Former National Security Adviser Michael Flynn’s acceptance of a plea deal recently gives the U.S. and Turkey the opportunity and imperative to leave their recent bilateral quarrels behind and pursue the tremendously diverse mutual opportunities before them, while focusing on defeating common enemies—including ISIS and radical Muslim cleric Fethullah Gülen.
Flying under the radar compared with the high-profile jihadist exploits of ISIS, the Pennsylvania-based Turkish imam, worth an estimated $24 billion, a net worth from where, no one seems to know, sits with seeming impunity. A real investigation into his widespread nefarious activities, including evidence-based allegations of masterminding an attempted coup in Turkey a year ago, remain key to repairing once deep and close bilateral relations.
According to WikiLeaks, the State Department describes Gülen as “a ‘radical Islamist’ whose moderate message cloaks a more sinister and radical agenda.”
Key to broad reconciliation is bringing Gülen to justice, but not singularly so. The whistleblowers, working to expose Gülen’s exploits and subsequently caught up in associated scandals, must be cleared.
One of the most prominent amongst these, Ekim Alptekin, became inadvertently embroiled in the investigation into Michael Flynn. Alptekin, a business leader and a private Turkish citizen of some significant regard and esteem, personally hired Flynn to gather information on Gülen to prove the many allegations against the radical imam.
Somewhere, very lost in translation, Alptekin was branded an agent of Turkey. In reality, those who know him attest that he is a well-placed businessman performing his civic duty by utilizing his relationships in the U.S. to compile evidence against the treacherous radical. The fact that Alptekin maintains high-level relationships in Turkey, the U.S. and around the world is incidental and a function of a successful career.
A multitude of accounts from the foreign policy and political worlds contest any involvement of Turkey or Turkish officials in Alptekin’s efforts vis a vis Gülen. Although Flynn admitted to lying to the FBI, his former client, Alptekin, insists that Flynn acted honorably and within the letter of the law in all his interactions. Confirming Alptekin’s narrative, a growing cadre of legal experts believe that Flynn admitted to lying simply to extricate himself and his son from the enormously costly and personally damaging proceedings.
Many countries, including Russia and Pakistan, have banned all Gülen-affiliated organizations. Even terrorism-plagued Afghanistan is up to speed, moving this month to arrest four teachers associated with the Gülen-linked Afghan Turk Cag Educational NGO. Yet America is still missing the point and its interests with NATO-ally Turkey continue to suffer.
Each year, hundreds of millions in American taxpayer dollars, ostensibly to fund Gülen’s vast charter school network in the U.S., allegedly fund the radical imam personally, his followers and operations worldwide. Gülen charter schools have faced continuous Federal and state investigations for immense financial malfeasance, including Texas, Louisiana, Illinois, Ohio, California and elsewhere.
However, Gülen continues to evade justice as these investigations fail to recognize the sheer volume of malpractices and the utter enormity of Gülen’s criminal empire. Most shockingly, Gülen schools reportedly teach radical Islamic tenets that experts agree resemble those of the most virulent and violent terrorist organizations.
Pragmatically, Turkey wishes Gülen extradited to face trial for masterminding the failed coup against President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and the democratically elected government of Turkey. But so far, Washington has taken very little initiative to meet this legitimate request.
Oddly, while Gülen receives little mainstream media attention compared to the broader points of tension in the American-Turkish relationship, resolving the Gülen issue is a monumental step toward restoring productive bilateral ties.Negotiations have moved slowly under President Donald Trump, still in stark contrast to the intransigent President Barack Obama.
“Turkish – U.S. bilateral relations have consistently been damagingly affected and influenced by the residency of Mr. Gülen in the U.S. and the U.S. Department of Justice’s failure to extradite him for his crimes. Washington should carefully reconsider strengthening its multi-vector bilateral partnership with Ankara, placing an emphasis on the defense partnership.”Peter Tase, international relations consultant Director of Paraguay Economic Forumand Institute of World Politics.
Interestingly, while Gülen benefits from a mainstream media whitewash in which his radicalism and corruption are all but ignored, simultaneously, Flynn serves as an avenue to attempt to discredit Trump. Still, Alptekin, who sought to do right for all concerned, including American children, is vilified for his association with Flynn. Alptekin is plainly collateral damage, as seems to be the indispensable relations between the U.S. and Turkey.
Arriving at a new era in U.S.-Turkey relations means understanding and accepting contemporary Turkey and appreciating the threat of Gülen to the fabric of Turkey, its democratic development and society.
Turkey is a modern and sovereign nation, a significant world economic power and a key stabilizing force in the Middle East and, thus, should endure as America’s indispensable ally. Those who care about U.S.-Turkish relations should take a page from Alptekin’s playbook — bring Gülen to justice, focus on shared interests and values, engage in mutually beneficial projects, and work to maintain the health and fortitude of ties between Ankara and Washington.
War in Libya: A rare instance of US-Russian cooperation
There is little that Russia and the United States agree on these days. Renegade Libyan Field Marshal Khalifa Belqasim Haftar may be a rare exception.
As Mr. Haftar’s mortars rained on the southern suburbs of the Libyan capital Tripoli and fighting between his Libyan National Army (LNA) and the United Nations-recognized government expanded to the south of the country, both Russia and the United States stopped a call for a ceasefire from being formally tabled in the UN Security Council.
Russia, which has joined US allies that include the United Arab Emirates, Saudi Arabia, Egypt and France, in supporting Mr. Haftar because of his grip on Libya’s oil resources and assertions that Islamists dominate the Tripoli government, objected to the British draft resolution because it blamed the rebel officer for the fighting.
The United States gave no reason for its objection. Yet, it shares Russia’s aversion to Islamists and clearly did not want to break ranks with some of its closest Middle Eastern allies, certainly not at a time that the UN was investigating allegations that the UAE had shipped weapons to Mr. Haftar in violation of an international arms embargo.
The significance of US-Russian agreement on Mr. Haftar’s geopolitical value goes far beyond Libya. It reveals much of how presidents Donald J. Trump and Vladimir Putin see the crafting of a new world order. It also says a great deal about Russian objectives in the Middle East and North Africa.
Messrs. Trump and Putin’s preference for a man with a questionable human rights record who, if successful, would likely rule Libya as an autocrat, reflects the two leaders’ belief that stability in the Middle East and North Africa is best guaranteed by autocratic rule or some democratic façade behind which men with military backgrounds control the levers of power.
It is a vision of the region promoted by representatives of UAE crown prince Mohammed bin Zayed who sees authoritarian stability as the best anti-dote to popular Arab revolts that swept the region in 2011 and more recently in Algeria and Sudan are proving to have a second lease on life.
Underlying the Trump-Putin understanding is a tacit agreement among the world’s illiberal, authoritarian and autocratic leaders on the values that would underwrite a new world order. It is an agreement that in cases like Libya reduces rivalry among world powers to a fight about the divvying up of the pie rather than the concepts such as human and minority rights that should undergird the new order.
Moscow’s support for Mr. Haftar serves Russia’s broader vision of the Middle East and North Africa as an arena in which Russia can successfully challenge the United States even if Messrs. Trump and Putin agree on what side to support in a Libyan civil war that is aggravated by the interference of foreign powers.
Russia national security scholar Stephen Blank argues that Mr. Putin’s strategy is rooted in the thinking of Yevgeny Primakov, a Russian Middle East expert, linguist and former spymaster, foreign minister and deputy prime minister.
Mr. Primakov saw the Middle East as a key arena for countering the United States that would enable Russia, weakened by the demise of the Soviet Union and economic problems, to regain its status as a global and regional power and ensure that it would be one pole in a multi-polar world.
“In order to reassert Russia’s greatness, Primakov and Putin aimed ultimately at strategic denial, denying Washington sole possession of a dominant role in the Middle East from where US influence could expand to the Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS)” established in the wake of the demise of the Soviet Union to group post-Soviet states, Mr. Blank said.
Messrs. Primakov and Putin believed that if Russia succeeded it would force the United States to concede multi-polarity and grant Russia the recognition it deserves. That, in turn, would allow Mr. Putin to demonstrate to the Russian elite his ability to restore great power status.
Syria offered Russia the opportunity to display its military prowess without the United States challenging the move. At the same time, Russia leveraged its political and economic clout to forge an alliance with Turkey and partner with Iran. The approach served to defang Turkish and Iranian influence in the Caucasus and Central Asia, Mr. Blank argued.
Similarly, Russia after brutally repressing religiously inspired Chechen rebels in the 1990s and despite the lingering memory of the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan, has in line with UAE precepts, proven to be far defter than either China or the United States at promoting politically pacifist or apolitical loyalist Islam in a complex game of playing both sides against the middle.
Russian engagement runs the gamut from engaging with militants to cooperating with Muslim autocrats to encouraging condemnation of activist strands of ultra-conservative Islam to hedging its bets by keeping its lines open to the Tripoli-based Government of National Accord (GNA).
Even if Russia may be walking a tightrope in balancing its relationships with Mr. Haftar and GNA Prime Minister Fayez al-Sarraj, like in Syria, it is positioning itself with the backing of the UAE, Saudi Arabia and Egypt as the potential mediator that maintains ties to both sides of the divide.
Said Russian foreign minister Sergei Lavrov: “We believe that Libya’s future must be determined by the Libyans themselves. We are convinced that there is no alternative to an inclusive intra-Libyan dialogue… Our work on this track proceeds in this spirit and the belief that there is no alternative to preserving the sovereignty and territorial integrity of Libya.”
Battling for the Future: Arab Protests 2.0
Momentous developments across Arab North and East Africa suggest the long-drawn-out process of political transition in the region as well as the greater Middle East is still in its infancy.
So does popular discontent in Syria despite eight years of devastating civil war and Egypt notwithstanding a 2013 military coup that rolled back the advances of protests in 2011 that toppled Hosni Mubarak and brought one of the country’s most repressive regimes to power.
What developments across northern Africa and the Middle East demonstrate is that the drivers of the 2011 popular revolts that swept the region and forced the leaders of Egypt, Tunisia, Libya and Yemen to resign not only still exist but constitute black swans that can upset the apple cart at any moment.
The developments also suggest that the regional struggle between forces of change and ancien regimes and militaries backed by the United Arab Emirates and Saudi Arabia is far from decided.
If anything, protesters in Algeria and Sudan have learnt at least one lesson from the failed 2011 results: don’t trust militaries even if they seemingly align themselves with demonstrators and don’t surrender the street until protesters’ demands have been fully met.
Distrust of the military has prompted an increasing number of Sudanese protesters to question whether chanting “the people and the army are one” is still appropriate. Slogans such as “freedom, freedom” and “revolution, revolution” alongside calls on the military to protect the protesters have become more frequent.
The protests in Algeria and Sudan have entered a critical phase in which protesters and militaries worried that they could be held accountable for decades of economic mismanagement, corruption and repression are tapping in the dark.
With protesters emboldened by their initial successes in forcing leaders to resign, both the demonstrators and the militaries, including officers with close ties to Saudi Arabia and the UAE, are internally divided about how to proceed.
Moreover, neither side has any real experience in managing the crossroads at which they find themselves while it is dawning on the militaries that their tired playbooks are not producing results.
In a telling sign, Sudan’s interim leader Abdel Fattah Abdelrahman Burhan praised his country’s “special relationship” with Saudi Arabia and the UAE as he met this week with a Saudi-Emirati delegation at the military compound in Khartoum, a focal point of the protests.
Saudi Arabia has expressed support for the protests in what many suspect is part of an effort to ensure that Sudan does not become a symbol of the power of popular sovereignty and its ability to defeat autocracy.
The ultimate outcome of the dramatic developments in Algeria and Sudan and how the parties manoeuvre is likely to have far-reaching consequences in a region pockmarked by powder kegs ready to explode.
Mounting anger as fuel shortages caused by Western sanctions against Syria and Iran bring life to a halt in major Syrian cities have sparked rare and widespread public criticism of president Bashar al-Assad’s government.
The anger is fuelled by reports that government officials cut in line at petrol stations to fill up their tanks and buy rationed cooking gas and take more than is allowed.
Syria is Here, an anonymous Facebook page that reports on economics in government-controlled areas took officials to task after state-run television showed oil minister Suleiman al-Abbas touring petrol stations that showed no signs of shortage.
“Is it so difficult to be transparent and forward? Would that undermine anyone’s prestige? We are a country facing sanctions and boycotted. The public knows and is aware,” the Facebook page charged.
The manager of Hashtag Syria, another Facebook page, was arrested when the site demanded that the oil ministry respond to reports of anticipated price hikes with comments rather than threats. The site charged that the ministry was punishing the manager “instead of dealing with the real problem.”
Said Syrian journalist Danny Makki: “It (Syria) is a pressure cooker.”
Similarly, authorities in Egypt, despite blocking its website, have been unable to stop an online petition against proposed constitutional amendments that could extend the rule of President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi until 2034 from attracting more than 320,000 signatures as of this writing.
The petition, entitled Batel or Void, is, according to Netblocks, a group that maps web freedom, one of an estimated 34,000 websites blocked by Egyptian internet service providers in a bid to stymie opposition to the amendments.
Mr. El-Sisi is a reminder of how far Arab militaries and their Gulf backers are potentially willing to go in defense of their vested interests and willingness to oppose popular sovereignty.
Libyan renegade Field Marshall Khalifa Belqasim Haftar is another, Mr. Haftar’s Libyan National Army (LNA) is attacking the capital Tripoli, the seat of the United Nations recognized Libyan government that he and his Emirati, Saudi, and Egyptian backers accuse of being dominated by Islamist terrorists.
The three Arab states’ military and financial support of Mr. Haftar is but the tip of the iceberg. Mr. Haftar has modelled his control of much of Libya on Mr. El-Sisi’s example of a military that not only dominates politics but also the economy.
As a result, the LNA is engaged in businesses ranging from waste management, metal scrap and waste export, and agricultural mega projects to the registration of migrant labour workers and control of ports, airports and other infrastructure. The LNA is also eyeing a role in the reconstruction of Benghazi and other war-devastated or underdeveloped regions.
What for now makes 2019 different from 2011 is that both sides of the divide realize that success depends on commitment to be in it for the long haul. Protesters, moreover, understand that trust in military assertions of support for the people can be self-defeating. They further grasp that they are up against a regional counterrevolution that has no scruples.
All of that gives today’s protesters a leg up on their 2011 counterparts. The jury is out on whether that will prove sufficient to succeed where protesters eight years ago failed.
As Marsha Lazareva languishes in jail, foreign businesses will “think twice” before investing in Kuwait
IF THERE IS one thing to glean from the case of Marsha Lazareva, it’s that foreign businesses must now think very carefully before investing in Kuwait.
For more than a year, Lazareva, who has a five-year-old son and is one of Russia’s most successful female investors in the Gulf, has been held in the Soulabaiya prison by Kuwaiti authorities. Those authorities claim she ‘stole’ half a billion dollars, a claim she strenuously denies.
Human rights groups and prominent officials, including the former FBI director, Louis Freeh, and Jim Nicholson, former Chairman of the Republican Party and former US Ambassador to the Vatican, have called for her release and expressed concerns about the apparent absence of due process in a country where Lazareva has worked for over 13 years. Both Freeh and Nicholson visited Kuwait in recent weeks with Neil Bush, son of the late President George H. W. Bush. Bush has said Lazareva’s incarceration ‘threatens to darken relations between the U.S. and Kuwait, two countries that have enjoyed a long and prosperous relationship.’
Russian officials have been equally concerned. Vladimir Platonov, the President of the Moscow Chamber of Commerce and Industry, confirmed that a single witness gave testimony in Kuwaiti court, and only for the prosecution. ‘I myself worked in prosecution for more than eight years, and I cannot imagine any judge signing off on an indictment like this,’ he said. ‘One fact of particular note is that Maria was given 1,800 pages of untranslated documents in Arabic.’
Serious questions surrounding the safety and future viability of investing in Kuwait are now being raised. Through The Port Fund, a private investment company managed by KGL Investment, Lazareva has contributed hundreds of millions of dollars to local infrastructure and economic development projects during her time in the country. Until 2017, when a Dubai bank froze $496 million without cause, she had worked largely unobstructed.
But as things stand, more foreign investment is unlikely to be forthcoming. Jim Nicholson has said that the ‘imprisonment and harassment’ of Lazareva ‘threatens’ U.S. support. adding that the ‘willingness of the U.S. to do business with Kuwait’ is based on ‘its record as a nation that respects human rights and the rule of law’. Mark Williams, the investment director of The Port Fund and a colleague of Lazareva’s, has called on international investors to ‘think twice before doing business in this country’.
These comments will surely concern the Kuwaiti government, who said last year that FDI was ‘very crucial’ to the success of its Kuwait Vision 2035 road map. In September 2018, the FTreported that the government planned to reverse its traditional position as an investor in order to diversify its economy, carrying out a series of reforms designed to facilitate foreign investment and assist investors.
But despite these changes, which have propelled Kuwait to 96th—higher than the Middle East average—in the World Bank’s ‘Ease of Doing Business’ report, investors may be unwilling to take the risk so long as Lazareva remains in jail. Lazareva’s lawyers have accused Kuwait of violating international law by breaching a long-standing bilateral investment treaty with Russia. Lord Carlile of Berriew, QC has brought the case to the attention of the British public and the EU, writing in The Times that ‘there is no evidential basis to justify any claim of dishonesty, corruption or any other criminal wrong’. He added: ’Anyone thinking of doing business in Kuwait should read on with mounting concern.’
What’s worth remembering is that Kuwait is an important, long-standing ally of the UK, and a country generally seen as stable and fair. It is equally a major non-NATO ally of the United States, where there are more than 5,000 international students of Kuwaiti origin in higher education. But these relationships, and the investment to which they have historically led, have been cast into doubt. And it now seems certain that relations will continue to sour so long as Marsha Lazareva languishes in Soulabaiya.
Apple expands global recycling programs
Apple today announced a major expansion of its recycling programs, quadrupling the number of locations US customers can send their...
USA at odds with Europe and not only with Europe
The recent statement made by US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo to the effect that his country has failed to...
ADB’s Strategy 2030 Needs to be Accompanied by a Strong Results Orientation
The Asian Development Bank’s (ADB) new long-term corporate strategy, Strategy 2030, which came into effect this year, needs to be...
Luxembourg, UN Environment sign deal to accelerate sustainable finance
Luxembourg today signed an agreement to back a UN Environment-convened network that helps the world’s major financial centres to increase...
Violence complicates Pakistan PM’s tightrope walk as he visits Iran and China
Two attacks in as many weeks in Pakistan’s troubled province of Balochistan shatter hopes that the country has gained the...
Development in South Africa: Bridging the Gap
To live in one of the most unequal yet highly urbanised societies in the world means that there are high...
Peru should help more young vulnerable people into work
Peru’s remarkable economic growth since the 2000s and policies targeting the most vulnerable young people have helped boost the youth...
Intelligence3 days ago
Uzbek’s Katibat al Tawhid wal Jihad changed its leader
Europe2 days ago
Italy escapes the ‘western propaganda trap’
Energy News2 days ago
Greening industry through a transition to hydrogen societies
Green Planet1 day ago
Do The Harmless Pangolins Have To Become Extinct?
Russia2 days ago
Is Israel Taking Advantage of a Longtime Strategic Partner for Russia?
Russia3 days ago
Russian- Arab Cooperation Forum
Reports2 days ago
New safety and health issues emerge as work changes
South Asia23 hours ago
India’s purblind opposition to Belt and Road Initiative