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

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Yemen’s nested conflict(s): Layers, geographies and feuds

Due to the 2015 civil war, Yemen’s national order has vanished. Whatever viable attempt of conflict resolution must take into account a variety of existing micro-orders on a local basis. Deconstructing Yemen’s layers of conflict, this essay traces post-2015 internal transformations of power, arguing that Yemen has started a process of gradual feudalisation, based on militias and warlords, thus shifting from a multiple geographies scheme to an archipelagolike system of connected but rival feuds.

Eleonora Ardemagni is an expert of Yemen, Gulf monarchies and Arab military forces, and Associate Research Fellow at the Italian Institute for International Political Studies (ISPI), teaching assistant at the Catholic University of Milan and Gulf analyst for the NATO Defense College Foundation.

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The recent Kurdish struggle

The Iran-Iraq War in the 1980s, the two Gulf wars against Saddam Hussein in 1991 and 2003, and the Syrian Civil War, which began in 2011, are the main reasons the long-lasting Kurdish struggle recently has come to play such an increasingly important role in Middle Eastern and even international affairs. In addition, the resulting rise of both the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) in Iraq and also another, albeit less established Kurdish government in northeastern Syria, called Rojava (now broadened into the Federation of Northern Syria to include the many other ethnic and sectarian groups that live there), has given the Kurds additional de facto institutional existence and even recognition.

Furthermore, the continuing insurgency of the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) in Turkey, its spillover into neighbouring Iraq and Syria, its peace talks with Ankara from 2009 to 2015 and its de facto alliance with the United States to defeat the so-called Islamic State (IS) in Iraq and Syria have given the PKK an importance inconceivable a mere decade ago. For example, the PKK played an important role on the ground in Sinjar, Iraq to help rescue the embattled Yezidis from the genocidal IS Jihadis in 2014. Even more, the PKK, through its Syrian affiliate, the Syrian Democratic Forces/Democratic Union Party/Peoples Defense Units (SDF/PYD/YPG), proved the indispensable boots on the ground that defeated IS in such dramatic battles as Kobane (2014-2015) and Raqqa (2017), among others. US air and advisory support, of course, were existential in these battles, which also brought Turkey, Iran, Russia, Iraq and Syria, among others, into the equation. The purpose of this article is to analyse the recent Kurdish struggle regarding the failed independence referendum in Iraqi Kurdistan, the US-Turkish confrontation in Syria, and their continuing profound effects upon Middle Eastern and international politics.

Michael M. Gunter is a Professor of Political Science at Tennessee Technological University. He has published 15 books and over 100 articles on the Kurdish problem. Currently, he is the Secretary-General of the EU Turkey Civic Commission in Brussels and a member of the advisory board of the Turkish Heritage Organization in Washington, DC.

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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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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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Orient II 2019

Christopher Phillips
International actors in the Syrian conflict

Kristina Kausch
Balancing Trumpism: Transatlantic divergence in the Middle East

Michael M. Gunter
The recent Kurdish struggle

Eleonora Ardemagni
Yemen’s nested conflict(s): Layers, geographies and feuds

Wolfgang Pusztai
Conflict resolution in Libya: What works?

Imad Salamey
Mitigating MENA communitarian conflicts through power sharing options

Sneha Roy
Macro analysis of gendered discourse in conflict resolution in MENA

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Orient I 2019

Anoushiravan Ehteshami
After the West: Russia and China in the Middle East

Robert Springborg
Globalisation and contentious politics in the MENA

James M. Dorsey
Geopolitics dominate Middle Eastern sports

Margret Johannsen
The Palestinian-Israeli conflict in its eighth decade

Jérôme Drevon
Transnational armed Salafi Jihadi networks: Emergence and development

Omar Eleish
The dilemma of counter-terrorism mechanisms in the MENA

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Orient IV 2018

Karen E. Young
Economic reforms as a means to diversification in the Arab Gulf states

Curran Flynn
Vision 2030: Success thus far Mark Furness Strategic policymaking and Germany’s MENA aid programme

Yasmina El Amine, Chafik Abdallah, Rana El Hajj and Nadim Farajalla
Solid waste management in the MENA region: A comparative analysis of Lebanon, Jordan, and Tunisia

Roel Meijer
Economic deprivation, political corruption and the rise of new citizen movements in the MENA region

Amir Forouharfar
The Middle East politics of entrepreneurship: A brief review on entrepreneurship as a foreign policy tool in Gulf Cooperation Council countries

Mohsen Tavakoli, Catherine Laffineur and Alain Fayolle
Gender equality in entrepreneurship in the Near and Middle East

Hajer El Ouardani and Samir Makdisi
Autocracy, democracy and populism in the Arab region

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Orient III 2018

Ludwig Schulz and Benedikt van den Woldenberg
German Near and Middle East policy: Challenges and strategy

Ahmed Badawi
From the outside looking in: The three rationalities of the German policy debate on Egypt

Alexander Bürgin
Despite the growing alienation between Turkey and the EU: A continuation of the accession process remains the best option

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

Ali Al-Mawlawi
Transformations in German Middle East policy: The view from Iraq

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

Sarah Anne Rennick
Active citizenship, participative politics, and challenging the state: How new forms of civil society in the Arab world can meet the promise of 2011

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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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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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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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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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