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Turkey in Tripolitania

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General Haftar has already responded to Turkey’s moves in Libya – all strongly supporting al-Sarraj’s government – with various actions: on April 27, General Haftar declared the “Libyan Political Agreement” -drafted in December 2015 and later re-submitted by the UN envoy for Lybia, Ghassan Salamè, in 2017 – completely null and void.

 A move that Haftar’s own allies in Eastern Libya have interpreted negatively because it has left them deprived of any international image or power, albeit limited.

 Another fear of General Haftar – now that, however, he no longer has clear military superiority on the ground – is that his allies, who have not appreciated his moveon the “Libyan Political Agreement”, i.e. those of the House of Representatives, the autonomous Parliament in Tobruk led by Aguilah Saleh, may enter into direct negotiations with Tripoli and even with Turkey.

General Haftar also fears to lose support from his international supporters, who no longer hope for the reunification of Libya under the political-military leadership of the LNA in Benghazi.

 This could mean, first and foremost, Russia’s greater support for Haftar’s forces, less strong than before and therefore no longer able to disobey or even deal seriously with the emissaries of the Russian Federation.

 To date this would be the only real alternative to Turkey’s presence in Libya and to the possible reunification of the country under the military and political pressure of al-Sarraj, certainly recognized by the UN, but also a point of reference for an entire area of militant, “radical” and absolutist Islamism. Thanks to the United Nations, of course.

 A significant point of Russia’s new penetration in Libya, also in view of opposing the Turkish one, is the new role of Aguilah Saleh, the man from Tobruk, who explicitly spoke about the Russian support for an attack on Tripoli, while Abu Dhabi, another non-secondary player in today’s Libya, still supports General Haftar in declaring the old agreement brokered and mediated by Ghassam Salamé null and void.

 Another possibility in the connection between Russia and Turkey in Syria could be to trigger an “Astana-style” negotiating process for Libya capable of excluding any other external player in Libya, but with bilateral negotiations sufficiently effective to avoid the escalation of tension between Turkey and Moscow, as in Syria, and also capable of excluding any other external point of reference for the Libyan forces currently present in the field, except for Turkey and Russia.

Furthermore, after the many recent discoveries of oil fields and gas deposits throughout the Eastern Mediterranean, instead of strengthening regional cooperation, this has led to the creation of two opposing political-energy-military poles: on the one hand, the Greek-Greek Cypriot-Israeli axis, with Egypt and, on the other, Turkey alone.

 For the first axis of allies, the external point of reference, at least for the time being, is France alone.

 For Turkey, again for the time being, the “stone guest” could even be Russia.

Obviously it also depends on the Turkish-Russian agreements pending in Libya.

The United States, now outside Syria, has no credible positions in the Eastern Mediterranean, except for those on the Italian territory, while Russia has Syria on its hands and can operate in Eastern Mediterranean very easily.

 Cyprus signed an agreement on its territorial waters with Egypt in 2003 and later with the Lebanon in 2007 – agreements immediately challenged by Turkey at the United Nations.

 Another important issue is that Turkey was initially interested in the Arab Gas Pipeline project, which would have brought the Egyptian gas, extracted by ENI, from Zohr with ramifications in Jordan, the Lebanon and Syria, also with additional submarine sectors and a diversion to Israel and then to the EU -a project that would have connected Turkish gas to its potential EU customers.

In the 2010s, however, explorations and discoveries increased rapidly, leading to a rapid saturation of domestic consumption and, therefore, to a political possibility of selling surpluses abroad, which created a climate of strong rivalry between the Eastern Mediterranean countries.

 Another factor of change was also the reckless policy of the “Arab Springs”, which destabilized -although without any result except for the jihad – precisely those Arab countries that could rebuild energy collaboration.

 It was precisely Turkey which immediately supported the uprising of the Muslim Brothers, also at the origin of Erdogan’s AKP party, both in Egypt and Tunisia, as well as in Jordan.

At the end of the “Arab Springs” circus, there were only two concrete options for regional energy cooperation: the link between Turkey and Israel and the 2014 negotiations in Cyprus.

 Indeed, Cyprus could have exported its gas directly to the EU with a pipeline via Greece and Turkey, to which also the Israeli gas could have been connected.

 The potential agreement ended in 2017 even before it could start.

However, where was the Israeli gas going? The most rational option was that of a pipeline via the Lebanon and Syria to Turkey – a line which, however, was not politically acceptable to the parties.

The other option was to pass through the Cypriot territorial waters, a route that would inevitably cross the Turkish Cypriot Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ). But this was certainly not liked by Israel, which would find itself entangled in the eternal issues and disputes between the two Cypriot areas.

 It was at that point that the Aphrodite gas area was discovered in December 2011.

 A concrete way of linking Cyprus to Israel.

At that juncture, Greece developed a new line, namely EastMed, which passed through the Greek part of Crete and the Greek metropolitan territory, thus completely excluding Turkey.

In January 2019 the East Mediterranean Gas Forum saw the participation of Italy – which, however, is now playing what jurists call the “part of the defendant”, or even the part of the fool -as well as the participation of Cyprus, Israel, Greece, Egypt, Jordan and of the Palestinian National Authority (PNA).

 Obviously, these operations have been seen by Turkey as eminently anti-Turkish ones.

 Therefore, the AKP regime implemented the “Blue Homeland Strategy”, previously developed by the Turkish Navy, aimed at defending – always and in any case -Turkish interests on the open sea. As if they were the territory of the motherland.

 Secondly – and here we go back to Libya – Turkey signed an agreement with al-Sarraj’s Libyan government on November 27, 2019.

 The agreement, which redefines Turkey’s entire maritime border line to the west, is primarily intended to stop the development of the EastMed natural gas line.

It also blocks Greek claims to Greek sovereignty over some of its islands, which supports not only Turkish claims, but also Libyan claims to the continental submarine base of their maritime areas.

 Moreover, the Turkish and Libyan expansion and extension towards Kastellorizo and the Greek sea also support the rights defined by Egypt’s continental shelf towards Greece and Cyprus, with the criterion – always supported by Turkey -that, in principle, the islands of a “closed sea” such as the Mediterranean have no territorial waters defined – as always happens in other areas – by the purely geographical criterion of the “middle line”.

Only after the Libyan-Tripoline acceptance of the maritime demarcation line proposed by Turkey precisely towards Tripoli, did the Turkish Parliament approve the deployment of armed forces in al-Sarraj’s GNA territory in Tripoli.

Hence the creation of the interdependence between the Libyan issue and the equilibria not only in the Maghreb region, but throughout the Middle East.

 Greece immediately expelled the GNA Libyan ambassador and then urged Khalifa Haftar to “teach a lesson” to Tripoli. On the other hand, the United Arab Emirates, formerly supporting EastMed and hence interested in stopping the Turkish presence throughout the Middle East, moved in correlation with Greece and Israel.

It should be noted that the Turkish-Libyan line of their new EEZs passes just below the Greek area of Crete.

 But there are other additional sub-conflicts in the Eastern Mediterranean: the overlapping of Lebanese submarine deposits with the Israeli ones, for example, while Israel and Cyprus still have disputes over the borders of the Aphrodite field, which still borders on the Israeli gas area of Yishai, but with individual countries’ further disputes also with respect to extraction companies.

 Erdogan, however, operates on a large scale, especially where he can afford to support his operations in the Middle East, i.e. in the Maghreb region.

Precisely on December 25, 2019, Turkey sent a high-level mission to Tunisia, with a view to supporting economic aid entailing the use of the island of Djerba for the passage of material and soldiers to Tripoli. Nevertheless, as in the agreements of January 8, 2020, a possible agreement is expected also with Russia, for a shift of the Russian operations in Libya from Haftar’s forces aloneto the Wagner group’s paramilitaries.

Furthermore, Turkey has so far sent at least 2,500 militants of the “Isis”, i.e. the so-called Islamic jihadist Caliphate, via Tunisia (and hence Djerba) to Libya, and probably also the Somali “section” of the Isis could soon move towards Tripolitania, again via the Turkish intelligence.

 They are supposed to be 3,800 Somalis trained by Qatar, already deployed in Turkey to be later transferred to Libya-Tripoli as soon as possible.

 A pleasant result for the Tripoli Libyan side, the only one “recognized” by the UN foolish officials.

On that occasion Putin also supported a ceasefire. It is obvious that Russia’s interest in Libya is much weaker than the one in Syria and the Russian Federation does not want to create the opportunity for a series of Turkish energy operations that would stop the passage of Russian gas to the EU.

On the other hand, Tripoli’s GNA is supported by Turkey only, while General Haftar’s “front”- which, indeed, has shown it cannot certainly reunify Libya – is still the point of reference for Egypt, Russia, France, but also for the United Arab Emirates, as well as for other non-State Arab actors and, always behind the scenes, Saudi Arabia.

Currently only Qatar is with Turkey, which the Italians keep on praising and incensing – following a sort of beggar-style attitude – for its possible investment in Italy, without imagining that this money has a strong energy and strategic equivalent consideration and counterpart.

It should be recalled, however, that Italian Prime Minister Conte did not sign the anti-Turkish declaration of Cairo – the eternal heir of the anthropological September 8 of our republican governments, inimico a Dio e alli inimici sua.(enemy to God and to his enemies).However, he discussed with Erdogan – although we do not know what-in Ankara on January 13, 2020, while on January 21 Italy denied having negotiated with Turkey for the joint exploitation of Libyan oil resources, but also asked Turkey–as in a Walt Disney movie – to “start negotiations with all the parties involved, especially for the new exclusive economic zones”.

A careful re-reading of Machiavelli’s main book is urgently needed.

 But the military agreements between Turkey and al-Sarraj’s regime, which were officially reached on July 4, 2020, explicitly state that al-Sarraj’s GNA is the only “guarantor” of Turkish interests throughout Libya.

 Furthermore, the Tripoli government has officially allowed Turkey to establish its own military bases – not necessarily in cooperation with Tripoli’s forces – only on the GNA territory.

 A legal advantage of Turkey over the local population, as well as a strong privilege for Turkey and finallythe definition of diplomatic immunity for the jihadists coming from abroad and for all arms transfers from Turkey or from “friendly” areas – an authorization that extends to arms and ammunition also internationally prohibited by UN agreements.

As far as we know, on a strictly economic level, Turkey is thinking about a compensation to Tripoli for lost machinery and destroyed infrastructure, as well as 1.2 billion U.S. dollars for writing off the debt of Tripoli’s GNA and finally about a letter of credit for additional 1 billion dollars for future purchases.

 Al-Sarraj’s government is also discussing whether, and especially how, to deposit at least 4 billion U.S: dollars in some Turkish banks.

Who pays the Turkish support to al-Sarraj? To a large extent, obviously the support comes directly from Tripoli, but it is likely that Turkey finances itself, but above all receives sound support from Qatar.

 Qatar has already paid many politicians in Tripoli and some anti-Haftar jihadist groups, but it has also paid for all the current military equipment in Tripoli, which is always sent only via Turkey.

Since January 2020, however, Turkey has “exported” at least 15,000 Syrian mercenaries, including child soldiers, to Tripolitania with other jihadist soldiers from Yemen.

 The GNA has also abolished its autonomous right to check, even formally, Turkish ships and aircraft. It also allows Turkey to set up bases that are even outside the Tripoli GNA’s formal jurisdiction.

In short, Tripoline Libya has gone back to being a wilayet, a peripheral part of the Ottoman Empire, but this time under the orders of Turkey alone.

On the other hand, for France alone, at least formally, the support to General Haftar was justified by the will of the man from Benghazi to “eliminate the jihadist groups” that even France had supported during the war against Gaddafi’s (legitimate) forces.

Meanwhile two Turkish sources inform us that the large air base of Al-Watiyah will be rebuilt and enlarged, with only the Turkish forces present, while the port of Misrata – in the areas of which there is still the large field hospital of the Italian armed forces, forgotten as usual – will host a vast Turkish naval base. Furthermore the entire port, including its purely commercial parts, will be granted to the Turkish government for 99 years.

 But Turkey talks also with Malta.

It should be recalled that Malta had withdrawn from the EU operation called “IRINI” as early as last May. It was a sign particularly appreciated by Turkey, which sees the EU operation – albeit useless – as a clearly opposing action.

 Italian Defence Minister Guerini, too, paid a visit to Tripoli.

For Italy, the topics to be dealt with were mine clearance, negotiations on territories, health in Libya and finally the planned return of Italian companies to Tripolitania, as well as the reactivation of oil production, which General Haftar officially reopened four days ago.

We lacked only “Nutella” and the little trains of the old, glorious Rivarossi company!

Furthermore, Minister Guerini made places available for training the cadets of Tripoli’s Armed Forces that will anyway be at Turkey’s orders, as well as medical support for the GNA forces. Finally he also offered to move the Italian hospital in Misrata to “another more suitable location”, in case it should cause trouble to the port in Turkish hands.

Last thing we need is an Italian-Libyan film festival and a cooking course for the entire Tripoli government.

Turkey, however, has officially requested that Italy leaves Misrata airport completely.

Already done, of course.

Turkey also wants the full inclusion of Algeria, Qatar and Tunisia in the Libyan peace process – a move that would have been obvious for Italy but, as you know, you need a brain to think.

 Meanwhile, probably for broadening his international support base after the leonine agreements with Turkey, al-Sarraj is even proposing elections throughout Libya by the end of March and announcing the ceasefire, certainly to cover up Turkish rearmament, with the request that all “foreign militias” (including Turkey’s?) should leave Libya before the elections.

 Negotiations with the United States in Morocco and Tunisia are well advanced, but this is doubtful considering that the militias of Misrata and Zintan are totally against the agreement, brokered and mediated by Aguila Saleh who, craftily, has not “his own weapons”.

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

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

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Photo: Youth Committees / Twitter

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

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

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

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

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

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

Their full statement is as follows:

“’We don’t accept, we don’t give up!’

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

U.S. Recognition of Moroccan Sovereignty over Western Sahara

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

Morocco Broke off diplomatic relations with Iran in 2018

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

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

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

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Photo: Flickr/Ninian Reid

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

***

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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