Category Archives: The Arab Spring

Russian Bid For Syria: A Lifeline For Assad?

In March 2011 the despot Bashar al-Assad probably never imagined that a small demonstration would eventually turn into an insurrection. The Arab Spring has paved the way for political transition in Tunisia, Libya and perhaps more questionably in Egypt. Concurrently, it also provoked the Syrian people against the authoritarian regime of Assad. The ongoing civil war has intensified a lot: the whole world has seen the abhorrent images of chemical weapons attacks. This galvanized major powers (the US, France and Great Britain) to take military action against the Assad regime but on 29 August 2013, the British House of Commons voted against possible military intervention which only left France and the US as the main backers of the military option. 

Syria’s regime is one of a handful of UN members – including Angola, North Korea, Egypt and South Sudan – who are not a party to the Convention on the Prohibition of the Development, Production, Stockpiling on the Use of Chemical Weapons and on their Destruction drawn up in 1992 (administered by the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons or OPCW). Israel (which is thought to possess chemical weapons) and  Myanmar  are signatories to the Convention but since they have not ratified it the OPCW considers them to be “non-member states”.

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Jaffer Abbas Mirza: Bahrain Amidst Regional Rivalry

Bahrain is one of the earliest lands to have converted to Islam. It has a rich history and has been ruled by the Persian Empire, the Portugese, the Safavid Empire. Subsequently, the Bani Utbah tribe captured Bahrain from the Persians: the island has been ruled by the Al Khalifa royal family since. With a population of 1.4 million people of which the majority are  Shia Muslims, Bahrain has been experiencing a political crisis for a few decades.The Arab Spring has heightened political activism in the Middle East. Consequently, the political crisis has turned into a popular political uprising in Bahrain. 

Like the world’s historic revolutions and uprisings (e.g. the Iranian Revolution), Bahrain’s fragile political structure and suppression by its monarchy were two considerably important reasons for unrest. Shia Muslims always demanded a share in power as they constitute the country’s majority population. In 1973, Sheikh Isa bin Salman Al Khalifa, the ruler of Bahrain promulgated a constitution that allowed an elected parliament and created an opportunity for maximum participation in politics by Bahrainis, but it only lasted for two years. Salman Al Khalifa dissolved the Assembly and imposed State Security Law. Continue reading

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Jaffer Abbas Mirza: Sectarian Politics in the Middle East

Arguably, the Middle East is the most volatile region on the planet. It is home to over 1.4 billion Muslims, constituting more than one-fifth of the world’s population. The Middle East has a rich religious and intellectual tradition that evolved over a long period of time and the region’s centrality to economics, politics and international relations is undeniable: it plays an important role in global peace, security and prosperity. A relatively recent phenomenon of sectarian conflict on a regional scale can be observed. A lot has been said and discussed about the new and dangerous Shia-Sunni divide in the Middle East. This resurgence of the ancient schism in Islam threatens to undermine the state – based on already frail national identities – as the primary political actor in the region.

The history of Muslim civilization, if defined in terms of ‘search for a common identity’, has passed through several phases. The initial concept of a Muslim Ummah, having survived through a phase of Arab nationalism, was translated into pan-Islamism in the 21st century. In the post-1980s period, the Shia-Sunni strife has witnessed a major upturn; particularly in Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Syria and Bahrain. Continue reading


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Women’s Learning Partnership Film: Because Our Cause Is Just

The wave of Arab revolts that started in Tunisia in December 2010 and then spread throughout the region, were initially ignited by civil movements for rights, justice, and dignity.  Women human rights defenders and democracy activists were at the heart of peaceful movements for change in the streets of Arab countries. In fact, their presence, determination, and demands were grounded in their struggles against dictators over the past few decades. Watch film here or view via the embedded link below. 

However, the political openings caused by these revolts were quickly exploited by fundamentalist religious groups who immediately sought to undermine human rights defenders.  Across the region, women human rights defenders are being targeted for violent attacks, intimidated, threatened, excluded, and undermined.  In addition to physical threats, conservative powers are also attempting to create social rifts between human rights defenders and their communities through stigmatizing women human rights defenders as not legitimately representing national values. Continue reading

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Ana Marija Bešker: Disarmament 2012: The Caravan Moves On

And why/ then/ do the troops/ ask/how long and to what edge/do we continue our fight/manly but devoid of sense/because it revolves eternally/around death.[1]

It’s autumn in New York. Ella’s and Louis’s dreamy voices echo in one’s head. They bring the promise of new love and an aching sense of the dreams gone. In the mundane world of international politics autumn in New York brings back the United Nations General Assembly and the First Committee on Disarmament and International Security.

Every year, the First Committee takes stock of the international security and disarmament developments and trends, adopts a number of resolutions on furthering arms control, non-proliferation and disarmament, and recommends them to the General Assembly for adoption. The General Assembly adopts them by consensus or a majority vote. Every year, their adoption brings to the mankind a small measure of promise of some, however limited, movement towards a more cooperative global security, arms reduction and disarmament. But, as the Arab proverb goes, a promise is a cloud, fulfillment – a rain. Continue reading

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Our journal’s last two issues

The Pakistan Horizon is the flagship Journal of The Pakistan Institute of International Affairs which we have published continuously since 1948. The July and October 2011 issues have been dedicated to the Arab Awakening and Pakistan’s relationship with China over the past six decades. The contents of the two latest issues of our journal are set out below. Please contact us on should you want more details. 

THE ARAB UPRISING, Volume 64, Number 3, July 2011

  • Pakistan’s Foreign Policy Survey, Staff Study     1
  • The Arab Awakening, Ana Marija Bešker   7
  • The Arab Spring:  How Will It Blossom? Karamatullah K. Ghori    13
  • US Democracy Promotion and Popular Revolutions in the Middle East: Challenges and Opportunities, Muhammad Ijaz Latif and Hussain Abbas    25 Continue reading

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Filed under China, Pakistan Horizon, PIIA, The Arab Spring, The Middle East

Le printemps arabe

This post revisits an event entitled Europe and the Arab Awakening in Regent’s College in London. The editor is an alumnus of the college and represented The Pakistan Institute of International Affairs. Major stalwarts of the British Foreign Office such as Lord Hannay (former UK Ambassador to the UN, who chaired) and Sir Sherard Cowper Coles (former UK Ambassador to Israel and Saudi Arabia) spoke at the event. Other eminent personalities such as the Guardian’s Middle East editor Ian Black and Hagai Segal of the NYU in London spoke at the event.

Despite the emphasis on “Europe” the event became, as expected, a debate about the Arab “Spring” which, some panel members argued, was better described as the Arab “Awakening”.

Following Lord Hannay’s introduction Sir Sherard shared his personal views about the Middle East. He began by pointing to the tyranny of the “opaque” regimes which had controlled the region subsequent to France and Britain’s conclusion of their League of Nations’ mandates. It was argued that the “bad” would get much “worse” and that the departure of the autocrats from Middle Eastern politics would be “painful”: but Sir Sherard placed reliance in the Arab youth to take the revolution (or awakening) further and he warned all parties concerned of the “long dark winter” ahead. Continue reading

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