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

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

Winning the Peace in the Middle East

Demonstrators rally in the town of Binnish in Syria's northwestern Idlib province on March 1, 2024, to protest against Hayat Tahrir al-Sham (HTS), an Islamist group led by Al-Qaeda's former Syria branch, and calling for the overthrow of the group's leader. - HTS and other groups control swathes of Idlib province and parts of neighbouring Aleppo, Hama and Latakia provinces. A brutal Syrian government crackdown on Arab Spring-inspired protests that erupted in 2011 spiralled into a devastating war involving foreign armies, militias and jihadists. (Photo by OMAR HAJ KADOUR / AFP)

The military escalation since the start of the war in Gaza on October 7 highlights the vulnerability of the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) to a relapse of conflict, potentially in a conflagration that could engulf the region at large. Over years of devastating intra-state conflicts and proxy wars in Iraq, Syria, Libya, and… Continue reading Winning the Peace in the Middle East

Conflict in the Red Sea Makes Economic Waves

A grab from handout footage released by Yemen's Huthi Ansarullah Media Centre on November 19, 2023, reportedly shows members of the rebel group during the capture of an Israel-linked cargo vessel at an undefined location in the Red Sea. - Israeli ships are a "legitimate target", Yemen's Huthi rebels warned on November 20, a day after their seizure of the Galaxy Leader and its 25 international crew following an earlier threat to target Israeli shipping over the Israel-Hamas war. (Photo by ANSARULLAH MEDIA CENTRE / AFP)

When the Yemen-based Houthi movement began attacking commercial shipping in the Red Sea in response to Israel’s war in Gaza, the impact on global trade was almost immediate. The international counter-response led by the United States, however, has only increased the likelihood of intensifying conflict and economic damage. As tensions build, the confrontation in the… Continue reading Conflict in the Red Sea Makes Economic Waves

Is a Regional War Inescapable?

SANAA, YEMEN - FEBRUARY 09: Thousands of Houthi supporters, holding Yemen and Palestine flags, gather at the Sebin Square to stage a solidarity demonstration with Palestinians and protest against the Israeli attacks on Gaza on February 09, 2024 in Sanaa, Yemen. Demonstrators, carrying banners, chanted slogans against the USA and Israel during the demonstration. Mohammed Hamoud / Anadolu (Photo by Mohammed Hamoud / ANADOLU / Anadolu via AFP)

Since October, the Middle East has edged ever closer to a regional war unlike any it has experienced before. While there has been plenty of armed hostility over the past 75 years, including between multiple state and non-state actors, the ambit of conflict this time around is so sweeping that it risks engulfing the entire… Continue reading Is a Regional War Inescapable?

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?

Houthis Involvement in Gaza War: A Tactical Move?

RED SEA - NOVEMBER 20: (----EDITORIAL USE ONLY - MANDATORY CREDIT - 'HOUTHIS MEDIA CENTER / HANDOUT' - NO MARKETING NO ADVERTISING CAMPAIGNS - DISTRIBUTED AS A SERVICE TO CLIENTS----) A screen grab captured from a video shows that cargo ship 'Galaxy Leader', co-owned by an Israeli company, being hijacked by Iran-backed Houthis from Yemen in the Red Sea on November 20, 2023. Houthis Media Center / Handout / Anadolu (Photo by Houthis Media Center / Handout / ANADOLU / Anadolu via AFP)

Yemen’s Houthi rebels have emerged as an unlikely player in the unfolding war in the Gaza Strip. On November 19, Houthi fighters hijacked a cargo ship in the Red Sea and took its crew hostage, citing the vessel’s association with Israeli business interests. On December 3rd, they attacked two Israeli commercial ships. The group, officially… Continue reading Houthis Involvement in Gaza War: A Tactical Move?

“Global Boiling” is a Grim Reality: MENA Governments Must do More to Prepare

Participants walk past banners at the COP28 United Nations climate summit in Dubai on December 3, 2023. (Photo by Giuseppe CACACE / AFP)

For residents of sweltering parts of the Middle East and North Africa, it will come as little surprise that 2023 could be the hottest year on Earth since records began. July has already set a grim landmark as the hottest month on record, prompting United Nations Secretary-General António Guterres to remark that “the era of… Continue reading “Global Boiling” is a Grim Reality: MENA Governments Must do More to Prepare

Will Yemen’s New Hadramout Council Lead to Federalism or More Fragmentation?

Children walk near damaged cars in the rebel-besieged city of Taez, Yemen's third city, on May 17, 2022. - In Yemen, millions have been forced from their homes in the brutal conflict pitting the Saudi-backed government against Iran-backed Huthi rebels, which has sparked widespread food shortages and ravaged the country's infrastructure. (Photo by Ahmad AL-BASHA / AFP)

The creation of a new governing council for Yemen’s largest province could mark a key moment in the country’s nine-year civil war. The Hadhramout National Council (HNC) was unveiled in late June after meetings between influential actors from across the vast eastern province, as well as Western ambassadors, under Saudi auspices. The council, set to… Continue reading Will Yemen’s New Hadramout Council Lead to Federalism or More Fragmentation?

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?

Sudan Conflict: Regional Implications – Council Views

A man walks while smoke rises above buildings after aerial bombardment, during clashes between the paramilitary Rapid Support Forces and the army in Khartoum North, Sudan, May 1, 2023. REUTERS/Mohamed Nureldin Abdallah TPX IMAGES OF THE DAY - RC2OP0AR0DBV

The eruption of violent conflict in Sudan on April 15 has cast the country into, perhaps, the darkest period yet in its five-year transition toward civilian rule, which began with nationwide protests in 2018 and the toppling of Omar al-Bashir a year later, after three decades in power. The recent outbreak of fighting between the… Continue reading Sudan Conflict: Regional Implications – Council Views

Time to Tackle the Transparency Deficit in the MENA Region

Annual Meetings chairman and governor of the Central Bank of Egypt, Hassan Abdalla, speaks during a Plenary Session of the Annual Meetings of the International Monetary Fund and World Bank in Washington, U.S., October 14, 2022. REUTERS/Elizabeth Frantz - RC211X9UM97J

It is widely known that the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) region suffers from a “democratic deficit.”  What is less well-appreciated is that the region also suffers from a chronic deficit in transparency.  The World Bank’s Vice President for MENA, Ferid Belhaj, recently called attention to this problem, stating that Egypt needs to get… Continue reading Time to Tackle the Transparency Deficit in the MENA Region

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

Yemen Negotiations: Buying Time or Nearing Peace?

Crown Prince of Saudi Arabia Mohammad bin Salman al-Saud (R) greets Rashad Muhammed al-Alimi, Chairman of the Presidential Council of Yemen (L) during the 43rd Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) Summit in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia [Royal Court of Saudi Arabia - Anadolu Agency]

Reports of direct talks between Saudi Arabia and Yemen’s Houthi rebels have sparked hopes of a diplomatic breakthrough toward ending the country’s devastating eight-year war. Many observers have drawn optimism from renewed peace efforts and months of relative calm on the ground, which has outlasted a formal truce that expired in October. Yet there are… Continue reading Yemen Negotiations: Buying Time or Nearing Peace?

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

Can Yemen’s New Leadership Council Buck the Trend of History? 

The head of Yemen's new presidential council, Rashad al-Alimi, stands during a session of the Yemeni parliament during which he and members of the presidential council took the oath in Aden, Yemen [File: Wael al-Qubati/Reuters] [Al Jazeera]

Although Yemen has experienced several decades of autocratic rule, the country also has a long history of being governed by councils representing its diverse political landscape. So, when a new leadership council was formed in April to replace President  Abdrabbuh Mansur Hadi, it was welcomed by many Yemenis and felt like an appropriate and familiar… Continue reading Can Yemen’s New Leadership Council Buck the Trend of History? 

Yemen Truce: a Window for Peace Not to Be Missed

During the past five months, Yemenis have experienced a welcome lull in their country’s devastating seven-year civil war. In April, a United Nations-brokered truce went into effect between Yemen’s transitional government, backed by a Saudi-led military coalition and a tepid partnership with Yemen’s southern separatist movement, and the Houthi-led movement allied with elements of Yemen’s… Continue reading Yemen Truce: a Window for Peace Not to Be Missed