Five Exciting Developments from Across the Middle East in 2015

by Jessica Winegar | published January 6, 2016

Negative stories about the Middle East dominated Western news headlines in 2015. It’s easy for Americans, especially those who listen to Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump and his supporters, to get the impression that the region is just one miserable homogeneous place of violence, terror, religious fanaticism and authoritarianism.

Saudi Arabia's Dangerous Sectarian Game

by Toby Jones | published January 5, 2016

When Saudi Arabia executed the Shiite cleric and political dissident Sheikh Nimr al-Nimr on Saturday, the country’s leaders were aware that doing so would upset their long-time rivals in Iran. In fact, the royal court in Riyadh was probably counting on it. It got what it wanted. The deterioration of relations has been precipitous: Protesters in Tehran sacked Saudi Arabia’s embassy; in retaliation, Saudi Arabia severed diplomatic ties. More severe fallout could follow—possibly even war.

Have Yourself Some Anti-Refugee Hysteria

by Chris Toensing | published December 9, 2015

As holiday shoppers empty their wallets to buy presents for family and friends, there’s been an outbreak of miserliness among our politicians—directed at some of the world’s most helpless people.

At least 30 Republican governors, and one Democrat, are vowing to bar Syrian refugees from their states. One family was actually turned away at the Indiana state line when the local resettlement agency got a nasty phone call from the authorities.

We Can—and Should—Do More to Help Syrian Refugees

by Chris Toensing | published September 16, 2015

Imagine that 58 million Americans were streaming into Canada and Mexico, many with only a small satchel and the clothes on their backs. Picture another 102 million residents of the Eastern seaboard seeking refuge with relatives in the Midwest and West.

That terrifying mental exercise gives a sense of the sheer, staggering scale of the Syrian refugee crisis.

Half of Syria’s pre-war population of 22 million has been uprooted since the country’s horrendous civil war broke out in late 2011. Over 4 million people have escaped to neighboring countries and beyond, while an additional 7 million or so are displaced within the country.

An Extraordinary Feat of Diplomacy

by Chris Toensing | published August 5, 2015

The nuclear agreement with Iran is an extraordinary feat of diplomacy.

First and foremost, non-proliferation experts agree that the deal blocks all of the routes to making an atomic bomb. There are provisions for rigorous inspections—so if Iran cheats, the world will know.

Second, it isn’t just Washington to whom the Iranians are accountable. All five permanent members of the UN Security Council, and Germany too, signed alongside the United States. The UN’s nuclear watchdog, the International Atomic Energy Agency, will monitor Iranian activities on the great powers’ behalf.

Yemen Is Starving, and We're Partly to Blame

by Chris Toensing | published July 1, 2015

Twenty million people in Yemen, the poorest country in the Arab world, are at risk of dying from hunger or thirst. That’s 80 percent of the country’s population, which according to UN agencies badly needs emergency supplies of food and water, along with fuel and medicine.

This almost unimaginable crisis sounds like something out of a disaster movie. But the cause isn’t an earthquake or a tsunami.

The main reason for all this suffering is months of merciless bombardment and blockade led by the richest Arab countries—Saudi Arabia and its neighboring petro-princedoms—and backed by the United States. Washington’s providing the attackers with technical assistance, intelligence and top-shelf armaments.

The Lessons Algeria Can Teach Today's Middle East

by Miriam Lowi | published April 22, 2015

As we witness today the escalating horrors across the Middle East—acute insecurity, combined with varying degrees of violence, death and destruction, from Libya and Egypt, to Syria, Iraq and now Yemen, we may want to recall the Algerian experience of the 1990s and consider some lessons to be drawn from it.

Algerians today have certainly not forgotten those “years of lead”: indeed, the absence of an Algerian “Arab spring” in 2011 had much to do with painful memories, weariness and disappointments from that recent past. But for the governments and peoples of the countries of the region currently in turmoil, Algeria, which is so near, appears so very far away. Let’s bring the Algerian experience back into focus.

Crushing Repression of Eritrea's Citizens Is Driving Them Into Migrant Boats

by Dan Connell | published April 20, 2015

Abinet spent six years completing her national service in one of Eritrea’s ministries, but when she joined a banned Pentecostal church, she was arrested, interrogated, threatened, released and then shadowed in a clumsy attempt to identify other congregants. She arranged to be smuggled out of the country in 2013 and is now in a graduate program in human rights in Oslo.

Like Abinet, hundreds of Eritrean asylum seekers are landing on the shores of Italy. Eritreans are second only to Syrians in the number of boat arrivals, though the country is a fraction of Syria’s size and there’s no live civil war there.

Footing the Bill While Israel Thumbs Its Nose

by Chris Toensing | published April 8, 2015

It’s tax season again. How about a little accounting?

Every year, Washington sends $3.1 billion of taxpayers’ hard-earned money to Israel. It’s only fair to ask what Americans are getting in return.

That seems especially appropriate now.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is busy badmouthing the tentative nuclear deal with Iran, a major diplomatic achievement for the United States. And a few weeks ago, he declared his opposition to a Palestinian state, a long-standing US priority.

Some Good News from the Middle East

by Chris Toensing | published February 25, 2015

There’s not much good news coming out of the Middle East these days.

But one reason to take heart is the progress of nuclear negotiations between Iran and the West. Even as new conflicts sprout up elsewhere, a three-decade standoff between Tehran and Washington could be heading for a breakthrough.

The talks have gone more slowly than many supporters had hoped, with negotiators twice having to extend their deadlines. But that should come as no surprise.

After all, there’s over 35 years of mutual antipathy to overcome, and the technical details are tricky. Plus, Iran’s domestic politics -- like our own -- are complicated, with hardliners always accusing the pragmatic president of going soft.