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New Emerging Saudi – Egypt relations

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Syrian crisis has provided significant stimulus for the Saudi kingdom to act quickly to bring all West Asian Muslim powers under one strategic umbrella that, in turn, led to Saudi king to resort to active shuttle diplomacy in the region, shoring up support for a peaceful Mideast. Arab world has been in turmoil for years now, sacrificing millions of Muslims without any real cause.

There have been a series of visits by Saudi leaders, including the king Salman himself, to Turkey and Egypt to expand the Saudi’s diplomatic profile in the region. King Salman’s recent first ever visit to Egypt plays important role in streamlining the Saudi led Mideastern relations in general.

Unlike Turkey which is focused on establishment of Palestine state at the earliest and containing of Israeli arrogance and military aggression with a legal framework, Egypt, supporting Israeli aggression and creating joint terror blockades around Palestine, thereby making the Palestinians feel suffocation, seeks economic assistance from Saudi Arabia.

Turkey pursues friendly policy towards Saudi Arabia and Iran and seeks Egyptian help to make the Mideast tension free and free from illegally nuclearized Israeli aggression.

Royal visit

Saudi Arabia’s King cum PM Salman Bin Abdel-Aziz concluded a five-day visit to Egypt on April 11, before he left for Saudi Arabia. King Salman arrived in Cairo on April 07 on his first official state visit to Egypt since ascending to the Saudi throne in January 2015. Saudi king Salman was greeted by Egyptian President Abdel-Fattah El-Sisi upon arrival. King Salman met grand Sheikh of Al-Azhar, the highly prestigious Sunni educational institution, on Saturday. The Saudi leader delivered a speech in the Egyptian parliament. Salman previously visited Egypt’s southern Sinai city of Sharm El-Sheikh in March 2015 for an Arab League summit.

During his five-day visit, the king pledged billions of dollars in new investment for the cash-challenged country and the two sides signed four agreements worth roughly 22 billion dollars. As the latest Saudi policy, the Saudi king called for Egyptian cooperation against extremism and terrorism. The visit comes at a time when Egypt is suffering political and economic pressures due to years of domestic political turmoil that led to economic recession and security challenges resulting from regional chaos.

The two sides have signed eight agreements, six memos of understanding and three cooperation programs that covered fields including education, health, housing, agriculture, electricity and marine transportation. Egypt and Saudi Arabia have agreed on establishing King Salman University in the North Sinai city of Tour. Among the agreements signed by Egypt and Saudi Arabia during the visit are those related to housing projects in the Egyptian Sinai peninsula, the establishment of King Salman University in Tur town of South Sinai, the development of Egypt’s largest public hospital Qasr al-Aini, the building of a power station in western Cairo and the formation of a joint investment fund with a capital of 60 billion Saudi riyals -about 16 billion dollars. “All these agreements show the seriousness of the Saudi side to support the Egyptian economy, as there will be capital flow to Egypt which means there will be more employment and economic movement in the country in the near future.

Egypt and Saudi Arabia have agreed on establishing a land bridge to connect the two countries, visiting King Salman Bin Abdel-Aziz said in a joint press conference. “The land bridge will be named after King Salman,” Egyptian President Abdel-Fattah al-Sisi said. Earlier, President al-Sisi has granted the Saudi king, who arrived on Thursday in Cairo for a five-day visit, the Collar of the Nile. The two sides have signed eight agreements, six memos of understanding and three cooperation programs that covered fields including education, health, housing, agriculture, electricity and marine transportation. Egypt and Saudi Arabia have agreed on establishing King Salman University in the North Sinai city of Tour.

For his part, Sissi transferred to the Saudis sovereignty of two islands in the Straits of Tiran that were contested by both countries. The two uninhabited islands that Sissi gave to the Saudi king are of enormous strategic importance, lying at the mouth of the Gulf of Aqaba from where it can control access to Jordan’s Port of Aqaba, Israel’s Port of Eilat. Sissi went out on a political limb to gift the two islands to the Saudis, a very unpopular move among Egyptians.

The Egyptian presidency described Salman’s visit to Cairo as “crowning the close brotherly ties between the two countries.” In a show of support for President General Abdel-Fatteh Al-Sissi, the king pledged billions of dollars in new investment for the cash-challenged country. For his part, Sissi transferred sovereignty to the Saudis of two islands in the Straits of Tiran that were contested by both countries. The Saudi king called for cooperation against extremism and terrorism.

Egypt and Saudi Arabia have also agreed on establishing a land bridge to connect the two countries, visiting King Salman Bin Abdel-Aziz said in a joint press conference. “The land bridge will be named after King Salman,” Egyptian President Abdel-Fattah al-Sisi said. Earlier, President al-Sisi has granted the Saudi king, who arrived in Cairo for a five-day visit, the Collar of the Nile. (Such honors have become a customary phenomenon in bilateral visits as a sign of willingness on the part of the host nation for future ties)

The Saudi investors show awareness that their investment in Egypt today is investment in the future, because politically Egypt represents a political weight and strategic depth for the Gulf region, and economically investments in Egypt are promising and fruitful.

However, Saudi investment in Egypt is nothing new, as Saudi business tycoons have been investing in the country over the past few decades. Today, it is the Saudi government that pumps investments into Egypt, which is a new and positive aspect and an indicator of the soundness and healthiness of the investment environment in Egypt, Saleh explained.

Sisi in Riyadh

Before taking over power in Cairo, Sissi had illegally toppled the first ever elected president of Egypt Mohammad Morsi of Muslim Brotherhood in a bloodless coup and established his residency with support from Saudi Arabia and USA, among others.

The Egyptian presidency described Salman’s visit to Cairo as “crowning the close brotherly ties between the two countries.” Saudi Arabia has supported Cairo with billions of US dollars to help revive the country’s economy following the ouster of Islamist President Mohamed Morsi in July 2013.

Earlier, Egyptian President Gen Abdel Fattah al-Sisi had visited the kingdom in 2015 for economic support. On 02 March 2015, visiting Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi and Saudi Arabia’s King Salman bin Abdulaziz Al Saud held in-depth talks in Riyadh over the thorny regional issues before discussing the economic package for Egypt. The two leaders highlighted the current crisis in the Middle East and reviewed aspects of bilateral cooperation. They emphasized the depth of strategic relations between the two countries. The meeting also addressed the security conditions following the growing political chaos in Yemen. During a TV interview, Sisi said the two countries need to coordinate considering the “difficult condition” in the Arab region. Sisi’s visit was the latest in a series of meetings in Riyadh between Salman and top officials from his Gulf neighbors and Jordan.

Since late March, Egypt has joined a Saudi-led military coalition that has been launching airstrikes against the Shiite Houthi militants in Yemen, who have seized several cities in the country since September 2014, including the capital Sanaa, and have recently forced President Abd-Rabbu Mansour Hadi to flee to the Saudi capital of Riyadh. Egypt is currently providing naval support to the coalition, which has been airdropping weapons and equipment supplies to pro-Hadi tribal militia in Aden to fight against the Houthi militants. Despite Russia’s abstaining, the UN Security Council voted in favor of an arms embargo against the Houthis and the supporters of former Yemeni President Ali Abdullah Saleh. The resolution also imposed sanctions on the Shiite group, demanding its withdrawal from the Yemeni areas it has previously seized.

Later, on 15 April 2015, during a Saudi minister’s visit to Cairo, Egypt and Saudi Arabia agreed to carry out a major strategic military maneuver in the latter’s territory, which is to be joined by other Gulf and Arab states, Egyptian President Abdel-Fattah al-Sisi said in a statement. The statement came after a meeting between al-Sisi and visiting Saudi Defense Minister Mohammad bin Salman, who had also held talks with his Egyptian counterpart Sedqi Sobhi. “Egypt represents one of the main and effective forces to achieve security and stability in the Middle East region,” the Saudi defense minister said.

Egyptian revolution

During the 2011 Egyptian revolution, Saudi King Abdullah expressed support for Hosni Mubarak. “No Arab or Muslim can tolerate any meddling in the security and stability of Arab and Muslim Egypt by those who infiltrated the people in the name of freedom of expression, exploiting it to inject their destructive hatred. As they condemn this, the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia and its people and government declares it stands with all its resources with the government of Egypt and its people.” He condemned the “people who tried to destabilize the security and stability of Egypt.

On 10 May 2012, ambassador Kattan announced that the kingdom agreed to provide US$500 million in aid to Egypt and will deposit an additional US$1 billion at the country’s central bank as part of the $2.7 billion support package they had agreed in 2011. Saudi Arabia will also export $250 million worth of butane to Egypt, which has faced ongoing shortages of the fuel, as well as US$200 million to help small and mid-sized firms. The donation was part of a move by multiple Gulf States to send a large aid package to Egypt.

Muslim Brotherhood leader and Egyptian President Muhammad Morsi’s first official visit was to Saudi Arabia in July 2012, although his views are not fully aligned with those of the Saudi government. Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi stated that Saudi Arabia is a pragmatic country and that whoever the president of Egypt is, Saudi government is aware of the fact that it has to maintain good relations with this country.

Saudi Arabia has supported Cairo with billions of US dollars to help revive the country’s economy following the ouster of Islamist President Mohamed Morsi in July 2013. On 10 May 2012, the Saudi kingdom agreed to provide US$500 million in aid to Egypt and will deposit an additional US$1 billion at the country’s central bank as part of the $2.7 billion support package they had agreed in 2011. Saudi Arabia also exports $250 million worth of butane to Egypt, which has faced ongoing shortages of the fuel, as well as US$200 million to help small and mid-sized firms. The donation was part of a move by multiple Gulf States to send a large aid package to Egypt.

Saudi Arabia has been the key backer of al-Sisi since the ouster of President Mohamed Morsi in 2013 after mass protests against his one-year rule. It has pumped billions of dollars to help and invest into Egypt’s battered economy. King Salman met grand Sheikh of Al-Azhar, the highly prestigious Sunni educational institution; the Saudi leader also delivered a speech in the Egyptian parliament. Sisi’s visit was the latest in a series of meetings in Riyadh between Salman and top officials from his Gulf neighbors and Jordan.

According to Saudi Press Agency, on 02 March 2015, the visiting Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi and Saudi Arabia’s King Salman bin Abdulaziz Al Saud held in-depth talks in Riyadh over the thorny regional issues. The two leaders highlighted the current crisis in the Middle East and reviewed aspects of bilateral cooperation. They emphasized the depth of strategic relations between the two countries. The meeting also addressed the security conditions following the growing political chaos in Yemen. During a TV interview, Sisi said the two countries need to coordinate considering the “difficult condition” in the Arab region.

Egypt and Saudi Arabia on 15 April 2015 agreed to carry out a major strategic military maneuver in the latter’s territory, which is to be joined by other Gulf and Arab states, Egyptian President Abdel-Fattah al-Sisi said in a statement. The statement came after a meeting between al-Sisi and visiting Saudi Defense Minister Mohammad bin Salman, who had also held talks with his Egyptian counterpart Sedqi Sobhi. “Egypt represents one of the main and effective forces to achieve security and stability in the Middle East region,” the Saudi defense minister said.

Since late March, Egypt has joined a Saudi-led military coalition that has been launching airstrikes against the Shiite Houthi militants in Yemen, who have seized several cities in the country since September 2014, including the capital Sanaa, and have recently forced President Abd-Rabbu Mansour Hadi to flee to the Saudi capital of Riyadh. In return for economic aid, Egypt is currently providing naval support to the Saudi led coalition, which has been airdropping weapons and equipment supplies to pro-Hadi tribal militia in Aden to fight against the Houthi militants.

Despite Russia’s abstaining, the UN Security Council voted in favor of an arms embargo against the Houthis and the supporters of former Yemeni President Ali Abdullah Saleh. The resolution also imposed sanctions on the Shiite group, demanding its withdrawal from the Yemeni areas it has previously seized.

Past

In the years immediately after the Egyptian Revolution of 1952 relations between Egypt and Saudi Arabia were cordial, though driven by mutual suspicion of the Hashemites reigning in Jordan and especially Iraq at the time, and continuing from an anti-Hashemite alliance formed by King Ibn Saud of Saudi Arabia, King Farouk of Egypt and President Shukri al-Quwatli of Syria after the foundation of the Arab League in 1945. Subsequently President Gamal Abdel Nasser and King Saud of Saudi Arabia co-operated to limit the reach of the Baghdad Pact, which they felt was designed to increase the influence of Hashemite Iraq. As a result, the two countries signed a bilateral military pact in 1955, and worked to successfully prevent Jordan from joining the Baghdad Pact.

Egypt came to have extensive involvement in the Saudi army, economy and education system. However the alliance was undermined by Saudi anxieties about the Egyptian government’s promotion of anti-monarchical forces in the Arab World, including the uncovering of an Egyptian-style Saudi Free Officers Movement and increasing labor unrest, Egypt’s increasing shift towards the Soviet Union, and efforts by Iraq and its western allies including the United States to drive a wedge between the two countries.

Under President Nasser, Egypt, backed by the Soviet Union, came to represent the Non-Aligned Movement and pan-Arabism, and was a nominal advocate of secularism and republicanism. The Saudis by contrast were strong supporters of absolute monarchy and Islamist theocracy, and were generally close to the governments of the United Kingdom and USA.

By 1958 this deterioration in the relationship apparently had led to King Saud offering a bribe of £1.9 million to Abdel Hamid al-Sarraj, the head of Syrian intelligence at the time and later Vice-President of the United Arab Republic, to secure the assassination of Nasser. An era of tension between Egypt and Saudi Arabia set in, negatively impacting the pan Arab nationalism.

Arrival of Mubarak as Egyptian leader tried to put the bilateral ties with Saudi back to normal footing. Unlike the situation at the time of Nasser, Mubarak’s Egypt – a conservative dictatorship closely allied with Washington – no longer represented an ideological or political polar opposite to Saudi Arabia. Nevertheless, there remained mutual suspicion and a rivalry between the two countries, both aspiring to preeminence in the Arab World in general and among the Arab allies of the US in particular. Saudi’s preeminence remained intact, however.

Present

Egypt has been in need of the economic push because the country is suffering declining foreign currency reserves, shortage of US dollars and low investment growth rates. All these investments will have a very positive effect on Egypt and it needs them at least until the end of 2016 to evaluate the investments based on how much funds will have been pumped into Egypt, what investments will have been initiated, etc.

After the 2011 turmoil, the economic growth was as low as 1.5 percent and it gradually increased until it reached 4.5 percent in the current fiscal year and is expected to reach 5.5 percent in the coming fiscal year as the government stated, which shows that Egypt is on the rise economically,” the political economy professor illustrated. Over the past five years, Egypt’s foreign currency reserves declined from 36 billion US dollars in 2011 to 16.5 billion dollars as of end of March 2016, and the government is currently struggling to reduce an ongoing budget deficit of about 36 billion dollars.

The Saudi Egypt rivalry manifested itself, for example, when President Barack Obama made a major tour of the Middle East in 2009, soon after assuming power. The Saudis resented Obama’s choice of Cairo as the venue for making a key policy speech, and State Department officials made an effort to mollify the Saudi leadership by following up the Cairo speech with a high-profile Presidential visit to the Saudi capital.

The USA views Mideast with Israel playing the central role. Obama also shamelessly continued the traditional US policy for essentially fascist Israeli, though in a low key. He also visited Israel and enjoyed life with Jewish criminals, invited them to White House for “talks’. The democratic candidate Hillary Clinton is wooing the strong Jewish lobbyists in USA and Israeli regime as well to support her candidature.

Egypt has been facing Western political pressure, particularly from Italy, after the recent death of an Italian young student Giulio Regeni in Cairo and Italy’s suspicion of the involvement of the Egyptian police in the tragedy, to the point that the Western country recalled its ambassador to Cairo for consultations. Saudi King’s visit has a political dimension, as it indicates a sort of support to Egypt amid some political challenges, including the case of Italian Giulio Regeni’s death in Cairo.

Egypt has conducted feasibility studies for these Saudi projects to ensure their benefit to the Egyptian economy. When the Saudi funds are transferred to Egypt, they will positively affect the value of the US dollar compared to the Egyptian pound as they will increase the currency reserves at the Egyptian central bank, and if they do not devaluate the dollar, they will at least stop the current deterioration of the Egyptian pound.

Observation

The just concluded five-day visit of Saudi King Salman bin Abdulaziz to Egypt represents Riyadh’s willingness for political and economic support for Cairo to overcome its current challenges. The visit saw the signing of agreements of Saudi investments in Egypt worth about 25 billion US dollars, and joint projects.

Saudi investments in Egypt may lead to more Gulf investments in Egypt, since the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) states are greatly interrelated politically and economically. However, Saudi Arabia has to focus on a very important issue- establishment of Palestine in Mideast. True, so long as Israel is in Mideast, it won’t allow Palestine to get UN recognition as a full state, though it has won defacto recognition in the UN general assembly against the will of US-Israeli twins.

Saudi Arabia has been strenuously making efforts to free Palestine from Israeli terror regime but without any success. Israel and Egypt are jointly causing existential problems with terror blockades from both sides for the besieged Palestinians and Gaza Strip where the Hamas rules is the prime target of Israeli military, attacking it regularly on fictitious pretexts. Even turkey’s efforts to breach the blockades to free Gaza Strip have ended in Israeli military attacks on the Turkish aidships.

It is a fact that Israeli aggression on Palestine territories continue with its military using US terror goods and Pentagon services. Israel and its major terror ally USA very conveniently use the Hamas-Fatah conflict to divide the Palestinians and create obstacles for the establishment of much delayed Palestine state.

Saudi kingdom could use its new friendship with Egyptian regime to remove the blockade from its side so that Palestinians could begin to live human life. Giving justice to the Palestinians should be the key objective of new Saudi Egyptian relations.

Saudi-Egyptian ties are bound to grow in strength and depth with increasing number of mutual visits from both sides at high levels. Economic and security ties will gather momentum.

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Kavala Case as a Cause for Dıplomatıc Crısıs

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Image source: Wikipedia

Turkey’s President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s recent statement about the Osman Kavala declaration of the envoys of 10 countries has been dominating both domestic and foreign policy agenda. Erdoğan  on October  25 slammed the envoys of 10 countries over their statement on the ongoing case of businessman Osman Kavala.

Osman Kavala was arrested on  November 1, 2017. Businessman Osman Kavala who was arrested as part of the investigation of the Gezi Park events, the 17-25 December plots of the Fetullah Terrorist Organization (FETÖ) and the July 15 coup attempt is accused of being the manager and organizer of the Gezi Park events. Kavala is still in prison. Besides his businessman identity, Kavala is also known as a critical human rights activist.

 It is known that, the European Court of Human Rights requested that Kavala be released. This request has been ignored by Turkey, and can be seen as one of the reasons leading to recent diplomatic crisis. Previously, Kavala has been tied to billionaire George Soros after he helped to found the Turkish branch of Soros’ Open Society Foundations. That branch ceased operations in 2018 after Erdogan accused Soros of attempting to undermine the Turkish government.

The Council of Europe’s Committee of Ministers and the Strasbourg Court found that Osman Kavala’s extended detention had an “ulterior purpose, namely to reduce him to silence as an NGO activist and human rights defender, to dissuade other persons from engaging in such activities and to paralyse civil society in the country” .

Not only European Court of Human Rights, but also American officials addressed Kavala imprisonment as well.  The United States State Department spokesman Ned Price in February 2021 stated that “The specious charges against Kavala, his ongoing detention, and the continuing delays in the conclusion of his trial, including through the merger of cases against him, undermine respect for the rule of law and democracy.”

According to Kavala’s attorneys, the courts’ actions during the process of merging have been intended to keep Kavala in prison.  Kavala was kept in prison despite the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) earlier decision stating that he should be released immediately. In such an environment, the ambassadors of 10 countries — US, Canada, Finland, Sweden, Denmark, Norway, New Zealand, the Netherlands, Germany, and France – issued a statement about Kavala’s imprisonment. After the statement, President Erdoğan noted that Turkey must declare the ambassadors, as “persona non grata” According to Erdoğan no nation can interfere in Turkey’s internal affairs. Erdoğan said: “I gave the necessary order to our foreign minister and said what must be done. These 10 ambassadors must be declared persona non grata at once. You will sort it out immediately.” After Erdoğan’s remarks, explanations were made by these countries. While the US, Canada, New Zealand and Netherlands embassies made a statement on their Twitter accounts that they would comply with the 41st article of the Vienna Convention, which includes the principle of “non-interference in internal affairs”, Germany, France, Norway, Sweden, Denmark and Finland retweeted the US Embassy’s statement.

Kavala Case has been an issue of human rights debate in Turkey. Most of the information about Kavala focuses on his alleged involvement in the Gezi Park protests and his involvement in the 2016 military coup attempt.  The European Court required Turkey to release Kavala and noted that any continuation of his detention would prolong the violations of the Convention. Despite these developments, the statement of the ten ambassadors cannot be accepted because this move is a direct action of the interference in internal affairs. Erdoğan’s decisive stance about this issue has made the countries retreat, however Kavala issue still stands as one of the critical issues that has the potential to shape Turkey’s position in international relations.

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Saudi Arabia and Iran want to be friends again

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Eventually the ice-cold relationship between Iran and Saudi Arabia began to melt. The two countries sat at the negotiating table shortly after Biden came to power. The results of that discussion are finally being seen. Trade relations between Iran and Saudi Arabia have already begun to move. Although there has been no diplomatic relationship between the two countries since 2016, trade relations have been tense. But trade between Iran and the two countries was zero from last fiscal year until March 20 this year. Iran recently released a report on trade with neighboring countries over the past six months. The report also mentions the name of Saudi Arabia. This means that the rivalry between the two countries is slowly normalizing.

Historically, Shia-dominated Iran was opposed to the Ottoman Empire. The Safavids of Persia have been at war with the Ottomans for a long time, However, after the fall of the Ottomans, when the Middle East was divided like monkey bread, the newly created Saudi Arabia did not have much of a problem with Iran. Business trade between the two countries was normal. This is because the rulers of Saudi Arabia and Iran at the time were Western-backed. That is why there was not much of a problem between them. But when a revolution was organized in Iran in 1979 and the Islamic Republic of Iran was established by overthrowing the Shah, Iran’s relations with the West as well as with Saudi Arabia deteriorated. During the revolution, Ayatollah Khomeini called for the ouster of Western-backed rulers from the Middle East. After this announcement, naturally the Arab rulers went against Iran.

Saddam Hussein later invaded Iran with US support and Saudi financial support. After that, as long as Khomeini was alive, Saudi Arabia’s relations with Iran were bad. After Khomeini’s death, Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani and Mohammad Khatemi tried to mend fences again. But they didn’t get much of an advantage.

When the Bush administration launched its invasion of Iraq in 2003, Iran’s influence in Shiite-majority Iraq continued to grow. Since the start of the Arab Spring in 2011, Iran’s influence in the region has grown. Saudi Arabia has been embroiled in a series of shadow wars to reduce its influence. It can be said that Iran and Saudi Arabia are involved in the Cold War just like the United States and the Soviet Union. Behind that war was a conflict of religious ideology and political interests. Diplomatic relations between Saudi Arabia and Iran came to a complete standstill in 2016. Iranians attack the Saudi embassy in Tehran after executing Saudi Shiite cleric Sheikh Nimar al-Nimar.  Since then, the two countries have not had diplomatic relations.

Finally, in April this year, representatives of the two countries met behind closed doors in Baghdad. And through this, the two countries started the process of normalizing diplomatic relations again. The last direct meeting between the two countries was held on September 21.

Now why are these two countries interested in normalizing relations? At one point, Mohammed bin Salman said they had no chance of negotiating with Iran. And Khomeini, the current Supreme Leader of Iran, called Mohammed bin Salman the new Hitler. But there is no such thing as a permanent enemy ally in politics or foreign policy. That is why it has brought Saudi Arabia and Iran back to the negotiating table. Prince Salman once refused to negotiate with Iran, but now he says Iran is our neighbor, we all want good and special relations with Iran.

Saudi Arabia has realized that its Western allies are short-lived. But Iran is their permanent neighbor. They have to live with Iran. The United States will not return to fight against Iran on behalf of Saudi Arabia. That is why it is logical for Iran and Saudi Arabia to have their ideological differences and different interests at the negotiating table. Saudi Arabia has been at the negotiating table with Iran for a number of reasons. The first reason is that Saudi Arabia wants to reduce its oil dependence. Prince Salman has announced Vision 2030. In order to implement Vision 2030 and get out of the oil dependent economy, we need to have good relations with our neighbors. It is not possible to achieve such goals without regional stability, He said.

Saudi Arabia also wants to emerge from the ongoing shadow war with Iran in Iraq, Syria, Yemen and Lebanon to achieve regional stability. The war in Yemen in particular is now a thorn in the side of Saudi Arabia. The Saudis are unable to get out of this war, nor are they able to achieve the desired goal. Saudi Arabia must normalize relations with Iran if it is to emerge from the war in Yemen. Without a mutual understanding with Iran, Yemen will not be able to end the war. That is why Saudi Arabia wants to end the war through a peace deal with the Houthis by improving relations with Iran.

Drone strikes could also have an impact on the Saudi Aramco oil field to bring Saudi Arabia to the negotiating table. Because after the drone attack, the oil supply was cut in half. The Saudis do not want Aramco to be attacked again. Also, since the Biden administration has no eye on the Middle East, it would be wise to improve relations with Iran in its own interests.

Iran will benefit the most if relations with Saudi Arabia improve. Their economy has been shaken by long-standing US sanctions on Iran. As Saudi Arabia is the largest and most powerful country in the Middle East, Iran has the potential to benefit politically as well as economically if relations with them are normal.

While Saudi Arabia will normalize relations with Iran, its allies will also improve relations with Iran. As a result, Iran’s political and trade relations with all the countries of the Saudi alliance will be better. This will give them a chance to turn their economy around again. The development of Iran’s relations with Saudi Arabia will also send a positive message to the Biden administration. It could lead to a renewed nuclear deal and lift sanctions on Iran.

Another reason is that when Saudi Arabia normalizes relations with Iran, it will receive formal recognition of Iran’s power in the Middle East. The message will be conveyed that it is not possible to turn the stick in the Middle East by bypassing Iran. Relations between Saudi Arabia and Iran need to be normalized for peace and stability in the Middle East.

But in this case, the United Arab Emirates and Israel may be an obstacle. The closeness that Saudi Arabia had with the UAE will no longer exist. The UAE now relies much more on Israel. There will also be some conflict of interest between Saudi Arabia and the UAE. Prince Salman wants to turn Saudi into a full-fledged tourism and business hub that could pose a major threat to the UAE’s economy and make the two countries compete.

Furthermore, in order to sell arms to the Middle East, Iran must show something special. Why would Middle Eastern countries buy weapons if the Iranian offensive was stopped? During the Cold War, arms dealers forced NATO allies to buy large quantities of weapons out of fear of the Soviet Union. So it is in the Middle East. But if the relationship between Iran and Saudi Arabia is normal, it will be positive for the Muslim world, but it will lead to a recession in the arms market.

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Turkey and Iran find soft power more difficult than hard power

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The times they are a changin’. Iranian leaders may not be Bob Dylan fans, but his words are likely to resonate as they contemplate their next steps in Iraq, Iraqi Kurdistan, Lebanon, and Azerbaijan.

The same is true for Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan. The president’s shine as a fierce defender of Muslim causes, except for when there is an economic price tag attached as is the case of China’s brutal crackdown on Turkic Muslims, has been dented by allegations of lax defences against money laundering and economic mismanagement.

The setbacks come at a time that Mr. Erdogan’s popularity is diving in opinion polls.

Turkey this weekend expelled the ambassadors of the US, Canada, France, Finland, Denmark, Germany, Netherlands, New Zealand, Norway, and Sweden for calling for the release of philanthropist and civil rights activist Osman Kavala in line with a European Court of Human Rights decision.

Neither Turkey nor Iran can afford the setbacks that often are the result of hubris. Both have bigger geopolitical, diplomatic, and economic fish to fry and are competing with Saudi Arabia and the UAE as well as Indonesia’s Nahdlatul Ulama for religious soft power, if not leadership of the Muslim world.

That competition takes on added significance in a world in which Middle Eastern rivals seek to manage rather than resolve their differences by focusing on economics and trade and soft, rather than hard power and proxy battles.

In one recent incident Hidayat Nur Wahid, deputy speaker of the Indonesian parliament, opposed naming a street in Jakarta after Mustafa Kemal Ataturk, the general-turned-statemen who carved modern Turkey out of the ruins of the Ottoman empire. Mr. Wahid suggested that it would be more appropriate to commemorate Ottoman sultans Mehmet the Conqueror or Suleiman the Magnificent or 14th-century Islamic scholar, Sufi mystic, and poet Jalaludin Rumi.

Mr. Wahid is a leader of the Muslim Brotherhood-linked Prosperous Justice Party (PKS) and a board member of the Saudi-run Muslim World League, one of the kingdom’s main promoters of religious soft power.

More importantly, Turkey’s integrity as a country that forcefully combats funding of political violence and money laundering has been called into question by the Financial Action Task Force (FATF), an international watchdog, and a potential court case in the United States that could further tarnish Mr. Erdogan’s image.

A US appeals court ruled on Friday that state-owned Turkish lender Halkbank can be prosecuted over accusations it helped Iran evade American sanctions.

Prosecutors have accused Halkbank of converting oil revenue into gold and then cash to benefit Iranian interests and documenting fake food shipments to justify transfers of oil proceeds. They also said Halkbank helped Iran secretly transfer US$20 billion of restricted funds, with at least $1 billion laundered through the US financial system.

Halkbank has pleaded not guilty and argued that it is immune from prosecution under the federal Foreign Sovereign Immunities Act because it was “synonymous” with Turkey, which has immunity under that law. The case has complicated US-Turkish relations, with Mr.  Erdogan backing Halkbank’s innocence in a 2018 memo to then US President Donald Trump.

FATF placed Turkey on its grey list last week. It joins countries like Pakistan, Syria, South Sudan, and Yemen that have failed to comply with the group’s standards. The International Monetary Fund (IMF) warned earlier this year that greylisting would affect a country’s ability to borrow on international markets,  and cost it an equivalent of up to 3 per cent of gross domestic product as well as a drop in foreign direct investment.

Mr. Erdogan’s management of the economy has been troubled by the recent firing of three central bank policymakers, a bigger-than-expected interest rate cut that sent the Turkish lira tumbling, soaring prices, and an annual inflation rate that last month ran just shy of 20 per cent. Mr. Erdogan has regularly blamed high-interest rates for inflation.

A public opinion survey concluded in May that 56.9% of respondents would not vote for Mr. Erdogan and that the president would lose in a run-off against two of his rivals, Ankara Mayor Mansur Yavas and his Istanbul counterpart Ekrem Imamoglu.

In further bad news for the president, polling company Metropoll said its September survey showed that 69 per cent of respondents saw secularism as a necessity while 85.1 per cent objected to religion being used in election campaigning.

In Iran’s case, a combination of factors is changing the dynamics of Iran’s relations with some of its allied Arab militias, calling into question the domestic positioning of some of those militias, fueling concern in Tehran that its detractors are encircling it, and putting a dent in the way Iran would like to project itself.

A just-published report by the Combatting Terrorism Center at the US Military Academy West Point concluded that Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC) faced “growing difficulties in controlling local militant cells. Hardline anti-US militias struggle with the contending needs to de-escalate US-Iran tensions, meet the demands of their base for anti-US operations, and simultaneously evolve non-kinetic political and social wings.”

Iranian de-escalation of tensions with the United States is a function of efforts to revive the defunct 2015 international agreement to curb Iran’s nuclear program and talks aimed at improving relations with Saudi Arabia even if they have yet to produce concrete results.

In addition, like in Lebanon, Iranian soft power in Iraq has been challenged by growing Iraqi public opposition to sectarianism and Iranian-backed Shiite militias that are at best only nominally controlled by the state.

Even worse, militias, including Hezbollah, the Arab world’s foremost Iranian-supported armed group, have been identified with corrupt elites in Lebanon and Iraq. Many in Lebanon oppose Hezbollah as part of an elite that has allowed the Lebanese state to collapse to protect its vested interests.

Hezbollah did little to counter those perceptions when the group’s leader, Hassan Nasrallah, threatened Lebanese Christians after fighting erupted this month between the militia and the Lebanese Forces, a Maronite party, along the Green Line that separated Christian East and Muslim West Beirut during the 1975-1990 civil war.

The two groups battled each other for hours as Hezbollah staged a demonstration to pressure the government to stymie an investigation into last year’s devastating explosion in the port of Beirut. Hezbollah fears that the inquiry could lay bare pursuit of the group’s interests at the expense of public safety.

“The biggest threat for the Christian presence in Lebanon is the Lebanese Forces party and its head,” Mr. Nasrallah warned, fuelling fears of a return to sectarian violence.

It’s a warning that puts a blot on Iran’s assertion that its Islam respects minority rights, witness the reserved seats in the country’s parliament for religious minorities. These include Jews, Armenians, Assyrians and Zoroastrians.

Similarly, an alliance of Iranian-backed Shiite militias emerged as the biggest loser in this month’s Iraqi elections. The Fateh (Conquest) Alliance, previously the second-largest bloc in parliament, saw its number of seats drop from 48 to 17.

Prime Minister Mustafa al-Kadhimi brought forward the vote from 2022 to appease a youth-led protest movement that erupted two years ago against corruption, unemployment, crumbling public services, sectarianism, and Iranian influence in politics.

One bright light from Iran’s perspective is the fact that an attempt in September by activists in the United States to engineer support for Iraqi recognition of Israel backfired.

Iran last month targeted facilities in northern Iraq operated by Iranian opposition Kurdish groups. Teheran believes they are part of a tightening US-Israeli noose around the Islamic republic that involves proxies and covert operations on its Iraqi and Azerbaijani borders.

Efforts to reduce tension with Azerbaijan have failed. An end to a war of words that duelling military manoeuvres on both sides of the border proved short-lived. Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev, emboldened by Israeli and Turkish support in last year’s war against Armenia, appeared unwilling to dial down the rhetoric.

With a revival of the nuclear program in doubt, Iran fears that Azerbaijan could become a staging pad for US and Israeli covert operations. Those doubts were reinforced by calls for US backing of Azerbaijan by scholars in conservative Washington think tanks, including the Hudson Institute and the Heritage Foundation.

Eldar Mamedov, a political adviser for the social-democrats in the Foreign Affairs Committee of the European Parliament, warned that “the US government should resist calls from hawks to get embroiled in a conflict where it has no vital interest at stake, and much less on behalf of a regime that is so antithetical to US values and interests.”

He noted that Mr. Aliyev has forced major US NGOs to leave Azerbaijan, has trampled on human and political rights, and been anything but tolerant of the country’s Armenian heritage.

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