Mehran Kamrava, Director of CIRS, and Zahra Babar, Associate Director for Research at CIRS, presented papers at the 2016 American political Science Association (APSA) Annual Meeting in Phliadelphia, USA.
Kamrava delivered a paper titled, “Regional Threat Perceptions in the Persian Gulf” as part of a panel on “Ideas, Perceptions, and International Security Behavior,” on September 4, 2016. He argued that scholars often analyze threat perceptions, both in the Persian Gulf region and elsewhere, without accurate and in-depth discussion with the actual foreign policy practitioners who are involved in crafting policies regarding the threats their countries face. This paper is based on original, empirical research conducted in Iran and in all six states of the Gulf Cooperation Council. In each of theses countries, key policymakers and policy advisors in the Foreign Ministry have been interviewed to gauge their understanding of the actual and/or potential threats their countries face. Preliminary results, based on a first round of interviews, indicate that threat perceptions across the Persian Gulf can be divided into three broad categories. The first category includes Iran, and presumably Iraq, for whom the Persian Gulf does not pose a particular security challenge. Iran (and Iraq) see the Persian Gulf as an area in which powerful extra-regional actors have always taken a special interest and have maintained a military presence. “Foreign intervention” in the Persian Gulf, therefore, is a given with which Iranian foreign policy has long learned to deal. The second category includes Saudi Arabia and Bahrain, and less vocally Kuwait, which see the security and stability of the Persian Gulf constantly destabilized by Iran. Especially for Saudi Arabia and Bahrain, by far the biggest threats in the Persian Gulf emanate from Tehran, both in terms of the Islamic Republic’s destabilizing policies and also through the actions of non-state or semi-state actors supported by organs within the Iranian state. Finally, Qatar and Oman fall into a third category, in which threats are not seen to emanate necessarily or exclusively from Iran but rather from a combination of regional factors that include sectarian tensions, Iran-Saudi Arabia regional rivalries, and developments in Yemen. Based on these preliminary findings, a conclusion can be reached that both at the regional level and within the GCC there is a fundamental disconnect between threat perceptions among the regional actors, therefore undermining the possibilities for the development of a comprehensive, stable regional security architecture in the Persian Gulf.
On September 3, 2016, Babar delivered a paper titled, “The ‘Humane Economy’: Migrant Labour and Islam in Qatar and the UAE,” as part of a panel on “Migration and Human Rights.” The paper explored the Gulf region’s emergence as one of the largest hubs of international migration and more recently has also become a site of contestation for debates over the treatment of international labour migrants. This paper reviews the labour migration system in Qatar and the United Arab Emirates, studies the unfolding human rights discourse on Gulf migration, and examines how Islamic principles might be applied to the labour reform processes taking place in these countries. The paper suggests that there is a fragmented landscape around the human rights discourse of migrant workers globally. There are also tensions around the adoption of international human rights norms as a framework for addressing the vulnerabilities of Gulf migrants. In conclusion, the paper argues that the category of current Gulf labour migrant is best served if placed within the Islamic view of how an ethical economy ought to function. Islamic precepts on the ‘humane’ economy can serve to provide guidance on how to balance the interests of workers and employers, and elevate the standards for migrant workers’ rights in this region.