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The Dead Hand of Socialism: State Ownership in the Arab World

September 12, 2014 Comments off

The Dead Hand of Socialism: State Ownership in the Arab World
Source: Cato Institute

Extensive government ownership in the economy is a source of inefficiency and a barrier to economic development. Although precise measures of government ownership across the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) are hard to come by, the governments of Algeria, Egypt, Libya, Syria, and Yemen all operate sizeable segments of their economies—in some cases accounting for more than two-thirds of the GDP.

International experience suggests that private ownership tends to outperform public ownership. Yet MENA countries have made only modest progress toward reducing the share of government ownership in their economies and are seen as unlikely candidates for wholesale privatization in the near future.

MENA countries need to implement privatization in order to sustain their transitions toward more representative political systems and inclusive economic institutions. Three main lessons emerge from the experience of countries that have undergone large privatization programs in the past. First, the form of privatization matters for its economic outcomes and for popular acceptance of the reform. Transparent privatization, using open and competitive bidding, produces significantly better results than privatization by insiders, without public scrutiny. Second, private ownership and governance of the financial sector is crucial to the success of restructuring. Third, privatization needs to be a part of a broader reform package that would liberalize and open MENA economies to competition.

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Spillover from the Conflict in Syria: An Assessment of the Factors that Aid and Impede the Spread of Violence

August 29, 2014 Comments off

Spillover from the Conflict in Syria: An Assessment of the Factors that Aid and Impede the Spread of Violence
Source: RAND Corporation

All roads lead to Damascus and then back out again, but in different directions. The financial and military aid flowing into Syria from patrons and neighbors is intended to determine the outcome of the conflict between a loose confederation of rebel factions and the regime in Damascus. Instead, this outside support has the potential to perpetuate the existing civil war and to ignite larger regional hostilities between Sunni and Shia areas that could reshape the political geography of the Middle East. This report examines the main factors that are likely to contribute to or impede the spread of violence from civil war and insurgency in Syria, and then examines how they apply to Turkey, Lebanon, Iraq, and Jordan.

CRS — Iran Sanctions (August 19, 2014)

August 28, 2014 Comments off

Iran Sanctions (PDF)
Source: Congressional Research Service (via Federation of American Scientists)

Strict sanctions on Iran’s key energy and financial sectors harmed Iran’s economy. The economic pressure—coupled with the related June 14, 2013, election of the relatively moderate Hassan Rouhani as Iran’s president—contributed to Iran’s accepting a November 24, 2013, six-month interim agreement (“Joint Plan of Action,” JPA) that halts expansion of its nuclear program in exchange for modest sanctions relief. On July 18, 2014, the interim agreement was extended until November 24, 2014.

UN OHCHR — Report of the independent international commission of inquiry on the Syrian Arab Republic

August 27, 2014 Comments off

Report of the independent international commission of inquiry on the Syrian Arab Republic (PDF)
Source: Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR)

The findings presented in the present report, based on 480 interviews and evidence collected between 20 January and 15 July 2014, establish that the conduct of the warring parties in the Syrian Arab Republic has caused civilians immeasurable suffering.

Government forces continued to perpetrate massacres and conduct widespread attacks on civilians, systematically committing murder, torture, rape and enforced disappearance amounting to crimes against humanity. Government forces have committed gross violations of human rights and the war crimes of murder, hostage-taking, torture, rape and sexual violence, recruiting and using children in hostilities and targeting civilians. Government forces disregarded the special protection accorded to hospitals and medical and humanitarian personnel. Indiscriminate and disproportionate aerial bombardment and shelling led to mass civilian casualties and spread terror. Government forces used chlorine gas, an illegal weapon.

Non-State armed groups, named in the report, committed massacres and war crimes, including murder, execution without due process, torture, hostage-taking, violations of international humanitarian law tantamount to enforced disappearance, rape and sexual violence, recruiting and using children in hostilities and attacking protected objects. Medical and religious personnel and journalists were targeted. Armed groups besieged and indiscriminately shelled civilian neighbourhoods, in some instances spreading terror among civilians through the use of car bombings in civilian areas. Members of the Islamic State of Iraq and Al-Sham (ISIS) committed torture, murder, acts tantamount to enforced disappearance, and forcible displacement as part of an attack on the civilian population in Aleppo and Ar Raqqah governorates, amounting to crimes against humanity.

Backgrounder — Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (Updated August 8, 2014)

August 22, 2014 Comments off

Backgrounder — Islamic State in Iraq and Syria
Source: Council on Foreign Relations

Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS), a predominantly Sunni jihadist group, seeks to sow civil unrest in Iraq and the Levant with the aim of establishing a caliphate—a single, transnational Islamic state based on sharia. The group emerged in the ashes of the U.S.-led invasion to oust Saddam Hussein as al-Qaeda in Iraq (AQI), and the insurgency that followed provided it with fertile ground to wage a guerrilla war against coalition forces and their domestic allies.

After a U.S. counterterrorism campaign and Sunni efforts to maintain local security in what was known as the Tribal Awakening, AQI violence diminished from its peak in 2006–2007. But since the withdrawal of U.S. forces in late 2011, the group has increased attacks on mainly Shiite targets in what is seen as an attempt to reignite conflict between Iraq’s Sunni minority and the Shiite-dominated government of Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki. Burgeoning violence in 2013 left nearly eight thousand civilians dead, making it Iraq’s bloodiest year since 2008, according to the United Nations. Meanwhile, in 2012 the group adopted its new moniker, ISIS (sometimes translated as Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant, or ISIL) as an expression of its broadened ambitions as its fighters have crossed into neighboring Syria to challenge both the Assad regime and secular and Islamist opposition groups there. By June 2014, the group’s fighters had routed the Iraqi military in the major cities of Fallujah and Mosul and established territorial control and administrative structures on both sides of the Iraqi-Syrian border.

CRS — Iraq Crisis and U.S. Policy (August 8, 2014)

August 15, 2014 Comments off

Iraq Crisis and U.S. Policy (PDF)
Source: Congressional Research Service (via Federation of American Scientists)

The offensive in northern and central Iraq led by the Sunni Islamist insurgent and terrorist group the Islamic State (IS, formerly ISIL/ISIS) has raised significant concerns for the United States and precipitated new U.S. military action in Iraq. U.S. concerns include a possible breakup of Iraq’s political and territorial order; the establishment of a potential base for terrorist attacks in the region or even against the U.S. homeland; the potential for a humanitarian catastrophe; and direct threats to the approximately 5,000 U.S. personnel in Iraq.

The crisis has raised several questions for U.S. policy because it represents the apparent unraveling of a seemingly stable and secure Iraq that was in place when U.S. combat troops departed Iraq at the end of 2011. The Islamic State offensive into Kurdish-controlled territory in early August has caused the United States to become reengaged militarily in Iraq. The Administration has said its intervention will remain limited and will not result in a deployment of U.S. ground troops back into Iraq. The Administration also has engaged in humanitarian air drops to members of minority communities in northern Iraq that fled the IS onslaught.

The Islamic Caliphate and Australia

August 15, 2014 Comments off

The Islamic Caliphate and Australia
Source: Parliamentary Library of Australia

In June 2014, the Islamic State (IS) declared an Islamic Caliphate spanning the area from Syria’s Aleppo governorate in the west, to Iraq’s province of Diyala in the east. The area under IS control now covers up to one third of Iraq, including the city of Mosul, which previously had a strong Christian community, but who have now mostly been forced to flee. The IS was formerly known as the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL or ISIS), and previously operated as a front organisation for Al-Qaeda in Iraq (AQI) until Al-Qaeda broke ties with the group early this year. Although the group has been proscribed by Australia since 2005, it was only listed under the name Islamic State on 12 July 2014. Iraq’s national army and police force put up little resistance to the insurgents, and are reported to have abandoned their weapons and fled. However, Iraqi-Kurdistan in the far north-east tip of the country remains intact, and its military, the peshmerger, have secured Kirkuk, an oil rich city that the Kurds have previously laid claim to, but which is not recognised as part of Iraqi-Kurdistan.

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