Connect with us

Middle East

Foreign involvements in Syria: A barrier towards meaningful solution

Avatar photo

Published

on

Syrians have been passing five consecutive years under fierce conflict and there is yet no sign of peace. However, the failed meetings and the “talk-shop” conferences among local and regional parties led by the global powers have been continuing in usual intervals.

Questions arose as to how long will it take to reach “peace”? How much more blood will be spilled? How many refugees had to risk their lives into Europe? How many more meetings and conferences in lavish vicinities are required to agree to life by disagreeing deaths?

UN RESOLUTION 2015: TOO AMBITIOUS TO REVOLVE INTO REALITY

Meetings, conferences and ceasefire-agreements have been taking place since the beginning of Syrian war, without any success. Last December (2015), the United Nations Security Council (UNSC) endorsed a road map for a peace process in Syria, adopting unanimously the resolution 2254 (2015). The resolution called for an immediate ceasefire, endorsing a non-sectarian government in Syria within “6 months”, and set a schedule and process for the drafting of a new Constitution. The resolution also endorsed for UN-monitored elections within “18 months” pursuant to the new Constitution, reiterating the call for the Syrian people to decide the future of Syria.

However, although 10 months have already gone-by since the UN resolution, the formation of the said non-sectarian government in Syria still seems far away. Furthermore, it appears from the current conflict-rattled Syrian scenario that the expected new Constitution and the UN-monitored elections that were projected in the abovementioned UN resolution are just too ambitious to be taken seriously, atleast not in near future.

PROLONGED SYRIAN WAR

Syrian civilian mass have been suffering a prolonged brutal war. The prolonging of the war was possible because of certain factors: (i) almost all sides have foreign support in order to prolong the war, (ii) the sides are well matched and (iii) each faction has sufficient willpower and resources to continue the war for a longer period.

Indeed, each side is truly well matched. If one side’s willpower is at the peak, the other sides have either the best military resources or financial resources or foreign backup to fill up their lacking in other aspects. While groups like al-Nusra and ISIS (and Hezbolla as well), who are driven by the thought of paving their way to paradise, lack no determination or willpower to continue the war, the ‘Sunni Arab’ rebels have backups from regional powers (mainly Saudis, Qataris and Turks) to carry on their part of the campaign. The ‘socialist kurdi’ rebels (within Syria) are backed by the West (mainly the U.S.). On the otherside, the Assad regime, which is largely manpowered by its army’s Alawite (shia) fighters and Lebanese shia-oriented armed organization Hezbolla, has the blessings of Russians and Iranians to continue its part.

IRAQ: OCCUPATION, DESERTION OF SUNNIS & RISE OF ISIS

Foreign involvements in the Middle Eastern region are nothing new. The U.S. led foreign involvement (occupation) in Iraq – by using the excuse of saving the world from Saddam Hossain’s chemical weapons – is a burning example of what the impact of a foreign intervention could look like for any Middle Eastern country. When the U.S. was largely leaving the occupation, they, instead of leaving a harmonized Iraq, left an Iraq that was unstable, sectarian and chaotic.

During U.S.’s full-fledged Iraq occupation, the U.S. troops, with the help of Iraqi ‘Sunni Arab’ tribes, largely defeated Al-Qaeda in Iraq (now ISIS) by 2008. But the desertion of the ‘Sunni Arab’ tribes by the U.S. (on its large departure of troops from Iraq) in the hands of a shia-oriented sectarian government caused the tribes to lose their trust completely on the U.S. and the Iraqi regime. Out of the widespread tortures that they faced from the sectarian Iraqi regime and out of their distrust for the regime, one large part of the ‘Sunni Arab’ population in Iraq started to vision for an independent state or, atleast, for an autonomous region for their own. For this reason, even before the rise of ISIS, they had been aiming to form a separate ‘Sunni Arab’ state, which would be completely independent from Iraq. Right before the emergence of ISIS, the continuous protests in places like Fallujah (a city within Anbar province of Iraq) and the breakout of armed protests every now and then increasingly showed their frustration towards the sectarian regime in Bagdad. The uncompromising nature of those protests portrayed that they won’t settle down unless they earn their independent state or, atleast, an autonomous ‘Sunni Arab’ region for their own within a reformed non-sectarian federal Iraq.

Although this part of the ‘Sunni Arab’ population did not work for any state or non-state actors in primary, their desperation towards independence (or atleast autonomy) had pushed them for searching helping-hands in achieving their purpose. In other words, this portion of ‘Sunni Arab’ population seemed to be ready to help any groups or sides whosoever could help them back with their vision of independence.

After the rise of ISIS, this portion of ‘Sunni Arab’ population had started to collaborate with the militant organization for fulfilling their own purpose, without accepting and embracing the ideology of the militant organization. On the otherhand, the other part of the Iraqi ‘Sunni Arab’ population, which was exceptionally frustrated from the tortures by the shia militias, had directly jointed ISIS after accepting and embracing their ideology. Thus, it appears that the U.S. occupation of Iraq, followed by the desertion of the ‘Sunni Arab’ tribes by the U.S. in the hands of a shia-oriented sectarian regime of Iraq, had caused the ‘Sunni Arab’ population (largely) to walk in line with the ISIS strategy.

RUSSIA & U.S. IN SYRIA: SEEKING NOT A SOLUTION, BUT OWN INTERESTS

Such a situation in Iraq, where both the parts of ‘Sunni Arab’ population are either collaborating with ISIS or directly working under ISIS, is impacting occurrences in Syria as well. This is because, ISIS operates in both the countries, with recruits and resources of ISIS in Iraq taken to Syria every now and then for military operations.

Moreover, the recent increased military operations all over Iraq against ISIS are signalling that a more alarming imperial vision is in making. The U.S. has been backing the Iraqi troops and shia militias across Iraq in order to push ISIS out of the Iraqi cities towards the Iraqi borders with Syria. The ongoing operation in Mosul, which seems to have started without taking adequate time for military preparations or sufficient time for removing the civilians out of the area, is another of such imperial vision where the U.S. is hastening to push the ISIS fighters out of Iraq towards Syria, so that it becomes easier to weaken the Assad regime further in line with the imperial vision of the U.S. While it is true that the Assad regime has committed atrocities across Syria, this does not legitimize the U.S.’s attempt of using ISIS against the Assad regime.

On the otherside, out of its adamant ambition of keeping Syria under its geopolitical influence, Russia is utterly backing Assad’s army, which has been massacring villages after villages and bombarding civilian areas indiscriminately by the excuse of fighting rebels and, in some cases, militants.

While both the coalitions, one led by Russia and the other by the U.S., claim to be working to find a solution for the Syrian conflict, the reality appears different from their actions. The U.S.-led Western alliance, the Saudi-led Sunni alliance and the broader coalition between these two alliances could not deliver any set plan for Syria in last five years. On the otherhand, the other coalition – involving Assad regime, Iraqi regime, Iran and Russia – claim that they have a plan. Though, no one else otherthan themselves knows what the plan is!

SCHEMES IN IRAQ & SYRIA

The Middle East is of strategic importance to the world, particularly because of its supply of oil. Many analysts believe that the U.S.’s plan is to engineer a conflict between the two major regional foes, namely Iran and Saudi Arabia, in order to make accessibility of the region risky for adamant Russia and energy-starved China, both of which are trying to reshape the current global order that is led and dominated by the U.S. On the otherhand, many other analysts say that it is Russia, not the U.S., which wants to engineer such a conflict between Iran and Saudi Arabia, and then get the U.S. embroiled into the mess and drive up the cost of oil, benefitting Russia that is suffering from lower global oil price.

There is another analysis regarding the regionwide conflict in the Middle East. The Western powers want to redraw the map of the region in such a way that serves their current-day interests. There is a widespread view that a Kurdish state, which would be carved out of Tukey, Syria, Iraq and Iran, is within the western powers’ working desk. Moreover, a comparatively smaller number of analysts believe that two further states, a Sunni Arab state and a Shia Arab state, might as well emerge out of Iraq, making Iraq obliterated as a nation state from the world map. However, all these analyses, and perhaps willingness, might go into vein as two regional countries, namely Turkey and Iran, might put their full efforts into spoiling such abovementioned attempts of carving out new nation states for the sake of their own national territorial integrity and their greater regional geopolitical interests.

WRAPPING UP

One reality-check regarding any international involvements in an independent country is that foreign interventions themselves are the real problems. One burning example of ‘problems brought by the foreign involvements’ in the an independent country could be found in the rise of ISIS in Iraq, which, as mentioned earlier, was caused by the U.S.’s occupation of Iraq and its subsequent desertion of the ‘Sunni Arab’ tribes.

The actions and apparent intensions of the global and regional powers with regard to Syria clearly show that foreign involvements in the country are doing more damage than solving problems. Infact, foreign involvements are solving no problems at all. Rather, the prolonging of the Syrian war seems to be largely caused by the foreign engagements in the country.

Because of such foreign involvements, the ongoing destructive process in Syria reached the point of no return. No efforts can save Syria if foreign involvements are not completely eliminated. Continuation of such involvements will only be followed by the final disintegration of the country.

Therefore, would it not be better to end all sorts of international interventions by all international parties in Syria? Would it not be better to leave the Syrians alone to solve their own problems? Innocent people in Syria and Iraq are suffering from the ongoing conflict. The influx of refugees in Europe is a sheer reflection of this reality. These sufferings will only end when the U.S., which is backing one warring side, and Russia, which is backing the other side, will end their interference in the country. The country is better off without foreign involvements. Let Syrians solve their own problems. Let the international powers – Russia, the West and the Middle Eastern powers – not interfere anymore in Syria. Only then a constructive, meaningful and permanent solution could be reached sooner.

Bahauddin Foizee is an international affairs analyst and columnist, and regularly writes on greater Asia-Pacific, Indian Oceanic region and greater Middle East geopolitics. He also - infrequently - writes on environment & climate change and the global refugee crisis. Besides Modern Diplomacy, his articles have appeared at The Diplomat, Global New Light of Myanmar, Asia Times, Eurasia Review, Middle East Monitor, International Policy Digest and a number of other international publications. His columns also appear in the Dhaka-based national newspapers, including Daily Observer, Daily Sun, Daily Star, The Independent, The New Nation, Financial Express, New age and bdnews24com. He previously taught law at Dhaka Centre for Law & Economics and worked at Bangladesh Institute of Legal Development.

Continue Reading
Comments

Middle East

The role of Guangdong Province in the Egypt – China relationship

Avatar photo

Published

on

For the past few years, Egypt-China bilateral trade has witnessed a big leap where Egypt has opened up its markets to the Chinese products. There are many aspects that impressed me the most about the economic and trade cooperation between Egypt and China, regarding the recent important role of Guangdong in the Egypt – China relationships.

  Guangdong has special relations with Egypt, as they work together to advance and strengthen economic and commercial exchange and cooperation with the continent of Africa, and in particular with Egypt, as Egypt was keen to work and conduct many discussions and joint meetings with officials of Guangdong Province on enhancing investment and trade between Guangdong, China and Egypt. The trade and economic cooperation talks of Guangdong Province with Egypt came under the supervision of the (People’s Government of Guangdong Province), in cooperation with the Foreign Trade and Economic Cooperation Authority of Guangdong Province and the General Authority for investment and Free Zones in Egypt. The (General Federation of Egyptian Chambers of Commerce) is also keen to open prospects for joint economic and investment cooperation with Guangdong Province.

 Both Egypt and the officials at Guangdong have already held (a conference on investment and trade between the Chinese province of Guangdong and Egypt) to identify the most important joint investments between the two parties.

 The Guangdong provincial government has prepared an unprecedented large-scale trade and economic delegation to visit Cairo, which included more than 60 institutions with great weight covering all disciplines to participate in the talks with the Egyptian side. This Chinese delegation represented a number of leading and important institutions in Guangdong Province, in the field of communications, household electrical appliances, building and construction, the manufacture of motorcycles, furniture, spinning, weaving and other light industries, to transfer their expertise and investments to the Egyptian side.

 Officials in the Chinese province of “Guangdong”, which represents the largest province in China in terms of the volume of foreign trade exchange, signed many agreements for investment cooperation with Egyptian businessmen.

  The agreements included the establishment of a number of joint venture companies between the Egyptian and Chinese sides in the field of electronics, motorcycles and information technology, in addition to one agreement stipulating the acquisition of 32.5% of the shares of the Egyptian “Raco” electronics company by the Chinese “GD Media” holding company and Carrier for the manufacture of refrigerators.

 The total value of the agreements signed yesterday amounted to about 400 million dollars and comes within the framework of activating the role of Chinese companies in the economic zone northwest of the Gulf of Suez, which is being developed by TEDA-Egypt.

 Most of the agreements between Egypt and Guangdong are aiming to transfer the Chinese manufacturing technology to the Egyptian market, provided that it is re-exported to the Middle East and African markets with an Egyptian mark of origin, to enjoy the incentives offered by the governments of neighboring countries for exported and locally manufactured products.

 The first of these agreements between Cairo and Guangdong was an agreement between the Ministry of Foreign Trade and Economic Cooperation in Guangdong Province and the TEDA Egypt Investment Company to promote the economic zone in the northwest of the Gulf of Suez to Chinese companies.

 The Chinese Guangdong Group also signed an agreement with Egypt China Friendship Motorcycle Company to export motorcycles, in addition to another agreement to establish a factory to assemble bicycles locally.

 The same group also signed another agreement with Metal Technical Company to export electronic devices and freedom products, while Guangzhou Environstar Company signed an agreement with “Teda Egypt Company” to set up a non-woven fabric factory.

And the Guangzhou Dayun Motorcycle Company signed an agreement with the “Ibrahim Mahmoud Ibrahim” group to establish the “Egypt-dayu” company for motorcycles.  The China National Research Institute of Electrical Appliances also signed a joint cooperation agreement with Rajamec Mechanical and Electrical Works Company.

 Guangzhou Wuyang Motors CO. also signed an agreement with the “United Brothers” company for the distribution of motorcycles and spare parts, while Finmek Electronics signed an agreement with the economic zone in the northwest of the Gulf of Suez for investment cooperation.

 Shoppingmode Huawei for Communications and Information Technology signed 3 agreements, the first with the Suez Economic Zone to undertake the work of an integrated technology system for the region, in addition to an agreement with the National Center for Communications to conduct a training program on telecommunications technology, as well as signing an agreement with Luxor Governorate in the presence of Governor Samir Farag to establish  E-learning project in the province.

 Guangdong Winone Elevator entered into a partnership agreement with Megastar Elvato to export electric elevators.

 Guangdong VTR Buo-Tech signed an agreement with Delta Vet Center for Feed Export, in addition to Guangdong Han’s Yueming Laser Technology Company and Sharjah General Trading Company signed an agreement to export machinery.

 Zhongshan City Fudi Electrical Equipment Company signed an agreement with Al-Fas Engineering Company to export home appliance accessories, in addition to TCL Overseas Marketing Company signing an agreement with the Engineering Company for Electronics and Technological Industries to export color televisions, while Zhaoqing Foodstuffs Company for export and import agreed with Al-Jasr Herbs Company  for the export of agricultural products and the company “GAC-QHD (Meizhou)” for auto components, in agreement with the Matrix Engineering Company for the export of auto parts, while the Chinese Victory Furniture Factory signed an agreement with Beni Suef Governorate to establish a furniture company in the governorate.

 In connection with the above, we reach an important conclusion that it is not possible to talk about Chinese investments in Egypt in isolation from addressing the tangible role of Chinese companies in the giant Guangdong Province in the process of economic and social development in Egypt, and the distinguished results they achieved in this regard. The Suez canal Zone for economic and trade cooperation between China and Egypt, known as TEDA, has become an industrial zone that enjoys the best comprehensive environment, the highest investment intensity and the highest production unit in Egypt, assisted by a large number of companies and investments in the Chinese province of Guangdong operating for years and after the launch of the Belt Initiative.  And the Chinese road in Cairo, which had a special role in strengthening the special relations between Cairo and Guangdong as a special Chinese economic zone.

Continue Reading

Middle East

Iran: A major Replacement of Human Resources

Avatar photo

Published

on

Since 1979, when the mullahs seized power, Iran has topped the list of countries affected by the “brain drain”. What appeared to be local bleeding at the time may now become total bleeding affecting other sectors of the population.

The headline of one of the stories in the official news agency, IRNA, was: “It is not only the elite that migrate.” The daily newspaper, Javan, affiliated with the Iranian Revolutionary Guards, warned that Iran was losing some of its best-educated people, and stated that mass immigration of “elite elements” “costs the nation millions of dollars.” But immigration now attracts Iranians with less skills or devoid of skills.

According to the best semi-official estimates, since 1979 some eight million people, roughly 10 percent of the population, have left Iran, including an estimated 4.2 million highly educated and highly skilled people.

In the past four years, the brain drain has accelerated, with an average of 4,000 doctors leaving each year.

According to IRNA, at present, 30,000 general practitioners and senior nurses are awaiting the “good professional standing” certificates that developed countries require from those wishing to immigrate from so-called “developing countries”, such as Iran.

A study conducted by two researchers from the University of Tehran, Adel Abdullah and Maryam Rezaei, showed that almost all Iranians who immigrate seek to enter the European Union or the so-called “Anglosphere” countries such as Britain, Canada, the United States, New Zealand and Australia.

Only 10 percent of potential immigrants are willing to go “anywhere else” to get out of Iran.

The immigration requests did not include a single request who wanted to go to a Muslim country, and the only exception is Iraq, which attracts thousands of Iranian mullahs and students of theology who go to Najaf and Karbala to escape the government’s domination of religion in Tehran.

Potential immigrants also avoid China, India and Russia, while the only two Asian countries still attracting Iranians are Malaysia and Japan.

For many potential immigrants, the first destination they want to go to is Dubai, then Istanbul, then Cyprus and until recently Yerevan (the capital of Armenia), where visas are being applied for to desired destinations. Some immigrants may have to wait two or three years to obtain visas from the European Union, Canada and the United States.

Who migrates and why?

Some of the answers came from a three-year study conducted by Sharif University (Ariamher) in Tehran. According to the study, a survey of 17,078 people across all 31 provinces of Iran showed that 70 percent of senior managers and highly skilled employees in the public sector wish to immigrate.

In the projects and businessmen sector, 66 percent expressed their desire to emigrate. This figure drops to 60 percent among doctors, nurses and other medical personnel.

The study shows that the majority of potential immigrants are highly educated, unmarried youth from urban areas, i.e. the higher the education of the individual, the greater the desire to leave.

Among those who express “dissatisfaction with the current situation,” 43 percent of them want to leave the country. This figure drops to 40 percent among those who feel “great satisfaction”, which reveals that the desire to leave is deeper than occasional social and political concerns, which is confirmed by other figures in the same study.

Of those who felt “despairing about the future in Iran,” 42 percent want to leave, a figure that drops to 38 percent among those who still have some hope for the country’s future.

The study shows that the desire to flee Iran is not caused by economic hardship as a result of unemployment or inflation. It is not only the poor or the unemployed who wish to flee, but also those with good jobs, or candidates for well-paid jobs and a seat on the mullahs’ train and their security and military partners.

The largest number of immigrants comes from the provinces of Tehran, Isfahan and Qom, where per capita income is 30 percent higher than the average income in the country. Poorer provinces such as Sistan Baluchistan, Boyer Ahmad, Koh Kiluyeh, and South Khorasan are at the bottom of the list in terms of immigrant numbers.

The study does not provide figures, but there is anecdotal evidence that tens of thousands of immigrants, especially to Canada and the United States, are descended from ruling Islamic families.

None of the studies we looked at suggested other reasons as potential attractions for immigrants, such as the great success stories of Iranian immigrants around the world. A study conducted by Nooshin Karami revealed that more than 200 politicians of Iranian origin now occupy senior positions in the political structures of 30 countries, including those of the European Union and the Anglosphere. 1000 Iranians hold senior positions in international companies, while thousands more are active in the media, scientific research and academic circles in the leading industrialized countries. Dozens of Iranian writers, poets, playwrights, and filmmakers have built successful careers for themselves outside of Iran.

At the other end of the spectrum, Iran also attracts immigrants from neighboring Iraq, from the Kurdish and Shiite Arab regions, the Nakhichevan enclave, Afghanistan and Pakistan, while hosting thousands of religious students from Yemen, Syria, Lebanon and Nigeria. Qom.” According to state media, many students remain in Iran after completing their studies and marrying Iranian women.

All in all, Iran hosts more than six million “foreign guests,” including Afghan, Pakistani, and Iraqi refugees. Interestingly, the desire to leave seems to have reached the “guests” as well. Between March 2021 and March 2022, more than half a million Afghan refugees returned to their homes.

To deal with the consequences of this “brain drain,” the Islamic Republic unveiled a program to attract highly educated and skilled people from “anywhere in the world” with the promise of one-year contracts, good salaries, and enjoyment of “all citizenship rights except the right to vote.”

An estimated 300,000 fighters who served under the Iranian command in Lebanon, Syria, and Yemen were promised permanent residence in Iran and access to agricultural land to start a new life.

Critics claim that the Khomeinist regime is pleased that so many potential opponents among the urban middle class are leaving Iran, as Iran can compensate for the loss of population with newcomers from poor Muslim countries who aspire to a better standard of living under what they see as a “true Islamic” regime.

It is worth noting that other authoritarian regimes, notably the former Soviet Union, communist China, North Korea, Vietnam, and Cuba, benefited from the exodus of what they saw as potential enemies from the middle class, allowing them to implement a scheme of “great replacement.”

On this, Iranian Revolutionary Guard General Mohammad Reza Najdi said: “Let those who do not love us leave the country, to make room for those who love us.”

Continue Reading

Middle East

‘Saudi First’ aid policy marries geopolitics with economics

Avatar photo

Published

on

When Mohammed al-Jadaan told a gathering of the global political and business elite that Saudi Arabia would, in the future, attach conditions to its foreign aid, the finance minister was announcing the expansion of existing conditionality rather than a wholly new approach.

Coined ‘Saudi First,’ the new conditionality ties aid to responsible economic policies and reforms, not just support for the kingdom’s geopolitics.

For the longest time, Saudi Arabia granted aid with no overt strings. The aid was policed by privately demanding support for the kingdom’s policies, often using as a carrot and stick quotas for the haj, the yearly Muslim pilgrimage to the holy city of Mecca allotted to countries across the globe.

As a result, over the years, Saudi Arabia poured tens of billions of dollars into black holes, countries that used the aid as a band-aid to address an immediate crisis with no structural effort to resolve underlying causes.

For countries like Lebanon, Egypt, and Pakistan, this meant stumbling from one crisis to the next.

“We are changing the way we provide assistance and development assistance. We used to give direct grants and deposits without strings attached, and we are changing that. We are working with multilateral institutions to actually say, we need to see reform,” Mr. Al-Jadaan told this month’s World Economic Forum in the Swiss resort of Davos.

Saudi First serves multiple Saudi purposes.

It ties geopolitical drivers of Saudi aid to economic criteria that are likely to enhance the kingdom’s influence, create opportunities for Saudi investment and business, and enhance the kingdom’s ties to recipient countries.

In doing so, the additional conditionality positions the kingdom as a constructive, forward-looking member of the international community. It aligns Saudi Arabia more closely with multilateral institutions like the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund (IMF), regional development banks, and major donors such as the United States and the European Union.

It also enables Saudi rulers to circumvent the implications of the principle of ‘no taxation without representation’ that traces its roots to the American revolution.

Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman’s social and economic revamping of the kingdom while tightening the political screws as part of his plan to diversify the kingdom’s economy has involved introducing taxes with no political participation.

“Saudi people see their resources going abroad while they’re being asked to pay taxes, have their benefits cut, and so on. So, I think this Saudi first stance really serves as a way to both court and contain populism,” said Gulf scholar Kristin Smith Diwan.

Saudi circumvention of the American revolutionary principle, irrespective of whether it helps pacify Saudis, has already had unintended consequences.

Earlier this week, the Jordanian parliament fired a deputy, Mohammad Al-Fayez, for asking Mr. Bin Salman to stop aiding Jordan.

“All your aid lands in the pockets of the corrupt. Your donations pay bills that have nothing to do with the Jordanian people. We hear about aid coming in for the state. However, this aid only goes to a corrupt class that is getting richer at the expense of the proud Jordanian people,” Mr. Al-Fayez said in a letter to the crown prince.

The Jordanian parliament’s measure coincided with the Saudi finance minister’s announcement. Mr. Al-Fayez wrote his letter in December at the height of clashes in the southern city of Maan between security forces and protesters angry about rising fuel prices and poor governance.

Countries like Lebanon, Pakistan, and Egypt that are potentially most impacted by the new conditions for Saudi aid illustrate the geopolitical complexities of the change.

For Saudi Arabia, Lebanon is about countering Iran and its Lebanese Shiite proxy, Hezbollah, a powerful militia and political movement with significant influence in government and the country’s power structure.

Saudi Arabia hopes that the new conditionality will force a change in Lebanon’s power dynamics.

“The whole world knows what the kingdom offered Lebanon…until it…was back on its feet. But what can we do if current Lebanese policy chooses to surrender the reins of an ancient Arab nation to Iran’s proxy in that country?” asked Saudi columnist Hammoud Abu Taleb.

To be sure, the Lebanese establishment is responsible for the country teetering on the brink of collapse.

The World Bank has described the crisis fuelled by corruption, waste, and unsustainable financial policies as one of the worst globally since the mid-19th century.

This week’s judicial battle over holding powerful figures accountable for the 2020 Beirut port explosion that has spilled onto the streets of the Lebanese capital reflects the establishment’s determination to shield itself no matter the cost to Lebanon as a whole.

The explosion in a warehouse in the port housing hundreds of tons of ammonium nitrate, a material used in fertilizers, killed 218 people, injured more than 6,000, and damaged large parts of Beirut.

A Saudi contribution to forcing political change, a sine qua non for putting Lebanon on a path toward recovery, would be welcome.

It would also go some way towards the kingdom taking responsibility for its role in fighting a decades-long proxy war with Iran that helped bring the Mediterranean nation to its knees.

That is, if the conditions imposed by Saudi Arabia are tailored in ways that contribute to change while seeking to alleviate the pain the Lebanese endured, with the Lebanese pound losing 95% of its value, prices skyrocketing, and purchasing power demolished.

One way would be making accountability for the Beirut blast a condition for future aid.

Recent Saudi standoffishness towards the regime of Egyptian general-turned-president Abdel Fattah al-Sisi, was evident in the kingdom’s conspicuous absence at a gathering of regional leaders in Abu Dhabi earlier this month. Mr. Al-Sisi was one of the attendees.

The standoffishness reflects the fact that Egypt is a black hole. Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, and other Gulf states have injected tens of billions of dollars with few tangible results except for keeping in power a regime that emerged from a 2013 military coup supported by the kingdom and the Emirates.

Saudi Arabia and the UAE backed the coup as part of a campaign to roll back the achievements of the 2011 popular Arab revolts that toppled four leaders, including Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak.

The coup also ended the flawed presidency of Mohammed Morsi, Egypt’s first and only democratically elected leader. Because he was a member of the Muslim Brotherhood, Mr. Morsi was like a red cloth to a bull in the two Gulf states.

The UAE recognised early on that it needed to ensure its billions were judiciously deployed. So it based a Cabinet-level official in Cairo to advocate reforms and assist in crafting policies that would help put the economy back on track.

The Emirati effort came to naught, with Egypt continuously needing additional funds from the Gulf and the IMF, and the UAE, allowing Mr. Al-Sisi to turn the military into the country’s foremost economic player.

The impact of the Covid-19 pandemic and the Ukraine war on commodity and energy prices only aggravated Egypt’s economic crisis that is largely the result of Mr. Al-Sisi’s economic mismanagement

Mr. Al-Sisi unsuccessfully tried to manipulate Egypt’s currency, set misguided spending priorities, launched wasteful megaprojects, and expanded disruptive state and military control of the economy.

Time will tell what lessons the Saudis may learn from the Emirati experience. Unlike Lebanon, the question is whether Saudi Arabia will strictly impose its news aid policy conditionality or continue to view Egypt as too big to fail.

The problem for Saudi Arabia and the Gulf states is that popular discontent is simmering just below the surface in Egypt and could explode at any time. What makes things potentially more volatile is the possibility of the plight of the Palestinians, aggravated by the policies of Israel’s new hardline, Jewish nationalist government, becoming the catalyst for anti-government protests.

Such demonstrations have a life of their own, and in a moment, they can turn into a protest against the government, against poverty and waste, and we have a direct confrontation whose results can be lethal,” said an Egyptian journalist.

One factor in Saudi thinking about Egypt may be the perception that the North African country, which refused to get sucked into the kingdom’s war in Yemen, may no longer be the security buffer in Africa it once was together with Sudan, a country in transition following a 2019 popular revolt.

That seemed to be one reason for this month’s signing of a memorandum on defence cooperation between Saudi Arabia and Chad, a nation in a region wracked by ethnic and jihadist insurgencies.

The memorandum signals a potential Saudi interest in playing some security role in West Africa at a time that France is on the retreat while Turkey, Iran, and the Wagner Group, Russian mercenaries with close ties to President Vladimir Putin, are on the march.

Last year, Qatar mediated a peace agreement between the Chadian government and more than 30 rebel and opposition factions. However, nine groups, including the Front for Change and Concord in Chad (FACT), the most powerful insurgent faction, refused to sign the deal.

The likelihood of Saudi Arabia taking on an expanded security role far from its shores may be slim in the immediate future.

Even so, creating building blocks that include tighter relations with recipients of Saudi foreign aid through sensible strings attached is one step towards cementing the kingdom’s geopolitical influence.

Continue Reading

Publications

Latest

Trending