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Ayatollah Khomeini: Strategist, practitioner and mastermind of the Islamic revolution in Iran

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The year 2019 marks 40 years to the Islamic Republic of Iran. On February 11, 1979, the Islamic revolution won in Iran. The last shahinshah of the Persian Empire, Mohammad Reza Pahlavi, was overthrown. The 2500-year history of the Persian Monarchy came to a close.

Undoubtedly, the Islamic revolution in Iran marked a significant chapter in the history of the 20th century and can in fact be ranked on par with the Bolshevik October Revolution in Russia, which, like the Iranian one, turned the whole country “upside down” and to this day continues to affect political processes in the region and worldwide.

The unquestionable leader of this revolution, who had been planning it for many years in exile, was Ayatollah Seyid Ruholla Mostafavi Mousavi Khomeini. He devoted his whole life to the struggle against the shah regime which repeatedly subjected him to arrest and persecution. In 1964, Ayatollah Khomeini was expelled from Iran and spent the next fifteen years in exile. For almost a year he lived in Turkey, another 13 years in Iraq and almost half a year near Paris.

However, throughout all those years Khomeini never stopped the political struggle, influencing the mentality of Iranians from abroad. In exile, Khomeini stepped up his opposition activities devising the theoretical foundations for a new Islamic state and at the same time preparing the Iranians for the overthrow of the Shah. His associates recorded his sermons and speeches on an audio tape and secretly shipped them to Iran to be distributed in Iranian mosques there.

The population of Iran knew Khomeini fairly well and were aware of his views on the domestic situation in the country and his plans for the country’s further development. His views were pretty radical. In his speeches, Khomeini lashed out at Shah’s leadership, the “comprador bourgeoisie,” the United States, and Israel. The USSR, as a major Communist power, came under fierce criticism as well. In one of his speeches, he said: “America is worse than England, England is worse than the Soviet Union, and the Soviets are worse than both of them !!!”

Whether accepted or not, Khomeini was in his own way a unique religious figure and politician. He was the one who put forward the idea of “velayat faqih”, that is, the principle of a sacred and politicized expression of religious spirituality, aimed at the absolute power of a fair legal theologian who would represent the highest level of spiritual Shiite authority – “marja e taglid”.

It was this principle that Khomeini chose to go into the basis of Khomeinism (or “neo-Shiism”) ideology he had elaborated and the principle of state-building. He combined Islam and politics, his major goal being a complete Islamization of the whole society by forcibly extending the sphere of influence of religion to embrace other sections, which in other societies are occupied by ideology, while simultaneously turning them into an instrument of political struggle. The slogan “Our religion is our ideology, our ideology is our policy” was put by the Ayatollah into practice. Thus, the boundaries between religious, ideological, and political activities in Iran were largely blurred and make up a single whole at present.

Naturally, comparison is always fraught with subjectivism. Nevertheless, Ayatollah Khomeini can be compared with Joseph Stalin. And not only because both were markedly ascetic, both expressed their thoughts simply and dogmatically, so those thoughts were clear to everyone, even the uneducated, both devoted themselves to fierce political struggle and both came to power, bringing an countless number of victims to the altar of victory.

Khomeini’s Islamic revolutionary zeal did not subside after the fall of the Shah. Moreover, he did all he could to clear the way for a new, Islamic dictatorship under the republican slogans. The Shah’s institutes of power were destroyed in a matter of months.

On April 1, 1979, a referendum was held with only one question: “Do you support the creation of the Islamic Republic of Iran?” And the majority said yes. On that day, Iran, which marked the 2500th anniversary of the monarchy only a few years before, became an Islamic republic.

In December the same year, the Constitution of the Islamic Republic of Iran was adopted, which stipulated the supremacy of Islamic principles on the basis of Khomeinism.

The year 1980 marked the beginning of the rapid process of formation and institutionalization of the organs of the new theocratic power in the country. Khomeini was an Islamic innovator who put his idea of “velayat faqih” into practice.

This principle formed the foundation of the Constitution of the Islamic Republic of Iran. Like in any republic, the Constitution of the IRI proclaims the separation of the legislative (parliament), executive (government) and judicial branches of government. However, above all these branches is the supreme leader of the country, selected by a narrow circle of Islamic clerical experts from among the highest-ranking Shiite clergy. He has the control of all kinds of power in Iran – the spiritual, state, political and military. As the country’s spiritual leader, he is called Faqih, the head of the Shiite community; as a nationwide political leader – Rahbar – the head of the country; as a military leader, the Supreme Commander of all Iranian armed forces. Naturally, the title of a supreme leader went to Ayatollah Khomeini.

At first, the supreme leader used revolution sympathizers in his own interests. In a peculiar situation of anti-Shah struggle, Khomeini turned out to be an ingenious politician who was able to successfully play with the left and the right, balancing between them, juggling them, elevating some, and then others. But all this was to come to an end.

Starting from the summer of 1980 and perhaps until 1984, Ayatollah Khomeini removed the “companions of the revolution” that stood in his way. That is, those forces that backed him but were alien to him.

All those who disagreed with the new ideology he had brought in faced the same lot.

Among them were equally authoritative religious figures who did not agree with the idea of

“velayat faqih”, with the unification of Islam and politics. Among them was Ayatollah Mohammad Kazem Shariatmadari. He and his associates were not repressed but deprived of the opportunity to act politically. They were put under house arrest. Some ayatollahs left Iran, some simply fell silent. Gathered in the city of Qum (the center of Shiism) they kept silent, without being engaged in any political activity against Ayatollah Khomeini.

But such a “humane” attitude on the part of the new authorities was not for everyone who disagreed. As any revolution, the Iranian revolution was accompanied by revolutionary terror. The wheel of repression was spinning.

Effectively using the Islamic Revolutionary Committees, the newly formed Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) and the Iranian Hezbollah (Party of Allah), the new Shiite leadership of Iran, led by Khomeini, carried out a series of repressions. The repression campaign was launched on June 14, 1980, when Ayatollah Khomeini issued a decree on the “Islamic cultural revolution” which proclaimed persecution of dissidents or a “witch hunt”. By the end of 1984, the total number of those executed in Iran was estimated at 40,000.

A powerful resistance to the Khomeini regime came from People’s Mojahedin Organization of Iran (PMOI). Founded in the sixties to fight the Shah regime, it occasionally resorted to terrorist methods. From the ideological point of view, the organization based its strategy on Islamism with Marxism.
Members of PMOI did a lot for the Islamic revolution, actively opposing any attempts to restore the monarchy. At first, they were on the side of Khomeini. But Ayatollah Khomeini, having sensed competitors in them, began to exert a strong pressure on them. As a result, the Mojahedin were removed from government,  repressed (more than 3 thousand members were subjected to reprisals),  and went into hiding.

The last force Khomeini struck at was the People’s Party of Iran (PPI), that is, pro-Soviet Communists, who supported Khomeini’s anti-Shah struggle in the first revolutionary years. Thus, in January 1979, PPI General Secretary N. Kiyanuri spoke favorably about Khomeini, stating that “scientific socialism and Islam do not contract one another,” and  that “Communists and Khomeini can go together almost to the end”, “infinitely helping and assisting each other”. However, this did not stop the Ayatollah. More than 5,000 members and supporters of the party were arrested. From TV screens people could see high-profile trials against the left in which PPI leaders admitted that they had been fulfilling orders from the Kremlin and declared themselves agents of Moscow.

Affecting the nature of repressions in those years was the situation on the fronts of the Iran-Iraq war (1980 – 1988). All opposition representatives were viewed as traitors who were allegedly acting in the interests of Saddam Hussein.

The suppression of the opposition, including, above all, Khomeini’s former supporters of the anti-Shah struggle, was accompanied by the Islamization of all spheres of life: political, economic, social, cultural, legal, and military. Naturally, the repressive measures of the Islamic authorities caused massive — legal and illegal — emigration from Iran. More than three million Iranians left their country. By the end of 1983 dissent had been suppressed across the country, so Islamic rule could be considered valid. The Islamic Revolution won. The Islamic Republic of Iran became a political reality.

The internal political struggle in the IRI continued after the defeat of brothers in anti-revolutionary struggle — both in parliament, the Majlis, and among various political groups. Representatives of those groups did not question Khomeini’s course but among themselves they had conflicting views on how best to implement it. Their differences were substantial enough. However, the supreme leader, Ayatollah Khomeini, remained above those frictions and never took sides. When he spoke, it became clear what everyone should do.

Ayatollah Khomeini continued to enjoy immense authority even after his death. In 1989, when the supreme leader of the Islamic Republic of Iran, Ayatollah Khomeini, passed away on June 3, the author of the obituary article was in Iran. Mourning ceremonies that were held throughout the country are difficult to describe or impart in words. All of Tehran was clad in black: men in black shirts, women in black hijabs. Tehran is known for its heat. In an attempt to make it less of an ordeal for the mourners, volunteers and firefighters pour water on them, as they walk in grief in an endless stream that fills all the space in the streets and squares. Nearly all residents of Iran, several million people, came to Tehran to pay their last respects to Rahbar.
Khomeini’s ideas continue to form the basis of the political doctrine of the Islamic Republic of Iran, which determines the external and internal policies of the clerical leadership. An important place in the doctrine is occupied by the principles of Islamic internationalism, developed by Ayatollah Khomeini and his associates; the principles of Muslim unity; ideas about the special mission of the Muslims; about the messiah role of Islam and Iran; the theory about the permanent nature of the Islamic revolution; about the antagonism between “the oppressed (the destitute)” and “the oppressors (the arrogant)”; the theory of the “bipolar world” and the division of the world along the South-North axis. The latter theory was developed by Ayatollah Khomeini and his associates on the basis of the Islamic dogma that divides the world into “areas of faith” and “areas of war” and is designed to meet global changes and serve the strategic goals of the Iranian policy.

The leading role in this Islamic revolutionary process should be assumed by the Islamic Republic of Iran, which is set on forcing its religious and ideological theories on the rest of the world. Here lies the main political core of Khomeinism of the official ideology of Iran  – the “export of the Islamic revolution”. Along with it being part of official ideology, this concept is a legal one, since it is enshrined in the Constitution of Iran.

Ayatollah Khomeini positioned himself no more than a global Islamic leader with radical views. In his speech in March 1980, he said: “We must work to incite revolution all over the world and we must preclude any thoughts of abandoning it. Iran not only refuses to recognize any differences between Muslim countries, it also acts as an intercessor for all oppressed peoples. We must make clear our stance on powers and superpowers and voice our protest to them, despite the difficulties that we experience. Our attitude to the world is dictated by our beliefs».

From time to time, Iranian officials recall about the “global and historic importance” of the Islamic revolution. Thus, Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad (2005 – 2013), speaking at a ceremony in honor of the Iranian Basij militia in December 2008, said: “You all understand that the Islamic revolution was a movement that cannot be confined to the territory of Iran. This movement was aimed not only at creating a new system, but also at materializing the promises of God. The Islamic revolution was a fundamental and decisive movement for all humanity, following the path of divine prophets ”. And this naturally gives rise to questions from most politicians and countries that do not share these radical views.

Of course, 30 years after the death of Ayatollah Khomeini, the Islamic Republic of Iran has undergone significant changes. The current regime in Iran, which came into being thanks to the Islamic revolution, is constantly evolving and this evolution, proceeding under the motto of the teachings of Ayatollah Khomeini, has been spiraling.

The eight-year Iran-Iraq war (1980 – 1988) undermined the economy of Iran. The “Tawhid economy» model developed by the Khomeini team while still in exile  (the Islamic analogue of the War Communism economy) could not save the country. Ali Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani, who became president of the Islamic Republic of Iran after the death of Khomeini (1989-1997), said good-bye to the “Tawhid economy” and made a sharp turn towards the market. He initiated economic market reforms, which made it possible to liberate the Iranian business and overcome the post-war crisis. It dealt a serious blow to the legacy of Ayatollah Khomeini.

The next president, Mohammad Khatami (1997–2005), while pursuing economic reforms, introduced elements of liberalism into domestic and foreign policy, which triggered an outrage from the radicals. And this is understandable: although carried out under the slogans of Khomeini’s teachings, the social and political reforms (whether their architects wanted it or not) inevitably took the country and society further and further away from the general concept of Khomeinism. The conservative-minded Iranian clergy could not let it happen. They wanted restoration of the Khomeinist regime, they needed a change in the policies of the two presidents to maintain their power.

President Ahmadinejad was expected to fulfill the mission of returning to the ideology of Khomeini. This he did with great enthusiasm, bringing the nuclear conflict on the verge of a war with the United States and Israel, and throwing the economy into the abyss of the most severe international sanctions.

President Hassan Rouhani (2013 – present), a liberal-reformist politician, saved the situation. However, the provocative policy of President Trump towards Iran and the US withdrawal from the nuclear deal have given Iranian conservatives and radicals a new chance to return to the ideological principles of the time of Ayatollah Khomeini.

Thus, the Islamic Republic of Iran has gone through various stages of its development: revolutionary terror, war, a thaw, and a cold spell. But it would be quite correct to assert that the evolution of the Islamic Republic of Iran boils down to expanding or narrowing the limits of the permissible across a vast variety of dogmatic political, economic, and social restrictions. At the same time, all evolutionary processes in the Islamic Republic of Iran have proceeded under the portrait of Khomeini, with quotes from his works, to his, in fact, personality cult.

Ayatollah Khomeini created the Islamic Republic of Iran, which has become a kind of laboratory, in which political Islam for the first time in global practices has turned into a means of resolving problems that confront the Islamic civilization in the present-day world.

Khomeinism never restricted itself to Iran. The theory and political practice of Ayatollah Khomeini have in many ways encouraged politicians in a number of Islamic countries to use political Islam for their own purposes. Over time, there appeared special terms that reflect the essence of Khomeini’s policy – the “Khomeini effect”, the “Khomeini model” and even the “Khomeini world plan.” But the practice of pursuing one of the basic principles of Khomeinism – the export of the Islamic revolution on the model of Iran – alarmed many Islamic (and not only Islamic) countries, particularly those in which a significant number of Muslims are Shiites. But what is clear is that Khomeinism never developed to become a global doctrine or a major political practice, neither in the region, nor elsewhere in the world.

First published in our partner International Affairs

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A New Era in US-Jordan Relations

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President Joe Biden meets with Jordan's King Abdullah II in the Oval Office of the White House in Washington, Monday, July 19, 2021. (AP Photo/Susan Walsh)

King Abdullah of Jordan is the first Arab leader who met American President Joe Biden at the White House. The visit has reaffirmed the strong and long-standing Jordan-US strategic partnership and reinvigorated the bilateral engagement for working together on security issues, and economic development on the basis of shared values and priorities. The King’s visit to Washington reaffirmed Jordan’s value as a reliable ally who plays a critical role for stability in a highly volatile region.

Jordan’s value is multi-dimensional and ranges from bilateral military cooperation, intelligence sharing and joint global counterterrorism operations including as a member of the Global Coalition to Counter ISIS and the Combined Joint Task Force-Operation Inherent Resolve to deployment of almost three thousand (3,000) American troops to Jordan as part of the ongoing campaign to combat regional terrorism. The US has expanded military footprint to Jordan after Washington’s decision to withdraw forces from Syria and reduce military presence in the Turkish airbase of Incirlik. In addition, the kingdom’s geopolitical position in the heart of the Middle East provides a viable alternative for logistical support to the American military taking into consideration the US decision to withdraw from Afghanistan and close three bases in Qatar. Notably, the remaining supplies from the three Qatari bases along with the Support Mission have been transferred to Jordan and have become part of the Area Support Group-Jordan that operates as the Base Operations Support Integrator to back contingency operations and military-to-military engagements within the US Army Central Command’s area of responsibility.

Jordan’s value also stems from its critical role in addressing the overwhelming humanitarian needs created by the conflicts in Syria and Iraq as well as in hosting almost two million registered Palestinian refugees.

Support of Two-state Solution

The fact that Jordan remains at peace with Israel and is a key interlocutor with the Palestinians adds to the kingdom’s reliability to mediate and advance initiatives that support the two-state solution. This presupposes the resetting of Jordan-Israel relations. Washington is well-placed to offer its good offices and help restore trust between the two neighboring countries. The twenty-seventh year Jordan-Israel peace treaty shows not only the possibilities for coordination and co-existence but also the ceilings to peace with Israel in the absence of a solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. A “cold peace” and quiet, limited cooperation are currently the maximum possibilities vis-a-vis a “warm peace” that will unlock Jordan-Israel cooperation and potential.

It is nevertheless noteworthy that the last five years have been discerned by the previous American administration’s lack of appreciation of the complexity of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. The Trump peace proposal, known as “the Vision”, not only undermined the long-established aim of a two-state solution but also reinforced discussions over alternatives including a one state outcome to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict; different measures of annexation, such as Israeli annexation of Area C in the West Bank; “exotic options” such as a federation in which Israel and Palestine share certain aspects of sovereignty; potential unilateral Israeli initiatives with most prevailing a Jordanian model, in which Jordan takes control of the West Bank and Palestinians are given Jordanian citizenship; and, reinforcement of the notion that “Jordan is “Palestine””.

Practically, Jordan can serve as honest broker in any future Israeli-Palestinian peace process, but as the late King Hussein stated in an interview with The New York Times in 1991 “Jordan should not be, cannot be, will not be a substitute for the Palestinians themselves as the major aggrieved party on the Arab side in a process that leads to peace”. The cited statement is fully embraced by Jordan’s current leadership.

Acknowledgment of Jordan’s Custodianship

The public acknowledgement by the American President of the kingdom’s special role as custodian of the Muslim holy places in Jerusalem is translated into a vote of confidence and a commendation for Jordan’s efficient safeguarding of religious sites for decades.  As known, Amman pays the salaries of more than one thousand (1,000) employees of the Jerusalem Waqf Department and its custodianship role is carried out on behalf of all Islamic nations. The kingdom holds the exclusive authority of the Jordanian-appointed council, the Waqf, over the Temple Mount/ Haram Al Sharif and has spent over 1 billion dollars since 1924 for the administration and renovation of Al Aqsa mosque.

Jordan has admittedly served at multiple occasions as credible intermediary for Israel and the Palestinians to suspend tensions in the old city of Jerusalem, particularly at the Temple Mount/Haram Al-Sharif and pursues a successful administration of religious funded schools favoring moderate religious education and religious tourism. Jordanian moderation has guaranteed co-existence of the three monotheistic religions in Jerusalem at a time when on the contrary, counties like Turkey funnel millions of dollars in charity projects in Jerusalem promoting the ideology of the Muslim Brotherhood.

Overall, Jordan’s custodianship has proved to be successful in maintaining delicate arrangements for the benefit of all religions and parties involved.

American Loan Guarantees

The King’s discussions with the American President also centered on the economic challenges exacerbated by the effect of the pandemic and the enhancement of bilateral economic cooperation. Admittedly, Jordan showed strong leadership and governance with early actions that reduced the coronavirus pandemic pressure on the kingdom’s health system. The Jordanian government imposed a nationwide lockdown and severe social distancing measures at a much earlier stage of the pandemic than other Middle East countries.

Jordan withstood the pandemic’s impact with minimal loss of life but with a significant cost to its economy. As of June 2020, most restrictions on economic activity were lifted turning Jordan into one of the first Arab countries to reopen. Gross Domestic Product (GDP) has contracted in 2020 by 3.5 percent after growing 2 percent in 2019 due to losses in state revenues because of fewer remittances and a weakened tourism market.

To cope with the direct negative effects of the pandemic on its state budget, the Kingdom received $396 million from the International Monetary Fund (IMF). The amount of finance has specifically helped address the country’s balance of payments needs and allowed for higher spending on healthcare, and assistance to households and companies most affected by the pandemic. Despite that the IMF provided in March 2020 another multi-year $1.3 billion loan package to Jordan, the pandemic has caused a $1.5 billion shortfall in its balance of payments.

This complex economic reality along with Jordan’s moderation in the Arab world justify continued robust annual American economic assistance to the kingdom in the form of budgetary support (cash transfer), USAID programs in Jordan, and loan guarantees. US cash assistance should increase in the coming years taking into consideration that it is directed to refugee support and to segments of the economy that are mostly affected by the pandemic like foreign debt payments and fuel import costs. Overall, a pledge should be made for Jordan in American congress for the authorization of moreUS sovereign loan guarantees that will help the kingdom weather the pandemic’s adverse medium-to-long-term effects on its economy. US sovereign loan guarantees will allow Jordan to issue debt securities that are fully guaranteed by the American government in capital markets, effectively subsidizing the cost for the Jordanian government to access financing.

It is also noticeable that in a genuine effort to help the kingdom contain the pandemic and safeguard public health, the American administration proceeded with the delivery of over 500 thousand covid-19 vaccines to Jordan highlighting American commitment to international vaccination programs including that of the kingdom.

US-Jordan Defense Partnership

The strategic US-Jordan defense relationship was reflected in the discussions that were conducted between the Jordanian King and the American President. American support for the modernization of Jordan’s F-16 fighter jets has been at the forefront of the agenda with the aim of achieving greater interoperability and effectiveness for the Jordanian Armed Forces.  The American President recognized Jordan’s contribution to the successful international campaign to defeat ISIS and honored as an example of heroism the memory of captain Muath al-Kasasbeh who was executed in 2015 by the terrorist organization’s militants.  

Jordan has suffered avowedly from terrorism throughout the years and works collectively at regional and international levels to eliminate all its forms. The kingdom lost two prime ministers, Haza’a Al-Majali and Wasfi Al-Tal, as victims of terrorism and experienced a series of terrorist attacks like the simultaneous suicide bombings against three hotels in Amman in November 2005 that led to the loss of life of American, Israeli, Palestinian, and Jordanian nationals.

In effect, Jordan is the third-largest recipient of annual American foreign aid globally, after Afghanistan and Israel. A Memorandum of Understanding on American foreign assistance to Jordan commits the United States to providing $1.275 billion per year over a five-year period for a total of $6.375 billion (FY2018-FY2022). Renegotiations on the next such agreement for FY2023-FY2027 is estimated that will aim at increasing the American commitment to Jordan, a key ally in the fight against international terrorism whose military should be in position to procure and maintain conventional weapons systems.

On the whole, Jordan is a steadfast security partner of the United States in the Middle East whose moderation and pragmatism helped the kingdom weather regional and world challenges. As 2021 and past years have showed, Jordan’s position as a bridge between the Levant and the Persian Gulf provides it a unique geopolitical standing, in a way that nowadays Amman is granted with a significant security, diplomatic and humanitarian role that signals a new era in US-Jordan relations.

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Chinese FM Wraps Up his Visit to Egypt

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Wang Yi, the Chinese State Councilor and Foreign Minister, visited Egypt on July 18, 2021, in El Alamein City, northwest Egypt. The Chinese Foreign Minister is the first foreign official to visit this strategic city.

Wang Yi met with his Egyptian counterpart, Sameh Shoukry, during his visit to Egypt, and they discussed bilateral relations between the two countries. This year marks the 65th anniversary of the establishment of diplomatic relations between Egypt and China. Egypt is the first Arab country to establish diplomatic relations with China and the first African country to do so. In the Arab world, the Islamic world, Africa, and developing countries, Egypt has long been one of China’s most important strategic partners. At the international level, the two countries mutually support one another. The meeting between Egypt’s Foreign Minister and China’s Foreign Minister focused on three main issues: the Covid-19 vaccine, the One Belt One Road Initiative, and international and regional issues such as Palestine and Syria

Covid-19 Vaccine

Both Egypt and China have a long history of cooperation and friendship. Before the outbreak of the Covid-19, the two countries’ relations were based on economic and trade cooperation, with China being Egypt’s first trading partner for the eighth year in a row since 2013, and the volume of trade exchange between the two countries exceeding $14.5 billion in 2020. However, as the outbreak Covid-19, cooperation between the two countries expanded to include medical cooperation. Egypt and China worked together to combat the virus. Egypt sent medical supplies to China, and China sent medical supplies and Chinese vaccine to Egypt. In addition, in December 2020, the two sides signed a cooperation agreement on COVID-19 Vaccine Production and China dispatched technical teams to Egypt to assist in the vaccine’s local manufacture. As a result, Egypt is considered Africa’s first vaccine manufacturer.

One Belt One Road Initiative  

Egypt is an important strategic partner in building the Belt and Road Initiative. According to CGTN, the Egyptian president, Abdel Fattah al- Sisi, stated that:” Egypt supports the Belt and Road Initiative(BRI).” He added that Egypt is ready to strengthen cooperation with China in the fields of economy, trade, industry, science and technology, and expand human exchanges within the framework of the “Belt and Road Initiative.” One Belt and One Road Initiative is one of the most important initiatives of the twenty-first century, announced by President Xi Jinping during official visits to Indonesia and Kazakhstan in 2013. Egypt was one of the first countries to participate in this initiative. In 2014, Egyptian President al-Sisi expressed in an interview that China’s One Belt and One Road Initiative was an “opportunity” for cooperation between China and Egypt. Egypt was willing to participate in it actively.

International and Regional Issues

Regarding the international and regional issues, the two sides exchanged views and coordinated positions on some issues as Palestine, Syria issues. It’s worth mentioning that Wang Yi paid a visit to Syria the day before his trip to Egypt, marking him the first Chinese official to visit Syria since the country’s civil war began. China supports the Syrian sovereignty and rejects foreign interference in Syria, and also rejects the regime change. The Egyptian Minister Sameh Shoukry also discussed with his Chinese counterpart Wang Yi the GERD issue. According to Sky News, Shoukry explained Egypt and Sudan’s positions as two downstream countries, the importance of preserving the interests of all parties and not jeopardizing the downstream countries’ water security, and the importance of engaging in intensified negotiations under the auspices of the African Union presidency. The two sides signed an agreement on the Egyptian-Sino Intergovernmental Cooperation Committee at the end of their meeting.

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Greater Middle East may force China to project military power sooner rather than later

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China may have no short-term interest in contributing to guaranteeing security in parts of a swath of land stretching from Central Asia to the East coast of Africa, but that does not prevent the People’s Republic from preparing for a time when it may wish to build on long-standing political and military relationships in various parts of the world to project power and maintain an economic advantage.

Determined to exploit the principle of allegedly win-win relationships that are underwritten by economics, trade, and investment as the solution to problems, China has so far delayed if not avoided bilateral or unilateral political and military engagement in conflicts beyond its borders.

The question is how long it can continue to do so.

China took a first baby step towards greater power projection with the creation in 2017 of its first overseas military base in the East African state of Djibouti, a rent-a-base nation that hosts multiple military facilities for among others the United States, France, and Japan and potentially Saudi Arabia. The base signals the importance China attributes to regions like the Gulf and the Horn of Africa.

A recent article in a Chinese military publication sheds further light on Chinese preparations for a day when it may have to project military might in different parts of the world. The article laid out Chinese thinking about the virtues of offering Middle Eastern, Asian, and African militaries and political elites training and educational opportunities.

“Students who can study in China are mostly local military and political elites or descendants of notable families. After they have studied and returned to their country, they have a high probability of becoming the top military and political leaders of the local country. This is very beneficial for China to expand its overseas influence and corresponding armaments exports,” the publication, Military Express, said.

The publication asserted that Chinese military academies were more attractive than their Western counterparts that impose “political conditions,” a reference to students having to hail from countries aligned with the West.

“Chinese military academy does a better job in this regard. There are no political conditions attached here. Foreign military students here learn Chinese strategies and tactics and learn to operate Chinese weaponry by themselves,” the publication said.

The publication failed to mention that China unlike Western producers also refrains from attaching political conditions to its arms sales like adherence to human rights.

Recent months have not been necessarily kind to Chinese aspirations of remaining aloof to conflict beyond its borders, suggesting that reality on the ground could complicate China’s strategic calculations.

The US withdrawal from Afghanistan threatens to put an ultra-conservative religious regime in power on the border with Xinjiang, the north-western province where China is attempting to brutally Sinicize Turkic ethnic and religious identity.

Recent Taliban military advances have already bolstered ultra-conservative religious sentiment in neighbouring Pakistan that celebrates the group as heroes whose success enhances the chances for austere religious rule in the world’s second-most populous Muslim-majority state.

Our jihadis will be emboldened. They will say that ‘if America can be beaten, what is the Pakistan army to stand in our way?’” said a senior Pakistani official.

Nine Chinese nationals were killed last week in an explosion on a bus transporting Chinese workers to the construction site of a dam in the northern mountains of Pakistan, a region more prone to attacks by religious militants than Baloch nationalists, who operate from the province of Balochistan and are responsible for the bulk of attacks on Chinese targets in the South Asian nation.

It was the highest loss of life of Chinese citizens in recent years in Pakistan, the largest recipient of Chinese Belt and Road-related infrastructure and energy investments. China’s sees Pakistan as a key to the economic development of Xinjiang and part of its effort to Sinicize the region.

Indicating Chinese concern, China last month advised its citizens to leave Afghanistan and last week evacuated 210 Chinese nationals on a chartered flight. China last week delayed the signing of a framework agreement on industrial cooperation that would have accelerated implementation of projects that are part of the China Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC).

Complicating Chinese calculations is the fact that both Russia and Turkey are maneuvering for different reasons to strengthen Turkic identity in the Caucasus that potentially would be more sympathetic to the plight of the Uighurs and other Turkic Muslims.

Turkey moreover may see Afghanistan as another stepping stone towards recreating a Turkic world. Turkey has reportedly asked Azerbaijan, whom Ankara supported in last year’s Caucasus war against Armenia, to contribute forces to a Turkish contingent that would remain in Afghanistan after the US and NATO withdrawal to secure Kabul’s Hamid Karzai International Airport.

Turkish influence among Afghanistan’s Turkic minorities has been bolstered by the operation of Turkish schools, an increased number of Turkish scholarships, training of Afghan military and police personnel, the popularity of Turkish movies and television series, and efforts to mediate an end to conflict in the country.

The Taliban have rejected the continuation of a Turkish military presence that for the past six years was part of the NATO-led Resolute Support Mission. The Taliban insisted that Turkish soldiers were “occupiers in Afghanistan” who should leave with NATO and US forces even if they were also representatives of a “great Islamic nation.”

In anticipation of a threatening development in Afghanistan, China quietly established a small military post in 2019 in the highlands of Tajikistan, a stone’s throw from where Afghanistan’s Wakhan Corridor meets Xinjiang.

More recently, Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Ji advised his interlocutors during a visit last week to Central Asia that going forward Chinese private military companies would play a greater role in securing Belt and Road-related strategic infrastructure projects.

Some analysts suggested that the Chinese companies would also be employed to train Central Asian militaries – a domain that was until now largely a Russian preserve.

In a similar vein, France’s withdrawal of its forces from West Africa steps up pressure on China to defend its overseas nationals and interests. Three Chinese construction workers were among five foreigners kidnapped by gunmen this weekend in southern Mali. No group has so far claimed responsibility for the kidnapping.

All of this leaves aside the question of how long China will feel that it can rely on the US defence umbrella in the Gulf to secure the flow of energy and much of its trade against the backdrop of a reconfigured US regional commitment and increasingly strained relations between Washington and Beijing.

It also does not consider China’s ability to manage expectations of the People’s Republic’s willingness to engage, in some cases not only politically or militarily, but also economically.

That was evident during Mr. Wang’s most recent visit to the region, and particularly Syria, which for much of its civil war was home to Uighur jihadists who distinguished themselves in battle.

It was Mr. Wang’s second visit to the Middle East and North Africa in four months. Furthermore, Mr. Wang last week discussed Afghanistan and Gulf security with his Saudi counterpart on the sideline of  a regional cooperation meeting in Uzbekistan.

Syrian officials have for domestic and foreign policy reasons long touted China as the imaginary white knight that would come to the rescue in the reconstruction of the war-ravaged country.

China is far less interested in Syria than Syria is in China… Syria has never been a priority in China’s economy-driven approach to the Middle East,” noted scholars Andrea Ghiselli and Mohammed Al-Sudairi.

The scholars cautioned however that “the significant potential impact of narratives created by local actors in the context of international politics,” a reference to Syria’s projection of China as its saviour, cannot be ignored.

Implicit in the scholars’ conclusion is the notion that Chinese policy may in future increasingly be shaped as much by decision-making in Beijing as developments on the ground in a world in which powers compete to secure their interest and place in a new world order.

Ultimately, the fundamental question underlying all these push factors is, according to Financial Times columnist Gideon Rahman, whether China has not only the capability and aspiration to become a superpower but also the will.

“If China is unwilling or unable to achieve a global military presence that rivals that of the US, it may have to find a new way of being a superpower – or give up on the ambition,” Mr. Rahman argues.

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