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Turkey’s new Mediterranean and Maghreb policy

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Strategy and geopolitics are like Aristotelian physics: there is no vacuum.

  In fact, just as Italy is leaving the fundamental Libyan area to its destiny and hence to the other powers, Turkey is inaugurating its new African and Mediterranean geopolitics.

 The Treaty signed on November 27 last between Turkish President Erdogan and the Tripoli government – the only one recognized by the UN – i.e. the “Agreement for the Delimitation of Maritime Borders and for Military Cooperation”, currently enables Turkey to send regular or irregular troops to Libya, only for supporting Fayez al-Sarraj’s Government of National Accord (GNA).

 The immediate goal is to defend Tripoli from the offensive led by Khalifa Haftar’s army, a strategic aim to which Turkey has adhered following the GNA invitation to take part in the operations to protect Tripoli from Haftar’s army.

Meanwhile the Russian Tatneft has shown great interest in reopening Block 04, within the Ghadames Basin, with an expected investment of 15 billion in upstream extraction until 2040. This is a very important political fact.

 While the politically crazy and senseless Libyan destabilization has expelled from Libya the European and Western powers that previously controlled it or wanted to recover it – as was the case with Great Britain in 2011 – the territory of Italy’s old Maghreb colony has been occupied by all the Islamic and Middle East powers, which have replaced the foolish and ineffective Europeans and Americans who only wanted to remove the “tyrant” Gaddafi without having any plan for Libya’s future.

 In other words, the Russian Federation and Turkey will divide Libya between them, by referring to the two opposing camps: firstly, Tripoli’s GNA of Fayez al-Sarraj – which has strong ties with the Muslim Brotherhood, like Turkey’s present regime. The link with the Ikhwan, the Brotherhood of Erdogan’s Turkey, will become mush closer, considering the strong and very recent slowdown in the strategic link between the Brotherhood and Qatar, which now aims at a stable agreement with Saudi Arabia.

 A new doctrinal, geopolitical and religious configuration of the Libyan and Turkish Ikhwan, which will not fail to radically change the Schmitt-style division between inimici and hostes, between friends and foes, within the geostrategy of the whole Koranic Ummah.

Hence a sort of planned instability will emerge in Libya, albeit  with a very important variable: the substantial elimination from that country of any real influence of the European Union and of the main countries which have so far pulled the strings of Libyan politics and war: France, Italy and Great Britain, but with an interesting US presence on Libya’s edges.

 All these countries, which have idealistically eliminated Gaddafi, will be substantially prevented from exercising real influence on their Libyan regional champions and on future Libya divided into two or, possibly, three parts.

 Libya will find itself divided into at least duapezza (two parts), just to use Machiavelli’s words, when the body of Ramirro dell’Orco, an overzealous and greedy servant of the Borgias, was found.

From now on, only Russia and Turkey will have real influence in the area between Tripoli and Benghazi and in the Libyan strategic neighbouring countries, namely Chad, Mali, Tunisia, Algeria and Egypt.

Instead of crying over spilt milk, Italy – which has proved to be totally incapable of defending its interests in Libya, apart from ENI, which does it very well on its own and will see its economic role expand in the future Libyan bipartition – should also rethink a new bilateral relationship with Turkey.

It is not a matter of repeating the very severe and naive mistake of assessing the various “democracies” according to idealistic and formal criteria, almost as if Italy itself were not free from very severe flaws in the mechanisms of political representation or the protection of the rule of law or of its citizens’ human rights.

Quite the reverse. Instead of having incompetent people testing the Turkish, Russian or other countries’ rate of democracy, it will be necessary to reopen the great season of business, relations and effective bilateral meetings that characterized the Italian foreign policy in the happy years of the so-called “First Republic”.

I still remember when, in the private and State industry, Italy worked with Turkey in a quasi-monopoly regime in many important sectors: large construction works, motorways (which, at the time, I managed), railways, telecommunications.

In particular, I can recall Italy’s commitment to the Kakanai dam, when Amintore Fanfani’s direct support and Giulio Andreotti’s help were essential to find the best solution for the contract.

 I can also remember when a great Turkish leader, Suleiman Demirel, dedicated his invaluable time and friendship to me.

 That was the Italy I knew and I contributed to create, not the irrelevant Italietta resulting from the non-existent foreign policy of some former vendor of beverages.

However, the logic that Turkey is currently following in the East-Mediterranean region is the defense of its primary interests at the center of the Mare Nostrum, where Erdogan’s Turkey is moving in the context of the new oil and gas opportunities off the Cypriot coast, in front of the Israeli and Greek coasts, in the Lebanese and Egyptian territorial waters. 

 The Turkish presence in Libya and the definition of the new SAR and Exclusive Economic Zone of Tripoli, with the new relocation of Turkish maritime interests, means only one thing: Italy’s total and immediate exclusion from its very strong Libyan interests, as well as from a tentative control of migrants arriving on its coasts from Libyan ports.

It is now certain that President Erdogan will apply to sub-Saharan migration the same criteria he has already applied successfully to Syrian and Middle East migration to the Balkans and later to Germany.

 He will control it with an iron hand, if and when this is needed to obtain funds from the EU or from individual countries (Germany pays, in fact, with European money), or he will use sub-Saharan migration to threaten the internal and foreign equilibria of Italy, the European earthenware pot amidst cast iron ones.

 Italy, however, will not even realize it. Just think of the silence that has welcomed the definition of the new Algerian SAR area, which covers many of Italy’s exclusive zones.

 The main problem lies in the fact that, while the Mediterranean was an absolute priority for NATO and the European coastal countries during the Cold War, with the end of bilateral confrontation -in the minds of many dangerous amateur strategists -the Mare Nostrum has become a secondary area, where to operate with long-term destabilization, such as the famous Arab Springs, or leaving the field open to the new operators replacing the old European countries. The Russian Federation, which will get its hands on Libyan oil, together with China and Saudi Arabia, in support of Khalifa Haftar; Algeria, which now plays a direct role in the whole Libyan territory;  Qatar, supporting al-Sarraj; the Emirates, on Khalifa Haftar’s side with money and arms; Egypt, which supports the General of Benghazi to protect itself from the subversion of the Brotherhood, its enemy no.1; finally, even Tunisia, which has recently agreed with Istanbul to move pro-Turkish soldiers and jihadists from the Turkish-Syrian border, through Djerba, to al-Sarraj’s most extreme defense line.

Now also Tunisia has fallen into Erdogan’s economic and strategic orbit.

 Moreover, Iran’s current attempts to have stable access to the Mediterranean, another pawn in the new Great Maritime Game, enable Saudi Arabia, the Emirates and Russia to rethink the Mediterranean as a point of primary interest. This is something new in their geostrategic analysis.

 All this happens while Italy, France and Great Britain are losing interest in North Africa, just to look who knows where.

 To the Russian Federation? Maybe. Meanwhile, however, Russia is conquering a good part of the Mediterranean, alone or jointly with other States, namely Turkey, Syria, Iran, even Saudi Arabia, and Israel.

 What will Europe do when it realizes it has been encircled by Russia, which it still considered inside the old Cold War limes, which was technically wrong even at that time?

 This is the long-term effect of the war in Syria, which has redistributed all the regional powers’ cards in the Middle East and hence throughout the Mediterranean.

 Libya is currently an area where the United Arab Emirates can play their new role as major economic and geopolitical actors, as well as be able to defend their hegemonic role in the East Mediterranean region.

President Erdogan, however, is currently the real hegemonic leader in the Tripoli system. The Turkish goal is, first of all, to preserve the key role of the Muslim Brotherhood in Tripoli, but it is obviously a project that mainly concerns the Turkish national hegemony.

Besides having a strong role in the government of Tripolitania, the Ikhwan is also present in al-Sarraj’s GNA Council of State.

Three of the old Libya Dawn militias are connected to the Muslim Brotherhood. There is also the February 17 Martyrs Brigade, always connected to the Ikhwan, as well as the Misrata Brigades, i.e. Libya Shield Force, of which three katibe are currently reported to have sound relations with Haftar’s forces, the old enemy no.1. The Libya Revolutionaries Operations Room, which -as you may recall -kidnapped Prime Minister Ali Zeidan for two hours in October 2013, still operates in Libya.

The Libya Revolutionaries Operations Room was also part of the Shura Council of Benghazi Revolutionaries, a political and military coalition created in 2014 as a response to Haftar’s Operation Dignity.

In its turn, it had been set up to oppose Libya Dawn, the first Islamic-jihadist military organization linked to the Islamic Brotherhood.

In Tripoli, besides Libya Dawn, there were Ansar Al-Sharia, the real Qaedist unit of Tripolitania; the February 17 Martyrs Brigade, always linked to the Muslim Brotherhood; the Libya Shield Force, always tied to the Ikhwan, and finally the Raf-Allah Al-Sabhati Brigade, a fraction of the February 17 Martyrs Brigade.

It should be recalled that the Emir of the Islamic State in Libya was Usama Al-Qarami, cousin of Ismail al-Qarami, who had been the Chief of the anti-drugs Police during Gaddafi’s regime.

 According to some confidential documents published on January 25, 2016 by the newspaper Al Şharqal Awsat, the Islamic State in Libya had achieved a stable alliance with both Al Jama’a al Islamiyyah al-Muqatilah bi-Libya(LIFG)  – established by the Libyan Mujahideen coming from Afghanistan immediately before the democratic powers’ attack on Gaddafi – and with the Islamic Brotherhood of Libya.

In 2015 their project was to prevent the establishment of Fayez al-Sarraj’s Government of National Accord (GNA), but above all,to hit directly Algeria, Tunisia and Egypt starting from Libya, destroyed by Western stupidity.

 The program of the Libyan jihadists, apart from the different situations, is still the same today, i.e. to start from Libya to destabilize the whole Maghreb region.

 Hence the project of Libyan Qaedist rooting, developed in December 2015, while Westerners celebrated the Shkirat Agreement – probably by playing Beethoven’s EU anthem Ode to Joy – with the subsequent agreement between the Tripoli Congress and the representatives of the Tobruk-based Parliament which remained dead letter as if it were written in the desert sand.

The matter was, in fact, for the Qaedists to unify the Al Jama’a Al Islamiyyah al-Muqatilah bi-libya(LIFG), with the network of the Muslim Brotherhood, with the result that Tripoli would pass to the LIFG and the Muslim Brotherhood, while Sirte would remain in the  Islamic State’s hands.

 The agreement between the jihadists was signed in the rooms of Mitiga airport, the same airport where Al-Sarraj – just appointed by the ineffective UN democracies – could not land because he knew they would kill him out in a moment, and hence arrived from the sea like a strange Venus Anadyomene.

 At that juncture, according to the jihadist agreement of the time – of which the traces still remain – the LIFG-Muslim Brotherhood would have controlled Tripolitania, while the Islamic State, with the support of the Shura Council of the Benghazi Revolutionaries and the Derna Mujahideen Shura Council would have exercised their control over Cyrenaica.

During that phase, the fundamental military and political support came from the Sinai Qaedist cells and this explains the current Egyptian interest in Libya’s future.

At the time, the Qaedist idea on Libya was to convey to the particularly foolish Westerners the image of an East-West coordination of the Libyan jihad, albeit with an immediate capacity of terrorist projection in all the countries bordering on former Gaddafi’s regime.

 The leaders of the Muslim Brotherhood, as well as those of the Islamic State and those of LIFG have always coordinated their actions and also organized joint operations.

 In March 2015 the Islamic State also permanently organized itself  in the Tunisian provinces of Madanin and Tatawin, bordering on Libya, among old Roman memories and extraordinary ancient roads.

 The Tunisian, Saudi, Algerian and Libyan leaders of the Islamic State have reorganized in the Tunisian South, thanks to the forces of Libya Dawn, linked to the Muslim Brotherhood. These are the forces that control the crossings between Libya and Tunisia, but especially those of Ras Agadir and other points of contact with Libya in the South Tunisian desert.

It is precisely “Libya Dawn”, which currently still permits the transit of many jihadists through those areas and, above all, the smuggling of large quantities of weapons.

 They are the same weapons that the EU and, above all, the most misinformed and naive of its members, namely Italy, would no longer want to pass through the sea – a supply linewhich has never been essential for the network of over 1,200 Libyan arms traffickers and for the over 22 networks smuggling arms and other items, which operate on the borders with Tunisia, Algeria, Chad and Senegal.

Nowadays, the foreign jihadists covered or not by the Muslim Brotherhood’s networks are over 8,500 in Libya.

 They are not necessarily connected to Tripoli’s political system only, but also to the Sirte or Cyrenaica’s illegal networks, which are still very active.

 Reverting to the history of Ikhwan, according to all the most reliable reports, it was established in Benghazi in 1949, with the decisive support of some Egyptian Muslim Brothers who had fled from a particularly harsh repression carried out by the Egyptian government.

 It was Gamal Abdel El-Nasser who ridiculed the Ikhwan, telling the Egyptian TV that he had called the Head of the Brotherhood, asking him what the Islamists wanted to do immediately in Egypt.

Al Qutb, the Head of the Brotherhood, who had initially helped Nasser’s “Free Officers”, replied he wanted to force women to wear the veil.

 Nasser laughed in his face and told him that even his daughter, a medical student, never wore it.

Without delay, however, as soon as he came in power in 1969, Muammar Gaddafi, staged a coup designed by the Italian intelligence Services in a hotel in Abano Terme and immediately outlawed the Brotherhood.

 The Libyan Ikhwan, and especially some of its most prestigious executives, fled to the United States from 1971 onwards.

 It should be recalled that the Brotherhood “boys” operated in defense of the rebellion in Tahrir Square, Cairo, also at military level and that the Ikhwan secret and confidential sites spread – in Egypt and in the rest of the world – Gene Sharp’s and the US intelligence services’ “non-violent war”.

 In 2012 shortly after the end of Colonel Gaddafi’s regime, who was Italy’s real strategic asset in the Maghreb region, in Libya the Muslim Brotherhood organized the Justice and Construction Party, led by Mohammad Sowan. It was an organization modeled on the criteria of the Freedom and Justice Party organized by the Ikhwan in Egypt, but in Libya the Ikhwan Party immediately became the second most elected party in the July 2012 elections, with 34 of the 200 seats available in the post-Gaddafi Parliament.

 The Brotherhood Party made alliances preferably with nationalist and secularist forces, such as the National Alliance Bloc, often blackmailing, however, the Bloc’s MPs, who were very often old leaders of Gaddafi’s regime and, hence – according to the now well-known Western stupidity – could not participate in elections or run for posts for at least ten years after the end of the Colonel’s regime.

 At the beginning of the crisis in the Gulf Security Council, dominated by Saudi Arabia and the Emirates, precisely the Libyan leaders indicated some members of Parliament and of the various Libyan political forces connected to Qatar, especially among the MPs of the Brotherhood Party who turned out to be “terrorists” according to international terminology.

It should be recalled that “Libya Dawn” took control of Tripoli in September 2014.

 That was the moment in which the Government of National Accord (GNA) organized its real power.

It was also the moment when the old Tripoli Parliament, deprived of its authority, moved to Tobruk and in May 2014 rebuilt a government that was not internationally recognized.

Having the possibility of recognizing a Libyan government supported by jihadists, Westerners did not miss that opportunity.

Nevertheless, the Brotherhood Party in Libya lost as many as nine seats in the 2014 elections and, again in 2014, it was even more closely connected with Libya Dawn, a group made up of various Islamist militias, whose primary aim was to guarantee – in Parliament, but above all in Libyan civil society – a strong presence of groups and parties linked to the Ikhwan.

Hence why does Turkey turn to Libya? Firstly, because Bashar el Assad has recently taken Maarrat an-Numan, North-East Syria, the most important city in the Idlib district on the M5 motorway, linking Damascus and Aleppo.

Furthermore, Assad has also managed to regain Saraqib, another important site, which controls both the M5 motorway and the Aleppo-Hasakah roadway.

Hence the Turkish troops no longer have the possibility of controlling or influencing the Baathist regime in Syria, which has always protected the PKK Kurds against Turkey.

 Therefore, in essence, Turkey is recovering in the East what it can no longer stabilize in the West.

 It is also likely that the predictable Turkish reaction against Assad, after the Syrian forces have completed the conquest of Saraqib, will have a clear support from the United States, which has every interest in strengthening Turkey against Iran and Russia.

 The possible buffer for migrants from Syria and Iraq, which is a Turkish short-term project, will most likely be guaranteed by an agreement with Russia.

Russia has also already launched TurkStream, the pipeline that will transport the Russian gas to Southern Europe and will pass through Turkey, thus avoiding Ukrainian networks.

Hence this is the key factor underlying the positive relationship between the Russian Federation and Turkey – a relationship which, in all likelihood, will also be replicated in Libya.

 France has already used its aircraft carrier Charles De Gaulle in joint exercises with the Greek Navy, evidently to hinder the projection of Turkish power onto Libya but, in particular, also onto Cyprus, an essential area for new oil and gas extraction.

In this case, the correlation between Libya and Cyprus is immediate and essential.

During their operations, France and Greece have also identified and controlled the Turkish motorboat Bana, which docked in Tripoli and unloaded Turkish transport track laying vehicles, heavy mortars, anti-aircraft guns and troop transport trucks.

Hakan Fidan, the Head of MIT, the Turkish intelligence Services,  has recently been in Tripolitania to oversee arms transfers and the organization of training camps for al-Sarraj’s forces, as well as the establishment of a liaison unit between the Tripoli forces and the Turkish army, with as many as 400 Turkish military engineers who developed a network of watchtowers and Tripoli’s new complete fortification.

 This will be the new Turkish strategic equation, the link between the Cypriot Sea and the Tunisian and Libyan coasts in the Mediterranean, while Europe organizes useless commissions and conferences on peace in Libya and fails to stop the flow of weapons to the Libyan factions.

Advisory Board Co-chair Honoris Causa Professor Giancarlo Elia Valori is an eminent Italian economist and businessman. He holds prestigious academic distinctions and national orders. Mr. Valori has lectured on international affairs and economics at the world’s leading universities such as Peking University, the Hebrew University of Jerusalem and the Yeshiva University in New York. He currently chairs “International World Group”, he is also the honorary president of Huawei Italy, economic adviser to the Chinese giant HNA Group. In 1992 he was appointed Officier de la Légion d’Honneur de la République Francaise, with this motivation: “A man who can see across borders to understand the world” and in 2002 he received the title “Honorable” of the Académie des Sciences de l’Institut de France. “

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Why is Melih Bulu Seen as a Pro-AKP “Trustee” Rector?

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Photo: Youth Committees / Twitter

The new year started under the shadow of social tensions triggered by Melih Bulu’s appointment to the rectorate of Bosphorus University by President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan. Professor Melih Bulu had founded the Sarıyer district organization of the incumbent AK Party in 2002. Bulu who in 2015 became a candidate for being a deputy from AK Party could not gain nomination to run in the elections. Bulu also worked as a rector in two private universities before: İstinye University and Haliç University.

On December 31 2020, Bulu was the rectorate of Haliç University. The abrupt appointment of Bulu as the rector to Turkey’s most prestigious university prompted a major outrage since the move was regarded as a direct interruption of academic freedom.

Melih Bulu’s appointment to the rectorate of Bosphorus University caused a large unrest among Bosphorus students, graduates and scholars. In addition, people coming from different sectors of society who are critical of Erdoğan administration have also joined the “anti-Bulu” protest campaign on social media. After Bulu’s appointment, Bosphorus University students protested the appointment on social media by using the hashtag #KayyumRektörİstemiyoruz (“We don’t want a trustee rector”). For a couple of days, students of Bosphorus University have been making protests calling Bulu to resign. However Bulu posted an announcement on his Twitter account saying that he will embrace everyone and he is very excited and happy for his new duty.

After Bulu’s appointment, not just his political identity affiliated with AK Party was put under debate but also his academic background was put under scrutiny as well. Allegations of plagiarism against him broke out especially on Twitter. Bulu defined these allegations as “slander” and argued that this was the literature survey part of his PhD thesis and said, “I did not write some parts between quotation marks. We did not have something written available. There were different citation rules but I put it in the bibliography section.”

According to the Global Academic Freedom Index Turkey has only 9.7 points out of 100 and it is in the rank of 135 out of 144 countries. Turkey is in the similar level with Syria and Turkmenistan.

In previous weeks, journalist Cüneyt Özdemir hosted Bulu in his live Youtube programme and in live broadcast, Bulu saluted the students from the window of his office at rectorate building while the students yelled asking for his resign and this act of Bulu caused surprises and ironies on social media. Amid this environment, on January 5, a group of Bosphorus University academics staged a peaceful protest by standing with their backs to the rectorate building during the handover ceremony for Bulu. The academics of Bosphorus University  made a public statement underlining that this appointment is a practice introduced for the first time after the 1980s military tutelage.

Their full statement is as follows:

“’We don’t accept, we don’t give up!’

On January 1, 2021 at midnight, an academic outside Bogazici University community was appointed as rector, which is a practice introduced for the first time after the 1980s military tutelage.

This is yet another case of many ongoing anti-democratic practices since 2016, aiming at abolishing rectorial elections. We do not accept it as it clearly violates academic freedom and scientific autonomy as well as the democratic values of our university. We refuse to compromise the principles the University Senate officially stated in 2012:

1. To enhance scientific research and social development, it is indispensable that universities be free from any pressure or influence from a person or an institution and not be used as a political tool.

2. For academic freedom, it is imperative that decision-making processes be delegated to democratically elected academic administrators and boards. All academic administrators including the Rector, Deans, Directors of Institute, Directors of Schools and Department Heads can be appointed only after being elected by the university community.

3. As universities are autonomous constitutional establishments, it is vital that university instructors and/or university boards decide on academic programs and research policies, which is an essential prerequisite for scientific freedom and creativity.

We strictly adhere to the principles above and we pledge to follow them up with all the other members of our university community.”

On the other hand, police forces detained more than 20 university students in home raids after the protests against the appointment of Bulu. In the mainstream pro-government media actors’ coverage of these events, it is argued that the detained people are not students, but they are members of illegal organizations whereas Canan Kaftancıoğlu, the Republican People’s Party’s current provincial president in Istanbul rejected this and argued that they are students.

According to Althusser (1971), the modern state keeps the authority and control through two main systems: Repressive State Apparatuses & Ideological State Apparatuses. One of  areas concerning the ideological state apparatuses is known as education. In this regard, Erdoğan’s appointment of Bulu can be seen as a step of using ideological state apparatuses.

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Morocco Increases Pressure on Hezbollah by Arresting One of its Alleged Financiers

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At a time when global attention is focused on the fight against the pandemic and the global effort to vaccinate populations, terrorist organizations and organized crime are trying to take advantage of the situation to carry out operations to finance their operations. In this context, Morocco’s announcement of the arrest of an alleged international con man linked to Hezbollah is considered a success for the Moroccan security services.

According to an official statement relayed by the Moroccan Official Agency, a suspect was arrested last Wednesday by the National Brigade of the Judicial Police (BNPJ). The 57-year-old Lebanese national is linked to the Hezbollah movement, an organization supported by Iran and considered as a terrorist group by the United States, the Netherlands and the United Kingdom. During the search conducted by the Moroccan police force, following intelligence and investigative work carried out by the Directorate General of Territorial Surveillance (DGST), investigators found European passports – French and Italian – as well as identity documents listed in the Interpol database as stolen. The suspect was taken into custody and brought before the King’s Prosecutor in order to continue the investigation, in partnership with Interpol and the countries involved in the alleged identity document thefts.

U.S. Recognition of Moroccan Sovereignty over Western Sahara

Moroccan authorities believed the suspect used these false identities to present himself as holding important roles in multinational corporations to defraud victims with promises of juicy deals and quick profit. While it is unclear at this stage of the investigation whether the international swindler intended to raise funds for Hezbollah, the arrest comes at a particularly crucial time for Morocco, following the recognition by the United States of America of Moroccan sovereignty over the disputed territory of Western Sahara on December the 10th, and the resumption of diplomatic relations with Israël. After this recognition, The US announced a 3 billion dollars investment plan to help Morocco boost its economy and development, as well as the opening of a regional office of its “Prosper Africa” initiative. Moreover, this Sunday, the Assistant Secretary of State for Near Eastern Affairs David Schenker came to Western Sahara on the 9th of January to inaugurate a U.S. consulate in the coastal city of Dakhla, alongside the Moroccan minister for foreign affairs, Nasser Bourita.

Morocco Broke off diplomatic relations with Iran in 2018

Since 2018, Morocco has vigorously denounced Hezbollah’s alleged links with the Polisario Front separatist movement, and broke diplomatic relations with Tehran in the process, as explained by the Think-Tank Atlantic Council . Although both Iran and Hezbollah immediately refuted Morocco’s accusations regarding the organization’s alleged links with the Polisario Front, Rabat continued to increase its pressure and has since taken substantive action to curb the actions of the organization’s agents. In March 2017,  Kingdom arrested at the Casablanca airport Kassem Tajjedine, described by the Americans as the main financier of the organization. The latter was wanted for fraud, money laundering, and financing of terrorist activity, according to Reuters. Tajjedine was extradited to the US where he was sentenced to five years in Prison, and was released on July 2020 as part of a secret US-Iran deal.

Morocco is considered a stable country in North Africa, both on the political and economic level, as well as an important Hub for doing business in Africa and Europe. Over the last twenty years, the Kingdom had a steady growth rate of its GDP at around 4% and built top-class infrastructures, including the largest African port in Tangiers, 2000 Miles of Highway, a High-Speed train between Tangiers and Rabat, and the largest solar station of Africa in the south of the country.

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Egypt’s search for a fig leaf: It’s not the Handball World Championship

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Photo: Flickr/Ninian Reid

Hosting major sports tournaments can confer prestige on a country, but in the case of Egypt, the 2021 Handball World Championship will do little to repair its relations with the US, Italy and states in the Gulf, argues James M. Dorsey in this analysis.

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Egyptian general-turned president Abdel Fattah Al-Sisi sees the 2021 men’s handball world championship in Cairo and Alexandria as an opportunity to put his best foot forward at a time when Egypt’s relations with its closest regional and global partners are encountering substantial headwinds.

Successful hosting of the championship, the first to involve 32 rather than 24 competing teams, would also serve to  counter criticism of the government’s handling of the coronavirus pandemic. Egyptian health minister Hala Zayed recently admitted that many more Egyptians contracted the virus than the government has so far reported. A successful hosting would further put a crown in the feather of Egyptian-born International Handball Federation (IHF) president Hassan Moustafa.

Egypt has put strict pandemic-related precautionary heath measures in place for the tournament from the moment teams, officials, and journalists arrive at Cairo International Airport. The measures apply to training, lodging and media arrangements as well as the transport to and from hotels and the championship’s four designated match venues. Egypt is determined to ensure that the championship does not turn into a spreader of Covid-19.

That concern prompted the IHF and Egyptian authorities at the last minute to shelve a plan to allow fans into the four venues that include the Cairo Stadium Sports Hall, the New Capital Sports Hall in Egypt’s newly built desert capital east of Cairo, the Dr Hassan Moustafa Sports Hall in Giza, and the Borg Al Arab Sports Hall in Alexandria.

The IHF said the decision was taken “considering the current COVID-19 situation as well as concerns that have been raised, amongst others by the players themselves.”

Critics charge that Egypt is hosting the tournament even though it seems unable to meet the basic requirements of medical personnel who are on the frontline of the fight against the pandemic.

Doctors and nurses have protested against the high number of infections in their ranks because  they lack access to sufficient personnel protection equipment and are threatened with imprisonment if they fail to report to work despite the risk to their lives.

Symptomatic for Mr. Al-Sisi’s brutal crackdown on any kind of criticism, several doctors have been arrested on terrorism charges for voicing their grievances.

Putting aside the fact that the impact of a handball tournament pales when compared to the prestige of hosting a mega-event like the World Cup or the Olympic Games, the handball tournament is unlikely to provide much of a fig leaf for Mr. Al-Sisi’s hardhanded repression of anyone voicing an opinion but his sycophantic supporters.

That is particularly true for the incoming administration of US President-elect Joe Biden that has not only promised to emphasize human rights in its foreign policy but also needs to do so in its bid to repair America’s image and restore its credibility, severely damaged by four years of Donald J. Trump, widely viewed as an authoritarian who undermined foundations of democracy.

Similarly, the tournament will not change perceptions in Italy and much of Europe that hold Mr. Al-Sisi’s intelligence service and law enforcement responsible for the kidnapping, torture and killing of Giulio Regeni.

A 28-year-old postgraduate student at Cambridge University, Mr. Regeni had been researching Egypt’s independent unions before he went missing in late January 2016. His body was found in a ditch so badly mutilated that his mother could only identify her son by the tip of his nose. He reportedly had sustained a broken neck, wrist, toes, fingers, and teeth before his death, while initials were carved into his severely burned and bruised skin.

Relations between Egypt and Italy last month deteriorated further when Egypt’s public prosecution closed its investigation into Mr. Regeni’s murder, rejecting Italian prosecutors’ findings that accused four Egyptian security officials of responsibility for his death.

Mr. Al-Sisi’s abominable human rights record may not be of concern to the United Arab Emirates and Saudi Arabia but equally the tournament will do little to repair cracks in his relationship with the two Gulf states, his main financial backers.

In a move that will not have gone unnoticed in Gulf capitals, Egypt anointed the newly opened, Qatari-owned St. Regis hotel on the banks of the Nile River in Cairo as one of the tournament’s key logistics nodes, including its media center.

Qatari Finance Minister Ali Sharif al-Emadi landed in Cairo last week to inaugurate the hotel hours after a Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) summit lifted a 3.5-year long Saudi-UAE led economic and diplomatic boycott of Qatar, in which Egypt as well as Bahrain participated. Mr. Al-Emadi was the first Qatari Cabinet official to visit Egypt since the boycott was imposed in 2017.

Showcasing the hotel was meant to counter-intuitively signal to Saudi Arabia and the UAE Egypt’s concern that reconciliation with Qatar involved far too many concessions, including dropping demands for the closure of Qatar’s state-funded, freewheeling Al Jazeera television network and a halt to support of political groups like the Muslim Brotherhood.

Egypt was forced to reluctantly agree to lifting the boycott even though it accepted continued Qatari investment and Qatari gas supplies over the last 3.5 years.

Egypt also felt sidelined by the UAE and Bahrain’s establishment of diplomatic relations with Israel. The move deprived Egypt of its role as Israel’s primary official diplomatic conduit to the Arab world at a moment that the Al-Sisi regime is seeking to put its best foot forward in anticipation of Mr. Biden taking office.

Mr. Al-Sisi’s concerns are compounded by Emirati support for Ethiopia with which he is at odds over the construction of a dam on the Nile that threatens Egypt’s water supply; the UAE’s growing influence in neighboring Sudan; plans to link the UAE and Israel through a pipeline that would compete with Egypt in selling gas to Europe; and Emirati interest in the port of Haifa that could create an alternative to the Suez Canal.

All of this could undermine Egypt’s position as a key pillar of US Middle East policy and persuade the US to further shift the focal point of its broader Middle East and North Africa policy to the Gulf.

Mr. Al-Sisi has sought to pre-empt an incoming Biden administration by releasing prisoners, highlighting his good relations with Egyptian Christians, and hiring US lobbying firms to plead his case to the Biden camp as well as Capitol Hill.

Hosting a handball world championship is a minor maneuver in the mountain that Mr. Al-Sisi is trying to move, particularly one that Mr. Trump tarnished by describing the Egyptian leader as “my favorite dictator.” That is a label a handball tournament is unlikely to alter.

Author’s note: This article first appeared on Play the Game

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