Breaking Down the Headlines

The purpose of this page is to provide background information and analyses of current developments in the Middle East, North Africa and Central Asia.

 

Turkey in relation to Syria and ISIL/Da'esh داعش 

 

Update on ISIL/Da'esh داعش: The Role of the Peshmerga and the Free Syrian Army

 

The Rise of ISIS and the Response of the United States

 

Gaza-Israel Escalation

 

The Election in Afghanistan

 

Israel and Palestine to Resume Peace Talks

 

Egypt Update

 

Egyptian Protests

 

Iranian Election

 

Crisis in Syria

 

Turkish Protests 

 

Turkey in relation to Syria and ISIL/Da'esh داعش 

Shelby Oldroyd and Melinda McClimans

Turkey will participate in the meeting in London today on how to counter ISIL (1).  Ankara has been determined to end the Bashar al-Assad regime in Syria, and has stalled military engagement pending other coalition countries agreement with Turkey on this issue. Ankara insists that the only way to fight ISIL is to also combat the Assad regime, who they cite as a main cause of the rise of ISIL (2).  However, according to Murat Yetkin, “Turkey’s position regarding the fight against ISIL is heading toward a crossroads, especially after the Paris attack on the Charlie Hebdo magazine. .” (1)

Turkish president, Erdogan, has continually insisted on creating a no-fly zone in in Syria near the southern border of Turkey. Having this region available would allow for training troops as well allowing coalition troops access to a Turkish air base, a much more convenient option than the bases that are currently being used in Gulf states. This ease of access and training space would allow for both the ability to topple the Assad regime and to fight ISIL (2). 

After the December 3rd meeting in Brussels on how to defeat ISIL, Ankara appeared hopeful that other countries, particularly the United States would join this position.  However, Secretary of State, John Kerry, stated during a press conference that “it is premature to suggest at this moment of time that we are close to making a decision or moving forward with any form of a safe zone or a buffer zone” (3).

There has been a report by Deutsche Welle (4) that Turkey is allowing weapons to pass freely across the border. Ankara has adamantly denied these claims, mainly made by internal Kurdish parties with their own agendas (5). Some analysts believe these accusations are being used to pressure Turkey into military involvement against ISIL (3). In any case, it will be interesting to see if wny changes in ankara’s policy occur at the upcoming meetings in London, Brussels and the U.S. on how to defeat ISIL (1). 

Related "Origins" Article: http://origins.osu.edu/article/erdo-s-presidential-dreams-turkey-s-constitutional-politics

(1) http://www.hurriyetdailynews.com/turkey-to-attend-london-meeting-of-anti-isil-fight.aspx?pageID=449&nID=76967&NewsCatID=409

 (2) https://www.middleeastmonitor.com/articles/middle-east/15665-is-there-a-possible-deal-on-syria-between-the-us-and-turkey

(3) http://www.al-monitor.com/pulse/originals/2014/12/turkey-syria-policy-not-expected-revise.html#

(4) http://youtu.be/KeiNj7iHdn4?list=UUknLrEdhRCp1aegoMqRaCZg

(5) http://www.reuters.com/article/2014/11/29/us-mideast-crISIL-kurds-kobani-idUSKCN0JD06R20141129

 

Update on ISIL/Da'esh: The Role of the Peshmerga and the Free Syrian Army

December 4, 2014
By Shelby Oldroyd

The emergence of the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant, or Da'esh داعشin its Arabic form (ISIL/Da'eshداعش), has provoked a global response. Countries from across the world have formed a coalition, while air strikes from multiple countries have intensified. These countries’ roles vary from providing humanitarian aid, conducting air strikes, providing intelligence on ISIL/Daesh, and allowing foreign militaries access to regional military bases (1). Syrian Kurds, Iraqi Kurds, and the Free Syrian Army are all fighting in the area on the side of the US-led coalition. The Iraqi Kurdish force, the Peshmerga, is playing an increasingly important role in the fight against ISIL/Daesh. 1,300 fighters from the Free Syrian Army have joined on the side of the US coalition, as well (3). The Middle East Studies Center Director, Alam Payind, believes they are legitimate resistance groups that can be supported in Syria. Others agree that there should be international support for them (9) while some question their ability to defeat ISIL/Daesh(10).

Much of the focus on ISIL/Daesh has centered on Kobane and the involvement of the Peshmerga, but ISIL/Daesh has remained active outside of Kobane, gaining territory and an oil field in the Syrian province of Homs. They have also gained territory in the Anbar province in Iraq. Sunni tribes in the Anbar province that have stood against ISIL/Daesh have been met with extreme violence, leaving hundreds dead (7). ISIL/Daesh continues to hold its ground against air strikes and Kurdish fighters in the key areas of Kobane, Mosul, Sinjar, and Homs.

Air strikes have mostly been concentrated near the Mosul Dam and on the Syrian border town of Kobane. Turkey has not committed any ground troops to the region, but they recently allowed the Iraqi Kurdish forces, the Peshmerga, to cross the border into Kobane to fight ISIL/Daesh. Before the Peshmerga joined the Syrian Kurds in Kobane, it seemed that the town would be taken by ISIL/Da'esh داعش . The Peshmerga and the Syrian Kurds are starting to make military gains in the town (4). However, these gains are not definitive, and the fight in Kobane is far from over.

Dr. Payind believes that air strikes alone will be not effective in defeating ISIL/Da'esh داعش . He believes that members of the Arab League, not the US, need to commit ground troops to defeat ISIL/Daesh داعش. So far, no Arab states have been willing to commit ground troops, and ISIL/Daesh is taking advantage of this. There is international pressure for Turkey to send ground troops into Kobane, but they have refused thus far (8). Further, U.S. airstrikes have the potential to kill more innocent people than the insurgent forces, and turn many non-combatents against the U.S. – there is a whole genre of protest poetry that has been created in Afghanistan in response to airstrikes and their unintended consequences.  The Soviet Union's airstrikes from 1979 to 1989, and the US airstrikes from 2001 to the present, have not achieved their intended objectives.  

Despite all of these challenges, it is a significant point that ISIL/Da'esh داعش does not have any state supporters, Dr. Payind emphasized. Further, their cruel tactics have turned a large number of groups against them, including Shiites, Kurds, Christians, Yazidis, and mamy Sunnis who had initially supported them. 

Local/global perspectives on Peshmerga’s role

The Peshmerga started their fight with ISIL/Daesh long before they entered Kobane. They have been struggling against ISIL/Daesh داعش in Iraq for most of 2014, but they are poorly funded by the Iraqi government and lack the modern weapons that ISIL/Daesh possesses. ISIL/Daesh داعش gained these modern weapons when the mostly American-armed Iraqi army abandoned Mosul during the siege by ISIL/Daesh (داعش(5. The Peshmerga have been essential in fighting ISIL/Daesh داعش near the Kurdistan region of Iraq, and are currently fighting for control of key cities such as Zumar and Sinjar (6).

Former Middle East Studies Center intern and recent Ohio State graduate, Meredith Leal, recently returned from the Kurdistan region while volunteering with Crisis Response International (CRI). CRI helps train Peshmerga soldiers in first aid for the battle field. They also deliver medicine packs and first aid kits to the Peshmerga soldiers, as well as delivering supplies and clothes to refugees.

Meredith was able to meet Peshmerga soldiers near the front lines while delivering these supplies and training soldiers in first aid. She said the Peshmerga appreciate the support, especially from Westerners, knowing it meant Westerners recognize the work the Peshmerga are doing for the region. “It was a surreal experience, especially knowing that I was part of what was happening in the news,” said Meredith.  "It was eye-opening to meet the refugees, who were mostly middle-class families before they had to leave their homes behind."

(1)  http://www.cnn.com/2014/10/09/world/meast/isis-coalition-nations/

(2)  http://www.juancole.com/2014/10/kurdish-Peshmerga-kobane.html

(3)  http://english.alarabiya.net/en/News/middle-east/2014/10/24/FSA-sends-forces-to-help-Kurdish-fighters-in-Kobane.html

(4)  http://english.alarabiya.net/en/News/middle-east/2014/11/12/Kurds-block-an-ISIL/Daesh-supply-route-to-Syria-s-Kobane.html

(5)  http://www.vice.com/read/those-who-face-death-0000500-v21n11

(6)  http://www.haaretz.com/news/middle-east/.premium-1.624110

(7)  http://www.reuters.com/article/2014/11/03/us-mideast-crisis-idUSKBN0IK15M20141103

(8)  http://www.reuters.com/article/2014/10/16/us-mideast-crisis-idUSKCN0I50XD20141016

(9)  http://www.cnn.com/2014/10/03/opinion/shahbandar-pregen-isis-fear/?iref=obinsite

(10) http://america.aljazeera.com/articles/2014/10/2/syria-moderate-rebels1.html

 Origins article on ISIL/Daesh: http://origins.osu.edu/connecting-history/11122014-top-ten-origins-islamic-state-iraq-and-al-sham-isis


Interview with Alam Payind on the current state of ISIL, background of the "Caliphate" 

October 24, 2014
By Shelby Oldroyd and Melinda McClimans
 

We would love for you to join us on Wednesday, October, 29th at noon, for his public talk on the same subject at the Metropolitan Club downtown.

What do you think about the legitimacy of ISIL’s claim that they have established a caliphate and can you provide some historical context to the term caliphate?

Caliph in Arabic is Khalifa.  The word Khalifa in Arabic is a successor, or deputy, or viceregent. Historians of Arabia have traced the usage of the term Khalifa to pre-Islamic Arabia of the 6th century A.D.  During the early Islamic period, the word Khalifa (its singular form) appeared in the Qur’an, once referring to Adam (Chapter 2, Verse 30), and once to David (Chapter 38, verse 26).  About Adam, God says in the Qur’an: “I am about to appoint a Khalifa (viceregent) on earth.” About David, God says: “O David, I have made you a Khalifa (viceregent on Earth, judge justly among men.” It should be mentioned that David is for Muslims both prophet and king, combining religion and political authority. 

From 622 A.D. to 632 A.D., Prophet Muhammad was, for Muslims, both a prophet and political leader.  After his death in 632 A.D. the Muslim community needed a successor.  One group of followers (who were later called Ahl al-Sunna, or Sunnis) adopted the principle of shura (holding council, consultation) to select their post-Muhammad leader. Another group (later called Shi’i or Shi’ites) adopted the principle of reverence or the household (Ahl al-Bait) of Prophet Muhammad.  In the absence of a male child of the Prophet, this group (Shi-i) supported ‘Ali, the cousin and son-in-law of the Prophet, to become the leader of the Muslim community (Umma). 

Sunnis formed the majority and selected a trusted companion of Muhammad, Abu Bakr, naming him Khalifa – the first Caliph.  With this first leader of the Muslim community after Muhammad, the Sunnis established the institution of the Caliphate.  On the other hand, for the Shi’ites, the institution of the Imamate was born.  The Khawaraj, a lesser known group literally meaning “exiters,” rejected both doctrines.  A small number of them still exist in Oman under the name Ibadis. They prefer to be called Sunnis, however. 

The dispute continues up to the present time.  In Iran, for example, the Islamic practices are dictated by Shi’i doctrine, and they recognize the validity of a hidden Imam who will one day return to rule the Muslim community. 

The first four successors of Muhammad were appointed through a sort of election process.  After the fourth Caliph, ‘Ali, Mu’awiyah and his successors moved from the principle of popular consultation on leadership (shura), to inherited rule (although they continued to call the leader Khalifa).  It wasn’t until 1924 that the Caliphate was finally abolished by Kemal Ataturk.  Thus, the Ottoman Empire is considered the last legitimate Caliphate.  The concept then became weaker over time. It became even less respected as more people claimed to establish a caliphate.  

In Sudan in the 1880’s Muhammad Ahmad – the so-called Mahdi – was succeeded by Abdullahi Ibn Muhammad and he declared himself to be Khalifa.  The British Empire, however, defeated his Caliphate movement in 1895. In the late 19th century the followers of the Ahmadiyya sect in India declared Mirza Ghulan Ahmad a Messiah or Khalifa.  There was also a movement in the 1920’s in India to revive the Ottoman Caliphate.  Finally ISIS, or ISIL, today: Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi was declared Khalifa on June 29, 2014, by the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant, of which he is the leader. 

Now ISIL is claiming that they have re-established Khalifa. They were not chosen by the people. They are generally not liked by mainstream Muslims, whether Sunni or Shi'ite. They are despised by Assad and Iraqi governments which are both Shiite-led governments. They are not liked by Kurds, and they are not supported by any Muslim-majority state, or any state for that matter. They are only supported by individuals. The movement won’t be successful because there is no state support.

Why isn’t there state support?

They are becoming cruel in their treatment of people, including Sunni opposition, Shiites, Yazidis, Christians, and other groups.

ISIL has been successful in the short run because of Sunni frustration in Iraq and Syria. They have undergone systematic marginalization in Iraq and Syria, as well as marginalization of the Kurds. In Syria, the Alawites, a Shiite minority, control the Sunni majority population. The ISIL movement gathered momentum because of mistreatment of Sunnis by these governments.  No one prevented the slaughter and marginalization of Sunnis. ISIL came to being because of unaddressed injustice by Iraqi and Syrian governments. But ISIL is making grave mistakes with the cruelty with which they treat the people, especially because they are targeting specific social groups and individuals like journalists. The ranks of its opposition are growing exponentially. 

ISIL is regarded as a threat because they are more powerful than al-Qaeda. They have captured territory and resources which is something al-Qaeda never accomplished. They also have much larger number of fighters and are therefore a threat to neighboring countries.

ISIL has also been criticized by councils of Islamic leaders, mosques, scholars. They all condemn the actions of ISIL.  A recent poll conducted in early October 2014, indicates that the majority of Saudis, Kuwaitis and Emiratis decisively reject ISIL. 

What do you think of the way countries are responding to ISIL?

NATO, the United States-led coalition, including the Arab League states, are all unwilling to send ground troops but air strikes are not producing the desired results. Air strikes have not succeeded in the past and they alone cannot defeat ISIL because no country, including America, wants to respond like Israel acted in Gaza. Destroying ISIL through air raids would require killing many civilians and destroying cities. The U.S. doesn’t want to be internationally criticized, and needs local buy-in. However, Arab countries are reluctant to use troops. They have the force and the capabilities, but they don’t want to send troops. Pressure needs to be put on the Arab League to do so. It’s not on the horizon that any Arab countries will take this step, and ISIL is taking advantage of this situation.

Iraqi military forces failed to prevent ISIL’s territory gain. They were unwilling to put up a strong resistance now that US troops have left Iraq. They even abandoned their weapons as ISIL came. Syrians are also unwilling to fight against ISIL because they see it as strengthening the Assad government. In Iraq and in Syria there is a struggle among Sunnis to decide whether or not to fight against ISIL extremism or against the brutal regime.

Are there still moderate groups the US can support in Syria?

The Free Syrian Army is a moderate group. They were not supported internationally, so they failed in the initial years of the Syrian conflict. International support for the Free Syrian Army could have ended the conflict. The international community was afraid of getting into a war in Syria. This reluctance was detrimental. ISIL took advantage of both Sunni frustrations and the inaction of the international community. The United States and other countries that didn’t support the Free Syrian Army paved the way for ISIL to gain strength. The situation in Syria is more difficult and more complicated now. It will be harder to support the Free Syrian Army.


Interview with Peter Mansoor

September 24, 2014
By Melinda McClimans

What is the role of Iran in the global struggle to combat ISIS?


The Iranians have a huge role to play in the region. Iraqis, especially, realize they must maintain positive relations with Iran. Two major motives are their connection via religious identity, Shi’ism, and the fact their economies form a natural partnership.

Unfortunately, the current Iranian role undercuts U.S. interests and jeopardizes international security.  The sectarian policies [pro-Shi’ite] of former Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki were heavily influenced by Iran, which also armed, trained, and equipped Shi’ite Iraqi militias and death squads.  Iran’s own Qods Force, part of their Revolutionary Guard, is responsible for the deaths of hundreds of U.S. soldiers. This makes any military cooperation between Iran and the United States nearly impossible.  In general, Iran has its tentacles throughout Iraqi politics.

It is a very difficult situation.  There needs to be at least tacit political cooperation between Iran and the United States to destroy ISIS, but we currently have no diplomatic relations with Iran. 

The role of international actors – any nations which deserve highlighting?

The U.S. has formed a broad coalition, with 10 NATO and 5 Arab states participating currently, and more potentially joining. Russian cooperation is tenuous, especially because of its support for Bashar al-Assad in Syria. The participation of Arab states and of Turkey constitutes an important diplomatic factor.  The participation of Arab forces lends a certain legitimacy and credibility to the operations for locals in the region. While the U.S. provides the vast majority of air power, and the Arab forces much less, it doesn’t matter.  As the saying goes: “In for a penny, in for a pound.” Their diplomatic support goes a long way to legitimizing U.S. actions within the Islamic world.

The second major factor is Turkey’s role, and the measure of support it could provide. ISIS controlled oil flows out of Turkey into the black market, and Turkish bases could provide crucial support for our aircraft.  The fact they are denying use of their bases and air space is problematical.

Is Kurdish participation a complicating factor for Turkey?

The Iraqi Kurds have an understanding with the Turkish government that the PKK (the separatist Kurdish militia in Turkey) will stand down, ending decades of conflict in southeastern Turkey. Additionally, the Kurds would provide Turkey with cheap oil in return for Turkish support for Kurdish independence in Northern Iraq.  

In regard to the fall of Mosul to ISIS – is there Sunni cooperation with ISIS?

Some Sunnis signed on with ISIS in order to fight Maliki because of his brutal and unjust oppression targeting Sunnis. He has become a sort of reverse Saddam, repressing the Sunnis as Saddam repressed the Shi’ites. U.S. support of his presidency was misbegotten.  When we removed our forces from Iraq in 2011, we lost our leverage to influence the Iraqi government in a significant way.  Iraq's Sunnis are disillusioned and it will require major political accommodations to get them to turn on ISIS in an effort to destroy the organization.

Thank you, Dr. Mansoor.
 

The Rise of ISIS and the Response of the United States
September 18, 2014
By Shelby Oldroyd
 
For the past year, the Islamic State of Iraq and ash-Sham (ISIS, otherwise known as ISIL or the Islamic State - Sham means Levant, or what used to be known as "Greater Syria" - ) have increased their violent activity in the region, raising important questions regarding how they became so powerful and how the U.S. and other countries will respond to this threat in the region. 
 
ISIS originated from what remained of al-Qaeda in Iraq after 2006. The current leader, Abu Bakr al Baghdadi, took control of the group in 2010. The group has stated that their goal is to establish an Islamic State or caliphate in the region (1).
 
At the end of June, a spokesman from ISIS announced that a caliphate had been established with al Baghdadi as the caliph. A caliphate is an Islamic State, with a Caliph, or Khalifa, as the leader of the greater Muslim community. The last official caliphate ended just after the collapse of the Ottoman Empire (2) - 1922 was the date of the Constitution of Turkey, marking the Ottoman state's end. Their announcement does not mean that Muslims have accepted al Baghdadi as caliph. Indeed, ISIS is targeting many Muslims in its immediate area, in addition to Christians.  Such targeting is a clear violation of basic tenets of Islam, such as the respect for human life and inclusion of other religious groups in society, especially those considered to be "peoples of the book," or Ahl al-Kitab. 
 
ISIS has steadily been gaining strength since al Baghdadi took control of the group in 2010. Political strife in Iraq, as well as the Syrian civil war, has allowed ISIS to gain support and significant control in the region. Iraq’s Prime Minister, Nouri al-Maliki, has been criticized for marginalizing and discriminating against Sunnis in the Shiite majority country and government (3). Considerable anti-government and anti-Shiite sentiments have mounted due to this isolation, allowing ISIS to gain supporters and fighters in Iraq (1). 
 
In response to pressure from the Iraqi government as well as other countries, the United States in particular, al-Maliki resigned on August 14th. He endorsed Haidar al-Abadi to become the next Prime Minister. Al-Abadi has since tried to establish a unity government with both Sunni and Kurdish deputy prime ministers to ease tensions in Iraq (3)(4). 
 
The civil war in Syria created an environment that was ideal for ISIS to build strength. Fighting in the region allowed ISIS to freely move across the border between Iraq and Syria as well as move foreign fighters into the region through Syria. Bashar al-Assad focused on domestic fighting in Aleppo and Homs instead of focusing on fighting from ISIS, which was able to claim territory in Raqqa (1). 
 
ISIS is steadily growing in numbers with some estimates now placing the group at over 30,000 members (5). Most jihadist groups have focused on recruiting locally and regionally, but ISIS has also succeeded in recruiting internationally. There are an estimated 12,000 foreign fighters in Syria and Iraq (5). ISIS’s proficient use of social media has helped spread recruitment videos and propaganda. They also have a large amount of money to entice fighters into joining them (9). 
 
ISIS has gained notoriety for their brutality. They target any group that isn’t Sunni, including Shiites, Kurds, Christians, Yazidis, and others. ISIS has attempted to take control of areas with significant sources of energy, including oil fields, the Mosul Dam, and the Haditha Dam. It has taken control of many Sunni dominated towns, most notably Mosul. Kurds have become heavily involved in the fighting as ISIS encroaches on what they consider to be their territory (5). Two recent beheadings of American journalists have captured the attention of the American public (6). 
 
President Obama announced on September 10th that he intends to use more force in fighting ISIS, which includes using airstrikes in Syria. The U.S. will be part of an international coalition that includes many European countries, as well as Saudi Arabia, that will provide support to Iraqi and Kurdish fighters in the region. 
 
The decision of the U.S. and their allies does not resolve the dilemmas that ISIS presents. Even after the decision was announced, there remains wariness among the American people that this will become yet another time that there are “boots on the ground” in Iraq (6). Even airstrikes pose a dilemma in the international sphere. It would be nearly impossible to neutralize the threat of ISIS by just carrying out airstrikes in Iraq, according to U.S. General Martin Dempsey (7), but airstrikes in Syria have serious implications. ISIS is one of the many groups fighting against Assad, who the U.S. openly opposes. Striking ISIS in Syria could ultimately help Assad gain control again in Syria. The plan is to help the more trusted Syrian rebels in the region fight against ISIS. If this plan is successful, the U.S. hopes that the destruction of ISIS won’t aid Assad (7.) 
 
Obama’s plan for intervention received mixed responses from experts across the country, including faculty members at The Ohio State University. Dr. Richard Herrmann, a political science professor at Ohio State, is skeptical that airstrikes in Syria would not ultimately aid Assad, adding that, “it is impossible to know where that kind of intervention would end” (8). On the other hand, Dr. Peter Mansoor, a former executive chair to General David Petraeus and current professor of military history at Ohio State, believes that the refusal to deploy special troops will ultimately be a mistake, saying that, “special forces, in my view, are essential for fomenting a tribal rebellion against ISIS” (8). 
 
Richard Herrmann said that ultimately, “the real solution has be made in Baghdad and Damascus,” adding that these governments need to be more inclusive of their people, and “it is a long way to go” (8).
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
For further information about ISIS and other topics, please attend upcoming events.

Gaza-Israel Escalation

August 1, 2014
By Ahmad Shafeek

Since last month, tension has been rising between Gaza and Israel amid the kidnapping and killing of three Israeli teenagers and the following kidnapping and killing of a Palestinian teenager. Hamas denied involvement in the original kidnapping. (1).

Hamas, a militant Islamic fundamentalist political movement that governs Gaza, has been firing rockets at various cities in central Israel. Two thousand six-hundred seventy rockets have been fired thus far, resulting in 3 Israeli civilian death and 53 soldiers killed. In response, Israel has conducted 4,100 air strikes as part of Operation Protective Edge. These airstrikes on Gaza have resulted in over 1,200 Palestinian deaths, mostly civilians (2).

The American-sponsored peace talks led by the Secretary of State John Kerry earlier this summer have been ineffectual. The Palestinian authorities and Hamas have declared the formation of a government of national unity, much to the dismay of the Israeli government (4).

Israel vowed to destroy Hamas militaristic capabilities and the underground tunnels which it claims Hamas uses to carry out attacks. Israel has started a ground offensive to search and destroy the tunnels (3). Hamas vowed to continue its attacks until Israel ends its siege on Gaza, free prisoners, and allow a unity government that incorporates Palestinian authorities (2).  

Gaza has been occupied since 1967. Beginning in 2005 Israel pulled its settlers out of the area, but continues to exercise control over it. The territory is situated in southwest Israel. It is surrounded by Israel from the north and the east and by Egypt from the south. Gaza is extremely dense with about 1.8 million people living in 13069 sq. miles. The tight restrictions of the Israeli siege prevent the movement of people and goods across border. The current Egyptian government has also tightened its security on the Gaza border. As a result, the Palestinians in Gaza suffer economic hardship (2).

  Image of Gaza map 

Image Source: Wikipedia

The conflict between Israel and Hamas has been frequent over the last few years. Major clashes occured in 2008 and 2012, however, the current conflict has been the most long lasting so far. Tensions do not seem to be slowing down and both parties are determined to carry on their attacks (2). There have been some unsuccessful attempts at ceasefires, but all have been short lived. Egypt attempt to mediate for the two sides, but the United States, has not had formal contact with Hamas, as it considers it a terrorist group. Turkey and Qatar have contacts with Hamas and are attempting to reach a solution. However, Israel's relations with both countries have been strained.

Dr. Alam Payind, Director of our Center and a professor at the Ohio State University, has described the situation as complex and deep. He added that the fundamental issues are not being dealt with, i.e. the giving of rights to the Palestinians in Gaza by Israel and accepting the legitimacy of Israel by Hamas. As both sides have serious frustrations, conflict will continue.

For further reading, visit Origins: Current Events in Historical Perspective, a publication of the Department of History at The Ohio State University, to learn more about the historical significance of the issue.

(1)  http://www.nytimes.com/2014/07/09/world/middleeast/israel-steps-up-offensive-against-hamas-in-gaza.html

(2)  http://www.bbc.com/news/world-middle-east-28252155

(3)  http://www.reuters.com/article/2014/07/18/us-palestinians-israel-idUSKBN0FI04420140718

(4)  http://www.washingtonpost.com/world/middle_east/palestinians-form-new-unity-government-including-hamas/2014/06/02/c681d5c6-ea46-11e3-9f5c-9075d5508f0a_story.html


The Election in Afghanistan

July 21, 2014
By Ahmed Shafeek

On 5 April 2014, the first round of the Afghan elections were held. This election would be the first democrat transfer of power since 2001. The next President will replace Hamid Karzai, who has exceeded his constitutional terms limit. Initially 27 candidates were running for office. Dr. Abdullah Abdullah and Mr. Ashraf Ghani are the front runners. Both candidates have extensive credentials and political experience. Dr. Abdullah Abdullah was a foreign minister and Mr. Ashraf Ghani was a finance minister (1).

According to election commission Chief Ahmad Yousuf Nuristani, the turnout was high despite the security threats.  Seven out of 12 million eligible voters (58 percent) voted. That was above the number of voters from the 2009 election (2).

The results of the first round placed Dr. Abdullah in the lead and Mr Ghani right behind him. But since neither candidate secured more than 50% of the vote, a second round took place on June 14, which will determine the winner (3). Preliminary results were announced on July 2nd and the final result on July 22. The result of the 2nd round is 56% to Mr. Ghani and 44% to Dr. Abdullah. As a result, Dr. Abdullah threatened to declare a parallel government in response to Mr. Ghani's success (5). Mr. Ghani has agreed to an audit of the voting after a visit from John Kerry (6). In his visit, John Kerry also mediated a deal to create a prime minister post for the second candidate.

Dr. Alam Payind, director of our Center and a professor at The Ohio State University, described this deal as “a win-win solution.” He added that Afghans are happy with this inclusive deal.

One of the future implications of this election is the signing the Bilateral Security Agreement with the United States. Both candidates showed their support. According to Dr. Payind, signing this agreement is a must for the next president to take advantage of the financial support the US offers to the Army and police of Afghanistan. 

(1)  http://www.nytimes.com/2013/12/29/world/asia/polling-comes-to-afghanistan-suggesting-limit-to-sway-of-president-karzai.html

(2)  http://www.bbc.com/news/world-asia-26893972

(3)  http://www.aljazeera.com/news/asia/2013/10/sixteen-afghan-election-hopefuls-disqualified-2013102213563537306.html

(4 http://www.economist.com/news/asia/21606881-losing-candidate-cries-foul-and-country-teeters-stuffed

(5 http://america.aljazeera.com/articles/2014/4/5/afghan-election.html

(6 http://www.nytimes.com/2014/07/09/world/asia/afghanistan-elections-abdullah-abdullah.html


Israel and Palestine to Resume Peace Talks

July 23, 2013
By Brianna Baar

The groups associated with one of the most famous territorial disputes of our times are heading back to the negotiation table. U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry has made six trips to the Middle East in the last six months in an effort to restart talks between Israeli and Palestinian Authorities. On July 19th, he stated that he hoped negotiations would begin in Washington "within the next week or so." (1)

One of the requirements Kerry placed on the negotiations is that the two sides must commit to the process for at least six months. This is due to the last round of talks in 2010, breaking down after a grand total of 16 hours spread out over three weeks.(2)

Secretary Kerry's most recent trip was to Jordan, where his proposal received the approval of the Arab League (regional organization of Arab States in the Middle East and North Africa, and includes the Palestinian Liberation Organization and Comoros, founded in 1945, aims to strengthen ties and mediate disputes between member states and third parties). (3) (4) This was encouraging because Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas typically seeks the League's support before committing to any major diplomatic decision. (5)

The details of the plan have not been divulged, but Kerry did suggest that Israel look at the Saudi-backed plan proposed in 2002.This arrangement promised region-wide recognition of Israel if they withdrew to the pre-Six-Day War Borders (war between Israel and Egypt, Jordan and Syria from June 5 to June 10, 1967, Israel took control of the Sinai Peninsula, the Gaza Strip, East Jerusalem and the Golan Heights). (3)

Binyamin Netanyahu has commented that "the negotiations are important not only to end the conflict with the Palestinians but also in light of the nuclear threat from Iran and the civil war in neighboring Syria." (6) He also intends to prevent the creation of a bi-national state and formation of a another "Iranian-backed terrorist state within Israel's borders." (6)

Reportedly, Palestinian Officials are skeptical and many question Israel's intentions after years of fruitless talks. Dr. Yousef Rizqa, a political Advisor to Abbas believes "there's nothing new in Kerry's latest peace proposal." (7) Hamas (Islamic Resistance Movement, Palestinian Sunni organization, govern Gaza Strip since 2007, considered by most Western Nations to be a terrorist group) has called engaging in talks a "betrayal." (8)(9) Pessimism also reigns on the Israeli side.Former Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman commented that "there is no solution [ . . . ] to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict." (9)

In a controversial decision, Netanyahu has agreed to release an unknown number of Palestinian prisoners, some that have been in jail for decades. This decision has received a lot of criticism, as many of the prisoners are in jail for significant crimes.(2) The release of the prisoners is one of the Palestinian Authorities three demands. The other two are the return to the pre-1967 borders and the freeze on the building of settlements in the West Bank. These two demands have not been met.

John Kerry summed up the situation well: "No one believes that the long-standing differences between the parties can be resolved overnight or just wiped away." (10)  However, both sides committing to resume peace talks might be a step in the right direction. Alam Payind, Director of our Center, notes that this attempt to establish dialogue comes at a time when both the U.S. and Arab countries are deeply embroiled in difficulties stemming from their own internal divisions.  These major stakeholders can't influence the process without turning their attention away from their own problems (such as, in the case of the U.S., Republican-dominated House vs. certain policy proposals by Obama's administration) and conflicts (especially Syria's civil war).  

(1)  http://www.bloomberg.com/news/2013-07-21/kerry-s-day-and-night-pursuit-reaps-fragile-mideast-talks.html

(2)  http://www.nytimes.com/2013/07/21/world/middleeast/palestinian-prisoner-release-is-critical-hurdle-in-resuming-peace-talks.html?partner=rss&emc=rss&_r=0

(3)  http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-middle-east-23346255

(4)  http://www.britannica.com/EBchecked/topic/31483/Arab-League

(5)  http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/2013/jul/19/john-kerry-west-bank-visit?INTCMP=ILCNETTXT3487

(6)  http://www.aljazeera.com/news/middleeast/2013/07/20137202335534388.html

(7)  http://www.qassam.ps/news-7259-PA_decision_to_resume_talks_does_not_represent_the_peoples_will.html

(8)  http://www.nctc.gov/site/groups/hamas.html

(9)  http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/2013/jul/21/israel-palestinian-peace-talks-doubt

(10) http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/2013/jul/20/israel-to-free-heavyweight-palestinian-prisoners


Update on the Situation in Egypt 

July 8, 2013
By Brianna Baar
 
On July 3, 2013, after barely a year in power, Mohamed Morsi was ousted from power by generals of the Egyptian Military. Mass protests, both for and against the democratically elected president, had been going on for days. The discontent with Morsi was due to the belief that the Islamists had taken far too much power, but the dissatisfaction swings both ways. (1)
 
The leaders of Egypt are having a difficult time picking an interim Prime Minister. On Saturday, July 6, it was reported that Dr. Mohamed El Baredei (Nobel Peace Prize laureate, former head of International Atomic Energy Agency, a UN nuclear watchdog, very involved in 2011 uprising) had been selected. El Baredei would appeal to liberals and the West.(2) This was short lived however when Al-Nour ("the light," ultra-conservative Islamist party, only Islamist political group that supported the military takeover) (3) proclaimed that they would not work with Baredei due to his liberal views.Business lawyer, Ziad Bahaa al-Din was the next to be approached for the job, but he allegedly turned it down. (4) The new favorite, as of July 9, is development economist and former finance minister Samir Radwan. Radwan has been endorsed by the Al-Nour party. (4)
 
There is some contention on whether or not the ousting of Morsi was an actual coup.
 
In the United States, there are a number of differing opinions and the government's official stance on the matter will effect the approximately $1.5 billion dollar in aid given to Egypt. U.S. law forbids aid to nations where an elected official is ousted in a military coup. (5) A number of U.S. lawmakers, notably Senator John McCain R-Ariz., believe that it was clearly a coup because the military deposed a democratically elected President and established an interim government.(6) Dr. Alam Payind of the Middle East Studies Center agrees with this assessment. "When the military overthrows a civilian government it is a coup. Europeans, Middle Easterners, the whole world is calling it a coup.However, the military is saying that there was an impending crisis, and their ousting of Morsi avoided it. They brought in and they plan to give authority back to a civilian government, so there is room to argue on both sides." 
 
The United States government is avoiding taking a position on the matter because an end to aid could cause disastrous results for the people of Egypt and International security. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in particular urged the United States to not cut off military aid. (6) 
 
On the ground in Egypt, the issue is a polarizing one. The anti-Morsi protesters backed the military and claim  that it was not a coup but a popular uprising. (7)  The Muslim Brotherhood and their supporters feel that the Egyptian military are "terrorists." (5) 
 
Egyptians are also dealing with a new outbreak of violence. Starting Friday July 5, street fights have been in full swing between pro- and anti-Morsi factions. Over 30 people died in the violence, many from gunshot wounds. (1)
 
On Monday, July 8,  supporters of Morsi were praying outside of the place where the deposed President was said to be detained.Allegedly, the Army arrived, shots were fired and anywhere between 30 and 60 civilians in addition to one police officer  were killed. The details on the situation are as of yet unconfirmed, with the two sides presenting different stories. The military claims that they were responding to a "terrorist" that had fired upon them. But others, and seemingly the majority, report  the army fired first on unarmed civilians. (8) This has been the most violent event in Egypt since the 2011 uprising.
 
The Muslim Brotherhood is calling for the people of Egypt to stand up "against those trying to steal the revolution with tanks." (9) It also implores the international community to intercede to to prevent further "massacres" like the one that occurred Monday. (9)
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

Egyptian Protests are Unprecedented, the Future Uncertain

Monday, July 1, 2013
By Brianna Baar and Melinda McClimans

Few could forget when Egyptians kick-started the Arab Uprising (aka "Spring") by deposing  President for Life, Hosni Mubarak. (1)
 
The situation is progressing very quickly, and updates are coming in every few minutes so this blog post will just provide a brief overview of what is going on.
 
June 30, 2013
 
Millions of Protesters took to the street on June 30, 2013, calling for the downfall of President Mohammed Morsi. This date is the one year anniversary of Morsi's Inauguration. This is in response to what many see as his dictatorial ruling (he pushed a pro-Islamist constitution through), his support of Hamas, and the economy which has plummeted since he took office. Many protesters believe that he answers only to the Muslim Brotherhood, but there is no one to hold the Brotherhood accountable.(1)(2) Even some uniformed police have joined the protests.(3)  His supporters staged a counter rally, claiming that he has strengthened civilian rule and done his best to manage the economy. (2) The Guardian on the unprecedented scope of the protests and numbers of people taking part (1): "The scale of the protests – which took place on the first day of the Egyptian working week – surpassed predictions made by presidential aides, who had expected only 150,000 people to take part nationwide.
 
A military source told Reuters that as many as 14 million people in the country of 84 million took part in the demonstrations. There was no independent way of verifying that estimate, though the armed forces used helicopters to monitor the crowds.
 
'The scenes of protests are unprecedented in size and scope, and seemingly surpass those during the 18-day uprising that toppled Mubarak,' said Michael Hanna, a fellow at the Century Foundation and a longtime Egypt analyst."
 
July 1, 2013
 
Five of Morsi's Cabinet members turned in their resignation. None were among Morsi's key Cabinet Members, however. (4)
 
In Cairo, the main office building of the Muslim Brotherhood was torched, stormed and looted (2), and on Friday the head quarters in Alexandria were attacked where American bystander,Andrew was killed (8)
 
The army issued a statement that Morsi had 48 hours to respond to the outpouring of popular discontent. (4) The statement, read by General Abdel Fattah al-Sisi, stated that if President Morsi did not take steps to a more inclusive government, the army would step in. (5) 
 
The current death toll is estimated to be around 16 individuals, most of them young men.(5) Further, 800 have been injured, and Women's rights activitists are reporting at 43 women were sexually assaulted in organized attacks. (8)
 
The director of the Middle East Studies Center, Alam Payind, commented that, despite their unprecedented scale, and the significance of uniform-wearing police officers taking part, the protests haven't yet reached the level of previous uprisings such as the Iranian Revolution of 1979. Using the term "revolution" is, as of now, premature. 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

Iranian Election
June 27, 2013
By Brianna Baar
 
For nearly eight years, the controversial Mahmoud Ahmadinejad has been President of the Islamic Republic of Iran.While some admire his tenacity and fearlessness in facing down the West, others think this sent the country on a path to confrontation with Israel, and other Western Nations. He was also criticized for his human rights abuses (1) and his economic policies.
 
But as of June 15, 2013, the Islamic Republic will be under new management. Hassan Rouhani, a moderate cleric, won the Presidency with over 50% of the vote (the runner up received only 16%) . He is backed by a mostly reformist base. (2)  He believes that "ideology must never stand in the way of advancement" and is known by Iranians "the diplomatic sheik." (2) To be fair, Rouhani "is moderate in comparison to Ahmadinejad," says Dr. Alam Payind of Ohio State's Middle East Studies Center, "he is not moderate by any western standards." He has also been involved in politics since before the 1979 Iranian Revolution and is dedicated to political Islam.
 
Analysts believe that his first task will be mediating relations between Iranians and their government (3) but he faces many other challenges as well. One of the most pressing concerns will be the Iranian Economy, which is currently experiencing a rescission and skyrocketing inflation rates. He will also have to face the   hostile relationship Iran has with the outside world. On a political level he will have to maintain a good relationship with the Ayatollah (Supreme Leader Ayatollah Khomeini (Ruhollah Mostafavi Musavi Khomeini, Iranian religious and political leader, lead 1979 Iranian Revolution) and the "Islamic hardliners." He is also facing pressure from many of his constituents to release Iran's 800 plus political prisoners. (4)
 
No matter how you slice it, Rouhani is not in for an easy time. "He is pulled in two directions," observes Dr. Payind, "he needs to contend with the Ayatollah and the Council of Guardians (12 member unelected body, 6 clerics and 6 laymen, makes many decisions including who may run for office, and whether or not legislation will be approved) while addressing the needs and the realities on the ground, such as the economy and foreign relations."
 
Despite reformist Iranian's optimism, many of the major decisions will still be left up to Ayatollah Khomeini. Rouhani will take power August 3, 2013.
 
For more information, see this presentation on "Power and Governance in Iran": https://osu.box.com/govt-iran
 
 
 
 
 

Increased Brutality in Syria, Increased Strife Between Partisan Factions

June 25, 2013
By Brianna Baar

Recent reports from the United Nations announce that the chemical weapon Sarin has been used in Syria.

According to the Center of Disease Control, Sarin is "a human-made chemical warfare agent classified as a nerve agent. Nerve agents are the most toxic and rapidly acting of the known chemical warfare agents. It is virtually undetectable because it is a colorless, odorless and tasteless liquid that can be evaporated and spread through an area as a gas. In laymen's terms, it effects the human body by "preventing the proper operation of an enzyme that acts as the body's 'off-switch' for glands and muscles." Consequently, the glands and muscles are under constant stimulation. This leads to headaches, sweating, nausea and vomiting, confusion, and a profusion of other symptoms. Large doses can lead to paralysis, convulsions and respiratory failure and possible death. (1)

It is a possibility that reports of chemical weapons have been exaggerated in an attempt to compel the United States to enter the fray. Last August, President Obama stated that the usage of chemical weapons by the Syrian government would be what pushed the U.S. into getting involved. (2) There have been a lot of confusing, contradictory reports coming from regime and opposition forces, so the facts are still blurry.

The civil war has reached new levels of brutality. A United Nations Commission with the duty of investigating the situation in Syria reports "17 incidents that could be called massacres between mid-January and mid-May." (2) Children have been exploited both as soldiers and in supporting roles. According to another report by the United Nations, the death toll has reached approximately 93,000. (3)

Earlier this month, the strategic town of Al-Qasair was captured by regime forces. The city of about 30,000 people on the border of Lebanon that has been under contention throughout the course of the war. The reason for its importance is that it serves as a point for moving supplies from Lebanon to the rebel fighters in the city of  Homs 20 miles away. It has been under rebel control for most of the war, but as of June 5, 2013 government forces seized control of it with the aid of Hezbollah ("Party of God," Shi'a Islamist Militant group and political party based in Lebanon, fighting to support the Shi'a Bashar Al-Assad's regime in majority-Sunni Syria) fighters from Lebanon. Now this city will serve as a transit point for regime forces, but supplies for the rebel's continue to pour in through other routes from Lebanon, Iraq, Turkey and Jordan. However, it remains the latest in a string a victories for Syrian government forces.

The participation of Hezbollah and the active support of Iran have changed the composition of the war. Both Hezbollah and Iran are Shi'ite bodies supporting the Shi'ite Assad regime. Sunni Muslim countries are now much more concerned. "It started as a civil war, but it may turn into a war between Sunnis and Shia," says Dr. Alam Payind of the Middle East Studies Center. "It is evolving into a sectarian conflict. 

Secretary of State John Kerry disparaged the government of Assad for the use of Hezbollah. "Assad chose to raise the stakes militarily," Kerry said. "He chose to attack the Syrian people, but this time using Iranian supporters and using Hezbollah, which is a terrorist organization." (5) 

This power shift has alarmed the nations that are against the Assad government. The Friends of Syria Group (international diplomatic collective, support Syrian rebels, 11 nations, made up of Western Powers, and Sunni Muslim dominated countries: Egypt, France, Germany, Italy, Jordan, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Turkey, United Arab Emirates, U.S., and U.K.) have pledged military support for the rebels. Saudi Arabia in particular has increased the number of advanced weapons flowing into the country. (6)

Geneva II, an international conference that's purpose is to bring an end to the violence is approaching. The Syrian government has agreed to attend, but according to Syria's foreign Minister Walid Muallem, they have no intention of handing over power. Instead, they will work to "form a national unity government." The opposition have not yet agreed to attend the conference. As far as stopping the violence is concerned, the outlook is not very optomistic.

The official date of Geneva II has not been set.

(1)  http://www.bt.cdc.gov/agent/sarin/basics/facts.asp

(2)  http://www.nytimes.com/2013/06/05/world/middleeast/un-panel-reports-increasing-brutality-by-both-sides-in-syria.html?partner=rss&emc=rss&utm_source=feedly

(3)  http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-middle-east-22886730

(4)  http://www.nytimes.com/2013/06/11/world/middleeast/still-more-questions-than-answers-on-nerve-gas-in-syria.html?partner=rss&emc=rss&utm_source=feedly&_r=0

(5)  http://www.npr.org/blogs/thetwo-way/2013/06/22/194541223/friends-of-syria-countries-meet-to-map-out-arming-rebels

(6)  http://www.middle-east-online.com/english/?id=57241

(7)  http://www.usatoday.com/story/news/world/2013/06/05/qusair-victory-assad-momentum/2391977/

(8)  http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-middle-east-22789455


Turkish Protests

June 13, 2013
By Brianna Baar

It has been a little over two weeks since a peaceful protest about trees kicked off a country-wide series of demonstrations that are most definitely not just about trees anymore.

On May 28, 2013 a group of protesters met in defense of Gezi Park, one of the few green spaces in Istanbul. The Park is located in Taksim Square (a major cultural hub in the European part of Istanbul, and especially important to secular Turks)  and was scheduled for demolition. It was to be replaced by Ottoman style barracks, a Mosque, and depending on the source, a shopping mall. The demonstration was peaceful, and probably would have remained so if not for the reaction of the police forces, who cracked down with water cannons and tear gas. Needless to say, the situation escalated from there. Government Officials apologized for the use of excessive force, but it's likely the damage is already done. (1)

Protesters have started denouncing Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan (been in power since 2003, Chairman of ruling Justice and Development Party, abbreviated AKP, consistently popular) for his support of the Syrian Opposition, his peace process with Kurdish Militants (Kurdistan Workers Party, group fighting 30 year war on Turkey for an autonomous Kurdistan, more than 40,000 people have died in the struggle, now withdrawing from Turkey to Iraq). (1) Also, they note his increasingly autocratic tendencies. He  has gained widespread support for the job creation,  improved infrastructure, and general economic expansion he oversaw over the last decade. However, he has substantial power over all areas of the government. He has reduced the military (known for instigating coups in the past) and has tight control over the media. For instance, the Turkish media has reported little to nothing about the current protests. (3)

Secular Turks also fear that the country is becoming Islamicized, citing the building of the Mosque in Gezi Park, and also the recent passing of a bill banning the late-night sale of alcohol in shops through Parliament. He also attempted to ban adultery and public kissing, in addition to lifting the ban on head-scarves.(2)

Erdogan publicly blames extremist opponents for instigating the protests to destabilize his government. (4) He also cites his victory in elections as a stamp of approval from the Turkish People.  On the other hand, President Abdullah Gül  (nominated by Erdogan in 2008, previously served as Prime Minister, first openly devout Muslim President in modern Turkish history) says that protests are a natural part of democracy and that elections alone are not enough. (3)

Since the media black-out, the protesters have utilized social media to get their message out. Posting updates on facebook, pictures on Tumblr and Flickr, videos on Youtube, and sharing information on Twitter.   (5)

While this is all quite dramatic, these events should not be thought of as the newest segment of the Arab Spring. "For the past [approximately] 90 years, the secular, westernized elite controlled Turkey," says Dr. Alam Payind, director of OSU's Middle East Studies Center. "Almost 97% of Turks are Muslims, and a very large portion are observant Muslims, and now, this very large portion of observant Muslims are actively participating in elections. This skews the vote." Erdogan and Gül are the first openly observant Muslim's in power since the creation of the modern state after WWI. "Erdogan and Gül and the AKP are not Islamist. They still support a secular system, however they are making allowances for Muslim symbols and values." So, in short, Turkey is going through a period of transition. 

(1)  http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-europe-22448118

(2)  http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-europe-22776946

(3)  http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/middle-east-live/2013/jun/03/turkey-protester-killed-live

(4)  http://www.nytimes.com/2013/06/04/world/europe/turkey-protests.html?partner=rss&emc=rss&utm_source=feedly

(5)  http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-europe-22772352

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