By Crispin Hawes
There are a growing number of signals from Saudi Arabia that the question of when the younger generation of princes will be included in the formal line of succession has been resolved. On 5 November, Prince Mohammed bin Nayef was appointed to succeed his late father as the minister of interior, a decision that is likely the result of a deal between King Abdullah and different branches of the ruling family. As a result of that appointment, an announcement on who will take the second spot in the succession is likely to come soon.
Mohammed's appointment to head the Ministry of the Interior is the latest move in an extended process aimed at setting out the ruling family's plans for the long-term succession. Prince Mohammed replaces his uncle Prince Ahmed at the ministry after a truncated term. Prince Ahmed was likely moved aside, despite official statements that he had asked to relinquish the post, and that hints at a decision on the succession. Defining the long-term line of succession requires public consensus among senior family figures, and Ahmed's recent public statements suggested that he was pushing to succeed Crown Prince Salman, who is set to take the throne on Abdullah's death. Saudi Arabia's opaque internal politics make interpreting what is happening behind the scenes very difficult, but Ahmed's replacement as interior minister could well have been triggered by his opposition to developments in the line of succession. If Abdullah has decided to appoint Prince Khaled al-Faisal as second deputy prime minister, the position occupied by the second in line, Ahmed's opposition would be enough to force his departure.
Abdullah seems intent on defining a long-term plan for the succession in an effort to prevent the kingdom from instability if, as is possible, there is a rapid series of deaths among the current and elderly ruling generation. The transition to the generation of Mohammed and Khaled al-Faisal, grandsons of Abd al-Aziz Ibn Saud and modern Saudi Arabia's founder, has been the subject of speculation for years. Faisal is in his early 70s, only a few years younger than Salman, but the move is a very significant one.
Mohammed's promotion is likely part of a broader compromise between the king and the dominant Sudairi branch of the family. Again the details are impossible to confirm, but it is likely that the Sudairis have retained the interior ministry in return for agreeing to allow the insertion of the moderate Khaled al-Faisal (and not a Sudairi) in the line of succession. If that is indeed what is happening, there will almost certainly be a number of other deals emerging in coming weeks and months that will set the stage for other members of the next generation, including King Abdullah's son Mitaeb, to move into more prominent positions.
Crispin Hawes is the director of Eurasia Group's Middle East practice
JIM WATSON/AFP/Getty Images
By Ayham Kamel
During their fight for the White House, President Obama and Governor Romney made clear they do not believe Syria poses a substantial enough threat beyond its borders to require direct foreign intervention on the ground. Take a closer look. Even if intervention is not a realistic option just yet, it's hard not to notice that Syria's problems have become its leading export.
Syria bloody struggle continues with no end in sight. The international community is paralyzed; it can neither live with an Assad regime that commits daily atrocities nor afford a risky intervention in an already unstable Middle East. To add fuel to the already raging fire, Jihadists are increasingly interested in hijacking the Arab Spring.
This problem is now redefining the rocky relationship between Jihadists, who once focused mainly on global goals, and Salafists who focused on a local agenda. Especially after the killing of Osama bin Laden, Jihadists have shifted their priorities and gone local, as well, working side-by-side with Salafist allies. Ayman al Zawahiri's call for Jihad in Syria highlights this trend. While the struggle against the West remains a long-term goal, Jihadists are focusing on regaining alternative bases. That's why so many foreign fighters -- though clearly not a majority of rebels -- have joined opposition ranks to fight the Assad regime.
Syria is now the crown jewel for Jihadists. It provides access into Europe through Turkey, a border with Israel, a launch site for a new insurgency in Iraq, and easier access to Salafists in Jordan and Lebanon. The opportunity to find a new recruitment hub is also invaluable: The two movements have always been ideologically close and many Jihadists are exploiting that relationship to boost their ranks.
The ripple effects of this conflict are evident across the region. In Lebanon, the assassination last month of General Wissam al Hassan, head of the intelligence division of domestic security forces, will probably undermine an already shaky security environment in that country. Northern Lebanon has effectively become a zone of instability. Salafist groups, among others, have claimed a share of the money headed for Syrian rebels, joining a battle that is both morally required and financially supported.
Jordan is beginning to experience the contagion. Recently, the Jordanian General Intelligence Directorate (GID) uncovered a plot by a Salafist terrorist cell. The group acquired weapons and arms from Syria and crossed into Jordan to carry out operations against civilian targets. Both Salafists and Jihadists in Jordan are beginning to view instability in Syria as an opportunity to expand their networks and improve their capacity to carry out attacks. Jihadist forces in Syria, which are currently fighting the regime, have broader goals. As the Assad government grows weaker these groups may be willing to support their allies elsewhere, including in Jordan. While the Jordanian security services have a significant intelligence and operations capacity, it will become increasingly difficult to monitor events across the Syrian border. More importantly, while the GID was able to preempt the most recent terror attacks, their success in the future can never be guaranteed.
Iraq, whose long border with Syria has always been porous, faces growing risk of cross-border militancy. In recent years, Prime Minister Nouri al Maliki has built a loyal army that succeeded in containing a Sunni insurgency. But he is now right to worry that Sunni forces in Syria are encouraging and supporting their counterparts inside Iraq. Maliki, who initially supported Assad, had feared that a new Sunni government would become a hostile neighbor to Shia Iraq. But he now appears more concerned with Jihadist and Salafist groups. Cooperation between Jihadis across the border and potential flow of new fighters into Iraq are especially problematic for Iraqi stability. While violence is now concentrated in areas that are not core to oil production, the situation could change if Sunnis succeed at mounting a more robust insurgency.
Soon, Americans may again be hearing about a fight with insurgents for control of Iraq.
Ayham Kamel is an analyst in Eurasia Group's Middle East practice.
PHILIPPE DESMAZES/AFP/Getty Images
By Ayham Kamel
The massive bomb that exploded on October 19 in Beirut, killing Lebanon's domestic security head, signaled the potential arrival of a bloodier, more aggressive phase in the Middle East conflagration. The sophistication of the attack suggests the involvement of capable forces. While there is no evidence clearly implicating Syria or Hizbullah, both stand to benefit from the assassination.
The bombing that killed General Wissam al Hassan, and the clashes that have followed, raises the prospect of civil war in Lebanon and the continuing spread of sectarian conflict throughout the Middle East. It helps to relieve pressure on an increasingly weaker regime by forcing Lebanon to turn inward.
At one time, Syria preferred a stable Lebanon, one where it retained influence through its allies. But as Bashar al Assad's grip on power has weakened during Syria's own civil war, Sunni opposition forces in Lebanon have become more aggressive in supporting Syrian rebels.
Assad has now likely calculated that stability in Lebanon is a threat to his own regime. Prime Minister Najib Mikati and his Hizbullah-led government have implemented a non-alignment policy that aims to appease both domestic and external powers. But with Sunni rebels taking advantage of the policy by using northern Lebanon as a logistical staging ground, the Mikati government is not of use to Assad. The government has become dispensable.
Forcing the Sunni Lebanese opposition to focus at least some of its attention on local affairs as a result of the bombing reduces its ability to aid Syrian rebels. Moreover, Hassan built a highly capable force in the security services that largely served the interests of the Sunni-dominated Future Movement. And Syrian officials believe that Hassan's intelligence division crossed a red line when it recently accused top echelons of the Syrian security establishment of conspiring to assassinate Lebanese politicians.
Despite the rise in tensions, the Mikati government is likely to remain intact in the near term, primarily because he has the backing of Western countries that fear the potential power vacuum and instability that would ensue if the government were to crumble. President Michel Sulaiman initiated consultation to form a new government but the process will be challenging. And unless Lebanese parties reach consensus on a new government, Mikati is unlikely to resign and leave an open power vacuum. Neither the Mikati government nor the Future Movement is in firm control of its supporters, making it difficult to prevent escalation should more violence occur. The Mikati government will wither over time, with the prospect of civil war climbing steadily.
Ayham Kamel is an analyst in Eurasia Group's Middle East practice.
JOSEPH EID/AFP/Getty Images
By Hani Sabra
Egypt was rocked on October 12 by yet another violent demonstration in Cairo's iconic Tahrir Square, but this time the two groups fighting were erstwhile comrades who had cooperated to bring down the previous regime. The street fighting between Egypt's young secularist revolutionaries and the Muslim Brotherhood's core supporters marks the opening of a rift between the two groups that had been threatening to emerge ever since the heady days after former president Mubarak was forced from power. It also could set the stage for ongoing tensions and perhaps weakening international support for the Islamist dominated government.
The cause of the fighting was a broadening dispute over Egypt's constitution. It's been nearly two years since former president Hosni Mubarak was ousted but the country is only now likely to get a new constitution in the next few months. The document, when it is finally approved, will probably only satisfy the nation's Islamists who are taking the lead given their slim majority in the constituent assembly that is drafting the new constitution and their majority among the population.
Egypt's Islamists have made it clear that they are completely willing to move ahead with their version of the constitution without buy-in from secularists or the Copts. And even if a court order dissolves the current constituent assembly (as was parliament) President Mohamed Morsy would move quickly to appoint a new assembly that would be of a similar makeup.
When the assembly releases a draft for a public referendum, it will pass. The last yes or no referendum in Egypt was in March 2011 soon after Mubarak was ousted. The Islamists then urged their supporters to support the constitutional amendments and the final tally was 77 percent in favor. The secular argument against a more Islamist-leaning constitution and in favor of one that stresses human rights, press freedom, and some separation between religion and state, does not resonate with a majority of the population, which is eager to end the constitutional vacuum.
Unfortunately, a new constitution will not settle Egypt's transitional woes. Continued tension, instability, and violence are likely to continue given that the young revolutionaries who sparked the movement to oust Mubarak, most of the establishment secular politicians, and their supporters are increasingly unhappy with Islamist efforts to monopolize politics. These groups represent a minority, but they are vocal and their anger is growing as evidenced by the ugly brawl between Islamists and the secularists.
The revolutionary activists are embittered and believe the Brotherhood has betrayed them. Many of these young secularists backed the Brotherhood for the past year and half and even voted for Morsy in the second round of the presidential election when he faced Mubarak confidant Ahmad Shafik. They also supported Morsy's move to sideline the two most senior Mubarak-era generals. In exchange, the revolutionaries believed the Muslim Brotherhood would honor its promise to ensure that the constitution would be broad-based, and that it be a truly democratic founding document. This will not be the case. In fact, early drafts raise concerns on issues such as women's rights, religious tolerance, and freedom of expression, spurring sharp criticism from local activists and international organization such as Human Rights Watch.
The revolutionaries do not have the public support or the capacity to force adoption of a more liberal constitution or bring down the Morsy government. But they can make the next several months difficult for the Muslim Brotherhood, and they probably will. More clashes like the recent episode in Tahrir Square are likely, and will attract exactly the kind of attention that Morsy's government would prefer to avoid, given that it wants to project an air of stability for foreign investors and governments.
Hani Sabra is an analyst in Eurasia Group’s Middle East practice.
By Cliff Kupchan
In Iran last week, sanctions pressure pushed frustration into violence. Iran's currency has lost half its free market value over the past month, and a clumsy policy response made matters worse.
The rial's dramatic depreciation is stoking a level of inflation that has become the most serious threat now facing the regime. The official inflation rate stands at 23.5 percent, but anecdotal evidence suggests the rate is much higher and climbing. The government's lack of a coherent anti-crisis strategy, economic mismanagement, corruption, and heavy transaction costs imposed by sanctions suggest the worst is yet to come. Sporadic protests are likely to become a fact of life in Tehran.
As a result, the bickering within Iran's political elite is becoming more vitriolic. President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad blames foreigners and their sanctions for the current crisis; parliamentary speaker Ali Larijani instead points the finger at the incompetence of Ahmadinejad's government. Ahmadinejad can't seek re-election next June, but his exit won'tprevent these fights from heating up in advance of the vote.
Yet, there is no evidence that Iran is
close to the boiling point. Following the controversial presidential election
of 2009 and the street demonstrations that followed, the regime proved it can
and will use deadly force to intimidate Iran's fractious opposition. Nothing
has happened to suggest that new protests would produce a different result.
So what should Western governments, anxious to slow Iran's momentum toward a nuclear program, be hoping for? Iran's economic turmoil is unlikely to topple the regime, at least not anytime soon, but it just might bring about a more conciliatory Iranian approach to nuclear talks after the U.S. presidential election -- and especially after Iran's presidential election next year.
Over the past half decade, Tehran has demonstrated an almost existential commitment to the nuclear program, but the sanctions-induced pain is squeezing Iran's economy ever tighter, and that could make Iran more flexible. In turn, it's now very important for Western negotiating partners to offer a diplomatic proposal that allows Iran's government to save face before its people.
The Iranian government will never negotiate away its domestic legitimacy, but there might be room for a crucial compromise on the nuclear issue. Without such a breakthrough and relief from tightening sanctions, the Iranian regime has a bleak future -- and the country's leaders know it.
Cliff Kupchan is director of Eurasia Group’s Eurasia practice.
ALI AL-SAADI/AFP/Getty Images)
By Stephen Majors
The global community is focused on the EU's efforts to implement the fiscal union that its currency union now demands, but ambitious eurocrats are quietly pursuing an even more fundamental change for the bloc: a truly common foreign and security policy. This lofty dream remains an unlikely prospect, but the painstaking process of European institution-building in response to the ongoing debt crisis is chipping away at obstacles that may once have been immovable.
Brussels' efforts to implement the Common Foreign and Security Policy (CFSP) and the Common Security and Defense Policy (CSDP) are closely tied to the far more high-profile efforts to achieve fiscal and banking union. The fiscal union that few considered possible just a few short years ago now appears to be the only way to save the euro, though it may takes years to emerge. The relinquishing of sovereignty this will require from member states provides the potential foundation for a collective security policy.
The global political and economic environment is also helping encourage consideration of a common foreign policy. European countries are on the verge of becoming security-takers instead of security-makers. European officials -- perhaps surprised by former Secretary of Defense Robert Gates' candor when he said European states were not pulling their weight in NATO -- concede the facts. In part, the issue is driven by economic stagnation. European countries had started to reduce defense spending even before the debt crisis, which has simply compounded the economic challenge. And the trend is expected to continue. By 2050, according to a projection from HSBC economists, Europe will only have five economies in the top 20, compared to eight today, illustrating the decline in the prominence of individual European countries. Collective security would be a logical way to address those concerns, if (and it's a big if) the political issues can be resolved. The EU could be a force to be reckoned with; it has more than 500 million people (far larger than the U.S., but smaller than China or India).
The evolving geopolitical environment provides another impetus for collective European security. The US is reorienting its security approach with its pivot to Asia in response to China's rise, and Europe feels less secure and less favored by the U.S. The Balkans crisis of the 1990s set in motion the move toward a collective foreign policy and Europe's leaders do not want to again find themselves unable to respond to vital security needs. The debate in Europe now revolves around whether EU member states will rally around the CSDP, or whether NATO will retain its primacy in the continent's security affairs. It is difficult to imagine how NATO could co-exist alongside a strong collective EU security body, should it come to fruition. But as Gates' comments illustrated, NATO is already fraying.
The EU is in the process of centralizing its foreign policy, albeit with a focus on soft power that avoids the thorniest concerns over sovereignty. The EU's External Action Service (the EU equivalent to the US State Department) already maintains delegations in 130 countries. The CFSP currently runs more than 20 missions abroad ranging from an anti-piracy mission in the Horn of Africa (Operation Atalanta) to the training of police forces (EUPOL) in Afghanistan. Catherine Ashton, the EU's high representative for foreign affairs and security policy, has an important role in many international negotiations, from Syria to the nuclear talks with Iran. The EU has also levied sanctions against Iran for its nuclear program, and is considering whether to go further with additional penalties. But many member states maintain their own missions in parallel to the EU, and turf wars abound. And of course, sending European troops into combat under a European flag is many, many years away.
Beyond the external forces that support the logic of the CSDP, internal politics within the EU also present some advantages. Germany, as the continent's economic power, has only been willing to disburse funds in favor of struggling EU economies after those states agree to cede sovereignty on economic issues, which has driven institution-building on the European level. And given its unique history in Europe, Germany itself is willing to cede sovereignty on security issues-in fact, it is only willing to project power abroad in the context of collective EU decision-making. France and the UK, conversely, would be most opposed to foreign policy integration. Notably, though, these two European powers have already begun cooperating with each other on military matters.
A truly unified European security policy is perhaps the grandest political experiment of them all. But it is a measure of Europe's evolution over the last couple of years that what once appeared to be a utopian EU dream now sounds almost feasible.
Stephen Majors is an editor with Eurasia Group. He recently completed the European Union Visitors Program fellowship in Brussels.
Sean Gallup/Getty Images
By Aditya Bhattacharji, Daniil Davydoff, and Scott Rosenstein
Attacks on U.S. interests in the Middle East are not the only security threats to have emerged from the region in recent weeks. In epidemiological circles, concern has been mounting over the discovery of a novel coronavirus in Saudi Arabia, just as Muslims from all over the world begin the annual hajj pilgrimage to Mecca at the end of October.
In the coming weeks, much-needed surveillance and scientific analysis will likely yield important details regarding this virus's threat to human health. But healthcare system shortfalls in some of the countries that dispatch the most pilgrims present obstacles to disease monitoring. And regardless of the microbe's eventual health, economic, and political impact, these deficits are a vivid reminder of institutional challenges to global disease prevention and control.
Little is known about the novel pathogen, but it does belong to the same family as the virus behind the 2003 SARS outbreak, a previously unknown microbe that killed nearly 800 people and sickened more than 8,000. SARS revealed the political and economic risks attendant to emerging infectious diseases. But attention to these dangers has increased considerably since SARS, and this novel virus has thus far been confirmed in only two patients, one of whom is under intensive care at a hospital in London.
Whether it's a heretofore unknown virus, polio, or a host of other pathogens, the upcoming Hajj presents significant public health risks. The annual event attracts millions of pilgrims every year and is therefore an "ideal environment for spreading infectious diseases," according to the U.S. CDC. Although the Saudi government has mandated several vaccinations and dedicated considerable resources to lower infectious disease risks, its personnel cannot track pilgrims once they have left the country. And while the WHO has already issued basic case definitions for identifying infected patients, healthcare system deficiencies abroad could allow potential cases to slip through the cracks and go underreported.
Home to roughly 200 million Muslims, Indonesia is sending the world's largest contingent of hajj pilgrims (approximately 200,000). At home, the vast majority relies upon a decentralized healthcare system that suffers from poor information sharing and one of the most inadequately staffed healthcare workforces of any ASEAN nation. Those with means increasingly seek medical treatment abroad. The trend has become pronounced enough for Indonesian president Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono to implore the public, in August 2012, to utilize domestic medical facilities, despite having availed of foreign medical care himself. Indonesia is ill-equipped to track diseases over a territory that spans 17,500 islands even under normal circumstances. There's been speculation that an individual returning home from the Hajj was responsible for the reintroduction of polio into Indonesia in 2004 (via a strain of the disease traceable back to northern Nigeria).
As the second-largest Muslim majority country, Pakistan's quota for pilgrims is more than 179,000, though only about 95,000 Pakistani Muslims plan to take part in the hajj. Even so, recent developments in the country's healthcare sector could impede epidemiological surveillance of returning pilgrims. In 2011, Pakistan devolved its health ministry, relegating previously centralized functions to a variety of provincial and federal-level institutions. Responsibilities for disease surveillance are now fragmented between multiple government agencies and power struggles are reportedly common. While Pakistan may eventually develop a more cohesive public health system, the current state of surveillance is worrisome in the run-up to the hajj.
Some smaller contributors of pilgrims, such as Syria, may also be ill-prepared to catch cases of infection. Current unrest in that country, which has produced considerable strain on the healthcare system, could severely slow down the detection of unusual disease symptoms.
Should pilgrims come home with an infection acquired during the pilgrimage, there may be little to stop the disease from going undetected and infecting others. Whether the newly discovered coronavirus turns into a significant public health threat or not, its emergence reveals the danger that exists when health services are compromised, but the evolution and spread of disease are not.
Scott Rosenstein is director and Aditya Bhattacharji and Daniil Davydoff are analysts in Eurasia Group's Global Health practice.
KHALED DESOUKI/AFP/Getty Images
By Shaun Levine
Joko Widodo's win in the September 21 Jakarta mayoral election was a momentous step forward for the forces of reform in Indonesia's increasingly stagnant political scene. The luster will soon wear off, however, unless Widodo can translate his victory into fixing the mess he has inherited: failing infrastructure, immovable traffic, water supply issues, and a rebellious regional government, just to name a few. If his time as mayor of the small town of Solo is any indication, Widodo may be up to the challenge. Widodo improved Solo's transportation networks and governance, and reduced the level of corruption endemic in Indonesian politics. However, in order to effect change in the big city of Jakarta, where he is now a de-facto national leader, Widodo will need to roll up the sleeves of his signature checkered shirts.
Widodo's victory could be an important turning point for Indonesia. The early head-first rush into democracy and reformism in 1998 has given way to the patronage politics so common during the days of Suharto. Bureaucratic reforms, the fight against corruption, and attempts to improve governance have largely come to a standstill -- which largely benefits the remnants of Suharto's New Order regime that cling to power and look set to compete with one another in the 2014 presidential election. President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono's ten-year mandate is coming to an end, with the early promise of reform having been snuffed out by reactionary forces. Even with the backing of more than 60 percent of voters, change and reform have not been easy for Indonesia's first directly elected president.
Going forward, Indonesian voters will have to choose between elevating new reformers such as Widodo, who himself may become a presidential candidate in 2014, and the crop of leaders from the New Order who see 2014 as a must-win election; most may be too old to compete in 2019.
For these leaders, Widodo's win -- which appeared unlikely at the start of the campaign in the early summer -- should be seen as a wakeup call. The proven tactic of pandering to voters, and in some cases buying their votes, may not be the panacea it was in the past. Neither will efforts to translate a growing sense of confidence in Indonesia's future, based on its international standing and strong economic growth, into economic nationalism. Voters are well aware that the reform movement has largely stalled, and that current leaders want to chip away at democracy so that regional governors like Widodo are appointed and not elected.
But the real impetus is on Widodo and his like-minded counterparts, who have overcome the hurdle of reaching office but will now face the bureaucratic challenges, and temptations, of the reformers that came before them. Promises made on the campaign trail mean nothing when gridlock and animosity seek to undermine reform; compromise is a hallmark of democracy, but not when it benefits the few to the disadvantage of the many.
Against all odds, Widodo was able to show that honesty and a proven track record of reform could overcome overwhelming challenges in campaign financing and political party support. The win also demonstrates that Indonesian politics, which is mired in patronage and money, doesn't have to remain so. This is a democracy that will have its fits and starts, but will more than likely rise up to become a leader in the global community commensurate with its population and wealth.
The presidential election in 2014 is likely to be the last for the Suharto-era leaders, many of whom have witnessed Widodo's victory with envy and some of whom have even benefited from supporting his campaign. The chances of a dark-horse candidate such as Widodo winning in 2014 are still slim. But voters' choice in the Jakarta mayoral election has moved Indonesia a step closer to realizing its much-heralded democratic and economic potential.
Shaun Levine is an analyst in Eurasia Group's Asia practice.
The Call, from Ian Bremmer, uses cutting-edge political science to predict the political future -- and how it will shape the global economy.