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Roots and futures of Al-Qaeda offshoots in Syria

To understand the recent advances and gains by the Islamic State (IS, formerly Islamic State in Iraq and Syria or ISIS) in both Iraq and Syria and to explore future prospects, we need to go back to the origins of Al-Qaeda in Syria and Lebanon between 2000 and 2013. After 9/11 and 2003, both the Syrian and Iranian regimes saw and used Al-Qaeda as a ‘potential ally’ in their conflict with the...

Back to square one: the United States in the Middle East

The American military interventions in Iraq  and Syria against Islamic State have brought President Obama full circle. He started out his first term with the clear purpose of extricating the United States from ten years of military involvement in the Middle East and putting an end to what he regarded as an overblown focus on the ‘global war on terror’. Now he finds himself drawn into warfare...

Enabling or evading? Germany in the Middle East

Germany’s political influence in the Middle East and North Africa is limited in many respects. However, Berlin’s role in shaping positions within the EU, its close alliance with Israel, its good relations with Iran, and its growing partnership with the Gulf states bestow it with some geopolitical influence.

As the unravelling of the Middle Eastern status quo advances at great speed, the...

Mixed signals: China in the Middle East

China's interests in the Middle East  continue to grow, and the region has become an integral part of  President Xi's New Silk Road. But while China has a keen interest in the  region’s energy resources and is willing to expend diplomatic efforts  to secure these, it regards the complex Middle East politics with caution.

However, China’s position is increasingly under pressure as new...

France’s shifting Middle Eastern alliances

France has traditionally been a pragmatic geopolitical player in the Middle East and North Africa (MENA). In spite of some changes in nuance, neither regional shifts brought about by the ‘Arab spring’ nor François Hollande’s presidency have changed the essentials of the so-called politique arabe de la France: retain friendly and stable relations with all MENA governments (except Syria...

China’s economic engagement in the Middle East and North Africa

Over the past decade, China has been increasing its economic involvement in the Middle East and North Africa (MENA), evolving from its dependence on the energy trade to much broader commercial engagement.

With its "going global" strategy as a recipe for growth, Beijing became more active diplomatically in order to advance its interests in the region. In turn, with China's stature...

Iran and the West: Beyond the nuclear deal

There are hopes that the interim deal on Iran’s nuclear programme could pave the way towards broader improvements in Iran’s relations both with the West and with other powers in the Middle East and Asia. But expectations must be pitched at a realistic level. While the accord will not immediately unlock progress on other regional or domestic challenges, there are at least some genuine...

Refugees in the MENA region: what geopolitical consequences?

Over the past two years, a combination of security crises has caused a wave of refugees and internally displaced persons (IDPs) in the Middle East and North of Africa. Contrary to common belief, the main challenge is not so much the inflows of immigrants from the MENA to Europe, but rather the massive movements within the region itself that may compound incipient political tensions and could...

Europe’s Gulf dilemma

At the height of the Gulf’s financial prowess and regional political clout, Europe faces the dilemma of how to engage with the ruling regimes without condoning their reactionary policies towards domestic reform. An undercurrent of dissatisfaction ferments in pockets of the Gulf’s population. Consistency with the stated European support for transitions elsewhere in the Arab world and real...

Understanding - not appropriating - revolution

The uprisings in the Arab world had not even been in full swing before various political agendas scrambled to appriopriate them. Many opinions appear to be caught up in clichés and analyses colored by blatant attemps to only see self-serving and worn-out world perspectives confirmed. It is against this background that sobering and thorough academic research on the origins and nature of the...

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