It is a recognized reality that the Middle East is divided into two greater blocs, where Syria, Iraq & Hezbollah are spearheaded by Iran (often addressed as shia bloc) and the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain, Egypt, Morocco, Turkey & Qatar are spearheaded by Saudi Arabia (often addressed as sunni bloc). However, a new reality is trending.
The sunni bloc is increasingly experiencing fractures within itself because of the differences of views between two further sub-groupings within the bloc. One group, which is led by Saudi Arabia, includes United Arab Emirates, Bahrain & Egypt. This group opposes any kind of democracy. The other group, consisting of Turkey & Qatar, supports their own version of democracy.
On the otherside, while Pakistan is traditionally allied with Saudi Arabia, its need for national security and energy security has been pushing Pakistan into changing its foreign policy by moving away from ‘all-out influence’ of Saudi Arabia and taking a more lenient approach with regard to Iran. At the same time, Algeria seems to be moving away from the influence of Saudi Arabia in its attempt to establish regular relations with Iran. Furthermore, the rivalries within the region have been further fuelled by the interferences and interventions of the two military superpowers – the U.S. and Russia.
The traditional sunni bloc, which includes Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, United Arab Emirates, Qatar, Morocco and Turkey, are using the sunni brand in order to rally the sunnis around the world behind their back against their rival Iran. On the other side, Iran is playing the same game by using the card of shia-ism in pulling the shias around the world towards its cause of portraying Saudi Arabia an evil power.
Growing Iranian influence in the region
The Iranian influence in the region is growing and such an increasing trend is perceivable from a number of developments. First, Iran-backed Hezbollah and Iranian Revolutionary Guards have been operating inside Syria and Iraq. Secondly, Iran was successful in establishing its influence substantially within the Lebanese social fabric and there is a strong presence of Hezbollah within Lebanon. Thirdly, the Iran-influenced government of Iraq consults with Iran about each and every matter, even on petty issues. Fourthly, a pro-Iranian regime, led by Bashar-al-Assad, is still holding onto power in war-torn Syria, Fifthly, Iran has been increasingly attaining a good control over the shia community within Bahrain which has a shia majority population under the sunni monarch. Sixth, Iran has backed the Houthis, an armed group in Yemen, to successfully capture Yemeni capital Sana, and also to hold onto it for a long while until now. Finally, the nuclear done deal among the six nuclear powers and Iran was a landmark political, diplomatic and economic achievement for Iran, creating the possibility for strengthening Iran’s regional influence against its major foe Saudi Arabia.
Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, United Arab Emirates and Morocco – all share many social, political and economic characteristics in common. The most notable common characteristic is, without any doubt, the fact that all of these countries are monarchies. Any other systems of governance that challenge the state’s ruling mechanisms are, at times, checked and balanced through cracking down on such voices that are raised against the monarchy and its governance system.
Egypt, under a dictatorship, has been maintaining good relationship and deep cooperation with Saudi Arabia, because there are many common interests between these two countries. Saudi Arabia prefers to keep the Saudi Arabia’s Muslim Brotherhood largely ineffective by making sure that the government of Egypt is neutralizing the organization inside Egypt, from where the organization runs its regional campaigns.
Egypt’s current president, Abdul Fatah al-Sisi, came to power by overthrowing the Muslim Brotherhood backed president Mohammad Morsi. Besides keeping Muslim Brotherhood under check in the region, Saudi Arabia needs Egypt for overall balance of power in the region. Availing an ally like Egypt, which is a sunni populated regional military power, gives Saudi Arabia a boost against its regional foes, especially against Iran and Muslim Brotherhood.
Sub-grouping of Qatar & Turkey
The point of views regarding the practice of democracy collides between Saudi Arabia and Qatar. Qatar, despite being a monarchy, supports a version of “so called” Islamic democracy in line with their own interpretation. Because of such a mindset, Qatar has been backing Muslim Brotherhood across the region. The Qatari policy makers, compared to those of Saudi Arabia, do have a lesser harsh approach towards Iran because of the same.
Turkey’s ruling Justice & Development Party, otherwise known as the AK Party, professes a “so called” Islamic democracy similar to that of the Muslim Brotherhood. Turkey, among all the regional sunni populated countries, has the least harsh approach towards Iran & the likes (developments centring Syria is an exception though).
There have been incidents of withdrawal of Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain’s ambassadors from Qatar over its support for the Muslim Brotherhood across the region, including within Egypt. Saudi authority strongly opposes the Muslim Brotherhood and the organization is banned in United Arab Emirates, Saudi Arabia & Egypt.
At the same time, it is true that while Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain & Egypt have many differences with Qatar & Turkey regarding many aspects of foreign policy, their greater shared and common interests with regard to their rivalry with regional axis of Iran-Iraq-Assad-Hezbollah have been keeping them united.
Algeria moving away from Saudi Arabia towards Iran
Algeria seems to be moving away from the influence of Saudi Arabia in its attempt to establish regular relations with Iran. Algeria, whose influence is increasing across Africa, has been half-hearted regarding its relations with the Arab countries, including Saudi Arabia. There is a clear difference between Algeria and Saudi Arabia regarding their positions, both political and economic, on the Syrian issue. Algeria continues to recognize Bashar-al-Assad’s regime, while Saudi Arabia recently hosted the Syrian opposition conference. The crisis in Yemen further complicates matters, as Saudi Arabia, alongwith its Arab allies, is fighting the Houthis and forces loyal to deposed President Abdullah Saleh, while Algeria has proposed a diplomatic initiative and announced its willingness to host the Houthis and Abdullah Saleh loyalists.
Algeria not only refused to participate in the Saudi-led coalition’s Operation Decisive Storm in Yemen and establish a joint Arab force, it also refused to participate in the new Islamic Alliance to combat terrorism, led by Saudi Arabia. Saudi Arabia’s alleged support towards Morocco in its dispute with the Algerian-allied Polisario Front in the dispute over the Western Sahara only makes the relationship between Algeria and Saudi Arabia worse.
Pakistan’s balancing act
Pakistan’s relation too with Saudi Arabia is deteriorating amid Pakistan’s attempt to draw a balance between its relations with Saudi Arabia and its relations with Iran. While Pakistan is traditionally allied with Saudi Arabia, its need for national security and energy security has been pushing Pakistan into changing its foreign policy by moving away from ‘all-out influence’ of Saudi Arabia and taking a more lenient approach with regard to Iran.
Both Iran and Pakistan know well that China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC), which is part of China’s initiative to revive the ancient Silk Route, has the potential to transform the economies of Pakistan and, if accommodated of, Iran, India and Afghanistan. CPEC is most likely to bring peace and prosperity not only in Pakistan’s conflict-torn Baluchistan, but also in the Pakistan’s neighbourhood – South Asia and Central Asia.
Pakistan is now concentrating on neutralizing all the insurgencies inside its territory and on shaping up a business friendly Pakistan. Pakistan’s economy is likely to become huge because of the Silk Route Economic Belt initiative led by China. Pakistan will soon, therefore, need huge supply of fuel-energy in order to fuel its economy; and Iran, after withdrawal of economic sanctions, is now able to supply the energy that Pakistan requires. From Pakistan’s recent moves, it seems Pakistan is too keen to import oil and gas from Iran in order to enjoy easily accessible energy-supply-destination as Iran is Pakistan’s next door neighbour.
Pakistan is already facing an unpleasant situation regarding Saudi-Iran rivalry, particularly in respect to Saudi led coalition’s war on Yemen’s Houthi militants. Saudi Arabia asked Pakistan for supporting the coalitions’ war through sending ground-troops to fight the Houthis in Yemen. Pakistan responded by asking Saudi Arabia to excuse it for not involving in any war that is, in reality, not a direct attack on Saudi’s sovereignty. But Pakistan assured Saudi Arabia that it would do anything and everything possible to counter any direct threat to Saudi sovereignty. In short, Pakistan denied Saudi’s request to send its own troops to fight a war side by side with Saudi Arabia. Through not involving in Saudi-Iran rivalry within Yemen, Pakistan is making sure that it avoids every possibility of antagonizing Iran.
The aforementioned changes in Pakistan’s relation with Middle Eastern countries show that Pakistan is seemingly moving away from the traditional ‘all-out influence’ of its decades old ally Saudi Arabia, and has been attempting to draw a balance between its relations with Saudi Arabia and its relations with Iran.
•Today, Middle East, especially the Western Asia, is the most conflict plagued region in the world. With the passing of time, the polarization within the region is only getting worse.
•The Middle East is of strategic importance to the world, particularly because of its supply of oil. Many analysts believe that the U.S.’s plan is to engineer a conflict between Iran and Saudi Arabia in order to make accessibility of the region risky for Russia and China, both of which are trying to reshape the current global order that is led and dominated by the U.S. On the otherhand, many other analysts say that it is Russia, not the U.S., which wants to engineer such a conflict between Iran and Saudi Arabia, and then get the U.S. embroiled into it and drive up the cost of oil, benefitting Russia that is suffering from lower global oil price.
•While Pakistan previously had good relations with the U.S., Saudi Arabia and China, it had awful relations with Russia, India, former Soviet Union and Iran. However, shifts in its balance of foreign relations have been taking place. Pakistan seems to be moving away from the U.S. and Saudi Arabia in its attempt to coming closer to China and Iran.
Iranians move into front line of the Middle East’s quest for religious change
A recent online survey by scholars at two Dutch universities of Iranian attitudes towards religion has revealed a stunning rejection of state-imposed adherence to conservative religious mores as well as the role of religion in public life.
Although compatible with a trend across the Middle East, the survey’s results based on 50,000 respondents, who overwhelmingly said they resided in the Islamic republic, suggested that Iranians were in the frontlines of the region’s quest for religious change.
The trend puts a dent in the efforts of Iran as well as its rivals, Saudi Arabia, Turkey, and the United Arab Emirates, that are competing for religious soft power and leadership of the Muslim world.
Among the rivals, the UAE, populated in majority by non-nationals, is the only one to start acknowledging changing attitudes and demographic realities. Authorities in November lifted the ban on consumption of alcohol and cohabitation among unmarried couples.
Nonetheless, the change in attitudes threatens to undercut the efforts of Iran as well as its Middle Eastern competitors to cement their individual interpretations of Islam as the Muslim world’s dominant narrative by rejecting religious dogma and formalistic and ritualistic religious practice propagated and/or imposed by governments and religious authorities.
“It becomes an existential question. The state wants you to be something that you don’t want to be,” said Pooyan Tamimi Arab, one of the organizers of the Iran survey, speaking in an interview. “Political disappointment steadily turned into religious disappointment… Iranians have turned away from institutional religion on an unprecedented scale.”
In a similar vein, Turkish art historian Nese Yildiran recently warned that a fatwa issued by President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s Directorate of Religious Affairs or Diyanet declaring popular talismans to ward off “the evil eye” as forbidden by Islam fueled criticism of one of the best-funded branches of government.
The fatwa followed the issuance of similar religious opinions banning the dying of men’s moustaches and beards, feeding dogs at home, tattoos, and playing the national lottery as well as statements that were perceived to condone or belittle child abuse and violence against women.
Funded by a Washington-based Iranian human rights groups, the Iranian survey, coupled with other research and opinion polls across the Middle East and North Africa, suggests that not only Muslim youth, but also other age groups, who are increasingly sceptical towards religious and worldly authority, aspire to more individual, more spiritual experiences of religion.
Their quest runs the gamut from changes in personal religious behaviour to conversions in secret to other religions because apostasy is banned and, in some cases, punishable by death to an abandonment of religion in favour of agnosticism or atheism.
Responding to the Iranian survey, 80 per cent of the participants said they believed in God but only 32.2 per cent identified themselves as Shiite Muslims, a far lower percentage than asserted in official figures of predominantly Shiite Iran.
More than a third of the respondents said that they either did not belong to a religion or were atheists or agnostics. Between 43 and 53 per cent, depending on age group, suggested that their religious views had changed over time with six per cent of those saying that they had converted to another religious orientation.
Sixty-eight per cent said they opposed the inclusion of religious precepts in national legislation. Seventy per cent rejected public funding of religious institutions while 56 per cent opposed mandatory religious education in schools. Almost 60 per cent admitted that they do not pray, and 72 per cent disagreed with women being obliged to wear a hijab in public.
An unpublished slide of the survey shows the change in religiosity reflected in the fact that an increasing number of Iranians no longer name their children after religious figures.
A five-minute YouTube clip allegedly related to Iran’s Revolutionary Guards attacked the survey despite having distributed the questionnaire once the pollsters disclosed in their report that the poll had been supported by an exile human rights group.
“Tehran may well be the least religious capital in the Middle East. Clerics dominate the news headlines and play the communal elders in soap operas, but I never saw them on the street, except on billboards. Unlike most Muslim countries, the call to prayer is almost inaudible… Alcohol is banned but home delivery is faster for wine than for pizza… Religion felt frustratingly hard to locate and the truly religious seemed sidelined, like a minority,” wrote journalist Nicholas Pelham based on a visit in 2019 during which he was detained for several weeks.
The survey’s results as well as observations by analysts and journalists like Mr. Pelham stroke with responses to various polls of Arab public opinion in recent years that showed that, despite 40 per cent of those polled defining religion as the most important constituent element of their identity, 66 per cent saw a need for religious institutions to be reformed.
The polls suggested further that public opinion would support the reconceptualization of Muslim jurisprudence to remove obsolete and discriminatory concepts like that of the kafir or infidel.
Responses by governments in Iran, Saudi Arabia and elsewhere in the Middle East to changing attitudes towards religion and religiosity demonstrate the degree to which they perceive the change as a threat, often expressed in existential terms.
In one of the latest responses, Mohammad Mehdi Mirbaqeri, a prominent Shiite cleric and member of Iran’s powerful Assembly of Experts that appoints the country’s supreme leader, last month described Covid-19 as a “secular virus” and a declaration of war on “religious civilization” and “religious institutions.”
Saudi Arabia went further by defining the “calling for atheist thought in any form” with terrorism in its anti-terrorism law. Saudi dissident and activist Rafi Badawi was sentenced on charges of apostasy to ten years in prison and 1,000 lashes for questioning why Saudis should be obliged to adhere to Islam and asserting that the faith did not have answers to all questions.
Analysts, writers, journalists, and pollsters have traced changes in attitudes in the Middle East and North Africa for much of the past decade.
Kuwaiti writer Sajed al-Abdali noted in 2012 that “it is essential that we acknowledge today that atheism exists and is increasing in our society, especially among our youth, and evidence of this is in no short supply.”
Mr. Arab argues nine years later that his latest survey “shows that there is a social basis” for concern among authoritarian and autocratic governments that employ religion to further their geopolitical goals and seek to maintain their grip on potentially restive populations.
Sign of a Volcano Erupting in Iran
Since its inception in 1979, the Iranian regime has relied on two pillars to sustain its hold on power: relentless repression at home, and terrorism and warmongering abroad. Since the regime is out of step with the modernity of the 21st century, it needs to resort to belligerent policies in order to impose itself upon the existing international order.
Regime leaders know that it is exactly their foreign transgressions that have now become a source of serious alarm for European and American interlocutors. Even if a new round of negotiations were to take place, both the Supreme Leader, Ali Khamenei, and the President, Hassan Rouhani, understand that the nuclear issue will not be the only topic of conversation.
In a speech on January 8, Khamenei insisted on the regime’s regional adventurism and missiles program, saying that “the Islamic Republic has a duty to act in a way that strengthens its friends and supporters in the region.” Tehran has always made renouncing regional influence and its missiles program a red line.
However, speaking on behalf of the European Union, German Foreign Minister Haiku Moss has said that a reinvigorated Iran deal must include new nuclear restrictions as well as an end to the testing of ballistic missiles. At the same time, he called for “limitation of Iran’s regional power” in the form of a “new agreement.”
Therefore, one of the pillars of the regime’s survival (foreign adventurism) has clearly been targeted by foreign powers. The other (domestic repression) is being challenged by the Iranian people.
A Social Volcano about to Erupt
In recent months, hundreds of centers controlled by the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC), the paramilitary Bassij, and the Ministry of Intelligence and Security (MOIS) have been targeted by young activists seeking to overthrow the regime. Simultaneously, posters and banners of regime leaders like Khamenei and eliminated Qods Force commander Qassem Soleimani have been torched across the country.
The regime often blames these acts of dissent on “Resistance Units,” which are organized teams of young dissidents calling for the theocracy’s overthrowand reported to be affiliated with the Mujahedin-e Khalq (MEK).A few short months before the massive November 2019 uprisings in Iran, the Minister of Intelligence Mahmoud Alavi claimed 116 of these “teams have been dealt with” in a matter of months. That is an indication that Tehran is witnessing a significant rise in such activities.
Time will tell if the trajectory of Iranian politics would experience a radical departure in the form of the regime’s ultimate collapse. All indicators are that the pace and depth of resistance appear to be increasing. Therefore, officials in Tehran may not be as optimistic as the rest of us about what lies ahead in 2021.
Warnings of Mass Uprisings
Practically every media outlet or official in Iran has been warning of a pending social explosion due to prevalent poverty and rampant unemployment. For example, one state-run daily refers to the worrying conditions and the lack of a “barrier against the volcano of the hungry” (Arman, December 26, 2020).
Another warns that “in an instant and with a simple spark of provocation, the Army of the Hungry may revolt.” (Hamdeli, December 20, 2020).The Iranian economy is collapsing andmore than 70% of society now lives below the poverty line.
Despite the supreme leader’s empty rhetoric and desperate show of power, he is well aware that he must negotiate and so that the sanctions on the sale of oil are eased, albeit in small quantities, in order to avoid more uprisings.
Khamenei is Weak and Vulnerable
Despite the danger of a social explosion, however, Khamenei and his regime are now at their weakest point since 1979. They cannot enter negotiations with US President Biden and Europe at this time. Khamenei can ill afford to look weak by backing down and engaging in such talks, especially prior to the presidential elections in June. So, he has decided to close ranks instead of opening up.
Khamenei is looking to limit rival factions’ power, including those supporting Rouhani. During the recent parliamentary elections, he pretty much purged so-called “reformist” candidates. Recent laws defining new conditions for presidential candidates have paved the way for Khamenei’s allies – like parliamentary speaker Mohammad Baqer Qalibaf – to replace Rouhani. Khamenei calculates that once he has closed ranks and his faction controls all the levers of power, including the presidency, parliament, and judiciary, he would be able to entertain negotiations.
At the same time, he is trying to gain as much leverage in the nuclear arena in order to avoid giving concessions in other areas. Khamenei wants to boost the morale of his forces. Doling out regional or missile concessions would spell disaster for that strategy, leading to more defections in the ranks of the IRGC.Still, due to the sanctions, he is between a rock and a hard place. His regime is at its weakest point in history and extremely vulnerable.
One of the extremely unpopular moves he recently made was that he personally banned the import of coronavirus vaccines from France, Britain, and the US. Average Iranians, who have lost tens of thousands of loved ones to the virus and are reeling under the severe economic ramifications, are furious.
The Iranian society is growing more enraged at the regime by the day. Calls for overthrow, as indicated in the November 2019 uprising, are growing. Meanwhile, the regime has little leverage to demand the lifting of sanctions as both Europe and Washington target its regional interference and missiles program. With options severely narrowing, the regime may finally be at the end of its rope.
100th Anniversary of the Turkish Constitution
Teşkilatı-Esasiye Law, the law provides for the establishment of the State of Turkey on January 20, 1921. This law also carries its status as Turkey’s first constitution.
The Ottoman State displayed a submissive understanding in the face of the occupations experienced in its last period. The people displayed an important struggle for independence by showing the necessary reaction and effort during the 1st World War against these invasions. After the war, Mustafa Kemal Ataturk, exhibited a legitimate ground to fit this into the struggle for independence and contemporary, landed in Samsun on May 19, 1919 to establish a modern Turkey. This date was also the first step in the War of Independence launched against the occupations across the country.
After Samsun, Mustafa Kemal, who held various meetings and congresses in Amasya and Erzurum, respectively, went to Sivas from here and held the Sivas Congress with the representatives determined by the people from every province. September 4, 1919 at the congress held in Sivas with the participation of delegates from all over Turkey, Istanbul until the establishment of the new Chamber of Deputies of the general elections made the government decide to cut all formal ties. A Council of Representatives was established in order to establish a new administrative and political organization throughout the country.
As a result of the election held in 1920, the last Parliamentary Assembly of the Ottoman Empire was established, but on March 16, 1920, Istanbul was occupied by the British and the pro-National Struggle MPs were arrested. The parliament that convened on March 18 announced that it dissolved itself. With the dissolution of the last Ottoman Parliament, Mustafa Kemal announced in the statement he published on behalf of the Representation Committee that he wanted the MPs who could escape the occupation in Istanbul to come to Ankara.
The Grand National Assembly was Established
MPs who managed to escape secretly from Istanbul deputies from all over Turkey, Mustafa Kemal’s leadership in Ankara on 23 April 1920, which was collected and laid the foundations of the Republic of Turkey Grand National Assembly was opened. The next day, on April 24, 1920, Mustafa Kemal Pasha was elected president of the Grand National Assembly. The Assembly, which adopted the principle of unity of forces, thus started its work to ensure the independence of the nation and the liberation of the state.
Mustafa Kemal Pasha, as the Speaker of the Assembly, presented a draft on September 13, 1920 with the title “Populism Program” consisting of 31 articles. For the draft, Mustafa Kemal said, “The nature of our existence, the essentiality of the nation, has proved the general trend of the nation, it is populism and the people’s government. It means that governments fall into the hands of the people ”and stated that this is an obligation. On September 18, 1920, the Populism Program prepared by the government was read in the Parliament. Malatya Deputy Lütfi Bey “This statement contains many principles”. First of all, I recommend him to go to the Principles of Law ”. Trabzon Deputy Ali Şükrü Bey stated that this draft was not a draft law and did not want it to be sent to the committee. In his speech, Minister of Finance Ferit Bey underlined that the draft law is a draft law and said, “This program is the political program of the government.”
At the end of the discussions, it was decided to send the program to a special committee consisting of three people from each branch. The members of the special commission named Encümen-i Mahsus were determined on September 25 and started their work. The Council completed its first work on October 21, 1920, and the program was put on the parliament’s agenda on October 27. The Council made some changes in the Fundamental and Administration sections of the Government Program and arranged this as a draft Law of Organization. He presented the justification of the arrangement he made to the Parliament. The draft law prepared by the Encümen-i Mahsus, which was submitted to the Parliament as the Fundamental Law of the Organization, consisted of 23 articles and two sections as Mevaddı Fundamental and Administrative. Some of the articles in the Populism Program were not included in the Draft Law on the Organization-ı Esasiye, which was arranged by the Encümen-i Mahsus and submitted to the Assembly. Article 5, which includes the subject of caliphate and sultanate, Article 10, which includes the number of people in the Grand National Assembly, and Article 16 regarding the army, were not included in the Draft Law on the Principles of Organization. While 11 items were accepted as they are, changes were made on 12 items. An Article-i Individual was added by the Encümen-i Mahsus. It was requested that the articles and provisions of the Basis of the Law, which were not contradicted to the law at the time the draft Law on the Principles of the Organization was discussed in the Assembly. However, as the Speaker of the Assembly Mustafa Kemal opposed this request, such a provision was not included in the Constitutional Law of the Organization. Therefore, with the Law of Fundamentals of the Organization, his relationship with the Ottoman Empire’s Basis of Law was officially terminated.
These discussions lasted about five months. The Fundamental Organization Law was accepted in the Parliament on January 20, 1921. A special method and quorum was not sought in the adoption of the law. Mustafa Kemal sent the Law of Constitution to the Grand Vizier Tevfik Pasha by telegram. No. 85 “Organization Fundamental Law” Article 23, and also carries the distinction of being Turkey’s first constitution, which consists of discrete items. One of the most important features of this Constitution is that even though the Ottoman Empire did not come to an end, it was declared that it would be administered by the Grand National Assembly and that sovereignty belonged to the nation, and the system, which was actually implemented with the principle of unity of powers, was placed on a constitutional basis.
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