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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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01/07/18

The role of the Kurds in the Middle East: A regional factor of stability or instability?

The Kurds are more visible than ever in regional politics. Through their fight against the IS, they have gained significant political and strategic importance. They have established themselves as security partners of the West. They have become an indispensable factor of stability in regional politics. Nevertheless, they have so far failed to gain support for their historical aspirations for autonomy and independence. Beyond intra-Kurdish factors, the traditional anti-Kurdish attitude and alliance of the regional states (Turkey, Iran, Syria, Iraq) and the reservations of Western states, including the USA, the EU and Germany, play an important role. Current developments imply how vulnerable the situation of the Kurds is, but also how indispensable external support from the state world and internal Kurdish strengthening is in order to resolve the historical conflict over the future of the Kurds and to create more peace.

Gülistan Gürbey is head of research at Al-Bayan Center, a Baghdad-based independent think tank, where he focuses on institutional reform and Iraqi foreign policy.

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01/07/18

Transformations in German Middle East policy: The view from Iraq

The challenges faced by Germany’s recent experience in Iraq reflect the complex and dynamic nature of engaging in conflict zones in the Middle East. An overlap between humanitarian concerns and national security interests formed the basis of Germany’s initial decision to deploy soldiers to northern Iraq, but once there, the complex reality and shifting power dynamics meant that the Bundesrepublik needed to rebalance its engagement in order to maintain leverage as an honest broker in Iraq. During the post-IS phase, Germany’s domestic security interests have aligned with Iraq’s imperative to stabilise the liberated provinces and modernise the country’s economy to attract greater foreign investment. Germany’s experience in Iraq has shown that empowering local actors to take the lead while maintaining close coordination with the central government to ensure effective buy-in from relevant stakeholders is critical. As Europe takes a far more proactive and hands-on approach to the Middle East, there is much scope to broaden and deepen these exchanges.

Ali Al-Mawlawi is head of research at Al-Bayan Center, a Baghdad-based independent think tank, where he focuses on institutional reform and Iraqi foreign policy.

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01/07/18

Germany as an influential political actor in the Middle East conflict: Possibilities and prospects

Germany enjoys several assets and strengths that enable it to play a much stronger and more visible role in Middle East. Germany has no history of colonialism in the region and has not been involved militarily in any of the Middle East conflicts. Germany’s warm reception for the Syrian and other refugees created a very positive image in the minds and in the hearts of Arab nations. However, the public role of Germany has not been adequately utilised. German foreign policy is perceived in the Middle East to be reluctant and hesitant, as development and technical assistance from Germany has not been complemented by an equally active political role. Germany is a generous payer but not an active player. The warm relations between Germany and Israel can and should be considered as a positive element, not the opposite, based on the principle that ‘only friends can give advice‘. Germany is in an excellent position to complement other states, mainly the US, in mediating in the Middle East between Arab states and Israel. However, if Germany wants to become a global power, it needs a more assertive, confident and decisive role. Germany needs to mobilise its financial capacities, its warm public perception following the refugee crisis, its technical expertise and technological know-how as well as its capabilities in civic education and technical and vocational training in order to enable it to stimulate a political involvement that helps to bring stability, democratisation and prosperity to the Middle East states. This is a win-win strategy, as Germany will benefit greatly if it accelerates its political involvement in the Middle East. This will impact positively on its economic ties with Europe and the Middle East states. This essay investigates the possibilities, capabilities and potentials that Germany could attain by becoming an influential political power in Middle East issues, such as the Palestinian-Israeli conflict, or by helping to find peaceful solutions to the conflicts in Syria, Yemen, and Libya.

Omar Shaban is the founding director of think and do tank PalThink for Strategic Studies that is based in Gaza. He specialises in the political economy of the Middle East, mainly Palestine and Israel. He publishes regularly in internationally recognised think tanks, newspapers and magazines.

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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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01/04/18

Kuwait and Oman mediating policy traditions in rupture with Gulf crisis protagonists

This unprecedented Gulf crisis put two radically different Gulf diplomacies in conflict. A new breaking style came in confrontation with the old Gulf diplomatic tradition symbolised by the elder and most experimented leaders of the region: the Emir of Kuwait and the Sultan of Oman. In order to understand the dramatic Gulf policy transition’s shift, this paper reviews the diplomatic soft power trajectories of Kuwait and Oman. It also examines the impacts this crisis affects their respective domestic situation challenged by the uncertain future of the GCC.

Fatiha Dazi-Héni is Associate Professor at Aalborg University in Denmark. He is a political scientist by training and specialises in the politics of the Middle East. His latest publication is a chapter contribution to Ray Hinnebusch and Omar Imady (eds.), The Syrian Uprising. Domestic Origins and Early Trajectory (Routledge, 2018).

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01/04/18

Saudi Arabia’s new politics: Motives, risks, and the rule of law

Saudi Arabia’s ‘anti-corruption drive’, which began in earnest in November 2017, is a seismic event in the kingdom’s history. Drawing on a range of interviews, local media, and other sources, this article suggests it has been predicated on multiple, inter-connected motives, and that it will have serious ramifications for Saudi Arabia’s political stability and its capacity to successfully reshape its struggling economy. Most obviously, it will contribute directly to either the success or failure of the new crown prince’s efforts to offset the impact of urgent austerity measures while simultaneously trying to forge a new and more populist relationship with the broader citizenry.

Christopher M. Davidson is a reader in Middle East Politics at Durham University in the United Kingdom. He is also a visiting fellow at leiden University College in the Netherlands and an associate fellow at the Royal United Services Institute, london. His work focuses on the comparative politics of the Middle East, and especially the Gulf states.

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01/04/18

Whither Saudi Arabia?

The article examines the foundational elements of the Saudi state: idea, governing institutions and physical basis. The author notes that its supranational ideas will be challenged by ongoing reforms if it does not ease tensions with its Shia minority population. Governing institutions of its absolute monarchy will also be challenged by the reforms, while economic reforms are far from convincing. The author concludes that the Saudi state may be the next weak state in the region.

Søren Schmidt is Associate Professor at Aalborg University in Denmark. He is a political scientist by training and specialises in the politics of the Middle East. His latest publication is a chapter contribution to Ray Hinnebusch and Omar Imady (eds.), The Syrian Uprising. Domestic Origins and Early Trajectory (Routledge, 2018).

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01/04/18

Qatar and the Gulf crisis

In June 2017, a quartet of states led by Saudi Arabia and the UAE launched an unprecedented, wide-ranging, and biting blockade of Qatar. After the initial shock, which included emptying supermarket shelves and even fears of escalation, the Qatari state swiftly and successfully secured suppliers for goods principally from Turkey and Iran. The quartet long believed that Qatar’s foreign policies heedlessly undermined the stability and security of their states. A combination of such long-term simmering issues and immediate factors like the role of a pliant President Trump meant that these states rolled the dice. At best, they hoped that Qatar would capitulate under such tremendous pressure. At worst, they believed Qatar’s activities would be circumscribed, and it would be slowly financially bled. While Gulf politics can pivot quickly, there are no signs that this crisis will abate. Without serious pressure, probably from a US President, it will likely be measured in years not months.

David B. Roberts is Assistant Professor at King’s College london, where he is based at the UK Defence Academy. Prior to joining King’s, he was the director of the Qatar office of the Royal United Services Institute for Defence and Security Studies (RUSI) think-tank. His book Qatar: Securing the Global Ambitions of a City State was noted by Bloomberg and Stratfor as a ‘must read’ of 2017.

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01/04/18

High-stakes poker in the Gulf

It is a non-sequitur to say that the stakes in the Gulf crisis could not be higher. They range from the future ability of Qatar and the region’s other small states to act independently and the uncertain fate of the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) as an effective regional body, to the fundament on which international relations are built and the role of small states within that structure. Whether and how the Gulf crisis is ultimately resolved could constitute a watershed that is likely to shape the power balance in the Middle East and North Africa as well as impact significantly the way states do business with one another. That is true irrespective of whether the Gulf crisis remains unresolved in the foreseeable future, is truly resolved, or is ended by agreement with a face-saving formula that leaves disagreements on the table.

James M. Dorsey is a senior fellow at Singapore’s S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies and co-director of the Institute of Fan Culture of the University of Würzburg.

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01/04/18

Orient II 2018

James M. Dorsey
High-stakes poker in the Gulf

David B. Roberts
Qatar and the Gulf Crisis

Christopher M. Davidson
Saudi Arabia’s new politics: Motives, risks, and the rule of law

Søren Schmidt
Whither Saudi Arabia?

Fatiha Dazi-Héni
Kuwait and Oman mediating policy traditions in rupture with Gulf crisis protagonists

Ana Belén Soage
The Gulf Cooperation Council, Iran, and the limits to integration

Anoushiravan Ehteshami
Iran’s role in the Gulf: Beyond politics?

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

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