Check my new book out New Beginning in US-Muslim Relations: President Obama and the Arab Awakening at Palgrave Macmillan official website.
This book carries out a comparative study of the US response to popular uprisings in the Middle East as an evaluation of President Barack Obama’s foreign policy commitments. In 2009, Obama publicly pledged “a new beginning in US-Muslim relations,” causing eager expectation of a clear shift in US foreign policy after the election of the 44th president of the United States. However, the achievement of such a shift was made particularly difficult by the existence of multiple, and sometimes conflicting, US interests in the region which influenced the Obama administration’s response to the popular uprisings in five Muslim-majority countries: Egypt, Bahrain, Yemen, Libya, and Syria. After providing a detailed analysis of the traditional features of both US foreign policy rhetoric and practice, this book turns its focus to the Obama administration’s response to the 2011 Arab Awakening to determine whether Obama’s foreign policy has indeed brought about a new beginning in US-Muslim relations.
Enjoy your reading!
In this 4 minute long video interview realized by some of my students at King’s College London I briefly address three aspects concerning the current crisis in Yemen:
- The origins of the conflict
- The main actors involved in the conflict and their alliances
- The major implications for international relations: the humanitarian concern, energy security, and terrorism
Follow me on Twitter: @eugeniolilli
A bit of self-promotion.
Foreign Actors: A Double-Edged Sword Over Contentious Politics In The Middle East is the title of a chapter that I wrote for a forthcoming book published by Palgrave Macmillan: Contentious Politics in the Middle East (September 2015).
While most chapters in this book focus on the role of popular agency in the 2011 Arab uprisings, my chapter takes an opposite perspective and, without neglecting the importance of domestic actors, it seeks to highlight the role foreign actors played in such protests. To prove this point the essay adopts a comparative approach and analyzes the specific cases of Bahrain, Libya, and Yemen. Popular movements arose in a number of Arab countries which shared common calls for socio-economic and political change eventually aimed at achieving better living standards and a greater participation by the people in their nations’ political systems. There has been general agreement that these protest movements were the result of the spontaneous mobilization of independent domestic actors predominantly interested in addressing domestic grievances. However, once the unrest began the response of foreign actors had a decisive influence on the development and outcome of such uprisings. In some cases foreign action supported popular movements and facilitated change whereas, in others, foreign action backed existing regimes and helped to maintain the status quo.
Here is the link to the book webpage. Have a look!
On The World Post Dr. April Longley Alley offers some useful insights into the conflct that is ravaging Yemen.
The Houthi insurgency has been going on for years, but in recent months has drastically escalated. What was the catalyst for that escalation?
There are a number of reasons for the escalation. Yemen’s transition process started in 2011 and there was a road map to guide the country to reform. While some achievements were made, the process stalled and various political groups failed to come to consensus on two core issues that became real sticking points. The first was the details of pre-election power-sharing agreements, and how exactly to integrate groups like the Houthis into decision-making structures. Then there was also the issue of the the state, particularly the boundaries of federal regions.
When dialogue ended in early 2014, these two unresolved issues continued to fester, corruption continued and the old power structures were left in place. Throughout the three year transition, the Houthis began to take advantage of state weakness and expanded militarily in the absence of political reform.
The government’s removal of the fuel subsidy last summer was a tipping point. The Houthis and their supporters mobilized in and around the capital of Sanaa and eventually began to take over.
This has been described as a sectarian conflict between the Shiite Houthi rebels and Sunni tribes. How accurate is that framing?
At its core this is not a sectarian conflict, this is a political power struggle between various Yemeni actors.
Yemen has a Zaidi community, which practices a version of Shiite Islam. They are the majority in the far north but the minority in the country. Then there is a majority Shafi’i population, who follow a version of Sunni Islam. These communities have intermarried and they pray in each other’s mosques. While some regional divides and divisions in the political economy sometimes overlap with the Zaidi-Shafi’i divides, there’s no history of sectarian conflict in Yemen. To frame it in terms of sectarian conflict is therefore misleading.
At the same time, however, we’re seeing a dangerous development inside of Yemen where increasingly sectarian language is being used to describe the conflict both by regional actors and by Yemenis.
The war is also sometimes described as a proxy war between Iran and Saudi Arabia. How legitimate is that description?
The Houthis do have connections with Iran, and there is some degree of assistance, although the degree is not clear in terms of financial and military assistance.
The more important point is that in particular Saudi Arabia and the Gulf states are increasingly viewing Yemen and the Houthis through the lens of a war between Saudis and Iran. When they look at the Houthis they see an Iranian threat, and that is shaping the conflict dynamics inside of Yemen.
The Houthis, to be fair, have given their neighbors good reason for concern by their rhetoric and by their actions. For instance, the Houthis have taken a symbolic step of opening flights with Tehran and they also sent a high-level delegation to Iran to ask for assistance and economic development. In some ways it seems to be becoming a self-fulfilling prophecy.
How does former President Ali Abdullah Saleh factor into the crisis?
Ali Abdullah Saleh is still a critical player in Yemen’s local power struggle. For example, he tacitly aligned with the Houthis as they advanced in the north in 2014. This alliance was not because of ideological affiliation or because this has an enduring shelf life politically, but at that point they were struggling against common enemies.
Saleh doesn’t have an army, but this is someone who after 33 years of power has tremendous influence and deep networks within the army, the air force, security services and the tribal confederations in the north. As the Houthis have expanded south, their support base has become more diluted and they’ve relied more on the supporters of Saleh.
What is the endgame for Saleh?
Saleh is probably driven by a number of factors and we know that he never had intentions of giving up politics. Certainly it’s fair to say he would like his son to have a prominent role in politics moving forward, possibly as president through elections.
What kind of humanitarian crisis can we expect the fighting will leave behind beyond what we’ve already seen?
Yemen is a country that even before this current conflict was moving towards a humanitarian crisis.
It’s a country that is 90 percent dependent on imports for its food and it’s already running out of water in critical cities.
It’s already facing a hunger and malnutrition crisis throughout the country, and this fighting is obviously only accelerating the crisis in an acute and alarming way. The airstrikes have targeted critical infrastructure for the movement of goods and have also targeted electrical plants.
What possible outcomes do you see for the conflict?
A crucial question is what the political endgame is from the Saudi side. At this point, there isn’t a clear and viable exit strategy and it could drag on for quite a long time. This could be the beginning of a long and bloody conflict in Yemen that continues to draw in regional actors and exacerbate human suffering.
There is no military solution to the problem inside of Yemen. There’s no single group that stands out as a clear winner. The country is deeply divided politically, so no group can solidify their writ over the entire country at this point.
The Saudi intervention, unless there is real thought to a clear political end-state, is likely to lead to prolonged violence and instability.
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