Hivos International


There are hopes that the interim deal on Iran’s nuclear programme could pave the way towards broader improvements in Iran’s relations both with the West and with other powers in the Middle East and Asia. But expectations must be pitched at a realistic level. While the accord will not immediately unlock progress on other regional or domestic challenges, there are at least some genuine opportunities to consolidate a better relationship with Iran.

To reach the goal of a more open Iran, cooperating in a less fractious Middle East, will require a comprehensive and fully committed engagement from the international community.

Over the past two years, a combination of security crises has caused a wave of refugees and internally displaced persons (IDPs) in the Middle East and North of Africa. Contrary to common belief, the main challenge is not so much the inflows of immigrants from the MENA to Europe, but rather the massive movements within the region itself that may compound incipient political tensions and could impact on the future of countries in transition.

At the height of the Gulf’s financial prowess and regional political clout, Europe faces the dilemma of how to engage with the ruling regimes without condoning their reactionary policies towards domestic reform. An undercurrent of dissatisfaction ferments in pockets of the Gulf’s population. Consistency with the stated European support for transitions elsewhere in the Arab world and real politik arguments demand a more nuanced EU approach to the Gulf States.

The uprisings in the Arab world had not even been in full swing before various political agendas scrambled to appriopriate them. Many opinions appear to be caught up in clichés and analyses colored by blatant attemps to only see self-serving and worn-out world perspectives confirmed. It is against this background that sobering and thorough academic research on the origins and nature of the Arab uprisings gains urgent value.

This publication is part of the working paper series of the Knowledge Programme Civil Society in West Asia. 

The Arab spring offered Qatar and Saudi Arabia an  opportunity to raise their international profiles and shape events  throughout the Middle East and North Africa. They both sought to assert  their interests through proactive, but often diverging, foreign policies  directed to expand their influence, balance rivals and shield their  respective regimes from political turmoil. Three years on, however,  there is little to show for their efforts and in different ways both  feel more vulnerable, since political uncertainty is growing and  security is deteriorating across the region.

As the turmoil across the Middle East and North Africa enters its fourth year, the role of Gulf countries in influencing the processes of change in the region has evolved substantially. Rapidly-rising oil prices prior to the Arab spring and changes to the global economy after the financial crisis enabled the Gulf to become a far more visible participant in economic globalisation. While the task of finding common ground and operating procedures may be challenging, it is critical if Western organisations are to retain influence and relevance.

The January 2013 French intervention in northern Mali has severely degraded the military capabilities of militant organisations, disrupted their organisational capacities and destroyed many of their sanctuaries. But as violent extremists are being subdued in one area, new hot spots of confrontation are emerging. When forced out of one of their safe havens, transnational terrorist groups such as Al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM) just disappear into other peripheral zones of tension.

This paper examines how chaotic environments in North Africa are giving new breathing space to a splintered terrorist organisation. Chastened by its many blunders in northern Mali, an off-balance AQIM is trying to shift gear, focusing less on becoming the face of local militancy in North Africa and more on stealthily parasiting local militant organisations without dominating them.

Tunisia’s Islamist-led government is in a tight spot. Tunisian voters are frustrated with the slow pace of government delivery, and Ennahda’s organisational head-start over other political formations is gradually narrowing. With Nidaa Tounes, an electoral coalition of different opposition parties has emerged which for the first time bears the potential of challenging Islamist hegemony.

In this tense political context, the ways in which external forces might try to influence the course of events is the subject of heated debate. The present paper aims to assess the way foreign democracy assistance and other means of ‘foreign funding’ in Tunisia have developed after the 2011 revolution, focusing on the local perceptions of such assistance.

This paper examines ways in which regional conflicts, especially the relationship with Israel, have an influence on the resilience of the Syrian regime. It does so based upon the analytical notion of discourse, which examines the role of discursive assumptions and norms in framing social practices. The norms and mechanisms inbuilt within discourse contribute to the shaping of the choices and practices of political actors in many ways: by determining the range of possible action, by legitimising or ‘normalising’ behaviours, and by defining political correctness, thus enabling or disabling political practices.

This publication is part of the working paper series of the Knowledge Programme Civil Society in West Asia.

Democracy promotion has had a tough decade, nowhere more so than in the Middle East. In Working Paper 12 Steven Heydemann reviews the policy paper Beyond Orthodox Approaches: Assessing Opportunities for Democracy Support in the Middle East and North Africa.