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Turkey was once the main sponsor of the Syrian opposition’s effort to topple Bashar al Assad. However, beginning in late 2016, Turkish policy has shifted following the Russian defeat of Turkish backed proxies in Aleppo. This change in policy sparked a reassessment of Turkish strategy away from the overthrow of the regime and towards close cooperation with Russia and competition with the United States. Beginning in the summer of 2016, Ankara settled on the pursuit of four closely interrelated goals in Syria: blocking westward expansion of the American backed Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF); frustrating American military operations east of the Euphrates River; working through Russia to ensure that Syria remains a unitary state after the conflict ends; resettling displaced people in Turkish controlled territory in northern Syria.

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An unmistakable sense of despair and gloom accompanies most news reports and literature on the state of affairs in Libya after 2011. The Arab Spring was meant to usher in a period of unprecedented change after decades of notoriously undemocratic leadership across the Middle East and North Africa. Yet, seven years later, there has been very little positive development in terms of transparency, accountability, and inclusivity in the Arab world. No Arab Spring country, however, has fared worse than Libya, whose revolt, ironically, was more of a NATO-supported war than a genuine home-grown revolution with protracted battles which have essentially torn the oil-rich North African nation to shreds.

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The approaching conference on Libyan stabilization hosted by Italy—which will be held on November 12 and 13 in Palermo—will bring together the main Libyan leaders, with the purpose of defining their respective negotiation platforms in advance. Italy must not only navigate the components of Libya's heterogeneous and conflicting political landscape, but also host the most relevant regional and global actors.

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Tunisian President Beji Caid Essebsi announced in September the official end to the alliance between Nidaa Tounes Ennahda that had been holding on since February 2015. Termed a “mut'ah”—a temporary marriage of traditional Shia origin—by Tunisia expert Dr. Monica Marks, it was a marriage of convenience between the two main parliamentary parties to preserve stability and to focus on counterterrorism, improving the economy, and government efficiency during the critical transitional period following the ousting of former President Zine El-Abidine Ben Ali in 2011.

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When Sudan’s government was bombing hospitals in one of its own states in 2011, Kareem was among the activists detailing the atrocities. His work tracking the counterinsurgency in South Kordofan made him a target for Sudan’s security services, and in December 2012 he was accosted by two men who sprayed him with a nerve agent that put him in the hospital.

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The murder of Jamal Khashoggi—a resident of the United States and a citizen of a Kingdom that owed him protection—highlights the purely transactional nature of the relationship between Riyadh and Washington. Although the transactions themselves are important—ensuring the secure transit of petroleum supplies to the world market, sustaining intelligence exchanges on terrorist threats, countering Iranian destabilization, and a security assistance relationship that projects protective American power while boosting the American defense industry—Saudi actions undermining the transactions themselves mandate for Washington a time-out and reset.

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On October 2, 2018, Jamal Khashoggi, a Saudi national living in self-exile in the United States, walked into the Saudi consulate in Istanbul. That was the last time he was seen alive. The reason for Jamal’s visit to the consulate is familiar to foreigners who marry Turkish nationals. To set-a-date for one’s wedding, the Turkish government requires a document certifying that you are not already married. Ultimately, it was Jamal’s fiancee, Hatice Cengiz, that alerted Turkish authorities about the disappearance, touching off a gruesome and tragic story, rooted in Saudi incompetence and Turkish opportunism to try and take advantage of global outrage over the reported death of a popular figure.

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Since the apparent murder-disappearance of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi on October 2, analysts have focused primarily on the implications for US-Saudi relations and the future of Crown Prince Mohammed Bin Salman’s vision for domestic reforms. Absent from policy discussions and analysis is the impact of brutally silencing a mild critic of an autocratic regime on the psyche of 450 million Arabs, most of whom still live under regimes that severely limit freedoms of speech, protest, political participation, and religion.

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From the abuses of the male guardianship in Saudi Arabia to arrest and torture of dissenters in Egypt and the jailing of environmentalists and journalists in Iran, the Middle East is rife with human rights abuses. Nor is this something new. Authoritarian regimes in the Arab world, both monarchical and republican, since their independence from colonial powers have routinely used repressive measures to keep their opposition at bay and their broader population quiescent. Saddam Hussein notoriously put down a Kurdish rebellion in Halabja in 1988, gassing 5,000 people during the larger campaign of al-Anfal which reportedly killed over 50,000 Kurds. Syria, even before Assad’s bloody war against his opposition in 2011, routinely jailed, tortured, and killed opposition figures; and had no compunctions against tracking them into neighboring countries, particularly Lebanon, in order to do so.

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The Special Tribunal for Lebanon has just heard the closing arguments in Ayyash et. al, on September 21, 2018; a case in which prosecutors charged four members or associates of Hezbollah with the assassination of former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafic Hariri. Thirteen years after the assassination, judges are in the process of making their judgement. In a series of pieces to be published from now until the judges reach a verdict, Atlantic Council resident senior fellow Faysal Itani and non-resident fellow Anthony Elghossain will consider Hariri’s killing, the context around the case, the evolution in the effort to bring the killers to justice, and the politics of the Levant since 2005.

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