Until a few days ago there were no hopes that Turkey and Russia would see eye to eye for years as many critics wrote obituary to Russo-Turkish relations thanks to which the NATO got a shot in its terror arms. Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan ordered the shooting of Russian plane angering the Kremlin.
Russian President Vladimir Putin issued sanctions against Turkey following the downing of a Russian Su-24 bomber by the Turkish air force on Nov. 24. The document, signed on Nov. 28, envisages restrictions on the import of certain types of products from Turkey. Russia suspended the visa-free travel regime for Turkish citizens, Russian employers will not be allowed to hire Turkish nationals, and charter flights will be banned.
The collapse in relations between Turkey and Russia, as well as between Erdogan and Putin has been dramatic. Not only did Putin branded Erdogan’s forces accomplices of terror after they shot down a Russian military jet due to repeated airspace violations on Russia’s behalf, Erdogan fired insults back. Both leaders accused one another of trading oil with Islamists and Russia introduced trade and travel sanctions on Turkey.
Russo-Turkish relations have always been stained. From the late 16th to the early 20th centuries, relations between the Ottoman and Russian empires were often strained, as the two powers were engaged in a number of Russo-Turkish wars. However, in the 1920s, as a result of the Bolshevik Soviet assistance to Turkish revolutionaries during the Turkish War of Independence, the governments of Moscow and Ankara developed warm relations. In 1932 the Turkish Republic took its first foreign loans from the Soviet Union, and the first 5-year economic and industrial development plan of Turkey (1934–1938) was largely modeled after the 5-year plans of the Soviet Union, which seemed to perform well during the Great Depression; despite setbacks such as the Soviet famine of 1932–33, which was largely hidden from the outside world. The good relations between Moscow and Ankara lasted until Joseph Stalin demanded Soviet bases on the Turkish Straits after the Montreux Convention in 1936, most notably at the Potsdam Conference in 1945. Turkey joined NATO in 1952 and placed itself within the Western alliance against the Warsaw Pact during the Cold War, when relations between the two countries were at their lowest level.
Following the dissolution of the Soviet Union in 1991, relations between Turkey and Russia quickly improved and the two countries eventually started to rank among each other’s largest trade partners. Russia became Turkey’s largest provider of energy, while many Turkish companies began to operate in Russia. In this period, Turkey became the top foreign destination for Russian tourists. However, the warm bilateral relations of the past two decades have been severely strained after the November 2015 jet shoot down incident, when a Turkish F-16 combat aircraft shot down a Russian Su-24 during an airspace dispute close to the Turkish-Syrian border.
Turkish President Erdogan eventually apologized on Nov. 24, 2015 for downing a Russian jet in November and triggered a seven-month-long crisis in bilateral relations. However, majority of Russians do not think their government should hurry to accept Erdogan’s apology. The results of the opinion poll indicate how the negative coverage in the Russian media concerning Turkey, has affected the Russian people.
A process of normalization of relations was launched following the apology: Putin and Erdogan had their first telephone conversation since the November incident, the parties agreed to meet in person in the near future, and restrictions on travel to Turkey for Russian tourists were lifted.
Late in the evening of July 15, a military coup was attempted in Turkey. The attempt to seize power was organized by a group of officers from the country’s military police and air force. According to the latest reports, the death toll in Turkey has climbed to 265 and about 1,440 more were injured as a result of the coup attempt.
The military coup in Turkey is considered by many as a colossal blow has been dealt to the authority and influence of President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and his Islamist Justice and Development Party. After the failed military coup in Turkey views are divided on the significance of the failure to overthrow the Turkish government by members of the country’s armed forces for Russia-Turkey relations.
It has been 36 years since the last military coup in Turkey, which took place in 1980. Now President Erdogan has provoked another putsch, having plunged the country into chaos and undermined its prestige on the international arena. The plotters have put the nation in danger.
There could be many reasons for the revolt against the Turkish leadership. Turkey has many anti-Islamic elements that want to destabilize Turkey in the hope that USA and Europe would support their cause. Erdogan has in effect provoked a resumption of a civil war in Turkish Kurdistan. In the opinion of many Turkish politicians and Kurds themselves, it was his actions that triggered a flare-up in hostilities and wiped out years of efforts to establish a peace dialogue.
There is a serious ideological conflict between the army, which has been traditionally considered a guarantor of the secular nature of the Turkish state, and the elected Islamist authorities. For a long time it seemed that Erdogan, who is pursuing a policy of Islamization, had the upper hand, after suppressing the resistance of the generals for more powers and, having “purged” the officer corps through a series of large-scale court trials for their anti-Turkey activities. Society is split, as was testified by the mass protests in 2013.
As relations with the EU are ruined, Turkey has practically no chances of joining the EU in the foreseeable future, whereas it is this goal that the country’s leadership has been proclaiming for several decades. The Kurdish issue has caused serious tensions with the United States, while the downed Russian bomber has provoked an unprecedented crisis in relations with Moscow, which only recently was considered to be Turkey’s key partner.
It would appear that all these circumstances have prompted the Turkish president’s opponents into decisive action. Erdogan is pushing for realignment with Russia and Israel. The military plotters may have come to the conclusion that time has come to act. The military coup was untimely as Turkey has already mended ties with Russia and Israel. It was also suggested that the coup had deep-lying causes and reflected the pressing issues of Turkish society.
Russian and Turkish presidents share authoritarianism attitudes. May be, the concentration of all power in the hands of the Turkish president increases the risk of ill-judged decisions, and the Russian authorities will be taking this into account.
While the international community condemned the attempt to seize power in Turkey, Moscow was more restrained in its reaction, with no outright condemnation of the coup bid. Russian Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev urged Ankara to restore the constitutional order as soon as possible. “What happened shows that there are strong and deep divisions inside Turkish society and the armed forces, which were manifested in these events,” he said. Kremlin press secretary Dmitry Peskov expressed concern at the developments in Turkey, saying that Russia was keen to see the events unfolding in Turkey end “in a legitimate way as soon as possible” and hoped that the country would “return to the path of stability, predictability, and law and order.”
The developments in Turkey will not have a negative effect on relations with Moscow.“The attempted coup failed. The plotters have been arrested. Democracy has triumphed. The country’s leadership will start to pursue a more independent policy aimed at strengthening security in the country. The downside will be a drop in the number of Russian tourists and a delay in the lifting of Russia’s economic sanctions
Two flights of Turkish Airlines from Antalya resort town landed in Moscow, according to online data of Moscow’s Vnukovo Airport. A flight from Istanbul airport to Moscow also landed this morning. These are the first flights from Turkey that landed in Moscow after the coup attempt. Russia has currently restricted flights to Turkey. However, Russian and Turkish air carriers may continue performing flights from Turkey, the Russian aviation authority said earlier. Russian flag carrier Airport will start delivering Russians trapped in Istanbul and Antalya today. SU2134 Moscow – Istanbul flight will take passengers in Istanbul and return back to Moscow on July 18, Aeroflot spokesperson told TASS earlier. SU2142 flight will depart from Moscow to Antalya on July 18.
Russia was neutral in Israeli attack on Turkish aidship bound for Gaza strip to breach the Zionist terror blockades, leaving many Turkish and an American dead. Putin refused to condemn the Israeli military attack on sea because of the fact that most of illegal settlers n the illegal colonies inside Palestine are of Russian origin.
Russian President Vladimir Putin’s foreign policy consultant Alexander Dugin visited Ankara after being invited to a meeting held by the nongovernmental organization Eurasian Union of Local Governments a day before the coup. Dugin said that a new era is about to dawn in relations between Russia and Turkey that might even surpass the previous state of ties. At the meeting, which former Justice and Development Party (AKP) deputies and ministers Dugin said he expected fundamental changes for the better. The timing of the recent attack at Istanbul’s Atatürk International Airport was meaningful, as it happened right after Turkey and Russia started to mend their relations. He praised President Erdoğan, saying that “his courageous initiative had a significant role in the normalization.” Dugin affirmed that Erdoğan offering his condolences to the killed Russian pilot’s family minimized Russia’s concerns. “The most important thing was to normalize relations,” Dugin said. “Both Erdoğan and Putin understood this fact while the relations were strained.”
Dugin said he foresees a significant change in the policies of both Russia and Turkey. He said that the USA is advocating the establishment of an independent Kurdish state in the region, which contradicts Russia’s strategies and beliefs. “If Russia and Turkey can reach consensus on Syria, I believe we can also resolve the issues regarding a Kurdish state in the region,” Dugin said. Meanwhile, a Turkish delegation led by Ministry Deputy Secretary Ali Kemal Aydın also held a meeting separately with Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Aleksey Meshkov, talking about the normalization of relations along with gradual revitalization of Turkish-Russian cooperation in economy and trade.
The developments in Turkey will give an impetus to normalizing relations with Moscow. The negative public opinion in Russia surrounding Turkey will gradually become history if relations stay good. Many experts opine the bilateral ties are likely to grow further. The failed coup has the potential to uplift the Russo-Turkish relations to a higher level than ever before.
Putin and Erdogan are reportedly seeking to deepening the ties on all domains.
Who are the real betrayers of Egypt, Critics or Sycophants?
“You are betraying your country by exposing its defects!” is a common accusation made by the sycophants to the ruling regime in Egypt who have managed to well situated themselves in our society simply by blindly praising the ruler’s policies. Apparently, these sycophants place a higher value on the privileges that they have gained to living in a truly advanced nation. In fact, the real betrayers of any given authoritarian nation are those who justify this immoral ruling mechanism for their own personal gain.
Despotism is the evilest ruling mechanism ever devised; apart from its cruelty and unfairness, it works on inflating the ruler’s ego by mirroring his thoughts that are always passionately endorsed by his flatterers, regardless of their merits! Meanwhile, the ruler’s manipulation of the entire political sphere impairs the state’s ability to detect and correct its blunders. Concurrently, the harsh and inhuman treatment of the state’s critics, which includes threats to their personal lives, results in spreading fear throughout the entire society.
A successful strategy for running a country ruled by a tyrannical government is to enable ignorant citizens to dominate the state media exclusively, thus empowering them to express their opinions on a much wider scale than knowledgeable citizens. This approach consequently creates significant friction between knowledgeable and ignorant citizens, resulting in the polarization of the entire nation. The state methodically fuels this process by labeling the mediocre as loyal citizens and accusing its critics of treason.
The privileging of sycophants financially, along with advancing their power and upscaling their status, have prompted many Egyptians to join this beneficial club, which prerequisites praising superiors and justifying their faults, thus compensating for the natural dullness and incompetence of the flatterers. Meanwhile, the state’s critics who demand freedom and stand by their values are aware that they are engaged in a long-lasting battle and are risking their lives for generations to come!
In fact, sycophants are the weakest link in the state’s ruling dynamics. They hypocritically heap intense praise on the security apparatus who sacrifice their lives to defend our nation – but do their utmost to ensure that their youngsters abandon their military duty; just one facet of their deceitful conduct. Sycophantic behavior and false testimony are the most sinful acts in Islam; yet they have become, ironically, a habitual pattern of behavior in our social norms.
That Egypt needs to be ruled by an Iron-fist is a common argument put forth by the flatterers. It is translated into applying harsh measures to critics and laxity toward lawbreakers – a proposition that reflects the low moral values espoused by flatterers to secure their status. The policy of maximum repression adopted by the current ruling regime might be successful in controlling society; however, it has certainly contributed to an escalation of terrorism activities by political Islamists against the military apparatus.
In my former party, the Egyptian Democratic Front, a few executive party members used to instantly report our internal discussions to the State Security apparatus. In addition totheir immoral conduct and betrayal of their peers, they used to enhance their ratting out by exacerbating our opposing political stands. I argued, at that time, for either offering those ratters a crash course on “minutes-taking” or inviting the State Security apparatus to participate in our meetings to better learn about our viewpoints.
“Cairo is a dirty city” – a painful remark that I occasionally hear from international visitors to our capital. The Egyptian State will never be able to manipulate the perception of millions of diversified tourists who visit Cairo yearly, but we can easily work to bring order to our city and live in a hygienic place. The same applies to other qualities of life such as freedom, dignity and justice; we need to highlight deficiencies in these areas to be able to advance our nation.
President Al Sisi has a clear desire to be a remarkable leader; he believes that expanding our roads and building new flyovers will make Egypt an advanced nation and that these developments will be credited to his legacy. The president is unaware that the future of our country will be written and judged by the youths of today, who are extremely angry with him due to his policy of demolishing humanity and freedom, compounded by his inability to create decent jobs for youngsters.
Egypt is currently confronting a number of complex internal and external challenges, including an economic slowdown, a civil war on our eastern borders, a potential water shortage due to the filling of Ethiopian GRED and rising unemployment. All of these challenges, and many more, will simply be intensified by our deep polarization, further weakening the state. The sycophants’ deliberate misleading of Egypt concerning these challenges is dragging our nation downward, transforming us into a fragile state.
Advancing an old-fashioned country like Egypt requires honest citizens who have bold ideas and enough courage to implement their ideas. These qualities are found more among knowledgeable citizens and critics of the state who are already sacrificing for their country; large numbers of them are spending their best years in prison simply for having voiced their opinions. Modernizing Egypt will require our president to unite our nation, appointing well-educated citizens to key positions and completely discarding state sycophants.
Israel-China Relations: Staring Into the Abyss of US-Chinese Decoupling
Israel knew the drill even before US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo boarded his flight to Tel Aviv earlier this month four days after the death of his father. It was Mr. Pompeo’s first and only overseas trip since March.
Echoing a US warning two decades ago that Israeli dealings with China jeopardized the country’s relationship with the United States, Mr. Pompeo’s trip solidified Israel’s position at the cusp of the widening US-Chinese divide.
Two decades ago the issue was the potential sale to China of Israeli Phalcon airborne warning and control systems (AWACS). Israel backed out of the deal after the US threatened withdrawal of American support for the Jewish state.
This month the immediate issue was a Chinese bid for construction of the world’s largest desalination plant and on the horizon a larger US-Chinese battle for a dominating presence in Eastern Mediterranean ports.
Within days of his visit, Mr. Pompeo scored a China-related success even if the main focus of his talks with Prime Minister Benyamin Netanyahu was believed to be Iran and Israeli plans to annex portions of the West Bank, occupied by Israel since 1967.
Israel signalled that it had heard the secretary’s message by awarding the contract for the Sorek-2 desalination plant to an Israeli rather than a Chinese company.
The tender, however, is only the tip of the iceberg.
China’s interest in Israel is strategic given the fact that the Jewish state is one of the world’s foremost commercial, food and security technology powerhouses and one of the few foreign countries to command significant grassroots support in the United States.
If there is one thing Israel cannot afford, it is a rupture in its bonds to the United States. That is no truer than at a time in which the United States is the only power supportive of Israeli annexation plans on the West Bank.
The question is whether Israel can develop a formula that convinces the United States that US interests will delineate Israeli dealings with China and reassure China that it can still benefit from Israeli assets within those boundaries.
“Right now, without taking the right steps, we are looking at being put in the situation in which the US is telling us we need to cut or limit our relations with China. The problem is that Israel wants freedom of relations with China but is not showing it really understands US concerns. Sorek-2 was a good result. It shows the Americans we get it.” said Carice Witte, executive director of Sino-Israel Global Network and Academic Leadership (SIGNAL) that seeks to advance Israeli-Chinese relations.
Analysts, including Ms. Witte, believe that there is a silver lining in Israel’s refusal to award the desalination plant to a Chinese company that would allow it to steer a middle course between the United States and China.
“China understands that by giving the Americans this win, China-Israel relations can continue. It gives them breathing room,” Ms. Witte said in an interview.
It will, however, be up to Israel to develop criteria and policies that accommodate the United States and make clear to China what Israel can and cannot do.
“In order for Israel to have what it wants… it’s going to need to show the Americans that it takes Washington’s strategic perceptions into consideration and not only that, that it’s two steps ahead on strategic thinking with respect to China. The question is how.” Ms. Witte said.
Ports and technology are likely to be focal points.
China is set to next year takeover the management of Haifa port where it has already built its own pier and is constructing a new port in Ashdod.
One way of attempting to address US concerns would be to include technology companies in the purview of a still relatively toothless board created under US pressure in the wake of the Haifa deal to review foreign investment in Israel. It would build in a safeguard against giving China access to dual civilian-military use technology.
That, however, may not be enough to shield Israel against increased US pressure to reduce Chinese involvement in Israeli ports.
“The parallels between the desalination plant and the port are just too close to ignore. We can’t have another infrastructure divide,” Ms. Witte said.
The two Israeli ports will add to what is becoming a Chinese string of pearls in the Eastern Mediterranean.
China already manages the Greek port of Piraeus.
China Harbour Engineering Company Ltd (CHEC) is looking at upgrading Lebanon’s deep seaport of Tripoli to allow it to accommodate larger vessels.
Qingdao Haixi Heavy-Duty Machinery Co. has sold Tripoli port two 28-storey container cranes capable of lifting and transporting more than 700 containers a day, while a container vessel belonging to Chinese state-owned shipping company COSCO docked in Tripoli in December 2018, inaugurating a new maritime route between China and the Mediterranean.
Major Chinese construction companies are also looking at building a railroad that would connect Beirut and Tripoli in Lebanon to Homs and Aleppo in Syria. China has further suggested that Tripoli could become a special economic zone within the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) and serve as an important trans-shipment point between the People’s Republic and Europe.
BRI is a massive infrastructure, telecommunications and energy-driven effort to connect the Eurasian landmass to China.
Potential Chinese involvement in reconstruction of post-war Syria would likely give it access to the ports of Latakia and Tartous.
Taken together, China is looking at dominating the Eastern Mediterranean with six ports in four countries, Israel, Greece, Lebanon, and Syria that would create an alternative to the Suez Canal.
All that is missing are Turkish, Cypriot and Egyptian ports.
The Chinese build- up threatens to complicate US and NATO’s ability to manoeuvre in the region.
The Trump administration has already warned Israel that Chinese involvement in Haifa could jeopardize continued use of the port by the US fifth fleet.
“The writing is on the wall. Israel needs to carve out a degree of wiggle room. That however will only come at a price. There is little doubt that Haifa will move into the firing line,” said a long-time observer of Israeli-Chinese relations.
Will Gulf States Learn From Their Success in Handling the Pandemic?
The economic fallout of the coronavirus pandemic for Gulf states has done far more than play havoc with their revenue base and fiscal household. It has propelled massive structural change to the top of their agenda in ways that economic diversification plans had not accounted for.
Leave aside whether Gulf states can continue to focus on high-profile, attention-grabbing projects like Neom, Saudi Arabia’s $500 billion USD 21st century futuristic city on the Red Sea.
Gulf rulers’ to do list, if they want to get things right, is long and expensive without the burden of trophy projects. It involves economic as well as social and ultimately political change.
Transparency and accurate and detailed public reporting go to the core of these changes.
They also are key to decisions by investors, economists, and credit rating companies at a time when Gulf states’ economic outlook is in question. Many complain that delays in GDP reporting and lack of easy access to statistics complicates their decision-making.
Nonetheless, if there is one thing autocratic Gulf governments have going for themselves, beyond substantial financial reserves, it is public confidence in the way they handled the pandemic, despite the fact that they failed to initially recognize crowded living circumstances of migrant workers as a super spreader.
Most governments acted early and decisively with lockdowns and curfews, testing, border closures, repatriation of nationals abroad, and, in Saudi Arabia, suspension of pilgrimages.
To be sure, Gulf countries, and particularly Saudi Arabia that receives millions of Muslim pilgrims from across the globe each year, have a long-standing history of dealing with epidemics. Like Singapore, South Korea, and Taiwan, they were better prepared than Western nations.
History persuaded the kingdom to ban the umrah, the lesser Muslim pilgrimage to Mecca, in late February, days before the first case of a Covid-19 infection emerged on Saudi soil.
Beyond public health concerns, Saudi Arabia had an additional reason to get the pandemic right. It offered the kingdom not only an opportunity to globally polish its image, badly tarnished by human rights abuses, power grabs, and the killing of journalist Jamal Khashoggi, but also to retain religious influence despite the interruption in the flow of pilgrims to the kingdom.
“Saudi Arabia is still a reference for many Muslim communities around the world,” said Yasmine Farouk, a scholar of Saudi Arabia at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace.
It also allowed Saudi Arabia to set the record straight following criticism of its handling of the Middle East Respiratory Syndrome (MERS) in 2012 when the kingdom became the epidemic’s epicenter and in 2009 when it was hit by the H1N1 virus.
Saudi Arabia is also blamed for contributing to a public health catastrophe in Yemen with its frequent indiscriminate bombings.
A country in ruins as a result of the military intervention, Yemen has grappled for the past four years with a cholera epidemic on the kingdom’s borders.
Trust in Gulf states’ handling of the current pandemic was bolstered by degrees of transparency on the development of the disease in daily updates in the number of casualties and fatalities.
It was further boosted by a speech by King Salman as soon as the pandemic hit the kingdom in which he announced a raft of measures to counter the disease and support the economy as well as assurances by agriculture minister Abdulrahman al-Fadli that the crisis would not affect food supplies.
Ms. Farouk suggested that government instructions during the pandemic were followed because of “trust in the government, the expertise and the experience of the government [and] trust in the religious establishment, which actually was following the technical decisions of the government.”
To be sure, Ms. Farouk acknowledged, the regime’s coercive nature gave the public little choice.
The limits of government transparency were evident in the fact that authorities were less forthcoming with details of public spending on the pandemic and insight into available medical equipment like ventilators and other supplies such as testing kits.
Some Gulf states have started publishing the daily and total number of swabs but have yet to clarify whether these figures include multiple swabbings of the same person.
“It is likely that publics in the Middle East will look back at who was it that gave them reliable information, who was it who was there for them,” said political scientist Nathan Brown.
The question is whether governments will conclude that transparency will be needed to maintain public confidence as they are forced to rewrite social contracts that were rooted in concepts of a cradle-to-grave welfare state but will have to involve greater burden sharing.
Gulf governments have so far said little about burden sharing being allocated equitably across social classes nor has there been transparency on what drives investment decisions by sovereign wealth funds in a time of crisis and changing economic outlook.
Speaking to the Financial Times, a Gulf banker warned that the Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman “needs to be careful what he spends on . . . Joe Public will be watching.”
Headed by Prince Mohammed, the kingdom’s sovereign wealth fund has gone on a $7.7 billion USD shopping spree buying stakes in major Western blue chips, including four oil majors: Boeing, Citigroup, Disney, and Facebook. The Public Investment Fund is also funding a bid for English soccer club Newcastle United.
The banker suggested that Saudi nationals would not appreciate “millionaire footballer salaries being paid for by VAT (value added tax) on groceries.” He was referring to this month’s hiking of sales taxes in the kingdom from five to 15 percent.
The fragility and fickleness of public trust was on display for the world to see in Britain’s uproar about Dominic Cummings, a close aide to Prime Minister Boris Johnson, who violated lockdown instructions for personal reasons. Mr. Johnson is struggling to fight off demands for Mr Cummings’ dismissal.
To be sure, senior government officials and business executives in the Gulf have cautioned of hard times to come.
A recent Dubai Chamber of Commerce and Industry survey of CEOs predicted that 70 percent of the United Arab Emirates’ companies would go out of business in the next six months, including half of its restaurants and hotels and three-quarters of its travel and tourism companies.
Saudi Finance Minister Mohammed Al-Jadaan warned earlier this month that the kingdom would need to take “painful” measures and look for deep spending cuts as a result of the collapse of oil prices and significantly reduced demand for oil.
Aware of sensitivities, Mr. Al-Jadaan stressed that “as long as we do not touch the basic needs of the people, all options are open.”
There was little transparency in Mr. Al-Jadaan’s statements on what the impact would be on employment-seeking Saudi nationals in a labor market where fewer migrant workers would be available for jobs that Saudis have long been unwilling to accept.
It was a missed opportunity considering the 286 percent increase in the number of Saudis flocking to work for delivery services.
The increase was fueled by an offer by Hadaf, the Saudi Human Resources Development Fund, to pay drivers $800 USD a month, as well as a newly-found embrace of volunteerism across the Gulf.
The surge offered authorities building blocks to frame expectations at a time when the kingdom’s official unemployment rate of 12 percent is likely to rise.
It suggested a public acknowledgement of the fact that well-paying, cushy government positions may no longer be as available as they were in the past as well as the fact that lesser jobs are no less honorable forms of employment.
That may be the silver lining as Gulf states feel the pressure to reinvent themselves in a world emerging from a pandemic that potentially will redraw social, economic, and political maps.
Author’s note: This story was first published in Inside Arabia
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