Political and Social Trends in the Middle East

Part of the: 
Middle East Program
Maghreb in Transition

Political and social changes underway across the region with insights for U.S. policy.

Middle East Notes and Comment: The Seductions of Ideology

A small industry is arising to battle the ideologies of violent Islamist groups, but many of its efforts are misplaced.

Middle East Notes and Comment: Egypt Five Years On

Egypt’s revolutions seem to have come full circle, but the return of order does not necessarily mean stability.

Middle East Notes and Comment: The Other Crisis

A Palestinian leadership vacuum will undermine both Israelis and Palestinians.

U.S.-Israel Ties after the Agreement

As part of CSIS's 2016 Global Forecast, Haim Malka assesses how core assumptions of the U.S.-Israeli relationship are shifting.

This piece also appears in Middle East Notes and Comment.

ISIS (Re)Writes History

The Islamic State group is a wholly modern movement that seeks to look ancient, Jon Alterman writes in his contribution to CSIS's 2016 Global Forecast.

This piece also appears in Middle East Notes and Comment.

Gulf Roundtable: India between Iran and the Gulf

India has core interests in the Middle East, but it does not engage in the region on a level matching the importance of those ties. Instead, India cautiously maneuvers around regional rivalries, strategic competitors, and a rapidly evolving geopolitical environment, according to Dr. P. R. Kumaraswamy. Kumaraswamy spoke at a CSIS Middle East Program Gulf Roundtable entitled “India between Iran and the Gulf” on October 5, 2015.

Gulf Roundtable: Where Do We Go From Here? The World After the Iran Deal

The nuclear deal between Iran and the P5+1 is changing the Middle East strategic environment, requiring the United States to take a more active leadership role in the region, according to Amb. Nicholas Burns and Dr. Vali Nasr. Burns and Nasr spoke at a CSIS Middle East Program Gulf Roundtable entitled “Where Do We Go From Here? The World After the Iran Deal,” on September 25, 2015.

Human Capital and the Future of the Gulf

Extensive efforts to develop human capital are under way in the United Arab Emirates, Saudi Arabia, and elsewhere in the Persian Gulf, and they are increasingly setting expectations for how people ought to behave socially and economically that are in tension with how they are expected to behave politically.

Where is Iraq Heading?

Iraqi Ambassador to the United States Lukman Faily spoke about the country's future direction as well as present challenges at an event titled "Where is Iraq Heading?" hosted by the Middle East Program on September 3, 2015. Jon Alterman moderated the discussion, which also featured expert commentary from Ayham Kamel and Aaron Zelin.

Workforce Development in Tunisia and Jordan: Changing Attitudes under New and Old Systems

Elites in Tunisia and Jordan stress their need to invest in their human resources, because people are the only resources they have.Yet a look at recent and ongoing workforce development efforts in each country reveals that these schemes are intended to produce something fundamentally different in each country.

Gulf Roundtable: Oil, Parliaments, and the Future of the Gulf

The economies of Kuwait and the United Arab Emirates (UAE) are diverging due to the relative power of their elected institutions, Michael Herb argues in his new book.

Critical Questions: Saudi Arabia's Shifting Line of Succession

What do the shifts in the line of succession in Saudi Arabia mean?

Middle East Notes and Comment: Al-Azhar's Perilous Resurgence

Al-Azhar is a potential resource in Arab battles against extremism, but it is one best used carefully, and sparingly.

Middle East Notes and Comment: Yemen's Misery

Yemen is not hopeless, but its rapid collapse provides just a hint of how bad things could get.

Middle East Notes and Comment: To Fight Jihadi Violence, End the Wars

Al Qaeda and the Islamic State thrive in the midst of proxy wars—ones that are often conducted between U.S. allies.

Gulf Roundtable: Will Unity Hold? The GCC and the Challenge of Joint Action

Improving relations among the Gulf Cooperation Council states are a sign that governments are feeling increasingly stressed, according to Dr. F. Gregory Gause III, and inter-state tensions would likely return if threats diminished.

Gulf Roundtable: The "Yemen Model"?

While violent extremism in Yemen draws the world’s attention, genuinely addressing its causes would require sustained commitments to Yemen’s economic and political development, according to Dr. Charles Schmitz.

The Challenge of Non-State Actors

The United States must increasingly address a mutating set of foes. Victory is unlikely to be found through defeating and eliminating these groups. Instead, the United States must work to change the political and social conditions that allow them to thrive.

Middle East Notes and Comment: The Middle East Unstitched

Sectarian difference in the Middle East isn’t new, but its overwhelming importance is.

Middle East Notes and Comment: Hoping for Trouble in Iraq

It is hard to find a state in the region that doesn’t see some advantage to escalating violence in Iraq, as long as the violence can be contained.

Maghreb Roundtable: What's Next for Algeria?

John P. Entelis and Robert P. Parks shared their different but complementary analyses of Algerian society and politics following the re-election of President Abdelaziz Bouteflika.

Middle East Notes and Comment: A Partnership for Egypt

While many in the United States seem content to let Egypt drift into the arms of deep-pocketed Gulf monarchies, the smarter strategy is for the United States to prioritize finding common ground with those monarchies to steer Egypt in a more promising direction.

The Struggle for Religious Identity in Tunisia and the Maghreb

Defining religious identity in the Maghreb has become an urgent challenge for governments fighting violent extremism. Nowhere is the battle as intense as in Tunisia, which is struggling to reshape its religious identity after more than a half century of state-imposed secularism.

Egypt's Foreign Policy in New Realities with Nabil Fahmy

Egyptian Foreign Minister Nabil Fahmy spoke about Egypt's current political dynamics and foreign policy priorities at a CSIS Statesmen's Forum on April 28, 2014.

Iraq's Parliamentary Elections: A Conversation with Lukman Faily

Iraq Ambassador to the United States Lukman Faily spoke about Iraq's upcoming parliamentary elections and political dynamics in Iraq at a CSIS Statesmen's Forum on April 23, 2014.

Gulf Roundtable: Islamists Rising and Falling: A View from Saudi Arabia

Jon B. Alterman and William McCants explained how the rise and fall of the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt and the dilemmas of Saudi policy toward Syria have affected Saudi leaders’ policies toward domestic Islamists.

Tunisia's Path Forward with H.E. Mehdi Jomaa

Tunisian Prime Minister H.E. Mehdi Jomaa spoke about his government’s emphasis on ensuring a smooth path to new parliamentary and presidential elections while strengthening Tunisia’s future economic growth and stability at a CSIS Statesmen's Forum on April 2, 2014.

Middle East Notes and Comment: Traditional Remedies

The Arab revolts and revolutions of 2011 provided public space for violent extremist ideology to spread and reignited a debate over how to fight it. Among regional allies, the U.S. preference for democracy seems to be on the retreat while the impulse to regulate religion appears to be on the upswing.

Maghreb Roundtable: The Geopolitics of North African Energy Trends

Declining production, rising domestic consumption, and insecurity are huge challenges for energy producers in North Africa, according to Leonardo Bellodi and Arezki Daoud.

Middle East Notes and Comment: A Deeper Difference

Once upon a time, Middle Eastern governments thought a U.S. relationship would protect them from what they feared most. Now they are less sure, and their relationships with the United States reflect that.

Middle East Notes and Comment: Rethinking Ties with Egypt

Many see a rising crisis in U.S.-Egypt relations. It is more correct, however, to see conditions as a rising opportunity.

What Should the Middle East Expect from the United States and its Allies?

Part of the Global Forecast 2014: U.S. Security Policy at a Crossroads.

Middle East Notes and Comment: Enlisting "B" Students

The Middle East will remain volatile and subject to repeated disruption until the problems of human capital are addressed. Focusing on the “A” students may be sufficient to succeed in good times, but resilience can only come from enlisting the “B” students as well.

Jihadi-Salafism's Next Generation

Popular uprisings across North Africa have unleashed a new wave of jihadi-salafism that is increasingly mainstream and appeals to a younger generation of activists. This popular jihadi-salafism is less dramatic than al Qaeda’s version, but it will have a far greater impact on the region’s future.

GCC-Maghreb Relations in a Changing Regional Order

Arab Gulf leaders are making clear the strategic importance they attach to North Africa through offers of aid and investment. But while Gulf leaders want to shape developments in the Maghreb, it is unclear what real political impact their actions have beyond affecting public perceptions.

Middle East Notes and Comment: Covering a Coup

The controversial role of Al Jazeera in Egypt tells us a great deal about the role of traditional media in the Arab world, and it helps explain the polarization that has ensued.

Middle East Notes and Comment: Arab Politics Undone

Arab politics used to be nasty, but at least they had rules. All of that is gone, and the sense that the United States has moved on contributes to the vacuum.

Middle East Notes and Comment: The Age of Proxy Wars

More than an age of democratization or Islamicization, the Middle East is entering an age of proxy wars.

Gulf Analysis Paper: Saudi Arabia and Qatar in a Time of Revolution

Both Qatar and Saudi Arabia seek to use their wealth as an instrument of their foreign policy, shaping the external environment in order to secure their internal one.

Muftah: Establishing Legitimacy: Challenges of Governance in Tunisia

The danger is not that Tunisia will fall apart completely, but that it will settle into a rut of electing governments incapable of governing.

The Maghreb in Transition: Seeking Stability in an Era of Uncertainty

The Maghreb is in motion. Political changes underway across North Africa have created opportunities for more representative and transparent governance. Debates over the nature of authority and the role of the state that would have been unthinkable just a few years ago now shape political discourse. And yet, doubts remain.

Gulf Roundtable: Iran's Regional Strategy

Iranian influence in the Middle East has peaked, and the country’s strategic position at the end of 2012 is worse than it was two years ago.

Gulf Roundtable: The Gulf in a Changing Region

Professor Bernard Haykel explained the Gulf monarchies’ relative stability and their approaches to managing transformations in the surrounding region.

Conference Report: Building Stability through Economic Growth in the Maghreb

Governments across the Maghreb are struggling to address a wide range of socioeconomic and political grievances that sparked popular uprisings throughout 2011.

Critical Questions: Egypt: The President and the Military

President Mohamed Morsi of Egypt shook up the military establishment on Sunday, August 12, 2012.

The Revolution in Egypt: Turning Point?

Jon B. Alterman, Brzezinski Chair in Global Security and Geostrategy and Director, Middle East Program, testified before the House Foreign Affairs Committee Subcommittee on the Middle East and South Asia.

Egypt in Transition: Insights and Options for U.S. Policy

The United States has some role to play in Egypt’s transition, but it is a limited one. This report urges taking a long view of developments in Egypt and cautions against a rush toward conditionality to shape the Egyptian government’s actions. It calls for investments in democratic processes, in the Egyptian military, in trade, and in training and education.

Bracing for Aftershocks: North African Politics and Security

North Africa is bracing itself. Not since Algeria’s brutal civil war a generation ago has the region witnessed so much turmoil and uncertainty.

Gulf Analysis Paper: Saudi Youth: Unveiling the Force for Change

A survey of Saudi youth helps shed light on the attitudes of young Saudis and underscores the interconnections between issues that will demand creative thinking on the part of the Saudi government in the years ahead.

Seeing Through the Fog: Transitional Governments in Libya and Elsewhere

On October 6, 2011, Jon B. Alterman delivered this talk at the Marine Corps University in Quantico, VA, drawing on experience with transitions around the world to caution patience, identify the perils of U.S. bureaucratic politics, and highlight the importance of neighboring states.

Conference Report: Planning for a Post-Gadhafi Libya

On July 25, 2011, CSIS convened approximately 50 experts from the government, diplomatic and expert communities to analyze the way forward in Libya. The report outlines the different conclusions that were reached.

What's Next for Tunisia?

Tunisia’s interim rulers are faced with the immediate tasks not only of restoring order after a month of street protests, but also of shaping a new governing system.

Understanding Islamic Charities

The alleged support for acts of violence and terrorism in the Islamic charitable sector—and a seeming toleration of such activities—raises serious questions.

Muslim Networks: Shared Value, Shared Fate

Increasingly, Muslim identity goes beyond the way in which people live their daily lives and extends to the way they view their neighbors, their governments, Muslims outside their countries, and the non-Muslim world.

Arab Reform and Foreign Aid: Lessons from Morocco

In the years since Mohammed VI ascended the throne, Morocco has taken many steps toward social, economic, and political transformation. The heightened importance Western powers ascribe to Middle Eastern reform and Morocco's prominence as both an example and test case of that reform raise a host of issues for Americans, Europeans, and Moroccans.

Foreign Service Journal: IT Comes of Age in the Middle East

Although access to media and information remains far more restricted than it is in Western Europe and the
United States, in relative terms the change is just as revolutionary.

Policy Review: The False Promise of Arab Liberals

The U.S. strategy, as it has been executed, is based on building out from a core of like-minded liberal reformers in the Arab world. These liberals are losing a battle for the hearts and minds of their countries, and populations are increasingly driven toward younger and more disaffected personalities.

All issues of Middle East Notes and Comment on regional trends and developments




  • China-Middle East

    The China-Middle East Project is an ongoing analysis of the Middle Eastern and Chinese strategic partnership.

  • Morocco Mosque

    Addressing key emerging issues and creating a community of interest in Morocco, Algeria, Tunisia, and Libya.

  • Photo Courtesy of Domes in Arches http://www.flickr.com/photos/modenadude/5174206568/

    The Gulf Roundtable Series examines the strategic importance of social, political, and economic trends in the GCC states, Iraq, and Iran and identifies opportunities for constructive U.S. engagement.

  • The Muslim Networks Project sought to understand forms of Muslim identity and how nonradical networks and identities shape the views of Muslims across the globe.

  • Capitol Hill

    The Congressional Forum on Islam allowed congressional staff to interact with leading scholars on Islam-related topics.

  • Religious Radicalism after the Arab Uprisings

    The Middle East faces a continuation of conflicts that many thought were coming to an end.

  • The Middle East Program established a dialogue between Western and Arab news professionals on matters of common concern.