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In Yemen, the poorest country in the MENA region, more than two years of an ongoing conflict has resulted in a massive humanitarian catastrophe. Over seventeen million people are not able to adequately feed themselves and are frequently forced to skip meals. Seven million of these are severely food insecure, which means they do not know where their next meal will come from. The conflict has internally displaced around three million people. Many have chosen to travel to ancestral villages or to live with their families or relatives.

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As the chaos in Libya continues, recent reports indicate that the United States is considering ramping up its diplomatic and military involvement in Libya.  On July 10, CNN reported that the Trump administration could soon finalize a new policy for Libya to expand US presence in the country. If realized, a new policy for Libya must prioritize the stabilization of the country in coordination with key European allies. Despite President Trump‘s initial hesitation to consider Libya of critical importance to US national security, it has become clearer that the United States cannot ignore the security threat that Libya poses to US allies in the southern Mediterranean.

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Since mid-March, the governorate of Tataouine in southern Tunisia has witnessed a state of social unrest and a persistent protest movement demanding the right to work and the right to development and equitable distribution of wealth. In Kamour, an important transit point for the oil and gas companies operating in the Tunisian desert, approximately 110 km from the city center, this movement has transformed into an open ended sit-in that began April 3 when protesters started demanding twenty percent of gas revenues for the development of the area and employment opportunities for the governorate’s residents.

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A month later and the Saudi-led decision to blockade Qatar is escalating tensions in the Gulf to the detriment of US security interests. Increasingly so, regional actors like Tehran and Ankara are becoming stakeholders in the conflict, and are actively taking steps to shape it in ways that suit their respective interests and regional visions. This will only serve to perpetuate the rift and complicate negotiations efforts, as downscaling ties with Iran and Turkey are leading demands of Saudi. The United States has a security interest in preventing the conflict from devolving into another regional theater. If the US approach remains divided, or worse, divisive, Washington could soon see its ability to leverage its influence eroding.

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If the definition of insanity is doing something repeatedly and expecting a different result, then the world’s approach to the Yemen conflict amounts to insanity. While the purgatories of the Syrian civil war, global terrorism, and Iraqi sectarianism persist, it is clear that the West has become exhausted with crises in the greater Middle East. However, assuming that the international community is serious about ending the conflict, it is reasonable to ask why an innovative resolution remains out of reach. Perhaps if Saudi Arabia could draw all parties to negotiate a political solution, then Yemen’s civilians could finally find relief. Given its leadership of the Arab Coalition forces in Yemen, this proposal may sound irrational. Yet the true insanity is continuing down a path with little expectation of success.

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Last month, the Sheikh of al-Azhar, Dr Ahmed al-Tayeb, visited the German capital Berlin to attend the Protestant Church’s celebration marking five centuries since the start of the reformation. During his visit he met Germany’s president and a number of other ministers. This came after the visit of Pope Francis II to Egypt, on the invitation of the country’s top Imam, to attend a global conference on peace held at al-Azhar from April 27-28. These high-level political meetings have once again sparked debate over demands for al-Azhar to play a greater role on the world stage to counter the growth of global terrorism. This in turn raises questions about al-Azhar’s growing role and how effective and successful it can be.

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Libya today is close to being considered a failed state. The political system is stalled and authority is divided between an internationally recognized government, the Presidential Council and Government of National Accord (PC/GNA) in Tripoli and the House of Representatives (HoR) in Tobruk. Power is fragmented among myriad militias and armed groups, each one controlling limited territory. The internationally recognized government in Tripoli is unable to extend its authority beyond its immediate compound, while the HoR’s authority is limited under the influence of eastern strongman Khalifa Haftar and his Libyan National Army (LNA). So far, all attempts have failed to reach an agreement at a national level between the major factions despite efforts by UN-led international mediation efforts.

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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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