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A tiny (only 3.5 times the size of Washington DC) island off the coast of Saudi Arabia, Bahrain lies in the heart of the Persian Gulf. Although it was the first state to strike oil in the region, it has a relatively small amount remaining. Within the American context, it is probably best known for hosting the massively important Fifth Fleet of the United States Navy.
As the Syrian crisis nears the three year mark, hope for a resolution in the near future appears extremely low. The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, a pro-opposition group, says that the period since the "Geneva 2" peace talks has been the bloodiest in the conflict’s history. When negotiations in Geneva concluded most recently, on February 15th, United Nations mediator Lakhdar Brahimi apologized to the Syrian people for another futile conversation. The final session of the conference, in fact, lasted a measly 27 minutes. When all sides left a neutral and pleasant Switzerland to return to their respectful home-bases, the sense of frustration was very palpable.
Several weeks ago, my political science professor asked the class, “What is the biggest problem the U.S. government has with Indonesia?” One student replied, “The Muslim majority.”
As is all too often the case, the Middle East is currently experiencing a streak of widespread violence and political extremism. In a region where moderate voices are often drowned out by the rhetoric of weapon-toting radicals, one bright spot may be emerging from an unlikely source, Tehran. President Hassan Rouhani, who was elected in June and assumed office in August, appears to be a sensible and open-minded politician. Compared to his predecessor, the ever-controversial Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, Rouhani seems to be making headlines for all the right reasons these days. As promised while on the campaign trail, he recently ordered the release of eleven political prisoners, including well-known human rights lawyer Nasrin Sotoudeh.. Thatsame day, he conducted an interview with NBC in which he assured the world media that Iran has no intention of developing nuclear weapons. Furthermore, he said that he received a “positive and constructive” letter from American President Barack Obama.
Discussing the U.S. government’s actions and policies in the Middle East is tough. People get uneasy, emotional and defensive. It becomes difficult to stand your ground and avoid coming across as either an American apologist or an anti-American zealot. Perhaps a conspiracy theory or a distasteful tirade gets thrown into the mix. Chances are someone is going to get angry.
In response to the recent triumph of Argo at the Academy Awards, the Iranian state television channel called the film an “advertisement for the CIA.” This brief exchange serves as a painful reminder of the nature of the U.S.-Iranian relationship, one that has been marked by mutual distrust and deep-rooted animosity.
Of all the regions of the world, the Middle East has the unfortunate honor of being the most comfortable with violence. Since World War II and the slow and painful withdrawal of European colonialism, the people of the Middle East have experienced violence in seemingly limitless forms.
Four years ago, President Barack Obama’s election suggested a newly positive direction in U.S.-Arab relations. Symbolically, his first television interview was with the Saudi-owned channel al-Arabiya. He then traveled to Cairo, Egypt in June 2009 and delivered an inspiring and compassionate speech. He even demonstrated a heightened awareness of the plight of the Palestinians. A renewed sense of hope flooded Arab streets and Obama’s refreshing rhetoric was welcomed with open arms. Following a Bush administration which left ties with the Arab people in disarray, Obama seemed to be saying all the right things and healing a diseased relationship.
In the midst of a heated race for the U.S. presidency, many in the foreign policy arena are concerned about the implications of a new Egyptian government. How will Egyptian-American relations fare under recently elected President Mohammed Morsi? Will the 1979 peace treaty between Egypt and Israel remain intact? Although these are important questions, they are self-interested. The most fundamental question must be: is Morsi good for the Egyptian people?
These are tense times in the Middle East. A new government in Cairo is testing the waters of democracy. The Syrian regime is in the midst of a bloody and protracted conflict with anti-Assad forces. Iranian leadership remains determined to pursue the nuclear route despite draconian sanctions and intense diplomatic pressure. Netanyahu continues to spew belligerent rhetoric from his perch in Tel Aviv.
As the Arab Spring has swept across the Middle East, many countries have fallen into a chaotic and violent mess. Cries for reform in Damascus and Manama have been answered by brute force, and the American media has obsessively reported on the fragile situations in Syria and Egypt.
After years of poor health and a lengthy battle with cancer, Sultan bin Abdulaziz Al-Saud, the Crown Prince of Saudi Arabia, died on Oct. 22, 2011. Prince Sultan was the Minister of Defense and Aviation for nearly five decades and one of the most senior and powerful individuals in the ruling Al-Saud family. Five days later, as expected, Prince Nayef bin Abdulaziz Al-Saud was appointed the new Crown Prince. These developments have raised concerns about the line of succession, particularly as the leading government figures continue to age.
The leader of the Palestinian Authority, Mahmoud Abbas, has officially presented his case to the United Nations. After a period of debate ending next week, he hopes to go before the Security Council seeking full membership for a Palestinian state based on the 1967 borders. This is a move backed by as many as 150 countries worldwide including Russia, China, and Brazil.