Considering what reported in the media, President Trump’s Middle East Plan – not yet fully outlined – is based, according to his son-in-law and senior advisor, Jared Kushner, on four basic principles: freedom of religion, freedom in life and professional opportunities, freedom of movement and freedom of political opinions.
There are also Opportunities, i.e. the possibility for young people not to be carried away by the conflicts that have ruined their fathers’ lives, as well as Safety and Security – in life and work – for all Middle East citizens.
Finally, in the Middle East Plan there is Respect among people and Respect for Religions, Parties and ethnic groups. Protestant ethic and business – the classic pair of US foreign policy. Almost a reminder of Max Weber’s book “Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism”.
In economic and operational terms, Trump’s Plan focuses on infrastructure, especially in the West Bank and in the Gaza Strip.
This is the central idea in Trump’s Plan, i.e. diluting, dissolving and finally eliminating the conflict between Israel and its neighbouring Arab States through a vast mass of investment.
This can create the best climate for a stable peace between the Jewish State and the Islamic (but also secular) universe surrounding it.
There is no precise data on the investment connected to President Trump’s new Middle East Plan, but the most authoritative and reliable sources mention a total amount of 25 billion US dollars for the West Bank and the Gaza Strip to be provided over ten years, in addition to an investment of 40 billion US dollars in Egypt, Jordan and, probably, the Lebanon. Said investment shall be made conditional upon a series of intermediate results to be assessed. Also in these cases, the investment will be made over a decade.
Currently this is the most certain data available, but there is also news about an investment for the Gaza Strip, the West Bank and the rest of the Arab countries of at least additional 30-40 billion dollars, especially in infrastructure.
From whom does the money come? Mostly from the “rich” Arab countries, but also the USA will contribute to said investment, although we do not yet know to what extent.
Between February and March, Jared Kushner visited the United Arab Emirates, Oman and Bahrain. He met Turkish President Erdogan and then paid a visit to Saudi Arabia -where Kushner has an excellent personal relationship with Mohammad bin Salman – and finally to Qatar.
Kushner, the soul of President Trump’s Middle East policy, clarified that, in addition to investment, the Plan regards the borders between the different regions.
Indeed, Kushner, rather than thinking of new borders, imagines a Middle East “without borders”.
The usual post-modern myth of no borders, according to which all the borders that separate States are artificial, dangerous, unnatural and always lead to wars.
Indeed, the opposite is true: wars break out because there are not enough borders.
According to Kushner, the idea of no borders is associated with an increase in trade and movement of people and, hopefully, with an increase in “opportunities”. It is not true that the countries trading among themselves do not wage wars: just think about the USA and the Third Reich in the Second World War or about the endless British actions in Central Asia and India. Quite the reverse. The more countries trade one another, the more there are reasons to distort or establish strategic hegemony.
The opportunities mentioned by Kushner are the same which currently apply to Central African migrants, leaving their countries (which are not “at war”, as European leaders believe) to reach the EU, or to the refugees of the war in Syria, moving to Turkey, the Balkans and Central Europe. Opportunities without realism. Not even a Hollywood film can turn the tragedy of migration into a market of very easy “opportunities”.
Obviously the elimination of borders also means the evaporation of the “Palestinian State”.
Indeed, it will be difficult for the Arab countries to fund economic reconstruction with Jerusalem as the capital city of Israel.
Moreover, Saudi Arabia does not even want to completely lose the Palestinian strategic asset, just now that Iran is penetrating the political and military system of the Gaza Strip and the PNA’s territories.
However, even Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, who is de facto ruling Saudi Arabia, still wants “onesingle and independent Palestinian State, with Jerusalem as its capital city”.
It is hard to believe that Saudi Arabia and Israel think like Kushner, the young man in favour of no borders.
This is exactly the core of the issue.
If the United States must directly take care of the support for Palestinians, in a context of very delicate intra-Arab and Arab-Israeli equilibria, problems will certainly arise and not only at legal level.
For example, since March 2018 the Taylor Force Act has laid down that the United States will no longer be in a position to financially support the Palestinian National Authority, since it helps the jihadist terrorists currently detained in Israeli prisons.
The Act also sets strong limits on financial support for the Gaza Strip and the West Bank.
A significant legal impediment for the Middle East “no borders” actions of the current US Presidency.
Furthermore, the Gulf States are not very happy to fund, almost completely, President Trump’s Middle East Plan and would like a much stronger US financial commitment than the one currently envisaged.
The Gulf countries and the other Arab countries included in the Trump Plan want to see how much money the USA will make available to its Plan, and only later, where necessary, they will pay their own share.
President Trump has also organised an “economic workshop” in Manama, Bahrain, on June 25-26, in which also businessmen and entrepreneurs from Europe will be invited, but above all from Asia and the Middle East.
The format of the Conference organized in Bahrain has already been decided: Trump’s Administration will invite only Finance Ministers and not the European, Asian and Middle East Foreign Ministers.
There will also be many and very important leaders of large global companies, from around the world, to discuss mainly investment in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip.
President Trump’s Plan, however, was discussed confidentially with 25 of the most important managers of international companies at the Milken Conference held in Los Angeles on April 29-30 last.
On that occasion, President Trump’s potential counterparts for his Middle East Plan were certainly Ibrahim Ajami, responsible for the venture capital of Mubadala Abu Dhabi’s largest investment vehicle; Joussef Al Otaiba, the Emirates’ Ambassador to the USA; Khalid al-Rumaihi, the CEO of the Bahrain Economic Development Fund; Ibrahim Salaad Almojel, General Manager of the Saudi Arabia Industrial Development Fund; Deloitte Director Margaret Anderson; Brazil’s Foreign Minister Ernesto Araùjo and many other managers of investment funds and companies.
Israel has been invited to the workshop in Bahrain, probably with Finance Minister Moshe Kalon – or others, if there are developments in Israel’s political crisis.
It should be noted, however, that Israel and Bahrain have no diplomatic relations and this mission would be a strong spur for regularizing relations between the two countries.
Nevertheless also the PNA is boycotting Trump’s Administration and his Middle East Plan, but the White House has already invited a large group of Palestinian businessmen, who could participate in Manama’s Conference only in a personal capacity.
The old EU ruling class has reacted to Trump’s Plan in a fully predictable way. It still supports the “two States” solution for Israel and the Palestinian National Authority (PNA) – something reminding us of the old Cold War – with a panel of over 35 European leaders, including Massimo D’Alema, Franco Frattini, Ana Palacio and Willi Claes, the former NATO Secretary General.
In fact, apart from the PNA’s resentment against President Trump’s Administration, in the Plan – albeit only generically outlined – there is no specific rejection of the “two States” solution.
To tell the truth, currently – as in the past -the survival of the Palestinian State – in its present form – is often prevented by the Arab countries themselves, which are more interested in a stable watchdog on the Israeli border than in a stable country and solution for the Palestinian people.
In the United States, the Democrats’ criticism against President Trump’s Middle East Plan, is focused on three principles. Firstly, Democrats do not accept the “reality on the field”, including Israel’s foreseen annexation of part of the West Bank. Secondly, they reject the ethnic or religious division lines. Thirdly, they refuse to accept Israel’s permanent control of the occupied territories.
Diminutio capitis for Israel and, according to some analysts, everything will go well. And if the exact opposite were true?
Nevertheless, at strategic level, even without the occupied territories, the possibility of an attack on Israel from the East – even hetero-directed – increases vertically.
Moreover, this has long been happening alsoin the Gaza Strip.
The opposition to Trump is essentially punitive only vis-à-vis Israel, while it considers the Palestinian region irrelevant from the military and strategic viewpoints.
Throughout 2018, as many as 17 rocket launches were carried out on the Israeli territory from the Gaza Strip alone, all of them with multiple carriers – in addition to other military operations from the Palestinian National Authority’s territory in the West Bank, and from there against Israel.
President Trump, however, can also rely on the fact that the relationship between the Arab countries and Israel has changed radically over the last 50 years.
Currently four Arab States, namely Jordan, Saudi Arabia, Egypt and the United Arab Emirates have great ascendancy – also at material level – over the Palestinian organizations, although the strategic interest of a certain Arab world in the PNA and its territories is now minimal.
Furthermore, unlike the past of the Cold War, both Saudi Arabia and the Emirates currently have ongoing good relations with Israel – albeit inevitably covertly.
Therefore both Saudi Arabia and the Emirates can currently exert significant political influence on both Israel and the Palestinians.
Hence a structural crisis of the US presence in the Middle East, while both Saudi Arabia and Jordan – despite the war in Syria-have never wanted to check the US willingness to hold its positions in the Middle East.
If the USA leaves the Middle East, Saudi Arabia could play its card for peace with the Jewish State, while the other Arab and Islamic countries interested in the region, namely Egypt, the Emirates and possibly even Turkey, could also play the game of expanding their area of influence, with or without the agreement with Israel – which, however, would be finally inevitable.
Certainly there is considerable disillusionment of the Arab world with the Palestinians and their “cause”.
The PNA is a state, economic and strategic failure of very great relevance. The Saudi Arab world and the Emirates do not want to maintain pressure on Israel indefinitely, right now that the Jewish State- after correctly analysing the new Middle East strategy – has good relations with the Gulf oil powers.
The Palestinian region could be an inevitable and decisive asset against the Shiite region dominated by Iran.
In this new system, Israel has the possibility of being less isolated regionally, but also of bearing less Arab pressure for solving the problem of the Gaza Strip, as well as less Palestinians’ international defence.
In fact, Saudi Arabia and the other allies, including Egypt and Jordan, no longer bet on the Palestinians, given the break between Hamas (which is an offspring of the Muslim Brotherhood, as also Al Sisi’s Egypt knows all too well) and Fatah in the Territories.
The fragmentation of Palestinians stultifies the strategic advantage they can offer to the rest of the Arab world.
With a view to preventing other countries, especially Turkey and Iran, from being given credit for championing the Palestinian cause, Saudi Arabia and its allies still support the PNA by mouth.
Hence either a new Middle East Peace Plan, different from the usual one, is devised, or we will fail miserably.
As usual, the European Union is at least ten years behind, with its “Cold War-style” support for the Palestinians. As if we were still in the period of the Kippur War.
The United States can solve the Palestinian issue by defusing it, as well as asking the Arab allies to have a different relationship with Hamas and eliminating the new Iranian presence in the region on the border with Israel – apart from Hezbollah, which is another issue.
Moreover, the no borders myth must be avoided. The region must be well controlled precisely because it will become a place for major investment.
Finally, it should be established that Israel can expand eastwards, but only in the framework of a new international agreement on the Middle East, which will apply also to borders, areas of influence, division of international work and investment – also at military level.
The role of Guangdong Province in the Egypt – China relationship
For the past few years, Egypt-China bilateral trade has witnessed a big leap where Egypt has opened up its markets to the Chinese products. There are many aspects that impressed me the most about the economic and trade cooperation between Egypt and China, regarding the recent important role of Guangdong in the Egypt – China relationships.
Guangdong has special relations with Egypt, as they work together to advance and strengthen economic and commercial exchange and cooperation with the continent of Africa, and in particular with Egypt, as Egypt was keen to work and conduct many discussions and joint meetings with officials of Guangdong Province on enhancing investment and trade between Guangdong, China and Egypt. The trade and economic cooperation talks of Guangdong Province with Egypt came under the supervision of the (People’s Government of Guangdong Province), in cooperation with the Foreign Trade and Economic Cooperation Authority of Guangdong Province and the General Authority for investment and Free Zones in Egypt. The (General Federation of Egyptian Chambers of Commerce) is also keen to open prospects for joint economic and investment cooperation with Guangdong Province.
Both Egypt and the officials at Guangdong have already held (a conference on investment and trade between the Chinese province of Guangdong and Egypt) to identify the most important joint investments between the two parties.
The Guangdong provincial government has prepared an unprecedented large-scale trade and economic delegation to visit Cairo, which included more than 60 institutions with great weight covering all disciplines to participate in the talks with the Egyptian side. This Chinese delegation represented a number of leading and important institutions in Guangdong Province, in the field of communications, household electrical appliances, building and construction, the manufacture of motorcycles, furniture, spinning, weaving and other light industries, to transfer their expertise and investments to the Egyptian side.
Officials in the Chinese province of “Guangdong”, which represents the largest province in China in terms of the volume of foreign trade exchange, signed many agreements for investment cooperation with Egyptian businessmen.
The agreements included the establishment of a number of joint venture companies between the Egyptian and Chinese sides in the field of electronics, motorcycles and information technology, in addition to one agreement stipulating the acquisition of 32.5% of the shares of the Egyptian “Raco” electronics company by the Chinese “GD Media” holding company and Carrier for the manufacture of refrigerators.
The total value of the agreements signed yesterday amounted to about 400 million dollars and comes within the framework of activating the role of Chinese companies in the economic zone northwest of the Gulf of Suez, which is being developed by TEDA-Egypt.
Most of the agreements between Egypt and Guangdong are aiming to transfer the Chinese manufacturing technology to the Egyptian market, provided that it is re-exported to the Middle East and African markets with an Egyptian mark of origin, to enjoy the incentives offered by the governments of neighboring countries for exported and locally manufactured products.
The first of these agreements between Cairo and Guangdong was an agreement between the Ministry of Foreign Trade and Economic Cooperation in Guangdong Province and the TEDA Egypt Investment Company to promote the economic zone in the northwest of the Gulf of Suez to Chinese companies.
The Chinese Guangdong Group also signed an agreement with Egypt China Friendship Motorcycle Company to export motorcycles, in addition to another agreement to establish a factory to assemble bicycles locally.
The same group also signed another agreement with Metal Technical Company to export electronic devices and freedom products, while Guangzhou Environstar Company signed an agreement with “Teda Egypt Company” to set up a non-woven fabric factory.
And the Guangzhou Dayun Motorcycle Company signed an agreement with the “Ibrahim Mahmoud Ibrahim” group to establish the “Egypt-dayu” company for motorcycles. The China National Research Institute of Electrical Appliances also signed a joint cooperation agreement with Rajamec Mechanical and Electrical Works Company.
Guangzhou Wuyang Motors CO. also signed an agreement with the “United Brothers” company for the distribution of motorcycles and spare parts, while Finmek Electronics signed an agreement with the economic zone in the northwest of the Gulf of Suez for investment cooperation.
Shoppingmode Huawei for Communications and Information Technology signed 3 agreements, the first with the Suez Economic Zone to undertake the work of an integrated technology system for the region, in addition to an agreement with the National Center for Communications to conduct a training program on telecommunications technology, as well as signing an agreement with Luxor Governorate in the presence of Governor Samir Farag to establish E-learning project in the province.
Guangdong Winone Elevator entered into a partnership agreement with Megastar Elvato to export electric elevators.
Guangdong VTR Buo-Tech signed an agreement with Delta Vet Center for Feed Export, in addition to Guangdong Han’s Yueming Laser Technology Company and Sharjah General Trading Company signed an agreement to export machinery.
Zhongshan City Fudi Electrical Equipment Company signed an agreement with Al-Fas Engineering Company to export home appliance accessories, in addition to TCL Overseas Marketing Company signing an agreement with the Engineering Company for Electronics and Technological Industries to export color televisions, while Zhaoqing Foodstuffs Company for export and import agreed with Al-Jasr Herbs Company for the export of agricultural products and the company “GAC-QHD (Meizhou)” for auto components, in agreement with the Matrix Engineering Company for the export of auto parts, while the Chinese Victory Furniture Factory signed an agreement with Beni Suef Governorate to establish a furniture company in the governorate.
In connection with the above, we reach an important conclusion that it is not possible to talk about Chinese investments in Egypt in isolation from addressing the tangible role of Chinese companies in the giant Guangdong Province in the process of economic and social development in Egypt, and the distinguished results they achieved in this regard. The Suez canal Zone for economic and trade cooperation between China and Egypt, known as TEDA, has become an industrial zone that enjoys the best comprehensive environment, the highest investment intensity and the highest production unit in Egypt, assisted by a large number of companies and investments in the Chinese province of Guangdong operating for years and after the launch of the Belt Initiative. And the Chinese road in Cairo, which had a special role in strengthening the special relations between Cairo and Guangdong as a special Chinese economic zone.
Iran: A major Replacement of Human Resources
Since 1979, when the mullahs seized power, Iran has topped the list of countries affected by the “brain drain”. What appeared to be local bleeding at the time may now become total bleeding affecting other sectors of the population.
The headline of one of the stories in the official news agency, IRNA, was: “It is not only the elite that migrate.” The daily newspaper, Javan, affiliated with the Iranian Revolutionary Guards, warned that Iran was losing some of its best-educated people, and stated that mass immigration of “elite elements” “costs the nation millions of dollars.” But immigration now attracts Iranians with less skills or devoid of skills.
According to the best semi-official estimates, since 1979 some eight million people, roughly 10 percent of the population, have left Iran, including an estimated 4.2 million highly educated and highly skilled people.
In the past four years, the brain drain has accelerated, with an average of 4,000 doctors leaving each year.
According to IRNA, at present, 30,000 general practitioners and senior nurses are awaiting the “good professional standing” certificates that developed countries require from those wishing to immigrate from so-called “developing countries”, such as Iran.
A study conducted by two researchers from the University of Tehran, Adel Abdullah and Maryam Rezaei, showed that almost all Iranians who immigrate seek to enter the European Union or the so-called “Anglosphere” countries such as Britain, Canada, the United States, New Zealand and Australia.
Only 10 percent of potential immigrants are willing to go “anywhere else” to get out of Iran.
The immigration requests did not include a single request who wanted to go to a Muslim country, and the only exception is Iraq, which attracts thousands of Iranian mullahs and students of theology who go to Najaf and Karbala to escape the government’s domination of religion in Tehran.
Potential immigrants also avoid China, India and Russia, while the only two Asian countries still attracting Iranians are Malaysia and Japan.
For many potential immigrants, the first destination they want to go to is Dubai, then Istanbul, then Cyprus and until recently Yerevan (the capital of Armenia), where visas are being applied for to desired destinations. Some immigrants may have to wait two or three years to obtain visas from the European Union, Canada and the United States.
Who migrates and why?
Some of the answers came from a three-year study conducted by Sharif University (Ariamher) in Tehran. According to the study, a survey of 17,078 people across all 31 provinces of Iran showed that 70 percent of senior managers and highly skilled employees in the public sector wish to immigrate.
In the projects and businessmen sector, 66 percent expressed their desire to emigrate. This figure drops to 60 percent among doctors, nurses and other medical personnel.
The study shows that the majority of potential immigrants are highly educated, unmarried youth from urban areas, i.e. the higher the education of the individual, the greater the desire to leave.
Among those who express “dissatisfaction with the current situation,” 43 percent of them want to leave the country. This figure drops to 40 percent among those who feel “great satisfaction”, which reveals that the desire to leave is deeper than occasional social and political concerns, which is confirmed by other figures in the same study.
Of those who felt “despairing about the future in Iran,” 42 percent want to leave, a figure that drops to 38 percent among those who still have some hope for the country’s future.
The study shows that the desire to flee Iran is not caused by economic hardship as a result of unemployment or inflation. It is not only the poor or the unemployed who wish to flee, but also those with good jobs, or candidates for well-paid jobs and a seat on the mullahs’ train and their security and military partners.
The largest number of immigrants comes from the provinces of Tehran, Isfahan and Qom, where per capita income is 30 percent higher than the average income in the country. Poorer provinces such as Sistan Baluchistan, Boyer Ahmad, Koh Kiluyeh, and South Khorasan are at the bottom of the list in terms of immigrant numbers.
The study does not provide figures, but there is anecdotal evidence that tens of thousands of immigrants, especially to Canada and the United States, are descended from ruling Islamic families.
None of the studies we looked at suggested other reasons as potential attractions for immigrants, such as the great success stories of Iranian immigrants around the world. A study conducted by Nooshin Karami revealed that more than 200 politicians of Iranian origin now occupy senior positions in the political structures of 30 countries, including those of the European Union and the Anglosphere. 1000 Iranians hold senior positions in international companies, while thousands more are active in the media, scientific research and academic circles in the leading industrialized countries. Dozens of Iranian writers, poets, playwrights, and filmmakers have built successful careers for themselves outside of Iran.
At the other end of the spectrum, Iran also attracts immigrants from neighboring Iraq, from the Kurdish and Shiite Arab regions, the Nakhichevan enclave, Afghanistan and Pakistan, while hosting thousands of religious students from Yemen, Syria, Lebanon and Nigeria. Qom.” According to state media, many students remain in Iran after completing their studies and marrying Iranian women.
All in all, Iran hosts more than six million “foreign guests,” including Afghan, Pakistani, and Iraqi refugees. Interestingly, the desire to leave seems to have reached the “guests” as well. Between March 2021 and March 2022, more than half a million Afghan refugees returned to their homes.
To deal with the consequences of this “brain drain,” the Islamic Republic unveiled a program to attract highly educated and skilled people from “anywhere in the world” with the promise of one-year contracts, good salaries, and enjoyment of “all citizenship rights except the right to vote.”
An estimated 300,000 fighters who served under the Iranian command in Lebanon, Syria, and Yemen were promised permanent residence in Iran and access to agricultural land to start a new life.
Critics claim that the Khomeinist regime is pleased that so many potential opponents among the urban middle class are leaving Iran, as Iran can compensate for the loss of population with newcomers from poor Muslim countries who aspire to a better standard of living under what they see as a “true Islamic” regime.
It is worth noting that other authoritarian regimes, notably the former Soviet Union, communist China, North Korea, Vietnam, and Cuba, benefited from the exodus of what they saw as potential enemies from the middle class, allowing them to implement a scheme of “great replacement.”
On this, Iranian Revolutionary Guard General Mohammad Reza Najdi said: “Let those who do not love us leave the country, to make room for those who love us.”
‘Saudi First’ aid policy marries geopolitics with economics
When Mohammed al-Jadaan told a gathering of the global political and business elite that Saudi Arabia would, in the future, attach conditions to its foreign aid, the finance minister was announcing the expansion of existing conditionality rather than a wholly new approach.
Coined ‘Saudi First,’ the new conditionality ties aid to responsible economic policies and reforms, not just support for the kingdom’s geopolitics.
For the longest time, Saudi Arabia granted aid with no overt strings. The aid was policed by privately demanding support for the kingdom’s policies, often using as a carrot and stick quotas for the haj, the yearly Muslim pilgrimage to the holy city of Mecca allotted to countries across the globe.
As a result, over the years, Saudi Arabia poured tens of billions of dollars into black holes, countries that used the aid as a band-aid to address an immediate crisis with no structural effort to resolve underlying causes.
For countries like Lebanon, Egypt, and Pakistan, this meant stumbling from one crisis to the next.
“We are changing the way we provide assistance and development assistance. We used to give direct grants and deposits without strings attached, and we are changing that. We are working with multilateral institutions to actually say, we need to see reform,” Mr. Al-Jadaan told this month’s World Economic Forum in the Swiss resort of Davos.
Saudi First serves multiple Saudi purposes.
It ties geopolitical drivers of Saudi aid to economic criteria that are likely to enhance the kingdom’s influence, create opportunities for Saudi investment and business, and enhance the kingdom’s ties to recipient countries.
In doing so, the additional conditionality positions the kingdom as a constructive, forward-looking member of the international community. It aligns Saudi Arabia more closely with multilateral institutions like the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund (IMF), regional development banks, and major donors such as the United States and the European Union.
It also enables Saudi rulers to circumvent the implications of the principle of ‘no taxation without representation’ that traces its roots to the American revolution.
Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman’s social and economic revamping of the kingdom while tightening the political screws as part of his plan to diversify the kingdom’s economy has involved introducing taxes with no political participation.
“Saudi people see their resources going abroad while they’re being asked to pay taxes, have their benefits cut, and so on. So, I think this Saudi first stance really serves as a way to both court and contain populism,” said Gulf scholar Kristin Smith Diwan.
Saudi circumvention of the American revolutionary principle, irrespective of whether it helps pacify Saudis, has already had unintended consequences.
Earlier this week, the Jordanian parliament fired a deputy, Mohammad Al-Fayez, for asking Mr. Bin Salman to stop aiding Jordan.
“All your aid lands in the pockets of the corrupt. Your donations pay bills that have nothing to do with the Jordanian people. We hear about aid coming in for the state. However, this aid only goes to a corrupt class that is getting richer at the expense of the proud Jordanian people,” Mr. Al-Fayez said in a letter to the crown prince.
The Jordanian parliament’s measure coincided with the Saudi finance minister’s announcement. Mr. Al-Fayez wrote his letter in December at the height of clashes in the southern city of Maan between security forces and protesters angry about rising fuel prices and poor governance.
Countries like Lebanon, Pakistan, and Egypt that are potentially most impacted by the new conditions for Saudi aid illustrate the geopolitical complexities of the change.
For Saudi Arabia, Lebanon is about countering Iran and its Lebanese Shiite proxy, Hezbollah, a powerful militia and political movement with significant influence in government and the country’s power structure.
Saudi Arabia hopes that the new conditionality will force a change in Lebanon’s power dynamics.
“The whole world knows what the kingdom offered Lebanon…until it…was back on its feet. But what can we do if current Lebanese policy chooses to surrender the reins of an ancient Arab nation to Iran’s proxy in that country?” asked Saudi columnist Hammoud Abu Taleb.
To be sure, the Lebanese establishment is responsible for the country teetering on the brink of collapse.
The World Bank has described the crisis fuelled by corruption, waste, and unsustainable financial policies as one of the worst globally since the mid-19th century.
This week’s judicial battle over holding powerful figures accountable for the 2020 Beirut port explosion that has spilled onto the streets of the Lebanese capital reflects the establishment’s determination to shield itself no matter the cost to Lebanon as a whole.
The explosion in a warehouse in the port housing hundreds of tons of ammonium nitrate, a material used in fertilizers, killed 218 people, injured more than 6,000, and damaged large parts of Beirut.
A Saudi contribution to forcing political change, a sine qua non for putting Lebanon on a path toward recovery, would be welcome.
It would also go some way towards the kingdom taking responsibility for its role in fighting a decades-long proxy war with Iran that helped bring the Mediterranean nation to its knees.
That is, if the conditions imposed by Saudi Arabia are tailored in ways that contribute to change while seeking to alleviate the pain the Lebanese endured, with the Lebanese pound losing 95% of its value, prices skyrocketing, and purchasing power demolished.
One way would be making accountability for the Beirut blast a condition for future aid.
Recent Saudi standoffishness towards the regime of Egyptian general-turned-president Abdel Fattah al-Sisi, was evident in the kingdom’s conspicuous absence at a gathering of regional leaders in Abu Dhabi earlier this month. Mr. Al-Sisi was one of the attendees.
The standoffishness reflects the fact that Egypt is a black hole. Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, and other Gulf states have injected tens of billions of dollars with few tangible results except for keeping in power a regime that emerged from a 2013 military coup supported by the kingdom and the Emirates.
Saudi Arabia and the UAE backed the coup as part of a campaign to roll back the achievements of the 2011 popular Arab revolts that toppled four leaders, including Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak.
The coup also ended the flawed presidency of Mohammed Morsi, Egypt’s first and only democratically elected leader. Because he was a member of the Muslim Brotherhood, Mr. Morsi was like a red cloth to a bull in the two Gulf states.
The UAE recognised early on that it needed to ensure its billions were judiciously deployed. So it based a Cabinet-level official in Cairo to advocate reforms and assist in crafting policies that would help put the economy back on track.
The Emirati effort came to naught, with Egypt continuously needing additional funds from the Gulf and the IMF, and the UAE, allowing Mr. Al-Sisi to turn the military into the country’s foremost economic player.
The impact of the Covid-19 pandemic and the Ukraine war on commodity and energy prices only aggravated Egypt’s economic crisis that is largely the result of Mr. Al-Sisi’s economic mismanagement
Mr. Al-Sisi unsuccessfully tried to manipulate Egypt’s currency, set misguided spending priorities, launched wasteful megaprojects, and expanded disruptive state and military control of the economy.
Time will tell what lessons the Saudis may learn from the Emirati experience. Unlike Lebanon, the question is whether Saudi Arabia will strictly impose its news aid policy conditionality or continue to view Egypt as too big to fail.
The problem for Saudi Arabia and the Gulf states is that popular discontent is simmering just below the surface in Egypt and could explode at any time. What makes things potentially more volatile is the possibility of the plight of the Palestinians, aggravated by the policies of Israel’s new hardline, Jewish nationalist government, becoming the catalyst for anti-government protests.
“Such demonstrations have a life of their own, and in a moment, they can turn into a protest against the government, against poverty and waste, and we have a direct confrontation whose results can be lethal,” said an Egyptian journalist.
One factor in Saudi thinking about Egypt may be the perception that the North African country, which refused to get sucked into the kingdom’s war in Yemen, may no longer be the security buffer in Africa it once was together with Sudan, a country in transition following a 2019 popular revolt.
That seemed to be one reason for this month’s signing of a memorandum on defence cooperation between Saudi Arabia and Chad, a nation in a region wracked by ethnic and jihadist insurgencies.
The memorandum signals a potential Saudi interest in playing some security role in West Africa at a time that France is on the retreat while Turkey, Iran, and the Wagner Group, Russian mercenaries with close ties to President Vladimir Putin, are on the march.
Last year, Qatar mediated a peace agreement between the Chadian government and more than 30 rebel and opposition factions. However, nine groups, including the Front for Change and Concord in Chad (FACT), the most powerful insurgent faction, refused to sign the deal.
The likelihood of Saudi Arabia taking on an expanded security role far from its shores may be slim in the immediate future.
Even so, creating building blocks that include tighter relations with recipients of Saudi foreign aid through sensible strings attached is one step towards cementing the kingdom’s geopolitical influence.
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