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Jordan’s future stability

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Thanks to the Russian intervention the long sequence of the so-called “Arab springs” has long been interrupted in Syria, but it keeps on expanding elsewhere, considering the many players in the various national “civil societies” that still act within this strategic framework of the Arab springs, which was put in place mainly by the USA and its allies in the Sunni world.

This is undoubtedly the case of the revolt which took place in Jordan early June.

On June 4 last, after the revolt in various cities of the Kingdom and, above all, in Amman, King Abdallah accepted the resignation of Prime Minister Hani al-Mulki.

Hani Fawzi Mulki, former director of Aqaba’s Special Economic Zone, studied in Egypt and in the USA.

It is also worth noting that Mulki led the team that ratified the 1994 Peace Treaty between Jordan and Israel. Later,  after holding many important posts, he was appointed Prime Minister on May 29, 2016.

The major issue for Hani al Mulki’s government was above all the huge increase of the Jordanian public debt: after being renegotiated in 2016 during Mulki’s government, the Jordanian national debt was rescued with a package of 732 million dollars – a three-year loan of the International Monetary Fund.

A loan that was apparently supposed to bring the debt / GDP ratio down from 95% to 77% by 2021.

Debts, however, must be repaid and Jordan has been  forced to follow the usual strategy: less public spending and increase in prices, especially the administered and regulated ones which obviously have a strong political impact.

It is strange for an expense to magically become a revenue, but it is worth noting that Jordan’s public debt is the sum of the dinar-denominated local debt and the external one, which has always been denominated in foreign currencies.

Even in this case the IMF has made no difference. Therefore, in 2016,Jordan’s public debt rose by 4.9%, but almost all this cost regards foreign currencies and not Jordanian dinars.

The magical debt reduction foreseen by the IMF analysts did not materialize.

Nevertheless, also the dinar-denominated prices and values have obviously borne the brunt.

If we sum both the external and internal debt, we reach 39.5% – the official percentage recorded in late 2016.

According to Jordan’s government statistics, the current public debt / GDP ratio amounts to 95.3% – much higher than the 77% foreseen by Western bankers.

Obviously the austerity program needed to repay the international loan in a short period of time created the conditions for the increase in basic commodities and electricity tariffs while,on June 1, King Abdallah ordered the immediate cessation of price increases.

Hence, if we leave the international financial bodies free to operate according to market rules -which are often manipulated – and in key countries from a strategic viewpoint, there will be no humanitarian or non-humanitarian intervention which can restore the status quo ante or regain a credible strategic hold of the Western Forces.

Hani Mulki’s government, however, had proposed to increase the employment tax between 20 and 40%, while the electricity cost for users has risen by 55% since last February.

Has the strategic universe still supporting the failed Arab spring project targeted Jordan, after having failed in Syria, Egypt and, initially, even in Tunisia?

Is somebody thinking to a long war that – pending Syria’s pacification – moves to Jordan, thus setting fire to the most dangerous area in the Middle East? Let us hope not.

After Mulki, the King of Jordan appointed Omar Al-Razzaz as Head of government.

Who is the new Prime Minister?

He is an economist who studied at Harvard and worked for the World Bank, both in the USA and in Jordan and Saudi Arabia.

As former Education Minister, he often opposed free-market policies which destabilize the Third World’s poor masses without producing any acceptable economic result – and he did so when no one was even barely thinking about that.

Moreover, King Abdallah has not yet reaffirmed his support for Muhammad bin Sultan’s new Saudi policies.

Has Saudi Arabia put its invisible hand in Jordan’s destabilization? We cannot rule it out.

But it would be suicidal for the EU and the USA to support Saudi Arabia in this operation.

Saudi Arabia, however, is still key to Jordan’s economic and geopolitical rescuing, although the Jordanian King knows very well that his strategic region is currently ever more complex and multi-faceted and it also includes the Jewish State.

In fact, according to official statistics, Jordan hosts at least 675,000 refugees, probably in addition to further 540,000 unregistered ones.

It is worth recalling that the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan has a total population of 9.5 million people, of whom 3 million are old migrants or – to put it in the UN jargon – displaced persons while, since 2011, the most recent Syrian crisis alone has cost at least 2.5 billion US dollars to Jordan.

The latest ILO data shows that, in late 2017, Jordan had 2,100,000 Palestinians, 655,900 Syrians and additional 315,000 migrant workers officially registered.

Currently foreign workers are estimated at 950,000 of the total Jordanian population.

The migrants include Egyptians (61.63%), Bangladeshi (15.66%) and Filipinos (5.37%), while the Sri Lankans and the Indians range between 4.72% and 3.65%.

Moreover, the International Donor Conference for supporting Jordan, organized in February 2016, decided that the international community should provide Jordan with 1.7 billion dollars of loans and funds, but only in exchange for the opening of its internal labour market to Syrian migrants and with the further promise of abolishing the tariffs on Jordan’s products to the EU.

The Jordanian economy is currently worth 38 billion a year.

Syria’s clothing industry is mainly functional to the US market, which absorbs about 78% of products, above all thanks to the free-trade agreement reached between the two countries.

In February 2017, however, Jordan raised additional 900 billion foreign funds, including 147 million of World Bank loans, and an additional cash transfer between the USA and Jordan amounting to 300 million – a transaction carried out in December 2016.

It should be reiterated that the basic assumption was that Jordan’s clothing industry, which currently accounts for 20%of the GDP and employs mainly Asians, could provide job opportunities to the large mass of migrants from Syria and work above all for the US market – as already happens nowadays.

Nevertheless 80% of Syrian refugees – 1.3 million currently  in Jordan – live in major cities and not in the regions where clothing is produced, while the statutory minimum wage in Jordan is not enough to even cover the minimum subsistence costs throughout the Kingdom.

This data was probably unknown to those who signed the above stated Jordanian Compact in London in February 2016.

Hence currently the positive results for Jordan are probable access to the EU free markets, as well as the above stated three-year loan to the tune of 1.7 billion euro and finally a ten-year exemption from import tariffs within the European Union.

Hence too little to replace Jordan’s Welfare State with  private economy, which can survive only thanks to wage compression and to the “goodwill and generosity” of Western importers, who can always buy low value-added goods in Africa, in other Middle East countries, in central Asia or in India.

Hence the criterion of bilateral or multilateral commercial treaties, which is currently the compass for both the US and EU actions, is not at all sufficient to support the peripheral countries’ economic development.

We need a real, fast and significant aid program for Jordan, linked to foreign direct investment.

A program that can quickly be a stopgap solution to the economic and social crises of the now imploded Middle East. The danger of jihadist destabilization, with no way out, is closer than we believe.

As Karl Kraus said, “when the house burns, you can pray or wash the floor, but praying is more practical”.

The peripheral countries should be allowed to enter the world market, not with small commercial tricks and stratagems, which always last from the day until the  morning, but with the analysis of every Middle East country’s productive specializations.

It should be recalled, however, that in exchange for funds the Jordanian government had to provide at least 220,000 “job opportunities” for Syrian refugees. Currently the Syrians employed are 39,500.

Jobs are not created, but are self-generated. Otherwise they are more properly called subsidies or unproductive activities disguised as work.

However, confusing the issue of refugees from Syria with the issue of Syria’s economic take-off was a big mistake.

Moreover, the primary economic and political choice made by the Jordanian government was, above all, ensuring new jobs for the refugees in the Special Economic Zones, such as Al Dulayl, north of Amman.

The true economists of the past knew that the labour market elasticity is always limited by its average productivity and the investment share.

In 2017, however, Jordan’s GDP grew less than 3% and currently the GDP growth foreseen by the Jordanian government is less than 2%.

Nevertheless, Jordan must at least double its current growth rate so as to reabsorb – without further political disasters – its internal unemployment which is currently at least 15%.

Hence, what about the economic relationship between Jordan and Saudi Arabia, which has traditionally been essential for the survival of the Hashemite Kingdom?

In 2011, a largely non-bank 5 billion US dollar fund was set up for Jordan by the various Gulf powers, just as the global financial crisis was worsening.

Between 2011 and 2012, Saudi Arabia guaranteed additional 1.4 billion US dollars of cash flow only, as well as further 1.5 billion US dollars of deposits with the Jordanian Central Bank.

During King Salman’s visit to Amman in March 2017, an agreement was also signed regarding 15 bilateral economic transactions between Saudi Arabia and Jordan, which also entails a future agreement for additional 3 billion funds to back Saudi Arabian projects in Jordan.

With specific reference to tourism, which is essential for Jordan’s balance of payments, revenues have fallen by 2-2.5% in recent years.

Currently minimum aid is provided by Saudi Arabia and by the Sunni Gulf powers – and this is precisely the root cause of the Jordanian economic crisis.

Certainly what is at stake is the redesign of the Saudi geopolitical alliances and of the Saudi project known as Vision 2030,within which Prince Muhammad bin Salman plans to create – in the future – an economy no longer depending on the oil financial cycle and oriented to investment where it is more useful, namely in the West.

No more Saudi “free lunch” in the Middle East.

Jordan’s current riots take place in the usual scenario which saw the birth and implementation of the “Arab spring” project.

Increase in the prices of basic commodities, before the outbreak of riots. Later, gradual destruction of the Welfare State to raise money and finally exert control over masses transferred to the jihadists or the Muslim Brotherhood – as happened in Egypt, where the Brotherhood carried out crowd control and provided law enforcement service at Tahrir Square.

Over a longer period of time, the aims are the destruction of the remaining pro-Western middle class, as well as the decline in people’s support for moderate regimes, and finally the breaking of borders.

If this happens in Jordan in the future, Jordan’s crisis will spill over and will inevitably add to the Syrian destabilization, to the Iraqi failed state and to the military tensions on the border between the Hashemite Kingdom and Israel. The worst possible scenario.

It is surprising how the international investment banks are free to destabilize in the Greater Middle East.

In Jordan, as elsewhere in the Middle East and in Northern Africa, the old social contract was defined by some scholars as “autocratic exchange”.

The middle class was supported and expanded thanks to the government selective benefits which obviously bought political stability, while the contributions for food and housing -albeit generic – stabilized the poor people and turned  them into “subordinate masses”, as Elias Canetti said.

The Public Administration wages, which could be found in every family, were interpreted by the masses as very useful safety nets.

Just at the beginning of this millennium, however, this type of social contract has become financially unsustainable.

Nevertheless what was lost with the freeze of public employment wages and the number of civil servants, or with the end of subsidies to the poor, was not recovered by the private sector.

It was obvious that this happened.

At the beginning of the great crisis of 2000, in a world where the social elevator had ensured very fast upward social mobility, unemployment hit especially young people with good qualifications.

As Isaiah Berlin taught us in his extraordinary book The Soviet Mind, they became the arrogant unemployed people we could find at the beginning of every modern revolution, from the French to the Bolshevik one.

From this viewpoint, Al Qaeda’s sword jihad  is the response of the new masses of rootless Arabs at the end of their Welfare State and of the political pact that created and stabilized the Middle East, which had been reshaped and defined in the Cold War and during Nasser-style “national socialism”.

Against this background of slow,but relentless social and economic degeneration, a central role is played by the wasta, i.e. the connections with the power elites, above all of the financial power connected to international “aid”.

Protests in Jordan, however, have now a long-standing tradition.

In 1996 they broke out especially in the poor South of the country against the increase in the price of bread, whereas in 1989 the revolt had been confined to the city of Maan, where King Husseyn managed to hush up and silence the masses, to reform the support network for the poor and to eliminate – as far as possible – the Muslim Brotherhood’s network.

Today, a solution to Jordan’s crisis could be to rebuild contacts with Qatar.

The recent anti-Qatari measures decided by Saudi Arabia and by many of its allies, including Westerners, which also saw Jordan’s partial and lukewarm support, were clearly at the origin of the new tension between Saudi Arabia and the Hashemite Kingdom.

Hence a way out for King Abdallah could now be new support from Qatar and also a new relationship with Turkey.

There is also the issue of refugees that Jordan cannot keep  on its territory. This entails an annual cost of 5.6 billion US dollars of which only one fourth is, in fact, available for Jordan’s finances.

Another safety net for Jordan now comes from Kuwait, with a recent mix of investment, loans and grants.

However, also religion matters in the recent disagreement between Saudi Arabia and Jordan.

The Saudi Prince had asked King Abdallah II not to attend the Istanbul Conference on Jerusalem, but the Jordanian King decided to go anyway, arguing that Jordan is responsible for the city’s Islamic structures, namely the Dome of the Rock, the Al-Aqsa Mosque, in addition to all the other Islamic sites in East Jerusalem.

Abdallah’s refusal was immediately followed by the freeze of the latest Saudi funding to Jordan, with a recent 750 million US dollar tranche that was stopped in Riyadh.

In response, Jordan decided to stop the transit of Saudi trucks to its territory – a traffic of around 3,000 vehicles a day, which is vital to Saudi Arabia.

Furthermore, Saudi Arabia stopped the operations of the Saudi military mission on the border with Syria, in the point where the Jordanian forces hit targets in Syria from Jordanian areas.

Therefore, the link between economic crisis, military strategy and redesign of the traditional equilibria in the Middle East results not only from Western indecision, but also from the end of the Arab Welfare State, which will destabilize those societies as never before.

Certainly a EU and possibly US share of fast aid to the Hashemite Kingdom would be a good solution, at least to begin with.

We doubt, however, that Western decision-makers currently understand the link existing between economy and strategy.

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. “

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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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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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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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