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We're pleased to present this week's round-up of Middle East insight and analysis from
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Gail Reiss, President & CEO


Volume III, Number 1:
January 8, 2015


Tel Aviv Notes

"Saudi Women Participate in the Kingdom's Municipal Elections: A Sign of Change in State-Society Relations" by Nahum Shiloh
On December 12, 2015, Saudi Arabia held municipal elections for only the third time in its history. In contrast to the 2005 and 2011 municipal elections, women participated in these elections as both voters and candidates: among the 1.5 million registered voters, 120,000 women cast votes (about 8% of the total registered voters). In addition, roughly 1,000 women stood as candidates in the elections. Approximately twenty were elected to municipal councils, including in major cities like Riyadh, Mecca, Jiddah, al-Ahsa, al-Qatif, and al-Jouf. More women are expected to be added to the municipal councils when the King announces his appointments for the remaining seats in early 2016.
Source: Tel Aviv Notes/The Moshe Dayan Center for Middle Eastern and African Studies, Tel Aviv University — January 7, 2016


Peace Index

In December the Peace Index focused on the Israeli public's positions on aspects of the efforts to prevent terror attacks, the current level of support for the two-states-for-two-peoples solution, the relative bond to the land among Jews and Palestinians, and the balance between Israel's Jewish and democratic interests.
Source: Peace Index/The Evens Program in Mediation and Conflict Resolution, Tel Aviv University — December 2015


Middle East News Brief

Tanzania — Editorial: Marriage must be decided rationally
Child marriage is still a very common practice in Tanzania. Although the minimum age of marriage for Tanzanians is 18, many young girls below the required age are illegally betrothed to men decades their senior. In exchange for a dowry, young Tanzanian teenagers are forced into marriages that threaten both their mental and physical health. Moreover, as a result of teen pregnancies, approximately 8,000 Tanzanian girls drop out of school, and underage mothers often suffer complications in pregnancy that can result in death. The Tanzanian people and government should ensure that it prioritizes education of young girls, and not their premature marriage.
Source: Daily News (Dar es Salaam) — December 31, 2015

South Africa — Patience Zonge: Time to revisit the issue of poor African leadership
There is a well-documented deficit in African leadership, but African leaders — despite acknowledging this issue — are hesitant to step down or to enable free elections. Term limits are frequently ignored, and many African leaders are willing to forfeit their citizens' lives and their countries' prosperity in exchange for continued power. True leaders improve the lives of their citizens and govern with a conscience. In that respect, citizens must change this pattern by exerting agency and by collaborating in order to find solutions to the issues facing the continent.
Source: SABC News (Johannesburg) — January 3, 2016

Egypt — Emad El-Sayed: To those who rule Egypt
Why have the current rulers of Egypt ignored the lessons of the 2011 uprising? Once again, the government has no opposition in Parliament, while corruption is rampant. Former President Hosni Mubarak's regime was corrupt and nepotism was common. It failed to foster social and/or economic developments, and government violence and intimidation plagued Egyptian society. If this Egyptian regime repeats Mubarak's mistakes, then the Egyptian people will be forced to rise up in revolution again. This coming revolution can only be avoided if the current regime begins to address political corruption, improve living conditions, and allows freedom of expression for all Egyptians.
Source: Daily News Egypt (Cairo) — January 4, 2016

Saudi Arabia — Majid Rafizadeh: Saudi severing ties with Iran — A proportionate response
The recent attacks on the Saudi embassy in Tehran followed a pattern in which Iran's Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei failed to condemn citizens expressing loyalty to him after acting in what seems to be a show of support for Iran against the external world. The Saudi response to cut diplomatic ties is logical; it is important to counter Iran's dominance in the Middle East, where a significant portion of terrorist groups are funded by the Islamic Republic. In addition to backing Syrian President Bashar al-Assad's Alawi regime, Iran's proxy control has ventured to Shi'i groups in Yemen and Lebanon. The West's kowtowing to Iranian regional influence has been exacerbated by the recent nuclear deal, making opposition to Iranian hegemony in the best interest of other Middle Eastern powers seeking to maintain stability in the area.
Source: Al Arabiya (Dubai) — January 5, 2016

Saudi Arabia — Faisal al-Yafai: Execution of Nimr Al Nimr exposes shifting sectarian fault lines
Saudi Arabia's execution of the dissident Shi'i cleric Nimr Al Nimr, along with 47 men convicted of terror-related offenses, has elicited strong condemnations from across the region. Hezbollah, Iran, and former Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki have all forcefully come out against the executions. In Iran, Saudi Arabia's embassy was overrun and destroyed, leading to a severing of diplomatic ties between the two countries. In the past, the sectarian divide has often been overstated, making the recent emphasis of sectarian identity, and the associated idea that loyalty should be given to sect and not the state, all the more troubling. This has the potential to both define the region for years to come and to rip communities apart.
Source: The National (Abu Dhabi) — January 4, 2016

Syria — Amir Taheri: A study in international cynicism
The upcoming talks on resolving the Syrian conflict were endorsed by the United Nations Security Council (UNSC), yet will likely have no positive effect. While it was declared that there should be a cease-fire at some unspecified date in the future, such declarations will be entirely meaningless. At least half of the belligerents in the conflict have not been invited to these discussions, and civilian suffering is caused by air strikes carried out by the Assad government, the Russians and the American-led coalition. The use of air power has achieved little militarily, but has instead created massive civilian casualties. It is clear that the aims of the UNSC resolution and the diplomatic process have little to do with ending the bloodshed, and more to do with a desire by the major powers to stall for time. Ultimately, they are the ones who will benefit from these talks, while the Syrian people will continue to suffer.
Source: Asharq al-Awsat (London) — January 6, 2016

Syria and Iraq — Chinmaya Gharekhan: Mayhem without a mastermind
Former British Prime Minister Tony Blair's claim that modern Iraq is better off since the ouster of Saddam Hussein ignores the hundreds of thousands of Iraqi civilians killed, as well as the country's current turmoil that is the result of that invasion. There was no one mastermind behind the decision to invade Iraq then, just as there was no one actor that caused the current Syrian conflict. Instead, the real driving forces are sectarian and national agendas, often playing out through the balance of regional power and alliances. The Shia-Sunni tensions which drive the current ISIS crisis can only be resolved by regional alliances that bridge such divisions.
Source: Ahram Weekly (Cairo) — December 31, 2015

Turkey — Sevgi Akarcesme: Does Erdoğan aspire to be like Hitler?
Turkey's President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan recently used Adolf Hitler as an example of an efficient unitary presidential system. Given Erdoğan's strict control over Turkish media, independent Turkish news sources have been reluctant to report on this statement. When international media did report it, Erdoğan's palace took steps that would subvert the resulting media backlash. The episode highlights a recurring pattern of behavior for the President. Instead of proactively solving Turkey’s problems, he instead often shifts the blame to others. Keeping this in mind, Erdoğan may believe that his unchecked powers in Turkey translate to the world as a whole and that no one will question him.
Source: Today's Zaman (Istanbul) — January 3, 2016

Turkey — Metin Gurcan: Are clashes spreading to western Turkey?
Clashes between Kurds and the Turkish government persist in Turkey's southeast. But the Kurdish forces seem to be moving the fight to the most populated cities in western Turkey. In an attempt to stop the flow of ammunition, weapons and materiel, Ankara has besieged Kurdish areas where violent clashes are taking place. The town of Cizre and the Silopi region have been especially affected and are in danger of running out of water. While the Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK) refrains from retaliating by attacking Turkish urban areas directly, it does act through proxies. This is likely because the PKK is concerned that it might suffer damage to its international standing. In truth, the real victims of this conflict are civilians.
Source: Al Monitor (Washington, DC) — December 30, 2015

Kurdistan Region — Ako Mohammed: It is time to stop taking the Kurds for granted
The only ground force standing against ISIS is the Kurdish Pershmerga, who fight under conditions that should shame the international community. While airstrikes may weaken ISIS, only Pershmerga ground forces have been able to take back ISIS territory, while enduring grave losses. There have been both military and propaganda successes achieved using using outdated weaponry and little money. Much aid is being given to other powers in the region such as Egypt. It is the world's responsibility to help the Kurdistan Region overcome the challenges that it currently faces.
Source: Rudaw (Erbil) — January 4, 2016

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