Recently, there have been media reports about the former Iranian president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s attempts to reenter big-time politics. Many observers believe that Ahmadinejad, who served as president of the Islamic Republic from 2005 until 2013, intends to run for the country’s top civilian job in May 2021, a move allowed by the Iranian constitution.
The ex-president has spent the past few months visiting the country’s various regions, speaking at meetings and rallies and being active on Twitter and Instagram popular among Iranian youth. He even has his own website – http://ahmadinejad.ir/.
Mahmoud Ahmadinejad has also been making himself visible internationally, with personal messaged sent over the past few years to Presidents Barack Obama and Emmanuel Macron. Recently, he sent a missive to Saudi Arabia’s Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman, urging him to end conflicts in the Middle East, including Yemen, and offering himself as a potential mediator in any peace process. He has sent similar messages calling for an end to the war in Yemen also to Abdel Malik al-Houthi, the leader of the Shiite movement Ansar Allah (Houthis) currently in control of northern Yemen, and to UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres.
Speaking at a June 2020 rally in the northern province of Gilan, Ahmadinejad sharply criticized President Rouhani for approving a 25-year plan for cooperation between with China. The ex-president slammed the bilateral accord as “a secret deal with a foreign side against the interests of the country and the nation,” to a thunderous applause from the gathering.
There is no denying the fact that Mahmoud Ahmadinejad has supporters who root for him during his visits to the provinces, especially now that, amid the socio-economic problems largely resulting from hard-hitting US sanctions, the liberal reformers, led by President Hassan Rouhani, have been ceding ground to radicals and conservatives, who stand by the principles of the Islamic revolution and the precepts of the Islamic Republic’s founder, Ayatollah Khomeini. These “principlists” include Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, who since leaving office in 2013, has shown himself as a critic of the policies of his successor, President Hassan Rouhani. The ex-president supported all anti-government actions (but not before he stepped down seven years ago!), and remains opposed to the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) nuclear deal, signed in 2015.
Ahmadinejad is particularly popular in small towns and rural areas, and for a good reason too, because his biography, as well as his populist rhetoric and image, appeal to a certain segment of the Iranian population.
Mahmoud Ahmadinejad was born in October 1956, into the family of a poor blacksmith in the village of Aradan in the country’s northeastern Semnan province. His father, Ahmad, was a deeply religious Shiite Muslim, and his mother, Khanom, was a Sayyida, an honorable title given to those believed to be direct bloodline descendants of the Islamic prophet Muhammad.
The family moved to Tehran when Mahmoud was one year old. He was raised as a devout Muslim. Still a child, he already knew the Koran by heart, and at school he quickly gained the reputation of a hardworking and capable student.
In 1976, the would-be president entered Tehran’s prestigious University of Science and Technology, successfully graduating with the diploma of a transport engineer.
During his student years, he actively participated in the anti-Shah youth movement of a radical Islamic hue. After the Shah’s overthrow, Ahmadinejad, then a third-year student, joined the ultra-conservative Islamist Organization for Strengthening the Unity of Universities and Theological Schools. According to unconfirmed reports, he took part in the November 1979 seizure of the US embassy in Tehran. In 1980, he volunteered for the Iran-Iraq war as part of the IRGC and took part in a series of sabotage operations in northern and eastern Iraq. In that same year, he married his fellow student Azam al-Sadat Farahi, a mechanical engineer.
Upon his discharge from the army, he took up the career of a professional politician. In the late 80s, he headed the administrations of various cities in West Azerbaijan Province. In 1993 he was elected governor general of the newly-formed Ardabil Province, while simultaneously serving as an advisor to the Minister of Culture and Education of Iran, until the liberal reformer Mohammed Khatami removed him in 1997, whereupon he returned to teaching.
During that time, Ahmadinejad often visited the holy city of Qom to meet with Ayatollah Mohammed Yazdi, a radical representative of the Iranian clerical elite. Ayatollah Yazdi eventually became his spiritual mentor and played a significant role in his political career.
Six years later, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad returned to politics, and in 2003, the Tehran Municipal Council elected him as city mayor. As mayor of the capital, he rolled back most of the liberal reforms implemented by his predecessors, tightened censorship, enforced Islamic morality, ordered the closure of all of the city’s Western fast food outlets, tightened Islamic norms in clothing and everyday life, instructing women to comply with the Islamic dress code, and men in public service to grow beards and wear short-sleeved shirts.
In June 2005, Ahmadinejad was elected president after running a populist campaign focused on social justice. In June 2009, he was re-elected for a second term in a tough tug-of-war with his political opponents. Ahmadinejad’s campaign rivals refused to accept his victory, claiming that electoral fraud had occurred during the voting. Anti-government protests and demonstrations, known as the “Green Movement,” ensued, but were suppressed.
For fairness’ sake, it should be noted that Mahmoud Ahmadinejad has always maintained an ascetic lifestyle both in everyday life and in the positions of power that he held. He has never been embroiled in any corruption scandals – a rarity in modern-day Iran.
Observers, who have been following Ahmadinejad’s activities, point to several surprising or shocking details of his life both as a politician and a high-ranking official, such as:
- as president, Ahmadinejad took the bus to get to work;
- his wife, Azam al-Sadat Farahi, worked as a cleaner in a Koranic school;
- when asked by the US TV network Fox News what he usually said to himself when looking in the mirror in the morning, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad replied: “Remember that you are nothing more than a simple servant.”
- when Ahmadinejad first entered the presidential office, he surprised many by giving the pricey Persian carpets hanging on its walls to one of Tehran’s mosques and replacing them with ordinary cheap carpets;
- upon his election as president, his property declaration included a 1977 Peugeot 504 car and a small house in one of the poorest districts of Tehran, inherited from his father 40 years earlier;
- President Ahmadinejad also impressed his staff by bringing his breakfast to work in his briefcase every day, consisting of several cheese and olive oil sandwiches made by his wife;
- during his tenure, any Cabinet minister, before being appointed to his post, was to sign a document, which, among other things, included a pledge not to enrich himself and make his and his relatives’ bank accounts open to public scrutiny;
- after his resignation, Ahmadinejad refused the presidential pension, saying that he had worked not for a pension, but for the good of the people;
- In his spare time, he likes to graze sheep and to help street sweepers with their job…
Well, this could have been just for show, and still…
Pro-Ahmadinejad propaganda was playing up his asceticism and fairness, comparing (just as a hint though, because no one can be compared with the Imam!) his modesty and fair-mindedness with those of the leader of the Islamic revolution, Ayatollah Khomeini.
Then what are the characteristic features of the policy of President Ahmadinejad, the man who for eight years held the second highest position in the Islamic Republic of Iran?
To answer this question, one needs to know exactly what country the president inherited in 2005 and the processes leading up to the situation, which then existed in Iran.
One should keep in mind the revolutionary upheavals, economic experiments of the Iranian version of military Communism and the impact of the eight-year Iranian-Iraqi war that by the close of the 1980s had left the country in a state of socio-economic decline. The potential of the harsh system that distinguished Ayatollah Khomeini’s Islamic regime had been exhausted and this is something Iran’s clerical leadership realized full well. The very economic survival of the Islamic Republic was on the line now and speedy reforms were sorely needed.
It was at that critical point in time that pragmatists came to power – first, Hojat ol-Islam. Ali Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani (1989 – 1997), then – Hojat ol-Islam Mohammad Khatami (1997 – 2005).
During the 16-year presidency of these two prominent leaders, despite all the contradictions and mistakes, deviations, failures and miscalculations, Iran gained strength, becoming a leading power in the Near and Middle East. Spiking oil and gas prices certainly helped, as oil export revenues quadrupled from $11 billion in 1998 to $40 billion in 2005.
The national economy was looking up, investments were flowing in, and democratic reforms were on the rise. On the foreign policy front, Iran was emerging from the semi-blockade and self-isolation, opening up to the outside world, which had gradually improved the country’s image internationally. This certainly facilitated Iran’s involvement in the political and economic processes going on in the world, in a boost to the national economy.
However, for all the socio-economic gains of 16 years of reforms, they threatened the very foundations of the Khomeinist ideology, which they were supposed to save and strengthen. The reforms (whether their architects and builders wanted it or not) were actually taking the country and society away from the strategic course laid out by Ayatollah Khomeini.
This is something the radical conservative Iranian clergy and their secular associates simply could not allow. To maintain their power they sought the revival of Khomeini’s ideas in a bid to reverse the policy of the two previous presidents.
Rafsanjani and Khatami – these two “Moors” of Iranian politics – had done their duty though, saving and strengthening the regime. They could go now, making way for Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.
Formally speaking, President Ahmadinejad is a secular man, an engineer, but at the same time he sincerely considers himself a soldier and a direct messenger of the Messiah – the 12th hidden Imam Mahdi, and claims to be in constant mental contact with him.
Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s first actions as president showed that he was firmly on the path laid out by Ayatollah Khomeini. Naturally, a return to the political and ideological fold of orthodox Khomeinism is impossible without the elimination of any sprouts of liberalism, especially when it comes to ideology. True to the precepts of Khomeini, Ahmadinejad banned Western music and movies, suppressed any signs of non-Islamic culture and essentially extended all the restrictions that he had previously introduced as mayor of Tehran, now on a national scale.
During his eight years in power, President Ahmadinejad, a native of the IRGC, did a lot to increase the Corps’ political and economic sway. Directly and indirectly, Ahmadinejad granted preferences to the IRGC in order to boost its commercial business assets. The Corps’ commercial role is particularly evident in at least 229 major holdings and civilian companies. The IRGC dominates the country’s construction, energy, petrochemical, mining, engineering, transport, telecommunications, trade, insurance and banking sectors.
As a result of the IRGC’s economic expansion, initiated by Ahmadinejad, by 2015 the Corps already controlled 25% – 35% of the national economy and 25% of all capital. Nowadays, it is not only a powerful military-political, ideological and intelligence organization, but a significant financial and economic establishment too.
The defense industry, also under the auspices of the IRGC, received a big boost during Ahmadinejad’s presidency. In particular, the rocket industry has made a major headway in the development of new combat systems, including for launching satellites. In 2009, on the occasion of the 30th anniversary of the Islamic Republic, Iran placed in orbit its first space satellite Omid (Hope) launched by a two-stage Safir-2 (Messenger-2) booster, thus joining the club of space-going powers.
The Iranian nuclear problem remains the most important factor influencing the situation in and around the Islamic Republic. Back in 2003, in an effort to solve this problem, President Khatami initiated “nuclear negotiations” with Germany, France and Britain, which were supervised from the Iranian side by the incumbent President Rouhani. Under President Khatami, Iran signed the Additional Protocol to the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons (NPT). Although this document, which gives the IAEA additional access to Iranian nuclear facilities and provides for surprise checks, was not ratified by the Majlis, Khatami issued a directive, first to comply with its requirements, and, secondly, to suspend the country’s uranium enrichment work. This was done until 2006.
During the first months of his presidency, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad nixed all the positive results, achieved by his predecessor, President Khatami, in resolving the Iranian nuclear issue.
The country was now ramping up its nuclear ambitions. Mastering modern technologies, Iran had advanced so much in its IRGC-supervised nuclear program, that it was now able to create its own complete nuclear cycle, primarily an industrial infrastructure for uranium enrichment, which became a cause of serious concern by the whole world. While in the early 2000s Iran had only 164 centrifuges, by 2013 their number had increased to almost 20,000.
The international community responded to this by ratcheting up pressure on Tehran, demanding that it ensure full transparency of its nuclear program and prove its entirely peaceful nature. The UN Security Council adopted six resolutions, four of which introduced sanctions against Iran.
Under Ahmadinejad Iran began to slide back into isolation. Unlike his predecessors, Rafsanjani and Khatami, Ahmadinejad stubbornly refused to seek any compromises and opted for a policy of confrontation, relying on a demonstration of force, both globally and on a regional level. The political tension around Iran sometimes escalated into military confrontation. Responding to outside provocations, the Ahmadinejad administration has repeatedly threatened to block the Strait of Hormuz, which resulted in large US and allied naval concentrations close to Iran’s borders and pushed the situation to the brink of war. Meanwhile, the military tension around Iran continued to impact the political and economic situation inside the country and the regional security system as a whole. Quoting Ayatollah Khomeini, Ahmadinejad then said that “the Zionist regime must be wiped off the face of the earth, and with the help of divine power, the world will soon live without the United States and Israel.”
President Ahmadinejad policy resulted in a cool in relations with the EU countries, which had traditionally been among the main trade and economic partners of Iran. Most other countries around the world were equally wary of building closer partnerships with Tehran.
The President increased the scale of Iran’s military and political activity in Iraq, Afghanistan and the Persian Gulf countries.
The resulting international isolation and the actions of Iran’s opponents dealt a heavy blow to the Iranian economy, which by the end of Ahmadinejad’s presidency presented a very serious problem. Despite the fact that during Ahmadinejad’s eight years in power Iran had earned $1 trillion 200 billion, half of that as oil revenues, this did not prevent the country from sliding into a crisis.
The economic crisis did not come as a result of Western sanctions alone though. Under President Ahmadinejad reformers and moderate conservative traditionalists were being gradually phased out from the state apparatus with radicals actively taking over all the three branches of power in the country.
All this was seen by many as an attempt by Ahmadinejad to limit the power and influence of the first generation of Islamic revolutionaries and the clergy and to create a new political and business elite by promoting the current and former relatively young employees of the IRGC to government posts, and to provide state assistance to IRGC-affiliated companies and organizations. This led to the security forces’ increased interference in the political life of the country – something Ayatollah Khomeini warned against in his political testament.
Simultaneously, Ahmadinejad sought additional powers as president and was trying to weaken parliamentary control over the executive branch and other power agencies, much to the chagrin of traditionalist conservatives who hated to see any weakening of their positions.
Ahmadinejad’s all-stops-out ambitions were apparently the reason why his relations with Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei strained in the final years of his presidency, which ultimately led to the political isolation of Ahmadinejad and his associates after 2013, and prevented him from running again in 2017.
However, the situation in and around Iran has since changed very significantly. The virtual collapse of the JCPOA, aggressive US sanctions, falling oil prices and the coronavirus pandemic that hit Iran hard have set the stage for a political comeback by anti-Rouhani “principlists,” who scored a crushing victory in the February 2020 parliamentary elections, winning 223 out of 290 seats in the Majlis.
The moderate speaker Ali Larijani left the Majlis, replaced by IRGC General Mohammad Bagher Ghalibaf. His two deputies are former members of Ahmadinejad’s government. According to observers, 60 members of the new Iranian parliament are people close to Ahmadinejad.
Almost all the most important positions are now in the hands of radicals, some of them seen as potential presidential candidates, such as Chief Justice Ebrahim Raisi, who heads the most radical conservative camp in Iranian politics, Secretary of the Supreme National Security Council (NSC) Rear Admiral of the IRGC Ali Shamkhani, and Secretary of the Council of Political Expediency, former commander-in-chief of the IRGC, General Mohsen Rezayi.
There may be other conservative presidential hopefuls now in the making, of course, but the abovementioned politicians are unlikely to exchange their high-ranking positions for the “lose-lose” post of president. After all, it is clear that the current economic crisis in Iran will not end any time soon and voters will inevitably fault the president for this. In addition, the conservatives want to prevent anything that might damage the popularity of Ebrahim Raisi, who is reportedly being groomed by them for the position of the country’s next Supreme Leader.
The situation apparently favors Ahmadinejad, with many local analysts noting that “the general trend in domestic politics increasingly resembles the methods and style of Ahmadinejad.”
Reformist politician Hossein Khanizadeh believes that Ahmadinejad will run for president: “With the election of the 11th parliament, Ahmadinejad’s supporters are negotiating with the Guardian Council (GC) about his possible participation in the elections.” An unnamed ally of the ex-president clarified that “the issue is past mediation and is now in the stage of direct discussion. Ahmadinejad has met with a number of GC members to discuss his candidacy for the presidential elections.”
That being said, many in the conservative camp have fresh memories of President Ahmadinejad’s waywardness. Conservative lawmaker Yakub Reza-zadeh flatly rejects the possibility of the ex-president’s participation in next year’s elections. He believes that Ahmadinejad has no place on the political stage after he repeatedly voiced his disobedience with the Supreme Leader.
“When Ahmadinejad decided not to follow the recommendation of the rahbar – Ayatollah Khamenei – and took part in the 2017 elections, Ahmad Janati (the head of the GC) said that this would lead to unrest. How can a person who does not obey the orders of the leader of the revolution and provokes unrest in the country become president again? ” Reza-zadeh wondered.
With the presidential election nine months away now, the conservative-radical bloc is quite likely to put forward a new candidate. As of now, the candidacy of ex-President Ahmadinejad looks pretty real.
The only reason why the author has analyzed in such great detail the personal traits of Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and his policies as president is because if he is elected again, this would undoubtedly determine the main trends and features of the country’s foreign and domestic policy, which, in turn, would result in an across-the-board metamorphosis of the Islamic Republic of Iran. This is something we need to prepare for.
The future of Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and his participation in the 2021 presidential race certainly depends on the decision by the Supreme Leader Ayatollah Khamenei, and, of course, on how the situation in and around Iran will develop in the coming months.
From our partner International Affairs
China-Arab Relations: From Silk to Friendship
China and the Arabs have a long and rich economic and cultural history, and this distinguished relationship still exists today, with a promising future. This bilateral relationship between the two nations is based on the principles of respect and non-interference in internal affairs or foreign policies. Therefore, China’s relationship with the Arabs as well as with other nations is unique and a model to be followed. If you meet a Chinese person, the first phrase will be “Alabo” or an Arab in Mandarin, and he/she will welcome you. The Chinese state’s dealings with its counterparts can be measured based on the model of this Chinese citizen. China deals with the Arabs on the basis of friendship and historical ties.
The history of Sino-Arab relations goes back to the Tang Dynasty, and these relations developed with the flourishing of trade between the two nations. Since China was famous for its high quality silk, this trade route was called the “Silk Road”. Baron Ferdinand Freiherr von Richthofen, better known in English as Baron von Richthofen, was a German traveller, geographer, and scientist. He is noted for coining the terms “Seidenstraße” and “Seidenstraßen” = “Silk Road” or “Silk Route” in 1877.
Chinese-Arab relations have developed in contemporary history. In 1930, China established official relations with the Arab Republic of Egypt and the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia. A library in China was named the “Fouad Islamic Library”, after the late Egyptian king, “Fuad the First”. In 1956, Egyptian President Gamal Abdel Nasser cut ties with China and established relations with the Communist People’s Republic of China and inaugurated an embassy in Egypt. In the same year, the Arab League established relations with the People’s Republic of China. By the year 1990, all Arab countries cut their relations with the Republic of China and established diplomatic relations with the People’s Republic of China.
In 2004, the China-Arab Cooperation Forum was established, and today it is considered a milestone for the Sino-Arab relationship. At its inauguration, Chinese Foreign Minister Li Zhaoxing delivered a speech stating:“The Arab world is an important force on the international scene, and that China and the Arab countries have enjoyed a long friendship. Our similar history, our common goals and our broad interests have been credited with enhancing cooperation between the two sides; no matter how the international situation changes, China has always been the sincere friend of the Arab world”. The China-Arab Cooperation Forum was officially established during the visit of Chinese President Hu Jintao to the headquarters of the League of Arab States in January of 2004.
Hu Jintao indicated at that time that the formation of the forum is a continuation of the traditional friendship between China and the Arab world. The Chinese president said at the time, “The establishment of the forum is conducive to expanding mutual cooperation in a variety of fields. He added that China had made four proposals; First, maintaining mutual respect, fair treatment and sincere cooperation at the political level. Second, strengthening economic and trade relations through cooperation in the fields of investment and trade, contracted projects, labor services, energy, transportation, communications, agriculture, environmental protection and information. Third, expand cultural exchanges. Finally, conducting training for the employees.”
During the second session of the forum in Beijing in 2006, China showed its sympathy for the issues of the Arab world and its interest in the peace process between Palestine and Israel, since China is a peace-loving country; it presented the idea of “a nuclear-free Middle East”. China is the best friend of the Arab countries today. Although some Arab countries have strong relations with the West whose policy does not match the Chinese policy, but all Arab countries agree on friendly and good relations with the People’s Republic of China.
The Arab citizen is not interested today in the foreign policy of the US, the deadly weapons of the US and Russia, or European culture, but rather the livelihood and economy, and this is what China provides through its wise economic policy. In 2013, Chinese President Xi Jinping launched the Belt and Road Initiative, or New Silk Road, which will restore glow to China-Arab relations; as the Arab world is in a strategic location on the initiative map. Thus, the Arab countries are an important partner for China in the initiative. Although the volume of trade exchanges between China and the Arab countries exceeded 200 billion US dollars, which increased 10 times over the past decade, there was no commercial and institutional arrangement to facilitate trade between the two sides.
China, as a peaceful and non-invasive country, aims to promote economic cooperation with Arab region on an equal basis because it considers the Arab world a historic partner. The historical experience of the Arabs with the Chinese through the Silk Road has confirmed that China differs from the nations of colonialism and imperialism, which consider the Arab region a place rich in natural resources only. In his historic speech at the Arab League, Chinese President Xi stressed that China will not seek to extend influence and search for proxies in the Middle East. The Chinese initiatives will contribute to establishing security and stability through economic development and improving the people’s livelihood, in line with the post-2015 development agenda and the aspirations of the Arab people for a better life, as the Chinese experience proves that development is the key to digging out the roots of conflicts and extremism in all its forms.
China is a neutral country and does not favor the use of violence. During the Syrian crisis, for example, the Chinese envoy to the Security Council raised his hand three times, meaning that China, with its wise diplomacy, supported the Syrian regime without entering the military war. During the recent Chinese military parade, Chinese President Xi Jinping revealed some Chinese military capabilities and thus sent a message to the enemies that China will always be ready if a war is imposed on it, and a message of support to China’s allies. The Arab region today needs a real partner who possesses economic and military power and international political influence, such as China; to ensure the success of the Belt and Road Initiative, and to consolidate the China-Arab relations and raise it to the level of a strategic alliance.
The analysis of developments in relations between Turkey and Israel
The fear of Biden’s Administration, the concern over the Abraham Accords (see below), the positioning of the geopolitical status in the Middle East, and the safeguarding of interests in Israel are the main factors through which Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan seeks to improve relations with Israel which, however, he connects to the Palestinians.
The statements made by Turkish President Erdoğan’s on developments in relations with Israel have confirmed media reports of his repeated attempts to reach an understanding on several controversial issues, as well as paving the way for the re-establishment of diplomatic relations. The statements made by President Erdoğan, as well as other Turkish officials, have stressed the connection between the change in Turkish-Israeli relations and Israel’s policy towards the Palestinian issue.
The “linking principle” connecting the two issues has been a key factor in Turkish foreign policy since the 1950s, and it operates in the range between words and deeds, which at times have also led to severe crises in the relations between the two countries.
At the time Turkey opposed the partition plan, but recognised Israel and maintained diplomatic relations with it. Relations were suspended after the second Arab-Israeli war in 1956, when Turkey recalled its diplomatic representative from Tel Aviv, announcing he would not return there “until a just solution to the Palestinian issue was found in accordance with UN Resolutions”.
After rising to power, President Erdoğan has developed the aforementioned “linking principle”. Against the backdrop of Israel’s actions with the Palestinians, Turkey has increased its political and economic support for its Muslim brethren and caused crises.
President Erdoğan’s recent statements have been made against the backdrop of this policy: on the one hand, the Turkish President has expressed his country’s desire to improve relations with Israel and continue intelligence cooperation; on the other hand, he has maintained that Israel’s treatment of the Palestinians is “unacceptable”.
It is important to note that Turkey will not relinquish the “linking principle”, which differs from the principle of the new Arab normalisation, based on the separation between the Palestinian issue and relations with Israel. The so-called Abraham Accords, such as the recognition of the State of Israel by the United Arab Emirates in September last year: the third Arab country to formally recognise Israel, after Egypt and Jordan; the fourth one if we considers Mauritania’s “frozen” recognition.
The policy implemented by President Erdoğan is not only shaped by foreign relations, but is also a Turkish internal issue in which public opinion plays a key role. It seems that until elections are held in Turkey (scheduled for June 25, 2023), there will be no complete normalisation with Israel. The majority of the Turkish population supports the Palestinians and their rights, feels full solidarity for them and opposes the Israeli presence.
Moreover, President Erdoğan regards the Palestinian issue as an important factor in building a renewed Turkish Muslim national identity. These stances increase his popularity and strengthen people’s support for him and his party, as well as his authority and prestige in the Muslim world.
At the same time, however, this policy also has pragmatic implications: President Erdoğan is not severing ties with Israel, but merely creating actions that lead to symptoms of “diplomatic” crises.
Despite this wait-and-see attitude, economic ties between Turkey and Israel are flourishing. According to official data, in 2018 exports from Turkey to Israel were worth 6.5 billion dollars and imports 1.9 billion dollars (excluding diamond trade and tourism).
Following the crisis in relations and the expulsion of the Israeli Ambassador from Turkey (May 2018), exports had fallen to 4 billion dollars in 2019 and imports to 1.7 billion dollars. Although declining, there are still deep economic ties.
Trade relations, however, are not the decisive factor in determining the nature of Turkey-Israel relations. There are four issues that are believed to have led Turkey to review its relations with Israel:
1. Turkey has welcome the new U.S. President, Joe Biden, with caution and fear that he will oppose Turkish activities in the region. The U.S. leader may also be very tough on security, armaments and minority rights in Turkey. Some believe that improved relations with Israel will calm down the situation with President Biden, and the U.S. Congress and the Zionist lobby will be able to contribute to this result. It is not known, however, whether Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu will be as good a mediator with Biden as he was with Donald Trump.
2. Turkey is seeking to remove the isolation imposed on it due to the distribution of marine economic zones in the Eastern Mediterranean area, and is trying to bring Israel on its side to develop a joint stance and oppose such subdivisions. According to Israeli sources, Turkey has made Israel a generous offer to expand its area of control over the marine economic zones, in exchange for Turkey’ siding with Greece, Cyprus and Egypt. Israel has reacted cautiously, both because it much weighs President Erdoğan’s intentions and because it is actually interested in strengthening its relations with the above stated countries.
3. Turkey is worried about the Abraham Accords for normalisation with Israel, particularly the aforementioned one with the United Arab Emirates, and Turkey aims at limiting their influence and status as a further “undertaking” of Arab rivals. Turkey endeavours to dismantle a rising alliance between the Arab countries and Israel. After all, we wonder why Turkey is not instead trying to improve its ties with Arab countries to achieve the same goal. Could it still be because of history and traditional mutual dislike?
4. Turkey is trying to relieve the pressure on its activities in Israel and Palestine as a result of the possible improvement in relations with Israel. Turkey funds important projects in Jerusalem and Israel is trying to contain and restrain it. Conversely, an improvement in Israeli-Turkish relations could release the Israeli brake.
To date, no official Israeli response has been provided to Turkish statements. Israel’s media speak of suspicion and coldness in response to the Turkish rapprochement, with fears that President Erdoğan is preparing a ploy, a trick aimed not at improving his relations with Israel, but at sabotaging Israel’s relations and contacts with other countries.
However, leaks from senior Israeli officials indicate that their country has set conditions for restoring relations, which include ending Turkey’s ties with Hamas and transferring Turkish projects to Jerusalem through Israeli channels, as well as abstaining from voting against Israel in international organisations and adopting a balanced position between Israel and the Palestinians.
It is not yet clear what the fate of Turkey-Israel relations will be in the coming months, with President Biden in the White House and after the Israeli elections held on March 23, 2021. It is important to note, however, that Turkey will not give up the “linking principle”, which differs from the new principle of Arab normalisation, based on the separation between the Palestinian issue and relations with Israel.
The Turkish “linking principle” is a real need for Turkey- hence the Palestinian leadership must work with Turkey to maximise common goals, especially with regard to Jerusalem, the Al-Aqsa Mosque and Gaza.
Not easy steps to make, but not impossible either.
The Exceptionality of the Hashemite Rule in Jordan
In the tumultuous politics of the Middle East, the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan has traditionally steered a cautious and successful course in international relations. This course largely relies on a multidimensional foreign policy and the cementing of relations with regional and western countries. Jordan is a valuable strategic partner of the United States and the European Union in the heart of the Middle East. Amman’s strategic role is reflected in the military cooperation and joint global counterterrorism operations including as a member of the Global Coalition to Counter ISIS and in meeting the overwhelming humanitarian needs of more than 1.5 million Syrian refugees.
Jordan is also a pragmatic neighbor of Israel. The 1994 Jordan-Israel peace treaty has enabled water sharing arrangements between the two countries, security cooperation, Jordanian overflight of Israeli territory, and the conduct of joint Israel-Jordan exercises to respond to natural disasters. A representative case was the 2004 joint exercise to counter environmental effects of pollution in the Red Sea. The peace treaty has notably provided the context for enhanced economic, trade and tourism ties.
The kingdom has also served as honest broker in Palestinian-Israeli peace efforts in support of the two-state solution, always abiding with the late King Hussein’s principle that “Jordan should not be, cannot be, will not be a substitute for the Palestinians themselves as the major aggrieved party on the Arab side in a process that leads to peace”. Amman has served as credible intermediary for Israel and the Palestinians to suspend tensions at multiple occasions like for example in the old city of Jerusalem, particularly at the Temple Mount/Haram Al-Sharif where the kingdom pursues a successful administration of religious funded schools favoring moderate religious education and religious tourism. Jordanian moderation guarantees co-existence of the three monotheistic religions in Jerusalem at a time when on the contrary, counties like Turkey funnel millions of dollars in charity projects in Jerusalem promoting extreme Islamic ideologies.
Reform Programs and Initiatives
Jordan’s moderation stems from the Hashemite rule that has confronted internal and external challenges maintaining stability that is conducive to national, and western interests for the region. The exceptionality and uniqueness of the Hashemite rule derives from its historical legacy, modernity, direct descendant of Prophet Mohammed and its posture as vanguard of reforms. Among significant reform initiatives was the “Jordan First-Al Urdun Awlan” campaign of 2002-2003, that articulated a comprehensive vision of economic and political reforms. The initiative provided the formation of a national committee to deal with different economic and political issues that ultimately led to the introduction of a parliamentary quota for women and the enactment of anti-corruption measures.
A blueprint for political, economic, and social reforms was provided by the 2005 Jordanian National Agenda that approached the reform process in a holistic, rather than a piecemeal, way. Its findings produced the “We Are All Jordan-Kulna al Urdun” document. The document was a clear attempt at political reform and selected a list of fifteen priorities that paved the way for significant legislative initiatives. A prominent initiative was the enactment of an anti-corruption law that established an anti-corruption committee with broad powers and included in its definition of corruption actions related to nepotism (wasta).
An additional reform program is the “Jordan 2025 National Vision and Strategy” launched in 2014that provides for economic reforms through policies and measures that aim at sustainable economic growth, support of small and medium-sized businesses, women’s participation in the labour market, financing mechanisms for public projects (PPP partnerships) and public investments on health, education and food security, digital economy, and green infrastructure. The coronavirus pandemic however has hit hard the kingdom’s economy to such an extent that economic reform initiatives are expected to bear fruits at a later stage taking into consideration the current global economic downturn considered to be the worst since the Great Depression. Jordan’s Gross Domestic Product (GDP) contracted in 2020 by 2.3 percent after growing 2 percent in 2019 due to losses in state revenues because of fewer remittances and a weakened tourism market.
To cope with the direct negative effects of the pandemic on its state budget, Jordan received $396 million from the International Monetary Fund (IMF) in May 2020 in the form ofemergency assistance. The amount of finance was specifically funneled to address the kingdom’s balance of payments needs and allow for higher spending on healthcare, and assistance to households and companies most affected by the pandemic. Despite that the IMF provided in March 2020 another multi-year $1.3 billion loan package to Jordan, the pandemic has caused at least a $1.5 billion shortfall in its balance of payments.
Modernization and Democratization
The Hashemite exceptionality legitimizes and ensures viability of rule over Jordan that constitutes a model of a modern Arab democratic country.The Jordanian leadership has taken over the last decade practical steps to unleash a deep political reform process to reflect Jordan’s vision of comprehensive reform, modernization, and development. Chief among reform measures was the introduction of a new constitution that came into force in 2011 and included amendments to 42 constitutional articles. Most prominent was the establishment of a constitutional court and an independent elections oversight commission, and the provision that the dissolution of the parliament entails the dissolution of the government. A major concession was also the curtailing of some of the King’s powers with most representative, the revoke of his power to cancel parliamentary elections. It is also noteworthy that the Jordanian leadership initiated in 2013 the Democratic Empowerment Programme called “Demoqrati” under the umbrella of the King Abdullah II Fund for Development, with the aim to instil the principles of active citizenship and empower individuals and democratic institutions.
In practical terms, the kingdom has demonstrated effectiveness and respect of democratic processes when, despite the pandemic, Amman proceeded with holding parliamentary elections in 2020. A recent poll conducted by the Centre for Strategic Studies at the University for Jordan in mid-March 2021 showed that 36% of Jordanians trust the current parliament, and 38% trust their electoral district parliament representatives, which constitutes the highest percentage of trust given to the parliament since 2014. The election of 100 new parliament members in the current House of Representatives guarantees renewal of political representation that is one of the main pillars of democracy. Elections were held in Jordan in a timely manner enhancing democratic governance and institutions. Jordanian elections were held in accordance with constitutional provisions when on the contrary at least 41 countries and territories around the world postponed national elections and referendums using the pandemic as a pretext according to data released by the Stockholm-based International Institute for Democracy and Electoral Assistance.
Overall, Jordan’s Hashemite leadership has unleashed a multidimensional reform process throughout the years that reflects the kingdom’s vision of comprehensive modernization and development in a way that can be translated into realities on the ground and provide a blueprint for a better future, not only for Jordanians, but for the people of the region.
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