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Egyptian-Russian Relations after the June 30th Revolution: Historic Recurrence or Political Option

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Since the establishment of the formal diplomatic relationship between Egypt and Russia (previous Soviet Union/USSR) in 1943 the relation between them have gone through multiple stages from the rapprochement to the extent of alliance until the divergence to the extent of severing diplomatic relations, during the 1950s and 1960s -the reign of Nasser- their relationship improved dramatically to the extent of alliance, for example many Soviet experts were sent to help in improving the infrastructure of some cities, establishing factories, and construction of the High Dam as well as the electricity networks…etc.  Moreover, Moscow was the first supplier of weapons and military technology to Egypt at that time, and most importantly great cooperation and military agreements have been concluded in 1968 after Nasser’s visit to Moscow, especially with regard to the Air-force and missiles.

After President Nasser’s death in 1970 and President Sadat take over the rule in Egypt a new stage between the two countries has been started, although the signing of the friendship agreement between Egypt and the Soviet Union in 1972, but soon the relations among the two states reached the worst situation ever where Sadat decided to expel the Soviet experts in July 1972, cancel the friendship agreement and even recall the Egyptian ambassador to Moscow, in turn, the USSR also recalled the Soviet ambassador to Cairo. 

The relations between the two countries were soon restored after President Mubarak took over the rule of Egypt, while he was keen to maintain close relationship with the US, he also concentrated on keeping a good relations with the Soviet Union; therefore, he invited the Soviet experts to take part in the maintenance process of the High Dam and other projects, signed scientific and cultural cooperation agreement with the USSR in 1983; re-exchange the ambassadors; strengthen the relations with the Russian Federation, the legitimate heir, after the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991; and even the USSR became the second largest trading partner after the US.

Since the outbreak of the January 25th revolution until the June 30th revolution, relations between Egypt and Russia were cautious, given Russia’s opposition to the Arab Spring in general and the Egyptian revolution in particular considered it as an American-model of democratic transformation, as well as fear of the spread of radical political regimes that could affect Russia’s relations with neighboring countries and other factors.

Once the June 30th revolution broke out and overthrown the Muslim Brotherhood regime, the Russian orientation was very clear to support the revolution and consider what happen in Egypt as a correction of the path of the Arab Spring, and stressed that the stability in the Middle East, Arab region and even the Islamic and world level depends heavily on the developments in Egypt; in addition, the Russian diplomacy expressed Moscow’s keenness on maintaining stability and security in Egypt and the region. In other words, Russia has strongly supported Egypt’s return to the regional and international arena, its participation in all regional initiatives, and resisted any attempt to marginalize the Egyptian role.

It seems that the Russians were looking forward to this moment, when the political change is allowing them to strengthen the relations with Egypt; where both of the Foreign Affairs and Defense Russian ministers visited Egypt in November 2013 as known as “2+2” political talks, followed by the Egyptian Foreign Affairs and Defense ministers visit Russia in February 2014, the President Sisi was the Egyptian defense minister at the time.

Since the first days of the Sisi presidency, it has been clear that Egyptian-Russian relations are developing positively; first of all, the Russian position on the Egyptian revolution gave the chance to the new regime to diversify its foreign policy options by strengthening the relations with Russia, In addition, President Sisi wanted to restore and modernize Egypt’s foreign position at the regional and global levels, especially after the difficult historical experiences of recent decades.

In this context, the relations among the two countries could be summarized in political, social, economic and military relations as below:

Political and Social Relations

The Egyptian interim president “Adli Mansour” received a telephone call in November 2013 the Russian President “Vladimir Putin”, through which Putin expressed his and his country’s full support for Egypt and its transitional administration.

A Russian people’s delegation visited Egypt in May 2014 with a group of participants in the construction of the High Dam on the occasion of the 50th anniversary of the transformation of the Nile River.

In September 2014 the Egyptian Prime Minister announced the establishment of the “Russian Unit” under the Cabinet to follow up the bilateral relations in various fields, which held its first meeting in the next month with the participation of 9 ministers and other officials.

The Presidential Representative for the Middle East and Africa “Mikhail Bogdanov” also visited Egypt in November 2014, discussed with the Egyptian Foreign Minister the developments of the Palestinian-Israeli conflict and Egypt’s efforts in this issue. Afterward, in December the Russian Deputy Prime Minister “Arkady Dvorkovich” visited Egypt to meet President Sisi and other officials for further talks.

The Egyptian Foreign Minister visited Russia in February 2015 and met with his Russian counterpart discussing the two countries relations and common interests, and the Libya’s crisis in particular; then during March 2015 many mutual statements, meetings, and visits have been held to further boost the two countries relations such as the President Sisi meeting with the Secretary of the Russian National Security Council “Nikolai Patrushev” in Egypt; and the meeting of the Egyptian Defense Minister “Sedqi Sobhi” with his Russian counterpart “Sergey Shoigu” at the headquarters of the Russian Defense Ministry. Before the end of May 2015 the Egyptian Foreign Minister and his Russian Counterpart stressed the importance of intensifying the anti-terrorism efforts and enhance the joint cooperation in various fields; followed by the meeting of the Russian Minister of Industry and Trade “Denis Manturov” with President Sisi in Cairo during which they discussed the establishment of a free trade zone between Egypt and the Eurasian Customs Union (EAEU). In September 2015 the Egyptian Assistant Foreign Minister with a delegation visited Russia and concluded further talks related to the disarmament, non-proliferation, Egypt’s candidacy for membership of the Security Council for the period 2016-2017, and issues on the agenda of UN General Assembly.

The head of Russia’s state-owned nuclear firm Rosatom has a meeting with President Sisi in November 2015 during which they inking three agreements between the two countries. Afterward, the Russian Defense Minister also met President Sisi discussing the cooperation between the two countries regarding international and common concerns; followed by some meetings between the Russian delegation from one side and the Egyptian Minister of Defense, Minister of State for Military Production, and other officials from the other side concluding some protocols and agreements.

Throughout 2016 many mutual visits and meetings dealt with issues of coordination on various issues of mutual cooperation and enhancing cooperation between the two sides starting from January when the Russian Deputy Minister of Industry and Trade visited Egypt and met Minister of Defense, followed by the meeting between President Sisi and the Speaker of the Russian State; then the political talks between the Egyptian Foreign Minister and his Russian counterpart; and also the visit of the Egyptian delegation headed by the Minister of Civil Aviation to Russia regarding the Russian Aircraft Accident; and later the Egyptian Defense Minister visited Russia in light of the Egyptian-Russian strategic cooperation; finally, during November an Egyptian delegation from the Federal Veterinary and Phytosanitary Authority visited Russia to discuss the export of Egyptian products, followed by the visit of the Minister of Agriculture and Land Reclamation to Russia.

In the same context, the year 2017 witnessed a remarkable political cooperation and mutual visits between the two counties, where in March President Sisi received the Russian Deputy Prime Minister for political talks; after three days he received also Chairperson of the Russian Federation Council and her accompanying delegation to discuss the mutual cooperation in all levels; on May the Pope Twadros II, the Pope of Alexandria and the Patriarch of St. Mark, visited Russia received by Russian President; then the Russian Defense Minister and Foreign Minister visited Egypt again and held talks with President Sisi; in August another round of discussions between the Foreign Ministers of the two counties in Moscow; in October the Speaker of the Egyptian House of Representatives visited Russia to participate in the 137th session of the Inter-Parliamentary Union; in November a Russian security delegation visited Egypt and had a meeting with the Minister of Civil Aviation

The cooperation between the two countries continued to grow up during 2018, where in May the 2+2 talks between the Foreign Minister and the Minister of Defense in the two countries held a new round in Russia; followed by another visit for the Minister of Defense to Russia in August to discuss the military cooperation between the two countries with his counterpart; and in September the Foreign Ministers held another meeting on the sidelines of the 73rd session of the UN General Assembly in New York discussing various issues including an assessment of the progress made in the bilateral relations between the two countries.

The Russian president, Putin, with a high-level delegation visited Egypt in February 2015 discussed the economic and political relations, the main issues in the Middle East, and concluded some deals and agreements, the most important of which is the establishing of the first Egyptian nuclear plant. In addition, he visited Egypt for the second time in December 2017, during the visit he discussed with President Sisi various issues especially the regional challenges and the political cooperation, witnessed the signing of the agreement to establish the nuclear plant, and stressed the importance of preserving the current status of Jerusalem.

President Sisi also have been visited Russia many times, the first time, as mentioned above, when he was the defense minister in 2014; then during his presidency he visited Russia again in August 2014, only two months after his election and first visit outside of the Arab world, discussing the various issued in the Middle East and agreed for greater global cooperation in the anti-terrorism activities, in addition to the agreement for concluding economic, military, and social deals or agreements;  President Sisi also visited Russia in May 2015 to take part in the Russian celebrations of the victory over Nazi Germany in World War II; At an invitation of the Russian side, the President Sisi with an official delegation visited Russia in August 2015 held talks with his Russian counterpart about the anti-terrorism efforts, joint cooperation, regional and common concern issues, and the Palestinian-Israeli conflict. Furthermore, as part of the 75th anniversary celebration of starting the relations between the two countries President Sisivisited Russia again in October 2018, during which he concluded the comprehensive partnership and strategic cooperation agreement together with the Russian President, gave a speech before the upper house of the Russian parliament, as the first foreign leader to do so, in addition to convene some other meetings between the officials of the two countries and many agreements and decisions have been reached during this visit such as the expanding of the military exercises.

The cooperation between the two countries started to reflect in their diplomatic common views in some issues for example on Syria both countries have been calling for preserving the country’s territorial integrity and its national army. In October 2017, the two countries brokered a ceasefire deal in southern Damascus. In Libya, the two countries support the Libyan National Army, which is led by Khalifa Haftar, the military commander who dominates eastern Libya. In addition, the airspace deal with Egypt could bring Russia closer to Libya and raise the likelihood of greater Russian military involvement there.

Economic relations

Since the June 30th revolution broke out the economic cooperation between the two countries have greatly flourished between the two countries for instance:

In February 2016, a memorandum of understanding was signed to establish a Russian Industrial Zone (RIZ) in Egypt as the first country in the world where Russia will establish such project outside the Russian mainland, which represents a gateway for Russia to the African continent; in addition to signing some other cooperation agreements and memorandums of understanding to enhance investment cooperation between the two countries and facilitating efforts to establish a free trade zone between Egypt and the Eurasian Economic Union. Furthermore, a memorandum of understanding has been signed between the representatives of the two countries through which Russia will supply 10 civilian aircraft with Financial Leasing System as a first stage, then supply of 20 civilian aircraft as a second stage with the possibility of supplying 20 other aircraft as a third stage after obtaining the necessary approvals to facilitate the direct flights between Egypt and Russia. 

The volume of trade between Egypt and Russia rose during the year 2017 to 6.7 billion dollars, where the volume of Russian imports to Egypt reached 6.2 billion dollars (with an increase of 64%) and the volume of Egyptian exports to Russia reached 504.5 million dollars (with an increase of 35%).

It is worth to be mention here that the value of Russian exports to Egypt reached 2.418 billion dollars in the first five months of 2018 (an increase of about 32.3% over the same period in 2017), while the value of Egyptian exports to Russia reached 356 million dollars (an increase of 26.5%); more than 416 Russian companies operate in Egypt with capital of over $ 60 million, trade exchange between Egypt and Russia in the first five months of 2018 reached 2.775 billion dollars (with an increase of about 31.5% from 2017), in August 2018 a contract to buy 180 thousand tons of Russian wheat has been concluded, in September 2018 another contract to produce and supply 1300 new railway vehicles to Egypt has been concluded as the largest deal in the history of the Egyptian railway.

In December 2017 the two presidents signed a document under which they gave the start signal to El-Dabaa nuclear project, where they have signed in 2015 a cooperation agreement to establish this project as the first nuclear plant in Egypt based on a Russian loan, with four reactors and a capacity of five gigawatts, is scheduled for completion by 2029, according to Russia’s state-owned nuclear operator Rosatom, financed by a $25 billion loan from Moscow.

Furthermore, the Russian oil giant Rosneft bought a 30% stake in Egypt’s Zohr gas field for $1.125 billion last year, becoming a key player in developing one of the largest gas deposits in the Mediterranean Sea. In addition, Rosneft and Fleet Energy signed a framework agreement to explore a joint venture for providing gas supplies to Egypt.

Military relations

After the June 30th revolution, the pace of military visits between Egypt and Russia increased, with several visits by Russian military officials to Cairo to prepare for the start of expanded military talks between Egypt and Russia; for instance the frequent mutual visits of the Ministers of Foreign Affairs and Defense between the two countries since 2013 during which the two countries agreed to modernize the Egyptian military arsenal and provide it with Russian weapons, allowing the Egyptian political leadership to achieve its goal to diversify the sources of armament. After President Abdel Fattah Al-Sisi takes over the power in Egypt he was keen to raise the combat and training abilities and to provide the armed forces with new types of weapons especially with Russia.

When president Sisi made his first visit to Russia he checked out some military objects, items, and systems which brought during his visit. Since then the military cooperation between Egypt and Russia began to grow significantly, especially in the fields of armament and training; while the armament cooperation was focusing on the development of the air force and the air defense system in particular as below:

Development of air forces

Based on the Egyptian strategy to diversify the sources of arms, the cooperation with Russia concentrated on providing the Egyptian Air Force with new and sophisticated aircraft, therefore, the deals with Russia included various types of armaments, ammunition and the technical needs of aircraft; in addition to buy many Russian fighter aircrafts and advanced MiG-29 and MiG-35, in addition to the Sukhoi Su-35.

A large number of KAMOV 52 helicopters were also contracted combined with all types of missiles, ammunition and technical assistance for aircraft.

Development of air defense

The cooperation with Russia regarding modernizing the air defense system has been concentrated on updating the short-range air defense system to the Tor-M2 system, and the medium-range air defense system to the Buk-M2 system.

Moreover, the addition of the long-range air defense system for the first time within the Egyptian Air Defense Forces, which announced on 26th of August 2015 after receiving the “300-S” Russian system also known as ” Antey 2500″; this system is the strongest in the response to all types of aircraft and missiles.

The Russian gift and the joint exercises

In August 2016 Egypt received a Russian missile vessel so-called Molniya b-32 as a present, which participated in the opening ceremony of the new Suez Canal. It considered as one of the most modern Russian naval vessels because of its high combat capabilities, where it contain a rapid and long-range sea-to-sea missile platform, in addition to advanced technology in military communications and modern defense systems.

The two countries witnessed great cooperation with regard to the joint training; where they have signed protocols of cooperation in joint trainings including sending missions of armed forces and technicians to train on the latest technology in manufacturing, in addition to conducting the joint exercises and maneuvers to improve the combat capabilities of the armed forces.

Accordingly, Egypt hosted the first joint military exercise with the Russian paratroopers so-called “Protectors of Friendship 1” in October of the same year; then the Egyptian and Russian paratroopers carried out the second joint military exercise so-called “Protectors of Friendship 2” held in Russia in September 2017; followed by the third joint exercise so-called “Protectors of Friendship 3” in October 2018, which is hosted by Egypt. The training included various activities and events, including the exchange of training experiences for Special Units, implementation of various forms of atypical shooting, training on the Special Forces fighting and combating terrorism, as well as the dropping of personnel, equipment, and vehicles from both sides.

It’s worth to be mention here that after the last visit of President Sisi to Russia in October 2018 the two sides agreed to invite military observers from 13 countries to observe these anti-terror drills.

Weapon deals, Military exhibitions and other activities

In August 2018 the Egyptian Defense minister participated in the opening ceremony of the Russian International Military-Technical Forum so-called “ARMY-2018”.

On the other side, the Russian participation was the most prominent during the Egypt Defense Expo (EDEX) 2018, where the Russian delegation demonstrated the products of 11 large domestic producers of military hardware and equipment for all military branches. Russia showcased a full-size copy of the Ka-52 reconnaissance and attack helicopter. The display stand of Russia’s state arms seller Rosoboron export featured the mockups of Yak-130 combat trainers, Su-35 fighter jets, MiG-29M/M2 multirole frontline fighters, Mi-17, Mi-28NE, Mi-35, Mi-26, and Ansat helicopters. Russia also demonstrated S-400 Triumf long-range air defense missile systems, Tor-M2E and Buk-M2E surface-to-air missile complexes, the Pantsyr-S1 air defense missile/gun system, and also Igla-S and Verba man-portable missile complexes. In addition to the T-90MS main battle tank, the BMP-3 infantry fighting vehicle, the Terminator tank support combat vehicle, the BTR-82A armored personnel carrier, Khrizantema-S and Kornet-E anti-tank systems, in addition to small arms and close-in weapons.

In November 2015, the Russian warship “Admiral Vladimirsky” visited the Adabiya port in Suez to express the strengthening of strategic military understanding and cooperation between the Egyptian and Russian Navy.

In November 2017, the two countries agreed to allow the military aircraft of the two countries to exchange airspace and air bases with each other.

Many weapon deals have been concluded between the two countries for instance the two countries signed a $3.5 billion arms deal in 2014;50 MiG-29M/M2 fighter jets were purchased from Russia in 2014 and delivery started late 2017; Egypt also purchased 46 of a naval version of the Kamov Ka-52 Alligator helicopter, intended for the two French Mistral helicopter carriers that Cairo bought from Paris in September 2015; in addition to the initiate to buy the T-90 tanks.

Moreover, Egypt launched an observation satellite, called EgyptSat-A, by Russian rocket, called Soyuz-2.1b, on 21st of Feb 2019 from the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan; the satellite will be used to gather imagery of the Egyptian territory and surrounding regions for digital mapping, assessments of mineral, water and other resources, environmental monitoring, vegetation monitoring, studies of the headwaters of the Nile, and disaster management.

In conclusion

The relations between the two countries have witnessed various stages of prosperity, the breaking of diplomatic relations, gradual growth, a period of caution and prosperity once again after the June 30th revolution; which some interpreted as historic recurrence; while others interpreted the recent boom as a political choice to approaching the East at the expense of the West due to the surrounding political and international events or interactions.

In fact, the rapprochement and prosperity of the relations between Egypt and Russia since the June 30th revolution depends mainly on the nature of the interests between them. Both countries share many common interests; both are strategic and influential countries in their regions, globally, and at various international organizations as well.

Consequently, the fact that history repeats itself is a natural phenomenon in international relations, but this repetition itself is a result of interaction, interests and political choices between states. That is the case between Egypt and Russia where the events between the past and the present have resembled, but this resembling or repetition is a result of the changeable Social interaction and mutual interests of both countries that constitute their decisions and political choices.

The national interests are the main reason for Russia to support the political transition in Egypt and June 30th revolution, while it opposes the Arab Spring in general and even oppose the January 25th revolution in Egypt itself only two years earlier, and for Egypt to further strengthen its relations with Russia; where the Russian leaders admitted in many occasions the significant importance of Egypt in the Arab, African, Middle East, and Muslim circles, the Russian perception about the radical political regimes in the region, their perspective about the Arab Spring and fears of the revolution infection and their relation with neighboring countries, and the Russian position in some issues such as the Syrian, Libyan, and Crimea crises; all of these factors shows the great interests for Russia to strengthen its relation with Egypt.

On the other hand, Egypt also was in urgent need for Russian support after the revolution for gaining the international legitimacy of its ruling regime especially after the American position on the revolution, to diversify and balance its foreign options, to face the domestic pressure and popular rejection of the dependence on the US, and for the Economic, Social, Political, and military cooperation and assistance; all of these interests, and more, make it rational for both sides to seek more cooperation.

Political Science Lecturer Assistant, Suez Canal University, Egypt; and Ph.D. candidate at Jilin University, China

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Middle East

Erdogan’s Calamitous Authoritarianism

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Turkey’s President Erdogan is becoming ever more dangerous as he continues to ravage his own country and destabilize scores of states in the Middle East, the Balkans, and North Africa, while cozying up to the West’s foremost advisories. Sadly, there seems to be no appetite for most EU member states to challenge Erdogan and put him on notice that he can no longer pursue his authoritarianism at home and his adventurous meddling abroad with impunity.

To understand the severity of Erdogan’s actions and ambitions and their dire implications, it suffices to quote Ahmet Davutoglu, formerly one of Erdogan’s closest associates who served as Minister of Foreign Affairs and subsequently Prime Minister. Following his forced resignation in May 2016 he stated “I will sustain my faithful relationship with our president until my last breath. No one has ever heard — and will ever hear — a single word against our president come from my mouth.”

Yet on October 12, Davutoglu declared “Erdogan left his friends who struggled and fought with him in exchange for the symbols of ancient Turkey, and he is trying to hold us back now…. You yourself [Erdogan] are the calamity. The biggest calamity that befell this people is the regime that turned the country into a disastrous family business.”

The stunning departure of Davutoglu from his earlier statement shows how desperate conditions have become, and echoed how far and how dangerously Erdogan has gone. Erdogan has inflicted a great calamity on his own people, and his blind ambition outside Turkey is destabilizing many countries while dangerously undermining Turkey’s and its Western allies’ national security and strategic interests.

A brief synopsis of Erdogan’s criminal domestic practices and his foreign misadventures tell the whole story.

Domestically, he incarcerated tens of thousands of innocent citizens on bogus charges, including hundreds of journalists. Meanwhile he is pressuring the courts to send people to prison for insulting him, as no one can even express their thoughts about this ruthlessness. Internationally, Erdogan ordered Turkish intelligence operatives to kill or smuggle back to the country Turkish citizens affiliated with the Gülen movement.

He regularly cracks down on Turkey’s Kurdish minority, preventing them from living a normal life in accordance with their culture, language, and traditions, even though they have been and continue to be loyal Turkish citizens. There is no solution to the conflict except political, as former Foreign Minister Ali Babacan adamantly stated on October 20: “… a solution [to the Kurdish issue] will be political and we will defend democracy persistently.”

Erdogan refuses to accept the law of the sea convention that gives countries, including Cyprus, the right to an Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ) for energy exploration, while threatening the use of force against Greece, another NATO member no less. He openly sent a research ship to the region for oil and gas deposits, which EU foreign policy chief Josep Borrell called “extremely worrying.”

He invaded Syria with Trump’s blessing to prevent the Syrian Kurds from establishing autonomous rule, under the pretext of fighting the PKK and the YPG (the Syrian Kurdish militia that fought side-by-side the US, and whom Erdogan falsely accuses of being a terrorist group).

He is sending weapons to the Sunni in northern Lebanon while setting up a branch of the Turkish Cooperation and Coordination Agency (TIKA) in the country—a practice Erdogan has used often to gain a broader foothold in countries where it has an interest.

While the Turkish economy is in tatters, he is investing hundreds of millions of dollars in the Balkans, flooding countries with Turkish imams to spread his Islamic gospel and to ensure their place in his neo-Ottoman orbit. Criticizing Erdogan’s economic leadership, Babacan put it succinctly when he said this month that “It is not possible in Turkey for the economic or financial system to continue, or political legitimacy hold up.”

Erdogan is corrupt to the bone. He conveniently appointed his son-in-law as Finance Minister, which allows him to hoard tens of millions of dollars, as Davutoglu slyly pointed out: “The only accusation against me…is the transfer of land to an educational institution over which I have no personal rights and which I cannot leave to my daughter, my son, my son-in-law or my daughter-in-law.”

Erdogan is backing Azerbaijan in its dispute with Armenia (backed by Iran) over the breakaway territory of Nagorno-Karabakh, which is inhabited by ethnic Armenians and has been the subject of dispute for over 30 years.

He is exploiting Libya’s civil strife by providing the Government of National Accord (GNA) with drones and military equipment to help Tripoli gain the upper hand in its battle against Khalifa Haftar’s forces. Former Foreign Minister Yasar Yakis said in February 2020 that “The unclear Turkish foreign policy by Erdogan may put Turkey in grave danger due to this expansion towards Libya.”

He is meddling in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict in an effort to prevent them from settling their dispute unless Israel meets Palestinian demands. He granted several Hamas officials Turkish citizenship to spite Israel, even though Hamas openly calls for Israel’s destruction.

He betrayed NATO by buying the Russian-made S-400 air defense system, which seriously compromises the alliance’s technology and intelligence.

He is destabilizing many countries, including Somalia, Qatar, Libya, and Syria, by dispatching military forces and hardware while violating the air space of other countries like Iraq, Cyprus, and Greece. Yakis said Turkey is engaging in a “highly daring bet where the risks of failure are enormous.”

Erdogan supports extremist Islamist groups such as the Muslim Brotherhood and Hamas, and an assortment of jihadists, including ISIS, knowing full well that these groups are sworn enemies of the West—yet he uses them as a tool to promote his wicked Islamic agenda.

He regularly blackmails EU members, threatening to flood Europe with Syria refugees unless they support his foreign escapades such as his invasion of Syria, and provide him with billions in financial aid to cope with the Syrian refugees.

The question is how much more evidence does the EU need to act? A close look at Erdogan’s conduct clearly illuminates his ultimate ambition to restore much of the Ottoman Empire’s influence over the countries that were once under its control.

Erdogan is dangerous. He has cited Hitler as an example of an effective executive presidential system, and may seek to acquire nuclear weapons. It’s time for the EU to wake up and take Erdogan’s long-term agenda seriously, and take severe punitive measures to arrest his potentially calamitous behavior. Sadly, the EU has convinced itself that from a geostrategic perspective Turkey is critically important, which Erdogan is masterfully exploiting.

The EU must be prepared take a stand against Erdogan, with or without the US. Let’s hope, though, that Joe Biden will be the next president and together with the EU warn Erdogan that his days of authoritarianism and foreign adventurism are over.

The views expressed are those of the author.

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Middle East

Syrian Refugees Have Become A Tool Of Duplicitous Politics

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Syrian refugees in Rukban camp

Since the beginning of the conflict in Syria the issue of Syrian refugees and internally displace has been the subject of countless articles and reports with international humanitarian organizations and countries involved in the Syrian conflict shifting responsibility for the plight of migrants.

The most notorious example of human suffering put against political games is the Rukban refugee camp located in eastern Syria inside the 55-km zone around Al-Tanf base controlled by the U.S. and its proxies.

According to official information, more than 50,000 people, mostly women and children, currently live in the camp. This is a huge number comparable to the population of a small town. The Syrian government, aware of the plight of people in Rukban, has repeatedly urged Washington to open a humanitarian corridor so that everyone can safely return home. However, all such proposals were ignored by the American side. U.S. also refuse to provide the camp with first aid items. Neighbouring Jordan is inactive, too, despite Rukban being the largest of dozens other temporary detention centres in Syria, where people eke out a meager existence.

At the same time, the problem is not only refugee camps. Syria has been at war for a decade. The country’s economy has suffered greatly over this period, and many cities have been practically grazed to the ground. Moreover, the global coronavirus epidemic didn’t spare Syria and drained the already weakened economy even more. However, Damascus’ attempts of post-war reconstruction and economic recovery were undermined by multiple packages of severe sanctions imposed by the U.S. At the same time, U.S.-based human rights monitors and humanitarian organizations continue to weep over the Syrian citizens’ misery.

The situation is the same for those refugees who stay in camps abroad, especially in countries bordering on Syria, particularly Jordan and Turkey. Ankara has been using Syrian citizens as a leverage against the European states in pursuit of political benefits for a long time. No one pays attention to the lives of people who are used as a change coin in big politics. This is equally true for Rukban where refugees are held in inhuman conditions and not allowed to return to their homeland. In those rare exceptions that they are able to leave, refugees have to pay large sums of money that most of those living in camp are not able to come by.

It’s hard to predict how long the Syrian conflict will go on and when – or if – the American military will leave the Al-Tanf base. One thing can be said for sure: the kind of criminal inaction and disregard for humanitarian catastrophe witnessed in refugee camps is a humiliating failure of modern diplomacy and an unforgivable mistake for the international community. People shouldn’t be a tool in the games of politicians.

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Middle East

Is Syria Ready For Second Wave Of COVID-19?

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©UNICEF/Delil Souleiman

Despite a relative calm that has been holding on the front lines of the Syrian conflict since the beginning of the year, Syria had to face other equally – if not more – serious challenges. The spread of COVID-19 virus in the wake of a general economic collapse and a health care system battered by nine years of war threatened Syria with a death toll as a high as that of resumed military confrontation. However, the actual scale of the infection rate turned out to be less than it was expected considering the circumstances.

Although Syria did not have much in resources to mobilize, unlike some other countries that were slow to enforce restrictions or ignored them altogether, the Syrian authorities did not waste time to introduce basic measures that, as it became obvious in hindsight, proved to be the most effective. A quarantine was instituted in the areas controlled by the government, all transportation between the provinces was suspended, schools and universities were temporarily closed and face masks were made obligatory in public spaces.

As a result, official data puts the number of people infected with COVID-19 in the government areas at modest 4,457 while 192 people died of the infection. In turn, the Autonomous Administration of North and East Syria announced that 1,998 people contracted the virus. The data on the infection rate in the opposition-controlled areas in Idlib and Aleppo is incomplete, but the latest number is 1,072. Compared to the neighboring Turkey with  9,000 of deaths of COVID-19, Syria seems to be doing relatively well.

Tackling the virus put the already embattled health care system under enormous strain. Syrian doctors are dealing with an acute shortage of medicines and equipment, and even hospital beds are in short supply. Over 60 medical workers who treated COVID-19 patients died.

The situation is worsened even further by the economic hardships, not least due to the sanctions imposed on Syria by the U.S. and the European states. Syrian hospitals are unable to procure modern equipment necessary for adequate treatment of COVID-19, most importantly test kits and ventilators.

The economic collapse exposed and aggravated many vulnerabilities that could have been easily treated under more favorable circumstances. A grim, yet fitting example: long queues in front of bakeries selling bread at subsidised prices, that put people under the risk of catching the virus. Many Syrians are simply unable to avoid risking their health in these queues, as an average income is no longer enough to provide for a family.

Moreover, despite a nation-wide information campaign conducted with the goal of spreading awareness about means of protections against COVID-19 like social distancing and mask-wearing, for many Syrians the disease is still stigmatized, and those who contracted it are often too ashamed to go to a hospital or even confess to their friends. As consequence, a substantial number of cases goes unreported.

With the second wave of COVID-19 in sight, it is of utmost importance that the work of health care professionals is supported, not subverted by the citizens. Otherwise Syria – and the world – may pay too high a price.

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