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The Briefing


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 19:
June 3, 2016

Iran Pulse

"The Revolutionary Guards, the Persian Gulf and the Nuclear Deal" by Chelsi Mueller
Iran's Revolutionary Guard Corps style themselves as "guardians of the revolution." They exploit every available opportunity and cultural medium to keep the Persian Gulf and nuclear issues alive, which they believe makes them indispensible to the state. While the topics of religious control and the wisdom of engaging with the West are likely to remain subjects of contention between the Revolutionary Guards and Iranian youth, the Guards have rightly identified nationalist aspirations as one of few subjects that can potentially bridge the generational divide.
Source: Iran Pulse/The Alliance Center for Iranian Studies, Tel Aviv University — May 24, 2016

Tel Aviv Notes

"The Shifting Balance of Power in Iraqi Kurdistan: Division or Independence?" by Ceng Sagnic
The political landscape of the Kurdistan Region of Iraq (KRI) has been shaken by the signing of the May 17 agreement between the Goran Movement and the rival Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK). The agreement is intended to create a unified Goran-PUK bloc in the regional parliament and offer joint lists in the next KRI parliamentary elections. But observers believe this agreement has another undeclared objective: to incorporate important disputed territories in the next election. This would come at the expense of the leading political grouping in the region, the Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP). The rapidly changing balance of power in Iraqi Kurdistan may result in the unintended consequence of expediting the KDP's declaration of independence in order to outmaneuver the recently formed Goran-PUK alliance against it.
Source: Tel Aviv Notes/The Moshe Dayan Center for Middle Eastern and African Studies, Tel Aviv University — May 29, 2016


"Saudi Arabia's Plans for Change: Are They Feasible?" by Paul Rivlin and Andrea Helfant
In 1970, Saudi oil export revenues were $2.2 billion; the population was 5.8 million. Three years later, oil revenues had almost doubled, but that was still a modest increase compared with what was to follow. In 1974, they reached $35 billion and in 1980, they rose to $108 billion, before oil revenues plummeted to $26 billion in 1984. By that time the population had reached 13.4 million. Oil income presented huge opportunities and challenges to the Kingdom, but its freedom to maneuver has seriously declined as the population and its dependence on oil have increased. This edition of Iqtisadi shows how the recent decline in oil revenue has led to radical policy changes and assesses the prospects for their implementation.
Source: Iqtisadi: Middle East Economy/The Moshe Dayan Center for Middle Eastern and African Studies, Tel Aviv University — May 31, 2016

Middle East News Brief

Kenya — Patrick Gathara: Police brutality despicable
Recent demonstrations calling for the removal of Independent Elections and Boundaries Commission officials were the backdrop for horrible incidents of police brutality, which have drawn national and international attention. The case of Boniface Manono, who was beaten to death by the police, was a particularly powerful example. Some commentators have tried to defend or excuse the outrageous conduct of the police claiming that Manono and other protesters were far from innocent victims. These remarks, regardless of the victims' intentions, reflect Kenya’s ever existing impunity culture, which puts the police on the side of corrupt politicians rather than on the side of the citizens it should be protecting. Unfortunately, past reforms have done little to change the oppressive nature of the Kenyan police.
Source: The Star (Nairobi) — May 20, 2016

Kenya — Henry Munene: It pays to learn from our past mistakes and turn a new leaf
There have been a number of revelations about Kenyan officials in positions of authority who have abused their power. Everything from teachers stealing school funds and corrupt traffic police to President Uhuru Kenyatta’s recent call to unlawfully break the Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission deadlock. But simply because something was done in the past doesn’t mean that it should continue. The post-election violence in 2008 might have been averted if the proper lessons had been internalized. The Kenyan government and people have to realize that society has to constantly work to improve itself and not repeat past mistakes.
Source: Standard Digital News (Nairobi) — May 28, 2016

Egypt — Ziad Bahaa-Eldin: Restricting liberties brings instability
The Egyptian government's suppression of civil protests does not contribute to stability. Instead, it breeds unrest and hinders progress by discouraging public participation in the political process. Leading political voices are misguided when they assert that the protest law prevents disorder and violence, and that repealing it will impede both the war on terrorism and continued economic development. Routine use of the protest law has only further fractured Egyptian society and has not deterred Egyptian youth from taking to the streets. The protest law is, in fact, counterproductive. The government has to reevaluate its approach. A vision that favors diversity of opinion, supports participation and tolerates criticism should be encouraged instead.
Source: al-Ahram (Cairo) — May 21, 2016

Lebanon — Eyad Abu Shakra: Electoral escapism from politics
The Lebanese people are certainly free to celebrate any functional aspect of their democracy. The current municipal and mayoral elections are a case in point. These elections are serving as an outlet for Lebanese frustration over the inability of the country to elect a president. The local elections had a high voter turnout and analysts are already seeking to explain the results, which clearly demonstrated the country’s significant sectarian divisions. Meanwhile, Lebanese civil society, while robust, was unable to advance its secular agenda. This election highlighted serious political problems, especially that Lebanon is not a truly sovereign state.
Source: as-Sharq al-Awsat (London) — May 25, 2016

Syria — Michael Young: Treading water in Syria
Despite the ostensible ceasefire in Syria since February, a lack of international will means there is no real progress towards a legitimate resolution of that conflict. The world powers expected to have the most influence — the United States and Russia — are doing little more than pursing their own political interests. US policy is currently focused on liberating Raqqa and no more until after the US presidential elections. On the Russian side, their limited support of President Bashar al-Assad maintains the leverage they need for a future diplomatic win. In the same vein, this could explain why Russia continues to allow Iran to be bloodied in the conflict. Until a new US president is elected, much more maneuvering is to be expected.
Source: NOW. (Beirut) — May 26, 2016

Iraq — Hussain Abdul-Hussain: Why does battling ISIS in Fallujah look bad?
Baghdad's war on Fallujah is seeming less like a national fight against terrorism than a Shi'i counterinsurgency against the Sunnis. Recent media activity by the Shi'i militia Hashd displays a Shi'i version of sectarian messages eerily similar to those of the Islamic State. Iranian and Iraqi state media are simply fueling the intensifying conflict within Iraqi society, presenting images that depict cooperation among the Iraqi government, Iranian officials and the Hashd militia. It seems likely that Hashd will only replace the Islamic State in imposing its Shi'i rhetoric on Iraq after the battle with the Islamic State is done.
Source: NOW. (Beirut) — May 30, 2016

Region — Hussein Ibish: Why the US can't disengage from the Middle East
The regime of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad has managed to gain a measure of international legitimacy by controlling the distribution of humanitarian aid in Syria. The UN and international NGOs have unintentionally allowed Assad to favor treatment in regime-controlled areas, while limiting the aid that they distribute elsewhere. Although the organizations claim that this is due to safety concerns, they have been widely criticized by Syrian civil society for their effective denial of food and medicine to tens of thousands of people. The UN and international aid organizations should acknowledge that their work has unintended political consequences. This will allow policymakers to begin a dialogue aimed at addressing the current problem.
Source: The National (United Arab Emirates) — May 30, 2016

Turkey — Semіh İdiz: Çavuşoğlu's call for a "pluralistic democracy" in Syria
Amid talks between Russia, the US and the UN about drafting a new Syrian constitution, Turkey's Foreign Minister Mevlüt Çavuşoğlu called for a democratic Syria governed by law. Turkey's motives are complicated by the fact that its own democracy is being called into question. In reality, Turkey's interest in a Syrian democracy is rooted in the desire to get rid of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, bring about a Sunni majority based on demographics, and ensure that Syrian Kurds don’t gain a political foothold. Turkey, of course, has its own problems, which will likely keep it on the periphery of talks about the Syrian crisis, without much contribution to the drafting of the constitution.
Source: Hurriyet Daily News (Istanbul) — May 31, 2016

Turkey — Serkan Demirtas: Turkish politics ahead of hot and tense summer
Only six months since its victory in elections, the Justice and Development Party (AKP) replaced Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu with Binali Yildirim at the behest of President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan. This new government is working towards forming a presidential system, or at least towards introducing constitutional changes that will enable the heretofore ostensibly non-partisan president to overtly collaborate with the AKP. The three opposition parties have expressed their extreme disapproval and have as a result faced significant consequences. These include prosecution, accusations of support for terrorism and physical attacks. All three parties are now losing support, which could be extremely dangerous if snap elections are called. In that event, the AKP could well win 400 seats in Parliament. This would enable the party to pass the constitutional amendments it desires.
Source: Hurriyet Daily News (Istanbul) — May 28, 2016

Kurdistan — Arian Mufid: How the Gorran Movement fell out of love with change
After several years of fierce Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK)-Gorran rivalry, the two parties have now formed an alliance against the Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP). While Gorran was founded on the promise of uprooting Kurdistan's institutionalized corruption, the party has now partnered with PUK, which is jointly complicit with the KDP in all of the corrupt practices of the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG). Instead, Gorran should have entered into negotiations with the KDP. This would have alleviated the concerns of ordinary people. Now Gorran has only achieved a meaningless pact with the PUK that will serve to magnify divisions within the party and decrease its popularity in Kurdistan. Hopefully, the Gorran leadership can rectify its mistakes and prevent the party’s eventual implosion.
Source: Kurdistan Tribune (London) — May 30, 2016


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