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

Bassem Elmaghraby

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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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The fallacy of soccer’s magical bridge-building qualities

Dr. James M. Dorsey

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Imagining himself as a peacemaker in a conflict-ridden part of the world, FIFA President Gianni Infantino sees a 2022 World Cup shared by Qatar with its Gulf detractors, the United Arab Emirates and Saudi Arabia, as the magic wand that would turn bitter foes into brothers.

It may be a nice idea, but it is grounded in the fiction that soccer can play an independent role in bringing nations together or developing national identity.

The fiction is that soccer has the potential to be a driver of events, that it can spark or shape developments. It is also the fiction that sports in general and soccer in particular has the power to build bridges.

Mr. Infantino’s assertion that if foes play soccer, bridges are built is but the latest iteration of a long-standing myth.

Nothing could be further from the truth. Soccer is an aggressive sport. It is about conquering the other half of a pitch. It evokes passions and allegiances that are tribal in nature and that more often than not divide rather than unite.

In conflict situations, soccer tends to provide an additional battlefield. Examples abound.

The 2022 World Cup; this year’s Qatari Asian Cup victory against the backdrop of the Gulf state’s rift with the United Arab Emirates, Saudi Arabia, Bahrain and Egypt; the imprint the Palestinian-Israeli conflict puts on the two nations’ soccer; or the rise of racist, discriminatory attitudes among fans in Europe.

The Bad Blue Boys, hardcore fans of Dinamo Zagreb’s hardcore fans, light candles each May and lay wreaths at a monument to their comrades who were killed in the Yugoslav wars in the 1990s. They mark the anniversary of a riot during the 1990 match against Serbia’s Red Star Belgrade, their club’s most controversial match, as the first clash in the wars that erupted a year later and sparked the collapse of former Yugoslavia.

Fact of the matter is that sports like ping pong in Richard Nixon’s 1972 rapprochement with China or the improvement of ties between North and South Korea in the most recent Summer Olympics served as a useful tool, not a driver of events.

Sports is a useful tool in an environment in which key political players seek to build bridges and narrow differences.

The impact of soccer in the absence of a conducive environment created by political not sports players, is at best temporary relief, a blip on an otherwise bleak landscape.

The proof is in the pudding. Legend has it that British and German soldiers played soccer in no-man’s lands on Christmas Day in 2014, only to return to fighting World War One for another four years. Millions died in the war.

Similarly, Kurds, Sunnis and Shiites poured into the streets of Iraqi cities hugging each other in celebration of Iraq’s winning in 2007 of the Asia Cup at the height of the country’s sectarian violence only to return to killing each other a day later.

Soccer’s ability to shape or cement national identity is no different. In other words. football can be a rallying point for national identity but only if there is an environment that is conducive.

The problem is that soccer and the formation of national identity have one complicating trait in common: both often involve opposition to the other.

That is nowhere truer than in the Middle East and North Africa where soccer has played and plays an important role in identity formation since it was first introduced to the region in the late 19th and early 20th century.

Qatar has been in some ways the exception that proves the rule by plotting its sports strategy not only as a soft power tool or a pillar of public health policy but also as a component of national identity. That element has been strengthened by the rift in the Gulf and bolstered by this year’s Asian Cup victory.

Qatar’s efforts to strengthen its national identity benefits from the fact that the Gulf state no longer operates on the notion that Gulf states have to hang together. Today its hanging on its own in a conflict with three of its neighbours.

Soccer’s role in identity formation in the Middle East and North Africa was often because it was a battlefield, a battlefield for identity that was part of larger political struggles.

Clubs were often formed for that very reason. Attitudes towards the country’s monarchy in the early 20th century loomed large in the founding of Egypt’s Al Ahli SC and Al Zamalek SC, two of the Middle East and North Africa’s most storied clubs.

Clubs in Algeria were established as part of the anti-colonial struggle against the French. Ottoman and Iranian rulers used sports and soccer to foster national identity and take a first step towards incorporating youth in the development of a modern defense force.

Zionists saw sports and soccer as an important way of developing the New Jew, the muscular Jew. To Palestinians, it was a tool in their opposition to Zionist immigration. And finally, soccer was important in the shaping of ethnic or sub-national identities among Berbers, Kurds, East Bank Jordanians and Jordanian Palestinians.

In other words, soccer was inclusive in the sense of contributing to the formation of a collective identity. But it was also divisive because that identity was at the same time exclusionary and opposed to an other.

The long and short of this is that soccer is malleable. Its impact and fallout depend on forces beyond its control. Soccer is dependent on the environment shaped by political and social forces. It is a tool that is agnostic to purpose, not a driver or an independent actor.

Edited remarks at Brookings seminar in Doha: Lessons from the 2019 Asian Cup: Sports, Globalization, and Politics in the Arab World

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Syrian Coup de Grâce

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The Middle Eastern land has a diverse blend of history with conflicts and developments in knowledge. Where on one hand Baghdad was considered as the realm of knowledge on the other hand Constantinople was a symbol of power and domination. But now it seems that all has been shattered completely with conflicts.

The Middle Eastern landscape is facing its worst time ever: a phase of instability and misery. The oil ridden land is now becoming conflict ridden, from Euphrates to Persian Gulf; every inch seems to be blood stained nowadays.  The region became more like a chess board where kings are not kings but pawns and with each move someone is getting close to checkmate.

Starting from the spring which brought autumn in the Middle Eastern environment, now the curse is on Assyrian land where blood is being spilled, screams have took over the skies. The multi facet conflict has caused more than 400,000 deaths and 5 million seeking refuge abroad whereas 6 million displaced internally.

What began with a mere peaceful civil uprising, has now become a world stage with multiplayers on it. Tehran and Moscow are playing their own mantra by showing romance with Assad while Washington has its own way of gambling with kings in their hand. Involvement of catchy caliphate from 2014 is worsening the complexities of the Syrian saga. The deck is getting hot and becoming more and more mess, chemical strikes, tomahawk show, carpet bombing, stealth jets and many more, Syrian lands is now a market to sell the products exhibiting fine examples of military industrial complex. While to some, Syrian stage seems to be a mere regional proxy war, in reality it seems like a black hole taking whole region into its curse. One by one every inch of the country is turned into altar as the consequence of war. A country is now ripped into different territories with different claimants, but the question still remains as “Syria belongs to whom?”

The saga of Syrian dusk has its long roots in past and with each passing moment it is becoming a spiral of destruction. What is being witnessed in current scenario is just a glimpse of that spiral. It has already winded the region into it and if not resolve properly and maturely it can spread like a contagious disease that can take whole Middle East into its chakra.

With recent development in Iran nuclear deal which left whole world into shock; and house of Sauds forming strong bond with western power brokers and Israel, to counter Tehran (because kings of holy desert have so much engraved hatred towards shiaits, that they prefer to shake hands with Jews and establish an unholy alliance) is making matters worse. This all has the potential to push the region into further more sectarian rifts. With Syrian stage already set. The delicacy of the situation is not secluded from the palette of the world.

Despite the condemnations from across the globe, humanitarian watch remains blind and failed to address the issues in Syria leaving Syrians in long lasting agony and despair The symphony of pain and suffering continues in the Middle Eastern region while world watches like a vicious sadist, the region becomes a playground for major powers as ‘Uncle Sam” has their own interests in engaging, Kremlin have their own concerns same goes for every single actor who is party to the conflict.

The panacea to the Arabian pain is simple “a sincere determined approach” to the disease. Even if every party with draws from the conflict the situation can get worse due to the generated power vacuum and can make Syria a replica of Iraq. The Syrian grieve needs to be addressed through proper management skills, if not the curse is upon whole region.

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The battle for leadership of the Muslim world: Turkey plants its flag in Christchurch

Dr. James M. Dorsey

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When Turkish vice-president Fuat Oktay and foreign minister Mevlut Cavusoglu became this weekend the first high-level foreign government delegation to travel  to Christchurch they were doing more than expressing solidarity with New Zealand’s grieving Muslim community.

Messrs. Oktay and Cavusoglu were planting Turkey’s flag far and wide in a global effort to expand beyond the Turkic and former Ottoman world support for President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s style of religiously-packaged authoritarian rule, a marriage of Islam and Turkish nationalism.

Showing footage of the rampage in Christchurch at a rally in advance of March 31 local elections, Mr. Erdogan declared that “there is a benefit in watching this on the screen. Remnants of the Crusaders cannot prevent Turkey’s rise.”

Mr. Erdogan went on to say that “we have been here for 1,000 years and God willing we will be until doomsday. You will not be able to make Istanbul Constantinople. Your ancestors came and saw that we were here. Some of them returned on foot and some returned in coffins. If you come with the same intent, we will be waiting for you too.”

Mr. Erdogan was responding to an assertion by Brenton Tarrant, the white supremacist perpetrator of the Christchurch attacks in which 49 people were killed in two mosques, that Turks were “ethnic soldiers currently occupying Europe.”

Messrs. Oktay and Cavusoglu’s visit, two days after the attacks, is one more facet of a Turkish campaign that employs religious as well as traditional diplomatic tools.

The campaign aims to establish Turkey as a leader of the Muslim world in competition with Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, and to a lesser degree Morocco.

As part of the campaign, Turkey has positioned itself as a cheerleader for Muslim causes such as Jerusalem and the Rohingya at a moment that Saudi Arabia, the UAE and other Muslim nations are taking a step back.

Although cautious not to rupture relations with Beijing, Turkey has also breached the wall of silence maintained by the vast majority of Muslim countries by speaking out against China’s brutal crackdown on Turkic Muslims in the troubled north-western province of Xinjiang.

Mr. Erdogan’s religious and traditional diplomatic effort has seen Turkey build grand mosques and/or cultural centres across the globe in the United States, the Caribbean, Europe, Africa and Asia, finance religious education and restore Ottoman heritage sites.

It has pressured governments in Africa and Asia to hand over schools operated by the Hizmet movement led by exiled preacher Fethullah Gulen. Mr. Erdogan holds Mr. Gulen responsible for the failed military coup in Turkey in 2016.

On the diplomatic front, Turkey has in recent years opened at least 26 embassies in Africa, expanded the Turkish Airlines network to 55 destinations in Africa, established military bases in Somalia and Qatar, and negotiated a long-term lease for Sudan’s Suakin Island in the Red Sea.

The Turkish religious campaign takes a leaf out of Saudi Arabia’s four decade long, USD 100 billion effort to globally propagate ultra-conservative Sunni Islam

Like the Saudis, Turkey’s Directorate of Religious Affairs (Diyanet) provides services to Muslim communities, organizes pilgrimages to Mecca, trains religious personnel, publishes religious literature, translates the Qur’an into local languages and funds students from across the world to study Islam at Turkish institutions.

Turkish Muslim NGOs provide humanitarian assistance in former parts of the Ottoman empire, the Middle East and Africa much like the Saudi-led World Muslim League and other Saudi governmental -non-governmental organizations, many of which have been shut down since the 9/11 attacks on New York and Washington.

Saudi Arabia, since the rise of crown prince Mohammed bin Salman in 2015, has significantly reduced global funding for ultra-conservatism.

Nonetheless, Turkey is at loggerheads with Saudi Arabia as well as the UAE over the killing of journalist Jamal Khashoggi; Turkish support for Qatar in its dispute with the Saudis and Emiratis; differences over Libya, Syria and the Kurds; and Ankara’s activist foreign policy. Turkey is seeking to position itself as an Islamic alternative.

Decades of Saudi funding has left the kingdom’s imprint on the global Muslim community. Yet, Turkey’s current struggles with Saudi Arabia are more geopolitical than ideological.

While Turkey competes geopolitically with the UAE in the Horn of Africa, Libya and Syria, ideologically the two countries’ rivalry is between the UAE’s effort to establish itself as a centre of a quietist, apolitical Islam as opposed to Turkey’s activist approach and its support for the Muslim Brotherhood.

In contrast to Saudi Arabia that adheres to Wahhabism, an austere ultra-conservative interpretation of the faith, the UAE projects itself and its religiosity as far more modern, tolerant and forward looking.

The UAE’s projection goes beyond Prince Mohammed’s attempt to shave off the raw edges of Wahhabism in an attempt to present himself as a proponent of what he has termed moderate Islam.

The UAE scored a significant success with the first ever papal visit in February by Pope Francis I during which he signed a Document on Human Fraternity with Sheikh Ahmad al-Tayeb, the grand imam of Egypt’s Al-Azhar, the revered 1,000-year-old seat of Sunni Muslim learning.

The signing was the result of UAE-funded efforts of Egyptian general-turned-president Abdel Fattah Al-Sisi to depoliticize Islam and gain control of Al Azhar that Sheikh Al-Tayeb resisted despite supporting Mr. Al-Sisi’s 2013 military coup.

To enhance its influence within Al Azhar and counter that of Saudi Araba, the UAE has funded  Egyptian universities and hospitals and has encouraged Al Azhar to open a branch in the UAE.

The UAE effort paid off when the pope, in a public address, thanked Egyptian judge Mohamed Abdel Salam, an advisor to Sheikh Al-Tayeb who is believed to be close to both the Emiratis and Mr. Al-Sisi, for drafting the declaration.

“Abdel Salam enabled Al-Sisi to outmanoeuvre Al Azhar in the struggle for reform,” said an influential activist.

The Turkey-UAE rivalry has spilt from the geopolitical and ideological into competing versions of Islamic history.

Turkey last year renamed the street on which the UAE embassy in Ankara is located after an Ottoman general that was at the centre of a Twitter spat between Mr. Erdogan and UAE foreign minister Abdullah bin Zayed al-Nahyan..

Mr. Erdogan responded angrily to the tweet that accused Fahreddin Pasha, who defended the holy city of Medina against the British in the early 20th century, of abusing the local Arab population and stealing their property as well as sacred relics from the Prophet Muhammad’s tomb,. The tweet described the general as one of Mr. Erdogan’s ancestors.

“When my ancestors were defending Medina, you impudent (man), where were yours? Some impertinent man sinks low and goes as far as accusing our ancestors of thievery. What spoiled this man? He was spoiled by oil, by the money he has,” Mr. Erdogan retorted, referring to Mr. Al-Nahyan.

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