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Israel and Saudi Arabia

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[yt_dropcap type=”square” font=”” size=”14″ color=”#000″ background=”#fff” ] I [/yt_dropcap]n Syria, on February 24 last, Iraq carried out its first bombing against Isis in the region of Abu Kemal, but the tactical and intelligence support to the Iraqi forces was been given by Russia and Iran, not by the United States which, however, also tacitly allowed the operations.

This also means that Putin has lost his patience and fears the new fragmentation of power and factionalism in the United States, considering Donald Trump’s Presidency and the intelligence agencies now deployed against the new President. Hence Putin goes on with his operations in Syria with the support of Iran and not with the US support, as had previously been planned by the Russian intelligence services.

It is also assumed that the United States does not accept the primary role of the Turkish forces in the conquest of Raqqa, the capital of the so-called “Caliphate”. However, after the conquest of the town of Al Bab in Northern Syria, the Turkish Foreign Minister, Mevlut Cavusoglu, announced that the Turkish armed forces would continue actions towards Raqqa with the support of France, Great Britain, and Germany – not to mention the United States.

Therefore, if the United States is de facto expelled from Syria, it will be irrelevant in the Greater Middle East. If the United States is short-lived in the Greater Middle East, America will be fully marginal in Europe. If it will not be present in Europe, this will not be a problem for the European Union which will not even notice it, but the United States will also be non-existent in the Maghreb region and in Central Asia.

The US absence will not be a danger for the EU’s foreign policy. The European foreign policy does not even exist now, let alone in the future.

Nevertheless for Russia and China it will mean “green light” for the great Eurasia planned by Russia and for the new Silk Road, namely the Road and Belt Initiative, conceived by China as early as 2013.

In both cases, this marks the end of the EU-US relationship as we currently know it, but in Brussels nobody has yet noticed it – hence let us leave them asleep.

It is exactly in this context that the rapprochement between Israel and Saudi Arabia must be seen.

Between February 21 and 22 last, while the United States showed their weakness in the Middle East and in the rest of the world, the Saudi Chief of the intelligence services, Khalid bin Ali al Humaidan, secretly visited both Ramallah and Jerusalem.

Al Humaidan, recently appointed Head of the main intelligence service of the Saudi Kingdom does not belong to the network of the most important princes of the Al Saud family, the so-called “seven Sudayri”, but has emerged solely thanks to a brilliant military career – and it is the first time that this happens.

In fact, the Saudi intelligence services are very worried about the project, authorized a few weeks ago by the Iranian Supreme Leader, Ali Khamenei, and also by President Rouhani, whom Westerners stupidly define as a “reformist” – a project that the Iranian Armed Forces define as Riyadh, at first.

For Iran the issue lies in adding further 100 kilometres to the range of their SCUD-C and SCUD-D missiles, which is currently 600 and 700 kilometres, respectively, so as to enable the missile to directly reach the Saudi capital city.

Currently the Iranian operation is implemented at the Al Ghadi base in the Ganesh area, about 48 kilometers from the capital city of the Shiite republic.

Al Ghadi is a few kilometres from Hamadan, the base that Iran granted to the Russian air force last August which, however, has already been left by it, with some Iran’s complaints.

Therefore the strategy of the Shiite republic is clear: instead of accepting diversions or multiple regional conflicts by proxy, Iran will hit immediately and directly the Saudi Kingdom with such a missile salvo as to block its decision-making centres and much of its economy.

On the other hand, just on February 4 last, Yemen’s Shiite Houthi rebels attacked with a Borkan missile (i.e. a Volcano 1 missile) – which has an average range of 800 kilometers – the Saudi camp of Al Mazahimiyah, 40 kilometres west of Riyadh.

The Borkan 1 is a tactical ballistic missile developed on the basis of the R-17 Soviet Elbrus model, but it is not very likely for this medium-range missile fuelled with solid propellant to have been launched by the Houthis. It is rather the first test of the new Iranian extended-range SCUD missile.

What will the Head of the Saudi intelligence services have said to the Palestinian leaders gathered in Ramallah?

Certainly he will have told the PLO heirs to stop strengthening their ties with Iran.

As early as 2014 Hamas and the Al Qassam Brigades have publicly reaffirmed their political-military relationship with the Shiite republic, even though Hamas is an offshoot of the Sunni Muslim Brotherhood that has always been the number one enemy of the Sunni kingdom of the Al Saud family.

While in 2012 Hamas had broken its relations with Iran, in the phase of the silly “Arab Springs”, by supporting the political legitimacy of President Hadi in Yemen, currently Haniyeh, the Hamas leader in the Gaza Strip, wants a preferential relationship with Iran for its financial and military support, while the Saudi and Arab Emirates’ support is vanishing.

And this happens even though the Hamas leaders would accept, at first and preferentially, the support of the Saudi Kingdom.

Support to the Palestinian struggle which, however, is currently not provided “for internal reasons within the Saudi regime,” as said by our sources within the Muslim Brotherhood in the Palestinian Territories.

Furthermore a meeting was already held between Iranian and Palestinian delegations in Brussels, in mid-February 2017.

It is that meeting which alerted the Saudi intelligence services.

The whole Iranian delegation had been appointed directly by President Rowhani, the “reformist,” while the Palestinian one was led by Jibril Rajoub, whom Mahmoud Abbas, the President of the Palestinian Authority, will probably appoint as his deputy in the coming days.

Rajoub is “persona non grata” for Jordan; he emerged as leader at the Fatah Congress held in Ramallah in 2016 and   cannot even travel to Egypt.

On the contrary, in Jerusalem, the Head of the Saudi intelligence services will have talked about the issues relating to the next Middle East Conference proposed by President Trump and Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu in their last meeting.

However, what is the current relationship between Israel and the Gulf petromonarchies?

It is worth recalling that Israel sent its first diplomatic mission to the United Arab Emirates, precisely to Abu Dhabi, on November 27, 2015.

Obviously both for the United Arab Emirates and for Saudi Arabia the relationship with the Jewish State is instrumental to contain Iran, a sworn enemy of both counties.

But we must consider the economy and, above all, the advanced technology, which is essential for the economic diversification of the Sunni petromonarchies.

Recently Qatar has even tried to establish some unofficial diplomatic channels with Israel – channels that had been disrupted after the 2008-2009 Israeli military actions in the Gaza Strip.

Saudi Arabia and the other Gulf petromonarchies are ever less interested in the Palestinians, but ever more greedy for the Israeli advanced technology that the United States has not or does not want to grant.

As early as the Six Day War, the Jewish State’s leadership has used the concessions made to the Palestinians with a view to defusing the threat that the Arab States posed to its very survival.

Moreover the Israeli diplomacy has always used the 1994 model of normalizing relations with Jordan to propose similar actions with the other Arab League countries.

And, over the years, the Qatari support to Hamas and the Saudi support to the whole Palestinian military and political region has become ever less passionate and relevant.

The primary reason is the massive corruption reigning in the Territories, which prevents also the Saudi and the Emirates’ counterparts from doing business, while the Saudi strategic equation is increasingly focused on Al Sisi’s Egypt, a ferocious enemy of the Muslim Brotherhood, rather than on Hamas, which is the Palestinian armed wing of the Brotherhood and, hence, directly operating in the Sinai region.

Currently the Saudi and Emirates’ support to the Palestinians is increasingly tactical and vague, except for preventing Iran from conquering the thriving market of “aid” to the Palestinian National Authority’s military forces.

Saudi Arabia does not want the increasingly close relationship between Mahmoud Abbas and Iran, nor it wants to support a military struggle against Israel – and it is worth noting King Salman Al Saud’s absence from the Arab League’s meeting held in Mauritania on July 25, 2016 – a Summit focused precisely on the Palestinian issue.

Currently the Israeli high-tech products and advanced technologies for irrigation have already entered the Kingdom through “third” companies.

In 2011, some Israeli companies sold military technology to the Arab Emirates to the tune of 300 million US dollars, while the members of the Gulf Security Council use technologies produced by the Jewish State to maintain safety and security in their oil wells.

In 2009 Saudi Arabia even tested its air defences to check the possibility of an Israeli attack on Iran launched from its territory while, on the basis of 2015 data, 53% of the Saudi citizens see Iran as the primary threat, while Israel is considered the number one enemy only by 18% of the Saudi citizens.

Moreover, Israel publicly supported the Egyptian granting of the two Red Sea islands to Saudi Arabia in April 2016, while the primary strategic relationship in which Israel is interested is the one regarding the Saudi – or anyway Sunni – opposition and contrast to Iran’s penetration into the Palestinian universe.

The companies resulting from the spin-off of the Israeli intelligence services are used by Saudi Arabia to probe the deep web, while much of cybersecurity in the Emirates is originated from Israel.

Recently the United Arab Emirates have spent six billion dollars in security infrastructure, by using Israeli engineers and companies owned by or linked to Israeli businessmen.

The main intermediary for these relations, at least at government level, is Ayub Kara, an Arab-Israeli Druze who is currently Minister in Netanyahu’s government.

He is a Likud man, who cherishes no illusions about the strategic aims of Israel’s possible “friends” in the Middle East.

The starting point for new networks between Riyadh and Jerusalem is the Red Sea-Dead Sea Conveyance Project.

The “Two Seas Canal” will bring drinking water from Aqaba to Lisan, in the Dead Sea – water available to Jordan, Israel and the Palestinian Territories – and will generate electricity. It is located entirely on the Jordanian territory and will be funded by the Jordanian government and by some international donors.

Its construction is expected to start next year and Ayub Kara, in particular, supports the redevelopment and enhancement of the Haifa port for the transport of goods to the EU and Turkey, in addition to conceiving a role for the Israeli port towards Saudi Arabia and Jordan.

Another Israeli project in which Saudi Arabia is interested is the old Red Sea pipeline, an old network of 50 years ago from Eilat to Ashkelon, built jointly with the Iranian Shah.

It avoids the Suez Canal and hence reduces many political costs, as well as the costs for transporting oil to Europe and the United States.

Last year, however, a Swiss court granted to Iran 1.1 billion US dollars for loss of earnings, but Israel refuses to pay this sum to Iran, as can be easily imagined.

Other Israeli companies in the safety and security sector sold to the United Arab Emirates integrated systems for monitoring networks and people flows – systems which are also used for the remote supervision of pilgrimages to Mecca and Medina.

Hence the new strategic coordinates of the Greater Middle East will be, on the one hand, the Iranian management of the Shiite minorities in Bahrain, Yemen, Afghanistan, Saudi Arabia and Syria and, on the other, Saudi Arabia’s opening to every Iranian enemy in the region.

The United States will continue their withdrawal from the Middle East system. Russia will become the true and only broker of military power and equilibriums in the Fertile Crescent. If there are no future military crises on its borders, in addition to the Syrian one, Israel will become the point of reference both for Russia and the Sunni world, which is orphan of the United States.

As is currently the case, Europe will be irrelevant and devoid of ideas.

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

Middle East

Why is Melih Bulu Seen as a Pro-AKP “Trustee” Rector?

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Photo: Youth Committees / Twitter

The new year started under the shadow of social tensions triggered by Melih Bulu’s appointment to the rectorate of Bosphorus University by President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan. Professor Melih Bulu had founded the Sarıyer district organization of the incumbent AK Party in 2002. Bulu who in 2015 became a candidate for being a deputy from AK Party could not gain nomination to run in the elections. Bulu also worked as a rector in two private universities before: İstinye University and Haliç University.

On December 31 2020, Bulu was the rectorate of Haliç University. The abrupt appointment of Bulu as the rector to Turkey’s most prestigious university prompted a major outrage since the move was regarded as a direct interruption of academic freedom.

Melih Bulu’s appointment to the rectorate of Bosphorus University caused a large unrest among Bosphorus students, graduates and scholars. In addition, people coming from different sectors of society who are critical of Erdoğan administration have also joined the “anti-Bulu” protest campaign on social media. After Bulu’s appointment, Bosphorus University students protested the appointment on social media by using the hashtag #KayyumRektörİstemiyoruz (“We don’t want a trustee rector”). For a couple of days, students of Bosphorus University have been making protests calling Bulu to resign. However Bulu posted an announcement on his Twitter account saying that he will embrace everyone and he is very excited and happy for his new duty.

After Bulu’s appointment, not just his political identity affiliated with AK Party was put under debate but also his academic background was put under scrutiny as well. Allegations of plagiarism against him broke out especially on Twitter. Bulu defined these allegations as “slander” and argued that this was the literature survey part of his PhD thesis and said, “I did not write some parts between quotation marks. We did not have something written available. There were different citation rules but I put it in the bibliography section.”

According to the Global Academic Freedom Index Turkey has only 9.7 points out of 100 and it is in the rank of 135 out of 144 countries. Turkey is in the similar level with Syria and Turkmenistan.

In previous weeks, journalist Cüneyt Özdemir hosted Bulu in his live Youtube programme and in live broadcast, Bulu saluted the students from the window of his office at rectorate building while the students yelled asking for his resign and this act of Bulu caused surprises and ironies on social media. Amid this environment, on January 5, a group of Bosphorus University academics staged a peaceful protest by standing with their backs to the rectorate building during the handover ceremony for Bulu. The academics of Bosphorus University  made a public statement underlining that this appointment is a practice introduced for the first time after the 1980s military tutelage.

Their full statement is as follows:

“’We don’t accept, we don’t give up!’

On January 1, 2021 at midnight, an academic outside Bogazici University community was appointed as rector, which is a practice introduced for the first time after the 1980s military tutelage.

This is yet another case of many ongoing anti-democratic practices since 2016, aiming at abolishing rectorial elections. We do not accept it as it clearly violates academic freedom and scientific autonomy as well as the democratic values of our university. We refuse to compromise the principles the University Senate officially stated in 2012:

1. To enhance scientific research and social development, it is indispensable that universities be free from any pressure or influence from a person or an institution and not be used as a political tool.

2. For academic freedom, it is imperative that decision-making processes be delegated to democratically elected academic administrators and boards. All academic administrators including the Rector, Deans, Directors of Institute, Directors of Schools and Department Heads can be appointed only after being elected by the university community.

3. As universities are autonomous constitutional establishments, it is vital that university instructors and/or university boards decide on academic programs and research policies, which is an essential prerequisite for scientific freedom and creativity.

We strictly adhere to the principles above and we pledge to follow them up with all the other members of our university community.”

On the other hand, police forces detained more than 20 university students in home raids after the protests against the appointment of Bulu. In the mainstream pro-government media actors’ coverage of these events, it is argued that the detained people are not students, but they are members of illegal organizations whereas Canan Kaftancıoğlu, the Republican People’s Party’s current provincial president in Istanbul rejected this and argued that they are students.

According to Althusser (1971), the modern state keeps the authority and control through two main systems: Repressive State Apparatuses & Ideological State Apparatuses. One of  areas concerning the ideological state apparatuses is known as education. In this regard, Erdoğan’s appointment of Bulu can be seen as a step of using ideological state apparatuses.

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Middle East

Morocco Increases Pressure on Hezbollah by Arresting One of its Alleged Financiers

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At a time when global attention is focused on the fight against the pandemic and the global effort to vaccinate populations, terrorist organizations and organized crime are trying to take advantage of the situation to carry out operations to finance their operations. In this context, Morocco’s announcement of the arrest of an alleged international con man linked to Hezbollah is considered a success for the Moroccan security services.

According to an official statement relayed by the Moroccan Official Agency, a suspect was arrested last Wednesday by the National Brigade of the Judicial Police (BNPJ). The 57-year-old Lebanese national is linked to the Hezbollah movement, an organization supported by Iran and considered as a terrorist group by the United States, the Netherlands and the United Kingdom. During the search conducted by the Moroccan police force, following intelligence and investigative work carried out by the Directorate General of Territorial Surveillance (DGST), investigators found European passports – French and Italian – as well as identity documents listed in the Interpol database as stolen. The suspect was taken into custody and brought before the King’s Prosecutor in order to continue the investigation, in partnership with Interpol and the countries involved in the alleged identity document thefts.

U.S. Recognition of Moroccan Sovereignty over Western Sahara

Moroccan authorities believed the suspect used these false identities to present himself as holding important roles in multinational corporations to defraud victims with promises of juicy deals and quick profit. While it is unclear at this stage of the investigation whether the international swindler intended to raise funds for Hezbollah, the arrest comes at a particularly crucial time for Morocco, following the recognition by the United States of America of Moroccan sovereignty over the disputed territory of Western Sahara on December the 10th, and the resumption of diplomatic relations with Israël. After this recognition, The US announced a 3 billion dollars investment plan to help Morocco boost its economy and development, as well as the opening of a regional office of its “Prosper Africa” initiative. Moreover, this Sunday, the Assistant Secretary of State for Near Eastern Affairs David Schenker came to Western Sahara on the 9th of January to inaugurate a U.S. consulate in the coastal city of Dakhla, alongside the Moroccan minister for foreign affairs, Nasser Bourita.

Morocco Broke off diplomatic relations with Iran in 2018

Since 2018, Morocco has vigorously denounced Hezbollah’s alleged links with the Polisario Front separatist movement, and broke diplomatic relations with Tehran in the process, as explained by the Think-Tank Atlantic Council . Although both Iran and Hezbollah immediately refuted Morocco’s accusations regarding the organization’s alleged links with the Polisario Front, Rabat continued to increase its pressure and has since taken substantive action to curb the actions of the organization’s agents. In March 2017,  Kingdom arrested at the Casablanca airport Kassem Tajjedine, described by the Americans as the main financier of the organization. The latter was wanted for fraud, money laundering, and financing of terrorist activity, according to Reuters. Tajjedine was extradited to the US where he was sentenced to five years in Prison, and was released on July 2020 as part of a secret US-Iran deal.

Morocco is considered a stable country in North Africa, both on the political and economic level, as well as an important Hub for doing business in Africa and Europe. Over the last twenty years, the Kingdom had a steady growth rate of its GDP at around 4% and built top-class infrastructures, including the largest African port in Tangiers, 2000 Miles of Highway, a High-Speed train between Tangiers and Rabat, and the largest solar station of Africa in the south of the country.

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Middle East

Egypt’s search for a fig leaf: It’s not the Handball World Championship

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Photo: Flickr/Ninian Reid

Hosting major sports tournaments can confer prestige on a country, but in the case of Egypt, the 2021 Handball World Championship will do little to repair its relations with the US, Italy and states in the Gulf, argues James M. Dorsey in this analysis.

***

Egyptian general-turned president Abdel Fattah Al-Sisi sees the 2021 men’s handball world championship in Cairo and Alexandria as an opportunity to put his best foot forward at a time when Egypt’s relations with its closest regional and global partners are encountering substantial headwinds.

Successful hosting of the championship, the first to involve 32 rather than 24 competing teams, would also serve to  counter criticism of the government’s handling of the coronavirus pandemic. Egyptian health minister Hala Zayed recently admitted that many more Egyptians contracted the virus than the government has so far reported. A successful hosting would further put a crown in the feather of Egyptian-born International Handball Federation (IHF) president Hassan Moustafa.

Egypt has put strict pandemic-related precautionary heath measures in place for the tournament from the moment teams, officials, and journalists arrive at Cairo International Airport. The measures apply to training, lodging and media arrangements as well as the transport to and from hotels and the championship’s four designated match venues. Egypt is determined to ensure that the championship does not turn into a spreader of Covid-19.

That concern prompted the IHF and Egyptian authorities at the last minute to shelve a plan to allow fans into the four venues that include the Cairo Stadium Sports Hall, the New Capital Sports Hall in Egypt’s newly built desert capital east of Cairo, the Dr Hassan Moustafa Sports Hall in Giza, and the Borg Al Arab Sports Hall in Alexandria.

The IHF said the decision was taken “considering the current COVID-19 situation as well as concerns that have been raised, amongst others by the players themselves.”

Critics charge that Egypt is hosting the tournament even though it seems unable to meet the basic requirements of medical personnel who are on the frontline of the fight against the pandemic.

Doctors and nurses have protested against the high number of infections in their ranks because  they lack access to sufficient personnel protection equipment and are threatened with imprisonment if they fail to report to work despite the risk to their lives.

Symptomatic for Mr. Al-Sisi’s brutal crackdown on any kind of criticism, several doctors have been arrested on terrorism charges for voicing their grievances.

Putting aside the fact that the impact of a handball tournament pales when compared to the prestige of hosting a mega-event like the World Cup or the Olympic Games, the handball tournament is unlikely to provide much of a fig leaf for Mr. Al-Sisi’s hardhanded repression of anyone voicing an opinion but his sycophantic supporters.

That is particularly true for the incoming administration of US President-elect Joe Biden that has not only promised to emphasize human rights in its foreign policy but also needs to do so in its bid to repair America’s image and restore its credibility, severely damaged by four years of Donald J. Trump, widely viewed as an authoritarian who undermined foundations of democracy.

Similarly, the tournament will not change perceptions in Italy and much of Europe that hold Mr. Al-Sisi’s intelligence service and law enforcement responsible for the kidnapping, torture and killing of Giulio Regeni.

A 28-year-old postgraduate student at Cambridge University, Mr. Regeni had been researching Egypt’s independent unions before he went missing in late January 2016. His body was found in a ditch so badly mutilated that his mother could only identify her son by the tip of his nose. He reportedly had sustained a broken neck, wrist, toes, fingers, and teeth before his death, while initials were carved into his severely burned and bruised skin.

Relations between Egypt and Italy last month deteriorated further when Egypt’s public prosecution closed its investigation into Mr. Regeni’s murder, rejecting Italian prosecutors’ findings that accused four Egyptian security officials of responsibility for his death.

Mr. Al-Sisi’s abominable human rights record may not be of concern to the United Arab Emirates and Saudi Arabia but equally the tournament will do little to repair cracks in his relationship with the two Gulf states, his main financial backers.

In a move that will not have gone unnoticed in Gulf capitals, Egypt anointed the newly opened, Qatari-owned St. Regis hotel on the banks of the Nile River in Cairo as one of the tournament’s key logistics nodes, including its media center.

Qatari Finance Minister Ali Sharif al-Emadi landed in Cairo last week to inaugurate the hotel hours after a Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) summit lifted a 3.5-year long Saudi-UAE led economic and diplomatic boycott of Qatar, in which Egypt as well as Bahrain participated. Mr. Al-Emadi was the first Qatari Cabinet official to visit Egypt since the boycott was imposed in 2017.

Showcasing the hotel was meant to counter-intuitively signal to Saudi Arabia and the UAE Egypt’s concern that reconciliation with Qatar involved far too many concessions, including dropping demands for the closure of Qatar’s state-funded, freewheeling Al Jazeera television network and a halt to support of political groups like the Muslim Brotherhood.

Egypt was forced to reluctantly agree to lifting the boycott even though it accepted continued Qatari investment and Qatari gas supplies over the last 3.5 years.

Egypt also felt sidelined by the UAE and Bahrain’s establishment of diplomatic relations with Israel. The move deprived Egypt of its role as Israel’s primary official diplomatic conduit to the Arab world at a moment that the Al-Sisi regime is seeking to put its best foot forward in anticipation of Mr. Biden taking office.

Mr. Al-Sisi’s concerns are compounded by Emirati support for Ethiopia with which he is at odds over the construction of a dam on the Nile that threatens Egypt’s water supply; the UAE’s growing influence in neighboring Sudan; plans to link the UAE and Israel through a pipeline that would compete with Egypt in selling gas to Europe; and Emirati interest in the port of Haifa that could create an alternative to the Suez Canal.

All of this could undermine Egypt’s position as a key pillar of US Middle East policy and persuade the US to further shift the focal point of its broader Middle East and North Africa policy to the Gulf.

Mr. Al-Sisi has sought to pre-empt an incoming Biden administration by releasing prisoners, highlighting his good relations with Egyptian Christians, and hiring US lobbying firms to plead his case to the Biden camp as well as Capitol Hill.

Hosting a handball world championship is a minor maneuver in the mountain that Mr. Al-Sisi is trying to move, particularly one that Mr. Trump tarnished by describing the Egyptian leader as “my favorite dictator.” That is a label a handball tournament is unlikely to alter.

Author’s note: This article first appeared on Play the Game

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