Collectively failing Syrian society

FOR MONTHS, neither the Syrian regime, the international community, nor the opposition in exile have offered much hope in a dangerously deteriorating crisis. Increasingly, they seem to be unintentionally conniving in bringing about a civil war although it will serve no one’s interests, destabilize Syria for years, and suck in the rest of the region….

Turkey and the Arab World: From ‘zero problems’ to losing count

TURKEY ARGUABLY RANKS HIGHEST on the outside players’ score sheet after a first year of Arab revolts. Ankara responded fastest to the region’s paradigm shift, taking the lead in calling Egypt’s Hosni Mubarak to step down; defined clear principles, pushed for sweeping reforms and denounced repression; avoided rushing into a questionable war to oust Libya’s Muammar…

Crunch-time for the Syrian regime

SEEN FROM DAMASCUS, the crisis that is gripping Syria is fast approaching crunch-time. The regime appears to have stopped pretending it can offer a way out. More than ever, it portrays the confrontation as a war waged against a multifaceted foreign enemy which it blames for all casualties. This narrative, which informs the security services’…

Syria’s race against the clock

THE SYRIA WE KNEW IS NO LONGER. Together with the rest of the region, it has entered an era of uncertainty and incessant flux. For now it has settled into a slow-motion revolution, as protests both fail to reach a critical mass and prod authorities to successfully respond to far-reaching demands. Two conflicting trends currently…

Syria following the script

PRESIDENT BASHAR ASSAD’s strongest asset, in the face of growing frustration in the street, was the lapse of time he was offered to study developments elsewhere in the region. Indeed, surprise was a key factor in the speed with which his Tunisian and Egyptian counterparts were overtaken by events. With the president’s speech today, the…

Europe and the Middle East: Divorce by mutual consent?

IN THE FACE OF ASTONISHING DEVELOPMENTS in the neighbouring Middle East, Europe has been looking West of all places – to the U.S. – for cues on how to respond. Almost all European statements have echoed those made by the Obama administration, itself timidly playing catch-up with events it could not predict, comprehend or influence. It…

Remettre les pendules a l’heure au Moyen-Orient

L’IRRUPTION de la “rue arabe” (concept jusqu’ici bien commode par son abstraction) place l’Occident face à ses contradictions : si l’interpellation populaire de pouvoirs autocratiques et corrompus résonne avec les valeurs démocratiques dont on se targue à Washington, Paris et ailleurs, elle s’accorde mal avec les aspects pratiques d’une politique occidentale qui n’a jamais fait…

A State of violence: A sociological reading of the battle for Baghdad

THE EXTREME LEVELS OF VIOLENCE that befell the Iraqi capital of Baghdad in 2006 and 2007 both exposed the city’s sociopolitical makeup and caused its deep transformation, a sea change that will have lasting consequences for the country. The dynamics of the conflict in Baghdad contain many clues for an accurate understanding of Iraq’s polity and…

Beyond moderates and militants

IN THE MIDDLE EAST, U.S. President Barack Obama has spent the first year and a half of his presidency seeking to undo the damage wrought by his predecessor. He has made up some ground. But given how slowly U.S. policy has shifted, his administration runs the risk of implementing ideas that might have worked if President George W. Bush had pursued them a decade ago. The region, meanwhile, will have moved on.

The Middle East’s dangerous equilibrium

A YEAR INTO U.S. President Barack Obama’s presidency, the Middle East is on the brink. Almost every country in the region spent 2009 waiting in vain for something dramatic to come out of Washington. By the time 2010 was rung in, most players appeared to have given up just as hastily on the Obama administration….

The Sadrist trend: class struggle, millenarianism and fitna

LITTLE WAS KNOWN about the phenomenon which we now call “sadrism”, and which originated in the movement created by Ayatollah Muhammad al-Sadr[1] during the 1990s, until the emergence on the Iraqi political stage of the Ayatollah’s son Muqtadâ al-Sadr, shortly after the fall of the regime of Saddam Hussein. The extreme polysemy of the phenomenon,…

Iraq’s diverse Shia

EVERY DAY IN IRAQ brings more sectarian violence between Sunni and Shia factions. Such attacks have become routine events, killing dozens of people and injuring hundreds. They  are now much more frequent than operations targeting the occupation forces. In Baghdad the river Tigris forms a dividing line between the largely Shia left bank, al-Rusafa, and the mainly Sunni right bank,…