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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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01/01/21

Tunisia is a beacon of hope, but things can still go terribly wrong

Even before Tunisia kick-started the 2011 uprisings across the Arab world and emerged as the only state in which they led to lasting positive change, the North African republic was considered a bit of an Arab exception. It went further in embracing liberal and secular values and had a well-educated middle class, a strong civil society, a comparably moderate Islamist party as well as a military that remained fairly absent from domestic politics. This article takes stock of how these factors helped to set the country on a trajectory different from that of many of its neighbours. At the same time, it warns that the Tunisian transition is far from secured. The post-2011 political system has so far failed to meet the high expectations that it had raised within the population and the political forces that would like to return to the old ways are on the rise. Tunisia might need – and it certainly deserves – more external support to overcome its domestic socio-economic challenges. Europe in particular should make a more substantial effort. Doing so is in its own interest: less than 70 kilometres separate Italy from Tunisia. Should the transition fail, Tunisia’s problems could quickly become Europe’s problems.

Ragnar Weilandt is a postdoc at KU Leuven and an adjunct professor at the Vrije Universiteit Brussels. His research focusses on EU democracy promotion in the Arab world, with a special focus on the EU’s support for and interaction with Arab civil society. More generally, he is studying and teaching EU external action, Euro-Mediterranean relations as well as the politics and international relations of West Asia and North Africa.

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01/10/20

Explaining rebel behaviour during the Syrian Civil War

The civil war in Syria rages on and the lessons we can draw from this conflict remain as relevant as ever. This paper outlines the research conducted in Kapstein & Ribar’s 2019 article on the dynamics of inter-rebel conflict in Syria, noting how the conclusions drawn from this research still apply to the currently unfolding war. By examining the conflict through the lens of industrial organisation and by leveraging granular data on conflict events, the authors show how factors like ideology and local dependence influence the ways in which rebel groups interact and where they choose to target their violence.

David Ribar is a PhD Candidate at Princeton University’s Center for the Study of Democratic Politics. His research focuses on America’s foreign policy, political psychology, and their intersection.

Ethan B. Kapstein is a professor at the School of Public Affairs at Arizona State and Associate Director of the Empirical Studies of Conflict project at Princeton University.

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01/10/20

How did the Syrian uprising become militarised?

Many researchers treat violent and non-violent resistance as two strategies that groups choose between based on rational calculation of their perceived success. However, Syrian activists did not experience the turn from non-violent to violent resistance as a rational choice, or even a choice at all. Based on interviews with activists and citizen journalists, this article shows how emotional mechanisms of revenge and fear caused by the crackdown by the regime drew activists and non-activists to take up arms. Motivational and emotional factors alone cannot account for the militarisation of the uprising. Drawing comparisons to the uprisings in Bahrain and Tunisia, where protests did not become militarised despite regime repression, the article shows how the availability of weapons and the involvement of groups with experience in military action not only enabled but also to a large extent promoted the militarisation of the uprising. Taking its point of departure in these findings, the article reflects upon the potential policy implications for how to prevent militarisation in other uprisings.

Isabel Bramsen is Associate Senior Lecturer at Lund University, Department of Political Science and postdoctoral researcher at the Centre for Resolution of International Conflicts (CRIC), University of Copenhagen. She is the co-author of International Konfliktløsning (Samfundslitteratur 2016) and co-editor of the anthology Addressing International Conflict: Dynamics of Escalation, Continuation and Transformation (Routledge 2019).

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01/10/20

Reconstruction-induced land and property restitution in post-war Syria: The problem with sanctions

Western sanctions on reconstruction in Syria present an obstacle to the return of forcibly dislocated populations and the restitution of their housing, land and property. With little chance of affecting political concessions, sanctions do however have significant repercussions on restitution by amplifying opportunities for expropriation, unrest and a continuation of the regional and European refugee crises. This article examines new how specific forms of reconstruction can induce restitution, and argues that Western sanctions need realignment toward a realistic form of recovery.
John D. Unruh is a professor in the Department of Geography at McGill University in Montreal. He has over 25 years experience in developing and implementing research, policy and practice on war-affected land and property rights in the Middle East, Latin America, Africa, and Asia, and has published widely on these topics. His specialty is housing, land and property (HLP) restitution claims in war-affected scenarios. Most recently he has assisted the UN in Yemen, Iraq and Syria.
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01/10/20

Waiting for blowback: The Kurdish question and Turkey’s new regional militarism

Recent Turkish interventions in parts of Syria, Iraq and Turkey itself look like pushing various Kurdish armed forces and political groupings towards ‘defeat’ via a concerted regional strategy that combines battlefield action with repression and co-optation. But the ‘anti-terrorist’ frame and tactics that Ankara uses in a bid to solve its Kurdish problem feature many sticks and no compromises to improve Kurdish collective minority rights. It is likely that this approach will inhibit peaceful resistance and fail to reduce support for armed groups like the PKK and PYD despite their own authoritarian practices. Moreover, Turkey’s new regional militarism risks escalating conflict across the Middle East because of the complex international and transnational contexts in which Ankara’s interventions take place.

Erwin van Veen is a senior research fellow at Clingendael’s Conflict Research Unit, where he leads a team that analyses the political economy of conflict in the Middle East. His own work examines the political use of armed groups in processes of state development and geopolitical conflict.

Engin Yüksel is a research associate at Clingendael’s Conflict Research Unit who focuses on Turkish foreign policy in the Middle East. He is also a PhD candidate at the University of Leiden where he researches Russia’s historical and contemporary approaches to warfare.

Haşim Tekineş was a junior researcher at Clingendael’s Conflict Research Unit and is also a student at the University of Leiden.

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01/10/20

The myth of return

The Syrian conflict is far from over and the return of Syrian refugees is not indicative of mass influx into the country. Syrian refugees and their return have been instrumentalised and used as a political card and refugees should not be forced to return, as this would lead to further displacement and turmoil. Effective and consistent policies based on human rights, justice and accountability must be the driving factors for return. Both the return and reconstruction process in Syria must always be linked to genuine political resettlement in the country.

Kholoud Mansour is a MENA Senior Analyst at iMMAP and affiliated researcher with the Center of Middle of Eastern Studies CMES at Lund University.
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01/10/20

Orient IV 2020

Stefan Lukas
The reconstruction of Syria: The winners share the loot

Jon D. Unruh
Reconstruction-induced land and property restitution in post-war Syria: The problem with sanctions

Isabel Bramsen
How did the Syrian uprising become militarised?

David Ribar and Ethan B. Kapstein
Explaining rebel behaviour during the Syrian Civil War

Kholoud Mansour
The myth of return

Erwin van Veen, Engin Yüksel and Haşim Tekineş
Waiting for blowback: The Kurdish question and Turkey’s new regional militarism

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01/07/20

Power consolidation through turmoil: COVID-19 in the GCC

The COVID-19 pandemic has significantly disrupted political relations around the world; however, none have been felt as abruptly as within the Gulf Cooperation Council States. As a result of the sudden of threat materialisation, there has been a surge in the manipulation of technological and social applications in a bid to increase the state’s control over society. This has been legitimised by the pandemic but has its roots in the survival of the state.

Matthew Hedges is undertaking a PhD at Durham University in the School of Government and International Affairs. He is researching strategies of authoritarian resilience with a focus on the GCC states. Matthew has a special interest in Middle Eastern politics and security studies, with a focus on weak and failing states. While finishing his PhD thesis, he is preparing additional research projects examining the evolution of elite composition after regime change across the Arabian Peninsula.

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01/07/20

The COVID-19 pandemic: One more challenge for Iran

Iran is the country most affected by COVID-19 in the Middle East and was one of the first after China to experience an exponential development of the pandemic. The pandemic has coincided with three parallel and interlinked crises: a geopolitical confrontation with the US and Iran’s Arab neighbours; the dual shock of the oil price decline and hard-hitting US secondary sanctions, and the US refusal to ease its sanctions during the pandemic. Sanctions had already affected Iran’s health security system and crisis preparedness before COVID-19, reducing access to medical supplies and increasing the country’s vulnerability. But the interplay of multiple crises could shape Iran’s capability handle a second wave of COVID-19 in the future and complicate the transnational management of the pandemic. However, adopting a cooperative approach could create positive incentives for a change of direction in the Middle East, reducing pressures on a stressed global health security system.

Luigi Narbone is Director of the Middle East Directions Programme at the Robert Schuman Centre for Advanced Studies as well as coordinator of the Peace and Security cluster at the School of Transnational Governance, European University Institute. Previously, he was Ambassador, Head of the EU Delegation to Saudi Arabia, and non-resident Ambassador to Qatar, Oman, Bahrain, the UAE and Kuwait and has held several positions in foreign affairs in the EU and the UN. His main research interests are MENA geopolitics, security and political economy, Gulf studies and peace-building.

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01/07/20

Strengthening health research: What are the insights from conflict-affected settings in the MENA region?

Health research in the MENA region needs urgent attention to meet the rising health and economic challenges, including those related to protracted conflicts. Health research in the MENA region struggles at various levels with cultural, financial and technical challenges and has a dearth of multidisciplinary approaches and evidence-based health policies. Such barriers can be mitigated by long-term and contextualised support via international and regional partnerships, enhanced intersectoral communication and political will.

Nassim El Achi is a Postdoctoral Research Fellow at the Conflict Medicine Program of the Global Health Institute of the American University of Beirut (GHI-AUB) in lebanon. She is working on capacity strengthening of health research and health systems in conflict settings as part of the Research for Health in Conflict (RH4C-MENA) project.

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01/07/20

War fighters, not health defenders: Yemen’s Houthis differ from Shia militias on COVID-19

In Yemen, COVID-19 has not been a driver of conflict de-escalation so far: rather, it accelerates political fragmentation and strengthens local players. The internationally-recognised government and the Houthi de facto authority adopt two different patterns of security governance (centralised vs multiple and multilevel), both unable to effectively deal with this crisis. Differently from the main Shia armed groups (IRGC; Hashd al Shaabi; Hezbollah), the Houthis are not using the pandemic to display governance effectiveness nor to present themselves like protectors of public health.

Eleonora Ardemagni is an expert of Yemen, Gulf monarchies and Arab military forces. She is an Associate Research Fellow at the Italian Institute for International Political Studies (ISPI), a Teaching Assistant at the Catholic University of Milan and Gulf Analyst for the Nato Defense College Foundation.

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01/07/20

Fighting the first corona war: The securitisation of the coronavirus in the Middle East

As the coronavirus spread across the Middle East, many states and non-state actors securitised the corona crisis: that is, used warlike rhetoric to frame the pandemic as a national security issue or mobilised the state’s military and security services in the country’s fight against COVID-19. This article examines the government’s responses to the coronavirus in Israel, Jordan, and Egypt, as well as the securitised responses to the pandemic by lebanese Hezbollah and Palestinian Islamic Jihad.

Adam Hoffman is a Junior Researcher at the Middle East Network Analysis Desk at the Moshe Dayan Center, Tel Aviv University, and a lecturer at the Rothberg International School of the Hebrew University of Jerusalem. His research interests include the ideology and political behaviour of salafi-jihadi groups, the evolution of the global jihad movement, states responses to foreign fighters and securitisation in the Middle East. He holds an M.A. in political science from the Hebrew University of Jerusalem.

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