Middle East & North Africa (MENA)

Trump’s Impact on the World: Melani Cammett on the Middle East

Harvard Professor of International Affairs Melani Cammett reviews the range of US policy stances in the Middle East and asks us to examine the difference between concrete policy shifts and skillful rhetoric.

Image of Melani Cammett and Michele Lamont

This is the second blog post in a series of edited transcripts from a panel on Trump's presidency held during our orientation in August 28, 2018. Our three panelists were Christina L. Davis, Melani Cammett, and Timothy Colton

Since the panel took place, Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi was murdered inside the Saudi consulate in Turkey. President Trump’s failure to condemn Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman or to hold Saudi Arabia responsible has been widely viewed as a moral failing and an extreme act of favoritism. Some believe the incident has upset the dynamics of US relations with its Gulf allies, underscoring US permissiveness and bias toward Saudi Arabia.

This transcript has been edited for length and clarity.

Talk delivered by Melani Cammett:

Trump's impact on the Middle East is both radical and minimal. There are elements of it that I would say could be interpreted as really radical and new, and a lot of it is really not that new, but just dressed up in a lot of rhetoric and incendiary language and so forth. 

I'll start with the radical side. And maybe radical is too strong of a word, but I'll just use it to be provocative. 

There are several pillars of American foreign policy toward this region that I'll address. And I think in each one, you could interpret some of his [Trump’s] moves as new and destabilizing and radical. So I'll focus on the relationship with Israel, the relationship with the conservative Gulf Arab monarchies, and the war on terrorism. And there's always oil percolating in there in one way or another.... Read more about Trump’s Impact on the World: Melani Cammett on the Middle East

When Life Is in Limbo, Education Can't Wait

Sarah Dryden-Peterson, associate professor of education at Harvard, shares insights from her team’s work on refugee education around the world.

Image of student hands building a map

By Michelle Nicholasen

Of the sixty-five million people currently displaced worldwide, about half of them are children. On average, a refugee may spend between ten to twenty-five years in exile. This means that for many children, their entire formal education will take place while awaiting a durable solution to their displacement. However, the United Nations Refugee Agency (UNHCR) estimates that only 50 percent of refugee children have access to primary education, and only 22 percent have access to secondary school. 

The critical task of educating refugee children has been the focus of scholarship for Weatherhead Center Faculty Associate Sarah Dryden-Peterson and her research team who are investigating processes of refugee education in Kenya, Lebanon, and Uganda, among others. Documenting the experiences of students, families, and teachers over time, the group has gained insight on education delivery, quality of instruction, and resource allocation. The struggle to meet the educational needs of refugee children, according to Dryden-Peterson, has called into question the very purpose of education and what kinds of futures it prepares young people for.

The Weatherhead Center asked Dryden-Peterson and doctoral students Vidur Chopra and Elizabeth Adelman to describe some of the realities facing Syrian refugees, who rely on education as a critical pathway to establishing a secure life. What follows is an abridged version of that conversation.... Read more about When Life Is in Limbo, Education Can't Wait

Insight on Syria: What Are Putin's Motives?

Russia’s direct entry into the Syrian conflict in September 2015 was spurred by a plethora of motivations. Russian scholars Rawi Abdelal and Alexandra Vacroux unpack the various rationales. 

Image of Putin, Assad, and others

By Rawi Abdelal and Alexandra Vacroux

Fourth in a series that asks Weatherhead Center affiliates to examine the dimensions shaping the Syrian conflict.

Russian President Vladimir Putin has confounded American policy makers with his agenda in the Middle East for at least the past decade. Russia’s stance has varied in its accord with Western policies, at times seeming to align—as in Libya and Yemen—and other times shirking, by showing indifference toward Iran’s nuclear program violations. Western diplomats have long puzzled over Putin’s real aims in the region and whether or not he could ever be a reliable ally. 
 
Russian airstrikes in Syria in 2015 marked a turning point in its foreign policy. Taking full advantage of the vacuum created by President Obama’s failure to intervene, Russia stepped in to lead, signaling Moscow’s new commitment to involvement in the region. Just two years prior, Putin had refused to export missiles systems to Syria, raising hopes in the West for a possible partnership that could help to stabilize the region. It was not to be. Russian officials fanned speculation and confusion about its actions in Syria. To the public, they skewed the purpose of intervention, first claiming to target Islamic State, then “terrorists” in general. In fact, Russian bombs fell on anti-Assad rebel groups, some of whom were armed and trained by US intelligence agencies. Thus began a protracted “proxy war” between the United States and Russia that continues today.

Putin is now entering his fourth term as president, buoyed by high levels of public support. Syria is facing its eighth year of conflict, and is now a devastated country, in large part due to the deadly Russian bombing strategy that destroyed densely populated areas and many thousands of Syrian lives. Last December, Putin and Assad together declared victory over Islamic State and announced the eventual reduction of Russian armed forces. Nevertheless, the proxy war rages on, with Russia’s continuing air and ground assaults against US-backed rebels. 

Taking Syrian intervention as a pivot point in Russian foreign policy, the Weatherhead Center for International Affairs asked Faculty Associate Rawi Abdelal and Alexandra Vacroux—director and executive director of Harvard’s Davis Center for Russian and Eurasian Studies, respectively—to demystify Putin’s overarching goals in the region, and to consider what they might mean for future relations with the West.... Read more about Insight on Syria: What Are Putin's Motives?

Insight on Syria: The Unseen Challenges of Refugee Integration in Germany

For Syrian refugees fortunate enough to reach Germany—a model among European countries for its commitment to refugees—the day-to-day realities and the uncertainty of their futures loom large.

Image of Syrian Refugee

Third in a series that asks Weatherhead Center affiliates to examine the dimensions shaping the Syrian conflict.

Weatherhead Center Undergraduate Research Fellow Hanaa Masalmeh spent a semester in Germany studying Syrian refugee integration. Her work focuses on the formal and informal structures of integration, especially on the role of women—both German and Syrian—in the integration process. This article, written by Masalmeh, is based on her research on volunteer groups in Bavaria, Germany. Names have been changed to afford privacy to the interviewees.

Every Wednesday and Friday, Barbra gets into her blue Volkswagen and drives five minutes down the road to a small yellow house near a churchyard. After carefully parking her car and grabbing her brown messenger bag, she knocks on the door. 

Barbra is a Sprachpartner, a volunteer who makes sure that Syrian refugees are learning German. Barbra also explains the basics of German culture, helps Syrians open bank accounts, file insurance claims, and apply for work. 

A young man opens the door and invites Barbra inside. “Mohammad!” Barbra says, greeting him with a hug. “Welcome, Grandmother!” the young man responds jokingly, and Barbra laughs.

Like the majority of volunteers in Bavaria, Barbra is a woman in her fifties. The Syrian men Barbra works with are in their early twenties—young enough to be her children.... Read more about Insight on Syria: The Unseen Challenges of Refugee Integration in Germany

Insight on Syria: Documenting the "Burden of War" on Syrians

Half of the population of Syria is either outside the country or is displaced. Weatherhead Center Faculty Associate Jennifer Leaning is co-directing a new Lancet Commission to investigate the public health consequences of this epic war.

Image of Syrian Kurdish refugees traveling

First in a series that asks Weatherhead Center faculty to examine the dimensions shaping the Syrian conflict.

The war in Syria is remarkable in its cumulative destruction of a society in a short six years. The toll on human life has been heavy; the involvement of multiple states, factions, and terrorist groups undermines resolution; the instigation of forced migration unprecedented; and the unfettered aerial bombardments against civilians—and perhaps most viciously, the deliberate destruction and targeting of health care facilities, health care workers, and patients—have defied all norms of war.

Achieving an accurate picture of the human cost of this conflict has been an extraordinary challenge for aid agencies and health officials. In an effort to understand the impact of the war thus far, last winter the British medical journal the Lancet convened a commission of medical professionals to investigate and report on this conflict through the lens of public health. In Lancet parlance, a commission is always anchored at an elite university; in this case the American University of Beirut (AUB). In an early publication to set the stage, The Lancet-AUB Commission on Syria (the Commission) has called Syria “the most dangerous place on earth for health care providers,” and notes that the many reported atrocities “undermine the principles and practice of medical neutrality in armed conflict.”

... Read more about Insight on Syria: Documenting the "Burden of War" on Syrians

Looking for Green in the Desert, an Irishman is Lured to Bahrain

In his new book, Paradoxes of Green: Landscapes of a City-State, Gareth Doherty, assistant professor of landscape architecture at the Harvard Graduate School of Design, captures the tension between staying green and being sustainable.

Photo of Bahrain

To Gareth Doherty, there's no such thing as a single color "green." There are just too many hues and variations to commit to one label. Doing fieldwork in Bahrain, a desert nation in the Persian Gulf, he found a palette of colors, each imbued with the history, social dynamics, and politics of the island nation. Even when they live in a desert, people need green. On his daily walks across this arid, thirty-mile-long island, he documented the persistent presence of green, from green-painted roofs and doorways to a flourishing of scrub in the desert after a brief rain shower.

Because people hunger for green space, states and individuals will go to great lengths to get it, taking steps that are at odds with sustainable development. Doherty investigated the resources required to keep Bahrain green, and explored the facts and myths of how a country lost its fresh water and its iconic date palm groves over the past century. His fascination with fieldwork also has led him and his students to the Bahamas to study the sustainable development of an island archipelago, and to Brazil, where states experience different amounts of rainfall and seasonal blankets of green.

The Weatherhead Center for International Affairs asked Doherty about his year in Bahrain, and what he’s discovered about how people use and respond to the various colors of green in their landscape.... Read more about Looking for Green in the Desert, an Irishman is Lured to Bahrain