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Rojavan crisis: A big threat to women’s rights future

Silvia Fornaroli

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A war crime:  The murder of Hevrin Khalaf is a slap in the face for those who believed in the Rojava dream.

On October 12, the Kurdish human rights activist was ambushed, tortured and shot dead on the road to the city of Qamishli. According to the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), the 35-year-old women was “taken out of her car during a Turkish-backed attack and executed by Turkish-backed mercenary factions” and the killing shows that“the Turkish invasion does not differentiate between a soldier, a civilian or a politician.

The spokesman for the Turkish-backed Syrian National Army (SNA) — which groups Syrian rebel factions — said they had not made it as far as the highway known as the M4.“I confirm to you that our forces have not reached the M4,” Youssef Hammoud said to Reuters, denying their responsability for the ambush.

What we certainly know is that the Ahrar al-Sharqiya group entered Syria from Turkey and took control over the area of the M4 highwaywhere other murders took place. Founded in 2016 by some members — including Iraqi commander Abu Maria Al-Qahtani — of the Al-Nusra Front, re-branded as Jabhat Fatah al-Sham and described as the official Syrian branch of al-Qaeda, the group was originally active in the province of Deir ez-Zor but temporarily managed to seize the territory between Mambij and Qamishli.

The rebels managed to do so due to the vacuum caused by US’ troops withdrawal from northern Syria, that president Donald Trump had announced on October 7.

On September 24, in a controversial speech to the United Nations General Assembly, Turkish president Recep Tayyip Erdoğan had declared his intention to create a “safe zone” in the border area. His goal was to establish a huge peace corridor in order to resettle up to 2 million Syrian refugees that, despite the seemingly humanitarian purposes, would surely put the local minorities at risk of genocide. Trump’s betrayal — as Kurdish people describe it — might be a gift to a deep-rooted process of ethnic cleansing or, at the very least, it would lead to a new exodus.

Future Syria party: an attempt to multi-ethnic democracy

Hevrin Khalaf was the secretarygeneral of the Future Syria Party (FSP), a political group born with the aim of overcoming the sectarian divisions that have ravaged Syria during the civil war and unify Arab, Kurdish and Syrian Christiancommunities.

The FSP was established after the capture of Raqqa from the Islamic State and it was created as an ideological partner to the SDF — the Syrian Democratic Forces. Its aim was to build a democratic state that represented all components of Syrian society and to replace Bashar al-Assad’s regime withmulti-ethnic democracy.

Nobody except the Kurds wants the project of a “Kurdistan state” to succeed: they are, in fact, still split up among four countries — Iraq, Iran, Syria and Turkey — , where they have been sufferingbrutal harassment and repression for the past 100 years.

Taking advantage of the chaos caused by the civil war, in January 2014 they managed to carve out a self-controlled area ruled by the PYD — the Democratic Union Party — , which is now known as the Autonomous Administration of North and East Syria (NES) or Rojava.

Rojava’s territorial expansionhas alarmed Turkey, which firmly opposes the PYD and regards it as an alleged extension of the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK),  currently listed as a terroristic group.

The Kurdish-Turkish conflict progressively worsened and in June 2017 tensions flared up on the border with the Afrin Canton — one of the self-governed Rojavan cantons — unitil it became part of the Turkish occupation.

On October 5, Khalaf made some declarations and expressed her concern about Turkey’s imminent intention to invade Rojava again, which would cause in her opinion a potential demographic earthquake.

“During the time (ISIS) held power near the border, Turkey didn’t view it as a threat for its people. But now that there is democratic constitution in northeastern Syria, they threat us with occupation,” Khalaf said referring to the Rojava region.

Women’s rights in peril:

Syrian Women’s Council recently condemned Khalaf’s murder — alongside with the aggressions against unarmed civilians — and called for international action: “We at the Council of Women in Northern and Eastern Syria condemn and denounce this cowardly act against the martyr Hevrin Khalaf.”

Turkey’s Islamic-rooted government has long been accused of limiting women’s rights and Turkish president Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s views on feminism go exactly in that direction. Co-founder of the Justice and Development Party (AKP) he has combined liberal economic policies with religious conservatism. Although he denies to lead an Islamic party, he has often stated that the AKPhad become a role model for all Muslim countries.

Women’s freedom in Turkey has often collided with the above-mentioned Islamic agenda. On March 8 2019, riot police intervened to block Turkish feminists’ march in central Istanbul, when they were celebrating International Women’s Day. The police fired tear gas to disperse the crowd, as they were accused of chanting and whistling during the call to prayer.

Although they said that those acts were not aimed at the mosque,“They disrepected the Azan (call to prayer) by slogans, booing and whistling,”Erdoğan claimed.

During his administration the AKP leader made numerous controversial comments: on various occasions he advocated for increasing population in Turkey and called on Turkish women to give birth at least to three children.

On November 24 2014, he attended a summit in Istanbul on justice for women where hebasically declared that women are not equal to men and addressed them exclusively as mothers.

“Our religion (Islam) has defined a position for women: motherhood”he claimed to the audience, sparking furious debates in the media. “The fact that a woman is attached to her professional life should not prevent her from being a mother”he added, emphasizing that work should not represent an obstacle to maternity.

He went even further calling women without children “incomplete” and made his position about family planning very clear: contraception was not for Muslim families and birth control was described as a form of “treason”.

In line with these ideas, in 2012 Health Minister Recep Akdag put forward an anti-abortion law plan so that the procedure could belegally restricted or banned, prompting fury among women’s activists.

In terms of gender-based violence, things are not better: according to the Turkey’s Human Rights Association (IHD), in the last six years there has been an increase in the reported case of violence against women. The number of women murdered by a partner or relative is constantly growing as Kadin Cinayetlerini Durduracagiz Platformu (“We Will Stop Femicide” Platform)reports and its General Secretary Gülsüm Kav is struggling to ask for better protection by the law.

Rojavan utopia: Jin, Jîyan, Azadî

“Jin, Jîyan, Azadî” a Kurdish slogan reads: Women, Life, Freedom.

It does not come as a surprise that the revolution in Rojava— where women arelegally considered equal to men — sounds like a dangerous threat to honor-shame societies. In this regard, de-facto autonomous region — which name literally means “the land where the sun sets” — is a one and only model in the whole Middle East area.

RojavanConstitution, in fact, is characterized by the implementation of direct democracy and confederalism and it “ (…) does not accept the concept of state nationalism, military and religious.

Inspired by the beliefs of American anarchist Murray Bookchin it stresses the importance of “social ecology”, as a fundamental aspect of the revolution: in this regard, the exploitation of natural resources is comparable to the domination of men over women.

Thisutopian political system is established by the so-called Charter of the Social Contract, which promotes — along with ecology and gender equality — self-determination, secularism, cooperative economy and multi-ethnic coexistence.

The emancipation of women is seen as such a key point that one of Rojava’s governing ideologies is the “Science of Women” — or Jineology.

Based on PKK leader Abdullah Öcalan’s statement“A country can’t be free unless the women are free,” this innovative concept represents a step forward for the women’s liberation movement and it stands in opposition to the sexist paradigm which reflects the subject-object dichotomy “men act, women are.”

The social experiment is the brave response to centuries of oppressive tradition, such as underage marriage, poligamy and patriarchal mentality: these massive changes regard social, cultural and political structures are bright example of authentic modern feminism.

Although the region’s autonomy is not officially recognized by any international state, the PYD entertained some foreign relations; Hevrin Khalaf was often referred to  as “Rojavan Minister of Foreign Affairs” and she was very appreciated for her diplomatic skills.

Women and jihad

Gender equality is behind Rojavan political, social and military upheaval.

In Syria, the armed wing of the PYD is thePeople’s Protection Units (YPG) along with the all-female militia called Women’s Protection Units (YPJ).

YPJ combatants have subverted traditional gender roles and stereotypes, fighting sexism and promoting female emancipation; jineology, in fact, is a multi-disciplinary philosophy which permeates every aspect of society, including the military sphere.

Furthermore, in Kurdish community centres they stress the importance of self-defence,in order to practically teach women how to stand against patriarchy-induced abusesand help victims of domestic violence.

Kurdish fighters —  now world-wide famous — have proved that women can be effective soldiers just as much as their male counterparts. The advocacy of women’s rights, in fact, was severely put in danger during ISIL occupation, which represented the greatest possible form of female subjugation.

The armed forces of YPJ played a central role in the liberation process and they stood up against terrorism in very many ways.

Kobanê was the city that involvedthe largestfemale participation: the area, in fact, soon became symbol of the revolution, especially with regard to patriarchal traditions. Some of the fighters were married at a young ageor their husbands were much older than them, they served as nothing more than bodies used for sex and considered just as a vehicle for making children.

“I wanted women to have agency and will, and to build a free identity for themselves”commander Meryem Kobanê said in an interview. The women of the YPJ has tasted freedom and the more they were oppressed the more they developed a strong warrior spirit, to the point that they shared the frontlines with their male comrades.

It seems hard to understand, but while ISIL militants treat women as inferior beings, they also fear them on battlefields. According to jihadist doctrine, in fact, those who die in the name of Allah will be rewarded with 72 virgins, but they will not be admitted to heaven if they are killed by a woman.

Female emancipation in Middle Eastern countries clashes with this contrasting and misogynistic concept also; therefore, jihad represented a crucial chance to women’s liberation.

“Isis would like to reduce women to slaves and body parts. We show them they’re wrong. We can do anything.” Asya Abdullah — Movement for a Democratic Society’s coalition co-chair — said to the The Independent in the middle of the civil war in 2017.

Women’s rights future in Syria:

Kurdish fighters seeked vengeance for those victimized by the Islamic State, but women’s oppression still represents an ongoing problem in Syria.

On International Women’s Day, the Syrian Network for Human Rights (SNHR)documented the deaths of at least 27,464 females from March 2011 until March 2019at the hands of the main perpetrator parties to the civil war; 11.402 of them were children.

The rate of gender-based violence increased during the years of the conflict, especially in rural territories andin rebel-held areas, where women were particularly targeted, becoming victims of war rape and honor killings. Syrian security forces have been accused of torturing female inmates that — according to human rights lawyerAnwar al-Bunni — were often imprisoned without charges.

Although the condition of women in Syria has improved in many fields, there still is a lot to do in terms of gender equality and experts rate the country badly concerning human rights agenda.

For instance, Syrian Constitution — which is partially based on Sharia laws — does not recognize women as active subjects in marriage contracts, which have to be signed by the groom and the male guardian of the bride, but not by the bride herself.

Hevrin Khalaf was the voice for these women also and her death is now a symbol of the world’s hypocrisy, which is turning its back on her people once again. Today’s crisis is frustrating the efforts ofRojavan revolutionaries and it represents the umpteenth threat to Middle Eastern women’s rights future.

If Rojava’s dream dies, it will be a slap in the face for many of us, but Kurdish activists has long proved the world that turning the other cheek would never be an option.

Silvia Fornaroli has an active interest in human rights and environmental issues. Inspired by the story of Italian Anti-Fascist Internationalist Battalion commander Karim Franceschi, she felt the need to express her support to the Kurdish people and share independent opinions about today’s Middle East crisis.

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Whither the Arab and the Muslim world?

Dr. James M. Dorsey

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An agreement to establish diplomatic relations between the United Arab Emirates and Israel and a Saudi-Pakistani spat over Kashmir coupled with feuds among Gulf states and between Turkey, the kingdom, and the Emirates drive nails into the notion that the Arab and Islamic world by definition share common geopolitical interests on the basis of ethnicity or religion and embrace kinship solidarity.

The UAE-Israel agreement weakens the Palestinians’ efforts to create a state of their own but their criticism of the UAE’s move to become the third Arab country after Egypt and Jordan to officially recognize the Jewish state is based on a moral rather than a legal claim.

The UAE and Israel see their relations with the United States and the perceived threat from Iran as bigger fish to fry.

Both countries hope that an upgrading of their relations will keep the US engaged in the Middle East, particularly given that it puts pressure to follow suit on other Gulf states that have similar concerns and have engaged with Israel but not to the degree that the UAE has.

The UAE and Israel further worry that a potential victory by presumptive Democratic candidate Joe Biden in the US’ November presidential election could bring to office an administration more willing than President Donald J. Trump to seek accommodation with Iran and emphasize human rights and basic freedoms.

The establishment of diplomatic relations strengthens the UAE’s position as one of the United States’ most important partners in the Middle East and allows Israeli Prime Minister Benyamin Netanyahu to argue that his hardline policy towards the Palestinians does not impede a broader peace between the Jewish state and Arab nations.

Mr. Netanyahu is however concerned that his argument may resonate less with a Biden administration that potentially could be less empathetic to Israel’s annexationist aspirations on the West Bank as well as with the right-wing in Israel that may not feel that the UAE is worth surrendering what they see as historical Jewish land.

Ironically, the price of suspending annexation in exchange for diplomatic relations with the UAE gets Mr. Netanyahu off the hook in the short term.

Mr. Netanyahu had pledged to annex parts of the West Bank on July 1 but has dragged his feet since because the Trump administration, while endorsing the principle, opposed any tangible move on the ground. Mr. Trump feared that annexation would have pre-empted his ability to claim some success for his controversial Israel-Palestinian peace plan.

Emirati officials had made clear that a formal annexation of parts of the West Bank, captured from Jordan during the 1967 Middle East war, would preclude the establishment of formal relations with Israel.

The question now is whether the UAE will put paid to that notion by opening their embassy in Jerusalem, whose status under international law has yet to be negotiated, rather than Tel Aviv.

So is what the UAE, alongside Jordan and Egypt, will do if and when Israel legally incorporates West Bank lands sometime in the future.

The UAE’s willingness to formally recognize Israel constituted the latest nail in the coffin of Arab and Muslim solidarity that has been trumped by hardnosed interests of the state and its rulers.

As Messrs. Trump and Netanyahu and UAE Crown Prince Mohammed bin Zayed were putting the final touches on their coordinated statements, traditional allies Saudi Arabia and Pakistan were locked into an escalating spat over Kashmir.

India last year revoked the autonomy of the Muslim-majority state of Jammu and Kashmir and imposed a brutal crackdown.

Muslim countries with Saudi Arabia and the UAE in the lead, much like in the case of China’s brutal crackdown on Turkic Muslims, have been reluctant to jeopardize their growing economic and military ties to India, effectively hanging Pakistan out to dry.

The two Gulf states, instead of maintaining their traditional support for Pakistan, feted Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi as developments in Kashmir unfolded.

In response, Pakistan hit out at Saudi Arabia where it hurts. In rare public criticism of the kingdom, Pakistani Foreign Minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi suggested that Pakistan would convene an Islamic conference outside the confines of the Saudi-controlled Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) after the group rejected Islamabad’s request for a meeting on Kashmir.

Targeting Saudi Arabia’s leadership and quest for Muslim religious soft power, Mr. Qureishi issued his threat eight months after Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan under Saudi pressure bowed out of an Islamic summit in Kuala Lumpur convened by the kingdom’s critics, including Qatar, Turkey, and Iran.

Saudi Arabia fears that any challenge to its leadership could fuel demands that Saudi Arabia sign over custodianship of Mecca and Medina to a pan-Islamic body.

The custodianship and Saudi Arabia’s image as a leader of the Muslim world is what persuaded Crown Prince Mohammed to reach out to Israel primarily to use that as well as his embrace of dialogue with Jewish and Christian groups to bolster his tarnished image in Washington and other Western capitals.

The UAE’s recognition of Israel puts Saudi Arabia more than any other Gulf state in the hot seat when it comes to establishing relations with Israel and it puts Prince Mohammed bin Zayed in the driver’s seat.

That is all about interests and competition and has little to do with Arab or Muslim solidarity.

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Rejiggering Gulf Security: China’s Game of Shadow Boxing

Dr. James M. Dorsey

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China and its Gulf partners appear to be engaged in a game of shadow boxing.

At stake is the future of Gulf security and the management of differences between the region’s conservative monarchies and revolutionary Iran.

With governments passing to one another unofficial subtle messages, intellectuals and journalists are the ones out front in the ring.

In the latest round, Baria Alamuddin, a Lebanese journalist who regularly writes columns for Saudi media, has cast subtlety aside.

Ms. Alamuddin warned in strong and rare anti-Chinese language that China was being lured to financially bankrupt Lebanon by Hezbollah, the Iranian-backed Lebanese Shiite militia.

Writing in Arab News, the Saudi Arabia’s primary English-language newspaper, Ms. Alamuddin suggested that the Lebanese Shiite militia’s seduction of China was occurring against the backdrop of a potential massive 25-year cooperation agreement between the People’s Republic and Iran.

Her tirade was as much a response to reports of the alleged landmark agreement as it was to a declaration by Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah that China was willing to invest in Lebanon’s infrastructure.

“Chinese companies are ready to inject money into this country. If this happened, it would bring money to the country, bring investment, create job opportunities, allow heavy transport, and so on,” Mr. Nasrallah said.

In a state-controlled media outlet in a country that has studiously backed some of the worst manifestations of Chinese autocratic behavior, including the brutal crackdown on Uyghur Turkic Muslims in Xinjiang and the repression of democratic expression and dissidents, Ms. Alamuddin did not mince words.

“Chinese diplomacy is ruthless, mercantile and self-interested, with none of the West’s lip service to human rights, rule of law or cultural interchange.”

“Chinese business and investment are welcome, but Beijing has a record of partnering with avaricious African and Asian elites willing to sell out their sovereignty. Chinese diplomacy is ruthless, mercantile and self-interested, with none of the West’s lip service to human rights, rule of law or cultural interchange,” Ms. Alamuddin charged.

She quoted a Middle East expert of a conservative US think tank as warning that “vultures from Beijing are circling, eyeing tasty infrastructure assets like ports and airports as well as soft power influence through Lebanon’s universities.”

She went on to assert that “witnessing how dissident voices have been mercilessly throttled in Hong Kong, Tibet and Xinjiang, Lebanese citizens are justifiably fearful that their freedoms and culture would be crushed under heavy-handed, authoritarian Chinese and Iranian dominance, amid the miserable, monolithic atmosphere Hezbollah seeks to impose.”

Ms. Alamuddin’s outburst implicitly recognized that China was signaling Gulf states, at a time of heightened uncertainty about the reliability of the United States’ regional defense umbrella, that they need to reduce tensions with Iran if the People’s Republic were to engage in helping create a new regional security architecture.

China was signaling Gulf states, at a time of heightened uncertainty about the reliability of the United States’ regional defense umbrella, that they need to reduce tensions with Iran.

Expressing concern about last month’s US decision to withdraw troops from Europe a day after Ms. Alamuddin’s stark criticism of China, Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) Assistant Secretary-General for political affairs and negotiation Abdel Aziz Aluwaisheg suggested that “a more systematic framework, with organic feedback to the leadership and decision-makers” was needed for US-Gulf security discussions.

The GCC groups the Gulf’s six monarchies: Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Qatar, Kuwait, Oman, and Bahrain.

China has been subtly pressuring Gulf states through academic and Communist party publications and public statements by prominent scholars with close ties to the government in Beijing.

Its messaging has primarily targeted Saudi Arabia, the one Gulf state that has so far refrained from engaging in any gestures towards Iran that could facilitate a dialing down of tension.

recent article in a renowned Chinese journal laid out the principles on which China is willing to break with its long-standing foreign and defense policy principles to engage in Gulf security.

The principles included “seeking common ground while reserving differences,” a formula that implies conflict management rather than conflict resolution.

Most Gulf states have extended a helping hand to Iran, the Middle East country most hard hit by the coronavirus pandemic.

The Iranian and UAE foreign ministers agreed in a recent video call to cooperate during the health crisis.

“We agreed to continue dialogue on [the] theme of hope—especially as [the] region faces tough challenges, and tougher choices ahead,” said Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif on Twitter.

UAE officials said earlier that there were limits to a reduction of tensions. They said a real détente would only be possible once Iran changed its behavior, meaning a halt to support for proxies in Lebanon, Iraq, and Yemen and a surrender of its nuclear ambitions.

The Chinese-Gulf shadow boxing takes place against a slow-moving and seemingly troubled US and Chinese-backed Pakistani effort to mediate between Saudi Arabia and Iran.

The Chinese-Gulf shadow boxing takes place against a slow-moving and seemingly troubled US and Chinese-backed Pakistani effort to mediate between Saudi Arabia and Iran.

Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan said last week without providing details that he had averted a military confrontation between the two Gulf powers. He said mediation was “making progress but slowly.”

Ms. Alamuddin’s column coupled with Saudi Arabia’s refusal to capitalize on the pandemic as way to reduce tensions, suggests that Saudi Arabia has yet to fully embrace Mr. Khan’s efforts.

Mr. Khan’s efforts are likely to be further complicated by the disclosure last month by Pakistani law enforcement that a Baloch gang leader, who was detained in 2017, had confessed to giving “secret information and sketches regarding army installations and officials to foreign agents,” believed to be Iranians.

It was not immediately clear what prompted the disclosure.

Pakistan has long asserted that Iran and India have lent support to Baloch nationalist militants responsible for multiple attacks on military and Chinese targets in the South Asian state.

“The Iran-Pakistan border issues are mainly affected by the sectarian rivalry between Iran and Saudi Arabia. For Pakistan, this is a costly and difficult diplomatic situation at this time,” said Michael Kugelman, a South Asia scholar at the Wilson Center in Washington.

Pakistan has a vested interest in helping dial down Saudi-Iranian tensions. It takes, however, two to tango and a mediator whose efforts are not burdened by bilateral issues of his own with any of the parties.

To move the pendulum, more will be required than a regional go-between or subtle nudging. With the US likely to refrain from doing the heavy lifting, that task may be left to China. If Ms. Alamuddin is an indication, China is already discovering that changing the paradigm in the Middle East is easier said than done.

Author’s note: This story was first published in Inside Arabia

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Evolving Japan-UAE ties

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Mohamed bin Zayed with Japan's Abe. Image Credit: WAM

Japan and the UAE share a unique relationship with each other. Japan recognised the UAE as an independent state in 1971 and opened its Embassy in the UAE in 1974 and on the other hand, UAE opened its embassy in Japan in 1973. Both nations share strong bilateral economic relations, dating back to 1961 when the first shipment of the crude oil was exported from Umm Al-Sharif offshore field in Abu Dhabi to Japan. Japan is known to be the world’s fourth-largest importer of oil. In 2017, it was the second-largest export market, behind China, for Saudi Arabia, the UAE and Qatar. The UAE became the top destination in the Middle East region for Japan’s exports, valued at $7.18 billion in 2019, taking economic bilateral relations to a great level. However, on 19 July 2020, UAE spacecraft rocketed into blue skies from a Japanese launch centre at the start of a seven-month journey to Mars on the Arab’s world’s first interplanetary mission. This mission gave a boost to its strategic relations as well as space cooperation.

Understanding their bilateral relations

The longstanding cordial relationship between the UAE and Japan has been honored for decades. In 2013, PM Shinzo Abe visited the UAE and both nations jointly announced the statement on the strengthening of the Comprehensive Partnership between Japan and the UAE towards stability and prosperity. The relations between both countries have mostly focused on the economy and trade ever since they established their diplomatic relations. Crown Prince of Abu Dhabi and Deputy Supreme Commander of the UAE Armed Forces H.H. Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed Al Nahyan visited Japan as an official guest in February 2014 to follow up the Joint Statement issued during the Prime Minister’s visit to the UAE in May 2013.

In 2016, the number of Japanese citizens living in the UAE totalled 4,000, while hundreds of Emirati citizens are in Japan for education and investment purposes.

According to the Japan External Trade Organisation (JETRO), In 2017, Japan imported Dh57.3 billion worth of oil from the UAE.

In 2018, the Comprehensive Strategic Partnership Initiative (CSPI) was signed between the two countries when Abe visited the UAE. With the signing of the CSPI, the relationship between Japan and the UAE entered a new era of strategic partnership for the future and joint cooperation strategy between the institutions of the two countries. They also agreed to increase trade in areas which included renewable energy, advanced robots, artificial intelligence and health care. Ensuring cordial energy ties are critical under the CSPI. In 2018, Japan also acquired an oil concession in Abu Dhabi for the coming 40 years which proved that Japan is an important strategic energy partner in the UAE.

The leadership of the UAE has been keen on strengthening ties with Japan in areas like education, scientific research and industry. It aims to seek its ties with Japan to new levels as Japan possesses advanced technology which would serve the sustainable and comprehensive development goals in the UAE. Cooperation is very strong in the education field. The first Japanese school was inaugurated in the UAE in 2009 and began teaching the Arabic language, Islamic education and social studies to the students of the Emirates along with the Japanese curriculum. Furthermore, around 100 students from the Emirates are studying in Japanese universities for bachelors, masters and even PhD degrees.

In 2019, an attempt of initiating to teach Japanese as a second foreign language in some UAE high schools was discussed among both countries. Akihiko Nakajima, new Japanese ambassador to the UAE affirmed that ‘both nations are currently giving importance to educational cooperation’. The friendly ties were further strengthened in recent times when Sheikh Hazza Bin Zayed Al-Nahyen, Deputy Chairman of Abu Dhabi Executive Council and Dr Sultan Ahmad Al-Jaber, Minister of State and Special Envoy to Japan, attended the enthronement ceremony of the Japanese Emperor Naruhito in 2019. They wished that Japan shall achieve a brighter and more prosperous future during the ‘Reiwa Era’.

Japan and the UAE have been closely cooperating in space sciences. In October 2018, ‘KhalifaSat’ was launched into outer space from the Tanegashima Space Centre in Japan aboard an H-IIA rocket. In January 2020, Shinzo Abe made an official visit to the UAE and other Gulf countries to further bolster the strong ties which have been evolving on multiple fronts like trade, energy, technology, space and education. “UAE-Japan relations are historic and based on trust, cooperation, respect and mutual interests,” Sheikh Mohamed bin Zayed said. Abe and Sheikh Mohammad also witnessed the signing of an Energy Cooperation Agreement between supreme Petroleum Council, represented by Adnoc (Abu Dhabi National Oil Company), and Japan’s agency for natural resources and energy.

Space Cooperation

The lift-off of the Mars orbiter named Amal or Hope probe on 19th July 2020, from a Japanese launch centre is to be followed soon by China and the United States. Amal blasted off from the Tanegashima space centre aboard a Mitsubishi heavy industries H-IIA rocket. This has given a major boost to space cooperation between Japan and the UAE. Amal is set to reach Mars by February 2021, which will mark the year the UAE celebrates 50 years since the country’s formation. It points out that the launching of Amal was well planned in line with the celebration of 50 years of the country’s formation. “The UAE is now a member of the club and we will learn more and we will engage more and we’ll continue developing our space exploration program,” UAE Space Agency chief Mohammed Al Ahbabi told a joint online news conference from Tanegashima. The Amal statecraft costs $200 million and it is about the size of a small car, carries three instruments to study the upper atmosphere and monitor climate change. Japan’s services of such launches are known well for accuracy and on-time record. However, the providers are working to cut costs to be more competitive internationally. Japan also has its own Mars mission planned in 2024, where it aims to send spacecraft to the Martian moon Phobos to collect samples to bring back to Earth in 2029.

The objective of the UAE’S mission is to provide a comprehensive image of the weather dynamics and fundamentally, building a human settlement on Mars within the next 100 days. Omran Sharaf, the mission’s project manager said, “What is unique about this mission is that for the first time the scientific community around the world will have a holistic view of the Martian atmosphere at different times of the day at different seasons. Sheikh Abdullah Bin Zayed Al Nahyan, Minister of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation has said that ‘Hope Probe’ exemplifies the distinctive strategic partnership between the UAE and Japan.

It is the first time that the UAE attempted to send a deep space mission, that of a mission to Mars. It clearly sends a strong message to the Arab youth that if the UAE is able to reach Mars in less than 50 years, then they certainly can do much more. Emiratis also believed that it represented a step forward for the Arab world and for scientists.

However, energy remains a key priority in the ongoing relations between the two countries which may contribute significantly to energy development and economic diversification in the UAE and Japan. Through space and strategic cooperation, the two countries are looking to expand and deepen the fields of cooperation. A successful mission to Mars will indeed be a major step for the oil-dependent economy seeking a great future in space. The launch of the hope probe demonstrates that effective space cooperation is a driving force for strengthening their bilateral ties. Hope is expected to begin transmitting information back to earth by September 2021.

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