Recent American and Iranian clashes have underscored the enduring tensions in the Middle East, a region marked by geopolitical complexities and power struggles. Against the backdrop of conflicts in Yemen, Iraq, the Persian Gulf, and the Gaza War, both the United States and Iran have pursued their strategic interests while navigating intricate alliances and rivalries.

In Yemen, the conflict has become a proxy battleground for regional powers, with Iran supporting the Houthi rebels and the United States backing the Saudi-led coalition. The war has resulted in a devastating humanitarian crisis, with millions facing famine and displacement. For Iran, Yemen serves as a means to exert influence in the Arabian Peninsula and challenge Saudi dominance in the region. The United States sees Yemen as a critical front in its efforts to counter Iranian influence and maintain stability in the Gulf.

Iraq, another focal point of contention, has witnessed a complex interplay of American and Iranian interests. Following the US-led invasion in 2003, Iran has steadily expanded its influence in Iraq, backing Shiite militias and political factions sympathetic to its agenda. The presence of American troops in Iraq, ostensibly to combat terrorism and support the Iraqi government, has been viewed with suspicion by Iran, which sees it as a threat to its regional ambitions. Tensions have escalated at various points, with attacks on US bases by Iranian-backed militias and retaliatory strikes by American forces.

The Persian Gulf, home to vital shipping lanes and vast oil reserves, has been a flashpoint for American-Iranian confrontation. The Trump administration’s “maximum pressure” campaign, aimed at isolating Iran economically and diplomatically, heightened tensions in the Gulf. Incidents such as the seizure of oil tankers and the downing of drones have stoked fears of a military escalation. Both Iran and the United States have deployed naval assets to assert their influence and protect their interests in the strategic waterway.

Meanwhile, the Gaza War between Israel and Hamas has further complicated the regional dynamics. While Iran has provided political and material support to Hamas, the United States has steadfastly backed Israel, its closest ally in the Middle East. The conflict, marked by periodic flare-ups and ceasefires, reflects the broader struggle for power and influence in the region. For Iran, support for Palestinian militants is a means to project its resistance against Israel and bolster its credentials as a champion of the Palestinian cause. The United States, on the other hand, sees Israel’s security as paramount and has condemned Hamas for its rocket attacks and terrorism.

The Ukrainian war, though geographically distant, has reverberated across the Middle East, shaping the calculus of regional actors. The conflict, triggered by Russia’s annexation of Crimea and support for separatist rebels in eastern Ukraine, has drawn the attention of both the United States and Iran. While the United States has rallied NATO allies to impose sanctions on Russia and provide military assistance to Ukraine, Iran has sought to balance its relations with Moscow, a key ally, and Western powers. The war has heightened concerns about Russian expansionism and its implications for regional stability. In response, the United States has reaffirmed its commitment to its allies in Eastern Europe and sought to counter Russian influence in the Middle East.

In conclusion, recent American and Iranian clashes in the Middle East reflect a complex web of strategic interests, historical grievances, and geopolitical rivalries. From Yemen to Iraq, the Persian Gulf to Gaza, both countries have sought to advance their agendas while navigating a volatile and unpredictable landscape. The influence of the Ukrainian war adds another layer of complexity, underscoring the interconnectedness of global conflicts and their impact on regional dynamics. As tensions persist, the prospects for peace and stability in the Middle East remain uncertain, with the potential for further escalation and confrontation looming large.

In the undulating rhythm of Syrian resistance, the spirits of rebellion have once more swelled to the surface in the Druze majority al-Suwayda governorate, shocking an international community that perceived the uprising’s final chord had been struck. A dozen years have eclipsed since the inception of the popular 2011 revolution, and against the odds, the echoes of dissent continue to permeate through the war-torn tapestry of Syria, particularly within the al-Suwayda governorate in southern Syria, where the largely Druze minority population has astoundingly engaged in peaceful protests daily for over a month.

The resurgence of civil unrest exposes the unhealed wounds of a nation brutalised by Bashar al-Assad’s regime. Over a grisly 12-year reign, the regime has not merely clung to power but has enacted a torrent of human rights violations, including indiscriminate bombing of civilians, chemical weapon attacks, and targeted onslaughts against hospitals and schools. It’s a horrifying tableau where, according to the United Nations, over half the nation’s populace has been displaced, marking one of the most harrowing humanitarian crises in contemporary history.

In light of these atrocities and the insatiable appetite for change among Syrians, thousands have coalesced in recent weeks to rally against Assad’s iron-fisted rule, demanding his ouster and the realisation of the United Nations Security Council Resolution 2254. Adopted unanimously in 2015, the resolution mandates the inception of an “inclusive transitional governing body with full executive powers”. Yet, the Assad regime, despite the cacophony of international outrage and demands, has remained impervious, continuing its tyrannical rule unbridled.

The winds of opposition are not confined to al-Suwayda. In the coastal birthplace of Assad, voices of opposition have daringly pierced through the regime’s fortress of fear. Yet, these brave souls in al-Suwayda and beyond not only battle against a dictator but grapple with an economy in tatters. Whilst Syrians languish in destitution, Assad and his inner circle bask in opulence, their regime simultaneously entwined with the burgeoning Captagon trade, positioning Syria as a pivotal manufacturer and supplier of the drug, per multiple international reports.

Nevertheless, the regime, bolstered by staunch support from allies Russia and Iran, has withstood the tempest of rebellion, which has embroiled Syria in a ceaseless conflagration. The global response has largely oscillated between tepid and ineffective, allowing Russia, in particular, to overstep boundaries with seeming impunity, not only in Syria but subsequently in Ukraine as well. And now, with China’s burgeoning interest in liaising with the Syrian regime, the geopolitical stakes are further elevated.

The stoic resilience of the protestors in al-Suwayda is emblematic of the unquenchable desire for not only political reformation but also a clamouring for fundamental human rights: freedom and dignity. Amidst the palpable fear of violent reprisal and the regime’s vehement accusations of Western collaboration amongst protestors, the spirit of rebellion remains indomitably fervent.

The ripples of the al-Suwayda movement have cascaded throughout Syria, igniting demonstrations in Daraa, northern Syria, and various other governorates, encapsulating the profound, universal aspirations for democracy and accountability for war crimes amongst Syrians.

For surrounding Arab nations, the rekindled Syrian resistance presents a complex geopolitical conundrum, particularly in light of Jordan’s King Abdullah’s stark proclamation at last month’s UN General Assembly: “Jordan’s capacity to deliver necessary services to refugees has surpassed its limits.” Thus, the Syrian regime is transmitted an unambiguous directive: the resort to violence must not be replayed.

In the shadows of past international missteps, the ongoing Syrian resistance heralds a crucial opportunity: to reconcile with past shortcomings and constructively engage with the legitimate Syrian uprising. The undeterred resilience of the protestors underscores a poignant reminder of the universality of the longing for liberty and justice, providing a pivotal juncture to recalibrate global approaches towards a genuine political resolution that addresses the legitimate demands of the Syrian people.

Image credit: Handout/Suwayda 24/AFP

Mahsa Amini’s name, forever etched into the annals of Iranian history, represents more than just a tragic tale of a young woman’s untimely death. It stands as a symbol of resilience, resistance, and empowerment for countless Iranian women who have decided to take a stance against the mandatory hijab and the suppression of their rights. Her legacy has birthed a movement that resonates not only within Iran’s borders but also across the globe.

On the anniversary of her death, amid the clatter of helicopters and heightened security measures, the Iranian government’s efforts to suppress any form of commemoration were clear. Detaining her father, Amjad Amini, roadblocks leading to Aichi cemetery, and the shutting down of the internet were just some of the measures the regime employed to contain the swelling tide of dissent. Despite such oppressive measures, the spirit of Amini’s fight for women’s rights remains undeterred.

The chants of “Woman, Life, Freedom!” are not merely slogans. They encapsulate the aspirations and dreams of millions of Iranian women, who, inspired by Amini’s sacrifice, have started to challenge the status quo. Many have taken the brave step of forgoing their headscarves, publicly defying a deeply entrenched system of religious and legal mandates. The authorities, left with the dilemma of how to respond to this growing tide of resistance, have doubled down on repressive measures, from deploying smart cameras and morality police to shuttering establishments serving women with a “loose hijab.”

Mahsa Amini’s tragic end in police custody remains a contentious issue, with her family insisting she succumbed to brutality at the hands of the ‘morality police’, and the government attributing her death to a pre-existing neurological condition. Regardless of the circumstances surrounding her demise, there’s no disputing the profound impact her story has had on the women’s rights movement in Iran.

International voices, from Joe and Jill Biden to Amnesty Iran, have lauded Mahsa’s impact, recognising her role in shaping a historic movement for gender equality. The wave of protests and commemorative events held in various cities around the world signifies the global resonance of her story.

Yet, as with all revolutions, the path is fraught with challenges. The looming ratification of a new hijab law threatens to impose even stricter penalties on those deemed in violation. The severe internet restrictions, crackdown on VPNs, and arrest of dissidents reflect a regime grappling to retain its grip on a changing society. Even academia hasn’t been spared, with professors at top universities facing expulsion, presumably linked to their support for the movement.

However, the attempts to subdue the burgeoning women’s rights movement in Iran seem futile in the face of a determined populace. The persistent campaigns, both within and outside Iran, showcase a populace eager to embrace change.

Mahsa Amini’s legacy serves as a poignant reminder that change is often birthed from sacrifice. As her mother poignantly stated, while the past year was filled with “sadness and sorrow”, the outpouring of “love and comfort” from all corners of the world serves as a testament to Mahsa’s enduring impact.

As Iranian women continue to redefine societal norms and expectations, they are armed with the legacy of Mahsa Amini, a beacon of hope and a symbol of defiance in the face of repression. Her story, far from fading, only grows more potent with each passing day, serving as a clarion call for equality, respect, and human rights.

Image Credit: AP Photo/Markus Schreiber, File

The events of September 11, 2001, will forever be etched in the annals of history as a turning point in global geopolitics, especially in the Middle East. The terrorist attacks on the United States not only shattered the skyline of New York City but also sent shockwaves throughout the Middle East region, reshaping its political, social, and security landscapes. The U.S. responses to 9/11 triggered a series of events that continue to reverberate in the region to this day and speak to a complex tapestry of successes and failures in American policy.

The fallout: Unintended consequences of U.S. reaction  

The 9/11 attacks were the deadliest foreign assault ever on U.S. soil, resulting in 2,977 innocent lives lost.  In his remarks, President Bush added that while American freedom was under attack, the U.S. would undoubtedly win the war that had been waged upon it.  For Bush, the notion of American exceptionalism demanded the unprovoked attacks required a strong and resolute response to protect national security and prevent future acts of terrorism. The way the U.S. went about its response, however, was deeply flawed and often counterproductive. The legacy of these flawed policies underscores the importance of thoughtful approaches to addressing complex global challenges.

In the immediate aftermath of the 9/11 attacks, the U.S. launched its “War on Terror,” a multifaceted and global campaign aimed at dismantling al-Qaeda and preventing future terrorist threats. Two primary theatres emerged: Afghanistan and Iraq.

In Afghanistan, the U.S. invasion aimed to remove the Taliban from power, disrupt al-Qaeda’s core leadership, eliminate terrorist sanctuaries, and weaken its ability to conduct large-scale international attacks. While the initial phase of the war achieved these goals, the subsequent years witnessed a protracted conflict with unforeseen consequences. The U.S. effort to stabilize Afghanistan struggled amid insurgency and regional power dynamics.

The primary rationale for the U.S. invasion of Iraq in 2003 was the purported presence of weapons of mass destruction, but the invasion had broader implications for the region. The toppling of Saddam Hussein’s regime triggered sectarian strife and unleashed forces that Iraq struggled to contain for years to come.

One of the most significant and unintended consequences of the 9/11 attacks was the emergence of new extremist groups in the Middle East. Al-Qaeda, the terrorist organization responsible for 9/11, was not the only group operating in the region, but its audacious attack galvanized jihadists and set in motion a new wave of militancy. Afghanistan and Iraq became epicenters of violence and instability, leading to the emergence of new extremist groups. The region saw the rise of extremist groups such as ISIS, which exploited the power vacuums created by the conflicts. These groups posed significant security threats not only in Iraq and Afghanistan but also globally.

Iran watched the developments in Afghanistan and Iraq with a mix of apprehension and opportunity. The fall of Saddam Hussein ultimately shifted the balance of power in Iraq in favour of the Shiite majority. Iran sought to capitalize on this by cultivating Shiite militias and political groups in Iraq, effectively increasing its influence in the country. Moreover, the Bush administration’s inclusion of Iran in the “Axis of Evil” further strained U.S.-Iran relations. These tensions would later play a role in Iran’s pursuit of nuclear capabilities and regional proxy conflicts. Today, Iran remains one of only four country’s the U.S. has designated as a state sponsor of terrorism. 

Hard lessons: Military choices undermine soft-power efforts

The U.S. engaged in diplomatic outreach to build international support for its counterterrorism efforts. This involved seeking cooperation from regional and international partners, including NATO countries. However, trust issues and concerns about U.S. motives hampered diplomatic efforts. The perception of U.S. unilateralism and pre-emption in the Iraq War eroded trust among traditional allies and regional actors.

These trust issues spilled over to the battlefield. The U.S. managed to form alliances such as the “Coalition of the Willing” to share the burden of combat operations and provide legitimacy to their interventions in Afghanistan and Iraq. When it came to delegating responsibility to its partners, however, the U.S. chose to dominate the planning and execution of military actions. This approach led to the perception that the coalition was in name only.

The U.S. invested in public diplomacy efforts to improve its image and engage with Middle Eastern populations after its invasions of Afghanistan and Iraq. These initiatives to win hearts and minds, promote American values, and counter extremist narratives included cultural exchange programs, educational scholarships, and English-language teaching. The U.S. also sought to counter extremist narratives through various media outlets and information campaigns, including the creation of Arabic-language media such as the satellite television channel Alhurra and Radio Sawa. These outlets faced credibility issues and struggled to compete with established regional media organizations.

Doubts about U.S. motives undermined the impact about many of these efforts, and this skepticism carried over to the superpower’s efforts to promote democratic governance and human rights in the region. The thinking behind this policy was that addressing political grievances would help counter extremism, however, they were met with accusations of hypocrisy, particularly because the U.S. continued to support authoritarian regimes that were allies in the War on Terror. The absence of WMDs also undermined the legitimacy of the Iraq War and fuelled anti-American sentiments across the Middle East, leading to protests and strained diplomatic relations.

One of the most controversial aspects of the War on Terror was the use of extra-legal renditions and enhanced interrogation techniques, including torture. Techniques such as waterboarding, stress positions, and sleep deprivation were employed on detainees at various detention facilities, including Guantanamo Bay and Abu Ghraib in Iraq. These practices undermined the moral high ground the U.S. sought to occupy, sparking global outrage with critics arguing that they violated international law and human rights standards.

Some Middle Eastern governments, particularly those with close ties to the United States, cooperated in the rendition of individuals suspected of terrorism. These countries allowed U.S. intelligence agencies, including the CIA, to detain and transport individuals through their territory or airspace. This cooperation often raised concerns about complicity in practices that violated international human rights standards, including the use of torture. Jordan, for example, was used as a transit point for the rendition of suspected terrorists. Jordanian intelligence agencies were known for their involvement in interrogations that raised concerns about torture and human rights abuses.

The legacy of the 9/11 campaigns: Human suffering and moral failure  

The prolonged military presence in Afghanistan and Iraq reinforced a militarized approach to counterterrorism, which inadvertently led to collateral damage and civilian casualties. The wars led to widespread displacement, with millions of Afghans and Iraqis forced to flee their homes. Internally displaced persons and refugees faced dire conditions, lacking access to basic necessities and enduring harsh living conditions.  Between 2002-2003, public opinion of the U.S. was less favourable in the Middle East, compared to elsewhere around the world.  By 2022, regional opinion polling found that more than half the respondents agreed that the United States has become an unreliable partner, and that the region should reorient its attention towards Russia and China as partners.

The human cost of post-9/11 war zones is estimated to be nearly 4.6 million causalities.  While the figure represents an approximation that includes both direct casualties as a result of war, many others – especially children lost their lives due to the reverberations of war, including devastation brought on by economic impacts and the spread of diseases.

The wars in Afghanistan and Iraq also resulted in significant casualties among U.S. military personnel. Over seven thousand American soldiers lost their lives in post 9/11 war operations, while many more were wounded in combat operations. Deployments to combat zones also took a toll on the mental health of U.S. service members. The exposure to combat stress, traumatic experiences, and multiple deployments contributed to high rates of PTSD and other mental health issues among returning veterans. The U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, responsible for providing healthcare and benefits to veterans, faced challenges in meeting the needs of a large and growing veteran population. Reports of long wait times, inadequate mental health services, and bureaucratic inefficiencies raised concerns about the quality of care provided. From 2001-2011, the U.S government had spent nearly $31.3 billion providing medical care and disability benefits for nearly 650,000 Iraq and Afghanistan war veterans as a result of injuries sustained during their tours.

In the wake of these complex and interwoven events, it is imperative that U.S. policymakers internalize the profound lessons offered by the flawed foreign policies following 9/11. These lessons underscore the need for nuanced, well-considered approaches that prioritize diplomacy, international cooperation, and respect for human rights as fundamental cornerstones of effective global engagement. Dealing with terrorist attacks presents an inherently challenging landscape, one where policymakers must resist ideological rigidity and instead adopt pragmatic, thoughtful strategies.

The complexity of the modern world demands a flexibility of thought and an openness to nuanced solutions that can adapt to the evolving nature of global threats. Such an approach acknowledges that while security remains paramount, it should not come at the expense of civil liberties, human rights, or long-term stability. Achieving a balance between security and the preservation of democratic values is a delicate but essential task for policymakers navigating the post-9/11 world.

Dr Kristian Alexander is a senior fellow and director of the International Security & Terrorism Program at Trends Research & Advisory in Dubai.

Gina Bou Serhal is a researcher at Trends Research & Advisory in Dubai.

A few weeks ago, an elderly Egyptian mother appealed to President Al Sisi to have mercy upon her innocent son, jailed since 2009. She requested a Presidential pardon to release her son from prison. Her fear is that she will die before hugging her son again as his father had recently passed away.

Unjustly convicted in January 2010 without a fair trial, her son, Gerges Baromy, received a 15-year hard labor prison sentence. Held in custody for a year awaiting trial, Baromy, a bread vendor, was an innocent victim of sectarian violence and the unjust courts. During his incarceration, his family begged for mercy many times; it was denied four times. As tradition allows, requests are presented to the Egyptian president during the Islamic Feast of Sacrifice (Al Adha) when forgiveness is offered to well-behaved prisoners.  

A Coptic scapegoat

Baromy was a bystander in the wrong place at the wrong time becoming the Christian scapegoat in an unverified rape narrative that allegedly took place in the daylight hours; no crime was proven. No facts were presented in the court except for an official medical report, which stated that Baromy was sexually impotent, rendering the accusation false. The young Muslim girl was never medically examined nor made a statement. Despite all this, Baromy was found guilty of rape.     

Long before the verdict, rumor of Baromy’s guilt spread through the villages and sparked firebombing of Coptic homes and shops for five consecutive days forcing Baromy’s family to be displaced and lose their home. There was an immediate, unappealable Bedouin Court decision that permanently handed over Baromy family property to Muslim marauders and forbid the family to return to their village.

While Baromy was jailed without bail, Hamman al-Kamouni opened fire on a Naga Hammadi church killing one police guard and six Christians leaving the Coptic Christmas Eve service. Al-Kamouni said he was avenging the honor of the raped Muslim girl.

Baromy’s trial was seething with tension as the terrified defense attorney stood inside the courtroom while outside Islamic radicals surrounded the building. He managed to present the forensic report confirming Baromy’s sexual disability. Under intense pressure from vigilante forces, he was unable to complete his arguments, and nothing was presented by the prosecutor. Making matters worse, Baromy’s lawyers were now handling the high-profile al-Karmouni revenge case for the innocent murder victims, which distracted their energies away from the Baromy matter.  

Baromy’s case became secondary for his lawyers who were more focused on publicity and legal victory in the Naga Hammadi martyrs’ case. Baromy became a victim of circumstance for a second time due to his lack of defense. Furthermore, upon his mother’s request for a pardon, his lawyers neglected to advise her that rape cases are an exclusion from presidential forgiveness.  

The zeitgeist of Egypt was revolution. There were uprisings in the streets against President Mubarak. A not-guilty verdict for a Christian male accused of raping a Muslim girl was risking retaliation and street justice. In March of 2011, Baromy was declared guilty, and his legal right of appeal was denied.

The verdict had far-reaching consequences. The political insurrection in the streets used Baromy’s “victimhood” and “guilt” to fuel both sides of the religious skirmishes taking place. Coptic organizations, Egyptian human rights organizations, the anti-Mubarak revolutionary April Six movement, and socialists sided with Baromy, using the issue to pour into the streets and fuel anti-Mubarak protests.

Baromy’s village of Farshout returned to sectarian calm. State police were sent in and national security tightened everywhere to avoid any political spark that might ignite this volatile moment. No doubt Baromy was dealt a grave injustice as well as his mother who will now wait for 2025 for “injustice” to be served in full.    

Image Credit: AP Photo/Vadim Ghirda, File