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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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Iraq and the ‘Blind Gordian Knot’

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After its occupation by the United States in 2003, Iraq fell into the double trap of the United States and Iran and became an insoluble problem. Similar to the legendary ‘Gordian’ knot, which Gordias, the king of Phrygia, tied so tightly that it was said that no one could untie it; Until ‘Alexander the Great’ came and cut it in half with one stroke of the sword and the knot was opened.

The trap that America set for Iraq was the constitution that it drafted for this country after the occupation. In this constitution, America removed Iraq’s Arab identity and imposed a two-thirds majority to elect the president, paving the way for the use of a ‘suspended one-third’.

At the same time, he set the conditions for amending this article and all the articles of the first chapter of the constitution so difficult that it was practically impossible to amend it. This constitution divided the power between Shiites, Sunnis, and Kurds, as a result of which, the Iraqi society was subject to chaos and fragmentation, and the army that was created based on it collapsed in front of ISIS in Mosul. Now let’s skip the destructive role that Nouri al-Maliki had as the prime minister in this story.

But the trap that the Islamic Republic of Iran set for Iraq was that it formed armed groups affiliated with the Quds Force and gave them legitimacy under the umbrella of ‘The Popular Mobilization Forces, which resulted in the monopoly of power in the hands of the Shiites.

So far, all efforts to free Iraq from this double trap have failed. The popular revolution of 2019 in Baghdad, Karbala, and other southern cities did not reach anywhere with its anti-Iranian slogans, nor did the government of Mustafa al-Kazemi solve the problem with its patriotic government project, nor did the recent efforts of the Sadr movement under the leadership of prominent cleric Moqtada Sadr bear fruit.

The Sadr movement, which won the majority in the elections, tried to form a national majority government in an agreement with the coalition of the Sunni ruling party and the Kurdistan Democratic Party, but the coordination framework was dependent on Iran, using the one-third weapon, defeated the efforts of the Sadr movement.

In Iraq, there is no ‘Alexander the Great’ who will rise up and open the blind Gordian knot with one stroke of the sword and save Iraq from the crisis. No random event occurs. Now, the land between the two rivers is caught in deep-rooted and growing corruption and has lost its way among various Arab, Iranian, Eastern, and Western trends. Even Moqtada’s plan for the formation of a national government, which was put forward recently with the slogan ‘Neither East, nor West”, is also facing many difficulties and obstacles.

Of course, expecting the formation of a democratic system with the management of armed sectarian parties that advance politics based on religious fatwas and the force of destructive war missiles and drones is a futile thing, and talking about a national government in which power is in the hands of religious parties affiliated with the neighboring religious government is gossip and superstition.

Apart from that, according to the current laws of Iraq, the main power is in the hands of the Prime Minister and the Council of Ministers, and the powers of the President are limited and few, as a result, Shiite parties and organizations, especially their larger organizations, get more privileges, and the main power is exclusive to the Shiite community.

In addition, the organization that will be called the largest and the majority based on the political Ijtihad of the Supreme Court of Iraq will actually be the same organization that the Islamic Republic of Iran creates within the Iraqi parliament, not the organization that will receive the most votes in the elections. As we saw in the last parliamentary elections, the Sadr movement won the majority of votes and tried to form a majority government in an agreement with the Sunni ruling coalition and the Kurdistan Democratic Party, but the groups affiliated with the Islamic Republic of Iran stood against it under the name of the coordination framework. And they made his efforts fruitless.

It is for this reason that it has been almost a year since the Iraqi parliamentary elections were held, but the parliament has so far been unable to form a government and elect a new president.

Of course, this is the nature of totalitarian systems. Although the Iraqi system is a democratic system according to the constitution, in reality, the ruling system in Iraq is a totalitarian system. Just like the ruling systems in the Soviet Union and China, where power rotates among the leaders of the Communist Party; Both the rulers were members of the Communist Party, and the political opponents were imprisoned or executed. Because in Iraq, all the pillars of political power are in the hands of the Shiites; Both the factions that are actually in power are the Shiites, and the factions that lead political struggles and protests as opponents are Shia parties. Even the revolution of 2019 was actually a revolution of the new generation of Shiites who had risen against the influence of Iran and America and their supporters.

The fact is that with this situation, Iraq will never be able to free itself from the American-Iranian double trap and untie the blind Gordian knot. Rather, it can only do so when all the Iraqi national and patriotic parties and groups come together under the umbrella of a democratic, national, independent, non-sectarian coalition that is not dependent on foreign countries, and form a strong national government that, while being independent, is in touch with the outside world and establish good relations with the Islamic Republic of Iran, Arab countries, and Eastern and Western countries.

The bottom line is, when the minds that have produced destructive thoughts cannot produce liberating thoughts, Iraq needs those thinkers and new political figures who will establish a correct, solid, and independent political system in Iraq. The current situation is rooted in the incorrect political structure, the foundation of which was laid in 2003. But it is a pity that only a clear understanding of the crisis is not enough to solve it.

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The end of political Islam in Iran

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Nothing in Iran will be the same again. The uprising of the majority of big and small cities in Iran after the killing of Mahsa Amini by the “Morality Police” of the Islamic Republic of Iran has a new social structure. Because in the contemporary history of Iran, we have not witnessed such social forces that have been strongly influenced by the women’s movement.

The social structure of the uprising

During the era of Reza Shah Pahlavi, women were allowed to study in law and medical schools, or during the era of Mohammad Reza Shah Pahlavi, women were organized to implement the White Revolution ideology as soldiers. This means that at that time, women were “allowed” and “organized”, but all these freedoms were given to women based on men’s power, state power, and non-democratic methods, and the women’s movement did not play an active role in these actions. For this reason, Mohammad Reza Shah Pahlavi said in one of his interviews: Women are schemes and evil, women have not even had first-class scientists throughout history, women may be equal to men before the law but they have not had the same abilities as men. They are not, women have not even produced a Michelangelo, Johann Sebastian Bach, or a good cook. It was not only Mohammad Reza Shah who had a misogynist view, but Ayatollah Khomeini, the leader of the Islamic Revolution of Iran, was against giving women the right to vote and considered the entry of women into the National Assembly, municipality, and administrations as a cause of paralysis in the affairs of the country and government. In a letter to Mohammad Reza Shah Pahlavi, he requested the abolition of women’s right to vote.

It can be said that the Iranian revolution (1979) was one of the biggest revolutionary movements that was completely “made“ by a mass social movement in the history of the 20th century, and women played a very active and prominent role in it. But the women in that revolutionary movement not only for themselves and the issues of women’s rights but under the framework of Islamic and communist parties and groups such as the Tudeh Party of Iran, Organization of Iranian People’s Fedai Guerrillas, People’s Mojahedin Organization of Iran, and Muslim People’s Republic Party tried to solve the problems of Iranian women. That is, in that mass revolutionary movement, various communist, Islamic and guerilla ideologies were higher, more important, and more preferable than the women themselves, and women tried to find their answers with the help of these revolutionary ideologies to solve the general problems of the country and women’s issues.

But in recent developments, women have not been “allowed” through the reforms of the Pahlavi government, nor have they been “organized” through the ideologies of the revolutionary parties before and after the victory of the Iranian revolution. Rather, in the strict sense of the word, they have become the locomotive of the revolutionary upsurge of contemporary Iran and have given “allowed” and “organization” to other social and ethnic forces in the geography of Iran. From now on, women in Iran are the creators of social and revolutionary changes based on the women’s movement.

Discourse analysis of the uprising

After the June 2009 presidential election and the protest against election fraud, large protests started in other cities, especially in Tehran. In that rebellion, we witnessed the loss of the unity of the elites, the crisis of legitimacy, and the crisis of the efficiency of the Islamic Republic regime. After those protests, the Shiite Islamist ideology of the Islamic Republic faced illegitimacy and the unity of the elites of the ruling class was lost. On the other hand, the government faced a crisis of inefficiency after those incidents and could not meet the crisis economic, cultural, political, and civil liberties, and women’s demands. Therefore, in the demonstrations of 2018, tens of thousands of people rose up against economic policies, high prices, and unemployment, and with the spread of these protests, the ideological foundations and legitimacy of the regime were protested by the demonstrators. With a 50% increase in the price of gasoline in 2019 and a 35% inflation, unemployment and an increase in the price of basic goods and food, a new wave of protests in many cities of Iran faced the government of Hassan Rouhani with a major social and economic crisis. In those protests, women played an active role and chanted against the mandatory hijab.

Contrary to all these widespread protests and social riots in Iran’s contemporary history, in the recent revolutionary uprising, the cause of the uprising is the murder of Mahsa Amini, the defense of women’s rights, and opposition to the mandatory hijab. The overwhelming majority of Iranian women have declared their separation with the slogan of “women, life, freedom” from the movement of reformers, monarchists of the Pahlavi regime, the People’s Mojahedin Organization of Iran, fundamentalists of the Islamic Republic, utopias and communist, Islamist, totalitarian, anti-woman, and false ideologies.

It is very important in the recent revolutionary uprising, the cooperation of Turks men and women in the cities of Iran with the protests. Because the Turk social-political movement did not declare solidarity with the protesters of other cities of Iran due to the neglect of the right to education in the mother tongue, the right to self-determination, and the realization of economic, political, cultural, and environmental rights in the uprisings of 2009, 2018 and 2019. The slogan of “freedom, justice, and national government” of the Turks of different cities of Iran, also shows the existence of different and yet common demands of the majority of ethnic groups living in Iran.

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Public opinion surveys challenge the image Arab leaders like to project

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Several recent public opinion surveys send a mixed message to autocratic reformers in Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, and Qatar, which hosts this year’s World Cup in less than two months.

The surveys reveal contradictory attitudes among Arab youth towards religion as well as widespread rejection of notions of a moderate Islam and formal diplomatic ties with Israel.

One survey, published this week by Dubai-based public relations agency ASDA’A BCW, revealed that 41 per cent of 3,400 young Arabs in 17 Arab countries aged 18 to 24 said religion was the most important element of their identity, with nationality, family and/or tribe, Arab heritage, and gender lagging far behind. That is 7 per cent more than those surveyed in the agency’s 2021 poll.

More than half of those surveyed, 56 per cent, said their country’s legal system should be based on the Shariah or Islamic law.

Seventy per cent expressed concern about the loss of traditional values and culture. Sixty-five per cent argued that preserving their religious and cultural identity was more important than creating a globalized society.

Yet, paradoxically, 73 per cent felt that religion plays too big a role in the Middle East, while 77 per cent believed that Arab religious institutions should be reformed.

Autocratic Arab reformers will take heart from the discomfort with the role of religion and skepticism towards religious authority that stroked with earlier surveys by ASDA’A BCW, which has conducted the poll annually for the past 14 years.

Even so, the greater emphasis on religion as the core pillar of identity, concern about traditional values and culture, and the call for Islamic law cast a shadow over social reforms introduced by Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman in Saudi Arabia and President Mohammed bin Zayed in the UAE.

Moreover, the poll results were published as Qatar debates how to deal with potential conduct by World Cup fans that violates Qatari law and mores, such as public intoxication and expressions of affection, pre-marital sex, and sexual diversity.

Qatar has suggested that World Cup fans caught committing minor offences such as public drunkenness would escape prosecution under plans under development by authorities.

While Saudi Arabia’s rupture with religious ultra-conservatism that long was the kingdom’s hallmark was stunning, reforms in the UAE were the most radical in their break with Islamic law that constitutionally constitutes the principal source of the country’s legislation.

Mr. Bin Salman’s reforms severely restricted the authority of the religious police, lifted the kingdom’s ban on women’s driving, enhanced women’s rights and opportunities, loosened gender segregation, and introduced western-style entertainment – all measures that are essentially not controversial in much of the Muslim world but went against the grain of the kingdom’s ultra-conservative segment of the population and clergy.

That could not be said for Mr. Bin Zayed’s equally far-reaching changes that decriminalized sexual relations out of marriage and alcohol consumption for UAE nationals and foreigners and lifted the prohibition on living together for unmarried couples.

Mr. Bin Zayed’s reforms are expected to persuade some fans to base themselves in the UAE during the World Cup and travel for matches to Qatar, which is socially more restrictive.

Even so, the ASDA’A BCW survey suggests that the reforms in the kingdom and the Emirates may not have been embraced as enthusiastically by a significant segment of the youth as the two countries would like public opinion to believe.

Separate surveys by the Washington Institute for Near East Policy showed that 59 per cent of those polled in the UAE, 58 percent in Saudi Arabia, and 74 per cent in Egypt, disagreed with the notion that “we should listen to those among us who are trying to interpret Islam in a more moderate, tolerant, and modern way.”

The youth’s quest for religion and traditionalism strokes with youth attitudes toward democracy and diplomatic relations with Israel.

Autocratic leaders will likely be encouraged by the fact that a whopping 82 per cent of those surveyed by ASDA’s BCW said stability was more important than democracy. At the same time, two-thirds believed democracy would never work in the Middle East.

Three quarters saw China, followed by Turkey and Russia as their allies, as opposed to only 63 per cent pointing to the United States and 12 per cent to Israel. Even so, they viewed the US as having the most influence in the Middle East, but a majority favoured US disengagement.

Yet, the United States and Europe continued to constitute preferred destinations among 45 per cent of those polled seeking to emigrate.

However, despite widespread skepticism towards democracy, leaders will also have noted that 60 per cent expressed concern about the increased role of government in their lives.

The establishment two years ago of diplomatic relations with Israel by four countries included in the ASDA’A BCW survey — the UAE, Bahrain, Morocco, and Sudan, — and the fact that Saudi Arabia has become more public about its relations with the Jewish state and its desire to establish diplomatic ties once a resolution of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is found is likely to have shaped responses in the surveys.

Aware of public hesitancy, Saudi Arabia, together with the Arab League and the European Union, this week convened a meeting in New York on the sidelines of the United Nations General Assembly to explore ways of dusting off the 1982 Saudi-inspired Arab peace plan.

The plan offered Israel recognition and diplomatic relations in exchange for creating a Palestinian state in territories occupied by Israel during the 1967 Middle East war.

For his part, Yair Lapid expressed support for a two-state solution in his address to the assembly. It was the first time Mr. Lapid backed two states since he became prime minister and the first time since 2017 that an Israeli prime minister spoke in favour of Palestinian statehood.

Nevertheless, only 14% of the Egyptians polled in the Washington Institute surveys viewed their country’s 43-year-old peace treaty with Israel and the more recent establishment of diplomatic relations with the Jewish state by the UAE and others as positive.

In contrast to the UAE, Bahrain, and Morocco, where Israeli business people, tourists, and residents have been welcomed, only 11 per cent of Egyptians surveyed favoured the normalisation of people-to-people relations.

Similarly, 57 per cent of Saudis surveyed by the institute opposed the normalization of the kingdom’s relations with Israel. Still, a higher percentage in the kingdom and the UAE than in Egypt, 42 per cent, agreed that “people who want to have business or sports contacts with Israelis should be allowed to do so.”

To sum it all up, the message is that autocratic reformers appear to be far ahead of significant segments of their populations even if public attitudes may be contradictory.

For now, keeping the lid on freedom of expression and dissent helps them maintain their grip but casts a shadow and a doubt over the image they work so hard to project.

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