weapons at all times “like military reserve duty”. While carrying arms is a common sight around the settlements, the call for residents of Jerusalem to do likewise is a negative development. The addition of more arms will not hasten the end of the conflict, but rather its escalation. Continue reading Jerusalem: an intifada by any other name is just as dangerous

Fighting Dirty: Assessing the Threat of ISIS Engaging in Radiological Terrorism

Written by Bryan R. Early.

Russia’s recent military intervention in Syria will intensify the fighting taking place within the country and increase the pressure on ISIS to defend its territories.  Backed into a corner, ISIS may be driven to pursue new tactics that could turn the tide of the conflict back in its favor and create the perception that it is once again on the offensive. One of those tactics could be the use of radiological terrorism.  ISIS has already used mustard gas in attacks against the Kurds and it possesses the organizational capacity, materials, and likely willingness to engage in radiological terrorism if sufficiently incentivized.  As the conflict between Russian-backed Syrian forces and ISIS intensifies, the threat that ISIS might resort to using radiological materials in attacks is a lot higher that previous analyses have suggested. Continue reading Fighting Dirty: Assessing the Threat of ISIS Engaging in Radiological Terrorism