Conflict and Fragility
The Middle East
Clingendael’s Middle East research program examines what kinds of political reform and renewal are possible under conditions of authoritarian governance. This matters because the conditions that gave rise to the extended ‘Arab Uprisings’ worsen while geopolitical tensions remain high. We can expect further turmoil across the Middle East region.
Between 2017 and 2021, our Middle East team researched the nature and role of hybrid coercive organisations in the violent conflicts of Syria and Iraq amid geopolitical strife between Turkey, Iran and Saudi Arabia. This mattered because such groups proliferated rapidly and because they are poorly understood. Our in-depth work on Iraq’s Hashd al-Sha’abi, Kurdish Peshmerga forces, the Syrian Kurdish YPG and pro-Assad forces, like the Eagles of the Whirlwind and the Desert Hawks, can be accessed here.
In 2021/22, the Syrian war reached a stalemate, Iraq’s conflict remained a low-intensity insurgency and relations between Ankara, Tehran, Abu Dhabi and Riyadh improved. In short, violent conflict decreased and regional tensions stabilized somewhat. In reflection of such changes, we have focused our research on another area of conflict: prospects for political reform and renewal.
Given the extended protests across the Middle East between 2011-2020 and the demands expressed by millions of its citizens, it is remarkable how little political reform has taken place since. Instead, authoritarian ruling elites have largely strengthened their hold on power, blocked protests at home and abroad, and only instigated limited top-down reform. Few popular demands for a better and more meaningful life have been heeded. At the same time, the region faces mounting socio-economic problems - including poverty, inequality, corruption, energy transitions and climate change - while its new geopolitical equilibrium remains fragile. In other words, pressure mounts but safety valves are few.
But why has authoritarian entrenchment been so successful? What factors influence the supply and demand of reform under conditions of authoritarianism? And how can external actors nudge political reform and renewal along? These are some of the questions we will explore between 2022 and 2026.
Conflict and FragilityShades of grey: The evolving links between the Houthi and Iran
11 Jan 2023 - 14:43
Conflict and FragilityReview of UN peace operations support to security sector reform
19 May 2022 - 09:37
Conflict and FragilityTurkey’s interventions in its near abroad: northern Cyprus
11 May 2022 - 15:38
Conflict and FragilityCoercive organisations, war and state development in the Levant
29 Mar 2022 - 15:49