In 2011, in a phase of severe economic crisis for Italy, almost on the verge of default, the violent ousting of the Libyan leader, Muammar al Minyar El Gaddafi, was the obvious tombstone of Italian foreign policy and also of its intelligence Services forced to serve only the interests of those who wanted to destroy Italy’s interests.
The United States wanted to put an end to the sequence of “Arab Springs” started in Tunisia, a small country suitable for tests – as the papers of the Foreign Office reported in 1901 with respect to Russia, “a country suitable for Socialist tests”.
The United States interpreted foreign policy according to its internal and self-referential criteria and it was useless to ask it to have a broader vision.
Certainly France wanted to take Libya, but above all it wanted to take ENI and also to put Italy in a severe minority condition throughout the Mediterranean region.
The way in which France operated in Gaddafi’s times – and, indeed, France has never relinquished coup designs against Gaddafi – showed only one thing, that also Great Britain knew, i.e. that Gaddafi had been an excellent invention of the Italian Intelligence Services, when they still existed. Italy rescued Gaddafi at least three times, twice from Great Britain and once from France, as well as twice from the United States.
Pursuing our national interest, we were branded as “anti-liberal” and, in any case, within NATO you pay for certain betrayals.
Great Britain also wanted to follow France in its anti-Gaddafi hysteria, especially after Sarkozy asked the Raisfor a significant loan. It had some oil interest with it to prepare for the Royal Dutch Shell, which first opened negotiations with the new Libyan regime in 2013, as well as the ENI security Services, which quickly agreed with Jallud and Italy’s traditional points of reference in opposing Gaddafi. Either Shell or Total – that was the game, while Italy was sinking into the crisis and a “friendly” sale of ENI was not unlikely.
To put it frankly, however, the anti-Gaddafi rhetoric was ridiculous: the usual talk about his “not being democratic” – as if an Arab Rais could behave like a Manhattan jazz musician, all sex, drugs and rock & roll – while opening the doors to the Muslim Brotherhood and its networks which, coincidentally, immediately generated a widespreading of jihadist organisations, as it happened also outside Libya.
Did they really believe there were good and “bad” jihadists? But where did they live, in a commercial spot for detergents?
The French intelligence services’ operation triggering the “revolt” was above all the tension at the Abu Salim prison, organized by a strange and previously unknown “Libyan section of the Association for Human Rights” based in Paris.
The material start of the revolt was in Benghazi, in February 2011, but the economic and social situation in Gaddafi’s Tripoli was very different from the other “Arab springs” superficially organized by some strategic PRs,paid by the intelligence Agencies, between Manhattan and Sloane Street. Nothing to do with talk about “freedom” and Martini cocktails.
In fact, as maintained by some reports of the German Foundations published shortly before Gaddafi’s fall, Gaddafi’s Libya ensured an average income five times as much as Egypt’s. Said income was also well spread among the population, especially with Gaddafi who did the only possible job in a country with many tribes, i.e. ensuring their selective support.
Furthermore, the harsh but also naïve system – already put in place against Milosevic in Serbia or against Saddam Hussein in Iraq – was used again in Libya. Distingue frequenter, as the medieval logicians used to say.
The network of bloggers, previously strangely silent, started immediately, as well as some demonstrations on problems that existed even before, and the obsessive use of the “buzzword” democracy, which, in the minds of the poor and underprivileged people meant “getting better”, while in the words of strategic information managers, hired at a high and useless price by Western governments, meant: “now work for us”.
There was also Nietzsche’s “soothing oil” of the democratic myth to calm people’s fears, with some other possible distraction. Sex, above all, or youth amusement and entertainment business.
In the first phase of the Libyan “people’s” revolt, the United States largely had a wait-and-see attitude, but certainly a West believing that reality reasons like snobbish young ladies, like those you can find in some jet setters’ and socialites’ salons, is always doomed to the most tragic failures.
The Libyans did not want to kill the “tyrant”, in a Macbeth-style Scottish ritual – since it is a concept completely alien to their political culture – but they simply wanted to improve the Libyan regime, like the Tunisian one, both certainly permeated with nepotism and corruption, especially in Tunisia. Nevertheless, everything would certainly have been better than what happened afterwards.
Just think about the fact that the long war seems to be the silly rule of current “humanitarian” operations and interventions: everything is done with great fanfare and democratic rhetoric – as if the whole world should go on like Vermont, or Paris V Arrondissement -and later you discover that the world is different from the parochial and obscure wealth of certain leaders. Hence “the dose is repeated” endlessly, always with fewer troops, as if the others were idiots or unable to fight, finally believing that everything works according to the repetitaiuvant principle. However, foreign policy and strategy never work like that.
The United States will be out of Afghanistan, without having resolved anything. Indeed, the situation will be worse than before, after a treaty with the Taliban drafted in Doha, which should lead to the withdrawal and complete return of U.S. soldiers back home within the next 14 months.
In Iraq, U.S. troops have been the subject of a Parliamentary resolution calling for their removal, despite the fact that the Iranian Armed Forces are still reluctant.
No significant strategic results have been reached and will be reached on the ground. Hence in Afghanistan the Taliban will obviously rise to power, as would have also happened many years ago.
In Iraq, with the Shiite majority in the population and the Iranian oil, economic, political and military penetration, I do not believe that the U.S. presence will achieve other great results.
Certainly the U.S. bases in Kuwait, Bahrain, Qatar, and the largest one in the Emirates, are another necklace around Tehran. As the old and new AFRICOM networks around Libya, i.e. as many as 29 military bases in Bizerte, Tunisia; Libreville, Gabon; Ouagadougu, Burkina Faso; Dakar, Senegal; Niamey and Agadez, Niger, to control the great route of African migration, often directed against our shores, as well as 5 other bases in Somalia, 4 in Mali, and finally 2 in Libya.
Hence a terrible game is being played on Libya, which is the command and control on the passages from the Mediterranean to Central Africa, and Italy seems only to repeat the usual formulas of the snobbish young ladies, like those portrayed by Italian comedian Franca Valeri, based on two gross and very dangerous mistakes: a) Libya is not a “national interest”, because the usual human rights must be restored, but this is huge nonsense because these famous rights should be restored all over Africa; b) Italy’s interest is only that of the West, which does not have only one interest and, anyway, all the interests already defined are against Italy.
Which is the virus currently inoculated in our childish and immature politicians, which does not let them believe that there is a national interest, in which Libya is an unavoidable axis, considering that, as Napoleon said, “the basis of foreign policy lies in geography”?
At the time, we followed the very childish idea of Silvio Berlusconi and of his “centre-right” coalition that sided with the Anglo-Saxons and France as if we were in a costumed re-edition of the Second World War.
Certainly, just in case, we were also told that we would be bombed “by mistake”. But fear is not part of some strategic calculations. If our “allies” –that were stealing Libya and ENI from us – had done so, we would have told the truth. And more train attacks and bombings would have taken place…
The Reductio ad Hitlerum is a naivety that, in Italy, also applies to ruling classes. Ignorant of foreign policy as confirmands.
Now, we are in the fairy world of a government that believes it can mediate while being completely irrelevant. Even on the ground, in Tripoli and Benghazi. A fairy-tale world made of human rights, always slave to propaganda, as well as to the rejection of war laid down by the most idiotic article of our Constitution, Article 11 (and, indeed, it is not the only one), which in fact accepts only unconditional surrender. In fact, those who came to power after an unconditional surrender, remember only that.
Not to mention the usual irregular migrants to be accepted without saying a word – something that our EU friendly countries do not and have never done, but that we should do immediately, considering the Dublin agreement and the always artfully created sense of guilt for old experiences.
It is also worth reiterating that Italy is out of Libya, of the Maghreb region, of Africa and it will shortly be out of the Mediterranean. Thanks to our politicians, who know about strategy and geopolitics like a pizza maker usually knows about the calculus of variations. No disrespect and offense to our pizza makers, of course.
Without Libya there will beno control of the Mediterranean. Without control of the Mediterranean, there will be no Italian strategic and economic autonomy. Finally, without Italian strategic and economic autonomy there will be no growth, the mantra about which current politicians talk grandly.
However, let us better analyse the situation: Russia denies any direct engagement in Libya, but there are at least 14 MiG29 missiles in the Jufra base, as well as some Sukhoi-24 bombers, and also Pantsir anti-missile systems.
Allegedly, in the bases still linked to General Haftar, there are also Serbian and Ukrainian mercenaries, connected to the Wagner networks of Russian contractors.
They are mainly in the base of Gardabyah, but although denying any direct military interest in Libya, Russia has reportedly deployed its 900 “militants” in Syria and Libya in the bases linked to Haftar, as done also by Turkey.
The intelligence Services are particularly active. Especially the French ones, namely the DGSE, as well as the American CIA, which has never left Libya, and the German BND. This is not surprising.
Italy still has an excellent advisor to al-Sarraj, who knows all too well how to deal with certain issues. But he is alone, isolated, and now he is rare breed in Tripoli’s government.
In our opinion, al-Sarraj was not the holder of some Italian geopolitical interests, which should be dealt with well, but has the virtue of having been awarded the holy spirit of international organisations, through complex and sometimes indescribable ploys and ruses.
Italy would recognize also the devil, if it were appointed by some international organisations and fora, possibly even irrelevant.
France does not care about the international choices, which so much entice ambassadors and ladies, although it is a major part of them, more than Italy. In fact, it has always operated with its intelligence Services on Haftar’s side. When will the geopolitical servile attitude typical of the Italian ruling classes end?
The passage channel between Libya and Europe – but not in Italy – is always the triangle between Benghazi, Zuwara and Malta, created with light aircraft.
They know more in certain palaces in Valletta, including the “religious ones”, than in many Italian palaces of power, if we still want to call them so.
For the French Intelligence Services, the easiest connection is between Algeria and Lyon and, still today, some French intelligence service operatives train the still budding executives of Haftar’s Internal Intelligence Service.
The Germans meet both Haftar and al-Sarraj with communication lines starting directly from Germany and arriving both in Tripoli and Benghazi.
Meanwhile, on July 19, Egyptian President Al Sisi, the former Chief of the Military Services of the Armed Forces in Cairo stated – and he could not do otherwise – that Libya is obviously a national interest for Egypt. Even Italy, however, should have done so, also with possible “harshness”.
The EU, another factory of nothing, has stated in these days that we need to go back to the 5+5 mechanism for negotiation. But all the Libyan parties are reflections of other foreign countries and it is useless kicking the dog and meaning the master. We only need to talk to the master. What would be the “resolution of the Libyan crisis” magically awaited by the United Nations? No one knows.
An open and clear segmentation of the territory, which at the time of the Ottoman Empire was not unified at all. Hence it is a matter of “saying goodbye and part without resentment”. Like the aforementioned snobbish young ladies, jet setters and salon socialites.
But are we sure that a split Libya would be in our best interest? Possibly with the Fezzan tribes, happily involved in the illegal migration business, and Italy there to wait and see, as well as pay additional 1.3 million Euros to the so-called Libyan “coastguards”, as recently happened?
In a context of oil and hence of public revenue crisis, such as the one expected in Libya in 2020/2021, the only country that will bear a heavy brunt will be Italy, which will probably die economically together with its old Libyan colony.
Al-Sarraj recently explained that 1.4 billion U.S. dollars of oil sales have been lost since the port blockade imposed by General Haftar last January.
It should also be noted that General Haftar already has excellent relations with the Greek Intelligence Services, he has often met in obvious opposition with Turkey. However, the choices made by the Benghazi leader have already caused an 80% fall in Libyan oil sales.
Considering that, in a situation of low prices per barrel and oil extraction restrictions, the least expensive oil in Africa, that is Libya’s, has its own strong significance, if it is closed to markets, we can infer the rule of those who have an interest in still destabilising Libya and those who have not.
Where would the “playing cards” of Westerners be? A small market in a very severe crisis? A non-existent presence on the ground? The idiotic ideologies that see in rampant immigration or in the impossible sealing of borders the solution to our problems? Those who do not know how to use weapons should not do foreign policy, and there would also be many weapons.
Turkey has quickly taken the place of Italy, which is increasingly apallic.
In Italy they probably fear the reactions of some salon , jet setters and socialites, who would cry out for human rights and, sometimes, for the necessary actions of some lackeys.
Until January 2020, however, Turkey sent 100 of its officers and at least 2,500 militants from a jihadist group operating in Syria under the orders of MIT, the Turkish Intelligence Service, who quickly overturned the military result on the ground against General Haftar.
Turkey has two goals on Libyan soil: firstly, stopping the Egyptian, Emirates and Saudi operations against Turkey’s economic and oil expansion in the Mediterranean. They know where the Mediterranean is. We do not.
We have surrendered to a beautiful region full of far more powerful States than Italy, namely Northern Europe, which no longer knows what to do with us. If it were not for the SMEs in the North.
Beautiful those times when Amintore Fanfani, a man with extraordinary strategic and predictive skills- after all Tuscan-Etruscans are a bit haruspices, or predictors, whom the Romans greatly feared, according to Titus Livy – predicted a new “Mediterranean policy” for Italy, so as to take back that area that solum è mio, just to quote Machiavelli in a well-known letter to Vettori.
The other Turkish policy line is that of perceiving a threat of the strategic whole between Israel, Greece and Cyprus – to which at least it reacts – with the probable EU support which, if any, would probably bring bad luck to the Turkish expansion in the Mediterranean.
The reaction of Haftar’s operatives, although defeated on the ground so far, has not been negligible and allows to foresee a long proxy war between Turkey, Egypt, the Emirates, Saudi Arabia and other countries.
With whom are the Westerners siding? They have left the ground to local players, with the exception of a few intelligence positions. Precisely with the hope of nothing, or rather with the idea that the matter will calm down and be settled by going back to the “negotiation and mediation tables”. To mediate what?
The success of Turkey, which will certainly not want to mediate its new presence in Tripoli’s oil market, as well as in the new Turkish Exclusive Economic Zone, stretching from the Libyan coast to Kastellorizo, in the Dodecanese?
What does Russia want? It wants to fight Westerners in the region and, anyway, also Turkey.
But again for Turkey and its intelligence, the services of the Russian contractor company Wagner were allegedly sold to the Emirates. This is not impossible.
Russia does not want a long war in Libya, which would wear out Mediterranean equilibria and probably exclude it from the new strategic context.
On the contrary, Russia officially wants an agreement between the parties, the end of hostilities and the creation of a Government of National Unity.
Furthermore, unlike others, Russia perceives the sense of Turkish penetration in Libya as the antecedent of the hegemonic Islamization of Turkey with respect to the jihadist groups of sub-Saharan Africa.
President Erdogan knows that Westerners – who do not make calculations, but live on paranoia – are now obsessed with “China in Africa”. He therefore thinks they will keep quiet while Turkey takes the big piece of Africa not yet fully colonized by China.
Russia, however, will never take great risks in Libya, because it does not want tension with Turkey, and especially with its new Turkish Stream.
In 2016 Russia already printed 9 billion U.S. dollars of Haftar’s new Libyan currency, with the effigy of the old Rais, transported to Benghazi via Malta, which imposed its remarkable “tax”.
Moreover, the Russian Federation is playing its future true cards on Saif-al Islam Gaddafi rather than on General Haftar. In short, everyone is playing and making plans on Libya, after the “democratic” disaster of France and Great Britain, while Italy is doing nothing at all.
Why is Melih Bulu Seen as a Pro-AKP “Trustee” Rector?
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.
Morocco Increases Pressure on Hezbollah by Arresting One of its Alleged Financiers
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.
Egypt’s search for a fig leaf: It’s not the Handball World Championship
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.
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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