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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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The Changing Political Dynamics of the Middle East

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It is often said that the politics of the Middle East is as clear as mud. The fresh events that unfolded in the region indicate the significance of this assumption. The strict and hyper-strategic alliances that characterized the region during the Cold War are now vanishing as a new order seems to emerge that is much more hybrid, unpredictable, and pragmatic. With Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, the Middle Eastern states are keen on keeping their distance as they refuse to take sides. The dynamics were quite opposite in the Cold War era and during the unstable period that dominated the region afterward. The shift evident in the region today is thoroughly complex and complicated but it is different from the Cold War period.

The Middle East was a playground for the two dominant sides during the Cold War. It was subjected to major foreign invasions and large-scale conflicts. The Iranian Revolution in 1979 added further spices to the bitter Saudi-Iran rivalry and the race continued throughout the war. Unlike other parts of the world, the post-Cold War era was even further devastating for the Middle East as Arab Spring ignited some of the world’s deadliest conflicts. The wars in Yemen, Syria, and other countries portray the arch rivalry of global and regional players to dominate the region. However, today it seems that the major actors in all these conflicts are tired and fatigued. As the regional crisis meets dead ends, a new geo-political environment is emerging in the Middle East.

In the last few months, the two major powers, the United States and Russia have focused comprehensively on the Middle East as it is a major economic and strategic zone. The trilateral summit between Iran, Russia, and Turkey and the American-Arab summit held in Jeddah demonstrate the efforts. The summit in Jeddah signaled a divergence and lack of trust between the United States and its partners in the region. Unlike the previous talks, the environment lacked confidence and the actors could not agree on most of the views. It was more of a stage to blame each other as the Saudi Prince defended himself against the opprobrium of Biden by mentioning the war crimes committed by the United States in Iraq. Riyadh and Cairo also questioned the strategic competency and power of the United States given its humiliating withdrawal from Afghanistan and Iraq. President Biden also tried to convince and pressurize Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, and Egypt to cut off all ties with Russia and cease all cooperation. Although increasing oil production was agreed upon but no party indicated to stop dealing with Russia on trade and energy. More surprisingly, Israel, Washington’s closest ally in the region has also shown a diversion from following the orders of the United States. It is a tipping point in history where it seems that the United States has lost its hegemony in the Middle East, and it has become a client state of the Saudis. The events delivered a clear message that countries in the Middle East only want America’s aid and arms, not its advice.

In the same way, another important ally of the United States in the region, Turkey has been following a hybrid model for quite a time. The trilateral summit held in Tehran was a milestone in strengthening Turkey’s ties with Russia and Iran. Turkey has even proposed arms sales to Iran which shows a clear diversion from a major NATO member. Turkey has also turned towards Russia to attain the S-400 system after NATO refused to sell the air defense system. More importantly, Saudi Arabia has also shown the intention to get the system from Moscow. As is the case with other states, Iran is also keen on building good ties with China and Russia. The country is collaborating with the European nations to reestablish the Nuclear Deal on acceptable terms. Despite having disagreements over most of the issues, Iran and Saudi Arabia are involved in diplomatic talks to de-escalate the tensions in the region. MBS is looking for diplomatic accommodations with Iran to help the region in development through trade. While speaking with CNN, Saudi Foreign Minister Faisal bin Farhan Al Saud said that they are hoping for a kind response from Iran in order to build a diplomatic solution. He favored giving incentives to Iran on the negotiations table to have a peaceful future in the region. UAE’s normalization of ties with the Assad regime in Syria and exit from the war in Yemen also indicate the concerns of the major powers in the region about the instability. It is indeed the beginning of a changing regional order in the Middle East where the Cold War model is evaporating.

In short, the changes undergoing in the Middle East do not look similar to the hyper and rigid order during the Cold War. More governments in the region are opting for hyper, hybrid, and pragmatic policies that favor their national interests and regional stability over the benefits of foreign powers. The Middle East is a powerhouse of the world and the shifting plates in the region would surely influence world politics. It is still unsure so make predictions about the future since the ongoing situation is very complicated and complex. The political dynamic of the Middle East is unpredictable and it will further complicate global affairs. What might come next is a mystery and where the next explosion would occur is a sheer guess.

To conclude, the world seems to be changing now as China is threatening the position of the United States and the resurgence of Russia is a clear challenge to the dominance of the United States. In such an uncertain environment, the Middle East is a center of gravity for the “haves” of the world. President Biden’s visit to the region and the trilateral talks between Russia, Iran, and Turkey mark the significance of dominating the region today. An evaluation of the recent events portrays that the rigid and hypersensitive environment of the Middle East is converting into a hybrid, pragmatic, and unpredictable domain. The divergence of the allies of the United States in the region from the dictated course and tilt towards Russia signals a tectonic shift. Iran’s involvement in the affairs is another point of importance to decide the future of the region. It is impossible to correctly predict the rapid changes in the Middle East, however, the years ahead are surely of vital significance.

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Winter sports in Saudi Arabia? An unproven concept except for the surveillance aspect

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Temperatures in north-western Saudi Arabia, on average, seldom, if ever, drop below eight degrees Celsius except in the 2,400-metre high Sarawat mountains, where snow falls at best occasionally. However, that hasn’t prevented Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman from envisioning Saudi Arabia as competing for winter sports tourism.

The kingdom would do so by including winter sports in Mr. Bin Salman’s US$500 billion Neom fantasia, a futuristic new city and tourism destination along the Red Sea in a mostly unpopulated part of the kingdom.

In the latest mind-boggling Neom-related announcement, Saudi Arabia’s Olympic committee said it was bidding to host the 2029 Asian Winter Games in the city, essentially still a project on paper that has a science-fiction feel to it in a country that has no winter sports facilities and whose plans so far envisioned only ones that would be indoors.

The games would be held at Trojena, a yet-to-be-built resort on mountain peaks overlooking Neom slated to be home to 7,000 people by 2026 and annually attract 700,000 visitors. Trojena would be the Gulf’s first outdoor ski resort.

Powered by renewable energy, Trojena expects to create an outdoor ski slope by blasting artificial snow at the mountains.

Plans for the resort also include a ski village, luxurious family and wellness facilities, the region’s largest freshwater lake, and an interactive nature reserve. Trojena would also feature a yoga retreat and an art and entertainment residency.

Executive director Philip Gullett predicts that Trojena will offer a “seamless travel experience” in which “we are looking into delivering luggage via drones, using biometrics to fulfill security requirements, and allowing interested parties to explore the site first using the latest virtual reality.”

In Mr. Gullet’s anticipation, visitors will be able to scuba dive, ski, and hike or climb, all on the same day.

At least 32 Asian nations compete in the Asian games that include alpine skiing, ice hockey, biathlon, cross-country skiing, and figure skating competitions.

To be fair, Saudi Arabia sent its first winter Olympics team to the Beijing games in February, where Fayik Abdi ranked number 44 in the men’s giant slalom.

The winter sports bid is part of a big-splash Saudi effort to establish itself as the Gulf’s foremost player in international sports, a position so far occupied by Qatar with its hosting of this year’s World Cup and the United Arab Emirates that, like Qatar, owns one of the world’s top European soccer clubs.

Saudi Arabia recently bought English Premier League club Newcastle United and sparked controversy by attracting with vast sums of money some of the world’s top golf players to compete in a new tournament that kicked off in one of former US President Donald J. Trump’s resorts.

Tiger Woods reportedly turned down a US$700 to 800 million offer to join the Saudi-backed LIV Golf Invitational Series. However, others, including Greg Norman, Phil Mickelson, Dustin Johnson, and Bryson DeChambeau, have jumped on the Saudi bandwagon.

Saudi Arabia has also signed a 10-year, $650m deal for a Formula One motor racing event, partnered with World Wrestling Entertainment for annual shows, and hosted the world heavyweight championship rematch between Anthony Joshua and Andy Ruiz.

Less than a year after signing with Qatar-owned Paris Saint-Germain, soccer superstar Lionel Messi has emerged as the tourism ambassador for the Saudi Red Sea port of Jeddah.

Families of activists and dissidents imprisoned in Saudi Arabia unsuccessfully tried to persuade Mr. Messi not to engage with the kingdom. “If you say ‘yes’ to Visit Saudi, you are in effect saying yes to all the human rights abuses that take place today in modern Saudi Arabia,” they said in a letter to the player.

A Saudi national and former Twitter employee is currently on trial in the United States for spying for the kingdom on Saudi users of the social media platform.

Areej Al-Sadhan said the information potentially provided by the former employee may have led to the arrest of her brother Abdulrahman Al-Sadhan because of his satiric social media posts. Mr. Al-Sadhan was tortured and sentenced to 20 years in prison.

Saudi officials killed journalist Jamal Khashoggi in Istanbul in 2018 in what the kingdom has said was an unauthorized rogue operation. However, others, including US intelligence, assert that it was anything but.

Adding to Neom’s futurism, Saudi sources said last month that the city, funded by the kingdom’s sovereign wealth fund, the Public Investment Fund, would be home to the world’s largest buildings, twin 500-metre-tall skyscrapers dubbed The Line that would stretch horizontally for dozens of miles.

By 2030, Mr. Bin Salman expects some 1.5 million people to live in the skyscrapers.

Everything about Neom…seems fantastical. From flying elevators to 100-mile long skyscrapers to a floating, zero-carbon port, it seems to owe more to Coruscant and Wakanda than to any urban forms outside of science fiction,” said Bloomberg columnist David Fickling, referring to Star Wars’ city-covered planet and Fantastic Four’s fictional country in East Africa.

In Mr. Bin Salman’s mind, Neom – derived from the Latin word neo for new and the first letter of the Arabic word for future, Mustaqbal, and built with advanced smart city technologies — will likely not only be an example of artificial intelligence increasing life’s conveniences but also the creation of the perfect surveillance state.

Speaking to Bloomberg in 2017, Mr. Bin Salman envisioned residents and visitors managing their lives with just one app. Neom, Mr. Bin Salman said the city would have no supermarkets because everything would be delivered.

“Everything will have a link to artificial intelligence, to the Internet of Things – everything. Your medical file will be connected with your home supply, with your car, linked to your family, linked to your other files, and the system develops itself in how to provide you with better things,” Mr. Bin Salman envisioned.

“Today all the clouds available are separate – the car is by itself, the Apple watch is by itself, everything is by itself. There, everything will be connected. So, nobody can live in Neom without the Neom application we’ll have – or visit Neom,” he added.

Mr. Bin Salman’s vision of Saudi Arabia as the world’s latest top-of-the-line winter sports destination attracts headlines but has yet to be proven as a concept. That is true for much of the futurism embedded in plans for Neom except for the surveillance state – that is already a reality in various parts of the world.

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How Russia’s Policy in the Middle East and North Africa is Changing After February 24

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Image source: Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Saudi Arabia

U.S. President Joe Biden has now visited the Middle East, and this week, President of Russia Vladimir Putin also pays a visit to Iran, where he is expected to hold trilateral meetings with President of Iran Ebrahim Raisi and President of Turkey Recep Tayyip Erdogan on Syria’s Astana process.

On February 24, 2022, the Russia–Ukraine military conflict began. Five months into it, the world has undergone global changes. Under the new conditions, Russia’s foreign policy in regions of the country’s strategic interest is changing as much. Among such regions are the Middle East and North Africa (MENA), which are traditionally in the focus of the Kremlin’s attention. Arab countries have taken an intermediate position in responding to Russia’s actions in Ukraine. Some of them supported the UN General Assembly resolution condemning Russia. However, unlike the U.S. and countries of the EU, the Arab world did not impose sanctions of their own. There are some difficulties on trade, but this is due to the desire of the Arab states to reduce the sanctions risks.

In recent years, the claim that the United States is leaving the Middle East has been popular in expert and academic circles. Some of them even spoke of Russia filling the emerging vacuum. However, the likelihood has now increased that Moscow’s activity in the MENA region will also significantly decrease. Nowadays, almost all the attention of Russia, and of the whole world, is focused on Ukraine. Some countries have already managed to use this to realize their own ambitions. In particular, Turkey announced the start of new military operation in Syria. Although Moscow has asked Ankara to abandon the operation, this is unlikely to influence the decision of President of Turkey Recep Tayyip Erdogan.

It seems to me that, at least in the coming months, and possibly years, we can expect a sharp decline in Russia’s efforts to resolve the humanitarian crisis in Syria. The involvement of the Kremlin in Libyan affairs will also decrease. Moscow may not have the resources to defend its interests in Libya by military-political means in the event of another possible escalation.

Big changes await Russia’s economic cooperation with the Arab countries. On the one hand, due to problems with logistics and sanctions, cooperation may be difficult. On the other hand, Russia is reorienting its economy towards the East, which could have a positive effect on economic cooperation with the Arab East. The most interesting thing is how the food supply situation will develop. Arab countries are highly dependent on Russian and Ukrainian grain exports. That is why the conflict between these countries has such a strong impact on the MENA region. This will have an impact on how Russian-Arab relations will change in the future.

There is some contradiction. On the one hand, dependence on Russian and Ukrainian food exports continues to persist. On the other hand, in the short term, the conflict creates the prerequisites for a reorientation to other markets—in particular, to buy grain from India. However, it should be taken into account that India, like other major food exporters, may not have enough resources to cover the needs of the Arab states quickly.

Moscow’s influence may be reduced in matters related to military-technical cooperation with the countries of the MENA region. Previously, the United States reacted quite sharply if someone bought Russian weapons. Among the most striking examples are the deal between Russia and Turkey for the purchase of S-400 long-range surface-to-air missile systems or the agreement with Egypt for the purchase of Su-25 aircraft. Washington opposed such purchases and responded with a threat of sanctions in order to force the countries of the Middle East to abandon Russian weapons. After February 24, the reaction to such purchases will be much stronger, and this may expand from traditional U.S. partners in the region to a wider range of states. Sanction risks are highly likely to lower the level of military-technical cooperation between Russia and the MENA countries.

Of course, the Arab countries take into account the risks of sanctions in economic matters, which can negatively affect trade as well as investment cooperation with Russia. At the same time, Russia and the MENA countries have a number of large long-term infrastructure and industrial projects. There are many projects in oil and gas, as well as in nuclear energy. Let’s pay attention to the position of Saudi Arabia. It shows that Riyadh values cooperation with Russia under the OPEC+ deal. It did not increase oil production despite requests from Washington.

Some political cooperation will continue. This is especially evident in the example of the Arab countries of the Gulf. Not so long ago, the 5th Ministerial Meeting for Strategic Dialogue between GCC and Russia took place. The meeting discussed the situation in Yemen and Libya. In addition, the participants considered issues of further elaboration of Russian proposals for the creation of a collective security system in the Gulf zone. Thus, Russia’s political influence in the region still remains, and it is possible that Moscow will be involved in a number of political projects. However, in my opinion, in the long term, this influence will be reduced gradually. The main question now is how much Russia will be considered a security provider after February 24.

From our partner RIAC

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