Middle East Briefs 2005-2009
Middle East Brief 40 (Summary) — 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.
Middle East Brief 39 (Summary) — 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.
Middle East Brief 38 (Summary) — 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.
Middle East Brief 37 (Summary) — 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.
Middle East Brief 36 (Summary) — 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.
Middle East Brief 35 (Summary) — 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.
Middle East Brief 34 (Summary) — 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.
Middle East Brief 33 (Summary) — 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.
Middle East Brief 32 (Summary) — 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.
Middle East Brief 31 (Summary) — 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.
Middle East Brief 30 (Summary) — 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.
Middle East Brief 29 (Summary) — “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.
Middle East Brief 28 (Summary) — 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.
Middle East Brief 27 (Summary) — 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.
Middle East Brief 26 (Summary) — 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.
Middle East Brief 25 (Summary) — 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.
Middle East Brief 24 (Summary) — 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.
Middle East Brief 23 (Summary) — 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.
The opinions and findings expressed in these Briefs belong to the author(s) exclusively and do not reflect those of the Crown Center or Brandeis University.