A Succession of Coups Leaves the Sahel Prey to International Rivalries

Protesters react as a man holds up a sign demanding that soldiers from the United States Army leave Niger without negotiation during a demonstration in Niamey, on April 13, 2024. - Thousands of people demonstrated on April 13, 2024 in Niger’s capital Niamey to demand the immediate departure of American soldiers based in northern Niger, after the military regime said it was withdrawing from a 2012 cooperation deal with Washington. (Photo by AFP)

When Niger’s military rulers decided to put an end to the presence of American armed forces on the country’s territory in May, the move was met with dismay in Washington. Niger, in the heart of the Sahel region south of the Sahara Desert, is host to two major bases the United States had long used… Continue reading A Succession of Coups Leaves the Sahel Prey to International Rivalries

The Middle East in the Wake of October 7: Interview with Tarik M. Yousef Marking 100 Afkār Posts

We at Afkār are delighted to announce that we have reached a new milestone, our 100th post! To mark the occasion, we have recorded and transcribed a special interview with the Director of the Middle East Council on Global Affairs, Tarik M. Yousef. The in-depth interview was conducted by our editor, Omar H. Rahman, and… Continue reading The Middle East in the Wake of October 7: Interview with Tarik M. Yousef Marking 100 Afkār Posts

What Does President Raisi’s Death Mean for the Islamic Republic?

Shiite Muslims light candles during the condolence meet for Iran's late president Ebrahim Raisi who died in a helicopter crash, at a mosque in Chennai on May 22, 2024. - Iran's powerful allies mourned the death of its president, Ebrahim Raisi, in a helicopter crash, while regional militants hailed him as a supporter of the Palestinian cause. (Photo by R.Satish BABU / AFP)

On May 19, Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi, accompanied by his Foreign Minister Hossein Amirabdollahian, was tragically killed in a helicopter crash. The helicopter was en route to an event in the mountainous East Azerbaijan province when it encountered severe weather conditions, leading initially to what was described as “a hard landing.” Despite prompt rescue efforts,… Continue reading What Does President Raisi’s Death Mean for the Islamic Republic?

What Next for the War Between Iran and Israel?

TORONTO, CANADA - APRIL 21: A protester holds a placard reading 'No war on Iran' as pro-Palestinian demonstrators gather outside Union Station during a rally in Toronto, Ontario on April 21, 2024. Mert Alper Dervis / Anadolu (Photo by Mert Alper Dervis / ANADOLU / Anadolu via AFP)

The Islamic Republic of Iran’s direct attack against Israel was the first of its kind since the country’s clerical rulers seized power in 1979. In a major show of force, Iran launched more than 300 drones and missiles from its own territory—an unprecedented break with its past approach. Israel and its allies, including the United… Continue reading What Next for the War Between Iran and Israel?

Iran-Israel Tensions Emerge from the Shadows – Council Views

TEHRAN, IRAN - APRIL 14: A new wall mural is displayed at Palestine Square picturing Iran's attack on Israel in Tehran, Iran on April 14, 2024. Haydar Sahin / Anadolu (Photo by Haydar Sahin / ANADOLU / Anadolu via AFP)

On April 13, Iran attacked Israel directly for the first time in its history, retaliating for Israel’s killing of three top Iranian commanders in Damascus on April 1. Israel has since responded with a limited strike, and the United States and its allies imposed expanded sanctions on Iran. Middle East Council scholars examine the implications… Continue reading Iran-Israel Tensions Emerge from the Shadows – Council Views

Interview: Russia in the Middle East

Preliminary voting results in the Russian presidential election are displayed on a screen at the Central Election Commission in Moscow on March 17, 2024. - Vladimir Putin secured 88 percent of the first votes counted in Russia's presidential election, the head of Russia's election commission said on March 17, 2024. (Photo by STRINGER / AFP)

1. Over two years into Russia’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine, Russians have just gone to the polls and Ukraine appears set to postpone an election slated for the end of March. In Russia, Putin reportedly spent more than $1 billion on a public relations campaign in the lead-up to the election. What is the significance… Continue reading Interview: Russia in the Middle East

Interview: Iran’s Post-Election Trajectory

Iran's supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei casts his ballots during the parliamentary and key clerical body elections at a polling station in Tehran on March 1, 2024. Polling stations in Iran opened on March1 for voting to select members of parliament and a key clerical body, amid fears of a low turnout and with conservatives expected to tighten their grip on power. (Photo by ATTA KENARE / AFP)

1. At 41%, voter turnout for Iran’s March 1, 2024, parliamentary elections was the lowest in the history of the Islamic Republic, indicating a crisis of legitimacy as a hardline faction maintains its nearly two-decades-long grip on power. What is the significance of this election for the domestic political landscape? The poor election turnout was a… Continue reading Interview: Iran’s Post-Election Trajectory

Iran and Türkiye Seek to Avoid Regional War for Different Reasons

On January 24, the presidents of Iran and Türkiye met in Ankara amid a rapidly deteriorating security situation in the Middle East. While the meeting, which had been postponed twice, covered a broad range of bilateral topics, the war on Gaza and related clashes across the region provided an inescapable backdrop. Although the two sides… Continue reading Iran and Türkiye Seek to Avoid Regional War for Different Reasons

Saudi-Iranian Reconciliation and How Can it be Strengthened

Iran's Foreign Minister Hossein Amir-Abdollahian (L) and his Saudi counterpart Faisal bin Farhan hold a joint press conference in Riyadh on August 17, 2023. The minister was the first top Iranian official to visit Saudi Arabia since a landmark rapprochement between the Middle East heavyweights announced earlier this year. (Photo by Fayez NURELDINE / AFP)

March 10 marks a year since Saudi Arabia and Iran announced they were mending ties and resuming diplomatic relations, a landmark deal between the regional foes after mediation by China. Since their joint statement in Beijing, the two have forged solid connections, interacting regularly at the ministerial level. However, both sides need to invest more… Continue reading Saudi-Iranian Reconciliation and How Can it be Strengthened

Iran’s Strategy in the War on Gaza

Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi (Top) speaks in an anti-Israel rally in Tehran, Iran, on October 18, 2023. (Photo by Morteza Nikoubazl/NurPhoto) (Photo by Morteza Nikoubazl / NurPhoto / NurPhoto via AFP)

The recent drone strike on American soldiers stationed near the Jordan-Syria border, and Washington’s retaliatory strikes in Iraq and Syria, underscore the dangerous potential for a major escalation between the United States and Iran that could engulf the wider region. Washington and Tehran have engaged in a tit-for-tat conflict for several months now, which has… Continue reading Iran’s Strategy in the War on Gaza

US in the Red Sea: Security Concerns or Power Play?

Members of the Yemeni Coast Guard affiliated with the Houthi group patrol the sea as demonstrators march through the Red Sea port city of Hodeida in solidarity with the people of Gaza on January 4, 2024, amid the ongoing battles between Israel and the militant Hamas group in Gaza. (Photo by AFP)

The waters of the Red Sea are heating up. In recent weeks, the United States has intensified efforts to clamp down on actions taken by the Houthis, a Yemen-based movement otherwise known as Ansar Allah, to disrupt maritime shipping believed to be connected to Israel as a retaliation for its near-total destruction of the Gaza… Continue reading US in the Red Sea: Security Concerns or Power Play?

Necessity Will Drive Gulf States to Cooperate on Climate Change

Pedestrians cross a road amidst a severe dust storm in Kuwait City on May 23, 2022. (Photo by Yasser Al-Zayyat / AFP)

The impacts of climate change are becoming starkly visible in the Gulf. Already one of the driest, hottest parts of the world, the region is heating up at a rate twice as fast as the global average. Accordingly, Gulf governments are beginning to realize that ad hoc or unilateral strategies are not sufficient to tackle… Continue reading Necessity Will Drive Gulf States to Cooperate on Climate Change

Gaza and its impact three months on – Council Views

A Palestinian man is carrying the body of a child after it was unearthed from the rubble of a building following an Israeli strike on the Zawayda area of the central Gaza Strip on December 30, 2023, amid ongoing battles between Israel and the Hamas movement. (Photo by Majdi Fathi/NurPhoto) (Photo by MAJDI FATHI / NurPhoto / NurPhoto via AFP)

Israel’s military campaign in Gaza is entering its fourth month with no end in sight and with the most devastating consequences imaginable for the 2.2 million Palestinian civilians living there, for which Israel is now facing charges of genocide at the International Court of Justice. The effects of this are also being felt well beyond… Continue reading Gaza and its impact three months on – Council Views

A Ceasefire in Gaza is the only Bridge toward Durable Peace in the Middle East

11 November 2023, Berlin: A participant in a demonstration holds a placard with the words "Ceasefire Now!". The organizers want to demonstrate against the "ongoing violation of human rights". The demonstration is also being called for by pro-Palestinian groups. Photo: Christophe Gateau/dpa (Photo by Christophe Gateau / DPA / dpa Picture-Alliance via AFP)

The shocking and unprecedented attack by Hamas on southern Israel caught the technologically advanced Israeli army and security forces by surprise. Hamas’s initial assault killed more than 1,400 Israelis, and thousands of Palestinians have been killed as Israel has retaliated in Gaza. Israel has said hundreds of hostages are being held in Gaza. In addition… Continue reading A Ceasefire in Gaza is the only Bridge toward Durable Peace in the Middle East

Gaza Crisis puts US’ Unipolarity Push in Doubt

US President Joe Biden (L) speaks as Israel's Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu listens on prior to their meeting in Tel Aviv on October 18, 2023, amid the ongoing battles between Israel and the Palestinian group Hamas. - US President Joe Biden landed in Tel Aviv on October 18, 2023 as Middle East anger flared after hundreds were killed when a rocket struck a hospital in war-torn Gaza, with Israel and the Palestinians quick to trade blame. (Photo by Brendan Smialowski / AFP)

Zhai Jun, China’s Special Envoy on the Middle East affairs, is on a trip to the region to push for a cease-fire between Israel and Hamas. In his remarks at the Cairo Summit for Peace on the Palestinian Question on October 21, Zhai called for support for “the Palestinian people in restoring their lawful national… Continue reading Gaza Crisis puts US’ Unipolarity Push in Doubt

Lebanon Treads a Narrow Path to Avoid Regional War

A picture taken on July 3, 2022 from the Israeli Kibutz of Baram, shows the flags of (L to R) Lebanon, Hezbollah and Palestine swaying in the wind on the Lebanese side of the border with Israel. The Israeli army said on July 2, that it had intercepted three drones launched by Hezbollah that were headed towards an offshore gas field in the Mediterranean, amid rising tension between Israel and Lebanon. Lebanon's Iran-backed Hezbollah movement in a statement confirmed it had launched drones towards the offshore area. (Photo by JALAA MAREY / AFP)

Two weeks into the unfolding crisis in Palestine-Israel, and Lebanon is edging ever closer to the abyss of a war it cannot afford to fight. While there is a narrow, difficult path to avoid this outcome, options are dwindling with each passing day and the prospect of an escalation that consumes the region looms large.   … Continue reading Lebanon Treads a Narrow Path to Avoid Regional War

The Hamas Raid and Israel’s Onslaught of Gaza

Smoke plumes billow during Israeli air strikes in Gaza City on October 12, 2023 as raging battles between Israel and the Hamas movement continue for the sixth consecutive day. - Washington urged Israel to show restraint in its response to Hamas's surprise attack -- the worst in the country's 75-year history -- which Israeli forces said killed more than 1,200 people, mostly civilians. In Gaza, officials have reported more than 1,200 people killed in Israel's uninterrupted campaign of air and artillery strikes, while the UN said more than 338,000 people have been displaced. (Photo by IBRAHIM HAMS / AFP)

On October 7, Hamas shocked the world by carrying out an astonishing raid on Israel that killed around 1,300 people, most of them civilians, and taking an estimated 150 others hostage. The Israeli response has been devastating. For a week, Israel has indiscriminately bombarded Gaza from the sky, destroying residential buildings, hospitals, schools, and other… Continue reading The Hamas Raid and Israel’s Onslaught of Gaza

BRICS Summit: Shaping a New Geopolitical Landscape – Council Views

Brazil's President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva, China's President Xi Jinping, South African President Cyril Ramaphosa, Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Russia's Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov pose for a picture at the BRICS Summit in Johannesburg, South Africa August 23, 2023. REUTERS/Alet Pretorius/Pool - RC2MT2AFMO9M

The Impact of BRICS on the International Order Galip Dalay The 2023 BRICS summit has attracted unprecedented international interest due to the geopolitical context of increasing U.S.-China competition and the Global South’s balancing act regarding the Russia-Ukraine war. As competition between global powers intensifies, Western actors increasingly see this bloc, and others like the Shanghai… Continue reading BRICS Summit: Shaping a New Geopolitical Landscape – Council Views

The Limits to Iran’s Trade Push in Africa

Iran's President Ebrahim Raisi inspects a guard of honor mounted by the Kenya Defence Forces (KDF) at the State House, during his three-country African tour, part of efforts to reduce the Islamic Republic's economic isolation, in Nairobi, Kenya July 12, 2023. REUTERS/Monicah Mwangi - RC2J12A4ZUZ5

In July, Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi embarked on a three-country tour in Africa to expand relations on the continent, the first of its kind by an Iranian leader in more than a decade. The trip, to Kenya, Uganda and Zimbabwe, followed a similar visit to Latin America. Both were part of a strategic push by… Continue reading The Limits to Iran’s Trade Push in Africa

Will Egypt be the next to normalize relations with Iran?

A handout picture provided by the Saudi Royal Palace shows Egypt's President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi attending the second edition of the summit of the Green Middle East Initiative, held on the sidelines of the COP27 climate conference at Egypt's Red Sea resort city of Sharm el-Sheikh on November 7, 2022. - (Photo by BANDAR AL-JALOUD / Saudi Royal Palace / AFP) / RESTRICTED TO EDITORIAL USE - MANDATORY CREDIT "AFP PHOTO / SAUDI ROYAL PALACE / BANDAR AL-JALOUD" - NO MARKETING - NO ADVERTISING CAMPAIGNS - DISTRIBUTED AS A SERVICE TO CLIENTS - RESTRICTED TO EDITORIAL USE - MANDATORY CREDIT "AFP PHOTO / SAUDI ROYAL PALACE / BANDAR AL-JALOUD" - NO MARKETING - NO ADVERTISING CAMPAIGNS - DISTRIBUTED AS A SERVICE TO CLIENTS /

Speculation has been growing in recent months that Egypt and Iran could be close to putting decades of mutual antagonism behind them. In early May, Egyptian and Iraqi officials said talks were underway in Baghdad with a view to mending relations between the two major regional powers. Later that month, Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei… Continue reading Will Egypt be the next to normalize relations with Iran?

Can Iran-Saudi Rapprochement overcome Tehran’s anti-Western worldview?

Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi gives a speech as Iran presents its first hypersonic ballistic missile 'Fattah' (Conqueror) in an event in Tehran, Iran on June 06, 2023. Sepah News / Handout / Anadolu Agency (Photo by Sepah News / Handout / ANADOLU Agency via AFP)

When Saudi Foreign Minister Prince Faisal bin Farhan visited Iran in June, many viewed the event as further evidence of rapidly warming relations between the two regional rivals, who resumed diplomatic ties in March after years of open hostility. The image of the Saudi prince alongside Iran’s president, Ebrahim Raisi, conveyed the message that the… Continue reading Can Iran-Saudi Rapprochement overcome Tehran’s anti-Western worldview?

Is a New Iran Nuclear Deal in the Making?

Iran's Chief nuclear negotiator Ali Bagheri Kani leaves the Palais Coburg, the venue where closed-door nuclear talks take place in Vienna, Austria, August 4,2022. REUTERS/Lisa Leutner - RC2NPV9I2XWB

Discreet talks between Iranian and Western officials have prompted rumors that they are nearing a new deal over Iran’s nuclear program, five years after the United States withdrew from the 2015 Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA). The original, landmark agreement had been a linchpin in global efforts to cap Iran’s nuclear development. But after… Continue reading Is a New Iran Nuclear Deal in the Making?

How Does Iran View Syria’s Return to the Arab League?

Syria's President Bashar al-Assad arrives in Jeddah, to attend the Arab League summit the following day, Saudi Arabia, May 18, 2023. SANA/Handout via REUTERS ATTENTION EDITORS - THIS IMAGE WAS PROVIDED BY A THIRD PARTY. TPX IMAGES OF THE DAY - RC2611A8XF20

In May 2023, Syria returned to the Arab League following a near-12-year suspension. The move has far-reaching implications for both the region and the international community. It came after more than a decade of widespread atrocities by Bashar Al-Assad’s regime against its own citizens, abuses that have cast a long shadow over Syria’s relationships with… Continue reading How Does Iran View Syria’s Return to the Arab League?

Will the Saudi-Iran Rapprochement change anything for the Palestinians?

Palestinian President, Mahmoud Abbas, is received by Deputy Amir of Makkah, Prince Badr Bin Sultan, as he arrives to attend the Arab League Summit in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia, May 18, 2023. Saudi Press Agency/Handout via REUTERS ATTENTION EDITORS - THIS PICTURE WAS PROVIDED BY A THIRD PARTY - RC2011A4W1G1

Amid the zeitgeist of diplomatic rapprochement and normalization in the Middle East—which has recently seen Saudi Arabia and Iran mend ties and Syria’s Bashar al-Assad welcomed at this month’s Arab League summit—the Palestinian Islamist movement Hamas took a step forward to repair its own regional relationships.  In mid-April, a delegation of senior Hamas officials, led… Continue reading Will the Saudi-Iran Rapprochement change anything for the Palestinians?

Saudi-Iran Rapprochement Unlikely to Bring Lasting Peace to Yemen

The head of the Houthi Supreme Political Council, Mahdi al-Mashat, shakes hands with Saudi ambassador to Yemen Mohammed Al-Jaber at the Republican Palace in Sanaa, Yemen April 9, 2023. Saba News Agency /Handout via REUTERS ATTENTION EDITORS - THIS IMAGE WAS PROVIDED BY A THIRD PARTY. - RC26B0AVW8UY

A diplomatic agreement between Saudi Arabia and Iran has raised hopes that it could lead to a peace agreement in Yemen, where war has raged with the help of both parties for over eight years. Over the past week, Houthi officials have been holding peace talks in Sanaa with a delegation led by Saudi Ambassador… Continue reading Saudi-Iran Rapprochement Unlikely to Bring Lasting Peace to Yemen

The Saudi-Iranian Deal Is Important, but Don’t Expect a Wider Peace

Iranian Foreign Minister Hossein Amir-Abdollahian and Saudi Arabia's Foreign Minister Prince Faisal bin Farhan Al Saud and Chinese Foreign Minister Qin Gang shake hands during a meeting in Beijing, China, April 6, 2023. Iran's Foreign Ministry/WANA (West Asia News Agency)/Handout via REUTERS ATTENTION EDITORS - THIS PICTURE WAS PROVIDED BY A THIRD PARTY TPX IMAGES OF THE DAY - RC2U80A5199H

The March 6 announcement that Saudi Arabia and Iran were re-establishing diplomatic ties was an important moment for the Middle East. The Chinese-brokered deal has the potential to end the devastating eight-year conflict in Yemen and address geopolitical tensions elsewhere. From the Saudi perspective, it may end Iranian proxy attacks on Saudi oil facilities, including… Continue reading The Saudi-Iranian Deal Is Important, but Don’t Expect a Wider Peace

A Change in Iraqi Leadership Is Giving Militias a New Lease on Life 

Iraqis, and supporters of Hashid Shaabi (Popular Mobilization Forces), gather as they visit the grave of Iraqi militia commander Abu Mahdi al-Muhandis during the second year anniversary of the killing of him and senior Iranian military commander General Qassem Soleimani in a U.S. attack, at the Wadi al-Salam cemetery, in Najaf, Iraq January 3, 2022. REUTERS/Alaa Al-Marjani - RC2MRR9R2BZH

The appointment of Iraqi Prime Minister Mohamed Shia al-Sudani in October has breathed new life into the Popular Mobilization Forces (PMF). A militia network formed in 2014 to fight the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS), the PMF soon morphed into a political force to be reckoned with, making a strong showing in 2018… Continue reading A Change in Iraqi Leadership Is Giving Militias a New Lease on Life 

Can Iraq’s New PM Chart a Different Relationship with the Gulf?

Iraq's Prime Minister Mohammed Shia al-Sudani along with French President Emmanuel Macron, Jordan's King Abdullah II, Egypt's President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi, Jordan's Crown Prince Hussein, Qatar's Foreign Minister and Deputy Prime Minister Sheikh Mohammed bin Abdulrahman Al-Thani and other Gulf leaders stand for a photograph at the second Baghdad Conference for Cooperation and Partnership, at the Dead Sea, Jordan December 20, 2022. REUTERS/Alaa Al Sukhni

Iraq’s new government is hoping that an influx of investment from its Gulf neighbors can breathe life into its economy and diversify its regional relationships after years of being so close to Iran. But such efforts are likely to face stiff opposition from Tehran and its proxies, who have expanded and consolidated their influence since… Continue reading Can Iraq’s New PM Chart a Different Relationship with the Gulf?

MENA Outlook 2023 – Council Views

Beirut, Lebanon - July 3 2021: Tens of cars line up near the very few open gas stations in Lebanon. Drivers wait for hours due to fuel shortage.

In various ways, 2022 was arguably a positive year in much of the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) region. The COVID-19 pandemic subsided in many states and the intensity of violence ebbed in several conflict zones. Competition between regional powers receded and gave way to an increase in diplomacy and rapprochement. However, with a… Continue reading MENA Outlook 2023 – Council Views

Council Views – Iranian protests: Reverberations for the Islamic Republic and the Region 

People rally in support of the worldwide protest following the death of Mahsa Amini, 22, died on September 16, following her arrest by Iran's morality police. Milan, Italy, November 19, 2022. Shutterstock

The Islamic Republic of Iran is engulfed in crisis as a popular uprising threatens the foundations of the regime. The brutal murder of an Iranian-Kurdish woman, Mahsa Amini, while in police custody for not wearing her headscarf according to government-imposed standards has galvanized Iranians of all backgrounds at a moment when the regime faces several… Continue reading Council Views – Iranian protests: Reverberations for the Islamic Republic and the Region