Note: Today is the eighth in a series of posts that detail Eurasia Group's Top Risks for 2013
The dangers emanating from the ongoing shadow war with Iran are greater than many observers believe. This struggle has consisted of several components, including a cycle of mutual killings and cyber attacks. While there is no hard proof, it is a reasonable assumption that Israel and Iran (or at least some officials in Iran) are responsible. The final theater is the ongoing proxy war in Syria.
In early 2013, the West will also become engaged in an effort to negotiate a solution to the standoff over Iran's nuclear program. Western countries, led by the U.S., would very much like a peaceful resolution, while Iran sorely needs relief from stiff economic sanctions. Talks will be intensive but on balance the talks will probably fail by late spring. The Iranian elite have an almost existential commitment to the nuclear program, while Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei possesses a deep seated enmity for the U.S.
As a result, the West and Iran will probably return to escalating sanctions and shadow war, with two drivers boosting the ferocity of that struggle. First, the Iranian regime will feel compelled to show resolve and retaliate in the face of new sanctions. Second, the regime faces a period of profound economic weakness, though it will not collapse. But weak governments are prone to lashing out, both to rally domestic support and to portray an image of strength.
These new drivers will likely intensify the shadow war and could lead to new fronts. The chance of miscalculation and overreaction on both sides would rise, especially in the face of provocations such as a successful assassination plot in the U.S. similar to the alleged attempt against the Saudi ambassador in October 2011 or an episode such as the 2008 swarming of U.S. Navy frigates by Revolutionary Guard boats.
Iran's nuclear program is the second area of concern in 2013. Israeli rhetoric will remain at a high pitch, but is intended to increase diplomatic leverage and economic sanctions. Still, the probability of an Israeli attack in 2013 is low because Iran's nuclear program is unlikely to pose an imminent threat this year. Also, Israel can inflict only limited damage on Iran's nuclear facilities and there will be a lack of consensus among its political leaders about the wisdom of a strike. Polling also shows the Israeli public firmly opposes unilateral action. Finally, the U.S. would likely attack only if Iran tries to acquire a nuclear weapon and that is unlikely.
There are, however, a number of worrying scenarios. Developments at the Fordo enrichment facility make up one. Iran will have enough medium-enriched uranium to make a bomb by early summer, but weekly IAEA inspections leave enough time for detection and action. The central question is whether the Israeli government will trust the U.S. or strike on its own. Israel is unlikely to attack, but this dilemma slightly boosts the chance of Israeli strikes during 2013 (to roughly 20 percent).
A scenario involving a detectable Iranian breakout would probably elicit a U.S. attack. Yet Tehran has been very cautious and slow. Iran probably wants to become a latent nuclear power; that is, the world knows it could develop a bomb quickly. But Iran's threat perception will become more dire this year, making an irrational dash to a bomb, and a U.S. attack, slightly more likely.
Next week, we'll profile Risk #9: India
IIPA via Getty Images
Note: Today is the third in a series of posts that detail Eurasia Group's Top Risks for 2013.
The Middle East will enter a new phase in 2013. Arab Spring will give way to Arab Summer, as the region faces a series of increasingly complicated overlapping conflicts. As Americans and Europeans resist deeper involvement, rivalries among Saudi Arabia, Iran, and Turkey, competition for influence between Sunni and Shia, a lack of economic progress, and a resurgence of militant groups will each heighten tensions.
Syria remains the central arena of conflict, as Shia powers -- Iran and Lebanese Hezbollah -- on the one side, and Sunni states -- Turkey, Saudi Arabia and Qatar -- on the other compete for leverage. Jihadists have also entered the fray, and turmoil has spilled across the country's borders into Lebanon, Turkey, Jordan, and Iraq.
Emerging conflicts elsewhere are less obvious. Egypt, Tunisia, and Morocco now have moderate Islamist governments. In Jordan and Kuwait, Islamist opposition groups threaten the governing dominance of secular administrations. But while the words and actions of mainstream parties like Egypt's Muslim Brotherhood and Tunisia's Ennahda make headlines in the West, the more serious risk comes from militant organizations that threaten the ability of new leaders to govern and maintain security.
Fueling this trend is the reality that, across the region, new leaders are trying to consolidate power and build popularity at a time when complicated economic problems demand solutions that will make large numbers of people angry. New governments in Tunisia, Libya, Egypt, and Yemen will last only if they can deliver tangible economic progress for an increasingly frustrated and impatient public.
The risk that a Salafist or jihadist group can exploit these frustrations to seize power in 2013 is low, but groups like al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb, al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, al-Shabab, and smaller affiliates continue to attract support and new followers by using resentments against local regimes to foster anger at America and the West.
But Iraq may become 2013's newest hotspot. Sunni-Shia tensions are growing, and none of Syria's neighbors is more vulnerable to the threats created inside that country by radical Wahhabi clerics, often with Saudi or Qatari support, now fueling the emergence of an increasingly radicalized and militarily experienced Salafist movement. The Kurdish regional government is becoming more aggressive in promoting its energy development agenda at Baghdad's expense, and Sunni-led violence inside the country might well encourage Iraq's Shia-led government to forge closer ties with Tehran, antagonizing the governments of Saudi Arabia and Turkey.
The Obama administration wants to focus on domestic challenges and an ongoing foreign policy shift toward Asia. But regional rivalries are heating up, and Americans and Europeans will only add to the uncertainty by keeping their distance -- in hopes that they don't get burned.
On Wednesday, we'll profile Risk #4: Washington Politics.
By Hani Sabra and John Watling
Egypt's first round of the referendum on the new constitution delivered a blow to the Muslim Brotherhood and boosted the hopes of the non-Islamist opposition. The draft constitution received a strong yes vote with 56 percent support, but it fell far short of the two-thirds majority that the Brotherhood had likely calculated would be the minimum vote it would win. In addition, voter turnout was low at just 31 percent and Cairenes reportedly rejected the draft 58 percent to 42 percent. The most significant point of comparison is the result of the March 2011 vote that set in motion efforts to draft the new constitution. The Brotherhood and other Islamist groups also backed that poll and it was approved by a massive 77 percent of voters while turnout was also stronger at 41 percent.
The implications for the upcoming parliamentary elections are potentially dramatic, with the non-Islamist opposition emboldened, united for the moment, and possibly on track to win a significant proportion of the seats, though it will still probably fall short of a majority. Egypt's electorate is fluid and a plurality of Egyptians are probably unaffiliated. The non-Islamists probably have a core support of around 20 percent, while the Muslim Brotherhood's core support is probably at around 25 percent. The Muslim Brotherhood also retains its robust electoral machine, and likely support from Salafists, who have their own parties but generally support Brotherhood initiatives. However, the Brotherhood's peripheral support among the remaining plurality of the population -- the unaffiliated voters -- appears to have taken a hit and is waning.
The results are likely to push the Brotherhood to take a less conciliatory approach to governing in the short term, as it scrambles to maintain its advantage. Despite rhetoric about so-called talks, Brotherhood leaders, such as Supreme Guide Mohamed Badie, are becoming increasingly nervous about opposition challenges, and do not want to appear as though they are negotiating from a position of weakness with groups they believed were irrelevant. In addition, as protest activity against the Muslim Brotherhood has increased, the movement has looked inward rather than reaching out to the broader Egyptian society.
The referendum results will fuel the tensions between the Brotherhood and the non-Islamist opposition. The confrontation, played out through protests, strikes, and clashes between opposition supporters and police, will make governing even more difficult. This will be compounded by the ongoing battle between the bureaucracy and the presidency.
Hani Sabra is an analyst with Eurasia Group’s Middle East practice. John Watling is a senior editor with Eurasia Group.
GIANLUIGI GUERCIA/AFP/Getty Images
By Hani Sabra and Willis Sparks
Thousands of Egyptians are now gathering across their country to chant their denunciations of Egypt's new draft constitution, a document completed by the Islamist-dominated constituent assembly just days ago. Pro-democracy revolutionaries, the young people who sparked the movement that toppled Hosni Mubarak in 2011, warn that the new constitution will give the military enormous power, fail to force the president to appoint a vice president, and the vague language on freedoms of religion and the press, and protections for the rights of women could actually be used to discriminate.
But when the constitution is put to a popular vote less than two weeks from now, it will pass. Why? Because its authors (the Muslim Brotherhood) and their sometime political partners (the military), remain the two most powerful groups in the country. Because the Islamists campaigning for it are organized and popular. And because they will argue, as they did in March 2011 during a debate over temporary constitutional amendments, that it is the duty of Muslims to vote for a document that will provide longed-for stability and that reflects the will of a people that elected the Muslim Brothers to power. (Seventy-seven percent of voters approved the 2011 constitutional amendments.)
There is another reason why the draft constitution will pass. The non-Islamist opposition has not made a clear and compelling case to voters that a "no" vote will make Egypt more stable and prosperous. The protesters warn that this constitution does not reflect the aspirations of those who ousted Mubarak to gain "bread, freedom, and social justice." They're right. But they haven't explained to large numbers of voters why a rejection of this document will improve their lives. The Islamists insist that a vote against the constitution is a vote for uncertainty, instability, and continued conflict.
In short, the protesters offer no clear alternative. There is no constitution B. Faced with a choice between yes and no, most Egyptians will choose the path they believe will move things forward toward a restoration of order-even though a new constitution won't really accomplish that. It's not that the Muslim Brotherhood is unbeatable; when Egyptian voters have a choice, Brotherhood candidates sometimes lose. Their man, Mohamed Morsy, is president, but he only drew a quarter of the vote in the first round of a hotly-contested election, and in the runoff, he barely defeated Ahmad Shafik, Mubarak's right hand man. To win that second round, he needed support from millions of non-Islamist voters who chose him because he represented a viable alternative to continuation of the old regime.
And until the young protesters and the broader non-Islamist camp offer an alternative that voters can understand and accept, they will have more defeats ahead.
Hani Sabra is an analyst in Eurasia Group's Middle East practice. Willis Sparks is an analyst in the firm's Global Macro practice.
GIANLUIGI GUERCIA/AFP/Getty Images
By Naz Masraff
With civil war in Syria, turmoil in Gaza, Arab Spring aftershocks, and the still simmering conflict over Iran's nuclear program competing for headlines, it's easy for outsiders to overlook another of the region's most intractable ethnic conflicts-Turkey's internal battle with Kurdish separatists. This story deserves attention, because it remains the primary security threat inside the region's most politically modern and economically dynamic country.
First, some background. In 2010, Turkey began secret talks with the Kurdistan Workers' Party, a militant group better known by its acronym PKK. But in the run-up to June 2011 elections, Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan brought them to a halt. Erdogan's Justice and Development Party (AKP) won those elections, securing nearly half the popular vote and a third successive term in power, and the newly emboldened prime minister has since adopted a relentlessly hardline attitude on Kurdish questions with a pledge to use Turkey's military to crush the PKK.
Since the beginning of 2011, several thousand Kurdish nationalists have been arrested on charges of PKK membership. In October, public prosecutors in Ankara launched a judicial investigation into the pro-Kurdish Peace and Democracy Party (BDP).
In July, the PKK launched a new phase in its
28-year insurgency, intensifying attacks on Turkey's security forces and
working to create "no go" zones in designated areas in the mountains
near Turkey's border with Iraq. The stated goal is to intensify pressure on
Turkey's government to introduce greater Kurdish language rights and to cede
many of the powers of the central government to local Kurdish authorities in
southeast Turkey in a process Kurdish nationalists call ‘democratic autonomy.'
The PKK scored territorial gains in August and early September and have held on to some of them, and it's clear that the PKK is now stronger than at any time since the 1990s.
Military activity has slowed since mid-October when the mountain passes along its main infiltration and supply routes became blocked with snow. But the PKK then continued its progress by launching a series of hunger strikes inside Turkish prisons, beginning in September with 63 Kurdish inmates. The number of hunger strikers quickly grew to nearly 700 people, including seven members of parliament. Strikers demanded an end to the ban on the use of Kurdish language in courts and as the primary language used by teachers in schools in the predominantly Kurdish southeast. They also called for respect for Kurds' democratic rights and an end to the isolation of PKK founder Abdullah Ocalan, who has been incarcerated on the prison island of Imrali since 1999. In late October, Kurdish nationalist organizations began staging protest rallies across the country, triggering clashes between demonstrators and police, and fights between ethnic Kurds and Turkish ultranationalists in western Turkey. Turkish media, wary of antagonizing the government, downplayed the growing violence-though a few incidents injured too many people to ignore.
Turkey's government was slow to react, at least publicly, and downplayed the strikes. Speaking in October during a visit to Germany, Erdogan insisted that only one of the hunger strikes was authentic and that others were mainly "for show."
Behind the scenes, however, Turkish officials knew they had a growing problem to contain. The PKK now appears to have won concessions on the right of Kurds to defend themselves in court in their native language-that's expected to be adopted in parliament soon-and a step has been taken to eliminate Ocalan's isolation, in part by granting his family a visit. This brought an appeal from Ocalan to halt the hunger strikes, and on Sunday, they came to an end.
Yet, the risk of violence continues, and the turmoil in Syria has complicated matters further. Syrian forces have withdrawn from Kurdish areas in northern Syria, creating a de facto autonomous Kurdish regime over the past few months, and PKK leaders can exploit this power vacuum. For the moment, Turkish authorities want to avoid direct military involvement in Syria's troubles, but a sustained wave of PKK attacks on Turkey's security forces from inside Syria might still change their minds.
If the longer-term underlying issues fueling Kurdish separatism can be resolved, it is only with a comprehensive political process. Yet, Turkey's government -- like governments around the world -- is unwilling to negotiate with militants while they continue to launch attacks. This is particularly the case as Turks may go to the polls as many as four times in the next three years, including for a referendum on the constitution, as well as for local, presidential, and parliamentary elections. On the eve of these polls, the government is likely to adopt increasingly nationalistic rhetoric, shying away from taking steps to resolve the Kurdish issue through democratic means.
In short, the hunger strikes have ended, and the protests may die down. But there will be no peace in Turkey's southeast until the two sides can compromise their way toward a lasting political settlement.
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 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 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 Hani Sabra
Egyptian President Mohamed Morsy's sacking of the intelligence chief and other powerful security figures in the wake of an attack on Egyptian border police gave him some short term credibility. He wisely used that political capital to sideline the two most powerful members of the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (SCAF) and cancel amendments to the interim constitution that gave SCAF legislative power. On paper, Morsy is now the most powerful person in Egypt. But claims the move is an important step toward civilian ascendency in Egypt misread both the military's ongoing strength and the motivations of the SCAF's new senior members.
A closer look at the firings reveals the limits of Morsy's power. Remember that Morsy did not elevate junior officers to fill the positions opened up by sacking SCAF head Field Marshal Hussein Tantawi and army chief of staff General Sami Enan. His appointments were in fact conservative and he chose other top military men to fill the vacated posts. More importantly, Morsy would never have been able to sideline Enan and Tantawi without the support of other military leaders. That step was the Brotherhood's greatest tactical success; it was able to build strong enough links with some members of SCAF, exploiting personal differences and opportunism rather than ideology.
Senior members of the military want to benefit financially from their positions and are not a force for secularism as some observers allege. Morsy was able to convince some commanders, such as the new Minister of Defense Abdel Fattah el Sisi, that it would be better for them to tie their fortunes to the Muslim Brotherhood rather than the old guard (Tantawi and Enan were closely associated with Hosni Mubarak's regime). Morsy will need to nurture these relationships; if they feel threatened, senior officers remain powerful enough to cause the president real problems. As a result, the seesawing battle for ascendancy between the Brotherhood and the military will go on.
Hani Sabra is an analyst in Eurasia Group's Middle East Practice.
Mark Wilson/Getty Images
By Ayham Kamel
Iranian leaders believe more and more that Western and Arab involvement in the uprising against Syrian President Bashar al Assad is designed to weaken the Islamic Republic. Tehran feels threatened by the so-called Sunni Triangle's (Turkey, Qatar, and Saudi Arabia) support for Syrian rebels, which Iran views as a complement to sanctions that aim to limit its regional influence and prestige. The United States's alliance with these countries makes it more difficult to resolve any disagreements over Syria. In this context, Iran finds supporting Assad -- at least in the near term -- as the best worst option. This policy isn't new, but the parameters of what Tehran is willing to provide have expanded.
The audacious bombing of the National Security Council in Damascus on 18 July probably represented a watershed moment in Iranian thinking about the uprising in Syria. The "nuclear" option, dispatching units of the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps to assist Assad's weakened forces, is very unlikely -- it would likely trigger a so-called Chapter 7 UN resolution authorizing Western military intervention or provide enough impetus to inspire a coalition of the willing. But Tehran, now more than ever, is willing to do more to help Syria's embattled president.
First, the Iranian regime is likely to divert perhaps tens of millions of euros to help Assad counteract the flight of foreign reserves. It views support of Assad as important enough to justify the diversion of scarce reserves despite the increasing domestic economic pain caused by international sanctions. Second, Iran is likely to boost its provisions of arms and intelligence to the Assad regime. It has so far been reluctant to provide a large amount of support out of fear that doing so would play into the Syrian opposition's efforts to divide the regime's base on sectarian grounds. As the threat to the Assad regime has grown, that calculus has changed. Finally, Hezbollah forces have a great deal of fighting experience that would be valuable to Assad. However, the regime will likely dispatch them in a covert manner to avoid destabilizing the Lebanese government.
Iran, for now, may have an unrealistic view of Assad's chances of staying in power, and of its own ability to influence the outcome. It is likely that Iran will eventually reduce or eliminate its assistance to Assad as the latter's position grows increasingly untenable. Biting sanctions, declining oil revenues, rampant inflation, and dwindling foreign reserves will force Iran to focus internally. In the long run, the Islamic Republic will not be able to afford supporting a sinking Syrian regime either financially or diplomatically.
Ayham Kamel is an analyst in Eurasia Group's Middle East practice.
By Crispin Hawes
Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al Maliki is losing patience with his fractious coalition and is trying a number of tactics to force it into line, including ceding concessions on some contentious issues designed to win over Sunni factions and weaken political opponents. The current political impasse has delayed much legislation, preventing progress on issues such as ongoing power shortages that are damaging the economy and the quality of life for most Iraqis. While Maliki has threatened to call new elections in an effort to sway his coalition, a vote is unlikely this year, as is any long-term easing of the current political impasse. A vote is possible, however, in 2013, one year before the next elections are currently scheduled.
Maliki continues to perform well in Iraq's limited opinion surveys, despite strong negatives in some parts of the country. His relative popularity results from his reputation for forceful government, and Maliki now views the legislative deadlock as a major problem that could undermine his position. As a result, Maliki wants his coalition to pass important legislation and has shifted his focus from backroom negotiations to openly confronting his political partners and rivals.
Maliki is also preparing the ground for elections. His chief tactic has been to allow the reinstatement of Sunni officers in the military and security forces, a decision reached in June and intended to ameliorate some of the anger among Sunnis. Maliki is not allowing across-the-board reinstatement and instead has instructed the military to focus on recruiting expelled officers from Anbar province. The political goal is to undermine support for the main political opposition Iraqiya.
Maliki has threatened snap elections, in large part to spur his coalition into action. He can do this because opinion polling indicates he would have won an election held in July this year, while some of his most fractious allies and opponents would have performed particularly badly.
The tactic may well result in some legislation being approved, a step that could add further gloss to Maliki's reputation for forcefulness. But a resolution on important issues, such as the long-running dispute between the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) and the Baghdad government over the legality of disputed oil contracts, will almost certainly be delayed until the next government. And even if some legislation is approved in the near term-which would be enough to delay any snap general election-structural issues will encourage tensions to eventually resurface.
As a result, Maliki is unlikely to make good on his threat to call elections this year, but is actively considering calling early polls in 2013. Despite his skepticism of opinion surveys, the consistent results could tempt him to schedule a vote a year ahead of schedule in an effort to maintain his position atop the delicate balance of forces in Iraq. Early polls would probably also favor his more coherent State of Law party list over other coalitions, such as Iraqiya.
Crispin Hawes is the head of Eurasia Group’s Middle East and North Africa practice.
Wathiq Khuzaie/Getty Images
By Crispin Hawes
The death of Saudi Arabia's Crown Prince Nayef bin Abd al-Aziz, though unsurprising, highlights the risk of policy stagnation, an issue of some significance for the Kingdom given its domestic challenges.
As expected Nayef's full brother and appointed successor, Minister of Defense and Aviation Salman bin Abd al-Aziz, has been anointed as Crown Prince. But the current generation of princes-the sons of the kingdom's founder, Abd al-Aziz Ibn Saud-is facing the end of its period in power, which has lasted since their father's death in 1952. There are a few potential candidates to succeed Salman, but the most obvious choices are the Deputy Interior Minister Ahmed (a full brother of Salman and Nayef), Muqrin, a longtime ally of King Abdullah and the General Director of the Saudi Intelligence Agency, and Sattam, Governor of Riyadh.
In broader policy terms, the government will delay any potentially controversial legislation or regulatory reforms. Moreover, there are unlikely to be any significant external or internal policy changes in the coming months. The Saudi regime will want to consolidate power and send a strong message (to both supporters and enemies) that stability will be maintained.
The longer-term danger is that more frequent changes to the succession driven by the age of the current princes will make policy stagnation more likely, creating significant political and economic risk. The Saudi Arabian economy faces considerable challenges and social discontent over economic issues, such as growing unemployment. The current response relies on spending to drive growth and legislative changes aimed at forcing employers to hire more Saudi nationals. These policies are unlikely to address the Saudi economy's significant issues. And as age claims more of the princes in coming years, the likelihood of successive policy freezes makes the adoption of more effective policies even less likely. That outcome would likely open the door to growing social tension and stresses in Saudi Arabia, a regional lynchpin and a vital source of energy for the global economy.
Crispin Hawes is the director of Eurasia Group's Middle East practice.
HASSAN AMMAR/AFP/Getty Images
By Naz Masraff
The recent move to breathe new life into Turkey's stalled EU accession process is unlikely to have much effect beyond providing Ankara with a minor domestic and international public relations boost. On 17 May, Turkey's EU minister and chief negotiator Egemen Bagis and European Commissioner for Enlargement Stefan Fule launched what they dubbed a positive agenda for EU-Turkish relations. The agenda introduces new mechanisms for communication, including specific working groups, intended to accelerate Turkey's compliance with the acquis communitaire in eight chapters, including two that are blocked for political reasons. But the efforts are insufficient to counter the underlying structural problems impeding Turkey's now long-stalled EU accession.
Turkish authorities have not opened any new chapters of the EU acquis since 2010; talks on 18 of the 34 chapters cannot move ahead because of political issues and open ones cannot be provisionally closed. An important obstacle continues to be Turkey's failure to move on politically difficult reforms needed to bring the country's laws in line with European standards, especially on the judiciary and fundamental rights. Bagis's statements suggesting that Turkey would be in full compliance with the EU acquis by 2014 are largely political rhetoric with little substance.
Cyprus is a huge stumbling block. U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon has decided not to call a follow-up international conference on Cyprus because there has been no advance since the January talks on the issue. This makes it impossible for the conflict to be resolved before July, when the Republic of Cyprus (RoC) government assumes the EU presidency. Turkey will freeze its relations with the EU presidency for six months in protest, though contacts with the European Commission and the European Parliament will continue.
The RoC's exploration for hydrocarbons in the eastern Mediterranean has exacerbated its contentious relations with Turkey. Turkey claims some areas included in the RoC's new licensing round for further explorations extend onto Turkey's continental shelf, and that any revenues must be shared with the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus (TRNC). While the dispute is not likely to escalate into a military conflict, Turkey may continue its gunboat diplomacy, further intensifying tensions. Turkey is now also considering fallback options including pressing other Muslim states to recognize the TRNC.
The new agenda may not result in major advances on EU accession, but it will give the Turkish government some advantages. Ankara can secure public recognition from the EU and boost its domestic popularity even when minor steps are taken. The effort also has bureaucratic advantages, providing another way for both the Turkish Ministry for EU Affairs and the European Commission's Turkey desk, the largest desk operating under the Directorate-General for Enlargement, to justify their existence.
Naz Masraff is an associate with Eurasia Group's Europe Practice.
By James Fallon and Ayham Kamel
On May 21, the Lebanese Armed Forces shot and killed prominent Sunni Sheikh Ahmed Abdul Wahed as his convoy passed through a checkpoint, triggering gun battles in Beirut's Tariq al Jdeideh neighborhood between two Sunni political parties, the anti-Syrian Future Movement and the pro-Syrian Arab Movement Party. The fighting followed clashes between Alawites and Sunnis in Tripoli in response to the arrest of Shadi al Mawlawi, a Sunni Salafist activist accused of aiding the Syrian opposition. Clearly, Syria's troubles have crossed the border into Lebanon.
In fact, Syria's turmoil is polarizing Lebanese factions and threatening the country's delicate political balance. Conflict in Syria has fallen largely along sectarian lines, and it is now fueling sectarian tension in Lebanon. The majority of protesters facing daily violence from the Syrian regime are Sunni, and this has driven moral and material support for their cause from Lebanon's mainly Sunni north. To avoid confrontation with his Sunni community, Prime Minister Najib Mikati has not actively interfered to stop such assistance, creating a perception that his government is at least tacitly complicit in supporting rebels.
Ironically, the one cross-sectarian institution in Lebanon that many consider capable and trustworthy -- the country's armed forces -- is a problematic tool for ending street violence between Lebanon's political parties. On the one hand, the sectarian diversity within the army gives it some level of credibility with all of Lebanon's various factions. In fact, in May 2008, when Hezbollah gunmen fought Sunni militias for control of mainly Sunni neighborhoods in west Beirut, the army helped defuse tensions on both sides -- greatly bolstering its credibility and national popularity. Yet, then as now, the army could not directly intervene to stop the bloodshed, because the sectarian fault lines that run through the country's politics and society are also apparent within its ranks. Prime Minister Najib Mikati knows that if he calls on them to engage directly, there's a risk that soldiers will join the various fights instead of breaking them up.
Recent unrest is exacerbating this fear. During clashes on May 21, Sunni gunmen directed their fire at the army. Following the checkpoint shooting, the army withdrew from some positions in the north, and several Sunni politicians called for a more permanent expulsion. The military's response was measured, but the rise of militant factions in northern Lebanon is making it much harder for the army to intervene in battles in which its soldiers may feel they have a stake. These conditions could be an indication that the army's tenuous role as super-sectarian arbiter is deteriorating among some Lebanese, particularly the Sunni population. As the Sunni-dominated northern region of Tripoli and its surroundings continue to serve as a logistical base for Syrian rebels, we'll probably see more of these clashes, and the government's ability to deploy forces without risking its credibility will definitely diminish.
Political instability is likely to rise in Lebanon as the Syria crisis worsens, and efforts better spent on the already difficult task of governing will be redirected toward buttressing the fragile balance necessary to maintain any government at all. Lebanon's political institutions have proven resilient in the face of serious challenges over the years, but that resilience is often the result of choosing to do nothing that might fan the country's flames.
Inaction may avoid making matters worse, but it does little to resolve the underlying causes of persistent instability in Lebanon.
James Fallon is an associate with Eurasia Group's Middle East practice. Ayham Kamel is an analyst in the firm's Middle East and North Africa practice.
By Hani Sabra and John Watling
Egypt's presidential election is devolving into a comedy of errors, but with potentially tragic consequences. It is no longer primarily a contest about who voters believe is the most credible and trusted politician to lead Egypt through a potentially tricky transition. Instead, it is turning into a war of wills between the Muslim Brotherhood and the ruling Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (SCAF). These natural antagonists have accommodated one another for the past year in an effort to marginalize the young revolutionaries who ignited regime change. But the tensions inherent in the relationship have turned them into frenemies. The process has been particularly apparent during the past few weeks as their interests have diverged. When and how that relationship unravels completely -- and the presidential election is a key element -- is critical to Egypt's future.
On 31 March, the Muslim Brotherhood reversed the position it had maintained since Hosni Mubarak's ouster and announced that it was fielding a presidential candidate. The Brotherhood had claimed for more than a year that it would not do so, ostensibly because it wanted to reassure Egypt's political class that it was not interested in dominating power as Mubarak's National Democratic Party had done. The more likely reason was an understanding with SCAF about the division of power; the Muslim Brotherhood would get domestic policy portfolios (the premiership and control of the cabinet) while SCAF would control the security and foreign policy portfolios by having a weak and friendly president. Yet, the Brotherhood became both cocky and nervous. At the same time that it saw broad public support, it was losing confidence that SCAF would hold up its end of the bargain. Finally, the Brotherhood's leaders decided that without a new constitution and with no guarantee that the president's power would be reduced, that the group needed to contest the election. Indeed, the courts today disbanded the assembly that was set to write the constitution, and which was dominated by the Brotherhood and other Islamists, signaling that the Brotherhood was perhaps right to be concerned.
Additionally, in a dramatic scene fit for inclusion in a political thriller, Omar Suleiman reversed his decision not to run and submitted his candidacy papers less than an hour before the 9 April deadline. Suleiman is a stalwart of the old regime; he was Mubarak's right hand man, the director of internal intelligence, a friend to Israel, and a sworn enemy of the Islamists. But unlike Mubarak's other confidantes, who have been arrested, several signals hint at possible military support for Suleiman, including a military escort when he filed his papers. Even though SCAF denies that Suleiman is their candidate, the optics and timing suggest his candidacy is intended at the very least to send a message to the Muslim Brotherhood. While Suleiman is not popular, SCAF still has strong influence over Egypt's courts and other resources that will help his candidacy, like the state-controlled media.
But the comedy of errors continues. Critics of Hazem Salah Abou Ismail, a hardline Salafist and the only candidate with an explicitly anti-U.S. platform, recently revealed that his mother was a U.S. citizen at the time of her death in 2008 and apparently had even registered to vote in California. Under Egypt's tough electoral laws, he is now technically disqualified from competing in the election. It is also possible that Khairat el Shater, the Muslim Brotherhood's senior policy chief and presidential candidate, will also be disqualified based on his felony conviction during the Mubarak era.
The tragedy is that this maneuvering may mean nothing. Egypt's economy is suffering and none of the candidates has outlined a real rescue plan or a vision for the future. Economic collapse would change the calculus completely, given the likelihood for widespread societal discontent.
Hani Sabra is an analyst with Eurasia Group's Middle East and North Africa practice.
John Watling is a senior editor with Eurasia Group.
Peter Macdiarmid/Getty Images
By Ayham Kamel
It may be tempting to view the plethora of recent gatherings -- the Arab League summit, the U.S.-Gulf Cooperation Council Strategic Cooperation Forum, and the Friends of Syria conference -- as evidence that the global community is getting more serious about addressing the violence in Syria. But the summits really just exposed the rifts among the relevant players that will prevent a viable and coordinated response. Syrian President Bashar al Assad, in turn, will profit from the lack of coherence; he will only nominally entertain Kofi Annan's peace plan as he maintains his grip on power, and the bloodshed will worsen.
International powers remain hesitant regarding any form of direct intervention. They considered initiatives calling for buffer or humanitarian zones, but ultimately no country seems prepared to act. Key powers appear to be pursuing their distinct policies, with only a hint of coordination.
Saudi Arabia and Qatar will provide extensive support -- including arms -- to the Syrian opposition, but are unlikely to supply the heavy arms that would lead to an immediate change in the balance of power. Heavy arms are more difficult to smuggle and training rebels would be much more challenging than during the Libyan conflict. Moreover, the escalation could provoke an un-calculated response from Assad's military. While their interests differ, the two powers see Assad's survival as a threat to their influence. Riyadh's purpose is to limit Iran's regional influence. Meanwhile, Doha has invested significant diplomatic and political capital in the struggle against Assad and any failure to deliver would represent a tangible setback to its prestige. Behind the armament policy is also a deep concern that if Assad regains control, Damascus and Tehran would aim to destabilize the al Saud and al Thani ruling families' grip on power.
Arming the rebels, who have had trouble obtaining ammunition sine the regime began its extensive military campaign in early February, will provide much needed psychological support and will help weaken Assad's forces. While the resolve of Syria's opposition will not abate, arms from the Gulf will neither arrive overnight nor will they immediately change the balance of military power, which is still heavily tilted in the regime's favor. An equally important element of the Gulf strategy is providing monetary incentives to officers in the Syrian army to incite defections. But Assad has built multiple safeguards to prevent defections, a tactic he inherited from his father.
The U.S. is willing to overlook, perhaps even support, GCC efforts to weaken Assad. But Washington is definitely not interested in playing an active role. It is concerned about Saudi Arabia's and Lebanon's support of Salafist rebels and al Qaeda leader Ayman al Zawahiri's call for jihad in Syria. While Sunni monarchies in the Gulf benefit from rising sectarianism in Syria, the U.S. interest in long-term regional stability could be compromised if the Sunni-Shia confrontations spread to Iraq and other countries. U.S. officials believe that a political settlement will be needed to prevent prolonged instability. Verbal support for the Annan process is a reflection of the desire to keep negotiations open, but U.S. officials are convinced that under current conditions the Annan plan will only enable Assad to retain power.
Assad will probably not implement key elements of the Annan peace plan, which calls for a halt of hostilities from all sides, and a negotiated settlement between the regime and the opposition. The regime views cooperation with the UN envoy as a way to secure the successes achieved by its military strategy and to gain some breathing space. While Annan is a shrewd diplomat, there are few reasons to think that success is in reach. Syria's opposition will probably not negotiate with Assad or agree to a settlement that keeps him in power. Meanwhile, there are no indications that the Lion of Damascus has reached a point where he would accept his own ouster.
Ayham Kamel is an analyst in Eurasia Group's Middle East and North Africa practice.
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By Crispin Hawes
The Saudi succession process seems secure, if the major participants remain healthy. However, recently-appointed Crown Prince Nayef bin Abdul-Aziz al Saud is encountering some opposition from within his own Sudairi branch of the ruling Saudi royal family with three of his brothers lobbying for advancement. These internal arguments are likely to become more vocal in the coming weeks.
The appointment of Interior Minister Nayef bin Abdul-Aziz al Saud as crown prince and his full brother Prince Salman to succeed him has clarified the immediate succession to the Saudi throne in the event of King Abdullah's death. In reality, the Saudi state remains extremely stable. Not only is the immediate succession secure, but the primacy of the Saudi royal family remains guaranteed by continued support from a number of important groups. There is discontent within Saudi Arabia, without doubt, but the core social compact between the Saudi royal family and central and western Saudis is solid, bolstered by the support of key clerical and commercial communities, tribal ties, and the state's ongoing ability to fund domestic development, economic growth, and welfare provision.
There is, however, an ongoing debate within the royal family about the role of the next generation of princes. The Sudairi branch has been the most powerful clan for the past three decades. The late King Fahd, who succeeded to the throne in 1982, was the oldest of the group of full brothers known as the Sudairi Seven-the seven sons of the kingdom's founder and Princess Hassa bint Ahmed al-Sudairi, a member of a powerful Nejdi family. The crown prince has four remaining full brothers, one of whom, Salman, is the current defense minister and Nayef's successor as noted above. The other three, Ahmed, Abd al-Rahman, and Turki, are currently agitating for promotion. Abd al-Rahman was deputy minister for defense until November 2011, but was relieved when Salman was appointed. He argues he should have been promoted. Meanwhile Ahmed, who is Nayef's deputy at the Ministry of the Interior, has complained that Nayef is actively promoting the interest of his own son, Mohammed. Lastly, Turki, who returned to Riyadh in early 2011 after a long and at least partly-voluntary exile in Cairo, is also agitating for a more senior position.
These disputes are an indication that the slow transition of power to the next generation is under way. At this point Mohammed bin Nayef, King Abdullah's son Mitaeb, and Mohammed, the son of the late King Fahd and current governor of the Eastern Province, are the most likely to move into the regime's highest echelons. All three are gaining plaudits in their current positions and seem to have the support of the current king, as well as Princes Nayef and Salman.
But the Saudi regime is extremely risk averse. It is likely that if Abdullah were to die in the near future, the Allegiance Council (created by Abdullah to manage the succession) would delay the appointment of a successor to the new crown prince for some time. If at that time there were concerns over the health of either Nayef or Salman, the council would likely appoint another member of the current generation as a regent to prevent concerns over a potentially rapid sequence of successions.
Nevertheless, the Allegiance Council is actively discussing the long-term succession and rumors of disagreements between senior members of the ruling family are likely to emerge. In the coming few weeks, the king is likely to undergo medical treatment. Previous rounds of medical treatment have given rise to outbreaks of (by Saudi standards) sharp public disagreement between members of the ruling family. The Saudi state has a long-term incentive to ensure that the succession debate develops in a way that allows the public to become accustomed to less well-known figures; as a result the Saudis are likely to allow a level of public discussion regarding the succession that is unusual for the kingdom.
PEDRO ARMESTRE/AFP/Getty Images
By Ayham Kamel
Recent, though futile, efforts to resolve the crisis in Syria have demonstrated the absence of leadership from global powers such as the U.S. and likely set the stage for possible contagion. The unwillingness of the major powers to intervene in crises such as in Syria -- a marker of what Eurasia Group has called the G-Zero World -- has allowed regional players to step into the breach, notably Qatar via the Arab League. But the League's efforts have also exposed a regional power vacuum and tensions among Middle East nations that could potentially escalate into a proxy war in Syria.
The Arab League's late-January initiative called on President Bashar al-Assad to step down, leaving the vice president to negotiate with the opposition, but it reflects neither the complexity of the Syrian conflict nor the domestic power balance. For example, the opposition is still deeply divided and there is still considerable support for the regime among business interests and some minorities. The Syrian regime is likely to retain power throughout most of 2012, but the risk of collapse will rise considerably in the last quarter.
Other players have taken advantage of major powers' unwillingness to get involved in Syria. Qatar has been pushing for more hawkish Arab League policy on Syria, but the organization lacks the power to push through such initiatives. Turkey, Iran, and Saudi Arabia have also staked out a role. But, the lack of interest in producing a negotiated solution effectively means that the Syrian regime can disregard the Arab League on many issues.
Divisions in the League between Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) states and other members also limit the group's ability to formulate and pursue effective policies. The 24 January decision by the GCC to withdraw monitors from Syria highlights this division. Both Egypt and Algeria, traditionally important players in the organization, are uncomfortable with what is increasingly seen as Qatari and Saudi dominance. In the near term, Egypt's leverage will likely decrease given its own political transition, but major stakeholders (such as the military and the Muslim Brotherhood) will eventually seek a more proactive foreign policy. Within the GCC, there is also a subtle, but important, tension between Qatar and Saudi Arabia. Saudi royals are wary of Qatari calls for direct military intervention as a tool for democratic reform in Syria or any other Arab countries, a precedent that could be later used against Riyadh.
Syria is a key part of the regional balance of power between moderate pro-U.S. states and the so called resistance camp lead by Iran. Seeking a broader realignment in the Middle East, regional powers are likely to increase their support of their local allies. Saudi Arabia, Turkey, and Qatar are actively encouraging the uprising driven by conservative Sunnis. Meanwhile, Iran is providing the Assad regime with intelligence, and technological equipment to suppress the uprising.
The Syrian conflict has fanned Sunni-Shiia tensions and the risks of contagion in Lebanon, Jordan, and Iraq are considerable. In Iraq, Sunnis are emboldened by a resurgence of conservative movements across the Middle East. Lebanon could become more unstable as the Syrian conflict has divided political factions in an increasingly delicate struggle. Jordan's own communities could reconsider their allegiance to the Hashemite monarchy as communal divisions between Jordanians of Palestinian descent and tribal elites begin to increase. Potential Syrian or Iranian support to Kurdish separatist groups in Turkey is likely to become a problematic issue. Finally, covert action by either the Sunni axis (Saudi Arabia, Qatar, and the Arab League) or Shiias (Iran and Iraq) entails significant risks to regional stability and could spur a violent proxy war that would hurt the business environment and oil flows.
Ayham Kamel is an analyst in Eurasia Group's Middle East practice.
DON EMMERT/AFP/Getty Images
Today, we turn to risk #8 in our series of posts on Eurasia Group's Top Risks for 2012 and answer the most common questions we've gotten about it.
Here's a summary:
Egypt's twists and turns: The military has clung to power longer than expected -- sometimes resorting to violence to defend it -- and it appears unlikely to withdraw from politics even after presidential elections in mid-2012. Secular revolutionary activists have grown increasingly disillusioned with the direction of the transition, and a deteriorating economy is making matters worse. The country's importance for the Arab world and its peace treaty with Israel make it crucial for regional stability.
Q- Why has Egypt's post-Mubarak transition taken a turn for the worse?
A- The ruling Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (SCAF) remains Egypt's dominant political actor, and it has underestimated the revolutionary activists who instigated Hosni Mubarak's removal and their commitment to civilian leadership of the country. The military is only now beginning to recognize the activists' determination to push past the removal of Mubarak and to insist on a more fundamental political reform. Dissatisfaction with the political system and the economy is growing. The military has focused on building a relationship with Islamist political parties, who have been more willing than secular activists to share power. But even this accommodation may begin to fray, as some Islamists begin to doubt that they can ever gain true decision-making authority as long as the military maintains its grip on power. The anniversary of last year's uprising, the writing of a new constitution, the Mubarak trial, and the presidential election are all potential flashpoints to monitor in the first half of the year.
Q- Who are the Islamists? How diverse are the constituencies that make up this broad group?
A- The "Islamist" label in Egypt encompasses a large segment of the population. (Islamists won more than two-thirds of seats in lower house elections). Within this label, there are different, often competing, visions of Egypt's future. The Muslim Brotherhood represents the conservative, organized, and largest sector that has worked with the military to this point. Its leadership, and much of its support base, is largely made up of middle-class professionals or those who aspire to join the middle class: doctors, lawyers, engineers, and others who want Egypt to maintain its Islamic foundations. The Salafi wing, represented by the Nour party, which performed better than expected in elections, is fundamentalist and more radical. Al-Wasat, which won only a handful of seats, represents the most moderate wing of political Islam. By choosing to work with the Muslim Brotherhood, the military council believes it can manage its power, while scaring the non-Islamist population with the possibility of a Salafi rise in the absence of military control.
Q- What's going on in Egypt's economy? How will it affect the political transition?
A- Egypt is quickly running out of foreign reserves as it continues to prop up its currency, which has been under pressure from capital flight. Negative headlines about the political transition will likely exacerbate this trend, especially since tourism, a critical element of Egypt's economy, will suffer. Egypt will conclude a loan arrangement with the IMF, but it will come with strings attached. Fearing public criticism, the military leadership turned down an IMF loan with relatively favorable terms shortly after Mubarak's ouster; worsening investor sentiment will ensure that the latest loan offer will come with more stringent terms. Finally, reforms such as currency devaluation and a reduction in costly energy subsidies will be tough to implement. Doing so could further choke growth and push food prices higher. Egypt's economy and political transition are interrelated, with negative developments in one fueling problems with the other.
Next up, the conflict within South Africa's ruling party.
Peter Macdiarmid/Getty Images
Today, we turn to risk #2 in our series of posts on Eurasia Group's Top Risks for 2012 and answer the most common questions we've gotten about it.
Here's a summary:
G-Zero and the Middle East - The inability/unwillingness of major powers to bolster the region's balance of force will create new turbulence across North Africa and the Middle East in 2012 as unresolved political, sectarian, and ethnic tensions threaten more unrest. Continuing protests, autocracies under pressure, new democratic regimes fighting to establish stability, and the lack of a viable regional security framework will add to the potential turmoil. As this dynamic plays out in Syria, Egypt, Iraq, Libya, Yemen and Bahrain, neighborhood heavyweights -- Saudi Arabia, Iran, and Turkey -- will vie for influence and generate friction.
Q- What does 2012 have in store for the Arab Spring?
A- Last year's Arab world uprisings will have lasting impact on North Africa and the Middle East. Protesters in Egypt and Tunisia proved they could force an autocrat from power. Demonstrators in Syria and Yemen have pushed their governments to the brink. Muammar al Qaddafi, in power since the Beatles were cutting albums, is dead. Saudi Arabia had to send troops across the King Fahd Causeway to prevent insurrection in Bahrain.
But let's not overstate the lasting impact of last year's upheaval. In Egypt, Mubarak is gone but his support structure lives on, and the country's next president won't be the Egyptian equivalent of Vaclav Havel. The military remains firmly in charge and will share power with the Muslim Brotherhood. The protesters who made themselves famous in Tahrir Square last year will be the odd man out as Egypt looks to form its next government.
In Syria, Bashar Assad's presidency may not survive the year, but for the moment he remains in power. Military defections are a serious worry, but so far they've been limited. Sanctions hurt, but the business elites in Damascus and Aleppo haven't yet begun siding with the opposition and calling for his ouster.
In Libya, oil production is ramping back up, though not as quickly as the new government claims, but powerful militias show no signs of renouncing their individual ambitions and joining the new Libyan army.
Bahrain continues as a majority Shia state ruled by a Sunni monarch. Monarchs in Jordan and Morocco remain firmly in place.
The governments of Saudi Arabia and Iran face no existential internal threats. The Saudis appear poised for a smooth process of succession when King Abdullah dies, and though Iranian President Ahmadinejad remains on shaky ground, Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei faces no direct near-term challenges.
That said, there is plenty of ongoing turmoil in some of these countries -- especially in Egypt, Syria, and Libya -- and Americans and Europeans don't believe they can afford direct intervention. U.S. troops are leaving Iraq, and there is no other outside power or alliance of powers capable of maintaining the region's delicate balance of power. That leaves local heavyweights -- especially Turkey, Saudi Arabia and Iran -- to compete for influence. None of them wants to get too involved in the complicated problems of its neighbors, but as the stakes rise in these less stable countries, they also face the risk of doing too little to bolster stability and to counter-balance their local rivals.
In short, the Middle East is top risk #2 this year because the absence of outside powers and the rivalries of local players could further destabilize a region that has already had its share of uncertainty and local violence.
Q- Syria remains in the headlines and there seems to be more violence in Iraq these days. What can we expect in these two countries?
A- In Syria, the risk is that prolonged stalemate will force the neighbors to intervene and bring things to a head. So far, the Arab League, led by Qatar, is most directly involved. As outside pressure on Assad increases, Iran may feel it has to bolster his government, one of the Islamic Republic's few reliable friends. The Saudis may decide that bringing the turmoil to a close means using their leverage to force Assad out, empowering Syria's Sunnis in the process. Turkish Prime Minister Erdogan's government may join them to put an end to the violence that has pushed many Syrians across the border into Turkey. Assad's fate may not be resolved quickly or easily, however, and Syria's troubles may extend well into 2012.
In Iraq, sectarian rivalry is filling the vacuum left behind by departing U.S. troops. Until recently the most exciting investment story in the Middle East, Iraq's stability is again in question. Nouri al-Maliki's government is no longer intent on accommodating Sunni Arab powerbrokers to keep the peace. In response, Sunnis who once opposed Kurdish demands for greater autonomy are now pushing to create a semi-autonomous bloc of their own in the Sunni-majority western provinces of the country. Here again, Iran, Saudi Arabia, and Turkey may calculate that they can't afford to hang back and let their rivals build new influence inside this country.
Q- What about Israel?
A- On the one hand, Israel will become more isolated. The Obama administration wants to reduce its risk exposure in the Middle East -- at least to the extent possible given the region's lasting importance for the United States -- and to focus more of its attention and resources on East Asia. In addition, Israel recognizes the surge of populism across the Arab world, and relations have become much more complicated with Egypt, Jordan, and Turkey. Add Iran's determination to continue development of its nuclear program and Israel will be on edge throughout this year. The risk has increased in recent weeks that Israel will face more violence in 2012 -- both within Israel and perhaps with Lebanon.
That said, whatever the differences between President Obama and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, U.S.-Israeli relations remain central to the domestic political health of both governments. Israel is not going it alone. And an Israeli military strike on Iran remains unlikely for two reasons. First, sanctions weaken Iran, even if only by forcing Tehran to sell oil to Asian states that will pay well below market prices for it. Second, sabotage, including via cyberattacks, appears to have slowed Iran's momentum in centrifuge development. This is a much less expensive and less dangerous approach than the conduct of bombing raids on Iranian territory.
Next up, another year of uncertainty for the eurozone.
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By Crispin B. Hawes
The death of Saudi Arabia's Crown Prince Sultan in New York on Oct. 22 was no surprise, coming as it did after a long series of illnesses. Sultan's active role in government had been much reduced for many years, so the immediate impact will be limited, and it has few implications for government stability or even core assumptions. But formally replacing Sultan involves key decisions concerning not only the immediate succession to the present king, who is 87, and the medium-term balance of power in the royal family.
Sultan's passing has required some adjustment to the current line of succession to King Abdullah. There is no principle of primogeniture in Saudi Arabia: all the kingdom's rulers since the death in 1953 of the founder King Abd al-Aziz have been his sons. The line of succession is decided by the senior members of the family, often after consultation with leading clerics. Sultan's full brother, Interior Minister Prince Nayef, has now been appointed to succeed Abdullah, while another full brother, Governor of Riyadh Prince Salman, is likely to become Nayef's successor.
Nayef is a controversial figure and there had been speculation that the Allegiance Council, a body established in 2006 to assist in the succession, could step in and change the plan. Abdullah appointed the Allegiance Council in part to reduce the power of the full brothers, known as the Sudairi Seven. The five surviving Sudairis are Princes Nayef, Salman, Abd al-Rahman, Ahmed, and Turki. Nevertheless, the Sudairi brothers remain powerful and despite the fact that Nayef is personally disliked by much of the Allegiance Council, for him to be pushed out of the line of succession Abdullah would have had to be prepared to confront Nayef. The traditionally risk-averse Saudi ruling family was always unlikely to take that step. The council, however, will seek to prevent Nayef from establishing his son Mohammed in the direct line.
Within Saudi Arabia's allies concern has been expressed that Nayef, a strong conservative voice in Saudi policy deliberations, could usher in a harder line following Abdullah's more moderate rule, if and when he succeeds. But the idea that Abdullah is a reform-minded monarch is exaggerated. Abdullah has presided over some concessions on municipal council elections and championed issues such as men and women working together in scientific research institutions, but Nayef's conservatism is in line with Saudi policy on most issues.
Nevertheless, as Crown Prince and potentially later as king, Nayef is likely to raise concerns through the image he presents. Abdullah is careful to ensure that meetings with senior clerics are downplayed, while statements on, for example women's rights, are publicized. Nayef, in contrast, will be happy to downplay any hint of moderation. Moreover, his approach to regional issues is harder-line than Abdullah's. In the king's absence following surgery earlier this year, Nayef was the driving force behind Saudi moves to prevent the Bahraini government from compromising with protesters' demands. Nayef's influence is also likely to affect the always-difficult relationship with the Islamic Republic of Iran. While Abdullah has not been able to manage a real rapprochement, he has until recently been able to ensure that a more moderate dialogue was being discussed.
As crown prince, Nayef's impact on the Iranian relationship will be muted by the king, but if he does succeed Abdullah, Nayef is likely to want to use the potential for a confrontation to reinforce his credentials as the defender of conservative Sunni values. Moreover, he is likely to seek greater involvement in Iraq and will probably be less careful than Abdullah to avoid antagonizing Shia clerics and parties in Iraq by over support for Sunni Arab tribal groups.
Crispin B. Hawes is the Middle East Practice Head for Eurasia Group
By James Fallon
President Ali Abdullah Saleh's sudden return to Yemen will be destabilizing, but will not change the underlying dynamics of the country's political conflict. Saleh recently returned to the capital Sana'a after some three months of medical treatment in Saudi Arabia following a June assassination attempt that left him severely wounded. His return came amid renewed clashes between pro- and anti-Saleh forces in the capital that erupted after security forces killed protesters on Sept. 18.
Saleh called for a ceasefire in an effort to position himself above the fray, but attempts to paint himself as a mediator are unlikely to succeed. Despite Saleh's absence from the country and nine months of protests against his 33-year reign, he retains some support, a factor that has led to a protracted stalemate rather than his overthrow.
Saleh will not be able to regain control of Yemen. He could, however, potentially extend the stalemate for months, degrading stability even further in the process. Although widespread military and political defections have occurred, pro-Saleh units are better equipped and led by loyal family members. Both sides enjoy some tribal support as well. The ultimate balance of military power remains unclear, but if fighting escalates, it is unlikely that either side would enjoy a decisive advantage.
Although this reality could spur dialogue, the more likely outcome is a protracted and indecisive armed conflict. A political agreement along the lines of the GCC-brokered transition deal is unlikely to solve Yemen's deeper crisis or restore central government control over the country. State stability is very likely to continue to devolve in any scenario.
Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) is one potential beneficiary of this situation. AQAP has gained more space to operate as a result of the conflict, with Islamist militants sympathetic to the terror group seizing territory in the south of the country. The Yemeni regime has parlayed the AQAP issue to manipulate external support, resulting in a greater degree of patience from the international community than has been the case in other Arab uprisings.
There is both regional and international consensus on Saleh transferring power, but the same is not necessarily true for his family members and allies in key security positions. Outside actors probably still view maintaining the coherence of counter-terrorism units as a preferential outcome, despite their politicized role and intimate links to the Saleh regime. The European Union, United States, United Nations, and the Gulf Cooperation Council meanwhile are likely to continue to pressing for negotiations for a political transition, but they do not have the capacity to bring a swift end to the Yemeni crisis, further increasing the risk of a protracted and violent stalemate.
James Fallon is an associate with Eurasia Group's Middle East practice.
By Cliff Kupchan
On Sept. 16 and again on Sept. 19, the Palestinian Authority's President Mahmoud Abbas stated that his government would apply to the U.N. Security Council for full membership at the UN this week, a move which will further stoke already significant strains. The United States will almost certainly veto the application, however, amplifying ill-will among all interested parties.
Security Council approval requires at least nine votes and no vetoes; some international diplomats believe there is a chance that the Palestinian Authority (PA) will fail to secure the nine "yes" votes, obviating a U.S. veto. In any case, a membership application to the Security Council takes time, ranging from weeks to months. This would provide an interlude for other diplomatic actions, including a shift of focus to the U.N. General Assembly and efforts to return to the peace process, though that outcome is not likely.
Despite Abbas' statements, there is still a small chance that the Palestinians will go straight to the General Assembly and avoid the provocative Security Council option. Significant debate is ongoing within the PA, with Abbas and his senior advisor Nabeel Shaath favoring the Security Council route. Prime Minister Salam Fayyad favors a less inflammatory path. At the General Assembly, the PA would apply for non-member state status. Most observers believe the PA would need a two-thirds majority to attain that status, which appears to be within easy reach. The weight of that majority would be enhanced by affirmative votes from France and, probably, Britain. Again, the United States would vote against the proposal.
The Palestinians are taking the U.N. path because the PA has given up on the peace process in its current form. A high-level Palestinian recently visited Washington, delivering the message that leverage between Israel and Palestine had to be equalized and that U.N. membership or de facto recognition (non-member state status) was the only peaceful option. The PA leadership appears genuinely committed to a two-state solution, and does not believe its gambit will lead the Israelis to abandon further negotiations.
The biggest, and most likely, risk is of Palestinian unrest and violence directed against Israel, though casualties will likely be limited. The mood among the population in the West Bank is a mix of apathy and anticipation over the U.N. vote. PA officials have stated that they will prevent any violent reaction, though celebratory marches have already been planned. The population is likely to be emboldened, angry at the United States, and frustrated by lack of actual change on the ground following the vote, a factor that will grow stronger over time.
The combustible mix will probably lead to actions, peaceful or otherwise, against Israeli soldiers or settlers. In any case, a Palestinian mobilization will probably push Israel into a defensive crouch that could lead to preemptive actions. Israeli forces would probably curb movement by Palestinians and enter refugee camps and cities, settlers may commit hostile acts, and the government could withhold tax remittances. Palestinian security forces will likely seek to curb unrest, but at the risk of the PA's legitimacy. Fear of uncontrolled escalation on both sides will probably limit violence, but the West Bank could well remain unstable for a protracted period.
Any unrest would likely come in waves. Abbas is scheduled to address the United Nations and submit the Security Council application on Sept. 23, shortly after Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu's speech; unrest could well occur on Friday. After that, disorder is most likely following Security Council or General Assembly action.
Cliff Kupchan is a director in Eurasia Group’s Middle East Practice
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By Cliff Kupchan
News that Tehran is reportedly planning to deploy faster centrifuges at a hardened site and intends to triple production of highly enriched uranium increases somewhat the risk of Israeli strikes, if Iran can follow through. If these steps are successfully implemented, Iran would have the ability to make a nuclear weapon more quickly. However, Tehran frequently overstates its capabilities, and the degree of looming threat is uncertain. Observers will need to watch future International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) statements carefully.
If Iran places both advanced generation machines and a large stockpile of 19.75 percent uranium at the hardened Fordo site near Qom, the threat of dash to a bomb would significantly increase. Even using very conservative assumptions, Iran could make a bomb in 12-18 months, depending on how many advanced machines are deployed, their efficiency, and other factors. The possibility that Fordo may not be vulnerable to air strikes increases the chance an Iranian breakout could succeed.
There are doubts, however. First, Iran's ability to make and operate advanced machines that work well, individually and in cascades, is uncertain. Second, Iran may not have enough component material to make large numbers of advanced machines.
Several explanations are possible for why Iran is, rhetorically at least, again emphasizing its nuclear program. Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei may now feel the need to boost the regime's domestic legitimacy and international influence, for two reasons. The Iranian regime is concerned about the effect of Syrian President Bashar Assad's possible fall on its regional clout, and may seek to augment that clout through progress on the nuclear program. In addition, Khamenei faces the prospect of a low turnout from a disaffected population at parliamentary and presidential elections in 2012 and 2013, and could be seeking to preempt a loss of legitimacy through nuclear advances. Finally, Iran may have made at least enough progress on advanced centrifuges to deploy two cascades and reap the political benefits of doing so.
The central question is how quickly Iran is able to move forward. Several signposts in quarterly IAEA reports will be telling. The reports will reveal how quickly Iran deploys the two test cascades and then how quickly, in what quantity, and with what efficiency Tehran deploys these machines at Fordo. Finally, these documents will provide information about how much 19.75% material is being accumulated.
The chance of Israeli strikes remains now very low for now, as Israel has been pleased with the effect of covert action and sanctions. But Israeli officials have revealed increasing concern over these issues. Progress by Iran on the above agenda will increase the chance of strikes; movement of advanced centrifuges into Fordo would be especially provocative. Unless Israel believes it could successfully attack the hardened site, it will face a very tough decision point. This more dangerous scenario would very likely rattle markets.
Cliff Kupchan is a director with Eurasia Group's Middle East practice
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By Wolfango Piccoli
Recent opinion polls suggest that Turkey's Justice and Development Party (AKP) is on course to win a third successive term with a comfortable parliamentary majority at the June 12 general elections. However, Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan appears unlikely to achieve his goal of securing the 367 seats necessary to modify the constitution without a referendum. That result would set the stage for an acrimonious political struggle in the aftermath of the election given the AKP's apparent determination to change the constitution and increase the powers of the president. Such volatility could hamper efforts to boost the economy, while also impeding Turkish efforts to boost its international reputation.
Opinion polls show support for the AKP is running at 45-48 percent, ahead of the Republican People's Party (CHP) at 25-28 percent and the Nationalist Action Party (MHP) at 12-14 percent. However, the pro-Kurdish Peace and Democracy Party (BDP) is expected to perform strongly in predominantly Kurdish areas. Its candidates are running as independents in order to sidestep a requirement that political parties win at least 10 percent of the national vote in order to win representation in parliament. The BDP could take around 25 seats, up from 19 in the current parliament.
When combined with the expected improvement in the performance of the CHP, the increase in the number of BDP deputies is likely to mean that the AKP will need at least 50 percent of the popular vote in order to win the same number of seats as it did in 2007. If voting tracks the current opinion polls, the AKP is likely to win around 310-335 seats. While this is a comfortable majority (276 votes are required for a simple majority), it is far short of the supermajority it is looking for. The only real way the AKP could win the supermajority is if the MHP falls below the 10 percent threshold and fails to obtain representation in parliament and if the BDP performs poorly in the southeast.
The AKP, however, appears determined to attempt constitutional reform. Its election manifesto, announced on April 16, declares that its first priority will be a new constitution. EU accession efforts, however, are effectively dead. Erdogan has made it clear that he wants to replace the current parliamentary system with a presidential one. He is then expected to attempt to win that post for two consecutive five-year terms.
Even if Erdogan fails to introduce a presidential system, a new constitution could still provoke volatility. Kurdish nationalists are demanding that it eliminate any mention of Turkish ethnicity. Any such initiative would provoke a furious reaction both from opposition Turkish nationalists and the Turkish nationalist wing of the AKP. Similarly, any attempt to amend the first four clauses of the current constitution -- theoretically unalterable -- would result in mass protests from Kemalists and a possible application to the Constitutional Court for the new draft to be annulled.
If, as seems likely, the AKP does not secure the hoped-for supermajority, politics in Turkey after the June election will almost instantly focus on the constitutional referendum and take the government's focus away from pressing economic issues and its efforts to boost the country's international profile.
Wolfango Piccoli is a director with Eurasia Group's Europe Practice.
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By David Gordon and Cliff Kupchan
"You don't want a messianic apocalyptic cult controlling atomic bombs," Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu told a journalist in 2009, in reference to Iran's nuclear program. He wasn't the first or last Israeli official to use such inflammatory rhetoric. References to Iran as an existential threat or to the country's nuclear program as raising the specter of another Holocaust have been typical among Israeli officials. But on a recent research trip to Israel, we heard surprisingly little anxiety. No official spoke about a threshold beyond which Iran's program would be unstoppable -- a deadline that in the past was always one year off. And elites across the political spectrum for now favor sanctions and covert action, rather than military force, to deter Iran. As a result, the chance of Israeli strikes in the next eighteen months is very low.
So what accounts for the sea-change in the Israeli approach? Success, essentially. Iranian officials have claimed that successive rounds of international sanctions have benefitted the country by forcing it to adopt necessary economic reforms. But top Israeli officials stressed to us that sanctions are crippling Iran's economy and sparking debate about nuclear policy among the ruling elite. Likewise, the triumph of the Stuxnet computer worm -- credited with destroying 1,000 Iranian centrifuges and widely believed (though not confirmed) to be an American-Israeli creation -- and possibly other covert measures have encouraged Israeli policymakers. While officials wouldn't talk in detail, they said that Iran's nuclear program has been slowed.
Buying time is an important reason to stick with sanctions and covert action. For one, as the repercussions of ever harsher sanctions sink in, Tehran may be forced to make concessions at the negotiating table. Second, in the wake of Stuxnet, Israel is probably more optimistic about its ability to impair Iran's nuclear program over the long term. Third, an extended time horizon opens the door for domestically induced regime change in Iran -- a remote but real possibility that bears monitoring as disaffected crowds again take to the streets of Tehran.
There's probably also a public relations angle to Israel's transformed rhetoric. As some sources noted, breathless statements about existential threats and points of no return likely strengthened Iran's hand, both diplomatically and publicly. Moreover, Israeli public opinion has turned its gaze elsewhere, to what it considers the more imminent threats of Gaza, Lebanon, and Egypt.
It would be wrong to read the shift in the Israeli approach as a rejection of military action, though. While no sitting politician said so, there is a widespread belief among the country's elite that the government still considers force a viable option: Netanyahu would not stomach a nuclear Iran. But unless sanctions and covert action lose their credibility in the eyes of this (or a similarly inclined) Israeli government, strikes in the next year and a half will remain unlikely.
David Gordon is head of research at Eurasia Group. Cliff Kupchan is director of the firm's Eurasia practice.
By Eurasia Group's Middle East practice
Predictions of coming market booms in the Middle East have a long history of proving overly optimistic, but there are reasons to believe that this year will be different. Clear positive signs are emerging in several countries and in multiple sectors. At the macro level, the region will benefit from upward pressures on energy prices and from the broader phenomenon of large-scale capital inflows into emerging markets.
Many countries in the Middle East -- including the United Arab Emirates, Iraq, Saudi Arabia, and Egypt -- are positioned to take advantage of these trends. Despite Dubai's drawn-out and still incomplete recovery, the UAE will remain the region's most dynamic economy. Investment in energy, petrochemicals, infrastructure, real estate, and education will drive its growth. Politically, Abu Dhabi has strengthened its influence and economic coordination between the emirates is now the norm. Dubai's financial troubles may not be completely over, but the economic and political situation in the UAE will continue to improve in 2011, in part because Abu Dhabi remains in a strong fiscal position.
Iraq will see massive new investment in its oil sector and infrastructure building. The country's myriad challenges cannot be underestimated, and the risk of sliding back toward violence remains, but Iraq now has a viable path forward. Its new government, led by Prime Minister Nouri al Maliki, has representation from all of Iraq's ethnic, sectarian, and political groups; and project work on the country's massive southern oil fields is set to ramp up quickly.
Infrastructure and energy investment will drive growth in Saudi Arabia, which is poised for a strong 2011. Saudi officials are justifiably confident about the direction of their economy. Riyadh is attempting to manage global oil prices unilaterally and does not want prices to rise to unsustainable levels; it would not want to be blamed for contributing to a double-dip recession if the global economy slows again.
Egypt, despite political uncertainty ahead of its September 2011 presidential election, will build on years of strong growth -- buoyed by investment in the energy sector, tourism, remittances, and increased traffic through the Suez Canal. Unemployment, however, will remain one of the top socioeconomic concerns, and something that opposition parties will try to seize on in order to gain popularity.
One of the most interesting political developments in the region will be Turkey's continuing emergence as a significant economic and diplomatic regional player. Long aligned with Israel, and more politically oriented toward Europe than the Middle East, Ankara is in the midst of a significant rebalancing. The effects of a more active Turkey in the Middle East will become clearer during 2011. Economically, Turkish businesses will look to invest and work in countries and regions that Western firms view as too risky, such as Iraqi Kurdistan. Politically, Turkey could emerge as an intermediary between the West and Iran, as well as a regional counterweight to the Islamic Republic.
This post was written by analysts in Eurasia Group's Middle East practice.
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By Ian Bremmer
Some of the information from those WikiLeaked U.S. diplomatic cables is interesting, or at least entertaining. But will the revelations actually have an impact on the conduct of international politics? Looking around the world, I've seen one policy so far that looks to be changed as a consequence of WikiLeaks.
On Dec. 6, Uruguay and Argentina joined Brazil in announcing they would formally recognize a Palestinian state, following the failure of Obama administration efforts to jumpstart talks between Israeli and Palestinian leaders.
Brazil's decision is interesting only in that it provides more evidence that major emerging market countries are carving out their own approaches to the world's big diplomatic conflicts, including in the Middle East, which is not a place where Latin American countries have many vital interests at stake. Remember when Brazil joined Turkey in direct engagement with Iran on its nuclear program? Or when outgoing President Lula invited Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad to visit Brazil? That was a pretty clear statement that Brazil would not simply follow Washington's lead on every issue.
Argentina is more of an eyebrow raiser. After all, for reasons historical and cultural, Argentina is traditionally more sympathetic toward Israel than any of its Latin American neighbors. So why this shot across Israel's bow? Or was it the Obama administration's bow?
Argentine President Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner can't have been pleased to read that one of the cables exposed by WikiLeaks revealed that U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton had questioned her "mental state" and how she was "managing her nerves and anxiety." Making matters worse, the cables were written a year ago, but they went public one month after Kirchner lost her husband, former president Nestor Kirchner.
The leaks also revealed that a U.S. embassy official in Buenos Aires found her government to be "to be extremely thin-skinned and intolerant of perceived criticism." Maybe he had it right. Maybe the leaks explain, at least in part, why Argentina has decided to recognize a Palestinian state.
Ian Bremmer is president of Eurasia Group and author of The End of the Free Market: Who Wins the War Between States and Corporations?
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The Call, from Ian Bremmer, uses cutting-edge political science to predict the political future -- and how it will shape the global economy.