Crown Conversations draw on the wealth of regional expertise at the Crown Center in order to focus on recent developments in the Middle East with two goals: to draw attention to aspects of ongoing events that are overlooked in the U.S. news media and to provide insights into the wider regional and global implications of the news.
Crown Conversations 16 (Summary) — Over its forty-year history, the Lebanese party Hezbollah developed sophisticated military and organizational capabilities that have elevated it to be the most influential non-state actor in the Middle East. These capabilities make it the lynchpin of the so-called Axis of Resistance, the network of states and militias in the region that are closely allied with Iran. In this Crown Conversation, Mohammad Ataie discusses shifts in Hezbollah’s popularity and cross-sectarian appeal, and how Hezbollah's conflicts in its formative years with many of its current allies shaped the party that exists today.
Crown Conversations 15 (Summary) — In April, the two main warring parties in Yemen—the Houthi movement and the Government of Yemen—agreed to a two-month truce brokered by the United Nations that has since been extended twice. After the initial truce, Yemeni President Abdrabbuh Mansour Hadi handed power to an eight-member Presidential Leadership Council, a development that many Yemenis and observers hope will lead to an end of almost eight years of war in the country. In this Crown Conversation, we spoke with Yasmeen al-Eryani and Stacey Philbrick Yadav about efforts to end the war, the importance of inclusion in peacebuilding, and the myriad ways in which conflict and international humanitarian efforts have changed the nature of research in Yemen.
Crown Conversations 14 (Summary) — After the Jasmine Revolution of 2011, the Islamist movement Ennahda reemerged in Tunisia and frequently has been the largest party in the parliament and kingmaker in coalition governments. Consequently, it has borne the brunt of many Tunisians' growing disenchantment with their post-revolutionary political system. Since President Kais Saied's power grab in July 2021 and subsequent dissolution of parliament, Ennahda and its leader, Rached Ghannouchi, have tried to oppose the coup without triggering a violent crackdown by the state or alienating allies and party members. Nonetheless, in the lead-up to a national referendum scheduled for July 25 to approve a new draft constitution, Tunisian courts imposed a travel ban on Ghannouchi and froze various Ennahda leaders' bank accounts. In this Crown Conversation, the third in a series on Tunisia, we spoke with Andrew F. March—who has interviewed Ghannouchi extensively and is co-writing a book with him—about the history of Ennahda, how it has responded to Saied's actions, and where the movement goes from here.
Crown Conversations 13 (Summary) — Running as a populist, Kais Saied, a retired law professor and political independent, was elected president of Tunisia in October 2019. After suspending parliament and dismissing the prime minister on July 25, 2021, Saied has further tightened his hold on power by announcing he would rule by decree, reconfiguring the Supreme Judicial Court, and laying out a roadmap to revise the constitution. These moves—called a "coup" by some and a "correction" by others—threaten Tunisia's decade-old democratic transition. In the second of a series of Crown Conversations on Tunisia, we spoke with Hind Ahmed Zaki about how Tunisians' disenchantment with their post-revolutionary political system led to the election of Saied as president, public support for his power-grab, and how the country's women's rights movement has reacted to his appointment of the Arab world's first female prime minister.
Crown Conversations 12 (Summary) — Israel’s position in the Middle East is changing. The UAE’s announcement in August 2020 that it would normalize relations with Israel—formalized the following month in the Abraham Accords Declaration—sparked a series of similar agreements between Israel and several Arab states. The perception of U.S. disengagement with the region has led countries to reconsider alliances and rivalries. And the election of new leaders in the U.S. and Israel heralds a possible reset in relations between those states. In this Crown Conversation, we spoke with Chuck Freilich about what these changes mean for Israel’s security and role in the Middle East.
Crown Conversations 11 (Summary) — Ebrahim Raisi assumed office as the eighth president of the Islamic Republic of Iran on August 3, after winning the June presidential election. Replacing the centrist Hassan Rouhani, Raisi is often described as a conservative hardliner and ally of Ali Khamenei, Iran's supreme leader. Raisi's administration faces a myriad of challenges, including a floundering economy that remains under U.S. sanctions, the potential for renewed urban unrest, and one of the deadliest outbreaks of COVID-19 in the world. In this Crown Conversation, we spoke with Nader Habibi and Amir Mahdavi about the administration's domestic and foreign policies and what they reveal about the direction in which the Islamic Republic is headed.
Crown Conversations 10 (Summary) — In May 2021, Israel and Hamas exchanged heavy fire, leading to the deaths of 10 Israelis, 3 foreign workers, and approximately 260 Palestinians, with many more injured. Events in Jerusalem were the immediate trigger for this round of violence, which provided Hamas an opportunity to assert itself as the guardian of Palestinian and Arab rights far beyond Gaza. In this Crown Conversation, we spoke with Shai Feldman about how the May conflict impacted Hamas and Israel domestically and internationally, as well as the prospects for change in their relationship.
Crown Conversations 9 (Summary) — On July 25—Tunisia's Republic Day—President Kais Saied dismissed the country's prime minister and government, froze parliament for thirty days, suspended lawmakers' parliamentary immunity, and announced that he (alongside a yet-to-be-named prime minister) will temporarily exert executive authority "until social peace returns to Tunisia and until we save the state." A thirty-day curfew was announced the following day. In the first of a series of Crown Conversations on Tunisia, we spoke with Eva Bellin about the challenges of governance in Tunisia and what President Saied’s actions mean for its fledgling democracy.
Crown Conversations 8 (Summary) — In late March, Iran and China signed a 25-year strategic accord that calls for China to invest a reported US$400 billion in various sectors in Iran in exchange for a regular, and presumably discounted, supply of Iranian oil. The partnership also envisions increased bilateral trade and deepening military cooperation between the two countries. In this Crown Conversation, we spoke with two experts on Iran at the Crown Center—Nader Habibi and Hadi Kahalzadeh—about factors that led to the agreement, opposition to it inside Iran, and what it means for the region.
Crown Conversations 7 (Summary) —Ten years of civil war in Syria has killed an estimated 600,000 people and displaced half of the country’s population. Yet the Syrian regime has proven to be surprisingly durable, and President Bashar al-Asad remains in power in Damascus. In this Crown Conversation, we asked Syria expert Daniel Neep what the conflict teaches us about how the Syrian regime works and Bashar’s role in it, ethnic and religious dynamics, and whether the war is finally coming to an end.
Crown Conversations 6 (Summary) —President Joe Biden says that the U.S. will rejoin the 2015 Iran nuclear deal if Iran returns to "strict compliance" with its terms. His administration then intends to seek to extend and strengthen the nuclear deal as well as reach agreements on limits to Iran’s missile program and regional interventions. In this Crown Conversation, we speak with Gary Samore, a former U.S. official responsible for nuclear nonproliferation, about the continued relevance of the original deal, nuclear proliferation in the Middle East, and the prospects for successful follow-up negotiations.
Crown Conversations 5 (Summary) —Ten years ago this week, Egyptians began a series of mass protests that quickly brought down President Hosni Mubarak, who had ruled for almost thirty years. The subsequent years were contentious, and an uneven transition to democracy ended when the military assumed power in 2013. Today, Egyptians remain deeply divided over the legacy of the January 25 Revolution. In this Crown Conversation, we asked three scholars of Egypt—Youssef El Chazli, Hannah Elsisi, and Neil Ketchley—to reflect on how and why the revolution occurred, the ways it changed politics and society, and its lasting imprint on the everyday lives of Egyptians.
Crown Conversations 4 (Summary) — The largest and most sustained demonstrations in Iraq’s post-Ba‘th era began in early October 2019, which led to the resignation of then Prime Minister Adel Abdul Mahdi. After five months without a government and several failed attempts by other nominees to form one, journalist and intelligence chief Mustafa al-Kadhimi became Iraq’s new prime minister in May. In this Crown Conversation, as the premier approaches 100 days in office, we asked Kanan Makiya to reflect on the forces that brought Kadhimi to power, his mandate, and the challenges he faces. In 2003, Makiya founded the Iraq Memory Foundation, an NGO dedicated to issues of remembrance, violence, and identity formation in Iraq; Kadhimi directed that foundation from 2003 to 2010.
Crown Conversations 3 (Summary) — The killing of an African-American man, George Floyd, by police in Minneapolis on May 25 triggered a wave of protests and acts of civil disobedience throughout the United States. These protests were accompanied by demonstrations of solidarity across the globe. In this Crown Conversation, we asked three members of the Crown Center research team—Hayal Akarsu, Yazan Doughan, and Youssef El Chazli—to reflect on how their research on related topics in Turkey, Jordan, and Egypt sheds light on aspects of this global moment of mobilization, demand for police reform, and reexamination of racial and social inequalities.
Crown Conversations 2 (Summary) — Iran has been one of the worst hit countries by the current global outbreak of a coronavirus disease (officially known as COVID-19), with the World Health Organization acknowledging over 4,200 deaths and 68,000 confirmed cases in the country as of April 11, 2020. In this Crown Conversation, we discuss the political and historical context of the crisis, including the Iranian government’s response to it, with Orkideh Behrouzan, a medical anthropologist and physician and the author of Prozak Diaries: Psychiatry and Generational Memory in Iran (Stanford University Press, 2016).
Crown Conversations 1 (Summary) — Our first Crown Conversation, "Iran, Iraq, and Lebanon after Soleimani," was organized and edited by Naghmeh Sohrabi and David Siddhartha Patel and features Maryam Alemzadeh, David Siddhartha Patel, and Kelly Stedem. It focuses on the targeted killing of Iranian General Qasim Soleimani and others by a U.S. drone strike in Iraq on January 3, 2020 and its short- and medium-term effects on domestic politics in Iran, Iraq, and Lebanon.
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The views expressed in the Crown Conversations belong solely to the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect those of the Crown Center for Middle East Studies or Brandeis University.