The Baker Institute has played a leading role in promoting peace in the Middle East through unofficial Track II dialogues. Ambassador Djerejian and the institute’s nonresident fellows, Dr. Yair Hirschfeld and Dr. Samih Al-Abid, have conducted numerous workshops and conferences to lay the groundwork for a comprehensive Israeli-Palestinian peace agreement. Their work has been published in four major policy reports addressing the final status issues of an agreement as well as the public diplomacy component to buttress Israeli-Palestinian negotiations. A Baker Institute policy paper in 2013 contained recommendations on the United States' role in negotiations.
The widening gender gap in the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) has prompted many Arab leaders to take substantive steps to increase female inclusion in the political, economic and societal spheres, and to improve policy outcomes for women across the region. However, very little is known about the effectiveness of measures intended to improve the status of women in the MENA region. With this in mind, the Baker Institute Women’s Rights in the Middle East Program produces in-depth research and substantive policy recommendations to help practitioners and policymakers better predict how broader participation of women in the public and private domains might impact regional attitudes and promote societal progress. The program also hosts public lectures and academic conferences to disseminate research and to build bridges between scholars and policymakers in the MENA region and the United States.
The Women’s Rights in the Middle East Program focuses on three main areas of study: (1) the outcomes of women’s political representation in the MENA region, (2) women post-Arab Spring, and (3) the political economy of gender. The program takes an interdisciplinary and data-driven approach to its work, collaborating with partner organizations and regional scholars with a wide range of expertise. It aims not only to produce impactful and timely policy recommendations that address these areas of research but also to promote a better understanding of the intertwined factors shaping gender relations in the Arab world.
The rise of the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) states as partners of influence and growing reach across the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) injects new policymaking considerations into how regional and international organizations can best engage with each other as well as with the post-Arab Spring transition states, themselves undergoing periods of profound political and economic change. The changing architecture of world politics means that power and influence will be dispersed among a greater number of active participants than ever before.
For states in transition in the Gulf and the MENA region, this opens up new possibilities with regard to the political and economic choices facing new (and re-empowered) policy elites. Funding and development agencies in the Gulf have long records of providing aid and assistance to the wider region, rooted in Islamic principles of charitable giving as well as humanitarian principles more generally. What has changed since 2011 is that Gulf states’ foreign policy has become more assertive in an attempt to establish regional ownership of the pace and direction of the post-Arab Spring landscape. As the GCC states become more proactive in the regional arena, it is important to identify how best and where to engage along a broad spectrum of issues.
The United States has not had diplomatic relations with Iran since the hostage crisis of 1979-1981. Washington’s relationship with Tehran in the decades that followed has been marked by enmity and suspicion. The two countries still consider themselves strategic adversaries in the Persian Gulf and the broader Middle East. Today, key areas of dispute include Iran’s nuclear program, Tehran’s support for Hezbollah, Iran’s hostility toward Israel and Tehran’s role in sustaining the Assad government.
Three developments, however, suggest that there is scope, however limited, for a less contentious relationship between the United States and Iran. First, Washington and Iran find themselves de facto partners in combating the threat of ISIL in Iraq. Second, recent progress in the international negotiations on Iran’s nuclear program has raised the prospect of removing a major impediment to improved U.S.-Iranian relations. Third, the government of moderate Hassan Rouhani appears committed to easing Iran’s economic and diplomatic isolation.
Political Islam plays a key role in every country of the Middle East and spans ideologies from ultra-violent, high-profile groups such as the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS, also known as ISIL or Daesh) to lesser known, pluralist, democratic political parties like Ennahdha in Tunisia and the Justice and Development Party (PJD) in Morocco. Research focuses on identifying the moderate forces in the Muslim world and their capabilities and limitations. Without a coherent strategy to respond to such a diverse phenomenon, U.S. foreign policy strategy is relegated to reactive policies that ignore the root causes of Islamic extremism in the region. While the diversity of Islamist movements reflects a larger ideological struggle that can only be settled within the Arab and Muslim worlds, U.S. policymakers can take concrete steps to support the forces of moderation against the forces of extremism.