Michele Dunne | Director of and senior fellow in the Carnegie Middle East Program
Indications this spring suggest that Iran and the Gulf, North Africa, and Israel-Palestine will bear watching. While neither the Iranian regime nor the Trump administration wants to escalate to military confrontation right now, the recent sabotage of oil vessels in the Gulf of Oman shows just how narrow is the margin for error.
In North Africa, protestors are still piling into the streets of Algeria and Sudan demanding civilian-led transitions after deposing longtime leaders. Protestors, military leaders, and Arab regimes vying for influence have all learned from what happened in Egypt and elsewhere. So who will prevail? By summer’s end we might well know.
Israel-Palestine might also see fateful developments, particularly if the Trump administration delivers its long-promised peace plan. Vociferous rejection by Palestinian leaders and quieter disapproval by Arab leaders are likely. Subsequent moves—for example extension of Israeli sovereignty over settlement blocs or other parts of the West Bank—could mark a definitive transition from a two-state solution to a one-state struggle.
Dalia Ghanem | Resident scholar at the Carnegie Middle East Center
This summer I will focus on Algeria, where presidential elections will be held on July 4. Algerians who participated in the protests of recent months do not agree with these elections and are not eager to vote as long as their demands for sweeping change and reform in the country have not been met. The situation is particularly interesting because since the departure of president Abdelaziz Bouteflika the military is openly running the country. I will be returning to Algeria to see how things are evolving. There is a risk of escalation. The role of the military is crucial, and the institution’s next move will determine whether we are heading toward a renegotiation of civil-military relations or toward a scenario in which the military will do everything to retain its political role.
I will also be looking at the ramifications of the peaceful popular uprising for neighboring Morocco, Algeria’s main regional rival. I will be looking at the borders between Algeria and Tunisia as well, as Carnegie is involved in a major project on borders in the Middle East and North Africa. My attention will be on illicit trade in food and home supplies, electronics (such as mobile telephones), and fuel.
Marc Pierini | Visiting scholar at Carnegie Europe
From my perspective, the hot issue this summer will be the war of words around the deployment of Russian S-400 missiles in Turkey. If this happens, it will represent a major psychological win for Russian President Vladimir Putin against Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan and the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO). The consequences for NATO operations and for Turkey’s role within NATO will be felt for years to come.
The second issue I will monitor is the endless degradation of the rule of law in Turkey, and a major symbol of this: the trial of Turkish businessman Osman Kavala and fifteen other defendants, the first hearing of which will take place on June 24. The indictment, accepted by a court on March 4, is an unconvincing attempt to sustain the theory, voiced by Erdoğan and his allies, that the Gezi protests of June 2013 were the result of an international conspiracy. Interestingly, due to the rerun of the election for a mayor of Istanbul on June 23, the political trial will receive huge international media attention. The third issue to watch will be Turkey’s role in northern Syria and the position the United States and France will take in this regard.
Nathan Brown | Nonresident senior fellow in the Carnegie Middle East Program
For many years there have been two discussions about Israel and Palestine that too often have been disconnected. Those who study (or are immersed in) realities on the ground in Israel and Palestine have spoken in terms of prevailing arrangements as if they are deeply rooted and change gradually. Those in the international policy community, especially in Europe and the United States, still talk primarily in diplomatic terms and use the phrase “peace process” as if it refers not to something of historical memory but as a viable ongoing phenomenon. The latter approach is beginning to change. It is obviously under assault by the Trump administration, which speaks contemptuously of past diplomatic efforts. But even those who shrink from the emerging Trump approach are beginning to edge closer to the realization that existing arrangements are deeply embedded and resistant to the kinds of diplomacy that have dominated until now. They just do not know what to do about it. I hope this summer to continue thinking about ways of bringing the realists and diplomats into a long overdue conversation.
Harith Hasan | Nonresident senior fellow in the Carnegie Middle East Center
After last summer’s protests in Iraq, many expect that this summer the country will see a more radical round of protests triggered by poor services and high temperatures. So far, it seems that Prime Minister ‘Adil ‘Abdul-Mahdi’s government has been luckier than its predecessor on these fronts. The relative recovery of oil prices provided it with more resources to develop services, and the rainy season after years of drought helped not only to lower temperatures but also improve the quantity and quality of water.
Still, the summer will be difficult due to the rising tensions between the United States and Iran, who are fighting a cold war in Iraq. Washington has escalated its pressure on Baghdad to downgrade its economic ties with Tehran and control Iraqi groups backed by Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps. Iran, in turn, views Iraq as an essential partner in mitigating the harmful impact of U.S. sanctions. The pressures on the Iraqi government to align with one side or the other might prove to be devastating for Iraq’s fragile stability.
Joseph Bahout | Nonresident fellow in the Carnegie Middle East Program
The Middle East and North Africa seem to be under the direct impact of whatever dynamics take place in the Gulf as a result of a confrontation between Iran and the United States. In the Levant, such a clash would have grave consequences.
Lebanon is struggling to pass a new budget that would allow the country to avoid—at least momentarily—bankruptcy and an economic collapse. If regional tensions were to have repercussions in Lebanon, the already fragile and stumbling Lebanese edifice could crumble. So far, social protest movements are multiplying amid prospects for economic austerity, and very few analysts see serious chances for a breakthrough that could salvage the state.
In Syria, the truce, or the lull, that has existed for almost a year now in Idlib Governorate is showing increasing signs of coming to an end. While the Turkish-Russian understanding to neutralize the enclave has proven fragile, the Assad regime has shown clear signs of wanting to reconquer the territory, even if the price in human lives is high. This would allow one of the regime’s principal backers, namely Iran, to press its advantage in a theater that could ultimately prove valuable in future conflicts between Teheran and its foes.
Sherif Mohyeldeen | Nonresident scholar at the Carnegie Middle East Center
I will be focusing on the similarities between Egypt and Sudan, and how the Sudanese uprising has brought renewed Egyptian interest in its southern neighbor. What could foster economic development for both countries at a time of difficult economic crises for both, among the worst in their modern history? And how can the increasing flow of goods, people, and ideas between the two contribute to socioeconomic advancement for borderland communities?
I am also working on the diffusion of authoritarianism, trying to explore if there is any connection between the rise of the extreme right in Europe and authoritarian regimes in the Arab world. How has the new populist wave been inspired by Mideastern authoritarian leaders?
Sarah Yerkes | Fellow in the Carnegie Middle East Program
I will be watching how Tunisia’s political parties are positioning themselves as the country moves closer to legislative and presidential elections, to be held in October and November 2019, respectively. These elections are an important milestone in the democratic transition, but come at a time when fewer and fewer Tunisians trust their elected officials. I will be paying attention to how the major parties—Nidaa Tounes and Ennahda—shape their campaign narratives, but also how the smaller parties such as Machrou‘ Tounes, Beni Watani, and Afek Tounes maneuver, and whether and with whom they form preelectoral coalitions. I am also very interested in the development of independent lists, which were very successful in the May 2018 municipal elections. The recently formed National Union of Independents, a coalition of five civil society movements, could serve as a spoiler with regard to some of the more established parties should it mount a credible campaign that addresses the issue of mistrust with the political elite.