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07 August 2022  

The web of relations within the Israel-India-USA-UAE (I2-U2) alliance

on Middle East General

By Arab Center for Research & Policy Studies On 14 July, during his visit to Israel, US President Joe Biden held a virtual meeting with the leaders of a new economic group kno...

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25 July 2022  

Biden's Middle East tour: Israel, energy and Israel

on Middle East General

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25 July 2022  

What Saudi-Israeli rapprochement means for the MENA region

on Saudi Arabia

By Zeenat Adam The recent visit by US President Joe Biden to Israel, the Occupied Palestinian Territory and Saudi Arabia was underwhelming, but cast a spotlight on the unprecedent...

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15 April 2022  

Palestine’s widening geography of resistance: Why Israel cannot defeat the…

on Palestine-Israel

By Ramzy Baroud There is a reason why Israel insists on linking the series of attacks carried out by Palestinians recently to a specific location – the the Jenin refugee camp in t...

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17 November 2021  

The Israel factor in Libya’s election: Haftar’s son visits Tel…

on Libya

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26 October 2021  

Political Islam and the democracy crisis in North Africa

on North Africa

By Ramzy Baroud When the news circulated that Morocco’s leading political group, the Development and Justice Party (PJD), had been trounced in the latest election, held in Septemb...

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07 August 2022  

The web of relations within the Israel-India-USA-UAE (I2-U2) alliance

on Middle East General

By Arab Center for Research & Policy Studies On 14 July, during his visit to Israel, US President Joe Biden held a virtual meeting with the leaders of a new economic group kno...

Read more

25 July 2022  

Biden's Middle East tour: Israel, energy and Israel

on Middle East General

Many people are questioning the value (and even the purpose) of US president Joe Biden’s visit  to the Middle East last week. While the trip’s objective was obfuscated by the ...

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25 July 2022  

What Saudi-Israeli rapprochement means for the MENA region

on Saudi Arabia

By Zeenat Adam The recent visit by US President Joe Biden to Israel, the Occupied Palestinian Territory and Saudi Arabia was underwhelming, but cast a spotlight on the unprecedent...

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15 April 2022  

Palestine’s widening geography of resistance: Why Israel cannot defeat the…

on Palestine-Israel

By Ramzy Baroud There is a reason why Israel insists on linking the series of attacks carried out by Palestinians recently to a specific location – the the Jenin refugee camp in t...

Read more

17 November 2021  

The Israel factor in Libya’s election: Haftar’s son visits Tel…

on Libya

By Giorgio Cafiero On 7 November, Haaretz reported that Saddam Haftar, the son of Khalifa Haftar, flew on a private French-made Dassault Falcon jet out of the Unite...

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26 October 2021  

Political Islam and the democracy crisis in North Africa

on North Africa

By Ramzy Baroud When the news circulated that Morocco’s leading political group, the Development and Justice Party (PJD), had been trounced in the latest election, held in Septemb...

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More from this category

15 April 2022  

Palestine’s widening geography of resistance: Why Israel cannot defeat the…

on Palestine-Israel

By Ramzy Baroud There is a reason why Israel insists on linking the series of attacks carried out by Palestinians recently to a specific location – the the Jenin refugee camp in t...

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12 October 2021  

Israel’s sneaking into the African Union threatens to split the…

on Israel

Since its founding in 2002, as the successor to the Organisation of African Unity, the African Union (AU) has prided itself on maintaining a united stance as a continental organisa...

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05 March 2021  

Engaging the World: The ‘fascinating story’ of Hamas’s political evolution

on Palestine

Romana Rubeo and Ramzy Baroud On 4 February 2021, representatives from the Palestinian movement Hamas visited Moscow to inform the Russian government of the latest developmen...

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11 February 2021  

How Russia is capitalising on US Retreat in the Middle…

on Palestine-Israel

By Ramzy Baroud Israeli anxiety was palpable after Israel’s prime minister, Benyamin Netanyahu, waited for days to be contacted by the new US president, Joe Biden, after...

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09 December 2020  

Palestine in the Global South: Israel’s ‘Scramble for Africa’

on Palestine-Israel

By Ramzy Baroud In September 2017, organizers of the ‘Africa-Israel Summit’ indefinitely postponed their event which was scheduled to be held in Lomé, Togo, from 23 ...

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01 December 2020  

UAE-Israel cooperation in the oil market: More political than economic

on Israel

By Nikolay Kozhanov Introduction The Israeli-Emirati Memorandum of understanding and cooperation on the use of storage capacities and pipeline infrastructure ...

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25 July 2022  

What Saudi-Israeli rapprochement means for the MENA region

on Saudi Arabia

By Zeenat Adam The recent visit by US President Joe Biden to Israel, the Occupied Palestinian Territory and Saudi Arabia was underwhelming, but cast a spotlight on the unprecedent...

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24 January 2021  

Iran’s risky ‘counter pressure’ against the fallout of Trump’s ‘maximum…

on Iran

By Ali Fathollah-Nejad On 4 January, a day after the one-year anniversary of the US assassination of top Iranian general Qassem Soleimani in Baghdad, Iran took two steps as a show...

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14 December 2020  

After Fakhrizadeh killing: Why Iranian over-reaction is unlikely

on Iran

By Ali Fathollah-Nejad The November presidential election victory of Joe Biden against the incumbent Donald Trump raised alarm bells within the anti-Iran front in the Middle East ...

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03 December 2020  

The geopolitical roots of Iran’s economic crisis

on Iran

By Mahdi Ghodsi and Ali Fathollah-Nejad The COVID-19 pandemic has ravaged Iran’s already ailing economy, but the country’s economic crisis is rooted in factors beyond the pandemic...

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27 October 2020  

The US election through the eyes of Iran’s moderates and…

on Iran

By Ali Fathollah-Nejad and Amin Naeni The outcome of the 3 November US presidential election will reverberate far beyond the USA, especially in Iran, where it may influence t...

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13 October 2020  

Trump’s new harsh sanctions on Iran could signal more ‘October…

on Iran

By Phyllis Bennis When US president, Donald Trump, announced his latest threats against Iran on Rush Limbaugh’s show last week, it was unclear whether he or his steroids...

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17 November 2021  

The Israel factor in Libya’s election: Haftar’s son visits Tel…

on Libya

By Giorgio Cafiero On 7 November, Haaretz reported that Saddam Haftar, the son of Khalifa Haftar, flew on a private French-made Dassault Falcon jet out of the Unite...

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26 October 2021  

Political Islam and the democracy crisis in North Africa

on North Africa

By Ramzy Baroud When the news circulated that Morocco’s leading political group, the Development and Justice Party (PJD), had been trounced in the latest election, held in Septemb...

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30 September 2021  

Behind the latest Algerian-Moroccan breaking of relations

on Algeria

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05 September 2020  

Internal wrangling dampens optimism of Libyan ceasefire

on Libya

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29 July 2020  

Tunisia’s political discord: Crisis of democratisation?

on Tunisia

By Larbi Sadiki and Layla Saleh Introduction: A Turbulent Transition For the third time in six months, Tunisia’s political elites are scrambling to form a new government. This la...

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09 July 2020  

For Tunisian protesters, democracy is not enough

on Tunisia

By Larbi Sadiki  Since 2017, Tunisia’s interior and south have witnessed a wave of ongoing protests, characterised by the slogan ‘al-rakh la’, meaning ‘No Relenting’. These p...

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03 August 2020  

Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam and the changing balance of power…

on Ethiopia

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20 July 2020  

Mali’s instability resulting from corruption, militancy and foreign interference

on Sub-Saharan Africa

Recent protests in Mali pose the greatest threat to the regime of Ibrahim Boubacar Keita, who has led Mali since 2013. Endemic corruption, Keita’s failure to curb the mil...

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12 October 2018  

Ethiopia, Eritrea: An unlikely peace deal in a fractious region

on Ethiopia

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06 April 2017  

Ensuring Somalia remains in conflict: Trump’s expanded ‘war on terror’

on Somalia

By Afro-Middle East Centre The 29 March decision by the administration of US president Donald Trump declaring Somalia an ‘area of active hostility’ will likely ensure an escalatio...

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10 October 2016  

South Sudan: Beyond the logjam of UNSC Resolution 2304

on South Sudan

By Majak D’Agoôt and Remember Miamingi No country is entirely self-contained or lacking in interdependencies. These interlocking interests form the critical part of any country’s ...

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28 April 2015  

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on Sub-Saharan Africa

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13 September 2021  

'Covering' Afghanistan: Orientalist binaries

on Afghanistan

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13 September 2021  

After Afghanistan: Can Europe regain its ‘independence’ from the USA?

on Afghanistan

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23 April 2019  

India in Kashmir: Risking peace as an antidote to war

on South Asia

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28 August 2015  

Does Pakistan’s refusal to join Saudi Arabia in Yemen indicate…

on Pakistan

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31 March 2012  

The feasibility of a continued United States presence in Afghanistan

on South Asia

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28 February 2012  

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on South Asia

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26 April 2017  

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on Political Islam

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07 March 2017  

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on Political Islam

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19 December 2015  

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on Political Islam

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31 January 2012  

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21 November 2015  

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16 February 2010  

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on 'War on terror'

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The meaning of western-Iranian rapprochement

However, this new tone did not begin in Geneva. It began in New York, at the United Nations headquarters, where both the US president, Barack Obama, and the Iranian president, Hassan Rouhani, spoke on 24 September at the annual meeting of the United Nations General Assembly. Rouhani’s speech sparked a busy schedule of official and media meetings, initiating a conciliatory relationship with the West, particularly the United States. Despite the fact that Obama’s speech was cautiously optimistic about a possible solution, the Americans did not hide their hope for a new form of engagement. After arrangements for their handshake in the UN corridors had failed, Obama phoned Rouhani, an unprecedented step in the relations between the two countries since 1979.

But what do these gestures amount to? Specifically, is the Iranian nuclear issue now moving towards a negotiated solution? And to what extent will a purported solution affect the regional balance of power in the Middle East?

Nuclear issue: The terms of settlement

Rouhani’s victory as the presidential candidate was just the thing that Iran required at that juncture in the international stage. Iran needed a new beginning, especially after the serious damage to its economy as a result of UN and Euro-American sanctions. During the past year, Iranian oil production fell by half, and the country’s economy shrank by more than five per cent. Further economic decline can translate into the burgeoning of the opposition camp within Iran. Despite the strength and consolidation enjoyed by the ruling regime, this is not something that it would wish to see.

In addition, reports indicate that the Iranian nuclear programme is facing serious difficulties. And, in the face of a precarious economic situation, it is no longer feasible to resolve the problems related to the development of nuclear power. These factors forced Iran to adopt a new negotiation policy with western powers in order to resolve the nuclear issue and lift the sanctions imposed upon Iran.

But Iran was not the only roleplayer that wanted a fresh start. The USA is trying to extricate itself from the Middle East, in a way that protects its and its allies’ interests. The Obama administration is working to avoid any significant involvement in the Middle East, including an armed conflict with Iran. The US policy originally worked on preventing any single regional power from gaining control over the Middle East. Within this framework, it would not be in Washington’s interests if Iran were to experience an economic collapse, or be subjected to a crippling, full-scale military strike. At the same time, the Obama administration cannot tolerate Iran’s nuclear ambitions, not because Iran’s nuclear capabilities could threaten the security of America or its interests, but because a nuclear-armed Iran could lead to nuclear chaos in the Middle East. In other words, US policy towards Iran can be summed up by the need to end its nuclear programme in exchange for economic and political normalisation, within a pluralistic balance of power in the Middle East.

The convergence between the Iranian desire for a new economic recovery and the American desire to avoid war is responsible for creating the hopeful air around the nuclear issue. This is what made Obama’s speech at the UN General Assembly both cautious and welcoming. The American president praised the positive signs from Iran, but demanded that their actions must speak louder than words, and expressed some doubt about the seriousness of Iranian signals. In a reminder of what he sees as effective policy, Obama said the deal on the Syrian chemical weapons disarmament would not have been possible without the actual threat of using force.

On 24 September, Rouhani avoided shaking hands with Obama, since it could have caused him more trouble in Iran than serve his interests. But he obtained the approval of Iran’s Supreme Leader, Ayatollah Khamenei, to speak to Obama by telephone a few days later. In the short period he spent in New York, Rouhani mounted a public relations campaign to project a positive and attractive image of Iran. He not only changed the image associated with his predecessor Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, but also the stereotypical image of the Islamic Republic. Rouhani condemned the Nazi Holocaust, spoke about America’s standing in the hearts of Iranian people, and vowed that Iran would not develop nuclear weapons. More important was the undeclared communication between the Americans and the Iranians, which took place on the sidelines of the UNGA meeting, and was confirmed by US secretary of state, John Kerry.

From a western point of view, the Geneva talks were the real test for the new Iranian government, for negotiations there would show if the Iranians were serious about adopting a stance different from the ones taken during their previous meetings. According to leaks from closed sessions, negotiations began with a statement from the Iranian foreign minister under the title ‘Ending an unnecessary crisis: Opening new horizons’. Western officials said Zarif’s statement included a vision for a solution, which would begin with confidence-building measures, to be conducted within six months, and would end with a comprehensive agreement which affirmed the right of Iran to pursue a nuclear programme for peaceful purposes. In return, Iran would allow strict international supervision, and approve the IAEA’s ‘Additional Protocol’, which gives observers the right to visit any sites suspected of nuclear activities, not just those declared as such by Iran.

At the end of this round of negotiations, the parties agreed to hold the next round on 7 November 2013. And before that meeting, there would be meetings between nuclear and sanctions experts.

Therefore, while there is unprecedented optimism, results are still not guaranteed. The Americans want Iran to be allowed to enrich uranium to a maximum of five per cent, to accept international supervision in accordance with the Additional Protocol, to shut down the Fordow facility, the main site of development, and to abandon plutonium separation efforts. In return, western countries will be prepared to gradually lift sanctions. It is difficult to predict whether Iran will accept such a deal. Moreover, it is clear that inside Iran, in the USA, and in the Middle East region as a whole, there are influential forces that do not want the Iranian nuclear issue to be resolved through negotiations.

Potential geopolitical effects

In recent years, Iran has tried to link nuclear negotiations with its regional interests, hoping for a so-called ‘Big Deal’. The Obama administration has repeatedly rejected such a link. But it is not improbable that an agreement on the nuclear programme could have a direct impact on the regional situation, not only because Iran influences a whole host of Middle Eastern issues, but also because of the Obama administration’s desire to foster negotiations on Syria, Lebanon, and the Palestinian-Israeli conflict. It should not be overlooked that the region has already started witnessing initial geopolitical interactions, engendered by an atmosphere of optimism surrounding the nuclear issue; and it seems that Saudi Arabia, Jordan and the United Arab Emirates will be the first to be affected.

Saudi Arabia, the UAE and Jordan form an effective political coalition. While a few years ago it seemed unlikely that the three countries would co-operate in this manner, the Arab uprisings created a convergence between the three countries. When the uprisings broke out in 2011, these three states were not facing any serious threat to the political or geopolitical situation. Of the three, only in Jordan was there a popular movement demanding reform. The movements for change, from Tunisia and Libya to Egypt and Yemen, were not particularly hostile toward any of the other Arab countries, particularly the Gulf states. However, fearful as they are of the changes that have swept across the region, especially the resurgence of political Islam and democracy, they rushed towards finding common ground and formed an active and effective political axis. The three countries have financial abundance, security expertise and political influence that brought them together to collaborate during the Libyan uprising, and they have continued to do so since. They almost succeeded in getting their preferred candidate to win the Libyan presidency. They also worked, to varying extents, with Qatar and Turkey to support the Syrian rebels. In the past few months, they supported the overthrow of Egypt’s President Mohamed Morsi, and a senior UAE official has declared that they were working on regime change in Tunisia.

A quick look at the Arab political map suggests that the tripartite coalition achieved a number of victories, and that they are working on drawing this map in their own image. But the new US approach to the Middle East, regional disagreements on Egypt, and Iran’s attempt to get out of the tight grip of the international embargo are about to again redraw the map.

The three countries built their approach to the Syrian issue on the back of a solid Qatari-Turkish initiative, and also increasing western – particularly American – involvement. When the Syrian regime’s use of chemical weapons elicited the western-American declarations of swift retribution, it seemed that the Saudi-UAE-Jordanian coalition – with its strong influence in the US Senate and House of Representatives and Israeli support – was close to achieving a significant change in the balance of forces on the ground in Syria.

Therefore, the Obama administration’s preference for negotiations, in order to strip the Damascus regime of its chemical weapons arsenal, disappointed the three states. They did not anticipate a significant US withdrawal from the Middle East or the Syrian crisis, nor Washington’s suggestion that strikes against the Syrian regime, if they were to proceed at all, would be small and limited. The problem was the exaggerated perception of the tripartite coalition about its relationship with USA, and its ability to use Washington to serve its regional interests, even if Washington did not view them as American interests.

Similarly, the coalition, as well as Israel, did not foresee the determined effort of the Obama administration to avoid war with Iran, nor its constant search for a negotiated settlement for the Iranian nuclear issue. Since the early 2000s, the three countries considered Iran as a major threat, after Iran had benefited from the power vacuum caused by the Bush administration’s short-sighted war policy adopted by the. Even before the domestic Lebanese crisis worsened, and the Syrian revolution transformed into a regional and international crisis, the growing Iranian influence in Iraq was already a source of great concern for the Gulf Arab states, particularly Saudi Arabia. After all, any continuing Iranian influence would allow Tehran to control the northern belt of the Arabian Peninsula.

Iranian-western negotiations are still at their initial stages, of course, but concluding them with a permanent settlement would mean that Iran’s regional foes cannot hope for a US strike that could weaken Tehran militarily and politically. The settlement of the nuclear issue will confirm that neither Israel’s Netanyahu, nor the tripartite coalition of Jordan, Saudi Arabia and the UAE, can dissuade the Obama administration’s preference for negotiations. But the contradictory interests between these three states and the USA in their stance on Iran are not related to Washington and Tehran reaching an agreement, since it is clear that any failure to reach a negotiated solution depends only on the failure of one, or both, to sacrifice some of their prior conditions.

On the other hand, an Arabic-Gulf approach has been taking shape in the past few years, one that supports rapprochement with Turkey, and prepares for a new regional balance of power in which Turkey acts as a regional counterweight to Iran. Now, after the policy of the tripartite coalition towards the countries experiencing the uprisings has caused a deep lack of confidence with Ankara, Turkey seems to be reconsidering its regional policy, including its relationship with Saudi Arabia, UAE and Jordan. If a Turkish-Iranian convergence were to take place, the Gulf states would stand alone in the face of Iranian pressure, and the complexities of Iraq, Syria and Lebanon would be exacerbated by Obama’s policies.

Outcomes

The Iranian nuclear crisis is going through a critical moment that could end in a negotiated agreement. Iran will accept such a settlement, will agree not to enrich uranium to twenty per cent, and will open its nuclear facilities to strict international supervision. If Iran cannot accept the conditions put forward by western countries, and, instead, proposes a solution that does not meet the demands of western countries – the USA in particular, the crisis will again face a number of negative possibilities, including military escalation. But reaching a final agreement will be the beginning of a gradual improvement in Iran’s western relations.

There is no indication yet that the United States has agreed to negotiate a ‘Big Deal’ that will include the nuclear issue and the overall regional situation in the Gulf and the Middle East, as Iran had proposed years ago when the nuclear crisis began. But resolving the nuclear crisis will see Iran and the United States talking about a number of other issues, including Iraq, Lebanon, Syria, Palestine and the Gulf. Such a possibility raises serious concerns in neighbouring countries, especially in Saudi Arabia and its Arab allies. This is especially so since it is accompanied by the failure of the USA to strike against the Asad regime, the increasing regional disagreements on Egypt, the possibility of a split between regional allies in Syria, and the varying stances of regional powers on Iran.

*This article was first publishes in Arabic by Al Jazeera Center for Studies and was then translated into Arabic by the Afor-Middle East Centre

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