STRUCTURE & DEFINITIONS

The MENA Negotiation Report is the product of an intensive two-phase effort to map out and analyze conflict dynamics across the Middle East and North Africa region. Phase 1 consisted of an intensive research project on the key actors across the region, while Phase 2 built on these analyses and mapped out the most critical conflicts and cross-cutting issues that have wide-ranging implications.

 

In the first phase of this effort, research contributors (most of them graduate students) submitted comprehensive negotiation research papers on the key parties in the MENA region. These papers sought to identify and evaluate new, creative negotiation moves by key parties and their likely impact on regional political or security dynamics. These papers were based on a Stakeholder Analysis Framework, which seeks to identify: (i) conflict narratives and threat perceptions; (ii) sources of leverage; (iii) internal conflicts and network of relationships; (iv) external conflicts and networks of relationships; and (v) potential negotiation moves. These findings can be found in Part Four of the report.

 

The second phase of the project consisted of mapping interconnected conflicts, cross-cutting issues, and the most relevant actors across the MENA region based on the gathered data. This phase connected the actors’ networks of relationships, interests, narratives, sources of leverage, and potential negotiation moves and their implications with the wider region. These findings can be found in Parts Two and Three of the report.

 

The key findings in Part Two contain a classification of the region’s most pressing challenges into three main categories: (i) Primary Sub-Conflicts; (ii) Secondary Sub-Conflicts; and (iii) Cross-Cutting Issues:

 

Primary Sub-Conflicts refer to the most destabilizing conflicts in the region, with a key property being that they have a significant impact beyond their respective borders. These include: (i) the Israeli-Palestinian conflict; (ii) the Iran nuclear program; (iii) the Libyan civil war; (iv) the Syrian civil war; and (v) the Yemeni civil war.

 

Secondary Sub-Conflicts indicate conflicts that are either frozen, or do not have as far-reaching or destabilizing consequences beyond their borders. These include: (i) the conflict over Western Sahara; (ii) the conflict between Sudan and South Sudan; and (iii) issues relating to Kurdish autonomy.

 

Cross-Cutting Issues refer to the underlying challenges that impact various actors across the region, and which cause the greatest regional – and in some cases global – instability. These include: (i) regional forced displacement crises; (ii) human rights and democracy issues; (iii) rivalry between great powers for regional influence; (iv) energy and economic stability; (v) environment and water challenges; (vi) the regional Sunni-Shia rivalry; (vii) the increase in terrorism and violent extremism; and (viii) the spread of political Islam.

Based on these classifications, the party’s degree of involvement in each sub-conflict and issue, as well as in the overall conflict system, is assessed.

Conflict involvement is defined as an aggregate of the degree to which a party is being impacted by a conflict or issue and of the degree to which the party is influencing this conflict or issue in return (highly impacted + high influence = 4 points; low impact + high influence = 3 points; low impact + low influence = 1 point; super-peripheral involvement = 0 points).

Conflict system involvement refers to conflict involvement across all conflicts and issues.

 

Furthermore, Part Two contains an overview of the networks of alliances of the various parties and identifies the key actors in both positive and negative regional relationship networks.

 

In addition, Part Two discusses some of the potential escalatory and de-escalatory negotiation moves across a select few issues (Israel-Palestine, Iran Nuclear Weapons, Great Powers Regional Influence, Energy and Economic Stability, Spread of Political Islam, and Terrorism). These issues were selected as a demonstration of the global impacts that a hypothetical increase or mitigation of conflict would have across a wide range of actors. Importantly, the scenarios that are discussed in this section are not a reflection of the research team’s views, but rather serve an illustrative purpose to show the complexity of conflict dynamics in the region. In terms of the definitions of terms used in this section:

 

Escalatory negotiation moves refer to actions taken that would further exacerbate a conflict or dispute.

 

De-Escalatory negotiation moves refer to actions taken that would reduce tensions, or lead to a resolution, of a conflict or dispute.

 

Part Three consists of the full collection of stakeholder assessment summaries that discuss key details regarding each actor that was analyzed.

 

Most of the tables are drawn from the negotiation research papers of various stakeholders. Some additional actors that were not included in phase 1 of the analysis have been added to this section given that the research indicated that these actors play a critical role in political, economic or security affairs in the region.

 

Internal actors “within” parties are only listed here if they have their own networks of external relationships, which is mostly the case in fragile states, civil wars, or when political entities have disintegrated significantly. (For example, Hamas and Fatah are listed as separate actors, but Israeli political parties or factions are not. Israeli political factions and internal conflicts are still analyzed in-depth in the respective chapter in Part Four.)

 

Specifically, the section analyzes the following aspects of each actor:

 

Party Portrait. Brief summary of identity, conflict narratives, and threat perceptions of each actor. What holds this party together? How does the party “see” the MENA region and its role in it? How do these perceptions shape its behavior?

Key interests. Aims to address what the party is primarily seeking to accomplish in the MENA region.

 

Regional strategy. Brief description of how the party is currently pursuing their key interests.

 

Sources of leverage. Aims to briefly answer the following questions: What is it that allows this party to influence the situation in the Middle East? Why and how is this party able to influence or not influence others?

 

Powerful individuals. Most important individuals that hold formal or informal authority over this party, including their official titles.

 

Potential negotiation moves. What could this party do that that would further exacerbate a conflict or dispute? What could this party do in order to reduce tensions or help resolve a conflict or dispute?

Internal conflicts. Brief summary of the following questions: What are the different political, social, economic, ethnic, religious groups within this party, and how do their identities, perceptions, motivation, interests, and positions differ? How relevant are these cleavages? How has the internal network of relationships been affected by key political and conflict dynamics in the MENA region?

 

Memberships. List of the key relevant organizations or alliances of which the party is a member.

 

Allies. The relationship with these parties includes stable and extensive arrangements for security cooperation with a long history, as well as significant material or financial support, often directly related to a party’s armed struggle against an armed opponent

 

Partners. The relationship with these parties is characterized by material, financial, or ideological support, which may or may not be linked to an armed struggle. Parties with whom the party maintains channels of cooperation and assistance may also be listed under this category.

 

Rivals. Parties with whom the party is in a state of political, ideological, or economic rivalry but with whom there is no direct armed combat. Rivalry does not exclude the possibility of cooperation on specific issues, and it captures a wide range of competitive behavior including conflict over contested territory as long as there is no ongoing armed combat.

 

Adversaries. Parties with whom the party is in a state of open, most likely mutually acknowledged, hostility, yet not in a state of direct, active, armed combat. Cooperation with an adversary is very unlikely, and diplomatic recognition (either of the adversary or by the adversary) may be missing.

 

Active armed opponents. Parties with whom the party is currently in a state of direct, armed combat.

 

Proxies. Internal factions within another party, which are politically, financially or militarily supported, without extending cooperation to the entire party.

 

External Sponsors. Parties that maintain a cooperative relationship, of a political, financial or military nature, with internal factions of another party.

 

Aid Recipients. Parties that receive considerable economic, humanitarian or development support.

 

Aid Donors. Parties that provide considerable economic, humanitarian or development support.

 

Note that the summary portraits provide a brief overview per party and that more details are available in Part Four.


Part Four features the collection of negotiation research papers on most of the key stakeholders discussed in Part Three. These chapters present a comprehensive and in-depth discussion of the complex internal dynamics, regional role, and possible negotiation moves of each stakeholder.

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