Connect with us

Middle East

Egypt’s Return to Authoritarianism

Published

on

The existing political scenario of Egypt shows how the government has established absolute authority over every affair in the state, curbing any independent work. The government has successfully centralized the power imposing new constitutional reforms that limit any political opposition and increased the role of the military in domestic affairs. The armed forces are used to terrorize the citizens into subjugation, strict control over media, censorship of news, arresting activists, journalists, lawyers over falsified cases, passing new laws making working of NGOs impossible and legalizing massive state violence in the nation by securitization the ‘terrorist’ narrative characterizes the authoritarian rule in Egypt.

The recent power grab by Abdel Fattah el-Sisi is authoritarian in nature yet on paper is a semi-presidential system as he previously served as a general in the army and led a military coup in 2012 against President Mohammad Morsi. He has recently made constitutional amendments that have extended his term until 2030. In order to maintain power and control, he has tightened his grip over branches of power in several ways: creating an office of vice president, changed the political structure of the parliament by creating an Upper House (Senate) in which one-third of members will be directly appointed by the president, overseeing of judicial selections and increased the role of the military in state affairs.

Along with the constitutional changes, the military role has expanded in the political and domestic sphere. Recently, a military force has started terrorizing the citizens in North Sinai as the government conflicts with the extremist groups of ISIS in Sinai province. The armed forces have conducted several human rights violations such as demolishing houses, arresting, torturing, and executing the residents. In response, the ISIS militants also committed gross abuses including kidnapping, torturing, and killings of residents and armed forces. It is observed that the crackdown is focused and directed towards the citizens of the state to spread terror from both sides.

Human rights watch declared the actions of the Egyptian army in Sinai province as unlawful air and ground attacks that targeted innocent civilians. Human rights watch reported at least 20 judicial killings of residents by the government. Moreover, the armed forces have forcibly abducted children and tried them in military courts. The Egyptians have yet to release any reports on the causalities and death of the citizens in the province. HRW has declared that armed forces have arrested 12,000 citizens and have detained them in concentration camps where they are interrogated. Around 100,000 civilians were forced to leave their homes as well.

To legalize the brutal crackdown in Sinai Province, the government declared a nationwide state of emergency which gives the armed forces unchecked power. They disregard the law and conduct enforced disappearance, systematic torture, and so on. Since the actions of armed forces are unchecked, they exercise their power unjustly and have thrown children in jail and awarded them with the death penalty through military courts. A 4-year-old was awarded the death penalty as he was accused of being a part of riots in 2014. Later, an army spokesman acknowledged some child detentions and justified them as a part of the counterterrorism operations conducted by the army.

These crackdowns have been conducted under the ‘disinformation campaign’ propagated by President Sisi. Regarding the spike in the death penalties in Egypt, European leaders’ criticized the Egyptian at the Arab-EU summit in Sharm el-Sheikh to which he replied that executing detainees is part of “our humanity”, which is different from “your [European] humanity”. As a part of his disinformation campaign, Sisi is trying to propagate human rights value as something ‘Western’ and ‘foreign’ to Egypt. Even though many Egyptian lawyers, such as Nasser Amin were advocating against the death penalties.

To further control the human rights situation in the country, he has passed a new law that has imposed restrictions on the workings of NGOs that have made it nearly impossible for these organizations to work in the country. These Draconian restrictions suppress the independently working groups and forbid the conduction of any opinion polls and the publication of results without the government approval and also ban any political work that might undermine national security. Consequently, NGOs are left crippled and 2,000 charity groups shunt down by the government and the rest pulling out. The most famous case of 2011, the ‘foreign funding case’ was filed against 31 Egyptian human rights activists. Even though the court acquitted them, the government didn’t remove the travel ban or unfreeze their assets. 

Likewise, the security forces of the state are guilty of conducting enforced disappearances of human rights activists and subjecting them to extreme torture and degradation practices. According to a report published by Amnesty International, activists Alaa Abdal Fattah and Israa Abdal Fattah were wrongly accused and abducted during the biggest crackdown on journalists, lawyers, and activists. Abdal Fattah was transferred to Tora extreme security prison and was stripped and beaten by the guards regularly and was locked in a room with hardly any air circulation. He was abused verbally as well and was forbidden to access fresh drinking water or food for days.

Similarly, President Al-Sisi has restricted any anti-government protests and has ordered the security forces to arrest and detain more than 4,400 people to suppress any voice. Prominent figures such as political science professor Hazem Hosni, a journalist and politician Khaled Dawood, and human rights lawyer Mohamed al-Baker was arrested in this massive crackdown. Furthermore, 160 activists were picked up for criticizing the current government. The homes of these activists were searched as they were accused of funding ‘terrorist groups’. A notable case ‘Hope Coalition’ made the headlines as it involved activists such as Ziad al-Elaimy and Hossam Mo’nis who were forming a political party to contest in the 2020 elections. They were illegally detained, banned from traveling abroad and all their assets were sealed.

The government has suppressed freedom of expression along with freedom of speech. In 2018, Anti-Cyber And Information Technology Crimes Law was passed to control and monitor media and the internet. Under the law, insulting or criticizing the government is forbidden. Any news channel or website that did not follow the laws would be subjected to penalties without judicial oversight and has strictly punished bloggers, journalists, and even social media users for criticizing the government. They were charged with spreading ‘false news’ and Egypt was termed as the top 3 worst jailers of journalists. Moreover, the government has censored newspaper, websites, and TV shows as well and blocked 600 newspapers.

Egypt does not support women’s rights and has avoided passing legislation on increasing cases of domestic violence in the country. UN Women reported that almost one-third of all Egyptian women face physical or sexual violence at the hands of intimate partners. Moreover, many women are killed in name of honor false allegations of being in a relationship with men outside marriage. The criminal practice of female genital mutilation is still practiced in Egypt, and 87% of women and girls have undergone FGM in Egypt. A survey conducted showed that 98% of foreign women and 83% of native women have been sexually harassed, and two-thirds of men admit that they have harassed women..

This demonstrates that Egypt only exists as a semi-presidential system on paper and is authoritarian in nature. The current government has exercised strict control and monopoly over legislation, judicial proceedings, and state enforcement agencies. The President tackled international criticism by creating a disinformation campaign that human rights are western and foreign ideas, not Egyptian values.

Middle East

Israel and Turkey in search of solutions

Published

on

Twelve and eleven years have elapsed since the Davos and Mavi Marmara incidents, respectively, and Turkey-Israel relations are undergoing intense recovery efforts. They are two important Eastern neighbours and influence regional stability.

Currently, as in the past, relations between the two countries have a structure based on realpolitik, thus pursuing a relationship of balance/interest, and hinge around the Palestinian issue and Israel’s position as the White House’s privileged counterpart. However, let us now briefly summarise the history of Turkish-Jewish relations.

The first important event that comes to mind when mentioning Jews and Turks is that when over 200,000 Jews were expelled by the Spanish Inquisition in 1491, the Ottoman Empire invited them to settle in its territory.

Turkey was the first Muslim country to recognise Israel in 1949. Israel’s first diplomatic Mission to Turkey was opened on January 7, 1950 but, following the Suez crisis in 1956, relations were reduced to the level of chargé d’affaires. In the second Arab-Israeli war of 1967, Turkey chose not to get involved and it did not allow relations to break off completely.

The 1990s saw a positive trend and development in terms of bilateral relations. After the second Gulf War in 1991 -which, as you may recall, followed the first Iraqi one of 1980-1988 in which the whole world was against Iran (with the only exception of the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, Syria, Libya and the moral support of Enver Hoxha’s Albania) – Turkey was at the centre of security policy in the region. In that context, Turkey-Israel relations were seriously rekindled.

In 1993, Turkey upgraded diplomatic relations with Israel to ambassadorial level. The signing of the Oslo Accords between Palestine and Israel led to closer relations. The 1996 military cooperation agreement was signed between the two countries in the fight against the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) in Turkey, which provided significant logistical and intelligence support to both sides.

In the 2000s, there was a further rapprochement with Israel, due to the “zero problems with neighbours” policy promoted by Erdoğan’s Justice and Development Party. I still remember issue No. 3/1999 of the Italian review of geopolitics “Limes” entitled “Turkey-Israel, the New Alliance”.

In 2002, an Israeli company undertook the project of modernising twelve M-60 tanks belonging to the Turkish armed forces. In 2004, Turkey agreed to sell water to Israel from the Manavgat River.

Prime Minister Erdoğan’s visit to Israel in 2005 was a turning point in terms of mediation between Palestine and Israel and further advancement of bilateral relations. In 2007, Israeli President Shimon Peres and Palestinian President Mahmud Abbas spoke at the Turkish Grand National Assembly one day apart. High-level visits from Israel continued.

On December 22, 2008, Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert came to Ankara and met with Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan. In that meeting, significant progress was made regarding Turkey’s mediation between Israel and Syria.

Apart from the aforementioned incidents, the deterioration of Turkish-Israeli relations occurred five days after the above stated meeting, i.e. Operation “Cast Lead” against Gaza on December 27, 2008. After that event, relations between the two sides were never the same as before.

Recently, however, statements of goodwill have been made by both countries to normalise political relations. In December 2020, President Erdoğan stated he wanted to improve relations with Israel and said: “It is not possible for us to accept Israel’s attitude towards the Palestinian territories. This is the point in which we differ from Israel – otherwise, our heart desires to improve our relations with it as well”.

In its relations with Israel, Turkey is posing the Palestinian issue as a condition. When we look at it from the opposite perspective, the Palestinian issue is a vital matter for Israel. It is therefore a severe obstacle to bilateral relations.

On the other hand, many regional issues such as Eastern Mediterranean, Syria and some security issues in the region require the cooperation of these two key countries. For this reason, it is clear that both sides wish at least to end the crisis, reduce rhetoric at leadership level and focus on cooperation and realpolitik areas.

In the coming months, efforts will certainly be made to strike a balance between these intentions and the conditions that make it necessary to restart bilateral relations with Israel on an equal footing. As improved relations with Israel will also positively influence Turkey’s relations with the United States.

Turkey seeks to avoid the USA and the EU imposing sanctions that could go so far as to increase anti-Western neo-Ottoman rhetoric, while improved relations with Israel could offer a positive outcome not only to avoid the aforementioned damage, but also to solve the Turkish issues related to Eastern Mediterranean, territorial waters, Libya and Syria. Turkey has no intention of backing down on such issues that it deems vital. Quite the reverse. It would like to convey positive messages at the level of talks and Summits.

Another important matter of friction between Turkey and Israel is the use of oil and gas in the Eastern Mediterranean reserves between Egypt, Israel, Greece and Cyprus (Nicosia).

This approach is excluding Turkey. The USA and the EU also strongly support the current situation (which we addressed in a previous article) for the additional reason that France has been included in the equation.

The alignment of forces and fronts in these maritime areas were also widely seen during the civil war in Libya, where Turkey, Egypt, the United Arab Emirates, France, as well as other players such as Russia, Italy, etc. came into the picture.

Ultimately, a point of contact between Turkey and Israel is the mediation role that the former could play in relations between Iran and Israel, especially after the improvement of Turkish-Iranian relations.

Indeed, in the aftermath of the U.S. airstrike in Baghdad – which killed Iranian General Qassem Soleimani on January 3, 2020 -the Turkish Foreign Minister stated that the U.S. action would increase insecurity and instability in the region. He also reported that Turkey was worried about rising tensions between the United States and Iran that could turn Iraq back into an area of conflict to the detriment of peace and stability in the region. There was also a condolence phone call from President Erdoğan to Iranian President Rouhani, urging him to avoid a conflictual escalation with the United States following the airstrike.

Consequently, it is in the Turkish President’s interest to maintain an open channel with Iran, so that he himself can soften the mutual tensions between Israel and Iran, and – in turn – Israeli diplomacy can influence President Biden’s choices, albeit less pro-Israel than Donald Trump’s.

Turkey is known to have many relationship problems with the United States – especially after the attempted coup of July 15-16, 2016 and including the aforementioned oil issue – and realises that only Israel can resolve the situation smoothly.

In fact, Israel-USA relations are not at their best as they were under President Trump. President Erdoğan seems to be unaware of this fact, but indeed the Turkish President knows that the only voice the White House can hear is Israel’s, and certainly not the voice of the Gulf monarchies, currently at odds with Turkey.

Israel keeps a low profile on the statements made by President Erdoğan with regard to the Palestinians- since it believes them to be consequential – as well as in relation to a series of clearly anti-Zionist attitudes of the Turkish people.

We are certain, however, that President Erdoğan’s declarations of openness and Israeli acquiescence will surely yield concrete results.

Continue Reading

Middle East

The 25-year China-Iran agreement

Published

on

On March 27, 2021, a document entitled “Comprehensive Document of Iran-China Cooperation” was signed by Javad Zarif, Iran’s Foreign Minister, and his Chinese counterpart. The Iranian regime’s Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei had previously called “the agreement between the presidents of Iran and China correct and wise.” However, the Iranian people have widely criticized it as entirely against their national interests. Iranian officials have not even publicized the document’s contents yet probably because it is highly contentious.

In 2019, excerpts from this document were revealed by the Economist Petroleum news site. The details included:

  • China invests $460 billion in Iranian oil and transportation sectors. China will get its investment back from the sale of Iranian crude during the first five years.
  • China buys Iranian petroleum products at least 32% cheaper.
  • The Chinese can decide before other companies whether to participate in completing all or part of a petrochemical project.
  • 50,000 Chinese security personnel will be deployed to protect Chinese projects in Iran.
  • China has the right to delay the repayment of its debts for up to two years in exchange for Iranian products’ purchase.
  • At least one Russian company will be allowed to participate in the Tabriz-Ankara gas pipeline design together with the Chinese operator.
  • Every year, 110 senior Revolutionary Guards officers travel to China and Russia for military training. 110 Chinese and Russian advisers will be stationed in Iran to train Revolutionary Guards officers.
  • Development of Iranian military equipment and facilities will be outsourced to China, and Chinese and Russian military aircraft and ships will operate the developed facilities.

Even some circles within the regime have criticized the agreement. The state-run Arman newspaper wrote, “China has a 25-year contract with Iran and is investing $460 billion in Iran. It is somewhat ambiguous. Presently, China is holding the money it owes us and blames it on the U.S. sanctions. How can we trust this country to invest $460 billion in Iran?”

Last year, Iran and China had the lowest trade in the previous 16 years, and according to statistics, by the end of 2020, the volume of trade between Iran and China was about $16 billion, which, including undocumented oil sales, still does not reach $20 billion.

Jalal Mirzaei, a former member of Iran’s parliament, said: “If in the future the tensions between Tehran and Washington are moderated, and we see the lifting of some of the sanctions, China can also provide the basis for implementing the provisions of this document, but if the situation continues like today, Beijing will not make any effort to implement the document, as it is essentially unable to take concrete action on the ground because of the sanctions.”

China’s objectives

Iran is vital to China in two ways, through its geopolitical location and its geo-economic importance. China knows that it does not have enough natural resources and is currently having a hard time supplying them from Russia and Saudi Arabia. Saudi Arabia supplies its energy needs from oil giant Aramco, half of which is owned by the United States. That is why China is looking for a safe alternative that the United States will not influence, and the only option is Iran. They may also have a two-pronged plan in Iran, which involves using Iran’s profitable market and making Iran into a lever of pressure against the United States for additional concessions.

The Iranian regime’s objectives

The deal could deepen China’s influence in the Middle East and undermine U.S. efforts to isolate the Iranian regime. While the international dispute over the Iranian regime’s nuclear program has not been resolved, it is unclear how much this agreement could be implemented. The regime intends to make it a bargaining chip in possible future nuclear negotiations. However, some of Iran’s top authorities believe that China and Russia cannot be trusted 100 percent.

Due to the sanctions, the regime has a tough time to continue providing financial support to its proxy militias in the region. The regime also faced two major domestic uprisings in 2017 and 2019. Khamenei’s regime survived the widespread uprisings by committing a massacre, killing 1,500 young protesters in the 2019 uprising alone, according to the Iranian opposition, the National Council of Resistance of Iran (NCRI) and later confirmed by the Iranian regime’s Interior Ministry officials. Now with the coronavirus pandemic, Khamenei has been able to delay another major uprising.

Iran’s economy is on the verge of collapse. Khamenei must bow to western countries’ demands regarding the nuclear issue, including an end to its regional interventions and its ballistic missile program. Khamenei will struggle to save his regime from s imminent uprisings and a deteriorating economy that will undoubtedly facilitate more protests by the army of the unemployed and the hungry at any moment.

Unlike the 2015 JCPOA, the Iranian regime in 2021 is in a much weaker position. In fact, by many accounts, it is the weakest in its 40-year history. By signing the recent Iran-China agreement and auctioning Iranian resources, Khamenei wants to pressure the United States to surrender and restore the 2015 JCPOA as quickly as possible. But in the end, this pivot will not counteract domestic pressures that target the regime’s very existence.

Continue Reading

Middle East

China-Arab Relations: From Silk to Friendship

Published

on

China and the Arabs have a long and rich economic and cultural history, and this distinguished relationship still exists today, with a promising future. This bilateral relationship between the two nations is based on the principles of respect and non-interference in internal affairs or foreign policies. Therefore, China’s relationship with the Arabs as well as with other nations is unique and a model to be followed. If you meet a Chinese person, the first phrase will be “Alabo” or an Arab in Mandarin, and he/she will welcome you. The Chinese state’s dealings with its counterparts can be measured based on the model of this Chinese citizen. China deals with the Arabs on the basis of friendship and historical ties.

The history of Sino-Arab relations goes back to the Tang Dynasty, and these relations developed with the flourishing of trade between the two nations. Since China was famous for its high quality silk, this trade route was called the “Silk Road”. Baron Ferdinand Freiherr von Richthofen, better known in English as Baron von Richthofen, was a German traveller, geographer, and scientist. He is noted for coining the terms “Seidenstraße” and “Seidenstraßen” = “Silk Road” or “Silk Route” in 1877.

Chinese-Arab relations have developed in contemporary history. In 1930, China established official relations with the Arab Republic of Egypt and the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia. A library in China was named the “Fouad Islamic Library”, after the late Egyptian king, “Fuad the First”. In 1956, Egyptian President Gamal Abdel Nasser cut ties with China and established relations with the Communist People’s Republic of China and inaugurated an embassy in Egypt. In the same year, the Arab League established relations with the People’s Republic of China. By the year 1990, all Arab countries cut their relations with the Republic of China and established diplomatic relations with the People’s Republic of China.

In 2004, the China-Arab Cooperation Forum was established, and today it is considered a milestone for the Sino-Arab relationship. At its inauguration, Chinese Foreign Minister Li Zhaoxing delivered a speech stating:“The Arab world is an important force on the international scene, and that China and the Arab countries have enjoyed a long friendship. Our similar history, our common goals and our broad interests have been credited with enhancing cooperation between the two sides; no matter how the international situation changes, China has always been the sincere friend of the Arab world”. The China-Arab Cooperation Forum was officially established during the visit of Chinese President Hu Jintao to the headquarters of the League of Arab States in January of 2004.

Hu Jintao indicated at that time that the formation of the forum is a continuation of the traditional friendship between China and the Arab world. The Chinese president said at the time, “The establishment of the forum is conducive to expanding mutual cooperation in a variety of fields. He added that China had made four proposals; First, maintaining mutual respect, fair treatment and sincere cooperation at the political level. Second, strengthening economic and trade relations through cooperation in the fields of investment and trade, contracted projects, labor services, energy, transportation, communications, agriculture, environmental protection and information. Third, expand cultural exchanges. Finally, conducting training for the employees.”

During the second session of the forum in Beijing in 2006, China showed its sympathy for the issues of the Arab world and its interest in the peace process between Palestine and Israel, since China is a peace-loving country; it presented the idea of “a nuclear-free Middle East”. China is the best friend of the Arab countries today. Although some Arab countries have strong relations with the West whose policy does not match the Chinese policy, but all Arab countries agree on friendly and good relations with the People’s Republic of China.

The Arab citizen is not interested today in the foreign policy of the US, the deadly weapons of the US and Russia, or European culture, but rather the livelihood and economy, and this is what China provides through its wise economic policy. In 2013, Chinese President Xi Jinping launched the Belt and Road Initiative, or New Silk Road, which will restore glow to China-Arab relations; as the Arab world is in a strategic location on the initiative map. Thus, the Arab countries are an important partner for China in the initiative. Although the volume of trade exchanges between China and the Arab countries exceeded 200 billion US dollars, which increased 10 times over the past decade, there was no commercial and institutional arrangement to facilitate trade between the two sides.

China, as a peaceful and non-invasive country, aims to promote economic cooperation with Arab region on an equal basis because it considers the Arab world a historic partner. The historical experience of the Arabs with the Chinese through the Silk Road has confirmed that China differs from the nations of colonialism and imperialism, which consider the Arab region a place rich in natural resources only. In his historic speech at the Arab League, Chinese President Xi stressed that China will not seek to extend influence and search for proxies in the Middle East. The Chinese initiatives will contribute to establishing security and stability through economic development and improving the people’s livelihood, in line with the post-2015 development agenda and the aspirations of the Arab people for a better life, as the Chinese experience proves that development is the key to digging out the roots of conflicts and extremism in all its forms.

China is a neutral country and does not favor the use of violence. During the Syrian crisis, for example, the Chinese envoy to the Security Council raised his hand three times, meaning that China, with its wise diplomacy, supported the Syrian regime without entering the military war. During the recent Chinese military parade, Chinese President Xi Jinping revealed some Chinese military capabilities and thus sent a message to the enemies that China will always be ready if a war is imposed on it, and a message of support to China’s allies. The Arab region today needs a real partner who possesses economic and military power and international political influence, such as China; to ensure the success of the Belt and Road Initiative, and to consolidate the China-Arab relations and raise it to the level of a strategic alliance.

Continue Reading

Publications

Latest

Economy14 mins ago

How to incorporate the environment in economic ventures for a sustainable future?

We are in the phase of world history where economic development and protection of environment must go side by side....

Economy2 hours ago

Future of Work: Next Election Agenda 2022

During the last millennia, never ever before did the global populace ended up inside one single test tube? Observe, the...

Intelligence4 hours ago

COVID-19 As an Agent of Change in World Order

The Coronavirus Disease 2019 (COVID-19) pandemic has claimed millions of lives. It has severely damaged the economy of the world....

Africa6 hours ago

Scaling Up Development Could Help Southern African leaders to Defeat Frequent Miltant Attacks

Leaders of the Southern African Development Community (SADC) are now considering, without foreign interference, tackling frequent insurgency devastating regional development,...

Middle East8 hours ago

Israel and Turkey in search of solutions

Twelve and eleven years have elapsed since the Davos and Mavi Marmara incidents, respectively, and Turkey-Israel relations are undergoing intense...

Eastern Europe10 hours ago

Peace, Problems and Perspectives in the Post-war South Caucasus

The Second Karabakh War ended with the signing of the trilateral declaration between Armenia, Azerbaijan, and Russia on November 10,...

Europe14 hours ago

Vienna Process: Minilateralism for the future of Europe and its strategic neighbourhood

On the historic date of March 08th – International Women’s Day, a large number of international affairs specialists gathered for...

Trending