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Iraq’s Nineveh Plains Christians Need the Pope’s Support

Copyright © Dicastero per la Comunicazione - Vatican Media

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Authors:  Juliana Taimoorazy and Uzay Bulut

Pope Francis visited parts of northern Iraq once occupied by the Islamic State (ISIS) terrorists, including the cities of Mosul and Baghdeda in the Nineveh Plains, on the third day of his historic trip to the country.

On March 7, the Pope prayed among Mosul’s ruined churches before meeting Christians there. The city was once a former ISIS stronghold. He later met Christians in the ancient Church of the Immaculate Conception, which was torched by ISIS and has now been restored, in the Assyrian town of Baghdeda (Qaraqosh).

ISIS had invaded and captured Baghdeda in August of 2014 after the withdrawal of Kurdish forces. This invasion forced a majority of Nineveh inhabitants to leave their homes. The indigenous Christian community, which belongs to a number of denominations, forms a demographic majority in the Nineveh Plains. This is a region of immense historical, cultural and religious significance among the natives in the Assyrian heartland.

Mosul and Nineveh

Mosul contained sizeable ethnic Assyrian and other Christian communities, with many active ancient churches and monasteries, until its invasion by ISIS in 2014. Mosul has also for centuries been a significant center for Christians.

Mosul is built along the Tigris, one of the Biblical rivers of Paradise, opposite the ruins of the well-known Assyrian capital city of Nineveh, which was inhabited as early as 3,000 BC. This was where, according to the Bible, the residents escaped God’s destruction after the prophet Jonah came to them and encouraged that they turn away from sin.

“Mosul and the Nineveh Plain are places of great historical and current relevance for the Assyrian people as a whole,” said Efrem Yildiz, a Professor of Hebrew and Aramaic Studies at the University of Salamanca.

“But above all it is important for the implantation of Christianity in the Middle East starting with northern Mesopotamia, the ancestral territory of the Assyrians who converted to Christianity in the first century of the Christian era. The kingdom of Adiabene, together with that of Ashur and Osrhoene, were the first small Assyrian kingdoms to convert to Christianity and were the ones who brought the Gospel to all Far East.

“Currently, the Christian presence in the area is essential for all of Mesopotamia and especially for the Assyrian people, who are divided into different Catholic and non-Catholic ecclesial branches. The Nineveh Plains is the last hope to be able to implant true democracy and develop Christianity as it deserves, if it has the support of the Western world,” said Yildiz.

The indigenous people of Iraq are Assyrians, who have inhabited there for millennia. The ancient Assyrians ruled their empire from several capitals in what is today known as Iraq. One of them was the city of Nineveh, which was once the largest city in the world. However, Assyrians have been stateless for more than two millennia, since the fall of the Assyrian Empire and sack of Nineveh in 612 BCE.

Hannibal Travis, a Professor of Law at the Florida International University, notes:

“As the early Christian church was growing and evangelizing distant lands, the Assyrian identity survived the destruction of Nineveh. Assyrians continued to practice their ancient religion and inhabited their ancient capital of Assur, rebuilt in a new style.”

However, with the Arab conquests of Mesopotamia, Persia, Syria, Armenia, Egypt, and the Levant, the Eastern Christian peoples fell to a subordinate status, also known as dhimmitude.

“Arab officials decreed the destruction of many churches, the cessation of Christian religious services, the deportation of Christians from the land, the expropriation of their property, and the executions of those who resisted,” adds Professor Travis.

Despite severe persecutions, Assyrians have remained resilient.

“The modern Assyrians of Iraq and Persia have had such ancient Assyrian names as Sargon and Sennacherib since the earliest European contact with them. The name ‘Assyria’ was also consistently applied to the area around the ancient Assyrian capital of Nineveh, and the Christians of Iraq reaffirmed their Assyrian identity from the earliest French and British contact.”

Assyrian contributions to science and intellectual developments, even under Muslim rule, are also well-documented. Assyrian Christians living under the Abbasid Caliphs, for instance, are credited with translating many Greek scientific and philosophical works into Arabic, writes Professor Travis.

The Pope went to these ancient lands in Iraq, which are of deep significance for Christianity. He visited the Church Square in Mosul to pray for the victims of ISIS. Surrounded by the ruins of the square’s Four Churches, he said the exodus of Christians from Iraq and the broader Middle East had done “incalculable harm not just to the individuals and communities concerned but also to the society they leave behind.”

2014 ISIS Invasion

Like the early Islamic armies who invaded the region in the eighth century, ISIS also murdered the Christians of Iraq, desecrated Christian places of worship, and beheaded religious statues.

When ISIS terrorists invaded Mosul in July of 2014, they threatened to kill Christians unless they converted to Islam or paid the jizya tax. A statement issued by the Islamic State was read at the city’s mosques. It called on Christians to comply or face death if they did not leave the city.

The ultimatum cited a historic contract known as dhimma, under which non-Muslims in Islamic societies who refuse to convert are offered so-called “survival” under second-class citizenship if they pay a fee, called a jizya. “We offer them three choices: Islam; the dhimma contract – involving payment of jizya; if they refuse this they will have nothing but the sword,” the ISIS statement said.

Christians in the region were thus forced to choose between paying the jizya tax, converting to Islam, leaving or getting murdered. Tens of thousands of Christians fled.

Cultural Genocide

ISIS also launched a war on the region’s ancient and medieval cultural heritage, attacking archaeological sites with bulldozers and explosives. Jonah’s Tomb in Mosul, for instance, was destroyedin July of 2014.A year later, parts of ancient Assyrian sites such as Nimrud and Khorsabad were destroyed. The United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) described the bulldozing of Nimrud as a “war crime.”

“Nimrud is the modern name,” said Nicholas Postgate, a professor of Assyriology at the University of Cambridge. “The ancient name was Kalhu. It’s mentioned in the Bible, under the spelling ‘Calah.'”

According to the National Geographic:

“Reports of looting at Mosul’s libraries and universities began to surface almost as soon as ISIS occupied the city… Centuries-old manuscripts were stolen, and thousands of books disappeared into the shadowy international art market. Mosul University’s library was burned in December.

“Many of the site’s sculptures were housed in the Mosul Museum, and some were damaged during the rampage through the museum documented on video. Men were also shown smashing half-human, half-animal guardian statues called lamassus on Nineveh’s ancient Nirgal Gate. ‘I’m not sure there’s much left to destroy in Mosul,’ says Columbia’s Jones.”

ISIS particularly targeted Christian places of worship such as the Mar Behnam Monastery:”Established in the 4th century, the monastery was dedicated to an early Christian saint. The holy site, maintained since the late 1800s by Syriac Catholic monks, survived the Mongol hordes in the 1200s but fell to ISIS in March. The extremists used explosives to destroy the saint’s tomb and its elaborate carvings and decorations.”

Ramsin Edward, Director of Media and Communications of the Assyrian Cultural and Social Youth Association Inc. (ACSYA),authored a report on this matter titled “Assyrian Cultural Heritage at Risk in Northern Iraq.”

“Intentional destruction of archaeological sites, as well as places of cultural and religious significance have a devastating impact on indigenous Assyrians,” Edward said.

“These sites and monuments are very significant in validating collective memory, forming cultural identity, and providing the Assyrians with a sense of belonging. As Assyrians form new diaspora communities due to ongoing conflict in the region, they become increasingly more disconnected from their motherland and are confronted with the process of assimilation. This is extremely concerning.”

Despite all challenges, Edward remains hopeful. “The Pope’s visit to Iraq will most certainly draw attention to the country’s historic sites and may perhaps even encourage tourism. However, beyond these dusty ruins, there exists a living culture that is on the brink of extinction. The right to self-determination is an integral element of basic human rights and freedoms. An autonomous self-governing region and self-security will be the only viable and long-term solution for the Assyrians. Statically speaking, the areas in the Nineveh Plains where Assyrians maintain their own security have seen the most re-settlement in contrast to other areas.”

Continued Persecution

Assyrians have for centuries been targeted by Muslim extremists for their faith and ethnicity. Historians record that the first massacre of Assyrians in the modern era took place in the 1840s in northern Mesopotamia in the Ottoman Empire. The greatest assault against the community would take place in less than a century later. During the 1915-1923 Assyrian genocide by Ottoman Turkey, approximately300,000 Assyrians were killed and innumerable women abducted.

Many descendants of the genocide’s survivors left Turkey in the 1980s and 1990s due to the violent conflicts between the Turkish military and the Kurdish PKK. An elderly Assyrian couple– Simoni and Hurmuz Diril – who had had to leave Turkey for Europe returned to their ancient village only to be kidnapped last year.

The couple was abducted from the village of Mehr, a historically Assyrian village that has been repeatedly caught in the crosshairs of various conflicts. The mother, Simoni Diril, was found deceased on March 20, 2020. The whereabouts of the father, Hurmuz Diril, remain unknown. Their son, Father Adday Remzi Diril, is a Catholic priest based in Istanbul, known internationally for his pastoral care of 7,000 Iraqi Christian refugees displaced in Turkey.

The Diril family hopes that the Pope’s visit of Iraq would bring their parent’s forced disappearances to the Pope’s attention and therefore to the world’s attention.

What the future might hold for Assyrians in Nineveh

Ashur Sargon Eskrya, the president of Assyrian Aid Society – Iraq, said that Assyrian Christians still live in an unstable situation in Nineveh plains and in villages and towns under the KRI (Kurdistan Region of Iraq) control.

“This situation stems from a lack of security in the Nineveh Plains and a lack of a legal frame to protect our rights as an indigenous people of Iraq, or even as citizens of the country.

“Nineveh plains are currently divided into two parts; the north part is administrated officially by Baghdad and its security is under peshmerga forces and Asayish (Kurdish security force) of the KRI that are trying to illegally seize Assyrian lands. The south part is controlled by the Iraqi government and its security is provided by three local forces. One is the Assyrian NPU (Nineveh Plain Protection Units), which is part of the Iraqi security forces. The other two are Shabak militia, the Babylon brigade and the 30th brigade, which are following orders coming from outside of the country. This makes the region unstable.”

Turkey’s airstrikes against northern Iraq are increasingly ruining the security of the region and making it harder for Assyrians to return, said Eskrya.

“Assyrian Christian villages near Iraqi Turkish borders are suffering from Turkish airstrikes against Kurdish PKK fighters. The PKK have infiltrated Assyrian villages and are using them as a battlefield, in addition to new conflicts which ingress rapidly in the region between two rivalrous Kurdish groups – KDP (Kurdistan Democratic Party) peshmerga and the PKK (Kurdistan Workers’ Party) – after the security agreement on the region of Sinjar between the Iraqi government and the KRG (Kurdistan Regional Government).The Kurdish peshmerga have also started installing more check points and controlling flowing foods into some Assyrian regions like Nahla Valley.”

The unity of all security forces and militias in the Nineveh Plains under the Iraqi government and recognizing the Assyrian right to self-rule would largely solve security problems in the region, said Eskrya.

“Nineveh plains should be neutralized from the conflicts between Kurdish, Sunni and Shia political parties. The next step should be to draw a road map to establish a legal framework based on the article 125 of the Iraqi constitution to guarantee the rights of Assyrian Christians by establishing a new local administration, a Nineveh plains province, for Assyrians.

“Also, in the villages under the KRG control, it is important to stop the land grabs by Kurds of Assyrian villages and lands immediately.”

Eskrya thinks that for Assyrians to survive in their lands, the support of the Pope and the international Christian community is essential.

“The Pope and Holy See should help protect Christian rights in Iraq and to help keep Christianity as part of the future of Iraq. This should include bringing the attention of the international community to the Assyrian plight and putting more diplomatic pressure on the Iraqi government and the KRG to make them democratize their laws in a way that would recognize the rights of Christians as well, for these two administrations still have laws which violate the human rights of Christians and other non-Muslims.”

Eskrya added that aid and support should be provided to the Assyrian Christian community directly as a strong financial and political plan is needed to help Assyrians who are currently in Turkey, Lebanon and Jordan seeking asylum there to return back to their homeland. “If stability is provided in Nineveh, we believe that more Assyrians in the diaspora will return to our lands,” he said.

Eskrya also called on the Pope to lead the efforts to unite Christians in Iraq:“Historically, Eastern Christians belong to the same race, heritage and tradition. However, their ecclesiastical divisions have long fueled sectarianism. The Pope has the ability to mediate between these groups by promoting dialogue, partnership, and find common ground.”

Professor Yildiz also said that the international Christian community with the involvement of the highest authority of the Catholic Church could help the Assyrians to preserve their faith in a very complex region. He continued:

“For centuries Assyrians have suffered persecution, massacres, discrimination of all kinds for being different from others in terms of their faith. What makes them the most vulnerable and defenseless victims is their Christian faith. If the international Christian community does not take the protection of these people seriously, their presence in their ancestral territory has its days counted. So it is not enough to feel sorry for their delicate situation but they also have to act at the international political level to guarantee the rights of these people abandoned and forgotten by the whole world. The Pope of Rome has a crucial role in ensuring the survival of the Assyrians in their land. I hope that this trip will do something to help the Assyrians to live in peace so that they can develop in the Nineveh Plain as a people and a nation like any other people.”

Juliana Taimoorazy is the founding president of the Iraqi Christian Relief Council (ICRC).

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The Russian bear in Lebanon

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It turned out that the Biden-Putin summit on May 16 has established a wider effect than anyone would expect.

It exceeded by far political analysis, especially in Lebanon. The summit almost coincided with the Russian economic delegation’s visit to Beirut on the 18th of the same month and the announcement of its study results to initiate investments projects in Lebanon.

The results revealed the Russian delegation’s future plans in rebuilding the oil refineries in Zahrani and Tripoli and rehabilitating the latter’s port. Regardless of the projects, the Russian companies intend to deal with, if they are approved and encouraged by good signs changes can be relied upon. It means that Lebanon has taken an important leap in its economic policies by gradually moving towards the East.

Naturally, Lebanon’s orientation towards the East “if it happens” will not be absolute and definitive, but rather principled and partial. This is an important matter by itself. It is marked as a qualitative leap that may minimize the private companies’ monopolization of energy imports, which will be directly reflected, firstly, in electricity production in Lebanon, and secondly in facilitating the provision of petroleum products in Lebanon. Such projects became a necessity, in particular, after the collapse of the Lebanese lira against the American dollar.    

Logically, changing the reality of the production of electricity will reveal immediate results. It will be reflected in the change in the rehabilitation of the economic infrastructure fields in Lebanon. It will also positively reflect in other vital areas, such as determining the prices of food commodities, which became outrageously high. 

Accordingly, one of the most important reasons for the obscene rise in food prices is related to the high costs of transportation in the last month alone. It is almost above the purchasing power of the Lebanese. For example, the prices of vegetables and fruits, a non-imported commodity, which is not supervised by government support, remained within reasonable prices; however, once the diesel prices started rising, it directly affected the prices of the seasonal vegetables and fruits.

In addition, there are unseen accomplishments that will go with the entry of Russian companies, which is creating new job opportunities in Lebanon. Lately, it was reported that unemployment in Lebanon will reach 41.4% this year. It is a huge rate, which the Lebanese media, in general, use to provoke people against the current resigned government. However, it neglects to shed the light on the importance of the Russian investment in creating new job opportunities, which will affect all social groups, whether they were transporters, building workers, porters, cleaners, or university graduates.

The companies coming to Lebanon are directly supported by the Russian state. However, they are private companies, a fact that has its advantages. They are familiarized with dealing with other Western international companies. Russian companies have previously coordinated with French and Italian companies in Lebanon, through contracts concluded for the extraction of gas in Lebanese fields and in other fields outside Lebanon. Russian- European coordination process is also recognized in rebuilding Beirut’s harbor. A German company will rebuild the docks, while the French will rebuild the containers or depots, and the Russian companies will rebuild the wheat silos.

It seems that the process is closely related to the future of Lebanon and the future of the Chinese project, the New Silk Road, [One Road, and One Belt]. However, it is not clear yet whether the Russian companies will be investing in Tripoli’s refinery and in regenerating and expanding its port or it will be invested by the Chinese companies. If this achievement is accomplished, then Tripoli will restore its navigating glorious history. Tripoli was one of the most important ports on the Mediterranean. Additionally, there is a need for the Russian and the Chinese to expand on the warm shores of the Mediterranean Sea.

Secondly, the project will boost Tripoli and its surroundings from the current low economic situation to a prosperous economic one, if the real intentions are there. The results in Tripoli will be read as soon as the projects set foot in the city. Of course, this will establish another Sino-Russian victory in the world of economy and trade, if not in politics as well.

The entry of the Russians and the Chinese into the Lebanese field of commerce has international implications. It will come within international and global agreements or understanding. Nevertheless, it is a sign that the Americans are actually losing their grip on Lebanon. This entry will stop the imposition of a limited number of European-oriented Lebanese monopolizing companies, which have dominated the major Lebanese trade of oil and its products. Dominance is protected with the “illusion” of meaningless international resolution. It is true that the Americans are still maneuvering in several places; however, this is evident to the arbitrariness of decisions making in the U.S. today. It is the confusion resulting from ramifications of the “Sword of Jerusalem” operation in Palestine; it seems that they do not have a clear plan towards policies in the region, other than supporting “Israel”.

If the above is put into action, and the Russian companies start working within a guarantee agreement with the Lebanese state. This means a set of important issues on the international and regional levels. And it also means that the Americans would certainly prefer the Russians to any Chinese or Iranian economic direct cooperation in Lebanon.

Firstly, it is clear that in their meeting Mr. Biden and Mr. Putin reached a kind of consent to activate stability in the region. Two years ago, the Americans had a different plan. According to an established source, the Americans actually intended to strike internal stability in Lebanon and ignite another civil war round, before finalizing stability in Syria. This assertion tunes with David Hale’s, an American envoy to Lebanon, a declaration about the American anger over the $10 billion spent in Lebanon to change the political reality and overthrow Hezbollah from the government. Consequently, the American project is behind us now. Russia and China need to invest in the stability of Lebanon, in order to secure their investments in the process of rebuilding Syria.

Secondly, the Lebanese state guarantee, which the Russians require, is directly related to the lack of confidence in the Lebanese banking policies, which have lost their powers as a guarantor for investments after the role they played since November 17, 2019 till today. It proved the inefficiency of the financial policies of the Lebanese banks, which was based on the principle of usury since the nineties of the last century. In addition, a state guarantee will enable the Russian companies to surpass the American sanctions. 
The state guarantee increases the value and importance of the Lebanese state as an entity in the region, and this can be understood from Macron’s statements after the explosion of Beirut port last August when he said that Lebanon’s role in the region as we know it must change. 

Thirdly, if we consider the history of international unions in the world, including the European Union, the (Persian) Gulf Cooperation Council and others, they started as economic alliances before they end as political alliances. Therefore, at this historical stage and in order to work on the economic recovery of Lebanon, which needs more investments instead of falling under the burden of more debts. Lebanon needs to head East towards economic unity with Syria. In cooperating with two superpowers, Lebanon and Syria can form an economic bloc on the Mediterranean shores, a bloc that can get Lebanon out of the vortex of Western absurdity and expand its alliances and horizons to be a real economic and cultural forum where the East and the West can meet.

From our partner Tehran Times

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A New Era in US-Jordan Relations

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President Joe Biden meets with Jordan's King Abdullah II in the Oval Office of the White House in Washington, Monday, July 19, 2021. (AP Photo/Susan Walsh)

King Abdullah of Jordan is the first Arab leader who met American President Joe Biden at the White House. The visit has reaffirmed the strong and long-standing Jordan-US strategic partnership and reinvigorated the bilateral engagement for working together on security issues, and economic development on the basis of shared values and priorities. The King’s visit to Washington reaffirmed Jordan’s value as a reliable ally who plays a critical role for stability in a highly volatile region.

Jordan’s value is multi-dimensional and ranges from bilateral military cooperation, intelligence sharing and joint global counterterrorism operations including as a member of the Global Coalition to Counter ISIS and the Combined Joint Task Force-Operation Inherent Resolve to deployment of almost three thousand (3,000) American troops to Jordan as part of the ongoing campaign to combat regional terrorism. The US has expanded military footprint to Jordan after Washington’s decision to withdraw forces from Syria and reduce military presence in the Turkish airbase of Incirlik. In addition, the kingdom’s geopolitical position in the heart of the Middle East provides a viable alternative for logistical support to the American military taking into consideration the US decision to withdraw from Afghanistan and close three bases in Qatar. Notably, the remaining supplies from the three Qatari bases along with the Support Mission have been transferred to Jordan and have become part of the Area Support Group-Jordan that operates as the Base Operations Support Integrator to back contingency operations and military-to-military engagements within the US Army Central Command’s area of responsibility.

Jordan’s value also stems from its critical role in addressing the overwhelming humanitarian needs created by the conflicts in Syria and Iraq as well as in hosting almost two million registered Palestinian refugees.

Support of Two-state Solution

The fact that Jordan remains at peace with Israel and is a key interlocutor with the Palestinians adds to the kingdom’s reliability to mediate and advance initiatives that support the two-state solution. This presupposes the resetting of Jordan-Israel relations. Washington is well-placed to offer its good offices and help restore trust between the two neighboring countries. The twenty-seventh year Jordan-Israel peace treaty shows not only the possibilities for coordination and co-existence but also the ceilings to peace with Israel in the absence of a solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. A “cold peace” and quiet, limited cooperation are currently the maximum possibilities vis-a-vis a “warm peace” that will unlock Jordan-Israel cooperation and potential.

It is nevertheless noteworthy that the last five years have been discerned by the previous American administration’s lack of appreciation of the complexity of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. The Trump peace proposal, known as “the Vision”, not only undermined the long-established aim of a two-state solution but also reinforced discussions over alternatives including a one state outcome to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict; different measures of annexation, such as Israeli annexation of Area C in the West Bank; “exotic options” such as a federation in which Israel and Palestine share certain aspects of sovereignty; potential unilateral Israeli initiatives with most prevailing a Jordanian model, in which Jordan takes control of the West Bank and Palestinians are given Jordanian citizenship; and, reinforcement of the notion that “Jordan is “Palestine””.

Practically, Jordan can serve as honest broker in any future Israeli-Palestinian peace process, but as the late King Hussein stated in an interview with The New York Times in 1991 “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”. The cited statement is fully embraced by Jordan’s current leadership.

Acknowledgment of Jordan’s Custodianship

The public acknowledgement by the American President of the kingdom’s special role as custodian of the Muslim holy places in Jerusalem is translated into a vote of confidence and a commendation for Jordan’s efficient safeguarding of religious sites for decades.  As known, Amman pays the salaries of more than one thousand (1,000) employees of the Jerusalem Waqf Department and its custodianship role is carried out on behalf of all Islamic nations. The kingdom holds the exclusive authority of the Jordanian-appointed council, the Waqf, over the Temple Mount/ Haram Al Sharif and has spent over 1 billion dollars since 1924 for the administration and renovation of Al Aqsa mosque.

Jordan has admittedly served at multiple occasions as credible intermediary for Israel and the Palestinians to suspend tensions in the old city of Jerusalem, particularly at the Temple Mount/Haram Al-Sharif and pursues a successful administration of religious funded schools favoring moderate religious education and religious tourism. Jordanian moderation has guaranteed 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 the ideology of the Muslim Brotherhood.

Overall, Jordan’s custodianship has proved to be successful in maintaining delicate arrangements for the benefit of all religions and parties involved.

American Loan Guarantees

The King’s discussions with the American President also centered on the economic challenges exacerbated by the effect of the pandemic and the enhancement of bilateral economic cooperation. Admittedly, Jordan showed strong leadership and governance with early actions that reduced the coronavirus pandemic pressure on the kingdom’s health system. The Jordanian government imposed a nationwide lockdown and severe social distancing measures at a much earlier stage of the pandemic than other Middle East countries.

Jordan withstood the pandemic’s impact with minimal loss of life but with a significant cost to its economy. As of June 2020, most restrictions on economic activity were lifted turning Jordan into one of the first Arab countries to reopen. Gross Domestic Product (GDP) has contracted in 2020 by 3.5 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, the Kingdom received $396 million from the International Monetary Fund (IMF). The amount of finance has specifically helped address the country’s balance of payments needs and allowed 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 a $1.5 billion shortfall in its balance of payments.

This complex economic reality along with Jordan’s moderation in the Arab world justify continued robust annual American economic assistance to the kingdom in the form of budgetary support (cash transfer), USAID programs in Jordan, and loan guarantees. US cash assistance should increase in the coming years taking into consideration that it is directed to refugee support and to segments of the economy that are mostly affected by the pandemic like foreign debt payments and fuel import costs. Overall, a pledge should be made for Jordan in American congress for the authorization of moreUS sovereign loan guarantees that will help the kingdom weather the pandemic’s adverse medium-to-long-term effects on its economy. US sovereign loan guarantees will allow Jordan to issue debt securities that are fully guaranteed by the American government in capital markets, effectively subsidizing the cost for the Jordanian government to access financing.

It is also noticeable that in a genuine effort to help the kingdom contain the pandemic and safeguard public health, the American administration proceeded with the delivery of over 500 thousand covid-19 vaccines to Jordan highlighting American commitment to international vaccination programs including that of the kingdom.

US-Jordan Defense Partnership

The strategic US-Jordan defense relationship was reflected in the discussions that were conducted between the Jordanian King and the American President. American support for the modernization of Jordan’s F-16 fighter jets has been at the forefront of the agenda with the aim of achieving greater interoperability and effectiveness for the Jordanian Armed Forces.  The American President recognized Jordan’s contribution to the successful international campaign to defeat ISIS and honored as an example of heroism the memory of captain Muath al-Kasasbeh who was executed in 2015 by the terrorist organization’s militants.  

Jordan has suffered avowedly from terrorism throughout the years and works collectively at regional and international levels to eliminate all its forms. The kingdom lost two prime ministers, Haza’a Al-Majali and Wasfi Al-Tal, as victims of terrorism and experienced a series of terrorist attacks like the simultaneous suicide bombings against three hotels in Amman in November 2005 that led to the loss of life of American, Israeli, Palestinian, and Jordanian nationals.

In effect, Jordan is the third-largest recipient of annual American foreign aid globally, after Afghanistan and Israel. A Memorandum of Understanding on American foreign assistance to Jordan commits the United States to providing $1.275 billion per year over a five-year period for a total of $6.375 billion (FY2018-FY2022). Renegotiations on the next such agreement for FY2023-FY2027 is estimated that will aim at increasing the American commitment to Jordan, a key ally in the fight against international terrorism whose military should be in position to procure and maintain conventional weapons systems.

On the whole, Jordan is a steadfast security partner of the United States in the Middle East whose moderation and pragmatism helped the kingdom weather regional and world challenges. As 2021 and past years have showed, Jordan’s position as a bridge between the Levant and the Persian Gulf provides it a unique geopolitical standing, in a way that nowadays Amman is granted with a significant security, diplomatic and humanitarian role that signals a new era in US-Jordan relations.

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Chinese FM Wraps Up his Visit to Egypt

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Wang Yi, the Chinese State Councilor and Foreign Minister, visited Egypt on July 18, 2021, in El Alamein City, northwest Egypt. The Chinese Foreign Minister is the first foreign official to visit this strategic city.

Wang Yi met with his Egyptian counterpart, Sameh Shoukry, during his visit to Egypt, and they discussed bilateral relations between the two countries. This year marks the 65th anniversary of the establishment of diplomatic relations between Egypt and China. Egypt is the first Arab country to establish diplomatic relations with China and the first African country to do so. In the Arab world, the Islamic world, Africa, and developing countries, Egypt has long been one of China’s most important strategic partners. At the international level, the two countries mutually support one another. The meeting between Egypt’s Foreign Minister and China’s Foreign Minister focused on three main issues: the Covid-19 vaccine, the One Belt One Road Initiative, and international and regional issues such as Palestine and Syria

Covid-19 Vaccine

Both Egypt and China have a long history of cooperation and friendship. Before the outbreak of the Covid-19, the two countries’ relations were based on economic and trade cooperation, with China being Egypt’s first trading partner for the eighth year in a row since 2013, and the volume of trade exchange between the two countries exceeding $14.5 billion in 2020. However, as the outbreak Covid-19, cooperation between the two countries expanded to include medical cooperation. Egypt and China worked together to combat the virus. Egypt sent medical supplies to China, and China sent medical supplies and Chinese vaccine to Egypt. In addition, in December 2020, the two sides signed a cooperation agreement on COVID-19 Vaccine Production and China dispatched technical teams to Egypt to assist in the vaccine’s local manufacture. As a result, Egypt is considered Africa’s first vaccine manufacturer.

One Belt One Road Initiative  

Egypt is an important strategic partner in building the Belt and Road Initiative. According to CGTN, the Egyptian president, Abdel Fattah al- Sisi, stated that:” Egypt supports the Belt and Road Initiative(BRI).” He added that Egypt is ready to strengthen cooperation with China in the fields of economy, trade, industry, science and technology, and expand human exchanges within the framework of the “Belt and Road Initiative.” One Belt and One Road Initiative is one of the most important initiatives of the twenty-first century, announced by President Xi Jinping during official visits to Indonesia and Kazakhstan in 2013. Egypt was one of the first countries to participate in this initiative. In 2014, Egyptian President al-Sisi expressed in an interview that China’s One Belt and One Road Initiative was an “opportunity” for cooperation between China and Egypt. Egypt was willing to participate in it actively.

International and Regional Issues

Regarding the international and regional issues, the two sides exchanged views and coordinated positions on some issues as Palestine, Syria issues. It’s worth mentioning that Wang Yi paid a visit to Syria the day before his trip to Egypt, marking him the first Chinese official to visit Syria since the country’s civil war began. China supports the Syrian sovereignty and rejects foreign interference in Syria, and also rejects the regime change. The Egyptian Minister Sameh Shoukry also discussed with his Chinese counterpart Wang Yi the GERD issue. According to Sky News, Shoukry explained Egypt and Sudan’s positions as two downstream countries, the importance of preserving the interests of all parties and not jeopardizing the downstream countries’ water security, and the importance of engaging in intensified negotiations under the auspices of the African Union presidency. The two sides signed an agreement on the Egyptian-Sino Intergovernmental Cooperation Committee at the end of their meeting.

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