On 14 February 2011, the pro-democracy Arab protest movement spread to the tiny Gulf Kingdom of Bahrain. While the first protests there began at a modest pace, the heavy handed military tactics of the government resulted in an explosion in the size and ferocity of the popular demonstrations which finally gained worldwide media attention.
Almost four years have passed since J Street’s founding as a non-profit corporation and a registered lobbying organisation in Washington, DC. Calling itself “the political home for pro-Israel, pro-peace Americans”, J Street has positioned itself as an alternative to the more traditional, right-leaning, Jewish lobbying organisations and is today slowly emerging as a new force within America’s Jewish community.
The recent removal of Hashemi Rafsanjani as the Chairman of the Assembly of Experts in Iran occurred at a time when the region is swathed in political turmoil. His removal may be further evidence of the consolidation of the traditionalists and principlists within the Iranian Government. According to the Iranian constitution, the 86-member Assembly of Experts has the authority to select and remove the Supreme Leader if he is deemed not capable of carrying out his role in accordance with the constitution. Rafsanjani’s removal from the post of Assembly Chairman, and his replacement by Ayatollah Mahdavi-Kani, was authorised by the current Supreme Leader, Ali Khamenei.
The Baathist regime that has ruled Syria for 48 years is on the ropes. Even President Bashar al-Assad himself seems to have been shocked by the level of violence used by Syria's security forces to suppress demonstrations.
With the Middle East in turmoil and the Quartet (the US, UN, EU and Russia) eager to resume the Israeli-Palestinian peace process, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is under intense international pressure to prove he is serious about achieving peace.
The wave of popular unrest sweeping across the Middle East is paving the way for opportunistic power politicking. In Tunisia, decades of oppressive rule combined with corruption, lack of jobs, and increased food prices began this chain reaction of events that has led to the downfall of several of the Middle East’s old guard, including Tunisia’s Zine el-Abidine Ben Ali and Egypt’s Hosni Mubarak. Indeed, we can now see from the UN Security Council sanctioned no-fly zone in Libya that the old Arab regimes are beginning to crumble one by one. It is in this sort of environment that players interested in exploiting the chaos are attempting to expand their influence and power via the use of religious ideology.
For all its rich history, Egypt has never had an elected leader, let alone a fair election. Many argue that King Farouk I was the last King of Egypt, but the reality is that there has always been a monarchy.