Tag Archives: iran

Chatting Lightly About Dark Matters

cover IMA

Reflecting on the Future of the Arab World.

When my friend and I meet, we go straight to the point because we barely ever meet. So we asked ourselves the other day: Can any good come out of this darkness?

Those who did not yet succumb to cynicism in the West cling on to the idea that some day, out of the current Arab nightmare will rise new types of leaders, more popular, more liberal, some kind of Islamic Martin Luther that would help Muslims leap into modernity. They are In fact not so sure about the job description, and despite their flexibility, they haven’t found anyone yet.

As for us, we apprehended the matter in a different manner and looked into the potential blind spots of the reformist quest, asking ourselves what the least expected game-changers could be on the longer run. In other words, we examined potential signs and indications that something is changing deep within the social fabrics of the region.

The elements we are about to mention now have no academic value; we are mainly sharing impressions and intuitions that would require thorough research to be confirmed or invalidated.

New signs of an Arab Stream of Consciousness

Over the past couple of years, Arab media from all affiliations have been publishing a stream of editorials and essays critically reflecting on the meaning of Modernity for the Arab-Islamic world: What are the status and the role of the region in the post-Cold War world? Does modernization equal westernization? Does democratization impose secularization? What are the possible alternatives? And what is most remarkable is that, along the way, they are tearing down intellectual boundaries inherited mainly from Arabism.

Asad Azi's Napoleon, from the exhibition

Asad Azi’s Napoleon, from the exhibition “The wandering rider”, someone who looks for a Kingdom

One common feature of this intellectual anxiety is the critical questioning of modern history: many authors turn to the past to try to better fathom their present with one main question in mind: How did we get there?

Far from the hagiographic historiographies each nation crafted for itself after the Independences, these new readings really look for answers: Why did the first Nahda[1] fail? Why couldn’t the Arab revolutions prevent Colonialism? Why didn’t the independence bring freedom and prosperity? Israel, the usual suspect for more than four decades, is barely mentioned in this context.

These debates are also spreading on social media. We have witnessed Facebook discussions whereby Arab citizens discover with dismay that a national hero can be a neighbor’s villain[2]. The first reaction is of course for each one to reassert his idols. However, these clashing narratives cannot but sow doubt and suspicion about the official history Arabs were taught.

The second remarkable element of this intellectual effervescence is that, instead of resorting to isolationism, a normal reflex in times of crisis, Arab thinkers actually look around for answers beyond the West. Japan’s Meiji era (end of the 19th century) has always inspired the Arab intelligentsia as a successful synthesis between tradition and modernity.  What’s new is a wider outlook including contemporary Latin America and Asian Muslim countries such as Malaysia and Indonesia as potential models.

Arabs also display a new ownership of western references and controversies that are rephrased in accordance with local realities.For instance, mass media editorials discuss and criticize Fukuyama’s End of History and Huntington’s Clash of Civilizations after the fall of the Soviet Union. There are also some signs of a new critical understanding of Capitalism and the impacts of Globalization after the 2008 crisis – something which is different than the old Arab communist criticism of the market economy.

In one of the most striking display of this new intellectual autonomy, the great Syrian thinker, Yassin el Hajj Saleh, reflects in a crucial article on Adorno and the meaning of Poetry after Auschwitz applied to the Syrian case[3], undeterred by the traditional taboo surrounding the Jews and the Shoah in the Arab world.

Naturally, this new stream of Arab consciousness cannot but tackle the central issue of Islam. To read more in PDF format, click here.

[1] The Nahda (“Awakening”) refers to a moment of cultural effervescence that began in the late 19th century in Egypt and in the Levant. It is often regarded as a period of intellectual modernization and reform that was sparked by the shock caused by Napoleon’s invasion of Egypt, and in general by the new awareness of the Arab elites regarding the gap between Europe and the Ottoman Empire in terms of technical and scientific development. [2] You’d be surprised how popular Saddam Hussein still is across the region. [3] Looking into the eyes of Horror, a contribution to the Syrian debate over pictures, May 30th, 2015 (Arabic only)

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The Syrian-Lebanese Diasporas in Latin America and the Syrian Conflict

VENEZUELA-SYRIA-CHAVEZ-ASSAD

Finally! Our Research on the Politicization of the Syrian-Lebanese Diasporas in Latin America is available in English.

In the following report, we examine the politicization paths of the Syrian-Lebanese Diasporas in the context of the Syrian conflict, shedding the light on these little-known communities in Venezuela, Brazil and Argentina.

We analyse, in particular, the different reasons why these communities overwhelmingly support the Syrian regime: anti-Imperialism, solidarity with the Eastern Christians and influence of an ancient Alawite community in Argentina.

This research was published in the French book “Pas de Printemps pour la Syrie”, La Découverte, December 2013.  We would like to express our appreciation to Pol O Beaglaoich for translating our work. Check our report on our website.

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Negotiate with ISIS? Lessons from Arsal, Lebanon

In at least two instances, negotiations with the Islamic State led to significant results: the withdrawal of militants from the Lebanese town of Arsal and the under-reported liberation in early July of 46 Indian nurses in Iraq (Mosul).

What are these two cases telling us about ISIS? Can it be inferred that negotiations with the group are an option

Arsal

On August 2nd , ISIS launched an offensive on the city of Arsal[1] following the arrest by Lebanese security forces of Imad Ahmed Joumaa, a Jihadist who had recently pledged allegiance to the Islamic State.

arsal view

ISIS was apparently in a position of strength – the militants took over the city in a blitzkrieg-style attack within a few hours and were later joined by Jabhat al Nusra. They were however strategically vulnerable, surrounded by the Lebanese army in a Hezbollah-dominated area, the Bekaa Valley.

map arsal

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Lebanon – Threats and Risks Assessment

shattered flag 2With each new explosion, the Media and institutions of the international community warn of the risk of yet another civil war in Lebanon. A number of internal and regional factors are cited each time: the intensification of terrorist activity, the ongoing political vacuum, the opening of the Special Tribunal for Lebanon (STL), spill-over effects from the Syrian crisis, a massive influx of Syrian refugees…

The picture is indeed quite grim. However, not all factors carry equal weight and significance. In this new special report on Lebanon, NGC intends to analyse and rank the various terrorist threats and other risk factors, and outline possible future scenarios. Continue reading

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Shiite Foreign Fighters in Syria: Facts, Narratives and Regional Impact

shia militiamen with basharSince spring 2013, a number of convergent signs indicate that a significant number of seasoned Shiite fighters from Iraq are crossing the borders into Syria to fight alongside the regime. This latest development comes in the context of mounting pressure on the capacity of the Syrian army (1), and limitations to the involvement of the Lebanese Hezbollah in Syria.

This article aims to shed light on this recent phenomenon, the corresponding realities on the ground as well as the religious and historical narratives underpinning it. It concludes by touching on the potential impacts of such a development and its significance for the future of the region. Continue reading

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NGC on BBC about Hezbollah and the Nuclear Deal

BBC Arabic asked NGC Director to discuss potential contacts between the US and Hezbollah, as well as Hezbollah’s positioning following the nuclear interim agreement between Iran and the P5+1.

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The Syrian Armed Opposition – Balance of Power, Tactical Goals and Long Term Agenda

ISIS with child

ISIS Fighters

NGC is very pleased to announce that Romain Caillet, a French researcher specialized in Islamist movements, has joined our team. Romain brings along his precious expertise on Salafist and Jihadist movements, the Syrian civil war and more generally on the Sunni/Shia relation in the Arab world. Find out more about him on our website.

NGC sat with Romain to discuss the status of the armed opposition to the Syrian regime, and try to identify:

(1)     The current balance of power between the different groups,

(2)     Their tactical and long-term goals as well as potential future scenarios

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NGC on BBC Arabic about Hezbollah’s Involvement in Syria

BBC Arabic reached out again to us on the sensitive question of Hezbollah’s military involvement in the battle of Al Quseir, a Syrian town (25 000 inhabitants) a few kilometers away from the Lebanese border. Over the past week, intense fighting has been reported around the town, between the rebels holding the city and the Syrian army supported by Hezbollah. al Quseir map small

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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The 2010 Nuclear Swap Deal (Brazil, Turkey & Iran) – 5 Lessons, 4 Recommendations

Swap Deal Triumph

NGC is happy to share with you the speech it delivered during the USEK International Symposium on the Relations between the Middle East and South America.

Enjoy the reading and share your thoughts with us!

NGC Team

Your Excellencies,

Distinguished Colleagues,

Dear Friends,

Allow me to start by welcoming all of those who came a long way to join us and by congratulating the organizers for this important event, the University of Saint Esprit of Kaslik (USEK) and the RIMAAL.

This is truly a fantastic opportunity to have an in-depth discussion on the potential of a new relation between the Middle East and South America. We are, I believe, the pioneers of an emerging strategic alliance that will bring about many benefits for the peoples of both regions and beyond.

Let me focus today on the potentialities of a Latin American political mediation in the post-Arab spring Middle East. It is mainly a prospective exercise that will:
– Draw five lessons from the nuclear swap deal between Iran, on the one hand, and Brazil and Turkey on the other hand,
– Formulate four recommendations for future initiatives.

I. Five Lessons Learned from the Nuclear Swap Deal

Let us start by analyzing a real historical precedent: the nuclear swap deal between Brazil, Turkey and Iran. In the spring of 2010, Brazil and Turkey carried out a diplomatic initiative to broker the Tehran Research Reactor (TRR) fuel swap with Iran, taking in a former US proposal of October 2009. Under the deal, Iran was to ship 1,200kg of low-enriched uranium to Turkey, in return for fuel for its research reactor.

This initiative was hailed by some observers as a powerful indicator of the empowerment and “autonomization” of emerging diplomacies from traditional decision centers and western powers.

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Middle East & South America – The Way Ahead

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In many different ways, the symposium co-organized by the Center University Saint Esprit of Kaslik (USEK)  and the RIMAAL (29-30 November) on the relations between the Middle East and South America was an eye-opener. It confirmed the massive potential of the trans-regional relation, the dynamism and ambitions of key stakeholders but also the long way still ahead of us.

During the event, the elements of this new South-South relationship literally crystallized under our eyes: new research avenues were identified (O. Dabene); future events and academic initiatives were announced and people from both continents met and clicked. We truly felt like pioneers. Continue reading

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