Occasional Papers

The Center for International and Regional Studies publishes original research on a broad range of issues, including international relations, political science, economics, and Islamic studies, among others. Papers dealing with issues of relevance to the Persian Gulf and the Middle East region are preferred. We invite manuscript submissions for the CIRS Occasional Paper series throughout the year. CIRS Occasional Papers are registered under ISSN 2072-5957.


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CIRS Occasional Papers

Water Management in the Nile Basin: A Fragmented but Effective Cooperative Regime

CIRS Occasional Paper no. 17
Bart Hilhorst, Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO)

Ongoing expansions of hydro-infrastructure in the Nile basin, combined with infrastructure completed in the past decade, are increasing the capacity to regulate the Nile as well as the benefits accrued to the Nile waters. No longer reliant on funding from the World Bank and Western donors alone, Nile water development is accelerating in a number of upstream riparian states. Hence, the river Nile upstream of the Aswan High Dam is gradually being transformed from a natural to a regulated river. Hydro-infrastructure projects represent a strong driver for issue-based cooperation among the most affected riparians, but it is noted that the basin-wide perspective is not considered in these ad hoc arrangements. This paper describes the emerging cooperative regime in the Nile basin and analyzes its effectiveness. It presents an inventory of where cooperation among Nile riparians is needed, and discusses the required level of cooperation. It looks at the benefits of cooperation that are not related to a specific geographic area. The paper then identifies four distinct sub-basins that have substantial autonomy in managing their water resources. It concludes that the emerging cooperative setup is logical and for now quite effective, and does not lock in arrangements that may prove inconsistent—at a later point in time—with the overall objective of reasonable and equitable use of the Nile waters by each riparian state. Hence, the emerging cooperative regime arguably represents a positive step in the evolution from a basin without cooperation to a basin managed to optimize the use of the Nile waters for the benefit of its people.

Studying Disadvantaged Youths in the Middle East: A Theoretical Framework

CIRS Occasional Paper no. 16
Manata Hashemi, University of Oklahoma

Disproportionate levels of youth unemployment and economic marginalization in the Middle East have prompted many regional observers to conclude that socioeconomically disadvantaged Middle Eastern youth are more prone to radicalization and thereby constitute a threat to national and international security. The general consensus in these accounts is that low levels of occupational opportunities leave poor youth more disposed to frustration and fatalism, which in turn are strongly linked to radical politics. Alternatively, scholars in the language of rational choice argue that these young people engage in a deliberate calculation of means and ends in order to attain the power and wealth necessary for upward mobility. These scholars posit poor youth as rational, autonomous agents whose goals are defined by individual interests and preferences. However, these respective theories are unable to account for 1) the absence of political radicalism among poor youth in many countries of the Middle East, and 2) the presence of seemingly irrational acts among these youth that neither maximize self-interest, nor necessarily reflect individual preferences. Given the shortcomings of each of these prevailing theories, this paper, instead, synthesizes these two approaches and assesses the social conduct of poor youth in the Middle East from the perspective of aspirations-bounded rationality. From this vantage point, the behaviors of poor youth are not determined by individual economic interests or by pure emotion, but by aspirations. This paper proposes that these youth struggle and create strategies to improve their lives that are conditioned by experience and observation of those who inform their social worlds.

Water, State Power, Abu Dhabi, Kuwait, Tribal Politics

CIRS Occasional Paper no. 15
Laurent A. Lambert, Europaeum, Oxford University

This paper shows that the GCC cities’ remarkable capacity to provide water to all their inhabitants despite the regional aridity should not be explained solely by apolitical factors such as the availability of desalination technologies and massive energy resources. Although acknowledging their importance, this paper demonstrates that the historical evolutions and achievements of the water sectors in Abu Dhabi and Kuwait city over the twentieth century are first and foremost the product of local and regional politics, and of reformist leaders’ agency at various times. Major changes in water governance can also be seen as a tool for, and as a signifier of, broader state reforms and changing politics. After independence, the manufacturing, subsidizing, and massive allocation of desalinated water were part of a political strategy aimed at redistributing oil rent to facilitate the tribes’ allegiance to the regimes, and to legitimize the increasing power of the new states. By contrast, the region’s recent trend of water privatizations, as in Abu Dhabi, Doha, and Riyadh, for instance, represents a strategy of gradually streamlining the rentier states and liberalizing their economies with a post-rentier perspective. 

Implications of the 2011-13 Syrian  Uprising for the Middle Eastern  Regional Security Complex

CIRS Occasional Paper no. 14
Fred H. Lawson, Mills College 

By the autumn of 2013, the Middle Eastern regional security complex (RSC) had taken on a new configuration, which was substantially different from—and much more explosive than—the one that existed prior to the large-scale popular uprisings that broke out across the Arab world in the winter of 2010-11. Foreign policies adopted between 2000 and 2010 by the Ba‘thi regime in Damascus, the leaderships of Hizbullah and HAMAS, and the Israeli government to parry overlapping internal and external threats created an unprecedented patchwork of strategic rivalries and alignments. Large-scale popular unrest in Iraq and Egypt in early 2011, along with the outbreak of full-scale civil war in Syria later that same year, generated an even more intricate web of interstate security dynamics. The reconfigured RSC that emerged out of the “Winter of Arab Discontent” is only beginning to be explicated, and can best be addressed by tracing the connection between domestic political conflicts and shifts in external belligerence and alignment across the region.

Iran's Northern Exposure: Foreign Policy Challenges in Eurasia

CIRS Occasional Paper no. 13
Manochehr Dorraj, Texas Christian University, and Nader Entessar, University of South Alabama 

This paper analyzes Iran’s evolving interest and geopolitical challenges to its foreign policy in Central Eurasia. Historically, Iran, Turkey, and Russia have wielded the greatest influence in Central Asia and the Caucasus region. Therefore, it is not surprising that these three countries reemerged as principal actors in the region during the first decade of the post-Soviet era. Since the collapse of communism in the Soviet Union, Iran performed a balancing act. That is, it aspired to develop closer relations with a region with which it shared significant historical and cultural ties. At the same time, Russia regards Central Eurasia as its sphere of influence and would like to keep the “intruders” at bay. Hence, the United States’ expanding presence in the region has added a new twist to Iran’s geopolitical calculations in how to define its policy toward the region. Turkish-Iranian cooperation and competition in the region is yet another piece in the strategic triangle that molds Iranian regional political posture. The looming impact of these three countries aside, as an emerging regional power with its own political agenda, perception, and calculus of its interests, Iran uses identity politics and shared cultural and religious values, where appropriate, to forge closer relations with Central Eurasian countries. Beyond this motif in Iran’s foreign policy, this paper concentrates on political, economic, and strategic variables affecting Iran’s foreign policy decisions in Central Eurasia. Islamic factors are treated as variables within the broader context of sociocultural factors that have played a role in shaping Iran’s foreign policy in the region.

Religious Democracy and Civilizational Politics: Comparing Political Islam and Political Catholicism

CIRS Occasional Paper No. 12
Michael Driessen, Assistant Professor of Political Science and International Affairs at John Cabot University; 2011-2012 CIRS Post-Doctoral Fellow 

Much of the recent literature on the evolution of political Islam in the Middle East and North Africa has debated the extent to which Islamist political parties have become “secularized” in their political goals and rhetoric. In these studies, a comparison between the political secularization of Islamism and Christian Democracy is often alluded to, but rarely explored in depth. The two political religious movements share much in common with regards to their historical encounter with political liberalism and their intuitions about an ideal religious society. An uncritical comparison, however, obscures significant differences in the relationship of either movement to democratic institutions, traditional sources of religious authority, and the religious citizens of their nations. This paper qualifies the historical, institutional, and theological similarities of political Islam and political Catholicism. In doing so, it emphasizes the importance of the legacies of Catholic Christendom and Muslim Dar al-Islam as transnational, pre-Westphalian religious political orders and the idea of religious authority found in either. After articulating these bases of comparison, the paper considers how these religious legacies remain present in the transition to Christian or Muslim Democracies by exploring the rhetoric of Catholic civilization or Muslim civilization found in Pope Pius XII and Rachid Ghannouchi’s discourses on democracy.

Qatar’s Natural Sustainability: Plans, Perceptions, and Pitfalls

CIRS Occasional Paper No. 11
Mari Luomi, Research Associate at the Georgetown University School of Foreign Service in Qatar; 2011-2012 CIRS Post-Doctoral Fellow

This paper analyzes Qatar’s present and future challenges relating to natural resources and environmental sustainability through the concept of “natural sustainability,” which is defined as the use of natural resources in a way that ensures prosperity for humans and the environment, presently and in the future. By doing so, it proposes an alternative standpoint on sustainable development. The paper asks three broad questions: How is the relationship between development, economy, and the environment understood by different actors in Qatar? What implications do these different views have for planning and definition of desired outcomes in the areas of natural resource use and environmental sustainability? What can a more environment-centered focus contribute toward solving the existing unsustainabilities of development in Qatar and the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC)? By refocusing attention from the economy and growth to the environment and its limits; and from technology and efficiency to institutions, people, and resourcefulness, Qatar and the GCC states might be able to avoid an impending collapse stemming from their fast exacerbating natural unsustainability.

Transformations of Regional Economic Governance in the Gulf Cooperation Council

CIRS Occasional Paper No. 10
Fred H. Lawson, Mills College

Most studies of regionalism in the Middle East fail to distinguish among divergent types of regional formations, and make little effort to chart the developmental trajectory that regionalist projects display over time. This paper lays out a typology that can be used to elucidate crucial differences across regional formations in the contemporary Arab world, and also to highlight significant changes in the kind and level of governance that take place in any particular regionalist experiment. The utility of the framework is demonstrated through an analysis of the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC). This regional formation has undergone two major transformations since it took shape in 1981, and at the present time exhibits a substantially different form of economic regionalism from the one it boasted three decades ago. Four alternative explanations for shifts from one form of GCC regionalism to another are outlined as an invitation to further investigation.

Workforce Nationalization in the Gulf Cooperation Council States

CIRS Occasional Paper No. 9
Kasim Randeree, University of Oxford

In recent decades, the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) states have become reliant on migrant workers to the extent that foreign inhabitants constitute nearly one-third of the total GCC population. Qatar and the UAE are at the extremity of the situation, where indigenous citizens constitute only one-quarter and one-fifth of their national populations, respectively. Consequently, workforce nationalization—the concept of reducing expatriate employment by bringing more citizens into the workplace—has become the human resource management strategy of all GCC countries. 

In this first attempt to review all six GCC nations, this paper takes an exploratory-cum-constructivist approach and argues that closer cooperation and unified policy structures on nationalization are needed across all GCC countries. Education, training, the transfer of knowledge from expatriate to citizen, better approaches to encouraging citizens into the private sector, and the greater inclusion of women are all significant issues that need to be tackled in order to fulfill the desired goal of nationalizing the labor force across all GCC states. A clear and unified policy in terms of structural reform across GCC countries needs to be collectively defined, although methods of implementation would need to be more tailored and distinctive from one country to another.

Free Mobility within the Gulf Cooperation Council

CIRS Occasional Paper no. 8
Zahra R. Babar, CIRS, Georgetown University School of Foreign Service in Qatar

Stipulations within the formal protocols of the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) established free movement of nationals as an essential component of the region’s movement towards full economic integration. This paper analyzes the protocols within the broader construct that stresses human emancipation and freedom of mobility as fundamental human rights. Throughout the GCC, states face the peculiar dilemma of supporting full freedom of mobility for citizens while also severely limiting and curtailing the mobility of the dominant, non-national population. This paper questions how normative debates on the freedom of movement apply to the Gulf region and examines the policy and practice of strictly managing the movement of international migrants while at the same time freeing up movement for citizenry. This paper proposes that in the GCC, the regional political economy and the processes of regionalization and globalization have combined to tighten controls over mobility and migration.