Author Archives: ACW Media

Washington, DC – Arab Center Washington DC (ACW) is pleased to announce the creation of a new 14-member Academic Advisory Board (AAB) that will work with the Executive Director and senior staff to enhance ACW’s mission and objectives.

The AAB’s 14 members are recognized academic specialists in their fields and bring with them several decades of combined expertise. They represent diverse institutions and academic backgrounds, reflecting the current range of issues being covered by ACW. They will each serve a 3-year term.

ACW 2017 Academic Advisory Board Members:

  • Osama Abi-Mershed, Director, Center for Contemporary Arab Studies; Associate Professor, History, Georgetown University
  • Soleman Abu-Bader, Professor, School of Social Work, Howard University
  • Mohammed Abu-Nimer, Professor, International Peace and Conflict Resolution, School of International Service, American University
  • Laurie Brand, Robert Grandford Wright Professor; Professor of International Relations and Middle East Studies, University of Southern California
  • Nathan Brown, Professor of Political Science and International Affairs; Director, Institute for Middle East Studies, George Washington University
  • Mohammed Cherkaoui, Adjunct Faculty, School for Conflict Analysis and Resolution, George Mason University
  • Hamid Dabashi, Hagop Kevorkian Professor of Iranian Studies and Comparative Literature, Columbia University
  • Marwa Daoudy, Assistant Professor, International Relations, Center for Contemporary Arab Studies, Georgetown University
  • Imad Harb, Director of Research and Analysis, Arab Center Washington DC
  • Amaney Jamal, Edwards S. Sanford Professor of Politics; Director, Mamdouha S. Bobst Center for Peace and Justice, Princeton University
  • Dina Khoury, Professor of History and International Affairs, George Washington University
  • Laurie King, Associate Teaching Professor, Department of Anthropology, Georgetown University
  • Richard Norton, Professor of Anthropology and International Relations, Boston University
  • Shibley Telhami, Anwar Sadat Professor for Peace and Development, University of Maryland

“We believe this distinguished group embodies our commitment to high-quality, independent, and critical research and analysis. We are honored to have such an exceptional list of academics contributing to enhancing the work that ACW is doing,” said Khalil E. Jahshan, Executive Director.

More detailed profiles of the Academic Advisory Board’s members can be found here.

The Arab Center for Research and Policy Studies (ACRPS) held on December 10, 2016, a one-day academic symposium entitled, The Trump Presidency: Domestic and Foreign Repercussions with the participation of thirteen scholars and researchers affiliated with ACRPS, its Washington DC affiliate, the Arab Center Washington DC (ACW), and the Doha Institute for Graduate Studies.

Azmi-Marwan-ACRPS-Trump In addition to a plenary lecture by Dr. Azmi Bishara on the historical context of the Trump victory, the program included three complementary panels focusing on the incoming Trump administration. The first panel dealt with the emerging doctrine, philosophy, and foreign policy vision of the president-elect. The second panel focused on the internal historical and socio-economic factors that contributed to his electoral victory. The third panel dealt with US foreign policy under Trump by focusing on three case studies namely, Iran, Palestine, and Egypt.

The event, held at the new campus of the Doha Institute, began with a lecture by Azmi Bishara, ACRPS general director, who spoke on the rapidly crystallizing cultural divides within traditionally democratic societies like the United States and the rise of populist rightwing movements in these countries. Bishara anticipated that Trump’s problem will essentially be an internal one focusing on the domestic struggle over the cultural, political, and economic identity of American society rather than on important foreign policy issues including the Middle East or the Pacific region. He attributed Trump’s victory to the resurgence of the right and the importation of the clash of civilizations to the domestic scene where democracy is giving birth to the contradictions of liberalism.

In his presentation on Trump’s Middle East challenges, Khalil E. Jahshan described the intense worldwide speculation regarding the foreign policies to be pursued by the new administration. The ACW executive director detailed the anxiety and confusion throughout the Middle East generated by the lack of clarity, cohesion, and depth characterizing the statements by the president-elect and his advisers regarding the region. He also concurred with Dr. Bishara, that Trump’s initial challenge will be domestic, even though the turbulent region will not necessarily leave the new administration alone.

Dr. Marwan Kabalan, who directs the Research Unit at ACRPS, characterized the Trump presidency as potentially Jacksonian in terms of its nationalistic, populist, and isolationist tendencies. Trump, according to Kabalan, will withdraw from various international agreements and could even undo the entire post-World War II international system based on the existence of NATO as a bulwark against Russia.

Khalil-Joe-Doha-ACRPS-TrumpOn the other hand, Political Analyst Joe Macaron emphasized the impact of Trump’s personality traits on his policies, including his confrontational tendencies and his philosophy of winning at any price. Macaron also highlighted Trump’s dark or pessimistic view of the United States, which differs from the optimistic assessment of most other political candidates. This negative perception of America appealed to the many angry and dissatisfied voters throughout the United States.

Of interest to the audience at the symposium was how this would play out in terms of the Palestinian situation and American sponsorship of a Middle East peace agreement and a two-state solution. Ibrahim Fraihat, formerly of the Brookings Institution and now at DI, detailed several of the concerns that many pro-Palestinian individuals have with the rise of Trump—including, for example, the unorthodox idea of the president-elect’s son-in-law Jared Kushner as a special envoy to the Middle East, given the Kushner family’s strong connections to Israel. At the same time, Fraihat reassured the audience that this uniquely untested president-elect of the United States could only do a limited amount of damage to the Palestinian cause. He explained that “US foreign policy is defined by an establishment and the interests defined by that establishment: institutions, lobbies, and large companies. The power of the presidency will be restricted, largely, to arranging those interests by order of priority.”

Interestingly, symposium participants viewed Trump’s electoral victory not in the framework of international conflict but rather as one that pitted different strata of American society against each other. Doha Institute faculty Samer Shehata and Mark Farha debated that the bitterness fueling the defeat of former secretary of state Hillary Clinton by Donald Trump, a real estate developer, was based on a surging class resentment resulting from the collapse of most Americans’ real income over the past five decades. Unemployment, in addition, now affects one in four in the labor force. These comments and analyses clearly echoed the point made by Bishara at the beginning of the symposium that “The [real] challenge to the rule of Trump will come not from international affairs but from his own domestic audience.”

On November 29, 2016, Arab Center Washington DC (ACW) hosted a talk by Dr. Abdulwahab Al-Qassab on the political Implications of the battle for Mosul. Dr. Al-Qassab provided historical context and analyzed the current political and military situation in Iraq, explaining the motivations of the multiple actors and the power dynamics that continue to influence the serious and volatile situation in Mosul.

With a diverse ethnic and religious population and overlaid with traditional tribal affinities, Iraq is now grappling with competing interests, and especially with the growth and entrenchment of ISIS. Al-Qassab explained that the political and expansionist aims of Iran in the region, and in the country, play a central role in Iraq’s stability. Inter-ethnic and Sunni-Shiite relations may have been generally nonbelligerent historically, but more recent political and sectarian issues and allegiances have fanned the flames of discord. He noted that the three major regional powers—Iraq, Iran, and the Gulf Cooperation Council—played a triangular power equation in the area until the US invasion of Iraq in 2003, which greatly diminished Iraq’s influence. Nonetheless, Iraq continues to be a strategic geopolitical entity in regional and international politics.

Mosul in particular represents a highly important stop on the traditional Silk Road. It links central Asia through Iran to the eastern Mediterranean and to the West, and toward central Iraq and the Arab Gulf to the south. To the north it links Iraq to Turkey and through the latter to Europe. Through the Caucuses, the axis is opened toward Russia and Eurasia. Economically it is a traditional center of trade, industry, and commerce.

Therefore, the 2014 ISIS takeover of Mosul -and – other Iraqi cities- represented a very important strategic gain for ISIS and a serious defeat to the Iraqi central government and its military forces. The potent ISIS control of Mosul continues to present profound challenges today for Iraq, Iran, Turkey, and the Kurds; indeed, many groups are fighting a proxy war in the city. Although the government now has control of Baghdad, Ramadi, Falluja, Tikrit, and Baiji, Mosul has proved more difficult to liberate.

Al-Qassab reiterated that the liberation of Mosul will be critical to the future of Iraq. The government, he advised, will have to behave in a “trans-national and trans-sectarian” way in order to guarantee the safety of every Iraqi citizen. Otherwise, he cautioned, the consequences would be drastic and could spell the inevitable dismemberment of the country into three regions—Sunni, Shiite, and Kurdish. The question therefore remains, he said: Will the Iraqi government act independently or will it be beholden to Iran?

Dr. Mustafa Gurbuz and Dr. Imad Harb, both non-resident analysts at ACW, also provided commentary discussing the implications of the Mosul battle for Turkey and the United States, respectively.

Gurbuz noted that increasing tensions in Mosul will have implications for Iraqi Kurdistan, where a new sectarianism could find its way and which would compel Turkey to become involved in a “sectarian game.” In addition, Turkey fears that Iran’s power is on the ascendant. He noted that the offensive against ISIS in Raqqa, Syria, cannot be separated from the battle for Mosul, and observed Washington’s wavering stance of supporting whichever side was successful in standing up to ISIS. It will be incumbent on President-elect Donald Trump’s administration to navigate effectively between President Erdogan and Kurdish forces, but Gurbuz wondered if this was realistic or even possible. Following the liberation of Mosul, he said, serious political leadership is needed to prevent further sectarian conflicts.

Harb started by saying that the battle for Mosul “means everything for the United States”—that Mosul is not only an Iraqi battle but a Syrian and American one as well. Washington must devote troops on the ground in order to vanquish ISIS; if Mosul is not handled correctly, the militant group will come back in a more brutal and dangerous form. He advocated that the United States initiate efforts toward nation-building in Iraq and to thinking strategically about how to reconstruct and rehabilitate Mosul with the best interest of Iraq in mind. He painted a dire picture of the current situation in the region, saying that the Arab state system in the Levant is in “free fall,” with two separate institutional power structures (government and Iran-backed) in Iraq, Syria, Yemen, and Lebanon, while Washington has been steadily losing its influence in the Middle East. He concluded his remarks by noting that after January 20, 2017, when President-elect Trump is inaugurated, “we don’t know what will happen” in terms of US policy.

While the battle for Mosul is far from over, the multiple political and military players make it difficult to predict the outcomes. One conclusion that can be deduced from the current realities on the ground is that only serious political leadership that treats all Iraqis as equal citizens can prevent a new sectarian crisis the day after Mosul is liberated from ISIS.

Watch Event

Dr. Abdulwahab Al-Qassab is an Associate Researcher at the Arab Center for Research and Policy Studies (ACRPS) in Doha, Qatar. Before entering a career in research and academia, Al-Qassab served in the Iraqi Armed Forces, earning the rank of Major General. He also served as a consultant for Naval Affairs and overlooked research and development programs for the Chief of the General Staff in the Iraqi Armed Forces. Between 1997 and 2005, Al-Qassab taught postgraduate strategic studies in Al-Nahrain University in Baghdad and in 2003 founded Al-Zaman Center for Strategic Studies in Iraq. From 2006 until 2010, he was a consultant to the Iraqi Center for Strategic Studies in Amman and the Center for Strategic Studies of the Qatar Armed Forces. Prior to joining ACRPS, Al-Qassab worked with the Center for Arab World Studies, Al-Mustansiriya University, and The Center for International Studies at University of Baghdad.

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

Washington DC – The Arab Center Washington DC (ACW) will be releasing the results of an Arab public opinion survey on the U.S. presidential elections on November 1, 2016 at the National Press Club.

Many questions have been raised in recent months about the impact of the US presidential campaign on relations with the Arab world. How do average Arab citizens perceive the electoral process in the United States? Do US elections matter to Arabs? Do they think that the outcome of presidential elections in the US impacts their lives in their respective countries or in the Arab region at large? Do Arabs favor a candidate over the other? What worries the Arab public about US foreign policy and what are their expectations after November 8?

These and other legitimate questions prompted the Arab Center Washington DC (ACW) to conduct a public opinion survey in the Arab world on October 18-28, 2016. The survey polled a randomly selected aggregate sample of 3,600 respondents covering nine Arab countries, namely Algeria, Egypt, Iraq, Jordan, Kuwait, Morocco, Palestine, Saudi Arabia and Tunisia. The results will be released at a special press conference scheduled as follows:

Tuesday, November 1, 2016
First Amendment room
National Press Club
9:30 – 10:45 a.m.

Arab Center Washington DC (ACW) is an independent, nonpartisan, nonprofit 501(c)(3) research organization located in Washington, District of Columbia dedicated to furthering economic, political, historical, and social understanding of the Arab world in the United States, and to providing insight on US foreign policy in the Middle East.

 

 

The Arab Center Washington DC (ACW) convened its first annual conference on October 14, the focus of which was democracy in the Arab world. The panelists offered diverse perspectives on the challenges to democracy in the Arab world, the causes that led to failed or undemocratic transitions, the failure of the Obama Administration to support Arab democracy efforts, and opportunities and recommendations for the next Administration.

ACW Board Member Randa Famhy and ACW Executive Director Khalil Jahshan delivered the welcoming remarks explaining the mission and functions of the Arab Center Washington DC in providing insight on economic, political and social life in the Arab world and on US policy toward the Middle East.

Azmi Bishara, General Director of the Arab Center for Research and Policy Studies (ACRPS) in Doha, delivered the keynote speech via video conference, setting the tone for the conference and addressing the structural issues in the Arab states that led to the failure of democratic transition. The uprisings of 2011 rose against authoritarian regimes and their repressive policies and demanded democracy and human rights, which can only be achieved in a democratic society. However, the uprisings of 2011 led to civil war, the eruption of violence and disagreement between Arab elites over who was responsible for the violence. According to Bishara, Arab Democrats believe that the failure of democracy was attributed to the old regimes, which offered no opportunity to allow citizens to participate in the political process. He blamed the patriarchal nature of Arab society and political elites for the failure of democratic transition. Regarding the Obama legacy, Bishara stated that President Obama’s approach to the Middle East was superficial and shallow-minded, driven by his desire to avoid the mistakes of his predecessor.

“Is it the yearning for change or the failure to make it happen that should be blamed for violence?” – Azmi Bishara

During the conference, the panelists discussed the current state of democracy in the Arab world and the factors behind its failure. Using the uprising in Syria as an example, Lina Khatib of Chatham House explained the evolution of the opposition in Syria from an opposition group demanding change and democracy to one ultimately co-opted by Jihadist groups. Among other things, this evolution was brought on by the failure of the Obama Administration to fully back the opposition forces as well as the failure to react to the red line that President Obama had established against Assad. The US policy of non-intervention in Syria has allowed Russia to assume a direct role in the conflict, while the US mishandled the entire situation. Radwan Ziadeh, Senior Analyst at Arab Center Washington DC, argued that the US needs a new approach toward Syria; one that features a strong US presence. In Ziadeh’s view, the only recourse to the Syrian crisis is the use of force as a means of starting the political transition in Syria, similar to the approach the US used in Bosnia, which led the parties to the negotiating table.

“We have had an almost obsession in the US with categorizing groups in Syria into so-called moderates or so-called extremists. This misses the dynamic on the ground: lots of people don’t join groups out of ideology but out of a desire for military effectiveness, the need to generate funding, feed their families, or because of local ties” – Lina Khatib

Concerning Egypt, Emad Shahin of Georgetown University argued that “the Egyptian state is not a neutral agent and therefore lacks the capacity to be inclusive to tribal, religious or sectarian groups.” According to Shahin, for a democratic transition to succeed, a transfer of power from the state apparatus to outsiders should occur, not a transition into another similar regime or the military and intelligence. These factors all but guaranteed the failure of democratic transition in Egypt. It was a false premise that anyone expected the Arab world to undergo rapid democratic change in 2011. However, as Michelle Dunne, Director of the Middle East Program at Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, explained, some did anticipate a better outcome in Tunisia due to Habib Bourguiba’s major investment in human development, which left a long-legacy for Tunisia’s transition to democracy, albeit a fragile one.

“A Major challenge for actors outside the region, including the United States, is to develop ways to interact with the region that go beyond security assistance and arms sales” – Michelle Dunne

Iraq, on the other hand, was doomed to failure due to societal fractures on a sectarian basis. Abdulwahhab Al-Qassab, Associate Researcher at Arab Center for Research and Policy Studies, argued that the major reason behind the failure in Iraq was the introduction of fragmentation of the country on sectarian and ethnic basis, as a result of the US invasion of Iraq. The sectarian conflict gave no legitimacy to the elections, and was later exploited by groups like al-Qaida and ISIS. Marwan Kabalan, Associate Researcher at Arab Center for Research and Policy Studies, asserted that the Obama Administration failed in Iraq, and that there is less hope for democracy in the region today. External players, particularly the Obama Administration, did nothing to help the Arab Spring and support transitions. He noted that the result of not supporting democracy – or dealing with it as a side issue – achieved the opposite of what the US wanted the Middle East.

“President Obama did betray the cause for democracy by supporting the election of Maliki, however the President was not elected to promote democracy but rather to withdraw troops from Iraq” – Marwan Kabalan

Regarding the Obama Administration’s policy toward the Middle East, Peter Beinart, Associate Professor of Journalism and Political Science at CUNY, disagrees. He posited that Obama has long believed that US overextension in the Middle East will ultimately harm the economy, the ability to deal with other challenges and more importantly endanger the lives of US service men and women for reasons that are not in the direct American national security interests. Amaney Jamal of Princeton University argued that economics remains a key challenge and one of the dominant grievances in the region, and thus needs to be incorporated into US policy. Public opinion data presented by Jamal show that for most citizens in the Arab world, the economy is the most important concern, while the MENA region continues to receive the lowest amount of foreign direct investment than any region in the word. Jamal added that the Arab-Israeli Conflict also is an obstacle to reform, as investment in the Arab world is perceived through this seemingly intractable instability.

“For all the talk about the success and failure of the Arab Spring, we should be thinking about the ‘economic failure’ that came about with the Arab Spring” – Amaney Jamal

Francis Fukuyama of Stanford University acknowledged that the US has many misperceptions about the Middle East. There has been little effort, post-9/11, toward understanding the factors that led to the Arab Spring or the events following the Arab Spring. According to Fukuyama, for the Obama Administration the biggest problem in the region is not democracy, it is state building. The legacy of Iraq and Afghanistan gives proof to the theory that democracy building or military intervention will not succeed without efforts to work toward state building. Daniel Brumberg of Georgetown University argued that there is a need to overcome the politics of fear in the region, and focus on building democracy through building consensus. Brumberg argued that part of the failure of the Arab Spring is the lack of consensus building. He noted that “the Tunisian example should remind us how important it is for the opposition to see beyond their own ideological, sectarian, social or economic divisions, and build a common agenda.”

“The big problem in the Arab world is that the sense of nationhood has never been really forged and never had the opportunity to be forged” – Francis Fukuyama

Stephen McInerney, Executive Director of Project on Middle East Democracy (POMED), recommended a series of future policy steps toward the region, including consistent messaging on human rights and democracy, willingness to take bold actions to encourage non-democratic governments to take meaningful steps towards human rights and reform, and engaging more broadly with the region such as with civil society.

“The absolute top priority for US policy in the Arab World should be helping the people of the region have governments that respect the rights of their citizens and democratic institutions that encourage the full participation and engagement of their citizens” – Stephen McInerney

A recording of the conference sessions, as well as Dr. Azmi Bishara’s keynote remarks can be found below: