Middle East Briefs


MEB image In late December 2005, the Crown Center launched a new publication, Middle East Brief. Parallel to the Center’s scholarly work, the publication, targeted primarily at decision-makers and opinion leaders, provides a brief analysis of a single issue at the top of the region’s political, social, or economic agenda.
Middle East Brief 86 - November 2014
Post-Revolution Egyptian Foreign Policy
Abdel Monem Said Aly

In the wake of the 2011 revolution, Egypt has experienced two radical transformations in its leadership and, correspondingly, in its foreign policy agenda. In this Brief, Abdel Monem Said Aly examines the foreign and national security policies of Abdel Fattah el-Sisi whose presidency he regards as the first in Egypt's “post-revolutionary era.” The Brief begins by elaborating the constraints on the foreign policy agenda of Egypt's first democratically elected president, Mohammad Morsi. It then provides an in-depth analysis of Egypt’s current foreign policy challenges and concludes by identifying six possible foreign policy directions Egypt may take under the Sisi presidency.

Read the full text

Middle East Brief 85 - October 2014
A Comprehensive Nuclear Deal with Iran: Not Mission Impossible
Seyedamir Hossein Mahdavi

As the November 24 deadline for a comprehensive agreement between Iran and the P5+1 to resolve the nuclear conflict nears, analysts have become increasingly pessimistic about the prospects of reaching such an agreement. In this Brief, Seyedamir Hossein Mahdavi challenges this 'common wisdom.' He compares the conditions surrounding the current nuclear negotiations to those prevailing in 1988 when Iran decided to accept UN resolution 598 that ended the Iran-Iraq war. Looking at the three dimensions common to the two decisions—the economic, the religious and the ideological—Mahdavi argues that there are important similarities between these sets of conditions. In turn, this leads to the conclusion that just as in 1988 when Iran's Leader drank a "cup of poison" by accepting a cease-fire with Iraq, his successor may well do the same by committing a "heroic" act and accepting a nuclear deal with the P5+1.

Read the full text

Middle East Brief 84 - September 2014
The Road to Rule of Law in the Arab World: Comparative Insights
Eva Bellin

The uprisings that swept the Arab world in 2011-2012 were sparked by many catalysts. Not least among them was the desire to put an end to arbitrary rule and install what political analysts call “the rule of law." For countries in the region that face the prospect of failed (or failing) states, such as Libya, Syria, and Iraq, the goal of building accountable governance is a luxury of secondary priority. But for other countries where the integrity of the state is not in doubt, building rule of law is a reasonable ambition. In this Brief, Eva Bellin examines the question of how the Arab world can achieve this objective and the specific challenges they face by drawing on the experience of other regions that have wrestled with this ambition. By focusing on four crucial institutions--the judiciary, the police, the military, and regulatory agencies--Prof. Bellin identifies some of the best practices and evaluates key obstacles to the reforms required.

This Brief is based on the introduction to the forthcoming book Building Rule of Law in the Arab World, edited by Eva Bellin and Heidi Lane.

Read the full text

Middle East Brief 83 - August 2014
Stabilizing Gaza-Israel Relations: What Would It Take?
Shai Feldman and Khalil Shikaki

The 2014 Gaza-Israel War has created an opportunity to launch a more stable paradigm between Gaza and Israel, and between Israelis and Palestinians more broadly. In this Brief, Shai Feldman and Khalil Shikaki present the elements required to transform a cease-fire between Israel and Hamas into a lasting de-escalation processes. First, all three principle parties will need to radically change their approach toward one another by prioritizing pragmatism. Second, the parties will need to support this pragmatic approach with specific policies aimed at facilitating the movement away from violence and destruction and toward greater accommodation. Without these changes, Israel and Hamas are bound to find themselves, sooner or later, in another round of deadly violence, to the detriment of innocent civilians on both sides.

Read the full text

Middle East Brief 82 - July 2014
Deciphering Abdel Fattah el-Sisi: President of Egypt’s Third Republic
Abdel Monem Said Aly

On June 8, 2014 Field-Marshall Abdel Fattah el-Sisi was sworn in as Egypt’s fifth president amid monumental challenges to Egypt's path towards democracy and economic prosperity. As a result, many commentators have already declared him as doomed to fail. In this Brief, Dr. Abdel Monem Said Aly attempts to decipher the meaning of Sisi’s ascent to Egypt’s presidency by describing the ways in which he is seen by different constituencies inside Egypt. The Brief also examines Sisi's vision for Egypt’s future by assessing his liabilities and deficits when confronting the challenges facing his country, and by ascertaining his initial steps in office and their possible implications.

Read the full text

Middle East Brief 81 - June 2014
"Worried" or "Valiant"? The Dialectic Between Iran’s Nuclear Negotiations and its Domestic Politics
Seyedamir Hossein Mahdavi

For years, public discussions of Iran's nuclear program and the negotiations surrounding it were considered to be off limits in the Iranian political sphere. But in recent months and as the negotiations with the P5+1 continue, not only have these discussions become a matter of public debate, they have realigned the political elite along a nuclear fault line. In this Brief, Seyedamir Hossein Mahdavi examines this new dialectic between Iran's foreign and domestic politics by identifying the two new power blocs—the "worried," who oppose, and the "valiant," who support the nuclear stance taken by the Rouhani administration. In doing so, he traces the roots of this political division back to the student protests of 1999 and follows the critical events since then that have shaped the current split. He concludes by analyzing Ayatollah Khamenei's delicate balancing act as he supports both the “valiant” and the “worried” in a bid to pull Iran out of its current crisis, while maintaining his own power base.

Read the full text

Middle East Brief 80 - June 2014
Can Rouhani Revitalize Iran’s Oil and Gas Industry?
Nader Habibi

Soon after his victory in the June 2013 election, Iranian President Hassan Rouhani announced that reforming and revitalizing Iran's oil and gas sector would be one of his government’s top priorities. Since then Rouhani and his oil minister Bijan Namdar Zangeneh have launched a significant reform program aimed at reversing many of the policies instituted during Ahmadinejad's presidential terms. In this Brief, Prof. Nader Habibi evaluates this reform program by analyzing the developments in Iran's oil sector under Ahmadinejad, providing a detailed account of the reforms proposed and implemented by Rouhani, and ascertaining the possible challenges facing these reforms within the oil ministry and the broader political landscape.

Read the full text

Middle East Brief 79 - March 2014
“Resetting” U.S.-Egypt Relations
Abdel Monem Said Aly & Shai Feldman

Since the ousting of President Mohammad Morsi's Muslim Brotherhood regime on June 30, 2013, US-Egypt relations have been on the worst negative trajectory seen since President Anwar Sadat reconciled with the United States nearly four decades ago. In this Brief, Dr. Abdel Monem Said Aly and Prof. Shai Feldman explore the growing rift between Washington and Cairo, rooted as it is in the very different manner in which the two have come to define the recent events experienced in Egypt and their competing narratives about these developments. They conclude by taking stock of the two countries' long-standing significance to each other, and suggest ways in which a major effort can be launched to “reset” their relations.

Read the full text

Middle East Brief 78 - March 2014
Is Hezbollah Confronting a Crisis of Popular Legitimacy?
Eric Lob

Since the battle of Qusayr and Hezbollah's direct military involvement in the Syrian crisis, analysts have pondered whether Hezbollah's actions resulted in a crisis of legitimacy for the party in Lebanon. In this Brief, Dr. Eric Lob argues that the roots of this crisis are multi-varied and date earlier than recent events suggest. Specifically, he explores the sources of the increasing discontent and criticism by analyzing the impact of Hezbollah’s costly foreign adventures against Israel, and its domestic governance deficiencies. In conclusion, Dr. Lob lays out the factors that will enable Hezbollah to remain a dominant actor in Lebanon and the region for the foreseeable future, despite its eroding legitimacy.

Read the full text

Middle East Brief 77 - February 2014
The Syrian Baath Party and Sunni Islam: Conflicts and Connivance
Thomas Pierret

Since the beginning of the Syrian uprising in March 2011, religion has occupied an increasingly central role in the opposition. In this Brief, Dr. Thomas Pierret explores the issue of sectarianism in Syria by analyzing the history of the relationship between the minority Alawite regime and two parts of the majority Sunni Islamic community: the Islamist opposition movements and the ulama (the learned religious elite). Dr. Pierret argues that while economic liberalization initially enabled the co-option of the Sunni ulama, the brutality of the regime in reaction to the ongoing uprising forced the ulama to realign itself toward the opposition.

Read the full text

Middle East Brief 76 - January 2014
Lebanon at the Brink: The Impact of the Syrian Civil War
Joseph Bahout

Has the Syrian civil war become also a Lebanese war? And if so, how long will it take before the country comes apart at the seams? In this Brief, Prof. Joseph Bahout explores how the Syrian crisis has escalated the Lebanese sectarian struggle and upset a precarious balance of power. In particular he examines Hezbollah's decision to enter the Syrian civil war and the pivotal role this decision will have on the future of Lebanese politics.

Read the full text

Middle East Brief 75 - August 2013
Drivers of Democracy: Lessons from Tunisia
Eva Bellin

Thirty-one months since the fall of Zine Abdine Ben Ali, how far has Tunisia progressed in the transition to democracy? The noise of the daily battles and aberrant acts of violence may obscure the country’s true political trajectory and generate discouragement about Tunisia’s future. However, some distance may provide a better perspective, revealing a surprisingly positive and encouraging trend line. In this Brief, Prof. Eva Bellin presents the six most salient factors shaping Tunisia's democratic trajectory. She then presents the result of these "drivers" by providing a "net assessment" of Tunisia's progress thus far. Prof. Bellin concludes by pointing out the challenges still facing the country's march toward democracy and the factors which are likely to affect this march in the years ahead.

Read the full text

Middle East Brief 74 - June 2013
The Economic Legacy of Mahmoud Ahmadinejad
Nader Habibi

On June 14, 2013, Iran will hold its 11th presidential election to replace Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. During his two terms in office, Ahmadinejad implemented a number of broad economic reforms and policies that have had a profound effect on socioeconomic conditions in Iran. In this Brief, Prof. Nader Habibi explores Ahmadinejad's eight year legacy by analyzing his economic ideas, political strategies and interactions with various centers of power. Prof. Habibi concludes that Ahmadinejad's emphasis on economic justice and reduction of inequality, in addition to his expansion of the Revolutionary Guards' role in the economy, is likely to have a long-term impact on the distribution of economic opportunities and efficiency in Iran.

Read the full text

Middle East Brief 73 - May 2013
Can Iran Surprise by Holding a "Healthy" Election in June?
Seyedamir Hossein Mahdavi

Until recently, little attention has been paid to the upcoming June 14 presidential election in Iran. Citing the 2009 election and its violent aftermath, many Iranians came to believe that a regime that is capable of changing the result of an election according to its own will, would do the same in future elections as well, making them ceremonial at best. In this Brief, Seyedamir Hossein Mahdavi argues that it may not be so simple. The power struggle inside the regime, impact of sanctions on people’s daily lives, and domestic and foreign crises have made the 2013 election meaningful, crucial, and unpredictable. To this end, this Brief lays out the five main factions that will be important players in this election and concludes that, ironically, the current situation in Iran may lead to a “healthy” election, which in turn may signal the return of the reformists to power.

Read the full text

Middle East Brief 72 - April 2013
Is the Jordanian Monarchy in Danger?
Asher Susser

The Jordanian monarchy is going through one of its most difficult periods ever. The Arab Spring has emboldened the opposition by eroding the deterrent effect of the notorious “fear of government” (haybat al-sulta) in the Arab world in general and in Jordan in particular. Additionally, economic stagnation and austerity measures driven by the International Monetary Fund have led to unprecedented discontent among the regime's traditionally loyal East Banker elite and tribal base. In this Brief, Prof. Asher Susser analyzes the various factors that have led to the current crisis engulfing the Jordanian monarchy. However, he concludes by cautioning that the lack of a viable alternative to the Monarchy makes the situation in Jordan, though tenuous, manageable for the time being.

Read the full text

Middle East Brief 71 - April 2013
The Islamic Awakening: Iran’s Grand Narrative of the Arab Uprisings
Payam Mohseni

In Iran, the 2011 Arab Spring was hailed as an “Islamic Awakening” based on its own Islamic revolution in 1979. In this Brief, Dr. Payam Mohseni focuses on the Iranian conceptualization of this “Islamic Awakening” and the domestic ideological context in which it took shape. Dr. Mohseni further contextualizes Iran’s narrative of the Islamic Awakening from two different perspectives: the soft war and the Islamization of the social sciences. The Brief concludes with a discussion of the political ramifications that the discourse of the Islamic Awakening holds for the regime.

Read the full text

Middle East Brief 70 - March 2013
The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly of Egypt’s Political Transition
Abdel Monem Said Aly and Karim Elkady

To what extent has the transitional period--from the trial of Hosni Mubarak in August 2011 to the civil disobedience seen in the city of Port Said in Winter 2012--moved Egypt closer toward a democratic system of governance? In this Brief, Dr. Abdel Monem Said Aly and Karim Elkady provide a net assessment of the positive, the negative and the unpleasant developments of Egypt’s political transition. They argue that while Egyptian politics has experienced a number of positive developments, the transition is also associated with some very negative or simply unpleasant manifestations, that obstruct Egypt’s path to democracy. They conclude that the interactions between these developments make it nearly impossible to predict the end-state of Egypt’s political transition.

Read the full text

Middle East Brief 69 - March 2013
The Transformation of Public Space in Turkey
Dror Ze'evi

One of the mainstays of Turkey's governments throughout its modern history has been a dogged secularism. However, in recent years the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP), while still paying lip service to secular tenets, has churned out a stream of laws and injunctions that, taken together, amount to a radical transformation of Turkey’s public sphere. In this Brief, Prof. Dror Ze'evi assesses these changes and examines their implications for Turkey today. It begins with the trajectory that the AKP has followed from its ascent to power to the present, surveying the transformations that are already in place and those that are in the planning stages. It concludes with an evaluation of the present state of affairs—and of the direction Turkey may take in the future.

Read the full text

Middle East Brief 68 - November 2012
Islamist Understandings of Sharia and Their Implications for the Post-revolutionary Egyptian Constitution
Aria Nakissa

The first elections in post-revolutionary Egypt brought into being a parliamentary majority dominated by Islamist parties and a new constitutional assembly also dominated by Islamist leaning members. Although the constitution is still being written, a preliminary draft was released to the public on October 10, 2012. In this Brief, Dr. Aria Nakissa takes a closer look at the concept of Wasaṭism, an important component of the Muslim Brotherhood’s orientation toward implementing Sharia, and considers how this approach has found expression in the drafting of Egypt’s post-revolutionary constitution. He concludes by stating that differences of opinion which have surfaced with regard to the constitution--between the Islamists and the secular-oriented politicians--indicate the types of struggles likely to characterize Egypt’s post-revolutionary political landscape.

Read the full text

Middle East Brief 67 - October 2012
The Economic Agendas and Expected Economic Policies of Islamists in Egypt and Tunisia
Nader Habibi

While out of power, Islamic political movements in Egypt and Tunisia frequently criticized the economic policies of secular Arab regimes and put forth ideas on how they would combat poverty, inequality, and corruption. Now that they are in power, these movements will have the opportunity to implement their ideas. In this Brief, Prof. Nader Habibi analyzes the economic programs and policies that the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt and the Ennahdha Islamists in Tunisia proposed during their recent political campaigns, along with the policies and programs that they are likely to implement in practice. In doing so, he identifies three important factors that will influence their final economic policy choices: 1) the current economic challenges; 2) Islamic principles on economics and commerce that have influenced their proposals; and 3) the relative influence of socioeconomic interest groups in the formulation and implementation of these Islamic parties' economic platforms.

Read the full text

Middle East Brief 66 - September 2012
Islam and Democracy in Practice: Tunisia’s Ennahdha Nine Months In
Sarah J. Feuer

For years, Middle East specialists have debated the compatibility of Islamist politics and democracy in the Arab world. In Tunisia, the small country that sparked the Arab Spring, the victory of the Islamist Ennahdha party in last year’s parliamentary election has created an opportunity to examine the relationship between Islam and democracy in practice. In this Brief, Sarah J. Feuer analyzes Ennahdha’s governance in relation to three major political pressures acting on the party. She argues that while Ennahdha has demonstrated a commitment to democratic principles such as broad participation in elections and the separation of powers, the party has also pursued policies that would restrict individual rights.

Read the full text

Middle East Brief 65 - July 2012
Reading the Tea Leaves: Iranian Domestic Politics and the Presidential Election of 2013
Naghmeh Sohrabi

In Iran, the presidential election of June 2013 has already become a hot topic. In this Brief, Prof. Naghmeh Sohrabi lays out three developments that will be evolving in this last year of the Ahmadinejad presidency and that will likely affect the upcoming election: the continuing power struggle over the scope of executive powers; the emergence of the Paydari Front, which supports Ahmadinejad; and the role that the reformists may play in the 2013 presidential election. The Brief concludes by evaluating the likely combined effect of these developments on the 2013 election and by assessing whether, in the context of the powerful role the Supreme Leader plays in Iranian politics, any of these developments really matter.

Read the full text

Middle East Brief 64 - June 2012
Intervention in Syria: Reconciling Moral Premises and Realistic Outcomes
Eva Bellin and Peter Krause

The systematic savagery leveled by the Assad regime in Syria against its own citizens has sparked moral outrage and fueled calls for international intervention to stop the slaughter. For an increasing number of analysts this means indirect intervention by providing military and non-military assistance to opposition forces. In this Brief, Prof. Bellin and Prof. Krause argue that a distillation of the historical experience with insurgencies and civil wars, as well as a sober reckoning of conditions on the ground in Syria, make clear that this type of intervention would likely exacerbate the harm that it seeks to eliminate by prolonging the current bloody stalemate. Instead, the authors consider two alternative forms of intervention: choking the regime’s capacity for battle and restructuring the incentives to encourage regime elites to step down.

Read the full text

Middle East Brief 63 - May 2012
Turkey’s Time in Syria: Future Scenarios
Joshua W. Walker

As the ongoing humanitarian disaster unfolds in Syria, Turkey is increasingly placed in the international hot seat. With strong strategic and economic ties to Syria, the government in Ankara is in a key position to affect Syria's future. However, so far Turkey has remained cautious, weighing its policy options carefully. In this Brief, Dr. Joshua Walker presents both a historical account of Turkish-Syrian relations and also the current Turkish policy regarding the escalating civil war in Syria. It concludes by laying out two alternative scenarios for Ankara: a limited military intervention in Syria through a buffer zone coupled with covert assistance to the Free Syrian Army; or, a full internationally sanctioned and supported military intervention.

Read the full text

Middle East Brief 62 - May 2012
Turkey and Iran: Growing Economic Relations Despite Western Sanctions
Nader Habibi

As the tenth anniversary of the landmark visit by then Turkish President Ahmet Necdet Sezer to Iran approaches, Prof. Nader Habibi analyses the evolution of Turkish-Iranian relations over the past decade with emphasis on how these relations have been influenced by international sanctions against Iran. This Brief argues that the growing economic ties between Turkey and Iran increase in geopolitical significance as Western and Middle Eastern countries attempt to influence the course of Iran's nuclear efforts. Prof. Habibi concludes that economic relations with Turkey will play an important role in how Iran will respond to the latest round of sanctions against its central bank and oil sales.

Read the full text

Middle East Brief 61 - April 2012
What to do about U.S. Sanctions and Israeli Threats: Iran's Muted Nuclear Debate
Farideh Farhi

The leaders and people of Iran have been watching with keen interest the loud debate in the United States and Israel regarding the relative efficacy of different means for preventing Iran from obtaining nuclear weapons. However, inside Iran the economic and verbal onslaught has created a public conversation that is quite different. In this Brief, Prof. Farideh Farhi argues that since it is not permissible to advocate temporarily suspending Iran’s enrichment program, the public debate in Iran centers on two other areas of contention: The credibility of an attack on Iran and the possibilities of meaningful negotiations with the United States. She concludes by analyzing the implications of Iran’s internal debate for the future of diplomatic efforts to resolve the conflict with Iran over the nuclear issue.

Read the full text

Middle East Brief 60 - March 2012
Many Roads to Palestine? The Potential and Peril of Multiple Strategies within a Divided Palestinian National Movement
Peter Krause

In recent months, news of Palestinian internal politics has been dominated by the Fatah-Hamas unity deal and the possibilities for its success or failure. In this Brief, Dr. Peter Krause assesses both the unity deal and also a number of other options available to the Palestinian movement. In conclusion he argues that given that no one group is likely to dominate the movement in the short term, multiple strategies amidst division are not necessarily destined for failure. 

Read the full text

Middle East Brief 59 - February 2012
What to do about Nuclearizing Iran? The Israeli Debate
Shai Feldman, Shlomo Brom, and Shimon Stein

The closing months of 2011 saw a sharpening of the debate in Israel over the implications of Iran’s nuclear efforts as well as the relative efficacy of different means for preventing Iran from obtaining nuclear weapons. Given Iran’s geo-strategic position, there is much at stake in the possible acquisition of nuclear weapons by Iran, as well as in a military strike to prevent it from obtaining such weapons. This Brief is a clarification of the at times unstructured and polemical Israeli debate on both these issues. It first maps out this crucial debate by identifying some of its main issues, then systematically presents the various and contending arguments made regarding these key issues.

Read the full text

Middle East Brief 58 - December 2011
Coping with the Arab Spring: Palestinian Domestic and Regional Ramifications
Khalil Shikaki

How has the Arab Spring affected Palestinian politics? In this Brief, Dr. Khalil Shikaki answers this question by focusing on three important issues: The regional realignment of Fatah and Hamas, their respective approaches to internal Palestinian reconciliation, and the Palestinians' future relations with Israel. Dr. Shikaki begins by describing the political baseline that prevailed early in 2011. He then ascertains the domestic and regional changes that unfolded in the first half of 2011. He concludes that with no prospects for a return to Palestinian-Israeli negotiations in the next twelve months, Hamas and Fatah will continue to muddle through.

Read the full text

Middle East Brief 57 - December 2011
Is Iran’s Economy Growing? An Assessment of the IMF’s 2011 Report on Iran
Nader Habibi

In August 2011, the International Monetary Fund (IMF) published an unusually controversial assessment of Iran’s economy that projected a relatively positive economic future. In this Brief, Prof. Nader Habibi critically evaluates the main factors that account for the report’s positive assessment and concludes that the IMF forecast underestimates the political and geopolitical threats facing Iran; it also underestimates the adverse effects of governance issues and factional politics on the successful implementation of economic reforms that are crucial for Iran’s economic growth. Nonetheless, Prof. Habibi also argues that while sanctions and domestic political mismanagement will hurt the economy, as long as Iran can avoid a comprehensive oil embargo and a military confrontation with the West, the likelihood of a severe economic collapse remains small.

Read the full text

Middle East Brief 56 - November 2011
Testing the Resilience of Egyptian-Israeli Peace
Abdel Monem Said Aly and Shai Feldman

In the immediate aftermath of the 2011 Egyptian revolution, a conventional wisdom developed that what is now known as the Arab Spring would only further complicate Arab-Israeli interactions. In this Brief, Dr. Abdel Monem Said Aly and Prof. Shai Feldman examine this conventional wisdom by reviewing the nature of Egyptian-Israeli relations prior to January 2011 to identify the constants that have informed these relations over the past three decades. The Brief then explores the challenges that the revolution has presented to these constants, the manner in which Egypt and Israel have dealt with these difficulties, and the challenges and opportunities that future Egyptian-Israeli interactions will likely face.

Read the full text

Middle East Brief 55 - September 2011
The Paradox of the Egyptian Revolution
Abdel Monem Said Aly

In the wake of the dramatic deposing of President Mubarak, a critical tension has emerged in the Egyptian revolution between the forces supporting the continuity of the revolution and those supporting the continuity of the state. In this Brief, Dr. Abdel Monem Said Aly examines the reasons for this tension, namely the particular roots of the revolution and the competing agendas working to affect Egypt’s post-revolution future. It further argues that the interconnection between the state and the revolution will inevitably escalate these tensions in the months and years ahead.

Read the full text

Middle East Brief 54 - August 2011
Beyond September: Lessons from Failed Mideast Diplomacy
Shai Feldman

In September 2011, a UN vote on Palestinian independent statehood seems all but certain. In this Middle East Brief, Prof. Shai Feldman looks beyond the upcoming vote and asks what lessons can be learned from the diplomatic failures of the U.S., Israel and Palestinian Authority over the past two and a half years that have led us here. Using these lessons, Prof. Feldman then lays out the conditions required for a more successful future effort to resolve the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

Read the full text

Middle East Brief 53 - July 2011
The Power Struggle in Iran: A Centrist Comeback?
Naghmeh Sohrabi

In this Brief, Dr. Naghmeh Sohrabi provides a novel perspective on the current power struggle evolving in Iran between the president, Mahmud Ahmadinejad, and supreme leader, Ali Khamenei, and their respective factions. She highlights an important aspect of recent events that has been overlooked by most analyses of these developments: The ways in which the need to contain Ahmadinejad's efforts to expand executive powers seem to be leading to a realignment of the Supreme Leader with centrist reformist politicians--such as Hashemi Rafsanjani--who had been pushed to the sideline in the aftermath of the dramatic events that followed the 2009 election.

Read the full text

Middle East Brief 52 - June 2011
Jordan 2011: Uneasy Lies the Head
Asher Susser

In the Arab Spring of 2011, Jordan proves to be a case unto itself. It is neither Egypt nor Tunisia where mass protests led to the overthrow of the rulers, nor Syria, Yemen, Libya, or Bahrain where the opposition has been met with brutal repression. In this Brief, Prof. Asher Susser demonstrates that while Jordan has had its share of domestic difficulties, both the regime and the opposition have drawn on a reservoir of moderation. This, he argues, appears to have allowed for a relatively peaceful modus vivendi and for a gradualist, evolutionary approach to reform in place of revolution.

Read the full text

Middle East Brief 51 - May 2011
A Little America: The Emergence of Turkish Hegemony
Malik Mufti

At a time of radically conflicting interpretations about the direction in which the AK Party is taking Turkey’s foreign policy, Prof. Malik Mufti provides a novel explanation for Turkey’s geopolitical reorientation. In this Brief, Prof. Mufti uses the notion of "Little America" as an expression of Turkey’s emerging bid for regional hegemony: as an actor seeking to project the kind of power—manifested in both its “hard” and May 2011 “soft” variants—wielded by the United States at the global level. In doing so, he provides a framework that goes beyond either the "anti-Western Islamism" or the "integrationist liberalism” that dominates analyses of Turkish foreign policy today.

Read the full text

Middle East Brief 50 - May 2011
Lessons from the Jasmine and Nile Revolutions: Possibilities of Political Transformation in the Middle East?
Eva Bellin

The quick succession of the Jasmine Revolution in Tunisia by the fall of Mubarak in Egypt raised the hope that a contagious wave of revolution might soon usher in democratic transition throughout the Middle East. In this Brief, through a close analysis of these two cases, Prof. Eva Bellin suggests a different scenario. She argues that these two uprisings were successful thanks to four key factors: an emotional trigger, a sense of impunity, a professional military, and new social media. Prof. Bellin concludes that these key factors are not easily replicable in the rest of the Arab world.

Read the full text

Middle East Brief 49 - April 2011
What Is Driving Turkey’s Reengagement with the Arab World?
Nader Habibi and Joshua W. Walker

Turkey’s new leadership role in the Middle East has been associated with a decade-long increase in economic and diplomatic relations with Arab states. This Brief analyzes the recent transformation in Turkey’s relations with the Arab world by closely studying their economic and geopolitical ties. Through an examination of political, institutional, and commercial forces in Turkey, it suggests that this shift is far more than a simple political agenda of the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP). Rather, it is supported by a broad base of domestic interest groups which have and will demand a durable rapprochement with the Arab world in the coming decades.

Read the full text

Middle East Brief 48 - December 2010
Pressing the “Reset Button” on Arab-Israeli Negotiations
Shai Feldman

The Obama administration's announcement that it was dropping its efforts to persuade the Israeli government to freeze settlement construction has led to widespread opinion that without a clear plan B, Israeli-Palestinian peace talks are dead. In this Brief, Prof. Shai Feldman analyzes the reasons for the almost two-year long U.S. failure to restart negotiations and the implications of this failure. He argues that in view of this setback the Obama administration needs to press the "reset button" on the negotiations. In the last section, Prof. Feldman elaborates on what such a change in approach would entail, namely the creation of a blueprint for solving the core issues dividing Israel and the Palestinians, fast tracking on borders and security issues, a new and improved Arab Peace Initiative (API), further encouragement of Palestinian state-building, direct and honest communication with U.S. policy makers explaining to key constituencies the rationale for the proposed blueprint, and the creation of a Czar who would oversee all U.S. efforts at Mideast peacemaking.

Read the full text

Middle East Brief 47 - December 2010
The Syrian Muslim Brotherhood and the Asad Regime
Liad Porat

In 2006, in a surprising move, the Syrian Muslim Brotherhood (Ikhwan) joined forces with various secular and non-secular opposition groups to form the National Salvation Front (NSF) against the regime of Bashar al-Asad. When the Brotherhood withdrew from the NSF in April 2009, this was read by various commentators as a sign that the Brotherhood's leadership was steering the movement toward a historic reconciliation with the regime. In this Brief, Dr. Liad Porat contextualizes the Syrian Muslim Brotherhood's decision to abandon the NSF and demonstrates that the Ikhwan remains committed to toppling and replacing the Asad regime. It thus argues that what occurred in April 2009 constituted a continuation of the Ikhwan’s history in Syria rather than a break with it.

Read the full text

Middle East Brief 46 - November 2010
The United States and Turkey: Can They Agree to Disagree?
Joshua W. Walker

Given the headline-grabbing actions of Turkey this summer with regard to both Israel and Iran, a powerful narrative has emerged in which the West has “lost” Turkey. In this Brief, Dr. Joshua W. Walker argues that this narrative ignores the process of democratization in Turkey and the domestic pressures facing a populist Justice and Development Party (AKP) government. To this end, this Brief evaluates US-Turkish relations by placing the recent tensions in a larger historical context and assesses various points of convergence and divergence in this relationship today.

Read the full text

Middle East Brief 45 - November 2010
The Impact of Sanctions on Iran-GCC Economic Relations
Nader Habibi

In June 2010 the United Nations approved a fourth round of sanctions against Iran. One of the most important areas where these sanctions have been effective has been in Iran's trade with Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) countries. In this Brief, Prof. Nader Habibi offers an overview of Iran’s economic ties with its GCC neighbors since 1980 and the ways in which these relations have been affected by the new cooperation of GCC countries with the current round of UN and US sanctions against Iran.

Read the full text

Middle East Brief 44 - September 2010
The Ideological-Political Training of Iran’s Basij
Saeid Golkar

In the Summer of 2009, the Mobilized Resistance Force or Basij was thrown into the limelight when it was used by the Iranian government to crush and eventually control opposition demonstrations. In this Brief, the first of its kind, Dr. Saeid Golkar lays out in detail the Basij's ideological-political training and its evolution since 1979 as a means to better understand this crucial organization.

Read the full text

Middle East Brief 43 - July 2010
Is Nothing Sacred in the Islamic Republic of Iran?
Naghmeh Sohrabi

On June 4, 2010, Seyyed Hassan Khomeini was heckled off the stage by supporters of president Ahmadinejad, in an event commemorating the anniversary of his grandfather's death, Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, founder of the Islamic Republic. Using this incident as a starting point, Dr. Naghmeh Sohrabi examines the ways in which the events following the June 12, 2009 election have fundamentally affected the political landscape of Iran. In her Brief, she focuses on three areas of change: the future of electoral politics in Iran, the dual nature of its political system as a theocracy and a republic, and the efficacy of the Green movement.

Read the full text

Middle East Brief 42 - June 2010
The Iraqi Elections of 2010—and 2005
Kanan Makiya

The March 7, 2010 Iraqi elections compare with only one other national Iraqi election in recent times: those of December 2005. The electorate, Prof. Makiya shows, voted in 2010 to weaken sectarian politics and increase the representation of women and minorities, while the political class has proven itself unable to place national interests above narrow party and identity politics. As a result, increasing corruption and patronage politics is undermining the nascent state institutions.

Read the full text

Middle East Brief 41 - March 2010
Hamas Rule in Gaza: Three Years On
Yezid Sayigh

Three years after taking control of Gaza, Hamas has established a stable and effective governing system despite a crushing siege and political challenges from Fatah and Salafist groups. In this brief Prof. Sayigh explores both the policies and the fortuitous circumstances that have enabled Hamas to consolidate its control over Gaza and to maintain its domestic legitimacy. The brief further elucidates the complex relationship between Hamas as an armed resistance movement and the government it supports, headed by Prime Minister Ismail Hanieh. Bringing to light the tension between the practical exigencies of governance and its core constituency’s Islamist and militant ideologies, Prof. Sayigh argues that Hamas has demonstrated its ability to innovate and survive. He concludes that the international sanctions policy has created a durable stand-off: Rather than spark mass discontent leading to collapse of the Hanieh government, it enables Hamas to enhance its ruling party status.

Read the full text

Middle East Brief 40 - December 2009
The Impact of the Global Economic Crisis on Arab Countries: A Year-End Assessment
Nader Habibi

The financial meltdown in the United States and Europe in early 2008 sparked a wave of crises around the world. Of the emerging-market regions, the Middle East is among the least integrated in the global financial market. Under normal circumstances, this would have protected the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) region when the global economy sank into a severe financial crisis. In this case, however, MENA states have been affected by global economic conditions through fluctuations in the oil market, strong trade and investment relations with Europe, and large portfolios of financial and equity investments in advanced economies. All these factors increased the MENA economies’ vulnerability to the global economic downturn. This Middle East Brief explores how Arab countries have been affected by the global economic crisis that began in the summer of 2008 and traces the responses of the MENA governments to this crisis. 

Read the full text

Middle East Brief 39 - November 2009
The Obama Presidency and the Palestinian-Israeli Conflict
Shai Feldman and Khalil Shikaki

The first ten months of the Obama administration’s efforts to achieve a breakthrough in Arab-Israeli peacemaking have led to widespread disappointment among Palestinians and to growing anxiety among Israelis. This Brief first provides an account of the Obama promise to the Middle East, highlighting the innovations characterizing his approach to the region. It then offers an explanation of what went wrong—of how both the administration and Israeli and Palestinian leaders contributed to wasting this initial period. Next, the Brief sets forth options available to the administration if it seeks to overcome the present impasse and jump-start Palestinian-Israeli talks. Finally, it offers some guidelines for a more promising Middle East peace process.

Read the full text

Middle East Brief 38 - November 2009
The Curious Case of Ali Akbar Hashemi-Rafsanjani
Naghmeh Sohrabi

The June 12, 2009 presidential election and its aftermath in Iran have been characterized as a watershed moment in the thirty year history of the Islamic Republic of Iran.  In "The Curious Case of Ali Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani," Dr. Naghmeh Sohrabi examines the historical reasons behind the targeting of one of Iran's most powerful political figures, Ali Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani and his surprising reaction to these attacks on himself and his family.  Through this lens, this Brief analyzes two important developments that account for the current state of politics in Iran: the rift between Rafsanjani and Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei, and the entry of the radical Right into mainstream politics in the context of its perceived and actual marginalization during the Rafsanjani presidency.

Read the full text

Middle East Brief 37 - June 2009
The Shiite Community in Lebanon: From Marginalization to Ascendancy
Yusri Hazran

Despite the weak showing of the Hizballah-led opposition in the June 7, 2009 Lebanese parliamentary elections, the Shiite community remains one of the most powerful political forces in Lebanon. This brief examines the transformation of the Shiite community in Lebanon from their marginalization in politics to their current ascendancy.  

Read the full text

Middle East Brief 36 - May 2009
The Politics of Higher Education in the Middle East: Problems and Prospects
Vincent Romani

In this brief, Dr. Vincent Romani explores the political problems posed by higher education for the Arab Middle East. After reviewing the main trends in higher education in the region, along with the principal locations and actors figuring in the current academic boom, the brief explains why higher education is a central issue in the Arab world and lays out the political background to these new academic dynamics. Finally, Romani assesses the main challenges facing higher education specifically in the Arab Gulf.

Read the full text

Middle East Brief 35 - April 2009
Jihadi Revisionism: Will It Save the World?
Khalil Al-Anani

Parallel to the growing violence by jihadi groups, such as al-Qaeda, there is a growing revisionist movement which aims to minimize extremist or militant understandings of sacred texts. In this brief, Khalil Al-Anani analyzes a case of jihadi revisionism: Sayyid Imam al-Sharif's 2007 document renouncing his own influential manifesto, and the response of jihadis to it.

Read the full text

Middle East Brief 34 - February 2009
U.S. - Arab Economic Relations and the Obama Administration
Nader Habibi and Eckart Woertz

The authors examine four developments that affect U.S.-Middle East economic relations and present important policy challenges to the Obama administration: China's and India's increasing energy interests in the Persian Gulf; U.S. interest in reducing instability through economic development and poverty reduction in the Middle East; U.S. loss of market share to European and Asian countries as the Middle East's purchasing power grows; and the Gulf Cooperation Council's (GCC) emergence as the financial and economic center of the Middle East. 

Read the full text

Middle East Brief 33 - January 2009
Divided We Survive: A Landscape of Fragmentation in Saudi Arabia
Ondrej Beranek

Dr. Beranek describes the principal actors and divisions of the fragmented Saudi politico-religious landscape, their varied goals and ability to bring about any real change. The Brief further analyzes the ruling establishment's methods of curbing the many voices of dissatisfaction in an effort to maintain the status quo.

Read the full text

Middle East Brief 32 - December 2008
Policy Options: The Obama Administration and the Palestinian-Israeli Conflict
Shai Feldman and Khalil Shikaki

What are the assets available to the incoming Obama administration for resolving or at least reducing the intensity of the Palestinian-Israeli conflict? What liabilities and constraints will the next administration face and what opportunities might it attempt to exploit for this purpose? This document constitutes a first attempt by two experts—one Israeli, the other a Palestinian—to examine these assets and liabilities, these opportunities and constraints, and to evaluate the various options available to the next administration for solving or ameliorating the Palestinian-Israeli conflict.

Read the full text

Middle East Brief 31 - October 2008
The Iranian Economy in the Shadow of Economic Sanctions
Nader Habibi

In "The Iranian Economy in the Shadow of Economic Sanctions" Prof. Nader Habibi evaluates the impact of the international economic sanctions leveled against Iran in the context of its nuclear efforts. He assesses this impact relative to other major forces acting on the Iranian economy, including: fluctuations in oil revenues, deeply rooted structural and institutional weaknesses, and the current Iranian government's economic policies. Prof. Habibi concludes that in spite of the economic mismanagement and structural weakness of the Iranian economy, the significant oil wealth has protected the citizens from feeling the sanction's full impact.  

Read the full text

Middle East Brief 30 - September 2008
Is Iraq Viable?
Kanan Makiya

In "Is Iraq Viable?" Prof. Kanan Makiya ponders the question of sectarianism in Iraq through the prism of Saddam Hussein's execution. Prof. Makiya challenges the perspective that the current sectarian division precludes a unified, viable, and functioning Iraqi state, while carefully outlining the historical fluidity of identity and internal alliances in Iraq.

Read the full text

Middle East Brief 29 - May 2008
Iran's 2008 Majlis Elections: The Game of Elite Competition
Farideh Farhi

"Iran's 2008 Majlis Elections: The Game of Elite Competition" is the first comprehensive analysis of the two rounds of voting for the highly competitive and complex 2008 parliamentary (majlis) elections in Iran. Dr. Farideh Farhi examines the results of these elections, the implications of intra-party divisions, and the marked decline in voter turnout. Farhi argues that as an indicator of the 2009 Presidential elections, the recent elections point to a trend of increasing competitiveness, partisanship, and unpredictability.

Read the full text

Middle East Brief 28 - April 2008
The Sword and the Book: Implications of the Intertwining of the Saudi Ruling Family and the Religious Establishment
Ondrej Beranek

In "The Sword and the Book: Implications of the Intertwining of the Saudi Ruling Family and the Religious Establishment," Dr. Ondrej Beranek explores the complex interaction between Saudi Arabia's state and religious institutions. Through an historical survey, Beranek demonstrates that the interdependence of the Saudi Family and the religious establishment creates a double edged sword. It has enabled the stability within the state and moderated extremist forces in society while at the same time preventing the swift implementation of religious or political reforms. 

Read the full text

Middle East Brief 27 - March 2008
Jordan: Preserving Domestic Order in a Setting of Regional Turmoil
Asher Susser

In "Jordan: Preserving Domestic Order in a Setting of Regional Turmoil," Prof. Asher Susser discusses the ways in which Jordan has maintained its stability despite its tenuous geostrategic position by analyzing three components of Jordan's stability and resilience: the political elite's cohesion and determination, the security forces ability and effectiveness and Jordan's geopolitical centrality.

Read the full text

Middle East Brief 26 - February 2008
Clans and Militias in Palestinian Politics
Dror Ze'evi

In "Clans and Militias in Palestinian Politics" Prof. Dror Ze'evi evaluates the current influence of clans on Palestinian politics by tracing the historical shifts in clan dominance. Prof. Ze'evi identifies the second Intifada as the critical moment when the clans regained power and influence in the political system. Given the clans’ new central role, he concludes that clan support will be the key to the successful implementation of any Israeli-Palestinian political settlement for President Mahmoud Abbas.

Read the full text

Middle East Brief 25 - January 2008
The Brotherhood's Dilemma
Marc Lynch

The Crown Center continues the exploration of the Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood with the latest Middle East Brief "The Brotherhood's Dilemma" by Prof. Marc Lynch. Prof. Lynch evaluates the Brotherhood's level of genuine commitment to democratic politics and opposition to violent extremism. Drawing on over fifty interviews with Brotherhood leaders, Lynch  examines four significant controversies: the reaction to official repression, the contestation in the Shura Council elections, the issuing of a draft party platform, and the refraining from mass protests or violence. He concludes that the Brotherhood can be best understood as an internally divided organization still in flux.  

Read the full text

Middle East Brief 24 - January 2008
One Hundred Years of Middle Eastern Oil
E. Roger Owen

On the occasion of the 100th anniversary of the discovery of oil, Prof. E. Roger Owen analyzes oil’s impact on the Middle East and the world at large. Owen traces the development of Arab oil-producing states comparing the political economy of small allocation states to large production states. Through this lens, he explores the creation of political systems, inter-regional dynamics, and the impact on world consumers. Owen concludes by projecting another 100 years of oil dominating the political-economy landscape.

Read the full text

Middle East Brief 23 - December 2007
Understanding the Muslim Brothers in Egypt
Abdel Monem Said Aly

Are the Muslim Brothers in Egypt moderating? Through a critical analysis of their positions on society, democracy, foreign policy, and, especially, the relations between religion and state, Dr. Abdel Monem Said Aly evaluates the Muslim Brothers' current level of moderation. Drawing from their various statements and especially the draft party platform they recently published, Dr. Said Aly questions the assertion that the Muslim Brothers in Egypt are moderating. Finally, he also addresses the conditions under which moderation and democratic values might become intrinsic parts of the Brothers' ideology and behavior.

Read the full text

Middle East Brief 22 - November 2007
The Changing Face of Turkish Politics: Turkey's July 2007 Parliamentary Elections
Banu Eligur

Read the full text

Middle East Brief 21 - November 2007
Is It Still Fall in Annapolis? Thinking about a Scheduled Meeting
Shai Feldman and Khalil Shikaki

Read the full text

Middle East Brief 20 - October 2007
The Fall Middle East Meeting: Too Important to Fail
Abdel Monem Said Aly

Read the full text

Middle East Brief 19 - April 2007
The Present Shia-Sunna Divide: Remaking Historical Memory
Dror Ze'evi

Read the full text

Middle East Brief 18 - March 2007
Iran: Where a Tomato is Not Just a Tomato
Naghmeh Sohrabi

Read the full text

Middle East Brief 17 - March 2007
From Deterrence to Legitimacy: A Proposed Shift in U.S. Policy in the Middle East
Abdel Monem Said Aly

Read the full text

Response Comment: "I recently read Crown Center Brief No. 17 by Abdel Monem Said Aly,..."

Middle East Brief 16 - February 2007
Looking Beyond the Numbers: The Palestinian Socioeconomic Crisis of 2006
Mohammed Samhouri

Read the full text

Middle East Brief 15 - January 2007
Moscow's Iranian Policies: Opportunities and Dangers
Carol Saivetz

Read the full text

Middle East Brief 14 - December 2006
The Kurds and Regional Security: An Evaluation of Developments since the Iraq War
Joshua Itzkowitz Shifrinson

Read the full text

Middle East Brief 13 - November 2006
The United States and the Israel-Hezbollah War
Jeremy Pressman

Read the full text

Middle East Brief 12 - November 2006
Gaza Economic Predicament One Year After Disengagement: What Went Wrong?
Mohammed Samhouri

Read the full text

Middle East Brief 11 - October 2006
The Sixth Arab-Israeli War: An Arab Perspective
Abdel Monem Said Aly

Read the full text

Middle East Brief 10 - September 2006
The Hezbollah-Israel War: A Preliminary Assessment
Shai Feldman

Read the full text

Middle East Brief 9 - August 2006
Are Former Enemies Becoming Allies? Turkey's Changing Relations with Syria, Iran, and Israel Since the 2003 Iraqi War
Banu Eligur

Read the full text

Middle East Brief 8 - June 2006
The Decline of the PLO and the Rise of the PNA
Dror Ze'evi

Read the full text

Middle East Brief 7 - June 2006
United States' Policy Toward Hamas: An Initial Assessment
Jeremy Pressman

Read the full text

Response Comment: "My Brandeis '91 classmate Jeremy Pressman does a fine job presenting ..."

Middle East Brief 6 - May 2006
Turkish-American Relations Since the 2003 Iraqi War: A Troubled Partnership
Banu Eligur

Read the full text

Middle East Brief 5 - May 2006
Nuclear Decision-Making in Iran: A Rare Glimpse
Chen Kane

Read the full text

Middle East Brief 4 - April 2006
Conservatives, Neoconservatives and Reformists: Iran after the Election of Mahmud Ahmadinejad
Naghmeh Sohrabi

Read the full text

Middle East Brief 3 - March 2006
What Do Palestinians Really Want? The Social Implications of the Hamas Victory
Dror Ze'evi

Read the full text

Response Comment: "Dror Zeevi on "What the Palestinians expect" reminded me of the..."

Middle East Brief 2 - January 2006
Prelude to Change: Egyptian Democratization, 2005
Abdel Monem Said Aly

Read the full text

Middle East Brief 1 - December 2005
Palestinian and Israeli Policy Options: Implications for U.S. Diplomacy
Shai Feldman and Khalil Shikaki

Read the full text

Download Adobe Reader to view a Middle East Brief.