MENASource|News, Analysis, Perspectives

While the Islamic State (ISIS, ISIL, Daesh) has been routed out of its Libyan stronghold in the city of Sirte, the 2017 Manchester bombing, which was perpetrated by a duel British and Libyan citizen, demonstrated that Libya remains a fertile ground for ISIS and other extremist groups. On June 20, 2017, the Rafik Hariri Center for the Middle East launched a new report, The Origins and Evolution of ISIS in Libya, authored by Jason Pack, Rhiannon Smith, and Karim Mezran. The report examines ISIS’s pre-history, birth, expansion, consolidation, and dispersal in Libya, as well as the broader political context of the country.

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On June 21, 2017 Saudi Arabia’s king appointed his son, Mohammed bin Salman, as crown prince, replacing the king’s nephew, Mohammed bin Nayef, as first in line to the throne. Bin Salman, who is just 31 years old, is known as an ambitious member of the royal family who wields an unprecedented amount of power for one of his age, especially in a country that puts a great deal of emphasis on age and power sharing within the state structures. He is known for making drastic changes to the economy, such as implementing austerity measures on government employees and trying to move Saudi’s economy away from oil, and for pushing for reforms in Saudi, such allowing new forms of entertainment and loosening social restrictions that young people complain of. He is also known for initiating Saudi’s involvement in the war in Yemen, which has since dragged out and cost Saudi billions.

Rafik Hariri Center experts were asked to comment on the crown prince’s appointment. Their answers are below.

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Libya is in a Catch-22 situation—political agreement cannot be reached without economic improvement and political stability is necessary to revive the economy. Turning the economy around is contingent on oil production and exports coming back on line, at least in its initial phase. In order to produce and export at full capacity, the country requires peace and security that allows for the resumed functioning of its oil wells and terminals.

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The US Commission on International Religious Freedom recently published its 2017 report on Iraqi Kurdistan, for which the commission conducted in-field interviews with minority community leaders and spokesmen over several months. The report highlights the successes of the Kurdistan Region of Iraq (KRI) in upholding the freedoms of its religious and ethnic minorities yet also raises concerns on issues that still need to be addressed.

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Over the past decade or so, Egypt has consistently experienced relatively high rates of inflation. But since the advent of the Arab Spring in 2011, the increase in consumer prices steadily accelerated. During 2011-2015, the average rate of inflation was close to ten percent a year, which was well above the corresponding rate of six to seven percent a year in the MENA region as a whole. Many factors are at play here in causing inflation to rise: increased oil prices worldwide, food price increases, growing fiscal deficit, and rapid increase in the money supply.

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The Trump Administration intends to shrink the United States’ foreign aid budget in 2018, cutting the amount of money available for foreign development and humanitarian aid. President Trump’s proposed cuts come amid a shift to national security focused foreign policy, known by the administration as the “America First” policy. Under this framework, money currently allocated to the United Agency for International Development (USAID) and other foreign aid initiatives would be reallocated to defense and other national security related budgets.

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What US security agencies now consider a hack of Qatar’s news agency ostensibly sent the GCC into a diplomatic whirlwind. The fallout was swift, and reconciliation remains elusive. As Kuwait, the UN General Secretary, and others try to mediate between the two sides, it is worth asking what Saudi Arabia, as the central power behind GCC policy and the decision to cut ties with Qatar, is thinking. Qatar recently said that it is ready to consider Saudi concerns, but Saudi has long been apprehensive about Qatar, and sees it as being hostile. Any reconciliation needs to address these underlying issues.

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On June 5, Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Egypt, and Bahrain severed ties with Qatar amid accusations of supporting terrorism. The Gulf countries closed off borders and airspace to Qatar, and deported Qatari nationals living in their countries, while Qatar’s stock markets plunged in the wake of the rift. The immediate effects on Qatari citizens is clear, but what does this mean for over half of Qatar’s population: its 1.6 million migrant workers?

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In a continuation of their confrontation with the Muslim Brotherhood, the Egyptian authorities arrested two Muslim Sisters, Dr. Hana Badr al-Din and Sara Abdul Moneim, during their visit to al-Qanater prison with the family of one of its prisoners. Recently, the Brotherhood’s Fund Inventory Committee has included the names of several women with relatives among the Brotherhood’s high-ranking leadership.  Since breaking up the Rabia al-Adawiya and Nahda sit-ins, the way security authorities have dealt with the women’s branch of the Muslim Brotherhood, known as the Muslim Sisterhood, has deviated from policies dating back to the Sadat era of not hassling or arresting women adopted by previous regimes.

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Ambassador Frederic Hof contributed to NSI’s recent Strategic Multilayer Assessment (SMA) report titled “US Foreign Policy as a Global Power.” SMA is a “multidisciplinary, multi-agency portfolio of projects that assesses and studies challenging problems associated with planning and operations of DoD, military services, and Government agencies,” and delivered to the commander of US Central Command. Ambassador Hof and other experts were asked: Does US foreign policy strike the right balance in supporting US interests and its role as a global power? Or, should the US consider a more isolationist approach to foreign policy? What impact could an isolationist policy have on Middle East security and stability, balance of influence by regional and world actors, and US national interests? Below is Ambassador Hof’s response to the question. The full report can be found by following this link to NSI’s website.

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