Political and Social Trends in the Middle East
Political and social changes underway across the region with insights for U.S. policy.
Major political changes have taken place in the Middle East over the past several years, and that trend is unlikely to abate any time soon. From the Tunisian revolution that began in December 2010 to Egypt’s political transition, Libya’s revolution and ongoing strife, Syria’s civil war, and the advance of the Islamic State in Syri and Iraq, a region long seen as stagnant has repeatedly witnessed the influence of newly empowered publics on political life. The Middle East Program has consistently paid close attention to the long-term social, economic, and political drivers of change in the region, and it continues to closely analyze the political changes underway across the Middle East to provide insights and recommendations for U.S. policy.
In this new edited volume from the CSIS Middle East Program, chapters analyze the region’s political, strategic, and economic realities in 2015, looking at both old and new challenges, how political actors are evolving, and how policymakers can think strategically about the region.
In the Middle East, conflicts that many thought were coming to an end will continue, as will the dynamism and innovation that have emerged among radical and opposition groups.
A production of the Brzezinski Institute on Geostrategy and the CSIS Middle East Program, "Iraq in the Balance" looks at how history, geography, power, and people have shaped Iraq's past and its potential future trajectories. Dr. Jon B. Alterman narrates this exploration of how Iraq's past affects questions about its future.
Recent Publications and Events
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.
What do the shifts in the line of succession in Saudi Arabia mean?
Al-Azhar is a potential resource in Arab battles against extremism, but it is one best used carefully, and sparingly.
Yemen is not hopeless, but its rapid collapse provides just a hint of how bad things could get.
Al Qaeda and the Islamic State thrive in the midst of proxy wars—ones that are often conducted between U.S. allies.
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.
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 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.
Sectarian difference in the Middle East isn’t new, but its overwhelming importance is.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 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.
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.
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.
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.
Declining production, rising domestic consumption, and insecurity are huge challenges for energy producers in North Africa, according to Leonardo Bellodi and Arezki Daoud.
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.
Many see a rising crisis in U.S.-Egypt relations. It is more correct, however, to see conditions as a rising opportunity.
Part of the Global Forecast 2014: U.S. Security Policy at a Crossroads.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
More than an age of democratization or Islamicization, the Middle East is entering an age of proxy wars.
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.
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 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.
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.
Professor Bernard Haykel explained the Gulf monarchies’ relative stability and their approaches to managing transformations in the surrounding region.
Governments across the Maghreb are struggling to address a wide range of socioeconomic and political grievances that sparked popular uprisings throughout 2011.
President Mohamed Morsi of Egypt shook up the military establishment on Sunday, August 12, 2012.
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.
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.
North Africa is bracing itself. Not since Algeria’s brutal civil war a generation ago has the region witnessed so much turmoil and uncertainty.
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.
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.
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.
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.
The alleged support for acts of violence and terrorism in the Islamic charitable sector—and a seeming toleration of such activities—raises serious questions.
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.
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.
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.
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.
The China-Middle East Project is an ongoing analysis of the Middle Eastern and Chinese strategic partnership.
Addressing key emerging issues and creating a community of interest in Morocco, Algeria, Tunisia, and Libya.
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.
The Congressional Forum on Islam allowed congressional staff to interact with leading scholars on Islam-related topics.
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.
- VideoApr 16, 2015
- AudioApr 16, 2015
BookDec 15, 2014
NewsletterMay 26, 2015
Apr 16, 2015
Apr 16, 2015