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Additional considerations on the Iranian nuclear issue

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We all know that the Russian Federation has been one of the true resolver of the Iranian nuclear issue, also within the negotiations that led the P5+1 to define the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) with Iran.

For Russia, the nuclear deal expands the economy, as well as the strategic rayonnement of an ally, namely Iran, which is necessary for Russia both in the Middle East and in the complex oil price system to resolve a question of life or death for it: the increase in crude oil prices. Not to mention that – in the new equilibrium resulting from the war in Syria – Russia supports the Shi’ite Republic insofar as the United States support Saudi Arabia and Turkey.It is worth recalling that it was the Lebanese Shi’ite Imam, Mussa Sadr – kidnapped in Rome, probably by Libyan agents – to decide the Syrian Alawites belonging to the Shi’ite universe.

Nevertheless, with caution and attention, Russia does not take part in the conflict between Saudi Arabia and Iran – hoping, on the contrary, to witness “a decrease of tensions between the two countries” and supporting all measures which can restore some sort of relations between the two Islamic nations.

However, is Russia a true ally for Iran?

From the viewpoint of the current war in Syria, Russia militarily supports Bashar el Assad, who is a staunch ally of Iran. The problem, however, is that the Russian Federation has no strategic interest in increasing tensions in the Middle East, which could cause a “domino effect” that would be very dangerous for Russian interests, as well as for its military and intelligence apparatus. Especially for the linkage between Ukraine and the Russian-Alawite actions in Syria. The costs of actions in Syria may lead to a decrease of the Russian engagement in another key area, namely Ukraine, while this country is essential to protect and manage Russia’ s oil and gas system, which reaches up to its primary market, namely Europe.

Hence, if the Greater Middle East flares up, considering the Syrian crisis, the Shi’ite Houthi insurgency in Yemen, the gradual destabilization of the Shi’ite areas inside the Saudi Kingdom and the de facto closure of the sea routes south of Suez, then the overstretching of Russian military engagement would create severe economic and strategic problems that would be hard to solve for Russia. Conversely, the real keystone of the Russian system in the region could be Israel, placed at the centre of regional tensions, very efficient at militarily level, distant both from Iran and Saudi Arabia, and now alien to the US geopolitics in the region, as well as capable of managing a long war of attrition both with Shi’ites and Sunnis. And also capable of threatening fully credible retaliations.

We cannot make peace nor waging a war, throughout the Middle East, without creating a strategic correlation with Israel.The Palestinian movements of the 1970s and 1980s, as well as Saudi Arabia, Egypt and pre-Bashar Syria, knew this all too well.At the time, the solution was a long low-intensity war with the use of Palestinian terrorism against targets both in the Jewish State and, above all, in the territory of its traditional allies. Terrorism is a poor war which destroys the “enemy” peoples’ morale, but does not cause excessive damage to the military structures and facilities of the target country.

On the contrary, the case of ISIS/Daesh is different: a territorial jihad which is the background, – as hoped by Al Baghdadi – of the Sunni Islamic States after their destabilization and after the wiping out of the “takfiri” (apostate) rulers.Hence, in Syria, we are currently witnessing a real war along its borders because, after Al-Qaeda’s terrorism and the unsuccessful “Arab springs”, the region has no significant external strategic protection.

Not even Iran now wants a real war along its borders, since it has every interest in taking full advantage of the new economic and political climate emerged, especially with Europe, after the signing of the Joint Comprehensive Plan.Therefore a “regional cold war” between Shi’ites and Sunnis in the Middle East is likely, once clarified to which sphere of influence Syria, or what will remain of it, belongs.However, how is the management of the P5+1 agreement with Iran progressing, which is the keystone of the whole Middle East current system?

At economic level, the Iranian government has set some productive sectors in which the Iranian-Russian trade will be enhanced.According to the plans of the Supreme Leader, Khamenei, the funds given back to Iran and the increasing trade with the European Union, the United States, Russia and China will create the capital needed for the final economic takeoff of the country.

The productive sectors of Iranian-Russian trade regard the nuclear sector, armaments, natural gas and oil, of which a price correlation is envisaged between the Russian and the Iranian products.The geoeconomic tripartite relationship foreseen by Iran is the one with Russia, Iraq and Venezuela, while Russia proposes coordination with OPEC, as a whole, so as to proceed to an acceptable oil price increase per barrel.After signing the JCPOA, Russia and Iran have also decided to increase their economic exchanges from 1.5 billion US dollars in 2013 to 15 billion US dollars within the next five years.

This means that the Iranian ruling class is trying to rebalance and offset the economic opening to the West with an almost equivalent expansion of trade with Russia.Moreover, the Russian Federation is also planning to cooperate with Saudi Arabia in the nuclear sector, while it already supports the Iranian nuclear industry – and it will support it ever more in the future.

The “stance” of Ali Akbar Velayati, a close aide of Rahbar Khamenei for foreign policy, also defines that the future of the stabilization of the area stretching from Central Asia to the Maghreb region and the Middle East, through the Caucasus, will be permanently guaranteed only by a tripartite agreement between China, Russia and Iran.Europe is currently swinging between a useless and a ridiculous strategic stance and the United States have now made it clear to everyone that they are walking out of the Middle East – indeed, there is no effective alternative to this new geopolitical project.

The agreement envisaged by the Iranian leader is designed to eradicate the jihad, enlarge the area of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization and to enable China to secure its great project of a new “Silk Road”, the so-called One Belt One Road which was announced by Xi Jinping in October 2013.Europe, which still delights in useless and expensive “peace operations”, which maintain and exacerbate conflicts rather than solving them, will have an Eastern border controlled by this Sino-Russian-Iranian axis.In this new area, the European Union will have no say in the matter, while – after the disasters made – the United States are walking out of the Middle East so as to focus on the project of a new “cold war” along the Euro-Russian border.

A strange strategic nonsense, probably useful to keep some grip on the geopolitical void that the European Union is today and to avoid the territorial, economic and military continuity that the Russian analysts, linked to the Eurasian project, are proposing to the now meaningless Europe.Moreover, in 1991, Iraq openly infringed the rules of the Non-Proliferation Treaty, to which it had previously adhered.Khomeini, just risen to power, declared that nuclear energy was “satanic”, but then he had to change his mind.

In the lack of advanced conventional weapons, of well-trained forces and of an effective grip of the Shi’ite regime on much of the population, the only solution was nuclear weapons, which had been started by the Shah.

Meanwhile, pending the Implementation Day of January 16, 2016, as many as 593 individuals and companies connected to Iran’s project for uranium enrichment have been “pardoned” by both the United States and the European Union, including many Iranian transport companies, some banks, individual experts of nuclear technologies and many companies located outside the Shi’ite Republic.The reason for this is Iran’s compliance with the Agreement, parallel to the JCPOA, on the release of four prisoners held in its jails.Iran’s behaviour is what is defined as a “win-win” strategy in the mathematical game theory: you always win regardless of the game strategy.Hence, faced with Iran’s quick recovery of over 120 billion US dollars already frozen in foreign banks, each small-scale calculation shall be relinquished by the Shi’ite regime.

This means that Iran will be increasingly interested in putting an end to the Syrian game, after quickly annihilating Al Baghdadi’s Caliphate, which is the maximum strategic threat to Iran that would be blocked every channel with Iraq, Syria and the Mediterranean, in particular.This is also the problem of China, which cannot complete its operation of “New Silk Road” to Europe without eliminating ISIS/Daesh.And it is also the problem of the Jewish State, which has no interest in having, almost along its borders, a territorial jihad which could also set fire to the Palestinian radicalism inside and outside Israel.

On the other hand, it remains to be seen whether and to what extent, in the coming months, the Shi’ite State will still need the Lebanese Hezbollah along the border with Israel or whether it will use them – as happens today – for its proxy wars to be managed without getting too much involved and soiling its hands.

It is easy to predict, for the “Party of God”, a future very similar to that of the North-American marines, and it is very likely for them to be present in Central Asia, in the predominantly Shi’ite areas of Saudi Arabia, in the Maghreb region and, in the future, even in Libya.However, at least 35% of the new funds recovered after the lifting of sanctions on Iran will serve to acquire new weapons, both Russian and Chinese one, as well as to allow the geopolitical shift of its nuclear threat from the territory of the Shi’ite Republic to that of a traditional ally, namely North Korea.

Yemen will host an Iranian nuclear power plant; after the current disaster, Syria will assign parts of its territory to Iran for its nuclear-conventional operations and nothing prevents Iraq from accepting the presence of Iran’s “forbidden” weapon systems on its territory.

Hence new weapons, instead of the old nuclear power, which does not allow a reasonable threshold for its use or for the credibility of a threat.The current strategic thinking is not interested in the old game, typical of the “cold war”, of the nuclear escalation which, as such, deters the opponent.The Iranian leaders’ current doctrine is to have useful weapons – a real deterrent, which can be used in the reality of regional clashes.It comes to mind the old Soviet strategy manual written by General Shaposhnikov, in which he defined the use of nuclear weapons in full continuity with conventional weapons. It was just a problem of tactical usefulness.

Therefore, after signing the JCPOA, Iran has chosen the credible and immediate threat instead of an old geopolitics of nuclear confrontation which becomes impossible through the gradual equalization of arsenals.Incidentally, if the nuclear threat becomes possible in continuity with a conventional clash, it will be good for the European and Italian decision-makers to rethink many of the clauses of the old Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT), which Italy signed in 1970 and still believes to be the “cornerstone” of its foreign policy.

The five-year conference of May 2015 on the review of the Treaty ended with no results, while in 1998 even Italy threatened to withdraw from the NPT if the legitimate nuclear powers did not guarantee our security and safety.It would be worth remembering that no one guarantees anybody’ security and safety: the Italian political theorist, Nicolò Machiavelli, used to remind us of the fact that “States’ own weapons” can make them safe, and he liked to repeat that States “cannot be maintained with words”.In addition, after signing the P5+1 non-proliferation agreement, Iran will become a legitimate regional power and thus an important mediator and broker of future regional conflicts.

And we must clarify how and to what extent we could later ensure the Israeli security and safety if a new August war, like the one which broke out between the Lebanese Hezbollah and the Israeli armed forces in 2006, happened.If the Jewish State collapses, the whole jihad will unite. It will definitely win in the Arab States still considered “moderate” and it will dangerously get close to Europe, without any control or supervision, thus knocking on its doors.As it happened on September 11, 1683, when the Polish cavalry defeated the Ottomans in Kahlenberg, at the gates of Vienna.Today Sobieski’s Polish cavalry is no longer there.

Indeed, the ideology of multiculturalism, of “submission” – as the French writer Houellebecq called it in his novel – no longer allows the battle of ideas or the preparation of the real battle.Hence, without a reliable centre of gravity for us in the Middle East, breaking the jihad’s line of continuity and enabling the European Union to remain safe within its borders – because Islamist terrorism can turn into an open war – there will no security and safety in the European landmass or in the Mediterranean basin.

Therefore we can think of a new negotiation of the P5+1 “contact group” on Iran’s missile system, allowing limited conventional weapons. We can also think of freezing Saudi Arabia’s nuclear ambitions and then relying on a strategic tripartite relationship between Russia, China and EU-NATO.A tripartite relationship which should rebalance the strategic potential of Iran, Saudi Arabia, and possibly Iraq, thus keeping the nuclear confrontation between Pakistan and India under control.

As we have already said, the United States have focused on their action for regionalizing the Russian Federation, which is not in Europe’s interest. They will also operate in Central Asia to control the Chinese power projection.Neither Iran nor China are focused on a short-term perspective but, as happened before World War II, today the West seems to be inebriated with quick fixes to be sold to the media for purely cosmetic geopolitical reasons.Therefore, both in Italy and in the rest of Europe, we should think of a less naive policy, more sensitive to old and new threats, which are changing shape and position.

Advisory Board Co-chair Honoris Causa Professor Giancarlo Elia Valori is an eminent Italian economist and businessman. He holds prestigious academic distinctions and national orders. Mr. Valori has lectured on international affairs and economics at the world’s leading universities such as Peking University, the Hebrew University of Jerusalem and the Yeshiva University in New York. He currently chairs “International World Group”, he is also the honorary president of Huawei Italy, economic adviser to the Chinese giant HNA Group. In 1992 he was appointed Officier de la Légion d’Honneur de la République Francaise, with this motivation: “A man who can see across borders to understand the world” and in 2002 he received the title “Honorable” of the Académie des Sciences de l’Institut de France. “

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Iraq and the ‘Blind Gordian Knot’

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After its occupation by the United States in 2003, Iraq fell into the double trap of the United States and Iran and became an insoluble problem. Similar to the legendary ‘Gordian’ knot, which Gordias, the king of Phrygia, tied so tightly that it was said that no one could untie it; Until ‘Alexander the Great’ came and cut it in half with one stroke of the sword and the knot was opened.

The trap that America set for Iraq was the constitution that it drafted for this country after the occupation. In this constitution, America removed Iraq’s Arab identity and imposed a two-thirds majority to elect the president, paving the way for the use of a ‘suspended one-third’.

At the same time, he set the conditions for amending this article and all the articles of the first chapter of the constitution so difficult that it was practically impossible to amend it. This constitution divided the power between Shiites, Sunnis, and Kurds, as a result of which, the Iraqi society was subject to chaos and fragmentation, and the army that was created based on it collapsed in front of ISIS in Mosul. Now let’s skip the destructive role that Nouri al-Maliki had as the prime minister in this story.

But the trap that the Islamic Republic of Iran set for Iraq was that it formed armed groups affiliated with the Quds Force and gave them legitimacy under the umbrella of ‘The Popular Mobilization Forces, which resulted in the monopoly of power in the hands of the Shiites.

So far, all efforts to free Iraq from this double trap have failed. The popular revolution of 2019 in Baghdad, Karbala, and other southern cities did not reach anywhere with its anti-Iranian slogans, nor did the government of Mustafa al-Kazemi solve the problem with its patriotic government project, nor did the recent efforts of the Sadr movement under the leadership of prominent cleric Moqtada Sadr bear fruit.

The Sadr movement, which won the majority in the elections, tried to form a national majority government in an agreement with the coalition of the Sunni ruling party and the Kurdistan Democratic Party, but the coordination framework was dependent on Iran, using the one-third weapon, defeated the efforts of the Sadr movement.

In Iraq, there is no ‘Alexander the Great’ who will rise up and open the blind Gordian knot with one stroke of the sword and save Iraq from the crisis. No random event occurs. Now, the land between the two rivers is caught in deep-rooted and growing corruption and has lost its way among various Arab, Iranian, Eastern, and Western trends. Even Moqtada’s plan for the formation of a national government, which was put forward recently with the slogan ‘Neither East, nor West”, is also facing many difficulties and obstacles.

Of course, expecting the formation of a democratic system with the management of armed sectarian parties that advance politics based on religious fatwas and the force of destructive war missiles and drones is a futile thing, and talking about a national government in which power is in the hands of religious parties affiliated with the neighboring religious government is gossip and superstition.

Apart from that, according to the current laws of Iraq, the main power is in the hands of the Prime Minister and the Council of Ministers, and the powers of the President are limited and few, as a result, Shiite parties and organizations, especially their larger organizations, get more privileges, and the main power is exclusive to the Shiite community.

In addition, the organization that will be called the largest and the majority based on the political Ijtihad of the Supreme Court of Iraq will actually be the same organization that the Islamic Republic of Iran creates within the Iraqi parliament, not the organization that will receive the most votes in the elections. As we saw in the last parliamentary elections, the Sadr movement won the majority of votes and tried to form a majority government in an agreement with the Sunni ruling coalition and the Kurdistan Democratic Party, but the groups affiliated with the Islamic Republic of Iran stood against it under the name of the coordination framework. And they made his efforts fruitless.

It is for this reason that it has been almost a year since the Iraqi parliamentary elections were held, but the parliament has so far been unable to form a government and elect a new president.

Of course, this is the nature of totalitarian systems. Although the Iraqi system is a democratic system according to the constitution, in reality, the ruling system in Iraq is a totalitarian system. Just like the ruling systems in the Soviet Union and China, where power rotates among the leaders of the Communist Party; Both the rulers were members of the Communist Party, and the political opponents were imprisoned or executed. Because in Iraq, all the pillars of political power are in the hands of the Shiites; Both the factions that are actually in power are the Shiites, and the factions that lead political struggles and protests as opponents are Shia parties. Even the revolution of 2019 was actually a revolution of the new generation of Shiites who had risen against the influence of Iran and America and their supporters.

The fact is that with this situation, Iraq will never be able to free itself from the American-Iranian double trap and untie the blind Gordian knot. Rather, it can only do so when all the Iraqi national and patriotic parties and groups come together under the umbrella of a democratic, national, independent, non-sectarian coalition that is not dependent on foreign countries, and form a strong national government that, while being independent, is in touch with the outside world and establish good relations with the Islamic Republic of Iran, Arab countries, and Eastern and Western countries.

The bottom line is, when the minds that have produced destructive thoughts cannot produce liberating thoughts, Iraq needs those thinkers and new political figures who will establish a correct, solid, and independent political system in Iraq. The current situation is rooted in the incorrect political structure, the foundation of which was laid in 2003. But it is a pity that only a clear understanding of the crisis is not enough to solve it.

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The end of political Islam in Iran

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Nothing in Iran will be the same again. The uprising of the majority of big and small cities in Iran after the killing of Mahsa Amini by the “Morality Police” of the Islamic Republic of Iran has a new social structure. Because in the contemporary history of Iran, we have not witnessed such social forces that have been strongly influenced by the women’s movement.

The social structure of the uprising

During the era of Reza Shah Pahlavi, women were allowed to study in law and medical schools, or during the era of Mohammad Reza Shah Pahlavi, women were organized to implement the White Revolution ideology as soldiers. This means that at that time, women were “allowed” and “organized”, but all these freedoms were given to women based on men’s power, state power, and non-democratic methods, and the women’s movement did not play an active role in these actions. For this reason, Mohammad Reza Shah Pahlavi said in one of his interviews: Women are schemes and evil, women have not even had first-class scientists throughout history, women may be equal to men before the law but they have not had the same abilities as men. They are not, women have not even produced a Michelangelo, Johann Sebastian Bach, or a good cook. It was not only Mohammad Reza Shah who had a misogynist view, but Ayatollah Khomeini, the leader of the Islamic Revolution of Iran, was against giving women the right to vote and considered the entry of women into the National Assembly, municipality, and administrations as a cause of paralysis in the affairs of the country and government. In a letter to Mohammad Reza Shah Pahlavi, he requested the abolition of women’s right to vote.

It can be said that the Iranian revolution (1979) was one of the biggest revolutionary movements that was completely “made“ by a mass social movement in the history of the 20th century, and women played a very active and prominent role in it. But the women in that revolutionary movement not only for themselves and the issues of women’s rights but under the framework of Islamic and communist parties and groups such as the Tudeh Party of Iran, Organization of Iranian People’s Fedai Guerrillas, People’s Mojahedin Organization of Iran, and Muslim People’s Republic Party tried to solve the problems of Iranian women. That is, in that mass revolutionary movement, various communist, Islamic and guerilla ideologies were higher, more important, and more preferable than the women themselves, and women tried to find their answers with the help of these revolutionary ideologies to solve the general problems of the country and women’s issues.

But in recent developments, women have not been “allowed” through the reforms of the Pahlavi government, nor have they been “organized” through the ideologies of the revolutionary parties before and after the victory of the Iranian revolution. Rather, in the strict sense of the word, they have become the locomotive of the revolutionary upsurge of contemporary Iran and have given “allowed” and “organization” to other social and ethnic forces in the geography of Iran. From now on, women in Iran are the creators of social and revolutionary changes based on the women’s movement.

Discourse analysis of the uprising

After the June 2009 presidential election and the protest against election fraud, large protests started in other cities, especially in Tehran. In that rebellion, we witnessed the loss of the unity of the elites, the crisis of legitimacy, and the crisis of the efficiency of the Islamic Republic regime. After those protests, the Shiite Islamist ideology of the Islamic Republic faced illegitimacy and the unity of the elites of the ruling class was lost. On the other hand, the government faced a crisis of inefficiency after those incidents and could not meet the crisis economic, cultural, political, and civil liberties, and women’s demands. Therefore, in the demonstrations of 2018, tens of thousands of people rose up against economic policies, high prices, and unemployment, and with the spread of these protests, the ideological foundations and legitimacy of the regime were protested by the demonstrators. With a 50% increase in the price of gasoline in 2019 and a 35% inflation, unemployment and an increase in the price of basic goods and food, a new wave of protests in many cities of Iran faced the government of Hassan Rouhani with a major social and economic crisis. In those protests, women played an active role and chanted against the mandatory hijab.

Contrary to all these widespread protests and social riots in Iran’s contemporary history, in the recent revolutionary uprising, the cause of the uprising is the murder of Mahsa Amini, the defense of women’s rights, and opposition to the mandatory hijab. The overwhelming majority of Iranian women have declared their separation with the slogan of “women, life, freedom” from the movement of reformers, monarchists of the Pahlavi regime, the People’s Mojahedin Organization of Iran, fundamentalists of the Islamic Republic, utopias and communist, Islamist, totalitarian, anti-woman, and false ideologies.

It is very important in the recent revolutionary uprising, the cooperation of Turks men and women in the cities of Iran with the protests. Because the Turk social-political movement did not declare solidarity with the protesters of other cities of Iran due to the neglect of the right to education in the mother tongue, the right to self-determination, and the realization of economic, political, cultural, and environmental rights in the uprisings of 2009, 2018 and 2019. The slogan of “freedom, justice, and national government” of the Turks of different cities of Iran, also shows the existence of different and yet common demands of the majority of ethnic groups living in Iran.

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Public opinion surveys challenge the image Arab leaders like to project

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Several recent public opinion surveys send a mixed message to autocratic reformers in Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, and Qatar, which hosts this year’s World Cup in less than two months.

The surveys reveal contradictory attitudes among Arab youth towards religion as well as widespread rejection of notions of a moderate Islam and formal diplomatic ties with Israel.

One survey, published this week by Dubai-based public relations agency ASDA’A BCW, revealed that 41 per cent of 3,400 young Arabs in 17 Arab countries aged 18 to 24 said religion was the most important element of their identity, with nationality, family and/or tribe, Arab heritage, and gender lagging far behind. That is 7 per cent more than those surveyed in the agency’s 2021 poll.

More than half of those surveyed, 56 per cent, said their country’s legal system should be based on the Shariah or Islamic law.

Seventy per cent expressed concern about the loss of traditional values and culture. Sixty-five per cent argued that preserving their religious and cultural identity was more important than creating a globalized society.

Yet, paradoxically, 73 per cent felt that religion plays too big a role in the Middle East, while 77 per cent believed that Arab religious institutions should be reformed.

Autocratic Arab reformers will take heart from the discomfort with the role of religion and skepticism towards religious authority that stroked with earlier surveys by ASDA’A BCW, which has conducted the poll annually for the past 14 years.

Even so, the greater emphasis on religion as the core pillar of identity, concern about traditional values and culture, and the call for Islamic law cast a shadow over social reforms introduced by Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman in Saudi Arabia and President Mohammed bin Zayed in the UAE.

Moreover, the poll results were published as Qatar debates how to deal with potential conduct by World Cup fans that violates Qatari law and mores, such as public intoxication and expressions of affection, pre-marital sex, and sexual diversity.

Qatar has suggested that World Cup fans caught committing minor offences such as public drunkenness would escape prosecution under plans under development by authorities.

While Saudi Arabia’s rupture with religious ultra-conservatism that long was the kingdom’s hallmark was stunning, reforms in the UAE were the most radical in their break with Islamic law that constitutionally constitutes the principal source of the country’s legislation.

Mr. Bin Salman’s reforms severely restricted the authority of the religious police, lifted the kingdom’s ban on women’s driving, enhanced women’s rights and opportunities, loosened gender segregation, and introduced western-style entertainment – all measures that are essentially not controversial in much of the Muslim world but went against the grain of the kingdom’s ultra-conservative segment of the population and clergy.

That could not be said for Mr. Bin Zayed’s equally far-reaching changes that decriminalized sexual relations out of marriage and alcohol consumption for UAE nationals and foreigners and lifted the prohibition on living together for unmarried couples.

Mr. Bin Zayed’s reforms are expected to persuade some fans to base themselves in the UAE during the World Cup and travel for matches to Qatar, which is socially more restrictive.

Even so, the ASDA’A BCW survey suggests that the reforms in the kingdom and the Emirates may not have been embraced as enthusiastically by a significant segment of the youth as the two countries would like public opinion to believe.

Separate surveys by the Washington Institute for Near East Policy showed that 59 per cent of those polled in the UAE, 58 percent in Saudi Arabia, and 74 per cent in Egypt, disagreed with the notion that “we should listen to those among us who are trying to interpret Islam in a more moderate, tolerant, and modern way.”

The youth’s quest for religion and traditionalism strokes with youth attitudes toward democracy and diplomatic relations with Israel.

Autocratic leaders will likely be encouraged by the fact that a whopping 82 per cent of those surveyed by ASDA’s BCW said stability was more important than democracy. At the same time, two-thirds believed democracy would never work in the Middle East.

Three quarters saw China, followed by Turkey and Russia as their allies, as opposed to only 63 per cent pointing to the United States and 12 per cent to Israel. Even so, they viewed the US as having the most influence in the Middle East, but a majority favoured US disengagement.

Yet, the United States and Europe continued to constitute preferred destinations among 45 per cent of those polled seeking to emigrate.

However, despite widespread skepticism towards democracy, leaders will also have noted that 60 per cent expressed concern about the increased role of government in their lives.

The establishment two years ago of diplomatic relations with Israel by four countries included in the ASDA’A BCW survey — the UAE, Bahrain, Morocco, and Sudan, — and the fact that Saudi Arabia has become more public about its relations with the Jewish state and its desire to establish diplomatic ties once a resolution of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is found is likely to have shaped responses in the surveys.

Aware of public hesitancy, Saudi Arabia, together with the Arab League and the European Union, this week convened a meeting in New York on the sidelines of the United Nations General Assembly to explore ways of dusting off the 1982 Saudi-inspired Arab peace plan.

The plan offered Israel recognition and diplomatic relations in exchange for creating a Palestinian state in territories occupied by Israel during the 1967 Middle East war.

For his part, Yair Lapid expressed support for a two-state solution in his address to the assembly. It was the first time Mr. Lapid backed two states since he became prime minister and the first time since 2017 that an Israeli prime minister spoke in favour of Palestinian statehood.

Nevertheless, only 14% of the Egyptians polled in the Washington Institute surveys viewed their country’s 43-year-old peace treaty with Israel and the more recent establishment of diplomatic relations with the Jewish state by the UAE and others as positive.

In contrast to the UAE, Bahrain, and Morocco, where Israeli business people, tourists, and residents have been welcomed, only 11 per cent of Egyptians surveyed favoured the normalisation of people-to-people relations.

Similarly, 57 per cent of Saudis surveyed by the institute opposed the normalization of the kingdom’s relations with Israel. Still, a higher percentage in the kingdom and the UAE than in Egypt, 42 per cent, agreed that “people who want to have business or sports contacts with Israelis should be allowed to do so.”

To sum it all up, the message is that autocratic reformers appear to be far ahead of significant segments of their populations even if public attitudes may be contradictory.

For now, keeping the lid on freedom of expression and dissent helps them maintain their grip but casts a shadow and a doubt over the image they work so hard to project.

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