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President Erdogan’s visit to Qatar amid Gulf crisis

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Recently Turkey’s President Tayyip Erdogan traveled to Qatar, which Ankara has supported in its dispute with powerful Gulf Arab neighbors as the key part of his shuttle diplomacy. Erdogan visited Doha, following trips to Russia and Kuwait. President Erdogan and Qatar Emir held the meeting of the third session of the Qatar-Turkey Supreme Strategic Committee at the Emiri Diwan.

Qatar is the world’s largest exporter of liquefied natural gas. A group of nations led by Saudi Arabia and including Bahrain, Egypt and the United Arab Emirates cut ties with Qatar in June. On June 5, Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, the United Arab Emirates and Egypt cut ties with Qatar accusing it of backing extremism and fostering ties with their Shia rival Iran. Doha, however, vehemently denies the claims and Ankara has insisted there is absolutely no evidence to back the allegations.

The Gulf crisis was one of the important items on the agenda of President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s meetings in Kuwait and Qatar. “The crisis which started over five months ago in the Gulf Cooperation Council will be among the top-priority topics of the agenda,” the Presidential spokesman Ibrahim Kalin said in a statement.

Ankara has a military base in Qatar and deployed more troops after the hostilities erupted. The closure of the Turkish base was one of 13 conditions demanded by the Saudi-led bloc.

Turkey has backed Qatar since Saudi Arabia, Egypt, the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain, cut economic and diplomatic ties in July, accusing Doha of supporting terrorism, a charge it denies.

However, Turkey does not want to wreck its own relations with regional kingpin Saudi Arabia and its hugely powerful new Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman. Erdogan has carefully worked to improve Ankara’s relations with Riyadh which took a blow over the 2013 ousting of President Mohammad Morsi in Egypt, another ally of Ankara.

President Erdogan has strongly spoken out against the sanctions applied by the boycotting countries towards Doha. In a show of solidarity, Turkey has also sent cargo ships and hundreds of planes loaded with food products and other supplies to break the embargo on Doha.

President Erdogan’s visit to Qatar comes within the framework of the growing and distinguished relations of cooperation between the two brotherly countries in various fields. The Emir and the Turkish President discussed means of enhancing strategic bilateral cooperation between the two countries as well as reviewing the latest developments in the region.

As a part of his three nation tour, the Turkish President Erdogan arrived in Doha on Nov 15 for an official visit to Qatar. The State of Qatar’s Emir H H Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Al Thani held talks in Turkey on November15 with the emirate’s chief ally President Recep Erdogan, in his first trip abroad since the Gulf diplomatic crisis erupted.

Over the last years, Qatar has emerged as Turkey’s number one ally in the Middle East, with Ankara and Doha closely coordinating their positions on a number of issues including the Syria conflict where both are staunch foes of President Bashar al-Assad.

During the meetings held at higher levels, the two countries signed 14 agreements and memorandums of understandings (MoUs) to reach a total of signed agreements between the two sides to about 40 agreements covering all areas of vital cooperation between the two countries ranging between economic, cultural, defence, banking and cyber security as well as food and agricultural security. In addition to an agreement to protect investments and another twinning between Hamad Port and Turkish ports.

Qatar and Turkey have signed a defence agreement in 2014 to establish a Turkish base in Qatar, in aim to strengthen Qatar’s defence capabilities and promote the region’s security, without hostility against any party. When the current Gulf crisis break out and the unjust siege imposed on the State of Qatar, Turkey took the initiative and sent the rapid dispatch of foodstuffs and basic needs to Qatar’s citizens and residents.

The Turkish president has repeatedly called for the lifting of the blockade against Qatar. Erdogan has been a major supporter of Doha in the crisis that has seen Qatar left diplomatically and economically isolated. “We support a resolution of the crisis through a brotherly manner and through dialogue,” Ibrahim Kalin, Erdogan’s spokesman, told reporters. “This crisis only serves the enemies of this region.”

While seeking a quick end of confrontation between Qatar and Saudi Arabia, however, Turkey backs Qatar in the Gulf crisis that was triggered in June when Saudi Arabia, Egypt, the UAE and Bahrain cut diplomatic and trade ties with Qatar. The four states accuse Qatar of supporting terrorist groups — allegations Doha denies, describing the embargo as a breach of its national sovereignty.

Earlier, Erdogan in July embarked on a regional tour of the Gulf countries, with visits to Saudi Arabia, Kuwait and Qatar in a bid to defuse the crisis. But his visit then ended without any sign of a breakthrough and Ankara has shown signs of preferring to leave mediation efforts to Kuwait.On 15 Sept 2017 Turkey’s President Erdogan hosted Qatar’s emir. Qatar’s Emir Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Al Thani has held talks in Turkey with

Qatar’s Deputy Prime Minister and Foreign Minister H E Sheikh Mohamed bin Abdulrahman Al Thani has said that Qatar has US backing to resolve the ongoing crisis with a Saudi-led alliance. “The Trump administration is encouraging all sides to end the dispute and has offered to host talks at the Camp David presidential retreat, but only Qatar has agreed to the dialogue,” H E Sheikh Mohammed bin Abdulrahman Al Thani said yesterday, Bloomberg reported.

Abdulrahman Al Thani said he will meet Secretary of State Rex Tillerson next week after having talks this week with Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Bob Corker and ranking member Ben Cardin as well as other congressional leaders. “The Middle East needs to be addressed as the top priority of the foreign policy agenda of the United States,” he told reporters in Washington yesterday. “We see a pattern of irresponsibility and a reckless leadership in the region, which is just trying to bully countries into submission.”

Asked about the prospect of the Saudi-led bloc taking military action, the Deputy Prime Minister said though Qatar hopes that won’t happen, his country is “well-prepared” and can count on its defence partners, including France, Turkey, the UK and the US, which has a base in Qatar.  “We have enough friends in order to stop them from taking these steps,” but “there is a pattern of unpredictability in their behavior so we have to keep all the options on the table for us,” he said. On the US military presence, “if there is any aggression when it comes to Qatar, those forces will be affected,” he added. “Already, the boycott is impacting the US-led coalition fighting Islamic State militants in Iraq and Syria,” the Deputy Prime Minister and Foreign Minister said.

Qatar’s C-17 transport aircraft are the main planes ferrying logistical support to coalition partners, such as Jordan and Turkey.  But because Qatari planes are barred from flying over Saudi, Bahrain and the UAE, “we have only one pathway to fly, which is via Iran,” so that if there’s an emergency the planes may have to land in the Islamic Republic, he added.

Meanwhile, AFP reported that Abdulrahman Al Thani compared Saudi Arabia’s political manoeuvres in Lebanon to its boycott of his country, and accused Riyadh of a dangerous escalation. He said Qatar is ready to come to the table to resolve the dispute under US mediation. But he maintained Qatar’s tough stance, arguing that Riyadh is responsible for detonating a series of Middle East crises, by intervening in Lebanon, boycotting Qatar and bombing Yemen. “This is something we have just witnessed in the region: Bullying small countries into submission,” the Deputy Prime Minister and Foreign Minister said, suggesting that Saudi aggression is a new regional threat.  “Exactly what happened to Qatar six months ago is happening now to Lebanon,” he said. “The leadership in Saudi and the UAE should understand that there is a world order that should be respected. International law should be respected,” he said. “There is no right for any country to interfere in other countries,” he argued, warning: “There is a pattern that is very risky for the region, and very intimidatory.”

HH Abdulrahman Al Thani said Qatar was a strong US partner in war against terrorism.  To a question about allegations on supporting terrorism, H H Sheikh Mohamed bin Abdulrahman Al Thani said it was propaganda and in fact the entire campaign was started with such baseless accusations. Qatar was strong US partner in war against terrorism and was hosting centre of command for global coalition base as a big ally in war against terror. The Deputy PM and Foreign Minister said Qatar was front runner in fighting against ideology of terrorism through supporting education in vulnerable countries and was supporting education of 7m children in East and Central Asia. He said that the US always expressed its appreciation for this relationship and there was no indication that it wanted to close its base in Qatar. “In fact, we are developing this relationship further.”

Qatar is getting support from the USA for putting this crisis to an end but it was behavior and attitude of Saudi Arabia and the UAE which had laid siege Qatar and were taking illegal actions against Qatar.  He said that terrorism was bigger threat in the region but siege countries attitude was undermining the threat through anti-Qatar campaign.

Before his visit to Qatar, President Erdogan went to Kuwait. He and Kuwaiti ruler Sheikh Sabah al-Ahmad al-Sabah discussed “regional and international developments,” the government-run KUNA news agency said. Erdogan and Kuwait’s leader Sabah Ahmad Al-Jaber Al-Sabah discussed issues related to bilateral trade, and cooperation in defense, education and culture, according to the statement. Erdogan and the Kuwaiti emir discussed means to improve cooperation on all fronts between the two nations and also inked a direct investment agreement. Turkey’s and Kuwait’s military chiefs of staff held talks on the “developing and strengthening” military cooperation, according to KUNA. Kalin said that regional developments, particularly in Syria, Iraq and the Gulf region, along with bilateral relations between Turkey and the Gulf countries would be discussed in detail.

Former Ottoman Empire is making Ernest efforts to play pivotal and proactive role as a part of his rising diplomatic profile.  Recently Turkey, Qatar and Iran agreed to launch the Qatar-Turkey route through Iran in a move to boost trade between the two countries. The agreement will be signed soon between the transport ministers of the three countries according to the Turkish Ambassador to Doha Fikret Ozer.

Earlier in July, Erdogan had embarked on a regional tour of the Gulf countries, with visits to Saudi Arabia, Kuwait and Qatar in a bid to defuse the crisis. But his visit ended without any sign of a breakthrough and Ankara has shown signs of preferring to leave mediation efforts to Kuwait.

Turkey has increased trade with Qatar since the start of the embargo and the two countries have held joint military exercises in the Gulf state, where Ankara has a military base. It has said it will deploy 3,000 troops at the base.  The closure of the base was one of the conditions laid by the Saudi-led bloc for the lifting of the sanctions, which was rejected by Doha.

The two countries established the Supreme Strategic Committee under the leadership of H H the Emir and the Turkish President to act as an important mechanism for strengthening bilateral relations between the two countries in all fields. The Turkish exports to Qatar have increased three times more than usual to reach $32.5m since the beginning of the unjust siege, where these exports increased during last June to 51.5 percent on month-on-month (MoM) basis. As well Qatari investments in Turkey between 2011 and 2016 were valued at $1.29bn.

Through joint meetings of the committee, the two countries are explored the best ways to strengthen their bilateral relations. The committee meetings resulted in more qualitative cooperation between the two countries, which opened new horizons for cooperation. Thus the committee has played a major and catalytic role in the development of economic relations between the two countries since its inception.

As a group of nations led by Saudi Arabia and including Bahrain, Egypt and the United Arab Emirates blockaded Qatar in June; Kuwait has unsuccessfully led mediation efforts in the dispute, while Turkey has stepped in to support Qatar with food imports in the face of a blockade by the Arab states.

Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan met with the Emir of Kuwait Sheikh Sabah al-Ahmad al-Jaber al-Sabah in Kuwait City.  Kuwait has led mediation efforts in the dispute, while Turkey has stepped in to support Qatar with food imports in the face of a blockade by the Arab states. Erdogan and the Kuwaiti emir also discussed “means to improve co-operation on all fronts” between the two nations and also inked a direct investment agreement, KUNA said.  The report did not give further detail on the agreements. Turkey and Kuwait’s military chiefs of staff held talks on the “developing and strengthening” military co-operation, according to KUNA.

Prior to his Gulf trip, Erdogan visited Russia briefly, and discussed with his Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin Turkey’s expectations regarding the re-establishment of visa-free regime and lifting of all remaining trade sanctions by Moscow.

Following the downing of a Russian fighter jet in November 2015 over violation of Turkish airspace, Kremlin had ordered an end to visa-free travel with Turkey. Russia also banned some Turkish agricultural imports as well as firms involved in construction, engineering, and tourism.

Later Moscow came to know that Turkish military fired down the Russian jet plane on instructions, as usual, from Pentagon. Turkey as a key member of NATO has to oblige Washington in such military matters. Moscow and Istanbul came to recognize their common foe trying to split European Turkey and Eurasian Russia for strategic reasons. .

As a result, however, the bilateral relations improved considerably in recent times especially during the summer, Russia relaxed trade sanctions placed on Turkey. Most recently, on October 27, Russia lifted its restrictions on the import of tomatoes from Turkey beginning Nov. 1.

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Middle East

Kavala Case as a Cause for Dıplomatıc Crısıs

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Image source: Wikipedia

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Saudi Arabia and Iran want to be friends again

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Turkey and Iran find soft power more difficult than hard power

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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