Category Archives: News

Experts tackle Syria conflict and its global impact


October 10, 2013 by 
Syria and the World
Three Middle East experts discussed the civil war in Syria on Tuesday evening at Northeastern. From left to right, Rami Khouri, Valentine Moghadam, and Franck Salameh. Photo by Brooks Canaday.

Polit­ical jour­nalist Rami Khouri char­ac­ter­izes the Syrian con­flict as history’s “biggest proxy war,” one in which the majority of actors believe they are fighting an “exis­ten­tial battle.”

Speaking on Tuesday at North­eastern during a panel dis­cus­sion on the global impact of the civil war in Syria, he noted that internal forces are afraid to lose in fear of being expelled from Syria, while external actors such as France and Russia “can’t afford to lose either because of their strategic inter­ests in the nation.”

What­ever the out­come, the war will end when Russia, Iran, Saudi Arabia, and the U.S. come to an agree­ment on a res­o­lu­tion. “An end will not come very quickly unless they talk and agree on a mech­a­nism to end the con­flict,” said Khouri, director of the Issam Fares Insti­tute for Public Policy and Inter­na­tional Affairs at the Amer­ican Uni­ver­sity of Beirut.

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Carnegie Corporation grant

With support from the Carnegie Corporation of New York, the Middle East Center will establish the Boston Consortium on Arab Region Studies (BCARS) in partnership with faculty around the Boston area; the Consortium will also include scholars and policy analysts from Beirut and Cairo.

Prof. Denis Sullivan, Co-Director of the Middle East Center, is the Principal Investigator and Director of this initiative. Rami Khouri, the Director of the Issam Fares Institute for Public Policy and International Affairs at American University of Beirut, is the principal Arab region partner with Northeastern on this new initiative.

Together, BCARS scholars and policy analysts will mobilize their collective resources to promote greater understanding of the Arab Awakening through transdisciplinary scholarship and research.

The Arab Awakening (aka, “Arab Spring”) has presented a crisis for scholars and policy makers alike, compounding the historical and ongoing struggle of the American public to understand Arab cultures, Arab contributions to humanity, and American interests related to the Middle East as a whole.

BCARS will provide an international forum where Arab region scholars from Boston and Arab institutions can meet and work collaboratively to advance research, strengthen a scholarly community, and mentor the next generation of scholars and policy analysts.

How politically effective is terrorism?

September 13, 2013 by

Why do some mil­i­tant groups con­tinue to use ter­rorism when it’s polit­i­cally inef­fec­tive, even coun­ter­pro­duc­tive? The answer lies in their lead­er­ship deficits, according to Max Abrahms, a ter­rorism the­o­rist and newly appointed assis­tant pro­fessor of polit­ical sci­ence whose research over the last decade has thor­oughly exam­ined the question.

“Foot sol­diers are gen­er­ally not as smart as their leaders and have fewer incen­tives against harming civil­ians,” he explained. “When they gain tac­tical autonomy within the orga­ni­za­tion, they become more likely to commit the strategic folly of tar­geting civilians.”

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Denis Sullivan

The U.S. must intervene in Syria, but in a three-fold manner

By Denis J. Sullivan, Professor of Political Science and International Affairs; Director, Middle East Center for Peace, Culture and Development, Northeastern University

The U.S. should not bomb Syria. By bombing Syria, the U.S. sides with the rebels: the good, the bad, and the fanatical; yet it will not end the tyranny of the Assad regime. So it will fail.

Still, the U.S. must intervene in Syria, but do so in a three-fold manner: humanitarian action, political and diplomatic engagement, and military pressure. This three-pronged approach is not being discussed at all, but it is likely to be the only way of resolving the Syria crisis. The U.S. should be leading the world community toward establishing humanitarian corridors, safe zones, and/or “internal refugee camps” inside Syria. No doubt such an action will require military support—which would have to be international in scope. And any military engagement would be “defensive” in nature, not “offensive”: i.e., it would aim at defending and supporting the humanitarian action (refugee assistance, aid convoys, safe zones, transport, and logistics).

A first step toward such humanitarian action may well be the “political solution” that many global leaders have called for, which could begin with the U.S. and Russia finding common ground on Syria, using the UN as the inevitable institution to secure an end to the slaughter and a political resolution to this civil war. We will have to wait and see.

Denis J. Sullivan is Professor of Political Science and International Affairs and Director, Middle East Center for Peace, Culture and Development at Northeastern University. This post is part of U.S.-Syria Perspectives, a project developed by the International Program at Carnegie Corporation of New York

3Qs: What we can expect from Iran’s new president

June 26, 2013 by

Ear­lier this month Iran elected a new pres­i­dent, Hassan Rowhani, who will take over for Pres­i­dent Mah­moud Ahmadinejad, who was inel­i­gible to run for a third term. We asked Val Moghadam, a pro­fessor of soci­ology and inter­na­tional affairs and director of the inter­na­tional affairs depart­ment, to examine how Iran’s new pres­i­dent might trans­form his country’s rela­tion­ship with the United States.

President-elect Hassan Rowhani called the state of relations between the U.S. and Iran “an old wound, which must be healed.” How can he change the nature of the relationship between the two countries?

There is bad blood on both sides because of past events, so changes are not entirely up to Iran or its new president. On the Iranian side, the 1953 coup d’état against Prime Minister Mossadegh orchestrated in part by the U.S. government; the long years of support of the Shah accompanied by the sale of numerous and unnecessary armaments; and the support for Iraq during the long Iran-Iraq war all remain as divisive issues. On the American side, the taking of U.S. embassy staff as hostages after the revolution remains a major hurdle.

In the immediate aftermath of 9/11, the U.S. shut a window of opportunity when the government of reformist president Khatami sent condolences and indicated that it was ready to cooperate in ending terrorism emanating from Afghanistan, but the Bush regime chose to ignore that olive branch. In recent years the already-tense relationship has become especially strained, not only because of Iran’s nuclear program and former president Ahmadinejad’s policies but also because the Iranian regime feels that the U.S. is part of an international plan to marginalize and undermine the country’s influence regionally and exacerbate the longstanding Sunni-Shia divide.In such a context, building bridges, confidence, and trust can only occur if there is sufficient political will on both sides. A third party can mediate talks or civil society groups can prepare joint activities to improve relations and push their respective governments to begin talks. That the new president has even mentioned the healing of the old wound is a very positive sign, though it must be noted that there will be resistance on both the Iranian and American sides.

Rowhani is pledging to continue Iran’s nuclear program, but said it will move forward with more transparency. Is that a kind of compromise the United States and the international community may be willing to accept?

Under international law, countries are able to develop nuclear programs within certain parameters. Iran insists that it has been doing so, but there is so much distrust internationally that Iran’s statements are discounted. I am sure that there are elements within the Iranian regime that would like to develop nuclear weapons, and they wonder why Israel, Pakistan, and India were able to do so in secrecy and without major international challenges or sanctions.

My own view is that Iran should have been investing in labor-intensive industries and in sectors that would better incorporate women and young people. The oil, gas, and nuclear industries are capital-intensive and male-intensive; they do not generate many jobs and certainly not many jobs for women. Iran, however, has embarked on this course, and so transparency is most definitely better than the existing practices of secrecy and subterfuge.

How might Rowhani’s domestic policies differ from those under President Ahmadinejad?

Some of the biggest changes may come in the area of gender. In previous research, I have identified shifts in the gender regime over three periods—the highly ideological Khomeini era in the 1980s, the period of reform under Rafsanjani and Khatami, and the neofundamentalist Ahmadinejad era. Over time there has been a degree of feminization of civil society and within higher education. But if we examine measures such as the female share of seats in parliament (2 percent) or of jobs in the salaried labor force (16 percent), the masculine nature of the gender regime becomes manifestly clear.

The question then is whether the new president is willing to change the gender regime in a manner consistent with the global women’s rights agenda, the demands of Iranian women for equality, and the imperatives of democratization and economic growth. The claim that Iran’s polity is a democracy is undermined not only by political restrictions but also by the exclusion of women from meaningful political representation and decision-making. The Iranian economy probably also suffers from the marginal role of women in the labor force. Historical studies of the U.S. economy and more recent cross-national research show the positive effects of women’s economic participation on economic growth.The new president has declared his intention to address women’s rights. For this to occur, he needs to overturn discriminatory laws; introduce affirmative action to integrate Iran’s highly educated female population into decision-making positions across various domain; facilitate maternal employment of working-class women through paid maternity leaves covered by social insurance, along with childcare facilities; release women political prisoners including women’s rights activists; and welcome back those in exile.

Dov Waxman

Scholar of Israel to co-​​direct Middle East Center at Northeastern

June 12, 2013 by 

Israel and Middle East expert Dov Waxman will join North­eastern Uni­ver­sity as pro­fessor of polit­ical sci­ence, inter­na­tional affairs, and Israel studies and co-​​director of the Middle East Center.

Waxman, a renowned scholar of Israeli pol­i­tics and for­eign policy, Arab-​​Israeli rela­tions, and Middle East pol­i­tics, will bring his exper­tise to North­eastern in the fall as a vis­iting scholar of polit­ical sci­ence and will begin his role as co-​​director of the Middle East Center. His tenured fac­ulty appoint­ment will take effect in 2014.

“Pro­fessor Waxman’s depth of knowl­edge and expe­ri­ence make him a leading voice in the field of Middle East pol­i­tics,” said Col­lege of Social Sci­ences and Human­i­ties Interim Dean Uta Poiger. “He fos­ters robust aca­d­emic and public dis­course on com­pelling ques­tions and will be an invalu­able resource for stu­dents across disciplines.”

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