Egypt exits non-proliferation meeting

Palais des Nations UN Photo
By Jenny Nielsen, Research Analyst, Non-proliferation and Disarmament Programme

Egypt has walked out of talks on the Non-proliferation Treaty (NPT) this week, over the slow progress on the establishment of a zone free of weapons of mass destruction in the Middle East (MEWMDFZ).

The unprecedented move presents a serious headache for the non-proliferation regime. Announcing his delegation’s withdrawal from the Preparatory Committee to the 2015 NPT Review Conference (2013 NPT PrepCom) on Monday, Egyptian Ambassador Hisham Badr warned that despite being a strong supporter of the NPT regime, Cairo was dissatisfied with the international community’s ‘lack of seriousness’ in establishing an MEWMDFZ and ‘very concerned about the ramification of the non-fulfilment of commitments on the credibility and sustainability of the NPT regime’.

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Creating more jobs for Arab youth

How do you reduce the high levels of youth unemployment in the Arab world? On average one-quarter of the eligible under-24s in the region remain jobless, a factor widely recognised as having contributed to the uprisings known as the Arab Spring. Many believe the Middle East faces further instability if the situation does not change soon.

An IISS-US panel this week discussed ways of creating more jobs for Arab youths in the post-revolutionary era. However, speakers said that new governments had often lacked the capacity to meet their young citizens’ high expectations, and frustrations remained. IISS senior fellow Alanoud Al-Sharekh added that the crisis in the eurozone was having a negative impact in some nearby North African countries.

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Timely questions on Libya attacks, Middle East at Strategic Survey 2012 launch

By Alexa van Sickle, Assistant Editor

The recent attacks on US consulates in Libya and Egypt may shift the western perspective of what’s happening in the Arab world, but how things will play out within Libya and Egypt is a far more pressing question, argues Emile Hokayem, IISS Senior Fellow for Regional Security-Middle East.

On 11 September, US Ambassador to Libya J. Christopher Stevens and three others were killed in an attack on the US consulate in Benghazi – possibly part of a pre-planned strike by a militant group – amid protests over a film about the prophet Mohammed. Protesters also stormed the US consulates in Cairo and in Yemen, and unrest continues to spread.

Hokayem, speaking at the press conference for the Strategic Survey 2012: The Annual Review of World Affairs launch in London, noted that while the details of the attack are still unclear,  it was worth considering what Stevens himself would have said about the situation:‘[He] would not want revenge or disengagement; he would have argued for renewed investment and attention in these critical periods.’ But what matters most in a strategic sense, Hokayem argues, is the reaction from the Libyan and Egyptian governments: ‘This will be the real test, especially for Egypt and the Muslim Brotherhood, in terms of their international credibility.’

Hokayem said the Libyan government was very clear in its condemnation, but Egyptian president Muhammad Morsi waited some time before making a statement. Whether the political elites in Libya and Egypt can effectively combat extremist sentiment is crucial for their international legitimacy. ‘This is the tragedy of mainstream Islamist movements,’ said Hokayem.  ‘They can easily be outflanked by more extremist factions that frame everything in terms of identity, and not in terms of public governance choices and not in terms of the need for international recognition.’

Hokayem responded to several questions on Libya and other regional security issues at the launch, where opening remarks by Dr John Chipman, touching on significant security themes in the volume, were followed by a Q & A session addressed to a panel of regional experts. Issues discussed included Middle East security – including Syria, Iran and Israel – terrorism in North Africa, China and Japan’s maritime tensions and the Eurozone crisis.

Another timely question dealt with the likelihood of a strike by Israel against Iran: ‘There is a possibility of an Israeli strike this autumn,’ said Mark Fitzpatrick, Director of the IISS’s Non-Proliferation and Disarmament Programme, in response. ‘But it is a reduced possibility, given the divergence of views in Israel.’

Fitzpatrick explained that Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak seems to be acknowledging Obama’s commitment to preventing Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon, while Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu still maintains that Obama’s commitment is not credible.

‘There’s not a consensus in the inner Israeli security cabinet for a strike, and so it’s unlikely,’ said Fitzpatrick.

Watch the full press conference here.


Mohammed Morsi in Iran: Genius or amateur?

Mohammed Morsi and  Mahmoud Ahmadinejad

Last week’s Non-Aligned Movement (NAM) summit in Tehran opened to what some considered rather surprising rhetoric on the Syrian uprising, especially given the context. This demonstrated two things: That Egypt’s newly elected Islamist president, Mohammed Morsi, is conscious of the diplomatic game and will adamantly pursue the independence of Egyptian foreign policy – and that Iran’s Islamic regime will stop at nothing to prove that they are not isolated.

The NAM summit invitation was a catch-22 for Morsi, writes Dina Esfandiary in an article for Al-Monitor. If he declined, it would have made a strong anti-Iran statement. Choosing to go, however, made Egypt’s neighbors and the US nervous. Ultimately, the Egyptian president went to Tehran, but spoke boldly against the Assad regime, a staunch Iranian ally. With that move, he made all parties both happy and unhappy.

Read the full article at Al-Monitor


Expert: Arab Spring has resolved little

'Friday for defending the revolution' in Tahrir Sq, Cairo, Egypt. Photo by flickr user lokha

Despite democratic transformations in a few states, the problems that led to the Arab Spring largely remain unresolved, Dr Toby Dodge, IISS Consulting Senior Fellow for the Middle East, told an audience in Manama on 29 May 2012. In his talk, ‘Drivers of Instability: Reflections on the Arab Spring’, Dodge pointed to short- and medium-term factors such as rising food prices and demographic bulges, as well as the broader failed policies of Arab authoritarianism, as some of the causes of the Arab revolutions.

Yet unemployment remained high in the region more than one year after a street vendor in Tunisia set himself alight and a wave of protests began. Many of the youth who spearheaded the uprisings had not been integrated into post-revolutionary transitions.

Dodge said that several factors determined how each country fared during the uprisings. The outcome varied according to the state’s capacity to co-opt, repress or buy off protesters agitating for reform; the ruling elite’s cohesion; and the domestic opposition’s ability to sustain popular mobilisation.

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Believing in a Mideast WMD-free zone

Nuclear weapons-free zone sign from IowaHighways' flickr accountBy Mark Fitzpatrick, Director, Non-Proliferation and Disarmament Programme

Sometimes you never know what you think about an issue until you start putting pen to paper.

Last November, the United Nations Association of the UK (UNA-UK) asked me to write a briefing report on the issue of establishing a Middle East Zone free of nuclear weapons and other weapons of mass destruction. (This mouthful is usually abbreviated as MEWMDFZ, or sometimes simply called the ‘zone’.) The paper would be the second in a UNA-UK series on nuclear disarmament and non-proliferation. Part of the organisation’s ‘Towards Zero‘ programme, the paper seeks to raise awareness ahead of a conference being organised later this year by Jaakko Laajava, Finland’s under secretary of state for foreign and security policy, in support of the zone goal.

My initial reaction was to wonder whether there was anything new to say on the subject, given that the zone has been on the international agenda since 1974 and is as distant now as it was then. I also confess to having harboured some initial cynicism about whether the 2012 conference would contribute to the goal of a zone, or indeed whether it would even be held, given the differences among the key players.

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Dubai row escalates into diplomatic headache for UAE

Dubai Police chief Lt General Dahi Khalfan Tamim (Photo: Arabian Business)

By Dr Alanoud Al Sharekh, Corresponding Senior Fellow for Regional Politics, IISS-Middle East

A recent decision by the United Arab Emirates to withdraw the residence permits of 30 Syrian men who took part in an unlicensed protest against the regime of Bashar al-Assad outside the Syrian consulate in Dubai in February has provoked a war of words between a controversial Muslim Brotherhood figurehead and Dubai’s police chief. The dispute between Sheikh Yousef al-Qaradawi and Lieutenant-General Dahi al-Khalfan risks spiralling into a diplomatic confrontation between the UAE and its neighbours.

Speaking during an episode of his long-running popular al-Jazeera show ‘Shari’a and Life’ in early March, Qaradawi denounced UAE President Sheikh Khalifa bin Zayed al-Nahyan and his brother Crown Prince Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed al-Nahyan. Having previously been banned from entering the UAE himself for inciting dissent, the extremist cleric asserted that 100 Syrian families had in fact had their residence permits withdrawn and also attacked the UAE for revoking the citizenships of some Islamists in the country. Claiming to speak on behalf of Syrian National Council leader Burhan Ghalioun, Qaradawi threatened to incite Muslim rage against the UAE both on his show and during his Friday sermons.

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