CIRS and Georgetown Research Delegation Visits Singapore

CIRS and Georgetown delegation visits Middle East Institute in Singapore

Members of the Center for International and Regional Studies (CIRS) and Georgetown University in Qatar faculty traveled to Singapore on June 2-4, 2015, where they engaged in a series of bilateral research meetings with partner institutions, delivered public lectures to the local intellectual community, and collaborated on future research agendas with Singapore-based scholars, policymakers, and government officials.

On June 2, 2015, Mehran Kamrava, Director of CIRS, was invited to give a public lecture at the S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies at Nanyang Technological University on the topic of “Iran’s Nuclear Talks.” Kamrava argued that the Rouhani presidency has brought in significant changes to the Iranian political landscape, not the least of which include the on-going negotiations with the P5+1 over Iran’s nuclear program and a concerted effort to end Iran’s international and diplomatic isolation. In his efforts, Rouhani has been able to construct an unprecedented domestic consensus among the key stakeholders within the Iranian body politic, namely the Supreme Leader, the military high command, the parliament, and the conservative media. But significant hurdles remain, both domestically and internationally. Domestically, Rouhani’s popularity is being tested by shortcomings in the prices of oil and the administration’s inability to move forward with many infrastructural projects that had been anticipated. Also, the security forces have turned their attention inwards, often enforcing conservative dress codes and other restrictions on the urban middle classes, therefore undermining Rouhani’s liberalization project. Internationally, tensions with Saudi Arabia are at an all-time high, with the kingdom marshaling regional and international support against a potential US-Iranian rapprochement. Rouhani’s success, therefore, is anything but certain.

Along with a team of scholars from the National University of Singapore and the Middle East Institute, Zahra Babar, Associate Director for Research at CIRS, and Suzi Mirgani, Manager and Editor for CIRS Publications, took part in a round table discussion on “Contemporary Migration Research in the Arab Gulf and South(east) Asia: Interdisciplinary and Transnational Approaches,” on June 3, 2015. In her talk on “The Gulf and Global Migration,” Babar shared with the group her own areas of research interest, and stated that over the past six years she has worked primarily on different aspects of labor migration to the GCC states. Within her research she has increasingly been interested in contextualizing the study of labor migration in this sub-region of the Middle East within the broader context of global migration systems, and the regimes that govern and discipline them. There is very little work which studies Gulf migration through a comparative perspective, rather much focus is given to the particularities of the Gulf’s oil economies, and the emergence of “unique” regional and national migration tools such as the “kafala.” In her current research project, Babar hopes to further explore this idea of existing overlaps between the migration experiences of the countries of the Persian Gulf and other parts of the world.

During her talk, Mirgani gave a brief outline of a project she mentored, along with Georgetown University in Qatar Professor Ganesh Seshan, titled “Advancing Financial Education for Transnational Families,” in which a group of Georgetown students designed and administered a series of educational videos for low-income migrant laborers in Qatar. The purpose of the project is the design and piloting of a financial literacy curriculum aimed at migrant households in Qatar and the GCC, and to produce a set of instructional videos on financial education using the contents of the curriculum. This initiative aims to contribute to the education of the wider community in Qatar and elsewhere through a series of educational videos disseminated to migrants and their families.

On June 3, 2015, the CIRS and Georgetown delegation was invited to attend the official launch of the Global Business Leadership and International Relations Advanced Professional Qualification Programme, designed to “equip business and corporate leaders with knowledge and skillset for internationalisation of their businesses. It seeks to lay a sound foundation for these leaders to drive the next phase of Singapore’s economic transformation and growth.” The program is jointly launched by Georgetown University’s McDonough School of Business and the Human Capital Singapore (HCS) Academy.

Anatol Lieven, Professor at the Georgetown University School of Foreign Service in Qatar was invited by the EU Centre to deliver a public lecture on “The Only Future for Ukraine Lies in Compromise – The Role of the European Union and Russia,” on June 4, 2015. Lieven argued that the origins of the Ukrainian crisis lie in moves in 2013 by the Russian government and the European Union (EU) to force Ukraine to make a clear choice between a Russian and a western geopolitical and economic orientation. This was a difficult choice for Ukraine due to deep historical, cultural, ethnic and economic factors within Ukraine. The greatest advantage of the Western side in the current struggle for Ukraine is the evident superiority of the West’s democratic market model of the state and the economy, as opposed to Russia’s corrupt semi-authoritarian state oligarchy. The problem here is that the needs of the battle with Russia and the Russian-backed separatists are forcing the Ukrainian government to rely heavily on corrupt oligarchs and ultra-nationalist militias whose goals and culture are antithetical to those of the European Union and may help make further progress of Ukraine towards the European Union impossible. Moreover, while many Ukrainians detest Russian influence and passionately want EU membership, that membership and its benefits are many years away. As of now, the remaining advanced sectors of the Ukrainian economy rely extremely heavily on trade with Russia, and the Ukrainian economy as a whole is highly dependent on Russian energy and on remittances from Ukrainian workers in Russia. Ukrainian chances of progress therefore lie in the present ceasefire in eastern Ukraine holding, and leading to a political and economic process in the country on which Russia and the West can agree.

On the final day of the research trip, the CIRS and Georgetown delegation was invited by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs to attend a working lunch on June 4, 2015, where Georgetown scholars and officials from the ministry discussed current affairs in their respective regions. Later in the day, the CIRS and Georgetown delegation was invited to the ministry to speak to locally-based embassy staff and government officials on the topic of “Security in the Persian Gulf,” especially in light of the nuclear negotiations between Iran and the United States, and how changes in the political stance will necessarily lead to a reconfiguration of the current security architecture in the region. 

Over the course of the three-day visit, the CIRS and Georgetown delegation met with researchers from several academic and government institutions to engage in a number of bilateral discussions on region-based perspectives regarding Singapore and Persian Gulf relations and to compare political, economic, and demographic patterns and overlaps between the two regions. CIRS was graciously hosted by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, the S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies, the EU Centre in Singapore, the Middle East Institute, the Institute of South Asian Studies (ISAS), the East Asia Institute, and the National Population and Talent Division (NPTD).

Article by Suzi Mirgani, Manager and Editor for CIRS Publications