Iraq’s New Government, and Rebuilding Syria

October 16, 2018

Iraq is finally forming a new government after its elections in May, and faces a daunting crisis of governance and corruption. A frustrated electorate has high, perhaps unrealistic, expectations that the new government will transition from a system of redistribution based on sectarian identity to one rooted in accountability, institutions of oversight, and cross-ethnic and cross-sectarian alliances.

Maria Fantappie, a senior advisor for the International Crisis Group, discusses the long-standing stalemate within the Iraqi parliament and the deleterious impact of competition between the United States and Iran. She argues that the next four years are likely to bring a hybrid system of governance, including both pre-existing, sectarian alliances, and new, cross-sectarian coalitions over certain issues.

Meanwhile, next-door Syria is also entering a new political phase. President Bashar Al Assad is attempting to rebuild parts of the country, even as the war continues into what appears to be its final phase. The government’s enactment of the Urban Renewal Law and Decree 66 has made it possible to undertake urban development projects such as Marota City and Basilia City in the outskirts of Damascus.

Joseph Daher, a Swiss–Syrian activist and researcher at University of Lausanne in Switzerland, has tracked the dynamics of the first reconstruction efforts. Neighborhoods that were formerly home to lower-middle class citizens are being developed for wealthy Syrians, while areas that opposed the regime have yet to witness any reconstruction efforts. According to initial research, it appears that reconstruction is being used to reconstitute the Assad regime and reconfigure society in ways that might prevent future uprisings.

Participants

  • Maria Fantappie, International Crisis Group
  • Joseph Daher, University of Lausanne
  • Thanassis Cambanis, The Century Foundation
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Basra Protests Shake Iraqi Status Quo

September 25, 2018

September’s mass protests in Basra shook Iraq’s government all the way to the top—and perhaps mark a new phase in Iraq’s popular politics. In a brief wave of demonstrations, residents of Basra attacked government buildings, militia headquarters, and the Iranian consulate: symbols of the corruption that has kept their city poor, polluted, and starved of public services, despite the fact that it produces most of Iraq’s oil.

Tamer El-Ghobashy covered the protests in Basra, and here discusses why Iraq’s second city reached a breaking point. He also reflects on the decidedly post-sectarian turn in Iraq’s dysfunctional politics. The mostly poor, mostly Shia residents of southern Iraq provided the rank-and-file fighters for the war against the Islamic State. Now, they want to see some improvement in their quality of life. The protests ended incumbent prime minister Haidar al-Abadi’s quest for another term. What impact will they have long-term on Iraq’s appalling governance?

Participants include:

  • Tamer El-Ghobashy, Baghdad bureau chief, The Washington Post
  • Thanassis Cambanis, senior fellow, The Century Foundation
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How Germany Is Integrating One Million Syrian Refugees

September 11, 2018

Germany is more than three years into a massive human and policy experiment, figuring out how best to integrate mor- e than one million Syrian asylum seekers. Chancellor Angela Merkel welcomed Syrian refugees and others fleeing conflict zones—partly on humanitarian grounds, and partly as a bet that an influx of motivated young workers might rejuvenate the economy.

Lily Hindy traveled to Germany and interviewed dozens of people involved in this great social engineering project, from Syrian refugee families to vocational instructors to government officials. She shared her findings in a multimedia TCF report. She found that Germany’s coordinated re-sponse had produced some surprising successes, like the vocational training and language programs designed to assimilate newcomers and prepare them for the workforce. She also documented some of the bumps in the road, from social tensions and discrimination against immigrants and the ambiguous response of some of the immigrants to their new host society.

There are considerable lessons here for the United States, or any other country that is willing to welcome new immigrants and invest in their integration. -

Participants include:

  • Lily Hindy, doctoral student, University of California–Los Angeles
  • Thanassis Cambanis, senior fellow, The Century Foundation
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New thinking about American liberal foreign policy

August 21, 2018

Liberal internationalists (from all over the American political spectrum) have responded with horror to President Trump’s broadsides against the very idea of alliances and international cooperation. But the president’s questioning of the principles of the United Nations and NATO have raised doubts within the internationalist foreign policy elite. How effective are international institutions, agreements and alliances? Was there really a golden age—an international liberal order—that lasted from the end of World War II until the inauguration of Trump, during which generous American stewardship produced prosperity and stability?

Paul Staniland has joined the debate with a forceful essay in the Lawfare blog entitled “Misreading the ‘Liberal Order’: Why We Need New Thinking in American Foreign Policy.” He argues that an international liberal order did exist, although it wasn’t as rosy as some of its staunchest defenders proclaim—nor is President Trump solely responsible for the erosion of the postwar international order. A better understanding of the ambiguous record of internationalism since 1945 is required if the United States is to design a more effective foreign policy in years to come. Paul Staniland discusses the debate about the international liberal order and its implications for crafting an improved order to succeed it.

Participants include:

 

  • Paul Staniland, political scientist, University of Chicago
  • Thanassis Cambanis, senior fellow, The Century Foundation
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How to Research Lebanon’s Youth Problem (and Other Questions)

July 23, 2018

Aya Fatima Chamseddine has been exploring the ways that Lebanese youth get indoctrinated into armed militant groups—or trapped in dead-end jobs that encourage them to join dead-end sectarian political parties, or flee the country. Her path-breaking reports for Synaps brought the voices of her research subjects to life, shedding light on thorny policy questions with a narrative flair. What is the “youth problem” in the Arab world, and is it really that different than in the rest of the world?

Synaps is a new research collective based in Beirut and founded by veteran policy analyst Peter Harling. It has taken an innovative approach to training local researchers, and has adopted a method of radical transparency, addressing in public on its website the challenges of conducting fieldwork, shaping research, finding funding, and reaching an audience. Peter and Aya discuss the wider challenges of shaping policy while producing deep, original, and relevant research.

Participants include:

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Recruiting militants: Greed or grievance?

June 20, 2018

The growing power of armed groups in the Middle East has raised an old question: how do militants recruit new constituents? Researchers have long debated the relative merits of ideology versus services as drivers of militant groups (an argument dubbed “greed vs. grievance”).  

Developments in Iraq and Lebanon have given us a better understanding of the interplay of ideas and material rewards for militia recruitment. Legacy militia groups like Hezbollah have been joined by relative newcomers like Iraq’s Popular Mobilization Units (“Hashd al Shaabi”) at the epicenter of power. On this podcast, Renad Mansour, a leading expert on Iraq’s paramilitaries, joins Sima Ghaddar, a keen observer of Hezbollah, to discuss the new insights about paramilitary recruitment and loyalty that they’ve learned from Iraq and Lebanon.

Participants include:

  • Sima Ghaddar, policy associate, The Century Foundation
  • Renad Mansour, research fellow, Chatham House
  • Thanassis Cambanis, senior fellow, The Century Foundation
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Iran in Iraq

June 8, 2018

As tensions flare between Iran and the United States, TCF takes a look at Iran’s record in Iraq. Some critics of American policy say that Washington “lost Iraq,” and paint Tehran as a master puppeteer controlling every development in the country.

Two scholars of Iran and Iraq examine the situation, and the picture they paint is decidedly more mixed. On this podcast they discuss Iran’s missteps, as well as the ways it has successfully extended its power in the MIddle East. Iran might have edged out the United States in Iraq, for now, but it hasn’t established anything close to hegemony.

Participants include:

  • Dina Esfandiary, a CSSS fellow in the war studies department at King’s College London, and an adjunct fellow in the Center for Strategic and International Studies’ (CSIS) Middle East Programme.
  • Renad Mansour, research fellow, Chatham House
  • Thanassis Cambanis, senior fellow, The Century Foundation
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Do Elections Help or Hurt Middle-East Democracy?

April 19, 2018

Another season of elections is upon the Middle East. Egypt’s presidential election appeared anything but free, as President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi renewed his authoritarian mandate and squelched even the appearance of competition. In contrast, both Lebanon and Iraq are hosting freewheeling parliamentary campaigns, with elections coming in both countries in May.

How much do these electoral contests serve to bring more democracy? Status-quo players have learned how to navigate the electoral process without engaging in any significant reform or opening—whether outright authoritarians like Egypt’s Sisi, or more complex but profoundly undemocratic warlords and demagogues like many of the sectarian leaders in Iraq and Lebanon.

Our guests examine the connections between elections and democracy in this latest cycle of voting in the Middle East, in a global context where basic political propositions about the viability of electoral democracy are being called into question.

Participants include:

  • Sima Ghaddar, policy associate, The Century Foundation
  • Michael Wahid Hanna, senior fellow, The Century Foundation
  • Thanassis Cambanis, senior fellow, The Century Foundation
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Bridging the Middle East’s Security Gulf

April 6, 2018

There seem to be fewer and fewer opportunities to build relationships between adversarial governments in the Middle East region. Even the faint promise that briefly flared during the negotiations over Iran’s nuclear program has faded. Today, the Middle East has fewer communications channels and institutional forums than any other region in the world.

Dalia Dassa Kaye and David Griffiths debate some of the incremental possibilities to begin constructing (or reconstructing) the region’s security architecture. If expectations are kept low and governments are willing to improvise, these researchers suggest there are prospects to establish rudimentary security architecture.

Griffiths argues that sailors can find common ground on technical matters like incidents at sea and search and rescue, which can provide the basis of some security cooperation. Dassa Kaye suggests that new initiatives can come out of difficult period like the present. Can technical agreements over sea lanes, nuclear waste, or disputed boundaries ever translate into the type of political process necessary to effectively manage conflict, or resolve it?

Read Dalia Dassa Kaye’s “Can It Happen Here? Prospects for Regional Security Cooperation in the Middle East,” David N. Griffiths’ “Oceans of Opportunity: Maritime Dimensions of Security in the Arab World,” and Thanassis Cambanis’ “The Israel-Hezbollah Channel: UNIFIL’s Effective but Limited Conflict-Management Mechanism.” These reports are part of the TCF project “Order from Ashes: New Foundations for Security in the Middle East.”

Participants include:

  • Dalia Dassa Kaye, director, Center for Middle East Public Policy, the RAND Corporation
  • David N. Griffiths, independent researcher and former Canadian naval officer
  • Thanassis Cambanis, senior fellow, The Century Foundation
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Honor Killings and Women’s Rights

March 7, 2018

Women’s rights advocate AlAnoud AlSharekh is a leader in the fight to end violence against women and promote women’s political participation in the Middle East. She has worked in Kuwait and throughout the region to promote women’s rights.

In this podcast, AlSharekh talks with Hindy about the challenges and opportunities for those pushing for legal reform in the the region.

AlSharekh is the founding director of the Abolish 153 campaign to end legislation that effectively gives men regulatory, judicial, and executive power over their female kin—including minimal repercussions for honor killings—in Kuwait and the Arabian Gulf region. She is an outspoken advocate for women’s rights in a region where so-called “disciplinary violence” by men against their female kin remains permissible by law and by social practice. Article 153 of Kuwait’s penal code treats “honor killing”—when a man murders his sister, wife, daughter, or mother after becoming enraged by her adulterous or sexual transgression—as a misdemeanor, punishable with a maximum three-year prison sentence or a $50 fine. Last summer, three Arab countries passed legislation on violence against women following years of advocacy by local and international campaigns.

AlSharekh is also a consulting partner at Ibtkar Strategic Consultancy, where she is training a group of Kuwaiti women political leaders to run for office. In 2016 AlSharekh was awarded a knighthood (National Order of Merit) by the French government for her work promoting women’s rights in the region. She holds a PhD from SOAS London in Comparative Literature and Feminism.

Participants include:

  • AlAnoud AlSharekh, founding director of the Abolish 153 campaign
  • Lily Hindy, senior associate, The Century Foundation

Editor's Note: This podcast was updated as of April 3, 2018.

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