RELEVANCE

With the Arab Spring, the Iran nuclear deal, and the rise of ISIS, the reality in the Middle East and North Africa has changed fundamentally over the past few years. Civil war is raging in Syria, Iraq, Libya, and Yemen. Iran and Saudi Arabia are stepping up their proxy wars. Negotiations between Israelis and Palestinians are deadlocked.


Against this background, the balance of interests between countries in the region is shifting. A simplistic “Arab states against Israel” narrative fails to grasp the complex reality of seemingly “stable” governments and their precarious internal and external alliances, of extremist threats and failing states; of the regional balance of power between the U.S. and Russia; of the multi-faceted role of Iran and Turkey; and of the complex interdependencies between Sunni and Shia Islam. The conflicts in the Middle East are about much more than just the Israeli-Palestinian or the Arab-Israeli conflict, and the relationship between these two conflicts is changing. For example, Arab governments tend to realize that they share certain interests with Israel as a result of the new political reality. This new reality, including the escalation of threats, ongoing terrorist activities, and the use of different sources of power by a variety of parties across the region, also has an impact on international peace and security beyond the Middle East.


This report aims to make contributions to the understanding of the interconnected conflicts in the MENA region. It assess the shifted network of relationships and alliances in the Middle East and North Africa and helps evaluate the effectiveness of future negotiation strategies to be employed by key actors with influence in the region. It does not seek to make specific policy recommendations.

OBJECTIVES

  1. Identify the key state and non-state actors in the MENA conflict system

    • Identify the key interests of these parties to the conflict

    • Understand internal narratives which differ from external views

    • Analyze internal factions, divisions, and subgroups and their diverging interests within each party

    • Map out the internal network of relationships within each party

    • Target hidden dimensions of the current conflict and move to a more nuanced understanding

    • Capture salient issues and assess their emotional and symbolic values

  2. Identify the key conflicts in the system

    • Understand the connections between these conflicts

    • Identify the most important issues which cut across these conflicts and impact different actors

    • Map out the external network of relationships, including with outside powers, of each party

    • Identify how the relevance of these issues has changed since the Arab Spring, the Iran deal, and the rise of ISIS

  3. Assess how the recent changes in the MENA conflict system impact today’s negotiation options and strategies that, if employed by specific parties, could move the region towards a more stable and cooperative system.

The MENA Negotiation Report. © 2017, 2018, 2019, 2020 President and Fellows of Harvard College