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Analysis and Comment (101)

The German army prepares arms for the Kurds in August. The German army prepares arms for the Kurds in August. Jan Woitas/EPA

Arming the Kurds builds on long history of proxy warfare in the Middle East

An “initial gifting package”: the opaque label is wrapped around £1.6m worth of heavy machine guns and half a million rounds of ammunition, which has now reached the Iraqi town of Arbil courtesy of the…
This is as far as you go: refugees arrive in Jordan. This is as far as you go: refugees arrive in Jordan. EPA/STR

Jordan has become the West’s warehouse for Iraqi refugees

Swamped as we are with media outrage and political rhetoric about asylum seekers “invading” Europe, we tend to forget that the vast majority of displaced people find refuge in countries far beyond EU borders…
Barack Obama is reluctant to jump in with both feet with a major military intervention in Iraq and Syria. Barack Obama is reluctant to jump in with both feet with a major military intervention in Iraq and Syria. EPA/Valda Kalnina

Why ‘fools rush in’ is Obama’s watchword in Iraq and Syria

US president Barack Obama has yet to work out exactly what America’s strategy is in confronting Islamic State (IS), and has been foolish enough to say so in public. Cue the foreseeable torrent of point-scoring…
US troops have made gains against IS. US troops have made gains against IS. EPA/Armin Weigel

The time has come for decisive action against Islamic State

With an unmistakable British accent, the now-infamous Islamic State (IS) fighter thought to have killed journalist James Foley has addressed his second message to US president Barack Obama. IS is trying…
Does Tony Abbott’s justification for Australian involvement in Iraq amount to a legal basis for our commitment? Does Tony Abbott’s justification for Australian involvement in Iraq amount to a legal basis for our commitment? AAP/Dave Hunt

Australia’s military involvement in Iraq is legal – for now

The humanitarian missions by the Royal Australian Air Force in Iraq are in accordance with international law, despite a confusing statement by Iraq’s ambassador to Australia, Mouayed Saleh. But continued…
History tells us that it is certain criteria and not democratic niceties, secularism or a moderate hand that will make or break Islamic State. History tells us that it is certain criteria and not democratic niceties, secularism or a moderate hand that will make or break Islamic State. EPA/STR

Going the distance: does Islamic State have staying power?

The rise of Islamic State (IS) across parts of the Middle East has galvanised the international community in a way not seen since September 11. But before a military response is considered, western nations…
An international Red Crescent aid truck sponsored by Syria’s government. An international Red Crescent aid truck sponsored by Syria’s government. Syrian Arab News Agency/EPA

Islamic State only the latest group to fill vacuum left by long Ba'athist retreat in Syria

Black-clad fighters, suffering refugees and Western warplanes overhead – these are the mainstays of Iraq and Syria coverage as the Islamic State (IS) continues its campaign. Notably absent from debates…
Lebanese troops enter the border town of Arsal to fight off ISIS. Lebanese troops enter the border town of Arsal to fight off ISIS. EPA/Stringer

Lebanon’s fragile democracy survives Islamic State spillover – for now

The Islamic State’s campaign across Northern Iraq and Syria has entered Lebanese territory for the first time. Long affected by the spillover of refugees fleeing its war torn neighbours, the brief battle…
With the Palestinian peace camp among the casualties of the bombardment of Gaza, what does Israel expect to emerge from the ruins? With the Palestinian peace camp among the casualties of the bombardment of Gaza, what does Israel expect to emerge from the ruins? AAP/Newzulu/Eloise Bollack

The world’s most tragic, long-running farce: the Gaza conflict

If we apply Karl Marx’s dictum that “history repeats itself, first as tragedy, then as farce”, then the Gaza Strip is one of the longest-running tragicomic productions in the world today. It is not hard…
Iraq is rapidly spiralling into a humanitarian catastrophe, with the persecuted Yazidi religious minority facing genocide. Iraq is rapidly spiralling into a humanitarian catastrophe, with the persecuted Yazidi religious minority facing genocide. EPA/Mohammed Jalil

Iraq’s Yazidis are on the brink of genocide – who will save them?

US president Barack Obama has confirmed that the US military made targeted airstrikes and carried out a humanitarian operation in Iraq, marking the deepest US engagement in the country since US troops…
Islamic State militants have destroyed sites of great cultural and historical significance in Iraq, such as the tomb of the prophet Jonah in Mosul. Islamic State militants have destroyed sites of great cultural and historical significance in Iraq, such as the tomb of the prophet Jonah in Mosul. EPA/Stringer

Diversity and religious pluralism are disappearing amid Iraq’s crisis

Iraq previously had one of the most multicultural societies in the Middle East. A broad diversity of religions, races and cultures flourished in Iraq, united by common heritage, culture and traditions…
When you hear hooves, shout camel, not bioterrorist. When you hear hooves, shout camel, not bioterrorist. Delpixel/Flickr

Middle East respiratory virus came from camels, not terrorists

The Middle East respiratory syndrome coronavirus (MERS-CoV) is a tiny, spiky package of fat, proteins and genes that was first found in a dying man in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia in 2012. Since then, we…
An Israeli Iron Dome missile is fired to intercept a rocket from Gaza. An Israeli Iron Dome missile is fired to intercept a rocket from Gaza. EPA/Abir Sultan

Explainer: Israel’s Iron Dome anti-missile system

The breakdown of an initial ceasefire between Israeli forces and Hamas last weekend played out to a familiar soundtrack: the wail of air-raid sirens and the menacing hiss of incoming rocket fire, followed…
Kurdish Peshmerga forces now control their long dreamt-of capital, Kirkut, but the euphoria at the prospect of independence ignores the real practical challenges of statehood. Kurdish Peshmerga forces now control their long dreamt-of capital, Kirkut, but the euphoria at the prospect of independence ignores the real practical challenges of statehood. AAP/Newzulu/Guillaume Briquet

‘Independent’ Kurds need Baghdad more than they’d like

Iraqi Kurds are in a unique position to declare independence in defiance of a seemingly powerless central government in Baghdad following the rapid disintegration of Iraq in the face of the Islamic State…
The fresh outbreak of violence between Israel and Hamas has not emerged out of a vacuum, and may yet worsen. The fresh outbreak of violence between Israel and Hamas has not emerged out of a vacuum, and may yet worsen. EPA/Atef Safadi

Here we go again – Israel and Hamas resume their war

The prospect of another Israeli-Gazan conflict is upon us with the beginning of Israeli ground operations in Gaza. There have been suggestions that the Israeli action will be limited to the destruction…
Kurdish soldiers have been forced to defend parts of Iraq from jihadi fighters. What are their chances of gaining independent statehood? Kurdish soldiers have been forced to defend parts of Iraq from jihadi fighters. What are their chances of gaining independent statehood? AAP/Guillaume Briquet

As crisis grips Iraq, could a Kurdish state be in the offing?

Without the bloodshed and destruction associated with the Islamic state jihadis, one of Iraq’s constituent pieces is moving quietly towards establishing itself as a free-standing political entity. Massoud…
Watchful: Iraqi government troops at border with Jordan. Watchful: Iraqi government troops at border with Jordan. EPA/Alaa al-Shemaree

ISIS does not have enough public support to extend its caliphate in Iraq

After a month of fighting in Iraq, the ISIS insurgency has made considerable progress, even if there is now something of a stalemate as Shi’a militias organise themselves and the weak Iraqi Army gets a…
The jihadi fighters in Iraq and Syria include hundreds of Australians. The jihadi fighters in Iraq and Syria include hundreds of Australians. EPA/Mohammed Jalil

Why hundreds of westerners are taking up arms in global jihad

The conflicts in Syria and Iraq are attracting many westerners, including young Australians, as jihadi fighters. Last December, Australian intelligence agencies reported that they were aware of at least…
While Peter Greste may not have personally been guilty of any wrong-doing, he is carrying the can for wrath directed at his employer, Al Jazeera. While Peter Greste may not have personally been guilty of any wrong-doing, he is carrying the can for wrath directed at his employer, Al Jazeera. EPA/Khaled Elfiqi

Greste and Al Jazeera pay the price in Egyptian revolution blowback

The jail sentences handed down to Australian journalist Peter Greste and his Al Jazeera English colleagues have deeply shocked supporters in the west. While spending a few years in an Egyptian prison is…
ISIS appears to be attempting to recruit fighters from Europe via social media. ISIS appears to be attempting to recruit fighters from Europe via social media. Twitter

ISIS at Jordan border, but West taking military action would only help Islamists

The Sunni rebels in Iraq have made further gains, taking control of important border crossings with Syria and Jordan, the Rutba truck-stop on the main road from Baghdad to the Jordan border and two towns…
Kurdish peshmerga brigades, which have emerged as the only viable military counterweight to ISIL in Iraq, prepare defences at Kirkuk. Kurdish peshmerga brigades, which have emerged as the only viable military counterweight to ISIL in Iraq, prepare defences at Kirkuk. EPA/Khalil al-A'nei

Kurds find a way forward through the chaos of a fracturing Iraq

The Kurds have no friends but the mountains, runs the adage. Marginalised, dispossessed and oppressed in their historic homelands, Kurds have long lamented a lack of powerful allies willing and able to…
ISIL fighters patrol the newly captured provincial capital Tikrit, former home of Saddam Hussein. ISIL fighters patrol the newly captured provincial capital Tikrit, former home of Saddam Hussein. EPA/Stringer

How has Iraq lost a third of its territory to ISIS in three days?

The extremist Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL), also known as ISIS, has captured a third of Iraq’s territory within a few days. Iraq’s third-biggest city, Mosul, fell within hours of being attacked…
Until George Brandis' comments last week, Australia’s position has been to recognise East Jerusalem as ‘occupied by Israel’. Until George Brandis' comments last week, Australia’s position has been to recognise East Jerusalem as ‘occupied by Israel’. AAP/Alan Porritt

Brandis out of step with international consensus on East Jerusalem

Under questioning at a Senate estimates hearing, federal attorney-general George Brandis revealed that the Abbott government does not consider East Jerusalem to be “occupied”. Brandis later put out a statement…
Young Iranians, like these supporters of President Rouhani, must take care when expressing themselves not to push conservative clerical leaders too far. Young Iranians, like these supporters of President Rouhani, must take care when expressing themselves not to push conservative clerical leaders too far. EPA/Abedin Taherkenareh

‘Happy’ in Iran: the trials of the young and disenfranchised

In Iran everything is possible, and everything is impossible. – Football Undercover, 2008 Iranian filmmaker Ayat Najafi’s words sum up the conflicting nature of government policy on artistic expression…
Fast-growing Tehran is at the heart of the economic and demographic pressures for change in Iran. Fast-growing Tehran is at the heart of the economic and demographic pressures for change in Iran. EPA/Abedin Taherkenareh

Iran peeks from behind the veil

Iran is involved in P5+1 talks with the US and Europe ostensibly about nuclear capacities. But the real talk in Iran and around the world is that Iran’s government knows things have to change. As Egypt…
A woman protests in Britain against the stoning of people for sexual ‘crimes’. Brunei is moving to apply the Sharia law penalty to gay people. A woman protests in Britain against the stoning of people for sexual ‘crimes’. Brunei is moving to apply the Sharia law penalty to gay people. EPA/Facundo Arrizabalaga

As region’s homophobia turns deadly, let’s stand up for rights

Although Australia does not yet allow same-sex couples to marry, it is not a country that is generally described as homophobic. The days of it being a crime to be gay here are, thankfully, a relic of a…
What’s 1000 years between friends? What’s 1000 years between friends? EPA/Abir Sultan

Pope’s Holy Land trip will help heal ancient rift with Orthodoxy

Pope Francis’s visit to the Middle East has been hugely significant, for both religious and political reasons. Francis hopes to encourage ongoing peaceful dialogue and co-operation between both Israelis…
The UN has singled out Iran for discrimination against women, so why is it elected to the main UN body dedicated to gender equality? The UN has singled out Iran for discrimination against women, so why is it elected to the main UN body dedicated to gender equality? EPA/Stefan Zaklin

Having Iran as its standard-bearer for women’s rights discredits UN

In March, UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon reported to the General Assembly on the situation of human rights in the Islamic Republic of Iran. Ban expressed concern that women in Iran “are subject to discrimination…
PLO representative Azzam Al Ahmad with Hamas prime minister Sheikh Ismael Haneiya and Ahmad Nahar. PLO representative Azzam Al Ahmad with Hamas prime minister Sheikh Ismael Haneiya and Ahmad Nahar. EPA/Mohammed Saber

Fatah reconciliation with Hamas necessary for Middle East peace

At a ceremony in Gaza on Wednesday, representatives of the two main rival Palestinian political factions, Fatah and Hamas, signed a reconciliation agreement. Predictably, the news was met with stern criticism…
Silencing dissent: al-Jazeera journalists in a court cage during their trial. Silencing dissent: al-Jazeera journalists in a court cage during their trial. Al-Masry al-Ayoum/EPA

Opinions are dangerous as Egypt cracks down on dissent

As I write this, 20 journalists – including several al-Jazeera reporters – are on trial in Cairo on charges of spreading disinformation and abetting terrorists. Their alleged crime includes operating without…
After destroying towns and cities, Syria’s civil war is spilling into Lebanon. After destroying towns and cities, Syria’s civil war is spilling into Lebanon. Christiaan Triebert

No end in sight as Syria misery spreads across region

The second round of the Geneva II talks on Syria have ended with no agreement and without even a decision on the date of a further meeting. The highly experienced UN mediator, Lakhdar Brahimi, was clearly…
Despite much discussion, the Geneva peace talks between Syria’s warring parties did little more than illustrate the size of the chasm between the two parties. Despite much discussion, the Geneva peace talks between Syria’s warring parties did little more than illustrate the size of the chasm between the two parties. EPA/Arnd Wiegmann

Geneva 2 talks fail to achieve promised transition for Syria

The much-anticipated first round of the Geneva 2 Syrian peace talks wrapped up on Friday after ten days of tense discussions. The international community had hoped that the talks would pave the way for…
Foreign minister Julie Bishop made news in Israel by declaring Australia would like to see which international law made settlements in occupied Palestinian territories illegal. Foreign minister Julie Bishop made news in Israel by declaring Australia would like to see which international law made settlements in occupied Palestinian territories illegal. Times of Israel

Settlements illegal under what law? Take your pick, minister

The Australian government has become an apologist for Israeli war crimes and a wrecker of sacred international humanitarian law principles. Last week, Australia’s foreign minister Julie Bishop asked to…
Pope Francis’ journey to the Middle East will be a defining journey on the question of Catholic-Eastern Orthodox unity. Pope Francis’ journey to the Middle East will be a defining journey on the question of Catholic-Eastern Orthodox unity. EPA/L'Osservatore Romano

Making history personal: Pope Francis' mission of unity to the Middle East

Pope Francis announced this month he will visit the Middle East in May this year. While it has been foreshadowed since the first weeks of his papacy, this event will place the Church’s first South American…
Such are the bitter divisions created by atrocities such as the car bombing that led to this mass funeral in Kafat village in Hama province that reconciliation cannot succeed as an afterthought. Such are the bitter divisions created by atrocities such as the car bombing that led to this mass funeral in Kafat village in Hama province that reconciliation cannot succeed as an afterthought. EPA/SANA

Want peace in Syria? Work on reconciliation from day one

When outsiders survey the devastation in Syria, reconciliation is probably the last thing that comes to mind. Millions of refugees and internally displaced people are desperate for humanitarian aid. Millions…
Sharon: a divisive legacy. Sharon: a divisive legacy. PA Archive

Sharon, Thatcher, Mandela and the simplistic media postmortem

Israel is mourning one of its political and military giants. With help from Tony Blair and Joe Biden – but accompanied by a markedly less impressive roll call of world leaders than travelled to South Africa…
Ariel Sharon, right, with Menachem Begin. Ariel Sharon, right, with Menachem Begin. Israeli GPO

Ariel Sharon dies at 85 after decades as polarising presence

To his critics he will forever be the “Butcher of Beirut”, the master of Israel’s disastrous invasion of Lebanon in 1982 and the man responsible for the horrendous massacre of hundreds of Palestinians…
Iraq now faces an assault on its sovereign integrity from Islamic extremists that is testing the organs of the state. Iraq now faces an assault on its sovereign integrity from Islamic extremists that is testing the organs of the state. EPA/Mohammed Jalil

Iraq and its extremist problem: what now for the troubled state?

The number of deaths in Iraq from attacks by extremist groups operating under the banner of Islam has been growing steadily since the withdrawal of American troops in 2011. In 2013, nearly 8900 people…
Land under threat: Palestinian shepherds in the Jordan valley. Land under threat: Palestinian shepherds in the Jordan valley. AP Photo/Oded Balilty

Latest Israel-Palestine talks likely to falter over land swap

When US secretary of state John Kerry returned to the Middle East last week, it was with the assurance from senior officials that “nobody has an intention of sticking a finger in Kerry’s eye” on the issue…
Protesters take a break during demonstrations in Yemen. Protesters take a break during demonstrations in Yemen. Al-Jazeera English

Arabian Al-Qaeda struggles for influence in Yemen

The deadly attacks on Yemen’s defence ministry that killed 52 people in early December have renewed speculation about the threat posed by al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP). AQAP, which has claimed…
Taking dictation: David Cameron vists Kazakh President Nazarbayev. Taking dictation: David Cameron vists Kazakh President Nazarbayev. Leon Neal/PA

Kazakhstan shows how dictators can survive diversity

Why do states and societies collapse? Efforts to explain the hugely complicated conflicts in Syria and Libya have understandably placed heavy emphasis on these nations’ ethnic or tribal diversity. Writers…
All smiles in Geneva: but there are some unhappy people in the Middle East. All smiles in Geneva: but there are some unhappy people in the Middle East. Carolyn Kaster/AP/Press Association Images

Iran’s nuclear weapons deal will rebalance the Middle East

Signed by the P5 + Germany and mediated by the EU’s foreign policy chief, Baroness Catherine Ashton, the deal achieved with Iran on the latter’s nuclear programme has important implications for regional…
Martin E Dempsey warns the fallout of the Arab Spring will take a long time to clear. Martin E Dempsey warns the fallout of the Arab Spring will take a long time to clear. Glenn Fawcett

Recovery from the Arab Spring will take a generation or more

At a meeting at the Wall Street Journal this week, Martin E Dempsey, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, noted that the United States' ability to exercise influence in the Middle East had significantly…
Lebanon is bearing the brunt of the protracted refugee crisis that has emerged as a result of the Syrian civil war. Lebanon is bearing the brunt of the protracted refugee crisis that has emerged as a result of the Syrian civil war. EPA/Wael Hamzeh

Mutual misery: the Syrian refugee crisis, Lebanon and Australia

The recent sinking of a refugee boat bound for Australia off Java, which had 68 Lebanese on board, highlights the complexity, magnitude and reach of the Syrian civil war. The effect of the ongoing war…
‘Win or die’: Free Syrian Army rebels. ‘Win or die’: Free Syrian Army rebels. VOA

Syria peace talks will be fault line for post-US Middle East

Syrian rebels have dealt another blow to the prospects of a peace summit in Geneva in November. On Sunday, 22 of the armed groups fighting on the ground, including four of the most powerful, issued an…
Is Iran’s new president Hassan Rouhani proposing a new way forward in thawing the relations between his country and the United States? Is Iran’s new president Hassan Rouhani proposing a new way forward in thawing the relations between his country and the United States? EPA/Brendan McDermid

Iran-US relations: is this Rouhani’s ‘grand bargain’?

As the presidents of Iran and the United States converged on the United Nations headquarters in New York this week, optimism seemed to be in the air. Washington and Tehran have eyed each other icily ever…
US president Barack Obama has been criticised recently for not taking a hardline enough approach on military action in Syria. US president Barack Obama has been criticised recently for not taking a hardline enough approach on military action in Syria. EPA/Michael Reynolds

In praise of prevarication: Barack Obama’s Syria strategy

Being the most powerful man in the world isn’t what it used to be. US president Barack Obama is currently being ridiculed for his apparent inability to decide how to handle the conflict in Syria. American…
Devastating New Dawn raids in Fallujah, Iraq. Devastating New Dawn raids in Fallujah, Iraq. Wikimedia Commons

Air strikes could keep hope alive for Syria and Middle East

Stand by - on a screen near you - for the all-too familiar televisual firework display which means that the US and its allies are forging ahead with the threatened air strikes on Syria. As politicians…
Sorouq lost her sisters to bomb attacks in Syria, but the best way to help is to stay away. Sorouq lost her sisters to bomb attacks in Syria, but the best way to help is to stay away. Save the Children / Hedinn Halldorsson

Weep for the children, but stay out of Syria

A grief-stricken father tenderly hands over the shrouded body of his tiny daughter to be placed in the mass grave. Surgical masks are being worn in the hope that they will ward off the chemical death that…
Allegations of chemical weapon use by the Assad regime is leading to calls for Western intervention. Allegations of chemical weapon use by the Assad regime is leading to calls for Western intervention. EPA/STR

Obama’s credibility on the line as US weighs up a Syria response

Those who thought US president Barack Obama was chastened by his failure to subdue the Taliban in Afghanistan and his decision to “lead from behind” in Libya expected the White House to be less overtly…
Playing it safe? No reformists or women in Hassan Rowhani’s cabinet. Playing it safe? No reformists or women in Hassan Rowhani’s cabinet. Wikimedia Commons

In Iran, Rowhani’s first cabinet strikes a complex balance

Nearly two months after his unexpected victory in the first round of the Iranian presidential elections of June, Hassan Rowhani has finally assumed office and brought a formal end to the contested eight…
Yemen has two insurgencies, an AQAP threat and infighting among the armed forces. Yemen has two insurgencies, an AQAP threat and infighting among the armed forces. Wikimedia

West has key role to play amid Yemen’s al-Qaeda resurgence

Yemen is once again at the centre of a major terrorist threat. The Yemeni government has announced the uncovering of a major Al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) plot aimed at the country’s critical…
Millions of people are being displaced across the region. Millions of people are being displaced across the region. Freedom House

Middle East map blurs as old order breaks down

It is about 100 years since the then-imperial powers of Britain and France first demarcated the boundaries between Lebanon, Syria, Iraq, Jordan and Mandate Palestine. Now, it looks like those borders are…
Positive moves: The Elders at Chatham House last week (l-r: Maati Ahtisaari, Lakhdar Brahimi and Jimmy Carter. Positive moves: The Elders at Chatham House last week (l-r: Maati Ahtisaari, Lakhdar Brahimi and Jimmy Carter. Jeff Moore/The Elders

Elders bring backing for Kerry’s peacemaking efforts

When US Secretary of State John Kerry announced that talks about talks to revive peace negotiations between the Israelis and Palestinians would begin soon in Washington, veteran commentators greeted the…
As Islamic jihadists become increasingly central to the Syrian conflict, the once secular revolution led by the Free Syrian Army (fighter pictured) loses support in the eyes of the world. As Islamic jihadists become increasingly central to the Syrian conflict, the once secular revolution led by the Free Syrian Army (fighter pictured) loses support in the eyes of the world. EPA

Radicalising Syria: how the rebels are becoming more Islamist

In the two years since its inception, the image of the Syrian civil war has veered dramatically away from its revolutionary, secular origins. What began as a response to the brutal repression of peaceful…
Emir Sabah Al-Ahmad Al-Jaber Al-Sabah at the 2012 elections. Kuwait is passing through an unprecedented period of instability, bringing relentless elections. Emir Sabah Al-Ahmad Al-Jaber Al-Sabah at the 2012 elections. Kuwait is passing through an unprecedented period of instability, bringing relentless elections. Kuwaitelections2012

Explainer: Kuwait elections

Parliamentary elections for the 65 member Kuwait’s National Assembly (Majlis al-Umma) are set for this Saturday. Over 410 candidates are contesting the 50 seats elected by popular vote in the oldest and…
‘One hand’: Once again it is the military which is calling the shots in Egypt. ‘One hand’: Once again it is the military which is calling the shots in Egypt. Zeinab Mohamed via Creative Commons

No change without trauma in Middle East’s political logjam

In the past four weeks, a major political earthquake seems to have hit the Middle East, where three key regional constituencies: Iran, Qatar and Egypt, experienced more or less unexpected changes of leadership…
The grim cost of conflict. The grim cost of conflict. Freedom House via Creative Commons

Syria casts its shadow as G8 leaders gather

President Obama’s confirmation that the United States would begin arming Syrian rebels has prompted an urgent debate about both the legality and the effectiveness of the decision. The announcement, ahead…
Iran’s ruling class have engineered the result of elections to their favoured candidate - will Friday’s presidential election be any different? Iran’s ruling class have engineered the result of elections to their favoured candidate - will Friday’s presidential election be any different? EPA/Abedin Taherkenareh

Iranian elections: true legitimacy, or the country’s Achilles heel?

Iranian elections have often been the country’s Achilles heel, or as Iranians say, pashneye achil. Since the Islamic Republic of Iran’s inception in 1979, the ruling clergy has incorporated electoral procedures…
Palestinians from Fatah (yellow flags) and Hamas (green flags) celebrated the reconciliation agreement between the factions in 2011, but little progress in the region has been made since. Palestinians from Fatah (yellow flags) and Hamas (green flags) celebrated the reconciliation agreement between the factions in 2011, but little progress in the region has been made since. EPA/Mohammed Saber

Burning bridges: Hamas and reconciliation

Recently, Musheer al-Masri, a Hamas member and spokesperson, blamed his Palestinian political rivals Fatah yet again for hindering the implementation of the Palestinian Reconciliation Agreement. The agreement…
The resignation of Syrian opposition leader Moaz Al-Khatib (centre) has plunged the war-torn nation into fresh political tumult. The resignation of Syrian opposition leader Moaz Al-Khatib (centre) has plunged the war-torn nation into fresh political tumult. EPA/STR

Political turmoil in Syria: the crisis deepens

Political upheaval within the Syrian National Council (SNC) is worsening the chaos that has defined Syria for the past two years. In recent times, we’ve also seen allegations of chemical weapon use and…
Benjamin Netanyahu will remain Israel’s prime minister, but the rise of centrist parties have made his choices for coalition partners far more difficult. Benjamin Netanyahu will remain Israel’s prime minister, but the rise of centrist parties have made his choices for coalition partners far more difficult. EPA/Oliver Weiken

Israeli elections: the return of the centre

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s bruising victory in Israel’s election was costly. The hawkish atmosphere over electing members of the 19th Knesset saw the highest voter turnout since 1999 and some…
Increased sanctions against Iran could weaken more than its national currency, the Rial. Increased sanctions against Iran could weaken more than its national currency, the Rial. EPA/Abedin Taherkenareh

New sanctions could be hindering progress in Iran

Bob Carr’s announcement yesterday that Australia would increase sanctions against Iran will be greeted with praise from some quarters. There is a growing understanding among analysts, diplomats and leaders…
Palestinians gather around what is left of a destroyed house after an Israeli air strike this week. Palestinians gather around what is left of a destroyed house after an Israeli air strike this week. EPA/Ali Ali

Israel, Gaza and the tragic justifications for war

Gaza, ostracised, enclosed and pummelled, is being levelled – again. Israel’s case against Hamas, expressed both via air strikes and a social media war, is one of self-defence. Article 51 of the United…
Iranian students demonstrate in Tehran to mark the 33rd anniversary of US Embassy takeover. Iranian students demonstrate in Tehran to mark the 33rd anniversary of US Embassy takeover. EPA/Abedin Taherkenareh

Obama’s legacy could lie in the Middle East, but will he go for it?

The re-election of Barack Obama to a second term will have significant ramifications for an America struggling with economic and social difficulties. But will it have the same impact on residents of the…
President Barack Obama, pictured here with Chinese President Hu Jintao, will continue to ‘pivot’ to Asia. President Barack Obama, pictured here with Chinese President Hu Jintao, will continue to ‘pivot’ to Asia. EPA/Alex Wong

Foreign affairs: what can we expect from Obama’s second term?

Sitting in New York, in the aftermath of an American election dominated by a domestic agenda, it is easy to lose sight of both the pressing external problems that the US continues to face, and the impact…
Australian Syrians protest in Hyde Park, Sydney, in February calling for the Syrian president Bashar al-Assad to step down immediately. Australian Syrians protest in Hyde Park, Sydney, in February calling for the Syrian president Bashar al-Assad to step down immediately. AAP Image/Lauren Farrow

The conflict at home and abroad: Australian involvement in Syria

In Syria, the optimism which accompanied the Arab Spring uprising has faded into the reality of a bloody sectarian civil war. Recent media reports have highlighted the involvement of foreign fighters in…
Syrian government forces during an operation in Aleppo. Syrian government forces during an operation in Aleppo. SANA

Bombs across the border: will Turkey intervene in the Syrian war?

The exchange of artillery fire between Turkish and Syrian forces over the past few days has seen a renewed focus on the possibility of an escalating war between Damascus and Ankara. It seems that not since…
President Obama’s charm offensive in the Middle East has been overtaken by the Arab Spring and growing instability in the region. President Obama’s charm offensive in the Middle East has been overtaken by the Arab Spring and growing instability in the region. EPA/Khaled El Fiqi

Obama and Romney face off over Middle East policy

When Barack Obama and Mitt Romney commenced their presidential campaigns, Middle East policy was not a top issue. But the Middle East has a propensity to thrust itself on US politics. True to form, the…
Mitt Romney’s comments about Israel parroted the US Zionist lobby. Mitt Romney’s comments about Israel parroted the US Zionist lobby. EPA/Abir Sultan

A one-state solution is the only way forward for Israel and Palestine

How should the world react when a supposedly democratic state can’t acknowledge a 40-year-old occupation? When US Presidential candidate Mitt Romney declared Jerusalem the capital of Israel during a visit…
Residents inspect their damaged house after a bomb explosion in Baquba, Iraq. Residents inspect their damaged house after a bomb explosion in Baquba, Iraq. EPA/Ali Mohammed

Bombings in Iraq a sign of deep domestic problems

When US President Obama announced the end of America’s involvement in Iraq, he deliberately did not claim victory. But he did say, when welcoming the last contingent of combat troops home in October last…
Many Syrians prefer the stability of the Assad regime to the chaos they saw after dictators were deposed in Libya and Iraq. Many Syrians prefer the stability of the Assad regime to the chaos they saw after dictators were deposed in Libya and Iraq. EPA/Youssef Badawi

The Syria roulette wheel – where nobody wins

The stench of hypocrisy is a hard one to wash out for the West in the Middle East. We shook Gadaffi’s hand and pretended we liked his outfits when he coughed up for Lockerbie and we snuggled with Mubarak…
Looking at the earth from above can reveal incredible secrets. Looking at the earth from above can reveal incredible secrets. delayed gratification

Googling the past: how I uncovered prehistoric remains from my office

Archaeology is the study of the remains of the past but has long been predatory on the sciences and their ever-growing technologies. I was brought up as a student in 1970s Britain, when we learned of the…
How can we stop people putting themselves in peril? How can we stop people putting themselves in peril? AAP/Josh Jerga

Five ways to prevent more asylum seeker tragedies

Last weekend, an overcrowded fishing boat sank off the coast of Indonesia with more than 200 asylum seekers on board. In Australia, the political blame game started soon after with both sides trying to…
Egypt takes its first steps towards democracy but it’s not in the way many were hoping for. Egypt takes its first steps towards democracy but it’s not in the way many were hoping for. EPA/Amel Pain

The rise of Islamist parties in Egypt’s elections

After the overthrowing of dictator Hosni Mubarak, Egypt has had its first round of parliamentary elections, with two parties dominating the vote – the moderate Muslim Brotherhood and the religious conservative…
President Obama and French leader Nicolas Sarkozy were caught speaking of Israel Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in unflattering terms at the G20 summit. President Obama and French leader Nicolas Sarkozy were caught speaking of Israel Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in unflattering terms at the G20 summit. AAP/Stefan Rousseau

Careless whisper: what Obama and Sarkozy’s slip means for Israel

The recent Cannes G20 meeting was ostensibly about saving Europe from falling into economic oblivion. But a frank exchange between US President Barack Obama and French President Nicolas Sarkozy, caught…
People in Libya are desperate for change and the new government will have to manage expectations carefully. People in Libya are desperate for change and the new government will have to manage expectations carefully. AFP/Abdullah Doma

The challenges for Libya now Gaddafi is gone

The relegation of Moammar Gaddafi to the meat-locker of history is a significant exorcism of Libya’s past. Whether it would have been better for him to face trial is a moot point. It’s doubtful that too…
Gilad Shalit speaks to his family following his release from captivity after five years. Gilad Shalit speaks to his family following his release from captivity after five years. AFP/IDF

One against a thousand: The politics of the Gilad Shalit deal

When Gilad Shalit was dragged away in a cross-border raid in June 2006, it’s doubtful he or his captors would have imagined five years’ of negotiations lay ahead. Nor in their most fevered imaginings would…
Coptic Christians have long been discriminated against in Egypt, but the violence against them, and the government response to it, signals concerns for democracy in the country. Coptic Christians have long been discriminated against in Egypt, but the violence against them, and the government response to it, signals concerns for democracy in the country. EPA/Mohamed Omar

Democracy in peril: Egypt’s handling of Coptic unrest

The violence in Egypt involving Coptic demonstrators, military units and unidentified thugs shocked the country and rang alarms about prospects for transition to democracy. Egypt is going through a revolution…
Peace and stability will be crucial for Libya’s post-revolution development. Peace and stability will be crucial for Libya’s post-revolution development. AAP

After Gaddafi, will Libya’s ‘resource curse’ become a blessing?

With the collapse of Muammar Gaddafi’s autocratic regime, the transitional government in Libya is prompting hopes for a new era of democracy in the country. While a swift transition to democracy is certainly…
Syrian troops withdraw from the city of Hama where they were quelling pro-democracy protests. Syrian troops withdraw from the city of Hama where they were quelling pro-democracy protests. AFP/STR

Solving the crisis in Syria. Where will the unrest end?

The United States has stepped up sanctions against Syria, targeting President Bashar al-Assad’s financial resources. Syria claims to have withdrawn its troops from the city of Hama, which has played a…
Palestinian medics attend to an elderly woman in the shadow of the Israeli wall. Palestinian medics attend to an elderly woman in the shadow of the Israeli wall. AAP

Explainer: The upcoming UN Palestinian sovereignty vote

The United Nations is set to vote on recognising Palestine as an independent state next month. What the chances of the Palestinian initiative succeeding? What implications would recognition of Palestinian…
Syrian President Assad addresses the nation earlier this week. Syrian President Assad addresses the nation earlier this week. AAP

Syria - breaking the pattern

Syrian President Bashar Al-Assad made a major speech earlier this week promising major reforms in the way his country is governed in an attempt to end protests rocking the Middle Eastern country. However…
Israelis have a right to live in peace. But Israel has no ‘right to exist.’ Israelis have a right to live in peace. But Israel has no ‘right to exist.’ AAP/Gali Tibbon

Israel has no ‘right to exist'—and neither does any other state

Since the 1970s, Israel’s leaders have insisted that their Palestinian interlocutors acknowledge Israel’s “right to exist” as a pre-condition for negotiations on a settlement of the conflict. Amongst other…
President Obama is spending his post-bin Laden political capital in the Middle East. President Obama is spending his post-bin Laden political capital in the Middle East. AAP

Obama, Israel and the Middle East dilemma

President Barack Obama has made a number of speeches focusing on events in the Middle East in recent weeks. Obama used a landmark speech regarding the uprisings in the Arab world to call on Israel to change…
Obama has outlined American foreign policy in the Middle East. Obama has outlined American foreign policy in the Middle East. AAP

The Obama doctrine

President Barack Obama’s speech on the Middle East and North Africa yesterday is being considered a landmark event in US foreign policy. Made in the wake of the so-called Arab spring and the killing of…
Revolutions encourage people to see the world through different eyes. Revolutions encourage people to see the world through different eyes. AFP/STR

The Arab World: a new model for civilised revolution

The lives of millions of people in the Arab-speaking world are changing. Often for the first time, women and men have jumped, danced, kissed strangers and sung in the streets. There is talk of dignity…
Facebook is a key tool for the modern revolutionary. Facebook is a key tool for the modern revolutionary. AAP

Facebook is the new superpower

Facebook, with more than 500 million members, has now reached superpower status. If Facebook were a country, its supporters often say, its population would rank behind only China and India. But there is…
The works of a great writer precipitated the astonishing events in Egypt in February. The works of a great writer precipitated the astonishing events in Egypt in February. EPA/Misam Saleh

Forget Twitter and Facebook, literature provides the revolutionary spark

We are living in extraordinary times. People are using social media to campaign for freedom from their governments, but their ideas are built on a much more powerful medium: literature. Protests have swept…
Protests have swept the Middle East in recent weeks. Protests have swept the Middle East in recent weeks. AAP

The Middle East revolutions: myths, realities and uncertainties

The protests that have swept the leaders of Tunisia and Egypt from power, and brought much of the region to a halt as massive crowds take to the streets to demand political change, have been spectacular…

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