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Key Challenges for U.S. Policy in the Middle East

Key Challenges for U.S. Policy in the Middle East

Over the past decade, the Middle East has seen major transformations, including popular uprisings, civil and armed conflict, and humanitarian emergencies. The region also faces a number of other important challenges, ranging from effective governance to religious pluralism to geopolitical rivalries. This one-day conference will consist of four panels showcasing the main areas of expertise at the Baker Institute Edward P. Djerejian Center for the Middle East. Experts on each panel will examine the most pressing issues in the region — including the ongoing developments between the Gulf Cooperation Council states and Iran, the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, Islamist politics, and refugees and migration. See below for more information about each panel.

This conference is sponsored by the Baker Institute Edward P. Djerejian Center for the Middle East. Follow @Baker_CME on Twitter, and join the conversation online with #BakerMiddleEast.

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Agenda

9:00 a.m.

 

 

Welcome Remarks

The Honorable Edward P. Djerejian
Director, Baker Institute

9:15 a.m.

 

 

Panel I: The Evolution of Islamist Politics in the Aftermath of the Arab Uprisings

Moderated by: A.Kadir Yildirim, Ph.D., Fellow for the Middle East, Baker Institute

Jason Brownlee, Ph.D.
Professor of Government, The University of Texas at Austin

Intissar Fakir
Senior Fellow and Director, North Africa and Sahel Program, Middle East Institute; Former Fellow, Middle East Program, Carnegie Endowment for International Peace

Tarek Masoud, Ph.D.
Ford Foundation Professor of Democracy and Governance, Harvard University’s John F. Kennedy School of Government

Sarah Yerkes, Ph.D.
Senior Fellow, Middle East Program, Carnegie Endowment for International Peace

10:45 a.m.

 

 

Coffee Break

11:00 a.m

   

Panel II: Israelis, Palestinians, and the Slide Toward a Post-Two-State Reality

Moderated by: Robert Barron, Program Officer, Israeli-Palestinian Conflict, United States Institute of Peace

Samih Al-Abid, Ph.D.
Diana Tamari Sabbagh Fellow in Middle Eastern Studies, Baker Institute

Lara Friedman
President, Foundation for Middle East Peace

Omar H. Rahman
Fellow, Middle East Council on Global Affairs

Gilead Sher
Isaac and Mildred Brochstein Fellow in Middle East Peace and Security in Honor of Yitzhak Rabin, Baker Institute

12:30 p.m.    

Lunch Armchair Discussion

The Honorable Edward P. Djerejian
Director, Baker Institute

Moderated by: Allen Matusow, Ph.D., Academic Affairs Director, Baker Institute

1:45 p.m.    

Panel III: The Internationalization of Persian Gulf Security

Moderated by: Kristian Coates Ulrichsen, Ph.D., Fellow for the Middle East, Baker Institute

Katherine Harvey, Ph.D.
Adjunct Assistant Professor, Center for Security Studies, Georgetown University

Jim Krane, Ph.D.
Wallace S. Wilson Fellow for Energy Studies, Baker Institute

Toby Matthiesen, Ph.D.
Marie Curie Global Fellow, Stanford University and Ca' Foscari University

Mohammad Ayatollahi Tabaar, Ph.D.
Fellow for the Middle East, Baker Institute


3:15 p.m.    

Coffee Break

3:30 p.m.    

Panel IV: Looking Forward After a Decade of Displacement in the Middle East

Moderated by: Kelsey Norman, Ph.D., Fellow for the Middle East and Director, Women's Rights, Human Rights and Refugees Program, Baker Institute

Elizabeth Ferris, Ph.D.
Research Professor, Institute for the Study of International Migration, Walsh School of Foreign Service, Georgetown University; Former Nonresident Senior Fellow in Foreign Policy, The Brookings Institution

Merissa Khurma
Program Director, Middle East Program, Wilson Center

Kathleen Newland
Senior Fellow and Co-Founder, Migration Policy Institute; Former Co-director, International Migration Policy Program, Carnegie Endowment for International Peace

Idean Salehyan, Ph.D.
Professor of Political Science, University of North Texas; Executive Director, Peace Science Society

 

Panels

Panel I: The Evolution of Islamist Politics in the Aftermath of the Arab Uprisings

Since the September 11 attacks, religious extremism has been a major driver of U.S. policy in the Middle East. The proliferation of religious extremist organizations such as al-Qaida and the Islamic State group, and of violent attacks justified on the basis of religion, has deeply shaped the nature and extent of U.S. engagement with the Middle East region. This process coincided with the rising prominence of Islamist political parties, which were viewed as antithetical to democratic governance and U.S. interests in the region. Religion, in a part of the world where its public role is still being actively negotiated, can be a polarizing issue that mobilizes societies. The fact that Islam has been central to post-September 11 developments has raised important questions about the religion’s impact on the formation of U.S. policies toward the Middle East and the attainment of economic and security objectives in the region. In some instances, the cost of implementing U.S. policy rose significantly, or its implementation became virtually impossible, due to it either hurting U.S. favorability across the region or spurring the opposition of Islamist and extremist groups. As the Middle East region entered its post-Arab Spring phase, the regional dynamics that gave rise to religious politics in the first place gave way to an environment where Islam’s unquestioned place in the political arena came under greater popular and electoral scrutiny. This panel will examine the underlying dynamics of this shift in Islamist politics, its political, economic and social effects, and what the shift implies for an evolving American policy toward the region.

Panel II: Israelis, Palestinians and the Slide toward a Post-Two-State Reality

Israeli and Palestinian leadership have not negotiated final status issues since 2014. After eight years of intermittent conflict and hardening attitudes, large numbers of Israelis and Palestinians believe a “two-state solution” — at least as has been understood over the past 25 years — has become impossible, undesirable or a relic of the past. The current Israeli government posits that the only possibility is to “shrink the conflict,” even as divisions widen between Palestinian political factions, institutions and people. At present, no clear shared “political horizon” exists between the parties, and there is a growing sense that the “two states for two peoples” paradigm is lost. This panel will analyze the past decade’s political and societal trends, as well as implications for current and future conflict resolution efforts. The session will also outline the challenges, dilemmas, necessities, opportunities and new ideas for paths forward.

Panel III: The Internationalization of Persian Gulf Security 

Political developments in Iran and Arab Gulf States’ perceptions of U.S. disengagement have triggered a diversification of political and security partnerships that have accelerated the internationalization of the Persian Gulf. In 2019, both Russia (with Chinese support) and Iran presented proposals that (separately) reimagined how a collective security architecture in the Persian Gulf might work. The sense of a security community in flux deepened as European officials diverged from the Donald Trump administration’s “maximum pressure” campaign against Iran, and Saudi and Emirati leaders called for regional de-escalation in the aftermath of the spike in U.S.-Iran tensions in January 2020. Attempts by Israel and the United Arab Emirates to fill the gap may contribute to further divergence in Arab Gulf States’ policy approaches toward questions of defense and security policy in the region. This panel will analyze what each party in the evolving Persian Gulf security dynamic sees as its policy end-goal and assess what issues may become points of common interest — or alternatively of tension — in this period of geostrategic flux and regional uncertainty.

Panel IV: Looking Forward After a Decade of Displacement in the Middle East

One undeniable consequence of the 2011 Arab uprisings was the mass displacement of individuals and families across the Middle East and North Africa region as well as abroad. In some cases, uprisings turned into civil war, forcing Syrians, Libyans and Yemenis to look for safety outside of their respective countries. Other events — including the post-2011 repression of activists in Egypt, the faltering of economies in Tunisia and Lebanon, and the reinstallment of a Taliban-led regime in Afghanistan after the U.S. withdrawal — have led yet others to look for safety across international borders. This panel focuses on the ways that the past decade’s displacement has impacted societies, domestic politics, economies and international relations of the Middle East. The presentations will also address how Middle East displacement since the Arab uprisings has restructured and transformed the very nature of the global refugee regime, altering power asymmetries and diplomatic dynamics. Additionally, the panel will highlight research that values and includes refugee voices as a means for developing more equitable policies that benefit the lives of both refugees and citizens of Middle East countries alike. Finally, it will look to the future to explore how new challenges and pressures — including climate change — will impact displacement within and from the region in the years and decades to come. 

 

 

 

When?

Wed, June 1, 2022
9 a.m. - 5 p.m.
(GMT-0500) US/Central

Where?

James A. Baker III Hall, Rice University
6100 Main St.
Houston, Texas 77005

Doré Commons