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The Journal for politics, economics, and culture of the Middle East published by the German Orient-Institute

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01/04/19

Balancing Trumpism: Transatlantic divergence in the Middle East

Is the Middle East the transatlantic alliance’s Achilles’ heel? Against the backdrop of global geopolitical shifts and a growing malaise in the relationship between Europe and the United States, it appears that they no longer want the same things there. Since the US withdrawal from the Iran nuclear deal, both sides have been actively trying to undermine each other in this region of core geopolitical interest to both. Although the basic US and European interests there remain aligned and there is tangible cooperation in some areas, their assessments and policies are drifting apart. The transatlantic partners’ clash on the two fundamental pillars of Middle Eastern geopolitics – Iran and Palestine – in practice means a diverging overall vision for the region. As the game in the Levant is increasingly being negotiated between Russia, Iran and Turkey, a transatlantic rivalry in the region will not only risk its further destabilisation but also hand Russia more opportunities to play Europe and the US in other geopolitical arenas.

Kristina Kausch is a Senior Resident Fellow at The German Marshall Fund of the United States’ (GMF) Brussels office. Her research focuses on Europe’s relations with the Middle East and North Africa, political transformations in the Arab world, and broader geopolitical trends in the Middle East.

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01/04/19

International actors in the Syrian conflict

Syria’s long and bloody civil war is seemingly winding down, but how will it conclude? Since the war’s beginning, regional and international powers have intervened to shape the conflict, enabling and hindering Syrian players on the ground, and these same actors will play a major part in determining the endgame. This article explores the involvement of Russia, the US, Turkey, Iran, Israel, Saudi Arabia and Qatar in Syria’s civil war and how their various priorities and policies have ultimately strengthened Syrian president Bashar al-Assad and weakened his various enemies, whether the rebels, Kurds or so-called Islamic State. Whether this can now be translated into a firm al-Assad victory, a negotiated settlement or a continuation of war will ultimately be more determined by the outside than by Damascus.

Christopher Phillips is Reader in International Relations at Queen Mary, University of London and an Associate Fellow at the Chatham House Middle East and North Africa programme. He has published in numerous academic journals and print media and is author of Everyday Arab Identity: The Daily Reproduction of the Arab World (London: Routledge, 2012) and The Battle for Syria: International Rivalry in the New Middle East (London: Yale University Press, 2016 [paperback update 2018]).

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01/04/18

Iran’s role in the Gulf: Beyond politics

Iran continues to play an active role in the politics and security dynamics of the Persian Gulf sub-region. Its policies, however, are not readily understood because of the opaque way in which decisions are derived. These are shaped by a mixture of inter-elite domestic exchanges and the wider regional context, and it is the interplay between the two which articulates Iran’s ultimate decisions. These decisions, however, have in recent years put a dangerous distance between Tehran and many of its closest neighbours. We need to understand why.

Anoushiravan Ehteshami is Professor of International Relations in the School of Government and International Affairs, Durham University. He is the Nasser al-Mohammad al-Sabah Chair in International Relations and Director of the HH Sheikh Nasser al-Mohammad al-Sabah Programme in International Relations, Regional Politics and Security. He is, further, Director of the Institute for Middle Eastern & Islamic Studies (IMEIS) at Durham, one of the oldest and noted centres of excellence in Middle Eastern studies in Europe.

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01/04/18

Unpacking a puzzling case: On how the Yemeni conflict became sectarianised

Yemen constitutes in many ways a puzzling case in the broader debate on Shia/Sunni sectarianism in a ‘new Middle East.’ Contrary to what one might expect from its demography, it has historically not been a hotbed for sectarian conflicts, and against this background, it is surprising how sectarianism has become one – of many – dimensions in the Yemeni conflict since the Arab uprisings. By drawing on analytical tools from the broader debate on sectarianism, which are used as complementary layers of explanation, the article shows how it is necessary to examine the complex interplay between drivers and actors placed at regional, state, regime and society levels in order to provide a nuanced understanding of how and why this sectarianisation took place.

Morten Valbjørn is Associate Professor of Political Science at Aarhus University and head of the research project ‘SWAR: Sectarianism in the Wake of the Arab Revolts’. His research has appeared in, among others: Democratization, Review of International Studies, International Studies Review, PS: Political Science & Politics; Middle East Critique, Middle East Report, International Review of Sociology, Mediterranean Politics, Cooperation & Conflict, Journal of Mediterranean Studies, and Foreign Policy.

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01/04/18

The Gulf Cooperation Council, Iran, and the limits to integration

The Gulf Cooperation Council was created as a response to Iran’s Islamic Revolution, which stirred unrest across the Middle East, particularly among the region’s Shiite population. The development of the GCC has been marked by its members’ relationship with Iran, but also by fears of Saudi hegemony and by differing attitudes to political Islam. Despite the sectarian and ideological cleavages which are often the focus of attention, the primary driver of foreign policy for regional actors is the need to ensure regime survival.

Ana Belén Soage is Adjunct Professor of Government at Suffolk University (Madrid Campus). She was awarded a European Doctorate in Middle East Studies in 2011, after five years of research in Egypt. Her research focuses on Middle East politics and political Islam, both in the Muslim world and in the West.

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01/01/18

Regionalism in the Middle East: An impossible dream?

One of the major factors inhibiting regionalisation in the Middle East is the absence of political will to cooperate on the part of leaders. While the attributes of the leaders of the major regional powers, namely Iran, Saudi Arabia and Turkey, are undoubtedly important in determining their propensity to support regionalisation, there are even more important systemic factors that cause the most enlightened individual to eschew regional integration. A legitimacy crisis plagues most countries in the region, turning them inward rather than towards the region. The civil wars in Syria, Iraq, and Yemen have become conflict traps that have drawn in all the major regional powers, pitting them against each other and away from a stance of cooperation. And rather than having a stabilizing effect on the Middle East, the United States and Russia have reinforced the region’s fault lines, pushing it further away from integration. While mitigating these dynamics does not ensure success in sparking regionalisation, it improves the probability that a window to a better future will ultimately open.

Ross Harrison is on the faculties of the School of Foreign Service at Georgetown University and the University of Pittsburgh, and is a scholar at the Middle East Institute in Washington, D.C. Harrison is the author of Strategic Thinking in 3D: A Guide for National Security, Foreign Policy and Business Professionals, which is a required text at the National War College in Washington, D.C., and the co-editor of From Chaos to Cooperation: Toward Regional Order in the Middle East.

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