West Asia: Looking Back at 2021
Hirak Jyoti Das, Senior Research Associate, VIF
Atmosphere of Reconciliation

The atmosphere of reconciliation is a welcome change which is necessary for the volatile region plagued by geopolitical, geo-economic and geo-religious contestations. Saudi Arabia and the UAE in 2021 have taken measures to reduce hostility with Qatar and Iran. Saudi Arabia and the UAE resolved differences with Qatar during the Al Ula Summit in January 2021. The Gulf leaders signed a solidarity and stability agreement leading to comprehensive resolution of the points of disagreement with Qatar and restoration of relations with Qatar. It reflects change in strategy towards addresing regional challenges that requires resolving internal issues within GCC.[1]

There has been growing realisation within Saudi and Emirati foreign policy to change course due to limited success in confrontational approach to improve their security. Both states also sought to reduce conflict promotion and re-orient its priorities towards pandemic related health and economic ramifications and embolden domestic institutions. In April, Saudi Arabia and Iran held secret meeting in Baghdad facilitated by Iraqi Prime Minister Mustafa al-Kadhemi.[2] Both states have indicated interest in restoring relations and overcoming differences on fundamental issues. Saudi Arabia downgraded ties with Iran in 2016 after protestors attacked Saudi diplomatic missions in response to killing of Shiite cleric, Nimr al-Nimr. The Saudi delegation was led by Intelligence Chief Khalid bin Ali al-Humaidan and Iranian delegation was represented by Supreme National Security Council Secretary, Ali Shamkhani and Deputy Secretary, Saeed Iravani. Both sides discussed the war in Yemen, Lebanon’s political and economic situation, regional water crisis and Gulf security during the second meeting in August.[3]

After Ebrahim Raisi took over as Iranian President in August, representatives from Iran and Saudi Arabia held new round of talks in September to discuss pending issues including previously agreed roadmap as well as re-instating diplomatic missions.[4] The UAE’s senior National Security Advisor (NSA), Sheikh Tahnoon bin Zayed Al Nahyan also visited Iran on 6 December and met with President Ebrahim Raisi to overcome differences and improve ties. Ebrahim Raisi after the meeting mentioned that his top priority would be to improve ties with regional countries.[5]

Iran has calculated that the gradual detente with Saudi Arabia would benefit during JCPOA negotiations. Both Saudi Arabia and Iran are looking for opportunities to enhance their rapport with the new Joe Biden administration and influence the US’ regional outlook. Moreover, growing unreliability about the US as security provider has pushed Saudi Arabia and the UAE to look for regional solutions including opting for limited, tactical, bilateral de-escalation with Iran. The Afghan crisis has also influenced the policies on both sides in favour of dialogue.[6]

On 24 November, the Crown Prince of Abu Dhabi Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed al-Nahyanmet with President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and reopened a new chapter in UAE-Turkey relations. The UAE initiated a US$ 10 billion fund to support investments in Turkey.[7] President Erdogan has been pursuing unilateral and militaristic foreign policy inviting ire from several actors in the region. Erdogan has utilised hawkish foreign policy under the banner of ultra-nationalism and pan-Ottomanism to distract domestic audience. [8] Turkey’s economy suffered highs and lows in 2021 in terms of impressive exports while facing high level of inflation, currency crisis, unemployment, reduction in investments, growing corporate and financial sector vulnerabilities, increase in societal inequalities etc. Erdogan in order to gain foreign help has softened its militaristic policy towards UAE, Saudi Arabia, Egypt and Israel.

Broadly, COVID-19 pandemic and the adverse impact on the economy and health systems have pushed regional actors to forego the path of confrontation. The US under Donald Trump had dislodged the established norms. President Joe Biden has reverted to more predictable line of US foreign policy making. The US conduct and the security risks arising from Taliban rule that could promote extremist groups is concern for all West Asian states. Joe Biden presidency has displayed interest in returning to the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) with Iran. Iran’s re-integration and the future possibility of nuclear capability have been accepted by Gulf States and Israel. US allies in the region are uncertain about the security guarantees due to the perceived disengagement under Joe Biden presidency. These factors have forced regional actors to adapt to the changing realities. However, the constructive approach is likely to remain precarious and any escalation of hostilities could derail the reconciliatory atmosphere.

State of Civil Wars
Syria

The conflict in Syria remained frozen in 2021 with Bashar Al Assad’s forces controlling major parts of the country. Hayat Tahrir Al Sham formerly known as the Nusra Front continues to maintain its stronghold in Idlib. Syrian forces have intermittently conducted number of artillery attacks and raids against rebel held positions in Idlib throughout the year. According to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, around 3746 including 1505 civilians and 360 children were killed in 2021. Moreover, 158 fighters from Syrian Democratic Forces, alliance of Kurdish and Arab militias and 600 Islamic State fighters were killed in the said year. Notably, it is lowest yearly count of deaths since the Syrian civil war began in 2011. [9]

In 2021, there were several overtures from Arab states including the UAE, Jordan and Egypt towards Syria including calls for return to Arab fold. The US disinterest in regime change; fear of escalation and the associated human costs; confrontation with Iran and Russia have forced external actors to preserve the status quo under Bashar Al Assad. There is growing realisation within Arab states that by removing Syria from the Arab League since November 2011, any channel for regional level dialogue to reach a political solution was cut down effectively abdicating collective responsibility. The UAE and Bahrain had reopened its embassy in December 2018. Oman also reinstated its ambassador to Syria in October 2020. [10]

In historic move, Emirati Foreign Minister Sheikh Abdullah bin Zayed Al Nahyan visited Damascus in November indicating renewed enthusiasm to convene relations with the Assad regime. [11] The UAE’s two main strategic goals in Syria are firstly, preventing a democratic transition of power and secondly, stopping Islamist parties from taking power. President Assad can therefore be seen as credible figure to fulfill the said objectives.[12] Jordan also reopened the Nassib-Jaber border crossing with Syria in 2021 and renewed the natural gas channel from Egypt to Lebanon via Jordan and Syria. On 3 October, King Abdullah II held telephonic conversation with President Assad focussing on enhancing cooperation between both states.[13] Egyptian Foreign Minister Sameh Shoukry met with Syrian Foreign Minister, Faisal Mekdad in September at UN Headquarters in New York to discuss about reaching political solution and re-integration in the Arab League.[14] Waheed Mubarak Sayyar was appointed as Bahraini ambassador to Syria on 31 December 2021.[15] Notably,Kuwait has remained committed to the 2011 decision by the Arab League and it would re-open diplomatic ties with Syria only after its re-entry into the League.[16]

The US has also indicated that it is no longer interested in confronting Bashar Al Assad regime. Syria has been elected as member of the World Health Organisation (WHO)’s Executive Board. Syria has also been re-integrated in Interpol network. Joe Biden administration bypassing the Caesar Act has included Syria in the regional energy deal aimed at benefitting Lebanon. The US through back channel negotiations with Russia has loosened restrictions on foreign entities allowing financial engagements with Assad regime.[17]

Libya

In Libya, ground level fighting had halted since the ceasefire agreement between the Tripoli based government and Khalifa Haftar’s forces on 23 October 2020. The November 2020 Libyan Political Dialogue Forum (LPDF) under the auspices of the United Nations Support Mission in Libya (UNSMIL) provided a political roadmap including 18 month time scale for holding parliamentary and presidential election in December 2021; implementing an amnesty as well as return of internally displaced people and refugees.[18] The Libyan parties after second Berlin conference on 23 June 2021 agreed to go ahead with constitutional reform before December 2021.[19] The foreign forces despite several commitments have continued to remain in the country. In a political setback, the divided political class have failed to agree on the rules of overseeing the election; eligibility of candidates and reaching consensus over the powers of the president and parliament. Libyan analysts have emphasised the need to frame procedures agreed by all sides prior to election because any disputed result could unravel the fragile peace process. [20]

Yemen

In Yemen, Houthi forces has intensified the irregular warfare campaign by targeting Saudi and coalition targets including civilian areas and energy assets using unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs), cruise and ballistic missiles etc. Saudi forces have also intercepted thousands of drone, ballistic and cruise missiles etc. According to Center for Strategic & International Studies (CSIS), the number of Houthi attacks per month doubled against Saudi Arabia and coalition targets over the first nine months of 2021 as compared to the same period in 2020.[21]

In March, Saudi Arabia proposed a peace plan by suggesting a UN supervised ceasefire, reopening vital air and sea links and convening political negotiations. Houthi forces rejected the deal for failing short of fulfilling demand to re-open Sanaa airport, Hodeidah airport and free 14 ships held by coalition forces.[22]Saudi Arabia’s peace overtures indicates the growing frustration in continuing with the conflict that has endangered its citizens, oil refineries, pipelines, airports, naval channels etc. Saudi Arabia has failed to maximise its security through its devastating war in Yemen. Moreover, the humanitarian costs of the conflict have severely dented Saudi Arabia’s international reputation including pressures from the western powers. The US has warned Saudi Arabia that it would end US support for Saudi Arabia’s offensive operations in Yemen. The US also removed the Houthis from the State Department’s foreign terrorist organisation list and appointed a special envoy to Yemen.[23] Eventually in November, Joe Biden administration approved a US$ 650 million sale of air to air missiles to Saudi Arabia to improve its security.[24]

The Southern Transitional Council (STC) that controls Aden and surrounding areas in southern Yemen made efforts to expand its control over Yemeni government institutions including state owned media houses. [25] The internationally recognised government and the STC share an uneasy power sharing deal and there have been repeated instances of clashes between their respective security forces.

Role of Great Powers
US

The Joe Biden administration’s overall policy focus was directed towards domestic issues; tackling the COVID 19 pandemic; economic revival. On foreign policy, the US sought to rebuild ties with democratic allies in Europe and Asia to counter China’s growing influence. The shift in US policy in terms of withdrawal from Afghanistan and attempt to return to the 2015 JCPOA with Iran has ripple effects in the region including the atmosphere of reconciliation. In other words, the US posture towards limiting its regional involvement has facilitated strategic hedging by regional players and maintain ties with extra-regional players such as China, Russia and European states in this wider competition.[26] The US over the past years has re-oriented its strategic objective in the region by reducing ground troops and instead focussing on enhanced military cooperation and repositioning especially in the Gulf region. The US despite the disengagement continues to remain the most influential extra-regional player.

Joe Biden administration has adopted a steadier and more predictable policymaking process. The US has avoided indulging heavily in regional conflicts that overwhelmed the broader agendas in the region under George Bush, Barak Obama and Donald Trump administration. In order to contribute towards in the conflicts in Yemen, Libya and the Horn of Africa, the US has appointed special envoys. Joe Biden presidency expressed interest to restore credible engagement with the Palestinians and revived financial aid to United Nations Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA) providing US$ 235 million.[27] The US however, conceded to Israeli pressure and indefinitely postponed the decision to reopen the consulate in East Jerusalem. The US also continued to operate its embassy from Jerusalem. [28]

China

China has continued to entrench its presence in the West Asian region. China’s inroads are significant in light of US’ growing disengagement in the region. China’s Arab Policy Paper introduced in January 2016 articulates its vision in the region towards achieving win-win cooperation, common development and strategic and cooperative relations.[29] The region is central to the vision of China’s Belt and Road Initiative (BRI). China is currently the primary buyer of oil from the region. China has nurtured comprehensive strategic partnerships with Saudi Arabia, Egypt and the UAE. China signed 25 year cooperation agreement with Iran in March 2021 with commitment to invest in banking, telecommunications, ports, railways, health care and IT sectors. China in exchange would receive regular supply of Iranian oil at discounted rates. China is also seeking to increase military cooperation including joint training exercises, joint research and weapons development and intelligence-sharing. China’s economic well-being and vitality is dependent on reliable access to energy supplies, raw materials and foreign markets conducted though maritime navigation[30]. The Indian Ocean region (IOR) is critical for China’s maritime trade with the West Asian region, Africa and Europe. Therefore, in order to secure the sea lines of communication, it has carried out massive strategic investment campaign to build network of shipping and port assets[31].

China is the largest buyer of oil and natural gas in the region. It has emerged as the largest trading partner and primary foreign investor for several states in the region. Saudi Arabia’s US$ 450 billion Public Investment Fund in November 2021 has applied for a Qualified Foreign Institutional Investor license in China that would enable to directly trade renminbi-denominated stocks rather than conducting through third parties. [32] Saudi Arabia is seeking to intensify economic ties through investment through its sovereign fund. China is the top customer of Saudi Aramco and besides focussing on securing infrastructure and connectivity projects, it is trying tap into the lucrative defence market in the region. China is focussing on mutual technology transfer and licensed co production of weapons systems and locally designed and manufactured defence items. It is also keen to build military cooperation and joint exercises with Arab states[33].

The West Asian states are treading cautiously in light of the new Cold War between the US and China. The region has emerged as a political and economic battleground for the two great powers. In November 2021, US pressurised the UAE to halt Chinese construction activities at Khalifa Port close to Abu Dhabi. [34] US’ relation with UAE has suffered friction over the usage of Huawei 5G technology in the state. The differences have impacted discussions over the sale of advanced US jet fighters and other advanced munitions to the UAE.[35]

Russia

Russia in 2021 has continued to place itself as an intrinsic part of West Asian regional politics. It has conducted series of diplomatic outreach towards all the key actors. Russian Foreign Affairs Minister Sergei Lavrov visited Saudi Arabia, UAE and Qatar in March 2021.[36] He met with Hezbollah delegation in mid-March to discuss military efforts in Syria; tensions with Israel and complications of Lebanese politics. [37] In the same month, Russia hosted Israeli Foreign Minister Gabi Ashkenazi in March to discuss about stalling Iran’s nuclear programme, situation in Syria and Iran and Hezbollah’s presence and ICC’s investigation about Israel’s war crimes. [38] Russian President Vladimir Putin met with Israeli Prime Minister Naftali Bennet in October.[39] Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi is likely to visit in early 2022.

Russia’s military and political support was crucial for sustenance of Bashar Al Assad regime and re-capturing major parts of the state from rebel forces and the Islamic State (IS). Russia has benefitted from the missteps taken by the US and the EU in the region to entrench its presence. Russia has established permanent force set up in Hmeimim air base in Latakia and Tartous naval facility. In Syria, Russia has emerged as the new security provider and engaged with all foreign participants in the Syrian conflict i.e. Turkey, Israel, Iran, Egypt and the Persian Gulf states. Russia is seeking to expand its role in the post-war reconstruction in Syria and Libya. Russia has supplied large number of arms; defence equipments and Russian Private Military Contractors (PMC) are embedded in security forces in several West Asian and African states providing training and technical know-how.

In Libya, Russia in coordination with the UAE and Egypt has sent weapons, spare parts, medical care, technicians, advisors, intelligence personnel, mercenaries to Khalifa Haftar. [40] Russia at the same time kept channels open with Tripoli based Government of National Accord (GNA). Russian energy firm, Rosneft signed cooperation agreement with the National Oil Corporation (NOC) in 2017. [41] The Gulf States at the same time are also seeking to strengthen their engagement with Russia.

Russian support has been instrumental for Bashar Al Assad regime to gradually restore its legitimacy and international recognition. As mentioned above, the diplomatic overtures by the UAE, Jordan, Egypt, Oman, Bahrain towards Syria has increased. The UAE’s cooperation with Turkey in the long term could undermine Russia’s present prominence in Syria and affect its interests in Sudan.[42]

Conflict Flashpoints
Israel-Palestine conflict

Israel in 2021 continued to expand settlements in Occupied West Bank and East Jerusalem; encroached Palestinian homes in East Jerusalem. The Sheikh Jarrah property dispute that threatened eviction of Palestinian families turned into a flashpoint leading to clashes in East Jerusalem and West Bank. The situation further deteriorated after Israeli security forces entered Al Aqsa Mosque and attempted to evacuate the worshippers. The clashes inside the mosque compound triggered rocket attacks by Hamas based in Gaza targeting Israeli cities. The Israeli air raids and rocket strikes by Hamas continued during mid-May killing more than 200 Palestinians and 12 Israelis[43]. In West Bank, street clashes on several occasions leading to death of Palestinian protestors. There were several acts of vandalism and street clashes in several mixed cities within Israel.[44]

The highly anticipated election in Palestinian territories was delayed in April by President Mahmoud Abbas. Abbas government insisted that all 150,000 Palestinians living in East Jerusalem should be eligible for voting. There is growing frustration within Palestinians living in West Bank about Abbas government who have been in power since 2005. Abbas presidency has played a passive role during the Israeli attacks in Gaza in May 2021 and home expulsions in East Jerusalem.[45] In the current political context, Abbas’ political constituency has significantly weakened.

Algeria-Morocco tensions

Algeria in August cut off diplomatic relations with Morocco complaining about its hostile actions. The relations became tense after Morocco’s military actions in November 2020 against the Sahrawi demonstrators blocking a key road in the UN controlled buffer zone in disputed Western Sahara territories.[46] The Polisario Front fighting for independence of Western Sahara region has declared end of 30 year-long ceasefire with Moroccan government. Notably, Algeria that hosts large number of Sahrawi refugees supports right to self-determination in Western Sahara and supports Polisario Front in regional and international forums. Algeria also protested Donald Trump administration’s decision to recognise Moroccan sovereignty over Western Sahara in exchange of normalisation of relations with Israel.[47]

Algeria reacted heavily after Morocco’s ambassador to the UN expressed support for secession of the Kabyle coastal region.[48] Morocco was also involved in spying on Algerian officials using Israeli Pegasus software.[49] The tension with Morocco has been utilised by the Algerian government to divert attention from the state’s political and economic crisis. The diplomatic breakdown could have serious ramifications in the North African region and it has to be seen if either side is seeking to escalate the situation to gain strategic ground in the coming period.

Setbacks to Democracy
Tunisia

The democratisation process in Tunisia suffered a setback in 2021 after President Kais Saied removed Prime Minister Hichem Mechichi on 25 July and suspended the parliament and lifted the immunity of members. Saied invoked Article 80 in the constitution that allows the President to take extraordinary measures in case of imminent danger threatening the nation. President Saied by assuming executive authority by capitalising on the public anger against the government’s failure to overcome the economic distress, addressing widespread corruption, spike in COVID-19 cases, high death rates and break down of the health care system. [50] Saied further increased his powers by ruling by decree. Rached Ghannouchi, parliament of speaker and leader of Ennahda party accused the President of carrying out a coup against the revolution and constitution.[51] Saied in September appointed Najila Bouden Romdhane as the first female Prime Minister.[52] The appointment was aimed at pacifying domestic and international pressure to name new Prime Minister and overcome the economic and health crisis.

Sudan

In Sudan, the head of the Sovereign Council, Abdel Fattah al Burhan dismissed the civilian government on 25 October risking the democratisation process that began after ousting long-time dictator, Omar Al-Bashir in April 2019.[53] The transitional government comprising of technocrats, civilian politicians and the military managed to overcome the international isolation and in short period took several initiatives including peace with rebel groups, widening the space for civil liberties and religious freedoms; trial of Omar Al-Bashir; normalisation with Israel etc. However, economic stagnancy worsened by COVID-19 and floods and political and security instability continued. The military placed the blame for continuing problems on the civilian government and eventually on 25 October, military chief, Abdel Fattah al-Burhan dismissed Prime Minister Abdallah Hamdok and the cabinet. The military as a result of domestic and international pressure reinstated the civilian government while continuing to dominate the political process. The military’s actions pose risk about the planned democratic election to be held in 2023.

Key Elections and Political Appointments

Algeria: Prime Minister Ayman Benabderrahmane; Date: 30 June

Former Finance Minister Ayman Benabderrahmane was appointed as the Prime Minister by President Abdelmadjid Tebboune after June parliamentary polls. The election experienced low turnout at 23 percent and faced boycott by Hirak protest movement calling for systematic political restructuring.[54] The new Prime Minister and the cabinet have the difficult task of overcoming the ongoing socio-economic crisis affected by lower oil and gas prices and COVID-19 pandemic.

Morocco: Prime Minister Aziz Akhannouch; Date: 10 September

King Mohammed VI appointed Aziz Akhannouch as the new Prime Minister after his party; National Rally of Moroccan Independents (RNI) secured the highest number of seats winning 102 in the 395 member parliament. The Justice and Development Party (PJD) that secured 125 seats in the previous election suffered a crushing defeat winning only 13 seats.[55] The new Prime Minister has promised to create one million jobs; assure universal health insurance; salary hike for teachers and provide a guaranteed pension for the elderly citizens. According to 2011 reforms, the king picks the prime minister from the largest party in parliament but retains veto power over cabinet members.

Tunisia: Prime Minister Najila Bouden Romdhane; Date: 29 September

President Kais Saied appointed Najila Bouden Romdhane, a university engineer with experience working in the World Bank. She is also the first female Prime Minister in the North African country. President Saied has assumed executive authority and the appointment is a political compromise to deflect criticism.[56]

Lebanon: Prime Minister Najib Mikati; Date: 26 July

Najib Mikati was appointed as the new Prime Minister by President Michel Aoun after binding political consultations. Mikati received 72 votes from the members of parliament and his opponent, Nawaf Salam received only one vote. Lebanon is facing chronic political and economic crisis.[57] Saad Harari as the Prime Minister designate resigned due to political deadlock over the selection of cabinet and dispute with President Aoun and Gebran Bassil. The failure to form government has acted as stumbling block for receiving international aid and reforming the economy. Mikati has assured that his government would work in accordance with the French Initiative.

Syria: President Bashar Al Assad; Date: 17 July

Bashar Al Assad has reasserted his dominant position by winning his fourth term as President with 95.1 percent of votes cast in government held areas. The election was dismissed by opposition and western states calling it farce that is neither free nor fair. [58] Since the 2011 Arab Spring, Assad contested in presidential election in 2014 and 2021. The conflict in Syria has caused deaths of thousands of people and led to large scale displacement. The Syrian regime despite direct and indirect intervention by the US, Israel, Turkey and the Gulf states has managed to preserve its political authority over large parts of the state due to help from Russia, Iran and Hezbollah.

Iran: President Ebrahim Raisi; Date: 5 August

Chief Justice Ebrahim Raisi has been elected as the new President receiving 61.95 percent of total votes. The June presidential election saw the lowest turnout at 48.8 percent since the 1979 Islamic Revolution. Interestingly, the no vote option received more votes than the first runner up, Mohsen Rezaei followed by the only moderate candidate, Abdolnasswer Hemmati. Raisi’s victory has consolidated the gains for the conservative faction that already controls the parliament.[59]

Israel: Prime Minister Naftali Bennet; Date: 2 June

The current government under Naftali Bennet is backed by eight political parties including Arab and socially conservative United Arab List (UAL). According to the arrangement, Foreign Affairs Minister Yair Lapid from Yesh Atid would take over as the Prime Minister after two years. [60] Israel witnessed four elections between April 2019 and March 2021. Benjamin Netanyahu’s right-wing government had collapsed after Yisrael Beiteinu pulled out support in November 2018. Netanyahu failed to reconcile the contentions within the right-wing bloc and after September 2019 and March 2020 elections; he sought alliance with centrist parties which failed due to political differences. The eight parties’ coalition government represent diverse ideological spectrum within Israeli politics. However, they are united in their effort to block Netanyahu from returning to power.

Kuwait: Prime Minister Sheikh Sabah al-Khalid; Date: 23 November

Sheikh Sabah al-Khalid has been re-appointed as the Prime Minister by an emiri order issued by Crown Prince Sheikh Meshal al-Ahmad al-Sabah. The Gulf monarchy faced political crisis due to months long deadlock between the government and opposition members of the parliament. The opposition leaders criticised the government over handling of COVID-19 pandemic; corruption etc. The government eventually resigned on 8 November. The re-appointment was seen as necessary to promote political stability.[61]

Iraq: Parliamentary election

In the October parliamentary election, Muqtada al-Sadr’s political bloc, the Sadrist Movement won 73 seats in the 329 member parliament. Muqtada al-Sadr is an influential cleric opposed to both Iranian and US influence in Iraq. The performance of Iran backed Shiite parties including the Popular Mobilisation Forces (PMF) has been poor winning only 17 seats. The pro-Iran parties took to the streets to protest against the result claiming it to be rigged. The election results widened the inter-Shiite division indicating the reducing popularity of Iran’s influence.[62] The Sadrist movement after the polls could play a major role in forming national majority government.

Endnotes :

[1]G. M. Feierstein, “The GCC turns to diplomacy and dialogue to manage conflict,” Middle East Institute, December 20, 2021, at https://www.mei.edu/publications/10-key-events-and-trends-middle-east-and-north-africa-2021#feierstein (Accessed January 12, 2022).

[2]France 24, “Rivals Iran and Saudi Arabia hold talks in Baghdad,” France 24, April 19, 2021, at https://www.france24.com/en/live-news/20210419-rivals-iran-and-saudi-arabia-hold-talks-in-baghdad (Accessed January 15, 2022).

[3]Iran International, “Iran-Saudi Breakthrough at Baghdad Conference uncertain,” August 2021, at https://old.iranintl.com/en/world/iran-saudi-breakthrough-baghdad-conference-uncertain (Accessed January 16, 2022).

[4]The Independent,”Iran, Saudi sides continue tension-easing talks in Baghdad,” Independent,” September 27, 2021, at https://www.independent.co.uk/news/world/americas/us-politics/iran-baghdad-riyadh-tehran-joe-biden-b1927716.html (Accessed January 18, 2022).

[5]Y. Fazeli, “UAE national security advisor meets Iran’s president,” Al Arabiya, December 6, 2021, at https://english.alarabiya.net/News/gulf/2021/12/06/UAE-top-security-official-holds-talks-with-Iranian-counterpart-in-Tehran- (Accessed January 23, 2022).

[6]G. M. Feierstein, “The GCC turns to diplomacy and dialogue to manage conflict,” Middle East Institute, December 20, 2021, at https://www.mei.edu/publications/10-key-events-and-trends-middle-east-and-north-africa-2021#feierstein (Accessed January 12, 2022).

[7]I. Naar, “Turkish President Erdogan receives Abu Dhabi Crown Prince,” Al Arabiya, November 24, 2021, at https://english.alarabiya.net/News/middle-east/2021/11/24/Turkish-President-Erdogan-receives-Abu-Dhabi-Crown-Prince (Accessed January 21, 2022).

[8]G. Tol, “Facing long odds and growing pressure at home, Erdogan tries a new approach: diplomacy,” Middle East Institute, December 20, 2021, at https://www.mei.edu/publications/10-key-events-and-trends-middle-east-and-north-africa-2021#feierstein (Accessed January 21, 2022).

[9]Daily Sabah, “Syria war killed at least 3,700 in 2021, lowest annual death toll,” Daily Sabah, December 22, 2021, at https://www.dailysabah.com/world/syrian-crisis/syria-war-killed-at-least-3700-in-2021-lowest-annual-death-toll (Accessed January 21, 2022).

[10]A. Bakeer, “Why did the UAE and Bahrain re-open their embassies in Syria?” Al Jazeera, January 8, 2019, at https://www.aljazeera.com/opinions/2019/1/8/why-did-the-uae-and-bahrain-re-open-their-embassies-in-syria (Accessed January 20, 2022).

[11]France 24, “UAE foreign minister meets Syia’s Assad, US slams visit to ‘dictator’,” France 24, November 11, 2021, at https://www.france24.com/en/middle-east/20211110-uae-foreign-minister-meets-syria-s-assad-us-slams-visit-to-dictator (Accessed January 20, 2022).

[12]C. Lister, “The year of Assad’s normalization,” Middle East Institute, December 20, 2021, at https://www.mei.edu/publications/10-key-events-and-trends-middle-east-and-north-africa-2021#feierstein (Accessed January 19, 2022).

[13]Al Arabiya, “Jordan’s King Abdullah receives first call from Assad since start of Syria war,” Al Arabiya, October 3, 2021, at https://english.alarabiya.net/News/middle-east/2021/10/03/Jordan-s-King-Abdullah-receives-first-call-from-Assad-since-start-of-Syria-war (Accessed January 23, 2022).

[14]Mohamed Saied,”Egypt steps up efforts to ‘restore Syria’s position in the Arab world’,” Al-Monitor, September 30, 2021, at https://www.al-monitor.com/originals/2021/09/egypt-steps-efforts-restore-syrias-position-arab-world (Accessed January 21, 2022).

[15]R Al Sherbini, “Bahrain names its first ambassador to Syria in over a decade,” Gulf News, December 31, 2021, at https://gulfnews.com/world/gulf/bahrain/bahrain-names-its-first-ambassador-to-syria-in-over-a-decade-1.84686145 (Accessed January 21, 2022).

[16]Reuters, “Kuwait expects more Arab countries to reopen embassies in Damascus: KUNA,” Reuters, December 31, 2018, at https://www.reuters.com/article/us-mideast-crisis-syria-kuwait-idUSKCN1OU0VP (Accessed January 22, 2022).

[17]C. Lister, “The year of Assad’s normalization,” Middle East Institute, December 20, 2021, at https://www.mei.edu/publications/10-key-events-and-trends-middle-east-and-north-africa-2021#feierstein (Accessed January 19, 2022).

[18] UNSMIL, “Libyan Political Dialogue Forum,” United Nations Support Mission in Libya, 2020, at https://unsmil.unmissions.org/libyan-political-dialogue-forum (Accessed January 24, 2022).

[19]UNSMIL, “The Second Berlin Conference on Libya,” United Nations Support Mission in Libya, 2021, at https://unsmil.unmissions.org/sites/default/files/2021_berlin_2_conclusions_final_-_eng.pdf (Accessed January 25, 2022).

[20] Al Jazeera, “Why Libya’s election got postponed: A quick guide,” Al Jazeera, December 23, 2021, at https://www.aljazeera.com/news/2021/12/23/why-libya-election-got-postponed (Accessed January 20, 2022).

[21]CSIS, “The Iranian and Houthi War against Saudi Arabia,” Center for Strategic & International Studies, December 21, 2021, at https://www.csis.org/analysis/iranian-and-houthi-war-against-saudi-arabia (Accessed January 19, 2022).

[22]L. Wamsley, “Yemen: Saudi Arabia Proposes A Peace Deal, But Houthis Say It’s Not Enough,” NPR, March 22, 2021, at https://www.npr.org/2021/03/22/980031673/yemen-saudi-arabia-proposes-a-peace-deal-but-houthis-say-its-not-enough (Accessed January 23, 2022).

[23]US Department of State, “Revocation of the Terrorist Designations of Ansarallah,” US Department of State, February 12, 2021, at https://www.state.gov/revocation-of-the-terrorist-designations-of-ansarallah/ (Accessed January 24, 2022).

[24]Al Jazeera, “Biden administration approves $650m weapon sale to Saudi Arabia,” Al Jazeera, November 4, 2021, at https://www.aljazeera.com/news/2021/11/4/biden-administration-approves-650m-weapon-sale-to-saudi-arabia (Accessed January 23, 2022).

[25]Committee to Protect Journalists, “Southern Transitional Council forces raid Yemeni government-affiliated media outlets,” Committee to Protect Journalists, June 9, 2021, at https://cpj.org/2021/06/southern-transitional-council-forces-raid-yemeni-government-affiliated-media-outlets/ (Accessed January 25, 2022).

[26] P. Salem & B. Katulis, “A transition in America occurs as the landscape shifts in the Middle East,” Middle East Institute, December 20, 2021, at https://www.mei.edu/publications/10-key-events-and-trends-middle-east-and-north-africa-2021 (Accessed January 22, 2022).

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[58] Reuters, “Syria’s Assad wins 4th term with 95% of vote, in election the West calls fraudulent,” Reuters, May 28, 2021, at https://www.reuters.com/world/middle-east/syrias-president-bashar-al-assad-wins-fourth-term-office-with-951-votes-live-2021-05-27/ (Accessed January 24, 2022).

[59]TRT World, “Ebrahim Raisi officially declared Iran’s new president,” TRT World, June 19, 2021, at https://www.trtworld.com/middle-east/ebrahim-raisi-officially-declared-iran-s-new-president-47657 (Accessed January 25, 2022).

[60]A. Karmel, “A Bennett-Lapid Government Would Have a Record Number of Women,” Haaretz, June 3, 2021, at https://www.haaretz.com/israel-news/.premium-a-bennett-lapid-government-would-have-a-record-number-of-women-1.9872252 (Accessed January 27, 2022).

[61] Reuters, “Kuwait reappoints Sheikh Sabah al-Khalid as PM- state news agency,” Reuters, November 23, 2021, at https://www.reuters.com/world/middle-east/kuwait-emir-reappoints-sheikh-sabah-al-khalid-pm-state-news-agency-2021-11-23/ (Accessed January 23, 2022).

[62]S. Johny, “Moqtada al-Sadr: The kingmaker of Iraq,” The Hindu, December 5, 2021, at https://www.thehindu.com/news/international/moqtada-al-sadr-the-kingmaker-of-iraq/article37844834.ece (Accessed January 29, 2022).

(The paper is the author’s individual scholastic articulation. The author certifies that the article/paper is original in content, unpublished and it has not been submitted for publication/web upload elsewhere, and that the facts and figures quoted are duly referenced, as needed, and are believed to be correct). (The paper does not necessarily represent the organisational stance... More >>

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