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  1. Islamist Social Services, POMEPS Studies 9 [Download]

    Title: Islamist Social Services, POMEPS Studies 9
    Author: Lynch, Marc
    Description: What do we really know about the provision of social services by Islamist movements? It’s hard to find a popular article about groups such as the Muslim Brotherhood or Hezbollah that doesn’t reference their ability to win popular support by providing social services through their extensive network of charities, clinics and community centers. Most observers have long believed that these charitable activities played a key role in Islamist outreach and organization, built their reputations for honesty and efficacy, conferred a significant political advantage, and helped to promote the Islamization of society. A recent wave of scholarship has challenged many of the prevailing assumptions about the nature and significance of these social services, however. Evidence for the scope, superiority or political utility of these charitable activities has proved elusive. Volunteers in the Islamic charitable sector profess a far wider set of motivations for their participation than just political rewards. The rise of non-governmental charities – and not only Islamic ones – seems to be driven at least in part by neoliberal reforms and the broader structural changes in the region’s political economy. What’s more, whatever explained the patterns and effects of social service provision in the past may no longer apply. Major changes on the ground such as the crushing of Egypt’s Muslim Brotherhood and the dramatic move into service provision by jihadist groups raise serious questions about how these dynamics might play out in the future. Last month, therefore, a workshop by the Project on Middle East Political Science brought together a small group of scholars who have been doing innovative research on the Islamic social services sector. Their memos, along with several other recent Monkey Cage essays, have now been released as a free PDF download in the POMEPS Studies series. Those papers, and the discussions in the workshop, offer a rich window into the changing nature of Islamic social services and their relationship with political movements and parties. The specific mechanisms by which social service provision translates into votes or public support are not obvious. It is not as straightforward as just buying votes – especially as other political forces, especially local notables who are not unfamiliar with patronage, can easily do the same. As Tarek Masoud argues, “Inasmuch as social-service provision is something that any party could decide to do, why is it that only (or mainly) Islamists do it? Is there anything to prevent nonreligious parties from distributing the bottles of oil and bags of sugar that many of the Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood’s detractors credit with that movement’s rise to power in 2011?” Some efforts, such as food and medical caravans sent to swing districts, do seem blatantly electoral. But, as Melani Cammett and Steven Brooke argue, the long-term provision of social services from bricks-and-mortar agencies is very different from the cash payments or one-shot food distribution efforts that predominate at election time. Those long-term investments in communities are often thought to contribute to spreading Islamist identities and values. This has been difficult to document empirically, however. A decade ago, Janine Clark demonstrated that Islamic charities catered more to the middle class than to the truly poor, and were having such effects. Brooke’s forthcoming study of the geographical distribution of Islamist clinics, like a recent study by Mona Atia of George Washington University about Egyptian Islamic charities, should offer fascinating perspective. The dramatic turn of the Egyptian public against the Muslim Brotherhood last year suggests that this long-term cultivation of Islamist identity had not become as deeply rooted as expected. Masoud inclines toward Cammett and Pauline Jones Luong’s argument that Islamists translated social services into political advantage by building a reputation for good governance and “for being uniquely competent, trustworthy and pure” in relationship to their principal rivals. This may offer an answer to the puzzle of the Brotherhood’s rapid reversal. A reputation for good governance, as opposed to an alignment with common identity or values, could prove especially vulnerable to political failure, particularly in the context of the bare-knuckled existential battles in transitional countries such as Egypt. Mohamed Morsi’s poor performance as president would then outweigh the provision of social services because of the reputational costs cutting to the heart of the original appeal. I can’t do justice to the breadth and depth of the discussion in these papers. Instead, I wanted to highlight a few points that piqued my interest: 1. There’s a lot that we just don’t know. Steven Brooke, a graduate student at the University of Texas who has spent years studying Islamic clinics in Cairo, warns of systematic gaps in our knowledge. As Cammett and Luong pointed out in an influential survey article this year, “little if any research examines systematically the extent and quality of Islamist welfare programs and activities in the Muslim world. Most claims about Islamists’ social welfare initiatives are based on minimal, if any, hard data.” That came through powerfully in the workshop’s discussions. The literature on Islamist social services has been heavily weighted toward Egypt, and specifically the greater Cairo area. A lot more attention gets paid to the Muslim Brotherhood’s activities than to what George Washington University’s Atia describes as a “plethora of organizations providing social services in the name of Islam; there are numerous social service providers not affiliated with political parties.” Even Egyptian Salafi Islamist charities are neglected, Moustafa Khalil notes. Those profound empirical gaps in our knowledge are beginning to be filled, and used to examine the specific mechanisms by which Islamist movements translated – or failed to translate – their social services into political support. But there’s a long, long way to go. 2. Charities have had good reason to keep it that way. The authoritarian context in the region has driven many of these charities to hide their affiliations out of fear of state repression. The Islamic social sector came under understandably tight scrutiny from security services intent on monitoring and suppressing Islamist political activity. In several cases, such as Jordan in the mid-2000s and Egypt today, governments seized control of Islamic services. This makes them very different from, say, the social services provided by Hezbollah and other political movements in Lebanon, where competing political movements proudly claimed such activities. The ambiguity, if not outright secrecy, has obvious implications for researchers who may struggle to correctly code the identity and affiliations of these organizations. It also raises questions about their political utility: If a clinic actively conceals its relationship with Islamist movements or parties, and refrains from proselytizing, then what lessons could its patients be drawing from their efforts? Survey work by Masoud suggests that few Egyptians were even aware of having taken advantage of Islamic clinics. 3. Neoliberalism may matter more than political strategy. The focus on how social services strengthen movements such as the Muslim Brotherhood may be distracting attention from much deeper changes in regional political economy. Neoliberal economic reforms, argues Gizem Zencirci, have driven a rise in private social charities and a rethinking of their meaning for Islamic identity. As the state retreats, by this argument, the private sector – Islamist or otherwise – must step forward to fill the spaces vacated by the state. In this regard, Atia points out that “Islamic associations have a great deal in common with secular development non-governmental organizations (NGOs) and Christian faith-based ones alike.” To the extent that they buffer the state from the dislocations that might otherwise have followed from their cuts in benefits and services, such social services, Islamist or otherwise, help rather than undermine the regimes carrying out the reforms. As Kevan Harris puts it, states didn’t need to crush these parallel sectors, then – they ate them. And, as Tom Pepinsky demonstrates, in countries such as Indonesia and Malaysia where the economic conditions don’t create a demand for such a sector, Islamist social services are far less politically effective. 4. It’s not just political. Researchers tend to be primarily interested in the political motivations for charitable work, but that doesn’t mean that politics are actually motivating the social service providers. Abdullah Al-Arian warns that the obsession with vote buying “limits our understanding of these institutions solely to their relevance in the political sphere, rather than the broader social function that they provide.” For some, charity is an Islamic virtue in its own right, a means of self-actualization or a way to display piety and faith. Atia’s concept of “pious neoliberalism” suggests that charitable giving offers a vehicle for a pious emerging middle class to reconcile their faith with their newfound wealth and opportunity. In a recent American Ethnologist article, Amira Mittermaier describes the concerns of the volunteers in Egyptian Islamic clinics as “living piously” and doing something to manifest their convictions. As Cammett puts it, “A variety of non-political motivations coexist with more overtly political goals in shaping Islamist welfare activities.” 5. Would closing down these social services destroy the Muslim Brotherhood? Egypt’s military coup in July 2013 included a large-scale crackdown on the parallel Islamic sector. Jordan has been pressuring the Brotherhood’s charities for years. Regionally, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates have criminalized the Muslim Brotherhood and are working to curtail its funding and ideological appeal. If charitable work was really central to the Brotherhood’s appeal, will this crackdown fatally undermine its political prospects? Maybe not. The electoral success of Tunisia’s Ennahda despite the absence of the enormous social service sector administered by electorally successful Islamists in Egypt, Jordan or Palestine suggests that such a parallel sector is not necessary for Islamist political success. 6. What will jihadists get out of it? Over the past several years, jihadist movements that long shunned social service provision have adopted it in a big way. It isn’t only the Islamic State. As Aaron Zelin has pointed out, jihadist groups in North Africa and Yemen also have taken up the types of social welfare activities that had in the past been dominated by Muslim Brotherhood affiliates or nonpolitical Salafis. There’s nothing new about insurgencies offering such services, as Megan Stewart demonstrates, but jihadist groups may face distinctive challenges to effective governance based on their ideology. Will such efforts founder in the face of ideological constraints and international hostility or build up popular legitimacy for jihadist governance? These are only a few of the issues raised by the memos collected in POMEPS Studies #9 Islamist Social Services. Download it and read it today.
    Keywords: Middle East, North Africa, Political Science, International Relations, POMEPS Studies, Social Services
    Date Uploaded: 07/24/2017
  2. THe Ethics of Research in the Middle East, POMEPS Studies 8 [Download]

    Title: THe Ethics of Research in the Middle East, POMEPS Studies 8
    Author: Lynch, Marc
    Description: What are the ethical obligations of an academic studying today’s Middle East? Have the Arab uprisings changed how scholars must weigh ethical and moral concerns in their research? How should academics incorporate their ethical commitments into their social scientific research agendas or policy advice? How should they respond when faced with severe moral atrocities such as the human costs of the war in Syria? Is there an obligation to take sides? These are not the usual questions that are supposed to occupy the professional life of political scientists, who spend more time contemplating research design, replicability and statistical significance. But, of course, they do. Ethical decisions underlie virtually everything we do. The challenge of incorporating ethics into academic political science was a major theme of this May’s annual conference of the Project on Middle East Political Science. The thoughts of ten first-rate scholars on the subject have now been published as a symposium in the POMEPS Studies series (available for free download). It’s easy to see why many academics would prefer to avoid engaging with ethics. It isn’t just the ethos of dispassionate science which pervades today’s political science, although that certainly does create professional disincentives. A lot of what passes as “ethical” discourse in the foreign policy debate, and especially about the Middle East, is more like political grandstanding or glorified identity politics. The first 73,000 op-eds and political speeches thundering on about moral clarity are enough to turn anyone off of the language of morality. So is the all too frequent tendency to use ethical language as thinly veiled identity politics, in which one side is right and the other side is evil, and all who disagree must be shamed and condemned. Many political scientists are simply turned off by the misuse and abuse of the language of morality in public discourse. The popular misuse of ethical language doesn’t allow us to turn away from the ethical questions, though. Virtually everything which political scientists study, from Islamist politics to democracy promotion to interventions in Iraq or Syria to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, is deeply saturated with ethical dilemmas and moral commitments. As Jillian Schwedler notes, “It is hard to find an issue related to the Middle East or Islamic world that isn’t saturated in tense debates about what’s ‘wrong’ with the region, how to ‘fix’ it, and indeed what the world ‘should’ look like. We cannot avoid engaging these normative claims even while we reproduce the (false) veneer of scientific objectivity.” Faced with those ethical underpinnings, Wendy Pearlman poses the question bluntly: “Is our overriding goal to make a contribution to an academic discipline rather than to do good in the world?” When, she wonders, “ss it ethically appropriate or inappropriate to take an open political stand, or cross the line from scholarship to advocacy?” I believe that there is an alternative way to frame this question, however. As citizens and as engaged intellectuals, we all have the right – indeed, an obligation – to make moral judgments and act based on those convictions. As political scientists, however, we have a unique set of potential contributions and constraints. Political scientists do not typically have anything of distinctive value to add to a chorus of moral condemnation or declarations of normative solidarity. What we do have, hopefully, is the methodological training, empirical knowledge and comparative insight to offer informed assessments about alternative courses of action on contentious issues. Our primary ethical commitment as political scientists, therefore must be to get the theory and the empirical evidence right, and to clearly communicate those findings to relevant audiences– however unpalatable or inconclusive they might be. My own thinking about how ethics and moral principles could be incorporated into International Relations theory was profoundly shaped by a workshop organized a decade ago by Richard Price in Vancouver which included key constructivist thinkers such as Martha Finnemore, Kathryn Sikkink and Christian Reus-Smit. What I took away from Price’s project, ultimately published as Moral Limit and Possibility in World Politics, was that an ethical approach to world politics depended fundamentally on getting the causal theory right. My own chapter focused on the Iraq sanctions debate, and how to assess the competing ethical claims of harm to Iraqi civilians from sanctions and from Saddam Hussein’s regime. That left me painfully aware of the inevitable ethical tradeoffs, the murkiness of the available evidence and the urgent need for careful causal analysis. This perspective turns the dichotomy between social science professionalism and moral action on its head. If ethical research and policy advice requires above all getting the causal theory right, then foregrounding ethical questions does not in any way undermine commitments to rigorous social science. There is nothing easier than mounting a moral high horse and demanding that something must be done in response to the horrors of the world. Good political science is harder, but hopefully makes for more effective action in the world. The purpose of social science, if it has any, must be to inform our decisions about the likely effects of our actions. Favoring human rights is nice, but promoting human rights effectively requires a solid theory of how human rights norms and ideas change. Almost every ethical question, then, is also a causal question: Will war crimes tribunals reduce the incidence of war crimes or won’t they? Will boycott and divestment campaigns undermine support for and change the behavior of rights abusing regimes or won’t they? Will military intervention reduce or increase civilian suffering? When faced with a mounting apocalypse in Syria, it isn’t enough to say that the United States must do something. Truly ethical action demands serious grappling with the best available evidence about what different courses of action might produce. Arming Syrian rebels or declaring a no-fly zone might be an ethical choice if a rigorous look at the theory and evidence suggests that it will reduce suffering or shorten the war, but not if analysis suggests that such actions will most likely make a civil war longer, bloodier and harder to resolve. Ethical action isn’t possible without serious analysis of the consequences of those actions. I believe that political scientists have an ethical responsibility to engage with the public discourse and to try to inform policy decisions with their research. There is a nearly infinite amount of commentary, opinion and analysis in today’s gloriously open internet-shaped public sphere. Political scientists writing in places like The Monkey Cage should hopefully be able to introduce this methodological rigor and comparative analysis into those arguments. They won’t win the day often or easily, of course. Where there is an opportunity to contribute, however slightly, to shaping policies and attitudes more likely to produce ethical outcomes then it must be taken. Not everyone agrees, of course. If there is no chance of policies really being changed, they fear that policy engagement will simply put the political scientist in the service of power. In the POMEPS symposium, Laurie Brand warns that a clear divide should be maintained between research that informs debate on important issues (which is core to the scholarly mission) and research in the service of specific policy objectives (which, she argues, is “at the least a violation of professional ethics”). Jason Brownlee goes further, arguing that “Middle East political science scholars should turn away from proposing policy implications and aspire to be less implicated in programs that are inimical to basic desiderata of freedom and equality.” In an excellent essay last year, Bassam Haddad despairs at the ability of scholars to say anything useful about Syria anymore. For all these thoughtful reservations, I do not feel that an ethically engaged scholar can or should refrain from joining the public and policy discourse on such issues. Remaining silent, thus ceding the field of debate to others less reticent, is an ethical choice as well. What about the practical ethics of research in today’s Middle East? One of the most urgent themes running through the POMEPS symposium concerned how Western scholars treat people from the region they study. Scott Weiner, a George Washington University doctoral candidate, emphasizes the importance of getting the story right, an ethical imperative of accuracy in research, which is itself dependent upon an honest, mutually transparent relationship between the scholar and those she studies. Pearlman, who has spent the last few years documenting the experiences of Syrian refugees, shakes her head at “Syrian activists receiving queries from researchers who are crude in addressing them as data sources rather than human beings who have endured horrors.” Sheila Carapico, then at the American University of Cairo, and Brand each look skeptically at the “academic tourists” who relied on Egyptian scholars and activists to quickly gather facts about the revolution but denied equal credit to their interlocutors. How can this abuse of our peers be avoided? We also need to take seriously the extent to which our research might put our interlocutors at risk. With activists being jailed across Egypt and murdered in Syria, how should academics balance their research interests with the protection of those they meet? Sarah Parkinson points out the growing problems with simply protecting our information and the anonymity of our interlocutors. The fact is that “researchers simply cannot promise confidentiality given contemporary U.S. law and are ethically obligated to take this fact into account.” We often treat the Institutional Review Board (IRB) as a nuisance. As Nathan Brown argues, however, the ethical considerations at the heart of the IRB should be central to how we conceive of any research project. Richard Nielsen recounts the horrified response to a “proposal to randomize the framing of requests for fatwas from Muslim clerics online. What if my experiment resulted in clerics advocating violence? Could someone be harmed or killed as a result of my research? Was it ethical to deceive clerics by representing my request as a genuine religious question?” He abandoned the project. These questions of moral judgment in research in conflict zones are not new, of course – Lee Ann Fujii’s “Research Ethics 101: Dilemmas and Responsibilities” is a good place to start. This also means taking seriously the thoughts, identities and views of those from the region we study. As a long-time Habermasian, I believe that ethical political judgment must include the equal opportunity to speak and be heard by all those affected. This cannot just mean becoming a loudspeaker for local narratives, however. As Schwedler observes, “Of course the primary goal in our research is to get the story right, but that typically means pushing up against other versions of that story (or against stories that say that our story is irrelevant).” But there is rarely a single, obviously true story to be told, and our interlocutors in the region are struggling with the same dilemmas and uncertainties. Take the June 30 protests and July 3 military coup in Egypt, which tore apart academic and political relationships. A very significant number of Egyptians absolutely bought in to the argument that June 30 was a second revolution, which would restore democracy and rescue Egyptians from the evils of the Muslim Brotherhood. They were absolutely furious with Western scholars and analysts who refused to see events through that lens and instead saw a typical military coup. Most of us involved in those arguments could share thousands of “revolution not coup” emails and tweets. But Egypt’s political situation a year later, with thousands of political prisoners, ever-tightening control over media freedom and the return of the old elite, overwhelmingly confirms the cautions of those Western analysts. Would the ethical thing have been to go along with their convictions and amplify their voices, when the social science evidence strongly suggested that the military coup would create a more authoritarian and repressive regime? Ethical commitments cannot and should not be walled off from our academic research agendas, then. How to effectively incorporate ethics into those agendas remains a highly contested question, though. Schwedler argues compellingly that every choice we make about what to study, how to study it and how we present our findings is built upon often unacknowledged ethical judgments. I believe that getting the theory right and effectively communicating those findings to relevant publics are themselves an ethical imperative for political scientists. Download the free PDF of the “Ethics of Research in the Middle East” symposium and join the debate.
    Keywords: Middle East, North Africa, Political Science, International Relations, Islam, Ethics
    Date Uploaded: 07/24/2017
  3. Visions of Gulf Security, POMEPS Studies 7 [Download]

    Title: Visions of Gulf Security, POMEPS Studies 7
    Author: Lynch, Marc
    Description: The turbulence in Gulf security politics today is difficult to miss: unusually sharp public splits in the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC), rising sectarian tensions, tough moves against the Muslim Brotherhood and other Islamist movements, and markedly harsh crackdowns on even minor forms of public dissent. Gulf elites are openly airing profound doubts about the future of the U.S. regional role, worries about blowback from Syria, and fears about the implications of a Western rapprochement with Iran. Regime efforts to insulate themselves from popular dissent have included potentially unsustainable economic commitments and self-defeating internal repression. Meanwhile, deep political divisions are disrupting the long-standing security partnership between Washington and the GCC states. How has the turbulence of the last three years affected security in the Gulf? Do new domestic, regional, or international trends fundamentally alter how the regimes, political movements, and people of the region grapple with challenges to their security? How new are these challenges, and how extraordinary the responses? What is gained, and what potentially distorted, by viewing these events through a security lens? Which assumptions in the academic literature about Gulf security have proven resilient, and which require rethinking? On March 9, 2014, POMEPS and Matteo Legrenzi at Ca’ Foscari University brought together more than a dozen scholars based in the Middle East, Europe, and the United States to Venice, Italy to look closely at the new – or not so new – questions about Gulf security. This should be the finest hour for the “regime security” perspective, which has been the dominant theoretical framework for understanding the region’s security politics in recent years. The regime security framework emerged to challenge the conventional Realist view of states primarily responding to external power and threat in their alliance and foreign policy choices. As Gregory Gause and many other scholars have effectively demonstrated, regimes faced threats to their own power and survival from within as well, and often prioritized those in their policy choices. Iran’s “threat” to Riyadh, for instance, had as much to do with its potential appeal to Saudi Shiites as it did with its pursuit of a nuclear arsenal. This perspective seems to offer considerable traction on the domestic and regional maneuverings of Gulf regimes in the last few years. While no GCC regimes fell in the face of popular protest, the Arab uprisings clearly intensified and sharpened those internal regime security concerns. And, as several of the memos in this collection observe, the responses by Gulf states to these concerns included both domestic security crackdowns and regional foreign policy initiatives. The coordinated campaigns against the Muslim Brotherhood across the Middle East by Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates (UAE), as Stéphane Lacroix, David Roberts, and Guido Steinberg suggest, reflected this logic of shoring up domestic power through foreign policy activism. So did the financial and political support by wealthy Gulf monarchies for less well-endowed fellow monarchs across the region. The utility of the regime security lens should not distract analysts from its potentially dangerously distorting effects. As Toby Jones has argued, the regimes of the Gulf have often embraced crisis as a useful device for extracting international support and suppressing domestic dissent. After all, casting the political aspirations of the Shiites of Saudi Arabia’s Eastern Province, large numbers of Bahraini citizens, or youth activists demanding political reforms as a “security” challenge serves to delegitimize their political concerns and to justify a repressive response. Fred Wehrey, in this collection, notes how Saudi or Bahraini elites have for decades framed demands for political rights by oppressed Shiite communities as “security” threats linked to Iranian ambition. The labeling of the Muslim Brotherhood as a “terrorist” group has much less to do with security than with politics. As useful as the regime security framework appears for understanding the behavior of Gulf regimes over the last few years, then, there is also good reason to critically assess the constitutive effects of internalizing and naturalizing such a security discourse. Gulf confusion and concern about changes at the global level also run through the memos in this collection. Gulf elites worry about the implications of the U.S. withdrawal from Iraq, refusal to intervene directly in Syria, and enthusiasm to negotiate with Iran over its nuclear program. Despite the continued deployment of U.S. troops across the region, as Gary Sick observes, many of these elites are troubled by the thought of a reduced U.S. security presence and willingness to deploy military force. At the same time, they profoundly disagree with Washington’s willingness to accept democratic change and a Muslim Brotherhood political role in Egypt and the rest of the region over the last several years. For several years, leading Gulf states have not just disagreed with the United States but have been actively working to undermine U.S. policy goals. At what point do such divergent worldviews and policy preferences challenge the concept of an “alliance?” What does this portend for the future of the alliance at the heart of the region’s security architecture? The memos in POMEPS Studies #25: Visions of Gulf Security offer no new unified theory of Gulf security politics, but they point to some of the pressing new theoretical and practical challenges confronting the region. What happened to the human security agenda (Kristian Coates Ulrichsen)? Where do the region’s youth fit in the new security politics (Kristin Smith Diwan)? Is it possible to incorporate Iran into a regional security architecture (Rouzbeh Parsi, Gary Sick, and Gregory Gause)? How will the campaign against the Muslim Brotherhood rebound on regional and domestic politics (Stéphane Lacroix, Guido Steinberg, and David Roberts)? How does Iraq’s shaky future affect regional security challenges (Toby Dodge)? What drives the dangerous new sectarian strife in the region and can it be reversed (Fred Lawson, Richard Norton, and Fred Wehrey)? And, finally, do our currently dominant theories offer an effective guide to the region’s security politics (Mehran Kamrava) – and how should those theories be adapted in response to new developments?
    Keywords: POMEPS Studies, Middle East, North Africa, Political Science, International Relations, Islam, Gulf
    Date Uploaded: 07/24/2017
  4. Rethinking Islamist Politics, POMEPS Studies 6 [Download]

    Title: Rethinking Islamist Politics, POMEPS Studies 6
    Author: Lynch, Marc
    Description: The Arab uprisings of 2011 radically reshaped the environment within which Islamist movements had evolved over the preceding decades, causing rapid, disorienting changes in their strategies, ideologies, and organizations. The last three years have produced an enormous amount of new information about these movements: detailed election results; factional and generational and intra-Islamist rivalries spilling out into public; varying degrees of political polarization between Islamists and their rivals; the erratic performance of Egypt’s Muslim Brotherhood after coming to power through elections and the fallout from its removal through popular protest and military coup; the emergence of a sharp public backlash against the Brotherhood in Egypt, at least, and a crackdown on its social services; a new regionwide campaign designating the Brotherhood as a terrorist organization; the surprising evolution of al Qaeda and jihadist movements from Syria and Iraq through North Africa. In January 2014, the Project on Middle East Political Science therefore convened a workshop with fifteen leading academic specialists on Islamist movements in the Arab Middle East and charged them with rethinking key assumptions, arguments, evidence and research programs in light of these three tumultuous years. The workshop brought together European and American academics with specialties ranging from mainstream movements such as the Muslim Brotherhood to jihadists and non-violent Salafists, and with expertise on countries ranging from the Gulf through Egypt and the Levant to North Africa. This special POMEPS Briefing collects the memos prepared for the workshop. The short essays collected here touch on many of these issues, pointing towards a rich set of compelling new theoretical and empirical questions with which the field must now grapple. Some of the memos push back against the notion that this is the time for a major rethinking. Many key developments remain cloaked in shadow, with very incomplete information amidst a thick haze of propaganda, rumor, and politicized narratives. Even more, some scholars worry that the valuable progress made over the previous decade will be lost to a hasty, premature abandonment of accumulated knowledge. After all, Egypt specialists accurately estimated the Muslim Brotherhood’s political base as measured by its electoral performance, and anticipated its political performance in power by observing internal changes (as described by Carrie Rosefsky Wickham and Khalil al-Anani) leading to “the dominance of the conservative faction within the Brotherhood [which] adopted a rigid worldview and wasn’t able to adjust to the new environment after Hosni Mubarak’s downfall.” As Tarek Masoud argues: “Instead of rethinking political Islam, we may wonder if political Islam is the right thing to be thinking about at all right now. … Instead of fretting over what Islamists do, say, and believe, we should instead direct our attentions to the broader social, economic, and structural factors that have rendered much of the Arab world … stunningly bereft of the prospects for democratic, representative, and accountable government.” But still, most accept that at least some of the developments of the last few years do pose significant challenges to prevailing theories. Many of the scholars here emphasize the importance of grasping the variety of Islamist movements and organizations across many different countries and contexts. They generally resist any effort to impute a singular identity or essential essence to such movements. Islamists in Yemen and Egypt and Tunisia may share some organizational forms, ideological aspirations, and political language, but they also can behave in strikingly different ways. As Carrie Rosefsky Wickham argues, this “heterogeneity makes any grand generalizations about the broader purposes of Islamist groups, as well as their internal dynamics, operational strategies, and immediate goals, problematic at best and nonsensical at worst.” Wickham emphasizes how much has been revealed about “the nature of internal factions, the (shifting) balance of power among them, and the issues of ideology, strategy, and group practice.” This emphasis on internal factions, internal tactical and ideological battles, and generational divides is a far cry from the popular depiction of the Muslim Brotherhood as an extremely disciplined, hierarchical totalitarian organization. The participants warn in particular against overly generalizing based on the Egyptian case. As important and central as Egypt is to the Islamist universe, it is not necessarily typical of similar movements elsewhere. Stacey Philbrick Yadav argues powerfully against “an overreliance on Egypt as a focal point in understanding Islamism … which has led scholars to speculate about the possible future trajectories of Islamism in other contexts on the basis of the Brotherhood’s experience, an experience that has been driven by a range of factors that are more or less generalizable outside of Egypt.” How did Tunisia’s Ennahda do so well in its elections despite having been repressed for decades and without the sorts of social services supposedly so crucial to Egypt’s Muslim Brotherhood? Why did Morocco’s Party for Justice and Development (PJD) accept a share of governing power while other movements opted to remain outside the system? What about Jordan’s Muslim Brotherhood, Yemen’s al-Islah or Islamists across the Gulf? These questions go to the heart of methodological debates about how to study these movements and where to focus research. Is there greater need today for more close studies of particular movements or for more comparative analysis across and within cases? Which aspects of Islamist political behavior, for instance, are best explained by their distinctive internal organizational or ideological characteristics or by the environment in which they operated? What, if anything, was distinctly Islamist about the response of different Islamist movements across these multiple cases? If Egypt’s Muslim Brotherhood was so rigidly hierarchical, why did its behavior change so erratically during the post-Mubarak years rather than remaining cautiously conservative? Nathan Brown persuasively argues for less attention to “the intentions of the leaders and more to the environment in which they operate.” But the relative importance of political structure and the character of the actors remains an open question for political scientists. Is the Muslim Brotherhood’s ideology and internal organizational structure really not relevant for explaining its approach to governance? Would any other organization faced with a similarly unsettled, polarized, and unpredictably changing institutional environment have responded in the same way? Such questions call out for comparative analysis, both within cases and across cases. How did the Muslim Brotherhood’s response to Egypt’s radically uncertain political environment compare to that of Salafis or of non-Islamists? How did Egypt’s Islamists compare to Islamists, and non-Islamists, in Tunisia or Libya or Yemen? The question of environmental effects involves not only unsettled political institutions but also broad trends at the level of public opinion and public culture. The massive public turn against the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt over the last year, for instance, seems to challenge prevailing theories of a decades-long, comprehensive Islamization of public space and political discourse. But as Nathan Brown observes, in Egypt today “the movement is suffering not merely from political repression but from social ostracism. The hatred for the Brotherhood expressed by so many in Egyptian public life (and, in my experience, reflected in many private conversations) is overwhelming and likely unprecedented.” Steven Brooke, based on his research on the Brotherhood’s charity work, similarly notes that the “speed and malice with which Egyptians have turned on the Brotherhood … poses problems for the Islamization thesis’s conclusions.” How could decades of the Islamization of society and culture have been so quickly reversed? Some might argue that public life remains deeply Islamicized, despite the setbacks of the Muslim Brotherhood. Is it “not the failure of Islamist groups or the exhaustion of the Islamic frame of reference for political projects, but the increasing proliferation of ways to do and articulate Islamist politics” in Michaelle Browers’s phrasing? Is it “not the disappearance of an Islamist referent but “the pluralization of Islamic socio-political space and the Muslim Brotherhood’s loss of monopoly over the claim to articulate an Islamic social order” as according to Peter Mandaville? But others will find something more fundamental going on with the political turn against Islamism. Either way, this will be a rich terrain for future research. Academics have never demonstrated much interest in the question of whether the Muslim Brotherhood should be seen as “moderate,” since few view “moderate” as a useful analytical category. They are more concerned with identifying accurately the ideological trends, organizational structures, and political strategies of a diverse array of movements. The differences between the Muslim Brotherhood and al Qaeda seem to be so obvious that only a few scholars see the point of even pointing it out. This may be premature, however, with Egypt and several Gulf regimes leading an aggressive public campaign to designate the Muslim Brotherhood as a terrorist organization and to equate the Brotherhood with al Qaeda. Arguments, which seemed to have been settled years ago, are now back, in force. And they come at a time when the actual lines between movements have been blurred by events, as jihadist movements such as Ansar al-Sharia move into social service provision and mainstream movements find their tightly hierarchical organizational structures smashed and their memberships responding in very different ways to new political challenges. If the Muslim Brotherhood did once serve as a firewall against al Qaeda recruitment, will it still do the same after being overthrown by the Egyptian military and its organization viciously repressed? Long-held assumptions about jihadist movements, Thomas Hegghammer notes, now have to be as systematically rethought as do those about all other Islamist trends. For political theorists, too, there are questions about the future of Islamist ideas about democracy and political participation. Joas Wagemakers argues that “the (partial) acceptance of democracy among Islamists, particularly the Muslim Brotherhood, has been a long process that has been influenced mainly by local circumstances and international Islamist discourse and is unlikely to change drastically after, for example, the coup in Egypt. In other words, democratically minded Muslim Brotherhood members are unlikely to dismiss democracy altogether now that their effort to rule Egypt has been thwarted. People who were not too keen on democracy all along, however, will likely feel vindicated. Recent events in Egypt may also sway some Brothers who were always doubtful about democracy’s merits.” Perhaps, but it seems difficult to believe that Islamists who watched the overturning of Mohamed Morsi’s elected government will so easily go back to the polls or be convinced that they will ever be allowed to govern as elected leaders. Can the commitment to procedural democracy, which dominated Muslim Brotherhood discourse for decades, survive Egypt’s coup? Other scholars are even more skeptical. Even if the Brothers were committed to procedural democracy, did their behavior in power prove that this commitment mattered less than their deeper illiberalism? During his recent research trips, Mokhtar Awad found that “for a growing number of Islamist youth the issue is no longer about politics but rather the soul of the Islamist project. They have lost faith not just in democracy, but also in the modern state itself — and in traditional Islamists’ approach to changing it (both the Brotherhood and non-violent Salafis).” Roel Meijer now believes that “we have been far too optimistic about the changes within the Brotherhood. Although the Brotherhood may have accepted terms such as citizenship and civil state, and even the people’s sovereignty, and the ‘will of the people’ (iradat al-shaab), it is clear that the Brotherhood did not accept politics and the political.” And for Tarek Masoud, “the brief experience of Islamism in power has given us precious little reason to revise the view of Islamists as fundamentally illiberal. Though the Muslim Brotherhood and its allies spoke often of individual freedom, the reality was that their vision of individual freedom proved to be one that was heavily bounded.” How will Islamist ideas now evolve after the experience of recent years? These POMEPS memos set forth a challenging and provocative set of research questions, with which the field has only begun to engage. We hope that they stimulate further discussion, debate, research, and serious, methodologically rigorous and empirically informed scholarly engagement with these vitally important issues.
    Keywords: POMEPS Studies, Middle East, North Africa, Political Science, Islam, International Relations
    Date Uploaded: 07/24/2017
  5. Political Science of Syria's War, POMEPS Studies 5 [Download]

    Title: Political Science of Syria's War, POMEPS Studies 5
    Author: Lynch, Marc
    Description: Syria is about to enter its third year of a brutal conflict that has killed more than 100,000 people and driven millions from their homes. What was originally a peaceful uprising has devolved into the world’s bloodiest civil war, fueled by an array of foreign interventions on all sides. The Syrian conflict is hardly the first complex civil war to scar the modern world, though. Indeed, the study of civil wars is arguably the richest current research program in all of political science. So what does the political science literature on civil wars and insurgencies have to say about Syria’s evolving war? Trending Articles Spring Break in Pyongyang Is Cancelled In the wake of an American student’s death, the U.S. decides to cut off travel to North Korea. Powered By To find out, I convened a workshop last month at George Washington University’s Project on Middle East Political Science and invited more than a dozen of the leading scholars of civil wars to write memos applying their research to the Syrian case. I expected a few of them at best to be available and willing to write a non-peer reviewed article — but instead, virtually every single scholar eagerly accepted the invitation (even if schedules ultimately kept a few away). These scholars were joined by a number of Syria specialists and a range of current and former U.S. government officials whose work focuses on Syria. The memos prepared for the workshop are now available here in a free PDF download in the POMEPS Brief series. The conclusion of most of the contributors’ findings coincide with the deliberations in the recent Foreign Policy-sponsored "PeaceGame": The prospect for either a military or negotiated resolution to Syria’s war is exceedingly grim. But that’s only part of the story. More interesting, perhaps, are the reasons that Syria seems so resistant to resolution — and how international policies have contributed to the problem. The collective brain trust warned immediately about casually throwing around political science findings like "negotiated settlements fail 68 percent of the time" or "external support for insurgents typically makes conflicts longer and bloodier." Those statistical findings typically only really apply if the cases are roughly comparable — and Syria has proved remarkably unique from many other conflicts. Few if any cases resemble Syria’s combination of a relatively coherent regime with strong external patrons controlling the strategic territorial core of the country, while a variety of competing local opposition actors and foreign jihadist factions fight over control of the rest. The closest comparisons — Afghanistan in the 1980s, the Democratic Republic of the Congo in the 2000s — offer absolutely dismal prospects for the coming decade. At the same time, many features of Syria that seem unique really aren’t. The fragmentation and internal battles of the opposition are entirely typical. So are the pernicious effects of uncoordinated external support to armed insurgency factions. The targeting of civilians for tactical reasons and the politicization of humanitarian assistance are grimly familiar. There is nothing unusual about the emergence of political economies of war, the consolidation power by local warlords and profiteers, or the relentless slide toward extremism. Syria’s bad fortune is to have inherited all these dynamics — and don’t forget that in comparison to some of history’s other bloody civil conflicts, at less than three years running, Syria’s war is still young. Even the intensity of the violence against civilians and the enormous scale of displacement are typical of this type of conflict. The Syrian regime’s use of force is so intense and barbaric because it aims not only at militarily defeating its opponents, but also to block rebel efforts to build legitimate alternative governance structures. As Vassar College’s Zachariah Mampilly pointed out, rebels have a strong political incentive to demonstrate that they can provide services and stability in areas they control — while the regime has just as strong a reason to undermine those efforts through indiscriminate rocket fire, denial of humanitarian aid, and other seemingly irrational military acts. Meanwhile, the fragmented nature of the insurgency means that it’s no surprise to see rebel groups often fighting against each other more than against the regime. Rebel groups do want to overthrow the hated Assad regime, but they also fear that their rivals within the opposition will seize the fruits of victory. MIT’s Fotini Christia has documented in cases from Afghanistan to Bosnia that rebel groups which lack a legitimate and effective institutional structure almost always suffer from the sort of rapidly shifting alliances and "blue on blue" violence that has plagued Syria. Other scholars suggested a wide array of different ways the Syrian conflict could change, however, with repercussions both for civilians and the ultimate outcome of the war. Stanford University’s James Fearon suggested that even if the war drags on, the toll on civilians may begin to decline as the battle lines begin to harden. The University of Virginia’s Jonah Schulhofer-Wohl argued that rebel factions are most likely to engage in fratricidal violence when they feel safe from the regime, so their declining fortunes could conceivably impose an unwanted truce among bitter rivals. Violence could also fade as local power relations settle into more predictable patterns, since as Yale University’s Stathis Kalyvas and others have argued, much of the violence typically understood as part of the civil war’s "master narrative" is actually highly local and driven by a diverse range of motivations. The fragmentation and infighting of Syria’s opposition is, again, typical of a certain type of civil war — the type least amenable to diplomatic resolution, most open to unconstructive foreign meddling, and least likely to produce post-war stability. This fragmentation was built in to the early nature of the uprising: The revolt broke out across the country in a highly localized way, with little real centralized leadership or institutional cohesion. And as the University of Chicago’s Paul Staniland argued, that initial lack of cohesion has proved impossible to reverse: "Once a parochial structure is in place, factional unification is extremely challenging." For all the fragmentation now ripping apart Syria’s insurgency, Northwestern University’s Wendy Pearlman notes that it has held together better than many might have expected. This was particularly true in the uprising’s early days, before armed insurgency fully overtook civil protest. However, the pressures of war and the uncoordinated arming of the opposition broke apart this unity: Without a single point of entry for foreign money and guns, as Pearlman put it, self-interested foreign powers "typically use material support to gain influence over groups within the opposition, if not bring new groups into existence." Those resources empower the local players, but make them dependent on the interests and agendas of their foreign sponsors. The pernicious effects of uncoordinated funding and arms from Qatar, Turkey, and Saudi Arabia — to say nothing of the private networks funneling money from the Gulf to Syria — are therefore exactly what the political science literature would have predicted. As Pearlman found in her own research trips to the refugee camps of Turkey and Jordan, this is no mystery to Syrians. These citizens, she wrote, "lament that fragmentation in the sources and distribution of money to the revolt is the single greatest cause of disunity within its ranks." Many have argued that the United States might have changed all of this by offering more support for the Free Syrian Army. Perhaps the United States might have changed this by more effectively coordinating the aid flows from its putative allies and by brokering the creation of a serious Syrian political opposition to receive it. But Staniland is dubious: "Pumping material support into parochial groups might buy some limited cooperation from factions that need help but is unlikely to trigger deep organizational change," he wrote. "This means that foreign backing for undisciplined groups will not do much." The foreign support for the Syrian rebels has thus predictably produced what Schulhofer-Wohl views as the worst of all possible worlds — it has extended the fighting, made compromise more difficult, and increased the dangers of rebel infighting, while also facilitating the rise of extremists. "Military aid to the Syrian opposition has sustained its fight against the al-Assad regime," he argued. "In this military posture, the rebels ensure their survival against the regime but lack the ability to defeat it in decisive battles." Barring direct military intervention by the United States or some other dominant military power — which almost all the contributors view as extremely unlikely — the literature suggests that the arming of a fragmented Syrian insurgency is likely to make the war longer, bloodier, and less open to resolution … just as such attempts to arm fragmented opposition groups has repeatedly done in other cases. Most contributors are therefore deeply pessimistic about the prospect for ending Syria’s civil war any time soon. Syria has among the worst possible configurations: a highly fragmented opposition, many potential spoilers, and foreign actors intervening enough to keep the conflict raging but not enough to decisively end the war. The University of Maryland’s David Cunningham pointed to the number of "veto players" in Syria — actors who can derail a settlement if their interests are not met. Fearon noted the centrality of the "completely typical" commitment problem inherent in any negotiated agreement, where neither side can possibly trust the other to not continue the killing if they lay down arms. Opposition networks like those that exist in Syria, Fearon explained, almost always push for regime change rather than promises of reform because they correctly believe that the dictator will renege on commitments as soon as the threat to his survival has passed. Small wonder that UCSD’s Barbara Walter concluded that "the likelihood of a successful negotiated settlement in Syria is close to zero." Virtually everything, then, seems to support the conclusion that Syria’s war will grind on for a long time. But there are, happily, dissenters to that expectation: Duke University’s Laia Balcells and Kalyvas argue that there might be some glimmer of hope in the fact that the Syrian war already looks more like a conventional war than an irregular one. Their data shows that conventional civil wars, with "pitched battles, visible frontlines, and urban fighting," are more intense, shorter, and less likely to end in regime victories than irregular civil wars. Syria, they argue, resembles Libya more than is generally believed — and therefore has a decent chance of ending quickly, surprisingly, and in a regime defeat. And what will happen after the war? Unfortunately, the contributors found little reason to believe that a post-war Syria is going to recover anytime soon. It isn’t only the scale of the death and displacement and the unlikelihood of the easy restoration of a normal economy or the return of refugees. Protracted civil wars entrench black markets and local warlords, whose social power depends on the continuation of conflict. And then, as MIT’s Roger Petersen notes, bloody insurgencies like that in Syria "can create powerful emotions." How could communities who have suffered so greatly be expected to go back to a normal life under Assad without seeking revenge, or those associated with his regime not fear their vengeance? What are the long-term psychological and social effects of the boundless brutality of the war, so much of it captured for posterity on YouTube? The 18 memos collected in "Political Science and Syria’s War" offer a state-of-the-art tour of the scholarship on civil wars and insurgencies. They show why efforts to end the fighting in Syria have failed, the perverse effects of the efforts to arm the opposition, and the many barriers to ending the country’s suffering. While they have little optimism to offer for Syria, their wealth of comparative perspective and theoretical insight could help clarify the real issues at stake and establish realistic expectations — and if anyone is listening, help policymakers avoid steps that might actually make matters worse.
    Keywords: POMEPS Studies, Middle East, North Africa, Political Science , International Relations, Islam, Syria
    Date Uploaded: 07/24/2017
  6. The Politics of Sectarianism, POMEPS Studies 4 [Download]

    Title: The Politics of Sectarianism, POMEPS Studies 4
    Author: Lynch, Marc
    Description: A group of Syrian-Americans arrived at an academic conference at Lehigh University last week in Bashar al-Assad t-shirts and draped in Syrian flags adorned with Assad’s face. They repeatedly heckled and interrupted speakers, and one told an opposition figure that he deserved a bullet in the head. When a speaker showed a slide picturing dead Syrian children, they burst into loud applause. When another speaker cynically predicted that Bashar would win a 2014 presidential vote, they cheered. In the final session, they aggressively interrupted and denounced a Lebanese journalist, with one ultimately throwing his shoe at the stage. The panel degenerated into a screaming match, until police arrived to clear the room. This spectacle might seem notable in that it unfolded at a U.S. university, but otherwise it would pass for an alarmingly normal day at the office in today’s toxically polarized Middle East. Such intense mutual hostility, irreconcilable narratives, and public denunciations are typical of any number of highly polarized political arenas across the region. A similar scene between supporters and opponents of Egypt’s military coup is all too easily imagined — just add bullets. That’s why the disproportionate focus on sectarian conflict as the defining feature of the emerging Middle East seems dangerously misplaced. Sunni-Shiite tensions are only one manifestation of how a number of deeper trends have come together in recent years to give frightening new power to identity politics writ large. The explosion of Sunni-Shiite conflict in recent years has very little do to with intrinsic religious differences or with 1,400 years of Islamic history. It should instead be understood as an entirely typical example of identity politics, one in which sectarian differences happen to be the most easily available to politicians hoping to exploit them for cynical purposes. It looks much the same as the ethnic and religious polarization that ripped apart the former Yugoslavia in the early 1990s. The sectarian polarization in Bahrain or Syria has followed very similar patterns to the Islamist-secularist polarization in Egypt and Tunisia. Responding to these sectarian tensions by embracing authoritarian states, focusing on religious authorities or exegesis, or promoting cross-sectarian reconciliation will miss the point. Today’s sectarianism is political to the core — even if it increasingly seems at risk of racing beyond the control of its cynical enablers. Interpreting Sunni-Shiite conflict as just another manifestation of a millennia-old conflict repeats a broadly essentialist position which tends to be the first resort every time ethnic or sectarian violence breaks out. Such approaches tend to focus on intrinsic, deeply rooted, and irreconcilable cultural differences between groups which can always pose a risk of escalation to violence (think Robert Kaplan’s Balkan Ghosts, which supposedly convinced Bill Clinton of the inevitability of Yugoslav ethnic slaughters). Evidence of decades of coexistence or intermarriage rarely impresses proponents of an essentialist approach. These differences might be latent for long periods of time, but given the opportunity — electoral mobilization, state failure, sudden explosions of local violence — people will tend to fall back on these deep identities. Such arguments tend to lead toward solutions involving the heavy hand of authoritarian states to suppress these supposedly inevitable violent tendencies, or toward partition into ethnic enclaves if state collapse has gone too far. That’s just what authoritarian regimes would like us to believe. But much more frequently, ethnic or sectarian violence is driven by either regimes themselves or by elites who cynically exploit identity for their political aims. These leaders might or might not truly believe in these differences, but they are perfectly happy to take advantage of them when it suits their goals. Often, it is the authoritarian regimes themselves that are most responsible for stoking and shaping the identity divisions. The Saudi regime, most obviously, systematically uses sectarianism in order to intimidate and control its own Shiite citizens at home and to combat Iranian influence regionally. Saudi leaders may or may not genuinely hate Shiites, but they know that sectarian conflict is a useful strategy. In Egypt, the Mubarak regime tolerated significant levels of intimidation and attacks on Coptic Christian citizens, while Abdel Fattah al-Sisi’s government actively stokes the demonization of Islamists to generate support for the new military regime. In Iraq, a stronger state under the control of Nouri al-Maliki is too easily used to protect Shiite privilege and repress Sunni opponents. Strong states are often the problem, not the solution. The strategic mobilization of identity politics typically involves some common moves. Electoral systems can be designed to maximize sectarian or ethnic competition, force voters into identity-defined voting blocs, and hinder cross-identity coalition formation. Discrimination in state institutions, military recruitment, and patronage can entrench hostility along particular lines and not others. For sectarian entrepreneurs from Slobodan Milosevic to Abu Musab al-Zarqawi to triumph, intermarried families must be ripped apart, the possibility of coexistence undermined, and moderate counterparts knocked down in favor of more frightening extremists. Televised slaughter, rumors of sectarian or ethnic targeting, and the wide circulation of hostile rhetoric are a benefit, not an unfortunate side product of their efforts. Often, the real purpose of such strategic identity mobilization is intra-group competition, as ambitious leaders see sectarian or ethnic extremism as a useful way to attack their political rivals as weak, naïve, or duplicitous. Attacking Shiites is often a product of competition among different Sunni factions as much as it is driven by larger religious struggles. More venom is often directed toward moderates within one’s own group than toward the putative enemy; as the dwindling cohort of true Egyptian liberals can attest, anyone who might try to seek the middle ground and critique both sides will be viciously shouted down. That, in turn, pushes more and more people to either silently accept or even to vocally repeat the mythologies supporting this mobilized identity, no matter how absurd. Uncertainty, fear, economic hardship, and violence often create the toxic conditions for identity mobilization to gain traction. It’s endlessly useful to demagogues and dictators to have some minority to blame for problems, to deflect outrage from their own failures, and to bind an otherwise fractious community together against a common enemy. And that’s where the proliferation and entrenchment of sectarian rhetoric over the previous decade have been especially destructive. The sectarian incitement which pollutes official and private media outlets alike, and which floods through politicized mosques and religious networks, provides the master frame which increasingly makes sense to people who a decade ago would have angrily waved such rhetoric away. And after a decade of civil war in Iraq and propaganda about an Iranian-led “Shiite Crescent” threatening the Sunni Muslim world, those narratives are now deeply entrenched and hard to change. Language and terms that once sounded exotic and strange now find wide public circulation and resonance. The Arab uprisings introduced such uncertainty and fear not only within countries such as Syria, but across the entire region, as do recent memories of very real slaughters, displacements, and outrages — such as those that have scarred Iraq. Syria provided endless opportunity for local entrepreneurs to use sectarian language and imagery to build support and raise money for the insurgency. Increasingly polarized, insular media clusters within which only information supportive of sectarian narratives tends to circulate, reinforces and intensifies identity conflicts with every YouTube video. And those atrocities have been experienced vicariously across the region, with Egyptian or Tunisian Sunnis identifying with the suffering of their Syrian or Iraqi counterparts even if they did not themselves have much direct contact with Shiites. Highlighting the role of cynical politicians in the mobilization of identity conflict points to very different policy advice, of course. Fighting sectarianism thus requires changing the incentives and the opportunities for such political mobilization. Were electoral rules changed, official media and state institutions purged of sectarian language, and hate speech and incitement punished rather than encouraged, identity entrepreneurs would suffer political defeat. Elites who want to cynically manipulate sectarianism need to have the raw material with which to work or the right conditions within which to work their evil magic. Taking the oxygen out of the room is not impossible: Kuwait, for instance, turned away from sectarianism in its last elections, in part as the costs of such conflict began to really sink in. But such political responses to identity conflict become far more difficult after they have been successfully mobilized — especially under conditions of state failure, uncertainty, violence, and fear. It is far easier to generate sectarian animosities than it is to calm them down. This ratcheting effect is the reason for the deepest concern about the trends of the last few years. Identity entrepreneurs may think that they can turn the hatred on and off as it suits their interests, but at some point these identities become self-sustaining and internalized. Blood matters, a lot: There will be no reconciliation in Iraq or Syria for a long time, not with so many individuals who have watched people they love slaughtered or raped or displaced over their ascribed identities. How could anyone expect an Iraqi Sunni to forgive or happily coexist with Shiite neighbors who only recently killed his children because of their religion? Those memories are only reinforced by the endlessly circulating videos and images which today provide unavoidable documentation of additional atrocities. Even ending the violence and restoring a modicum of stability in Syria, Iraq, or Bahrain is not likely to erase these inflamed hatreds and memories, leaving well-fertilized terrain for the next identity entrepreneur who comes along. The political approach to sectarianism makes painfully clear that it did not have to be like this. Sectarian conflict is not the natural response to the fall of a strongman. The Bahraini activists who demanded political reform and human rights did not have to be tarred as Iranian assets and smeared as Shiite separatists. Syrian non-violent activists could have developed and enforced a compelling vision of a non-sectarian post-Assad alternative. Gulf Islamists and regimes could have opted not to use sectarianism to generate support for the Syrian insurgency. The Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood and its enemies could have opted for cooperation and inclusion rather than spiraling polarization and confrontation. But this approach also offers little optimism about the future. The painful reality is that sectarianism proved too useful to too many powerful actors, and too compelling a narrative in a violent, turbulent, and uncertain time, to be avoided.
    Keywords: Middle East, North Africa, Political Science, Islam, International Relations, Sectarianism
    Date Uploaded: 07/24/2017
  7. The Arab Monarchy Debate, POMEPS Studies 3 [Download]

    Title: The Arab Monarchy Debate, POMEPS Studies 3
    Author: Lynch, Marc
    Description: It has been widely noted that monarchies have done better at surviving the Arab uprisings that began two years ago. Three Presidents (Ben Ali, Mubarak, and Saleh) have fallen, along with Muammar al-Qaddafi’s unique Jamahiriaya, while Bashar al-Assad’s Baathist presidential regime faces a mortal threat. No Arab monarch has yet lost his throne. For some analysts and academics, this pattern suggests a fairly obvious "monarchical exception" which demands explanation. In August, I launched a debate on Foreign Policy about whether and how monarchy matters in explaining the resilience of Arab regimes. I was not impressed. Against arguments that monarchies possess some kind of unique legitimacy commanding the loyalty of their people, I noted that Arab monarchies have in fact faced significant popular mobilization over the last two years: Bahrain has had one of the most intense and protracted uprisings anywhere; Kuwait is facing the deepest political crisis in its post-occupation history; Jordan experienced unprecedented protests; Saudi Arabia has had a protracted challenge in its Eastern Province; Oman experienced unusual levels of protest; Morocco’s protest movement drove the king to adopt a significant (if underwhelming) constitutional initiative. I concluded, "the monarchies look like fairly typical Arab authoritarian regimes, surviving because they enjoy greater financial resources, less demanding international allies, and powerful media assets to perpetuate their legitimation myths." Trending Articles How Will Trump’s Attack Dogs Affect Mueller’s Russia… The special counsel has a mammoth job, and the president has just warned him of what he long suspected: He may not… Powered By The responses I got over email, over Twitter, across blogs, and at various academic conferences convinced me that the monarchy question remains an open one, however. It is an important debate for political scientists and analysts, with a wide range of arguments and evidence to consider. Over the last few months, I have reached out to a number of leading scholars to weigh in on the question of Arab monarchy. I asked them to move beyond simple binaries ("monarchy does or doesn’t matter") to explore the specific mechanisms by which it might matter, to weigh them against competing explanations, and to show how monarchy operated in particular cases which they knew well. Those articles, along with some particularly relevant older Middle East Channel essays, are now collected in today’s new POMEPS Brief, "The Arab Monarchy Debate." The debate is an interesting one. Daniel Brumberg pushes us to focus on how different regime types might have comparative advantages in the specific "sustaining mechanisms" of Arab autocrats. Michael Herb makes a guarded case for the distinctive resilience of family monarchies, a unique mechanism for leadership selection explored as well by Gregory Gause. Sean Yom points instead to money, security forces, and foreign patrons, which the monarchies enjoy for reasons that have little to do with monarchy. If these more material explanations are correct, then the monarchs may be in for a rough ride, as Christopher Davidson argues, since many of those assets are wasting ones. In particular, the economic commitments made to ride out the storm may not be sustainable, Steffen Hertog notes. What about specific countries? Recent POMEPS Briefs have looked in depth at the situations in Jordan, Bahrain, and Kuwait. This collection adds several reflections on Saudi Arabia (by Madawi al-Rasheed, Stephane Lacroix, and Toby Matthiessen); Oman (Ra’id Al-Jamali); Jordan (Nicholas Seeley); and Morocco (Mohamed Daadoui). These closer looks are particularly helpful at identifying the differences in the nature of monarchy across the region: Jordan’s monarchy simply operates differently, is viewed differently across society, and has a different set of sustaining mechanisms compared to the ruling families in Saudi Arabia, Qatar, or Kuwait. Monarchs with parliaments have different political horizons than those who rule without elected bodies. For instance, those monarchs with small populations and virtually unlimited financial resources don’t seem to have that much in common with their larger and poorer cousins. It would be foolish to deny the observable reality that thus far all the Arab monarchs have survived where other regime types have failed. But that has to be a starting point, not a conclusion. From a political science perspective, that should force us to look harder at the specific mechanisms of control, which may or may not sustain specific monarchs in the future. Belief in a "monarchical exception" is useful for the monarchs in their efforts to deflect domestic challenges, reduce expectations of potential change, and maintain international support. It may also contribute to a certain complacency among their foreign allies, who may be relieved at not seeing the need to plan for the possible loss or transformation of such useful partners. I hope that this collection of essays helps to advance this important ongoing debate. Download POMEPS Brief #16 "The Arab Monarchies Debate."
    Keywords: Middle East, North Africa, Political Science, Islam, International Relations, POMEPS Studies
    Date Uploaded: 07/24/2017
  8. The New Salafi Politics, POMEPS Studies 2 [Download]

    Title: The New Salafi Politics, POMEPS Studies 2
    Author: Lynch, Marc
    Description: Few developments associated with the Arab uprisings have generated as much concern as the rapid emergence of Salafi movements into the public arena. The performance of al-Nour Party in Egypt’s parliamentary elections stunned many observers. Waves of attacks on Sufi shrines in Tunisia and Libya, denunciations of secular citizens, and loud calls for the imposition of sharia have raised fears at home and abroad. The violent protests over the anti-Islam YouTube film, the deadly attack on the U.S. consulate in Benghazi, and the emergence of Salafi-jihadist trends within the Syrian opposition have made these political concerns ever more urgent. Who are these new Salafi movements? How should we interpret their rise? This new POMEPS Brief collects more than a dozen recent essays on Salafis across the Arab world, including a detailed look at Salafi politics in Egypt, Tunisia, Libya, Lebanon, Bahrain, Syria, and Saudi Arabia. The picture that emerges is troubling — but also unexpectedly reassuring. These well-funded and well-entrenched sub cultures will likely continue to thrive in the open, contentious new Arab political realm. But how they will behave, the response they will generate from other political trends and societal sectors, and how they will approach political institutions remains very much in question. The “troubling part” of their ascent doesn’t require a great deal of elaboration. While many Salafis are simply religious individuals comfortable when surrounded by the like-minded, the more assertive of them have advanced a hard-edged, intolerant agenda, which has driven a sharp polarization around religion in several Arab countries. Their attacks on movie theaters, Sufi shrines, and Western culture have frightened and angered secular trends in these countries, particularly religious minorities and women who fear for their place in the emerging societies. Their attacks on U.S. embassies have frightened and angered the United States, and prompted concerns about a resurgence of al Qaeda. But there are also reasons for some optimism. As several of the essays in this collection point out, Salafism is not a unified trend. Its adherents belong to a wide range of movements with very different orientations toward politics, many of which push toward political quiescence and an inward-looking focus on the cohesion of their own communities. Because Salafi subcultures generally lack the kind of disciplined organization that characterizes the Muslim Brotherhood, they struggle to act in any sort of organized fashion. It is not as if these trends did not exist before their eruption into the public realm. Salafi movements were increasingly prominent in Egypt in the years prior to the revolution, with television stations and prominent public faces. Funding streams from the conservative Gulf states fueled Salafi subcultures across the region. In some countries, such as Egypt, they were also often tacitly (or openly) supported by intelligence services keen to promote competitors to the Muslim Brotherhood and — to the conspiracy minded — to drum up communal tensions with attacks on churches or outrageous statements when this served the interests of the ruling regimes. The financial flows from the Gulf show few signs of abating, but it is intriguing to consider the possible impact of a decrease of this latter sort of support from the “deep state.” It is easy to understand the alarm over high profile public arguments over outrageously reactionary comments by Salafi figures. Public clashes over issues advanced by the Salafis are also not necessarily a bad sign. It seems better to have these brought into the public realm than hidden in shadows. It is reassuring to see their public advances increasingly beaten back by competing movements, an outraged and controversy-minded press, and calculating politicians. The backlash against the outrageous statements by popular Salafi television preachers reveals as much as their initial comments — and indeed tells us far more than do the bland reassurances of the designated spokesmen for the movements. These public battles reveal the limits of their influence and the real radicalism of some of their ideas relative even to their own societies. They may also sometimes reveal real pools of popular support for their ideas, which is important to recognize rather than turn away from. Open politics challenges the Salafis as much as empowers them. Since its electoral coming out party, Egypt’s al-Nour Party has fragmented and faced serious internal tensions. Its decision to approve of an International Monetary Fund (IMF) loan on grounds of extreme contingency seems sure to anger the faithful, and suggests that for better or for worse ultimately even these most ideological of Islamists will prove pragmatic in their pursuit of self-interest. They will likely face increasing challenges as their members grow disenchanted with the benefits of the democratic process and perhaps return to demands for greater doctrinal purity. In short, as much as the leaders of these movements may have enjoyed their public profile it also poses severe challenges. Finally, the Salafi challenge has been forcing Muslim Brotherhood-style groups in countries such as Egypt and Tunisia into open confrontation. From their positions of power they no longer have the luxury of empty posturing or of ignoring real challenges to stability or national interests. While Salafis and Brothers have been tussling over supporters for many years, the stakes have never been higher. The Muslim Brotherhood can no longer take its Islamic flank for granted, and finds itself in the very uncomfortable position of taking a lead role in cracking down on “Islamic extremists.” It has not been so long since they were the targets of such repression. With a significant proportion of Brothers harboring Salafi sympathies and Salafis moving into the political realm once identified with the Brothers, we can expect those political battles over the Islamic vote to only intensify. The same can be said of the emergence of the Salafi-jihadist groups. There appears to be a new al Qaeda strategy focused on building ties with local jihadist movements, including the various Ansar al-Sharia factions. But their violence and extremism poses a direct threat to the political interests of Islamist leaders in Egypt, Libya, and Tunisia. From a U.S. perspective, having the Muslim Brotherhood take the lead in combatting Salafi-jihadists on their own turf, for their own interests, would be a major success in the broader campaign against such groups. This competition is one major reason why it is wrong to conflate all signs of Islamist political success into a narrative of a supposedly resurgent al Qaeda. And then, there is Syria. As a recent ICG report made clear, initially marginal Salafi-Jihadist groups have made significant inroads into the Syrian opposition. They appear to have benefited disproportionately from financial and arms flows from the Gulf, and to have adapted many of the military and communication innovations of al Qaeda in Iraq. For the jihadist community it does appear that Syria is the new Iraq (I have been reading through a lot of commentaries on the jihadist forums on Syria and the lessons of Iraq over the last week, and will be writing more about this soon). They will likely continue to bring sectarianism, extremist views, and Iraq-style tactics into Syria regardless of whether, or how, Western countries intervene, and to enjoy ready access to cash and foreign fighters regardless of whether, or how, Western countries attempt to control such flows. In short, the emergence of the Salafi trend into the public life of many Arab countries is an important recent development. But it would be a mistake to exaggerate the unity of the Salafi trend or its place within these transitional societies. They are a vital part of the emerging public landscape. Their participation in electoral politics and public life should be encouraged — even as their stances should be condemned and their opponents supported in the effort to build tolerant, inclusive Arab societies. Contentious political battle over Islamic symbols will likely continue to be a prominent feature of Arab politics in coming years. Hopefully, the essays in this POMEPS Briefing collection will be a useful guide to the current state of play.
    Keywords: International Relations, North Africa, Political Science, Islam, Islamism, Middle East, POMEPS Studies
    Date Uploaded: 07/19/2017
  9. Arab Uprisings: New Opportunities for Political Science, POMEPS Studies 1 [Download]

    Title: Arab Uprisings: New Opportunities for Political Science, POMEPS Studies 1
    Author: Lynch, Marc
    Description: The uprisings that swept the Arab world following the fall of Tunisia’s President Zine el-Abidine Ben Ali in January 2011 represented a stunning moment in the region’s political history. For political scientists specializing in the region, the events of the last year and a half represented an exhilarating moment of potential change but also an important opportunity to develop new research questions, engage in new comparisons, and exploit new data and information. The Arab uprisings challenged long-held theories dominant in the field, particularly about the resilience of authoritarian regimes, while opening up entirely new areas of legitimate social scientific inquiry. The Project on Middle East Political Science (POMEPS) was created in 2010 in part to build the capacity of Middle East experts to engage and inform policy-makers, the public sphere, and other political scientists about the region. On May 29 to 30, 2012, POMEPS convened a group of leading political scientists who specialize in the Middle East for its third annual conference at George Washington University to discuss the opportunities and challenges that the Arab uprisings pose to the subfield. Participants were asked: “What new and innovative research questions do you think have become particularly urgent, feasible, or relevant? How would those research questions fit into wider debates in the field of political science?” This special POMEPS Briefing collects nearly two dozen of the memos written for the conference. The authors are all academic political scientists and Middle East specialists who speak Arabic and have lived in and studied Arab countries for extended periods. They include scholars at all career levels, from senior faculty at top universities to advanced graduate students still writing their dissertations. The memos reflect on a wide range of debates and paradigms within political science, and taken together lay out an impressive set of marching orders for the subfield. Graduate students looking for dissertation topics and junior faculty looking for articles that might make a big splash take note.
    Keywords: Middle East, North Africa, Political Science, Arab Uprisings, Arab Spring, Authoritarian, International Relations, POMEPS Studies
    Date Uploaded: 07/18/2017