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 (Surprising) Silence of Arab Universities on Palestine

Students at the American University of Beirut are carrying banners as they attend a pro-Palestinian demonstration on the campus in Beirut, Lebanon, on May 7, 2024. (Photo by Fadel Itani/NurPhoto) (Photo by Fadel Itani / NurPhoto / NurPhoto via AFP)

Since mid-April 2024, western academic institutions, including elite American universities, have been at the forefront of protests for Palestine. Yet, their Arab counterparts have surprisingly remained silent. The disengagement is particularly noteworthy considering that Middle Eastern universities have historically been the hotbeds of protests and engagement concerning the Palestinian cause. This absence is also at… Continue reading The (Surprising) Silence of Arab Universities on Palestine

Interview: Unpacking Kuwait’s Parliament Dissolution

Kuwaiti Members of Parliament atten a special parliament session with the swearing in ceremony for the prime minister and his cabinet ministers, at the National Assembly in Kuwait City on January 29, 2024. (Photo by YASSER AL-ZAYYAT / AFP)

Kuwait’s Emir Sheikh Meshal al-Ahmad al-Sabah, who came to power late last year, recently nominated Sheikh Sabah al-Khalid al-Sabah as crown prince and appointed a new cabinet. This came after the leader’s decision to dissolve the country’s National Assembly and institute a four-year suspension of several constitutional articles following an election that saw minimal changes… Continue reading Interview: Unpacking Kuwait’s Parliament Dissolution

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

Economic Diversification is the GCC’s Top Priority

An undated handout picture released by KNPC, a subsidiary of the Kuwait Petroleum Corporation on November 11, 2020, shows the Crude Distillation Unit at the Mina Abdullah Refinery in the Fahaheel district some 35 kilometres south of Kuwait City. (Photo by KNPC / AFP) / RESTRICTED TO EDITORIAL USE - MANDATORY CREDIT "AFP PHOTO / KNPC" - NO MARKETING - NO ADVERTISING CAMPAIGNS - DISTRIBUTED AS A SERVICE TO CLIENTS

It is a paradoxical truth that nations highly dependent on natural resources tend to be poor economic performers.   Such countries are exposed to ongoing adverse shocks, including price jolts, volatile demand and supply, and natural disasters. These factors can stir up macroeconomic instability and higher economic risks – otherwise known as the “natural resource curse”.   … Continue reading Economic Diversification is the GCC’s Top Priority

Security Sector Reform: An Exercise in Futility?

A member of the Imam Ali Battalions, the armed wing of the Islamic Movement of Iraq -- a member faction of the Popular Mobilisation Forces (PMF) paramilitaries -- holds up a picture depicting Iraqi PMF commander Abu Mahdi al-Muhandis (who was in a US drone strike in early 2020), as other group members gather with its flags during a rally to mark annual Quds (Jerusalem) Day commemorations in Baghdad on April 5, 2024. - Quds (Jerusalem) Day is commemorated in support of the Palestinians annually on the last Friday of the Muslim holy month of Ramadan by an initiative started by late Iranian revolutionary leader Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini. (Photo by Murtaja LATEEF / AFP)

Since the onset of the post-October 7 regional escalation, the ascension of militia groups has had increasingly visible implications for global security. This has been highlighted by the Houthi attacks in the Red Sea, which have had far-reaching consequences for the global economy. However, the Houthis—an armed political movement controlling most of Yemen—represent only one… Continue reading Security Sector Reform: An Exercise in Futility?

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

Regional Diplomacy Amid the War in Gaza 

RAFAH, GAZA - FEBRUARY 27: Dozens of Palestinian children and teens, taking refuge in Rafah from Gaza, hold banners as they gather to hold a protest the scarcity of food and water under the ongoing Israeli attacks in Rafah, Gaza on February 27, 2024. The children marched in the streets of Gaza City holding banners with some written on them 'bread becomes my dream' and 'we want food,' among others. Abed Zagout / Anadolu (Photo by Abed Zagout / ANADOLU / Anadolu via AFP)

Over the past four months, Middle Eastern nations have been dismayed by the near-unconditional support from Western governments to Israel as it has bombarded and besieged the Gaza Strip and is now ramping up an assault on Rafah—a sliver of territory where more than a million displaced civilians have gathered. As a result, some have… Continue reading Regional Diplomacy Amid the War in Gaza 

Reforms in Kuwait: Can the new prime minister achieve them?

Kuwait's new emir Sheikh Meshal al-Ahmad al-Sabah (R) salutes as he swears in before lawmakers as the country's 17th ruler, at the Kuwaiti parliament, on December 20, 2023 in Kuwait City. (Photo by YASSER AL-ZAYYAT / AFP)

There is rumored to have once been a sign in Doha that read, “yesterday Kuwait, today Dubai; tomorrow Qatar.” Although perhaps apocryphal, it captures an important and painful truth for many Kuwaitis. Kuwait initially led the way in the Arabian Gulf and was the first country with its own currency and Constitution of the State… Continue reading Reforms in Kuwait: Can the new prime minister achieve them?

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

“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 COP28 Accelerate Climate Action in the Gulf and Beyond?

A woman walks in an empty conference room ahead of the COP28 United Nations climate summit in Dubai on November 28, 2023. - The UN chief urged world leaders to take decisive action to tackle ever-worsening climate change when they gather at the COP28 summit in Dubai starting this week. (Photo by Giuseppe CACACE / AFP)

The states of the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) have been pivotal to the global economy for decades, accounting for around 30 percent of confirmed petroleum reserves worldwide and 20 percent of total natural gas reserves. Yet as the effects of climate change intensify and global climate policies impact the bottom line for hydrocarbon exporters, those… Continue reading Will COP28 Accelerate Climate Action in the Gulf and Beyond?

Palestinians Continue to be Haunted by the Ghosts of Oslo

US President Bill Clinton (C) stands between PLO leader Yasser Arafat (R) and Israeli Prime Minister Yitzahk Rabin (L) as they shake hands for the first time, on September 13, 1993 at the White House in Washington DC, after signing the historic Israel-PLO Oslo Accords on Palestinian autonomy in the occupied territories. (Photo by J. DAVID AKE / AFP)

A decade after the initial Oslo Accord was signed in 1993, public opinion on the process it spawned was divided between those who believed it was a promising initiative to achieve Israeli-Palestinian peace that was tragically derailed, and those who insisted that it lacked the rudimentary elements of a meaningful peace process. Today, those who… Continue reading Palestinians Continue to be Haunted by the Ghosts of Oslo

A Military Intervention in Niger Would Deepen the Sahel’s Woes

A supporter holds a t-shirt reading "France Must Go" as supporters of Niger's National Council of Safeguard of the Homeland (CNSP) protest outside the Niger and French airbase in Niamey on September 2, 2023 to demand the departure of the French army from Niger. (Photo by AFP)

July’s military coup against Niger’s pro-western President Mohamed Bazoum has sparked a complex crisis with momentous consequences for the entire region. The latest in a string of military power-grabs across the Sahel, it has drawn a particularly sharp reaction from former colonial power France, which has forces stationed in the country—ostensibly to fight Islamist militants—and… Continue reading A Military Intervention in Niger Would Deepen the Sahel’s Woes

Syria Is Back, But Normalization Has Its Limits

A handout picture released by Iraq's Prime Minister's Media Office shows Syria's President Bashar al-Assad (R) welcoming Iraq's Prime Minister Mohamed Shia al-Sudani in Damascus on July 16, 2023. (Photo by - / IRAQI PRIME MINISTER'S PRESS OFFICE / AFP) / === RESTRICTED TO EDITORIAL USE - MANDATORY CREDIT "AFP PHOTO / HO / IRAQI PRIME MINISTER'S PRESS OFFICE" - NO MARKETING NO ADVERTISING CAMPAIGNS - DISTRIBUTED AS A SERVICE TO CLIENTS === - === RESTRICTED TO EDITORIAL USE - MANDATORY CREDIT "AFP PHOTO / HO / IRAQI PRIME MINISTER'S PRESS OFFICE" - NO MARKETING NO ADVERTISING CAMPAIGNS - DISTRIBUTED AS A SERVICE TO CLIENTS === /

The visit of Iraq’s prime minister to Damascus in July was the latest sign that Syria is mending ties with its neighbourhood, more than a decade after the Arab League suspended its membership over its brutal repression of anti-government protests. As the country’s catastrophic civil war settles, the regime of Bashar al-Assad can chalk up… Continue reading Syria Is Back, But Normalization Has Its Limits

Libyan Effort to Clean Up State Finances Sidesteps Deeper Issues

TRIPOLI, LIBYA - FEBRUARY 12: Protesters gather in front of Libya's National Oil Company to protest against renegade commander Khalifa Haftar after depriving public of oil revenues by halting production and exporting in oil fields in Tripoli, Libya on February 12, 2020. Hazem Turkia / Anadolu Agency (Photo by Hazem Turkia / Anadolu Agency)

As political tensions in Libya simmer amid fresh uncertainty over elections, the Libyan Presidency Council recently moved to address another issue at the heart of the country’s divisions. Only July 6, the Tripoli-based body announced it was establishing a High Financial Oversight Committee, with sweeping responsibilities to oversee Libya’s vital oil revenues, scrutinize government budgets… Continue reading Libyan Effort to Clean Up State Finances Sidesteps Deeper Issues

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?

MENA States’ Assertive Approach in the Era of Emerging Multipolarity

CAPE TOWN, SOUTH AFRICA - JUNE 02: (----EDITORIAL USE ONLY – MANDATORY CREDIT - 'BRICS / HANDOUT' - NO MARKETING NO ADVERTISING CAMPAIGNS - DISTRIBUTED AS A SERVICE TO CLIENTS----) Saudi Foreign Minister Faisal bin Farhanbir (R) attends the "BRICS Foreign Ministers Meeting" in Cape Town, South Africa on June 2, 2023. Brazilian Foreign Minister Mauro Vieira, Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov, Indian Foreign Minister Subrahmanyam Jaishankar, Saudi Arabian Foreign Minister Faisal bin Farhanbir, United Arab Emirates (UAE) Minister of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation Sheikh Abdullah bin Zayed Al Nahyan and Iranian Foreign Minister Hossein Amir Abdullahiyan also attend the meeting was hosted by South African Minister of International Relations and Cooperation Naledi Pandor. BRICS / Handout / Anadolu Agency (Photo by BRICS / Handout / ANADOLU AGENCY / Anadolu Agency via AFP)

As American dominance of the Middle East and North Africa wanes and other world powers step up their efforts to win friends and influence there, long-time U.S. allies are becoming more assertive towards Washington and recalibrating their other ties to better secure their own interests.   The growing U.S.-China strategic rivalry will profoundly impact the region… Continue reading MENA States’ Assertive Approach in the Era of Emerging Multipolarity

Interview: What Lies Ahead for Türkiye After the Elections?

Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan greets the audiece after a press conference where he announced the new cabinet, in Ankara, Turkey June 3, 2023. REUTERS/Umit Bektas - RC2WB1AS37AP

1. What accounts for the election results, both in terms of Erdogan’s performance and the opposition alliance’s defeat? What will happen to the alliance now?  The election results illustrate that President Erdogan’s campaign narratives of maintaining continuity in tumultuous times, his quest to make Türkiye a powerhouse in international affairs, and the fight against terrorism,… Continue reading Interview: What Lies Ahead for Türkiye After the Elections?

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?

Will Türkiye’s Elections Produce a Change in Leadership and Regional Posture?

Supporters of Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan wave national and AK Party flags during a campaign event ahead of the May 14 presidential and parliamentary elections, in Istanbul, Turkey May 9, 2023. REUTERS/Umit Bektas - RC24V0AOG9WM

On May 14, Türkiye will hold its most consequential elections in decades, with implications that extend well beyond its borders. For 21 years, Recep Tayyip Erdogan has dominated the country’s politics, reshaping its identity and outlook at home and abroad, while becoming the most recognizable Turkish politician on the global stage in nearly a century.… Continue reading Will Türkiye’s Elections Produce a Change in Leadership and Regional Posture?

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

Rising Anti-Refugee Sentiment in Türkiye Unshaken by Earthquakes

Turkey's President Tayyip Erdogan holds up a photo of what he described as a Syrian refugee camp in Turkey as he addresses the 77th Session of the United Nations General Assembly at U.N. Headquarters in New York City, U.S., September 20, 2022. REUTERS/Amr Alfiky - HP1EI9K17FV1I

The earthquakes that struck Türkiye and Syria in February devastated large areas of both countries, killing over 50,000 people and forcing millions from their homes. It was  Türkiye’s worst natural disaster in decades. For Syrian refugees living in the area, it was a double catastrophe. Already forced from their country by war, they now found… Continue reading Rising Anti-Refugee Sentiment in Türkiye Unshaken by Earthquakes

Egypt’s Economic Crisis Heightens Need for Reforms

People buy dates from a market selling food at discounted prices, after a devaluation of the Egyptian pound led to a sharp increase in prices, in Giza, Egypt, January 28, 2023. REUTERS/Hanaa Habib - RC2RZY94VDKZ

Egyptians are facing a dire economic situation. Since early 2022, the Egyptian pound has lost more than 40 percent of its value against the U.S. dollar and prices of imported goods have soared, as the impact of the war in Ukraine compounds the effects of stringent bailout conditions set by the International Monetary Fund (IMF).… Continue reading Egypt’s Economic Crisis Heightens Need for Reforms

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 

Elections Without Democracy Expose Tunisia’s Political Decline

A voter shows the ink on his finger as he casts his ballot at a polling station during the second round of the parliamentary election in Tunis, Tunisia January 29, 2023. REUTERS/Zoubeir Souissi

Just a few years ago, Tunisia was a beacon of political renewal in the Arab world, having both sparked the 2011 Arab Spring revolutions and emerged from them with the region’s only dictatorship-turned-democracy. Yet today, Tunisia is straining under the weight of a broken political system, a beleaguered economy and a disaffected public, including thousands… Continue reading Elections Without Democracy Expose Tunisia’s Political Decline

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? 

Twenty Years of Governance Reform: What’s Next for the MENA Region?

In 2002, the United Nations Development Program (UNDP) produced a remarkable and far-reaching document titled the Arab Human Development Report. Written largely by Arab authors, the report mobilized a wealth of data to argue persuasively that the lack of socio-economic development within the Arab region is the product of three fundamental deficits in freedom, knowledge,… Continue reading Twenty Years of Governance Reform: What’s Next for the MENA Region?