Authors: Kutluer Karademir, PhD and Mahmut Cengiz, PhD*
The notion that the United States (U.S.) was behind some of the coups carried out in the Middle East during the cold war still persists in the region. The most recent attempt in this regard was seen in Turkey. Although more than five years have elapsed since the highly controversial July 15, 2016, coup attempt in Turkey, President Recep Tayyip Erdogan continues to use it as a political turnkey in accordance with the unfolding of the political conjuncture.Erdogan’s latest attempt to peddle his conspiracy theory came not from the president himself but from his Minister of Interior Suleyman Soylu-once a vigorous opponent of Erdogan. During a television program on February 2, 2021, Soylu repeatedly stated that the July 15 coup attempt was not perpetrated by “FETO” (a state-defined name for the Gulen Movement to associate the group with terrorism). Soylu then explained his words to the printed press, saying:
“There is something I said very clearly there [at the T.V. program], I told this many times. Right after the July 15 [coup attempt], even before 24 hours had elapsed . . . I had said that there was America behind this coup. We learned that America was behind the 1960 coup many years later, from the British documents. We understood that America was behind the 1980 coup when they said, “our guys succeeded.” Who was behind the February 28 [forced resign] is obvious [implying the U.S.]. I just wanted to leave a note to the history lest we wait 20-30 years to learn.”
This is an interesting scold, as the government has been blaming the Gulen movement for the coup attempt from the beginning, and anyone who casts doubt on this scenario is summarily imprisoned. Once the bizarre coup attempt was quelled only a few hours after it started, police teams raided the houses of judges and prosecutors who allegedly were linked to the group. Thousands of Turkish citizens—including school teachers, businessmen, academicians, and journalists—were subjected to the same treatment by the government.
Today, more than 150,000 public officials have been dismissed from public service with decree-laws, and more than 200,000 citizens have been subjected to criminal prosecution on spurious terrorism charges. Although the Turkish government’s terrorism reports include thousands of terrorist incidents, international databases have recorded only around 100 terrorist attacks in the country, mostly attributed to the left-wing terrorist organizations. For example, the Global Terrorism Database included 94 terrorist incidents in Turkey in 2018.
Around 60,000, including 20,000 women, more than 2,400 institutions including schools, universities, hospitals and associations that were allegedly linked to the group have been closed down, and all assets of these institutions were confiscated.Moreover,48.5billion Turkish lira(around $7 billion) worth of private assets belonging to businessmen that were allegedly affiliated to the movement were confiscated by the government.This unprecedented witch hunt against the members of the Gulen movement has continued unabated.
The pro-government Turkish media, on the other hand, claimed that the United States was behind the coup attempt. The reports implicated Henri Barkey, a former U.S. State Department employee and then director of the Middle East Program at the Wilson Center in Washington, D.C., accusing him of being a former CIA officer after Barkey organized a workshop in Istanbul that was held on July 15 and 16. After the coup attempt, Turkish businessman Dogan Kasadoglu publicly denounced the workshop participants for supporting the military uprising. A criminal investigation launched about Barkey regarding his alleged ties to the failed coup attempt, but it was not until 2020 that Barkey was indicted together with Turkish businessman Osman Kavala, the prime suspect in the case against the Gezi Park protesters from 2013. In the indictment,the counter-case filed against the police officers, prosecutors, and judges who had conducted the graft probe against Erdogan on December 17 and 25, 2013 was also merged with the Gezi and Barkey cases. The main reason behind bringing together the names of Barkey and Kavala in the same indictment is interesting because the indictment was prepared in a rush to bypass the European Court of Human Rights’ (ECtHR) decision demanding immediate release of Osman Kavala. Turkish regime merged the Gezi case with Barkey’s July 15 case in order to open a new investigation against Kavala and keep him in jail after the ECtHR decision.
The evidence presented in the Barkey indictment was superficial and totally based on the prosecutor’s strained interpretations of Barkey’s actions after the December 17-25 operations and during the coup attempt. For example, the prosecutor alleged—without providing any concrete evidence—that the workshop Barkey organized was a cover for coordinating the coup attempt. Moreover, the prosecutor stated in the indictment that “several coordinated violent incidents and terrorist attacks occurred in Turkey after the December 17/25, 2013 operations and Henri Barkey was in Turkey in that period.” The indictment also referred to certain statements Barkey made to the international media after some terrorist attacks in Turkey, alleging that these statements were evidence of Barkey’s involvement in the attacks. The allegations in the Barkey indictment are typical of types of statements found in other indictments that prosecutors working for the Erdogan regime issued after the coup attempt.
As a matter of fact, Soylu’s boastful statement on his “revelation” of the U.S.participation in the July 15 coup attempt at the very beginning of the coupis based solely on the aforementioned workshop and the conspiracy theory associated with it. This being the case, Soylu’s move pointing to the U.S. as the real culprit of the coup attempt draws attention and entails elaboration with respect to the near future of Turkish-American relations. This article therefore is an attempt to explain why the Turkish minister of Interior, Suleyman Soylu, opened up a new front against the United States five years after the coup attempt. The first question to answer in this regard is: was the United States really behind the July 15coup attempt in Turkey?
What Happened on July 15, 2016?
Before answering this question, we should first put forward whether the July 15 uprising was a real coup attempt, as the Turkish government has claimed. Turkish political history recorded three decennial coups between 1960 and 1980 and a forced resignation in 1998, not to mention several failed coups during the same period. Each of these successful coups were committed in accordance with the hierarchical structure of the Turkish Armed Forces (TAF). The TAF dominated Turkish politics until the early 2010s when Erdogan politically defeated the secular Kemalist and ultranationalist groups with an amendment to the Turkish constitution. Afterward, the consensus among Turkey experts was that the era of coups had ended for Turkey. Alas, the country would experience the most bizarre coup attempt in its history on July 15, 2016. This coup attempt was bizarrefor several reasons;however, only the featuring discrepancies are included and discussed here:
- Erdogan acted as if he was totally unaware of the coup incident until it started, but that proved to be untrue. In a statement on Al Jazeera TV, Erdogan said that he first learned about the coup from his brother-in-law around 8 p.m. on the day of the coup and that not being informed of it earlier was a clear intelligence gap. Kemal Kilicdaroglu, the main opposition party leader, contradicted Erdogan, saying that an informant had given Erdogan a list of all the coup plotters three months before the coup attempt was launched.
- The General Staff of the Turkish Armed Forces issued a written statement on July 19, 2016, stating that intelligence about the coup had been given to the General Staff at 4 p.m. on July 15,and that a meeting was held at the General Staff headquarters upon that intelligence. All commanders of the armed forces participated in the meeting and, after it ended, the commanders ordered all brigades to stay in their barracks and prohibited fighter jets and tanks from taking any action. The army commanders, however, did not apply the restictions to themselves and instead attended a wedding ceramony in Istanbul that same evening. Worse still, commander of the air force, in his first testimony to investigators about the intelligence information, said that he had learned about plans for a coup from his wife on July 15 at 9:30 p.m.; however, duing his second round of testimony, he said that he had learned about the possibility of a coup at around 7 p.m. when the flight restrictions were issued. Likewise, commander of the navy made contradictory statements about when he learned about the coup attempt.It is obvious that the written statement from the General Staff contradicts both Erdogan’s claims that he had learned about the coup in the evening on July 15 from his brother-in-law and the commanders of the air force and navy. Despite the contradictory statements from the two military commandersand the intelligence failure, Erdogan sacked neither the air force nor the navy commander,nor the chief of intelligence. Instead, they either remained in their positions or were promoted after the coup attempt.
- Around 8,000 soldiers were involved in the coup attempt, but the government detained half of the generals and more than 30,000 military officials who were not involved in the coup attempt. Although some of the detainees were on vacation during the coup attempt, they were arrested and treated as coup plotters.
- The parliament set up an investigation board to determine how the coup plot was allowed to happen, but the board could not take statements from officials most likely to have information about the coup attempt, such as Erdogan’s chief of staff, Hulusi Akar, and the chief of intelligence, Hakan Fidan, because Erdogan had ordered them not to attend the hearings.
- Erdogan said that he had a close call after an abduction team had been dispatched to his hotel in Marmaris to capture him; however, it was revealed later that Erdogan had left the hotel hours before the arrival of the abduction team and had sent an ambush team of his security detail to confront would-be abductors. The confrontation between the abduction team and Erdogan’s security detail led to clashes. In one incident, the room of a British tourist’s family was also accidentally targeted. This family went through an orderal to escape from the hotel, and the members of the family needed psychotherapy to help them overcome the impact of this bad experience. However, when this British family attempted to report the incident to the police, the police refused to record their complaints. The family then sent a letter to then minister of the British Home Office, Boris Johnson, and asked for his support about the situation. Unfortunately, it was not possible to prove that Erdogan was never in danger and that the family had been victimized because the hotel’s CCTV records showing Erdogan’s departure from the hotel and the melees between Erdogan’s security detail and the coup plotters were deleted, and no one dared to ask who was responsible for doing so.
- Although all 248 causalities of the coup were declared to have been killed by the uprisers, authospsy reports showed that some of them were killed with nonmilitary arsenal; moreover, video footage shows civilians opening fire on other citizens. Although these facts were put forward by the defense during the coup-investigation hearings, the courts did not take them into consideration.
- The government focused its investigation on the coup plotters at the Akincilar Air Base on the night of July 15, saying it was the center of the coup attempt. However, the prosecutor visited the base 40 hours after the coup attempt and did not ask any forensic investigation or take fingerprints of the alleged coup plotters. By the same token, Akin Ozturk, former commander of the air force and the person declared to be the leader of the coup attempt, actually had been dispatched to the Akincilar Air Base, allegedly the headquarters of the coup attempt, by Erdogan’s chief of staff.
- Adil Oksuz, an academician who was well-known by Turkish intelligence officials as the Gulen Movement’s coordinator of the air force personnel affiliated with the group and therefore possibly the strongest link between the Gulen Movement and the coup attempt, was captured nearby the Akincilar Air Base on the day of the coup but then was released by the court and disappeared a couple of days later. Gulenists believe that Oksuz was compromised by Turkish intelligence officials to have certain members of the Gulen Movement participate in the coup attempt. Fethullah Gulen firmly rejected his or his movement’s involvement in the coup attemp and asked for an independent international team to investigate the coup comprehensively. Gulen also said that he would respect any decision to be made by such an international body and would return to Turkey if any link pointing to his participation in the coup were found.
- While the coup attempt was still ongoing, Serdar Coskun,public prosecutor of the Crimes against the Constitutional Order Bureau, signed a report dated July 16, 2016, at 1 a.m. and delivered it to all respective departments to start legal proceedings against the coup plotters.The report, however, features certain incidents that never happened, such as the raid of the MIT headquartersand the bombing of the police intelligence unit by the coup plotters. Furthermore, some of the incidents that took place hours after the report was prepared were mentioned in the document as having occurred before the report was prepared.
Many other suspicious events and circumstances related to the July 15 coup attempt could be addressed, but those presented here cast enough doubt on the official discourse of the Erdogan government. These discrepancies have been put forward by politicians and journalists. For example, Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu, leader of Turkey’s chief opposition party, the People’s Republican Party (CHP), referred to the July 15 coup attempt as a “controlled military coup.” Likewise, Joe Biden, who was the Vice President of the United States during July 15 coup attempt, said that it seemed like he was watching a video game when he saw video footage of the coup. The leader of the People’s Democratic Party (HDP), Selahattin Demirtaş, said immediately after the July 15 coup that Erdoğan was well-prepared for the coup attempt and positioned himself to benefit from its results. Demirtaş was imprisoned shortly after this speech and remains in jail, despite a ruling by the European Court of Human Rights that Demirtaş should be released and finding that his detention violates “the very core of the concept of a democratic society.”Likewise, journalists Muyesser Yildiz and Ece Temelkuran, both of whom questioned the government’s account on the July 15 coup attempt and shed light on the dark points they had uncovered, shared the same fate as Demirtas.
Despite the Erdogan government’s efforts to persuade people to believe its theory, there is only one reality: the July 15 military uprising in the form of an attempted coup was a turning point in Turkey’s history and resulted in the creation of a totalitarian regime. Erdogan used this coup attempt as leverage to transform the entire state body into a Baath-type totalitarian system, dismissing hundreds of thousands well-educated public officials based on the blacklists that had been prepared in the past. The most significant transformation has been experienced by the police and the judiciary, where one third of the former and one half of the latter were replaced by people loyal to Erdogan. The law-enforcement system has been weaponized and used ruthlessly against all dissidents in the country, in defiance of universal human rights and civil liberties.Thus, it is needless to ask whether it really was the United States that plotted the July 15 coup. Based on the course of events over the five years since the sinister event, it is obvious that the coup truly was “a gift from God”—for Erdogan to complete the construction of his authoritarian regime.
Why did Soylu make that move?
The next question, then, is why did Soylu have such a need to accuse the United States of being behind the attempted coup five years after the incident took place?The answer to this question is rather obvious for the followers of Turkish politics. First, it was very risky for Soylu, the hawkish minister of Interior, to make such a claim by himself. At this point, the reaction of Erdogan reveals Soylu’s real motivation for criticizing the United States. Erdogan never hesitates to publicly mortify even his closest henchmen if they do or say anything without his permission or knowledge. In Soylu’s case, Erdogan did not react as would be expected, which clearly shows that Erdogan was using Soylu as a proxy. The next question is: Why did Erdogan make that move?
Unlike what is thought by many of his followers, Erdogan appears to prioritize protecting himself and his family against the risk of losing his position and being investigated because of his corruption network and dark relations with salafi-jihadist terrorist groups in the Middle East. Erdogan is well aware of the fact that he has to remain on power in order to secure his freedom. In this framework, Erdogan wanted to act preemptively in the face of an upcoming conviction verdict from the ongoing Halkbank case tried in New York. The Halkbank case can be seen as a resurrection of the December 17, 2013corruption investigation, which was covered up in Turkey by the judiciary—a judiciary that Erdogan gradually transformed and then ultimately controlled.
The main suspect in the investigation was an Iranian-Turkish businessman, Reza Zarrab, who mediated the illegal oil-for-gold scheme between Turkey and Iran by bribing Turkish ministers, general managers of some public banks,and several other bureaucrats. One of the largest public banks in Turkey, Halkbank, was at the center of this trading scheme. Hundreds of thousands of U.S. dollars in cash were found hidden in shoe boxes when the police raided the home of Suleyman Arslan, who at the time was Halkbank’s general manager, on December 17.The oil-for-gold scheme enabled Iran to flout the U.S. embargo on the country, while the Turkish government was able to narrow its foreign trade deficit. It proved to be a lucrative arrangement, as millions of dollars of bribery money flew into the pockets of corrupt politicians and bureaucrats.Erdogan was slick enough to avoid and then reverse the shock wave of the December 17 and 25, 2013, corruption investigations by demonizing the Gulen Movement and starting a comprehensive purge campaign against members of the group. Erdogan’s machinations, however, did not end there. Erdogan soon began to replace critical positions in the police and judiciary with individuals who would be loyal to him at any cost, while making several legal and administrative regulations to parry the situation. With the help of other power circles,such as the ultranationalists and leftists whohate Erdogan butat the same time view the Gulen Movement as their primary enemy, Erdogan was able to reverse the situation and cover up the investigations in Turkey by releasing Zarrab and all other suspects of the investigation a few months after their arrest. Nonetheless, two of the key suspects in the December 17 investigation, Zarrab and Hakan Atilla, the former deputy director general of Halkbank, were arrested in the United Statesin March 2016 and March 2017, respectively. Zarrab has cooperated with U.S. authorities and explained the details of his bribery network. Der Spiegel has recently elaborated on the casefile and noted that a $20 billion punishment is on the way for Halkbank.
As far as the ongoing Halkbank case is concerned, it is quite obvious that there are several “unknown knowns” that would be sobering thoughts for Erdogan. Erdogan succeeded in having the Trump administration slow down the trial proceedings but, after Biden won the election, Erdogan’s nightmare has resumed. With Biden as president, Erdogan may find it more difficult to influence the trial now than when Donald Trump was president. According to John Bolton, former U.S. ambassador to the United Nations in the Trump administration, Trump and Erdogan enjoyed a close friendship. Erdogan exploited that friendship, using every opportunity to ask his friend to end the court case. Erdogan, however, was not concerned about what might happen to the defendants; instead, he was concerned that his own name would be mentioned in the verdict. Thus, Erdogan’s strategy of blaming the United Statesfor the July 15 coup attempt can be interpreted as a preemptive strike before a verdict—possibly a verdict of guilty—was announced in the U.S. court case about a bribery network that implicated Erdogan at least in part by Zarrab’s testimony. If the trial were to result in a guilty verdict, Erdogan and his entourage would start a campaign to trivialize theimpact of the verdict bysaying that the jury’s decision is a continuation of the July 15 coup and that the United States wants to achieve its goal of overturning Erdogan. Despite all the bluster, though, Erdogan and his entourage must be straining every nerve to communicatewith the Biden administration and come to terms regarding the case. The unfolding of U.S.-Turkey relations in the months to come will show whether Erdogan was able to convince the Biden campaign—just as he had done with the Trump administration.
Given the authoritarian government that Erdogan created in Turkey and a judicial system controlled entirely by him, it will not be possible to conduct an unbiased investigation that could definitively determine the real mastermind of the failed coup on July 15. The Turkish government has presented no solid evidence that links the United States to the coup attempt. The best it has had to offer are the coincidental visits of Henry Barkey toTurkeyat the time of the uprising and indictments filled with the statements of military officials who have been tortured and forced to sign documents prepared by the government’s intelligence officials. While the absurdity of the Turkish government’sposition that the United States was involved in the coup through the visit of a former State Department employee is beyond doubt,experts continue to debate the issue of Russian and Iranian involvement before and during the coup attempt to protect Erdogan from being ousted as Turkey’s ruler. That being said, we will have to wait until the farewell of Erdogan in order for the July 15 coup attempt to be investigated thoroughly.
Although five years have elapsed since the failed coup,an ominous darkness lingers as Erdogan continues in subtle ways to use his “gift from God” to further his political ambitions. On the one hand, several unanswered questions and irrationalities about the coup attempt show that the coup was designed to fail.On the other hand, the ultimate regime change—and the transformation of the political and bureaucratic system of the country into totalitarian nightmare—show that the only winner in the coup attempt was Erdogan. Therefore, asking whether it was the United States that plotted the coup is nothing but flogging a dead horse. The proper question to ask, based on the official statement of the Turkish General Staff, would be:Why did Erdogan feign ignorance about the coup despite the intelligence information he had received earlier that day and pushed millions of unarmed and vulnerable civilians before the coup plotters on that night?
Erdogan is quite adept at skirting domestic and international crises by using his massive entourage of henchmen to manage public perception—but with success only at home and not abroad. Erdogan likely will continue to make such maneuvers as he seeks to influence the Biden administration. After the Trump administration demonstrated its reluctance to support the Halkbank investigation, which pleased Erdogan, Erdogan will not believe that the judiciary system in the United States is independent and that the administration cannot interfere with investigations. Erdogan’s efforts have worked so far, and the bank trial has delayed. However, the Biden administration may be a much tougher sell.
*Dr. Mahmut Cengiz is an Assistant Professor and Research Faculty with Terrorism, Transnational Crime and Corruption Center (TraCCC) and the Schar School of Policy and Government at George Mason University.
Iran and Sudan’s Rapprochement in 2023: New Changes in the Regional Geopolitics of the Middle East
The Middle East is a strategic region that connects Asia, Africa, and Europe and has significant natural resources, especially oil and gas. The Middle East is also a source of various conflicts and crises that pose threats to regional and global peace. The change in Middle East politics can shape the social and political transformations of the people and societies in the region, as well as their relations with other regions. With that, Iran and Sudan’s rapprochement has brought a new dynamic into the politics of the Middle East.
Iran and Sudan have been allies since the 1989 coup that brought Omar al-Bashir to power, but their relations have been strained by the political and economic crisis in Sudan, the US sanctions on both countries and the regional rivalry with Saudi Arabia and Egypt. The rapprochement between Iran and Sudan in 2023 adds a new dimension to the regional geopolitics of the Middle East. It has strengthened Iran in the region, as it gained Sudan as a strategic ally and a potential gateway to Africa.
Currently in Sudan, the civil war erupted in April 2023 after a failed coup attempt by a faction of the military against the transitional government that replaced al-Bashir in 2019. The instability and conflict in both countries have affected their domestic and foreign policies. Iran has been facing internal challenges, such as protests, corruption, inflation, and environmental crises. Iran has also been involved in regional conflicts, such as the war in Yemen, the civil war in Syria, the tensions with Israel, and the nuclear standoff with the US. Sudan has been undergoing a political transition since the ouster of Omar al-Bashir in 2019, but the process has been disrupted by a military coup in October 2021. Sudan has also been dealing with humanitarian crises, such as food insecurity, displacement, and violence in Darfur and other regions.
By restoring ties with Sudan, Iran can expand its economic and political influence, as well as its access to natural resources and markets. Sudan can also serve as a counterweight to Saudi Arabia and Egypt, which have been hostile to Iran and have supported the opposition forces in Sudan’s civil war. This has challenged the Saudi-led coalition in the region, which has been trying to contain Iran and its allies. Saudi Arabia and its partners, such as the UAE, Bahrain, and Israel, have formed a bloc to counter Iran’s regional ambitions and to promote their interests. The rapprochement between Iran and Sudan can undermine their efforts and create new security threats for them. For example, Sudan can provide Iran with access to the Red Sea and the Bab al-Mandeb Strait, which are vital for Saudi Arabia’s oil exports.
The change in the US outlook on the Middle East has reduced its involvement and influence in the region. The US has shifted its focus to other strategic priorities, such as countering China’s rise, addressing climate change, and dealing with domestic challenges. The US has also withdrawn its troops from Afghanistan, Iraq, and Syria, and reduced its military aid and arms sales to its allies in the region. The US has also adopted a more balanced approach to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, supporting a two-state solution and restoring aid to the Palestinians. The US has also resumed negotiations with Iran over its nuclear program, which was abandoned by the previous administration. The change in the US policy has created more space for regional actors to pursue their interests and initiatives without external interference or pressure.
Iran’s interest in Sudan’s Red Sea coast is mainly driven by its strategic and economic objectives. Iran wants to strengthen its influence in the region. Iran has decided to send military support to the Sudanese army in 2023, following talks between the foreign ministers of Sudan and Iran in Baku in July. Iran wants to secure the Red Sea and the Bab al-Mandeb Strait, which are vital for its oil exports and maritime trade. Iran has been hosting its naval fleets in Port Sudan for decades, to the dismay of Saudi Arabia, which lies opposite Port Sudan on the other side of the waterway. Also, Iran wants to expand its economic and political ties with other African countries, especially with the involvement of China as a mediator. China’s role can help reduce tensions and violence in the region, as well as foster greater integration and cooperation.
The position that the rapprochement between Iran and Sudan has reduced the US leverage in the region, as it lost a key ally and a potential partner in Sudan. The US has been supporting the democratic transition in Sudan and has lifted some of the sanctions that were imposed on the country for its human rights violations and its support for terrorism. The US has also provided humanitarian and development assistance to Sudan, as well as diplomatic and military support to the transitional government. The US has hoped to use its influence in Sudan to advance its interests and values in the region, such as promoting peace and stability, countering extremism, and resolving the conflicts in South Sudan, Darfur, and Ethiopia. However, the rapprochement between Iran and Sudan can undermine these efforts and weaken the US position.
It has increased challenges for the US in the region, as it faces a more assertive and resilient Iran and its allies. Iran and Sudan have been subject to US sanctions for their alleged support for terrorism, human rights violations, and nuclear activities. The sanctions have hampered their trade and investment opportunities, as well as their ability to import essential goods and services. The US has been pursuing a dual-track policy of pressure and diplomacy with Iran over its nuclear program and its regional activities. The US has imposed severe sanctions on Iran and its proxies, such as Hezbollah, Hamas, and the Houthis, and has supported Israel’s right to defend itself against Iranian threats. The US has sought to prevent Iran from acquiring nuclear weapons and to curb influence in the region. However, the rapprochement between Iran and Sudan can complicate these objectives and increase the risks of confrontation.
From a regional perspective, Saudi Arabia and its partners, such as the UAE, Bahrain, and Israel, have formed a coalition to counter Iran’s regional ambitions and promote their interests. They have also intervened militarily in Yemen, Syria, Iraq, and Libya to support their proxies and allies. Saudi Arabia has also offered economic and military assistance to Sudan and other African countries, such as Djibouti and Somalia, in exchange for cutting ties with Iran. Previously, Sudan has been a major contributor to the Saudi-led coalition fighting against the Iran-backed Houthi rebels in Yemen since 2015, but its participation has been controversial and costly for the Sudanese people.
The easing of tensions between Riyadh and Tehran has enabled Iran to restore ties with some of the Sunni-led Arab states that were previously aligned with Saudi Arabia against Iran, such as Sudan, Oman, Iraq, and Qatar. Also, it challenges the influence of UAE and Egypt in Sudan, which have been supporting the military-led transitional government since the ouster of Omar al-Bashir in 2019. The UAE and Egypt have been wary of Iran’s presence in the Red Sea and the Horn of Africa, and have sought to limit its access to ports and trade routes in the region. The Sudan-Iran rapprochement could undermine their efforts and create more competition for resources and influence in Sudan.
In conclusion, the Middle East is an arena of competition and cooperation among various regional and external powers. So, the rapprochement between Sudan and Iran has brought change in Middle East politics can alter the balance of power and interests among these actors, and create new opportunities or challenges for dialogue and partnership.
Sisi and the “New Republic” model in Egypt
Egypt’s participation came through President Abdel Fattah El-Sisi in the G20 meetings held in the Indian capital, New Delhi, over the course of September 9 and 10, 2023, as confirmation of what the new Egyptian Republic has achieved during the era of President “El-Sisi” at the Arab, regional and international levels, and what the new Egyptian Republic enjoys. From a pivotal and influential role in the region as a result of the vision and efforts of President “El-Sisi” in restoring Egypt to its position on the global stage. In addition to President Sisi’s vision of the new republic of Egypt in an attempt to re-integrate it to create balance with the new world order, and to emphasize its shift from unipolar control, to creating one world under the umbrella of “One Family… One Future”, India also chose a name and slogan for that summit. The reason for inviting Egypt to attend the G20 summit in India comes as a result of its status among the major countries organizing the summit, as the summit includes the largest international economic and political bloc, accounting for 85% of the global economic output and 75% of the volume of global trade. The observation worth noting remains that the differences between the major powers around the world, such as the United States of America, China and Russia, have been reflected in each party’s attempt to find new allies, by deepening the concept of a multi-power system, by creating a stronger world based on increasing the involvement of developing countries in the global economic processes, such as welcoming Egypt, the Emirates, and Ethiopia to join the BRICS economic group earlier at the G20 summit in India, in an effort to win the favor of many international parties from African and developing countries to reduce the financing gap and restructure debts that limit countries’ abilities to grow, and thus gain new allies from before. Various international powers. This was reflected in the agenda of the Egyptian leadership of President El-Sisi through understanding the mechanisms of this competition between China and the United States of America in neutralizing differences and diversifying Egypt’s economic relations with various international partners.
During his participation in the G20 summit in India, President El-Sisi is trying to present (the features of the new Egyptian Republic), which were reflected in the transformation of Egypt into a leading global commercial, logistical and industrial center, thanks to the national projects that were established in the new Egyptian Republic, whether in infrastructure and ports, in addition to establishing 17 industrial cities that include thousands of new factories, in addition to encouraging the establishment of factories to provide production requirements and raw materials in the new Egyptian Republic. Building the new republic during the era of President Sisi and promoting its most prominent features and projects confirms that Egypt is at the heart of the map of international and regional interactions, presents visions and approaches to Egypt’s economic dealings around the world at this time, and creates a kind of balance for Egypt in its relations around the world. In addition to marketing the national economy in Egypt, and confirming the merit of the political transformation in the new Egyptian Republic, in addition to reserving a role for Egypt in the economic partnerships and international blocs that are now being formed, such as Egypt’s joining of the world’s leading BRICS group of countries immediately before the G20 summit in India.
The conditions for holding the G20 summit internationally at the present time come in the midst of the Russian military operation in Ukraine and its effects on the shape of the international system and the Middle East, where the global order is being restructured again, as well as the architecture of the Middle East again, and it is in the interest of Egypt and the major G20 economic countries, to not be far from all these developments, and to restructure their relations in a way that allows them to benefit from all these developments. In light of these variables, the importance of President Sisi’s participation to discuss the mechanism and ways of providing effective support from the G20 countries to developing countries to achieve sustainable development goals, to confront the negative repercussions of the Russian-Ukrainian war on the economy, food, and energy, and what it led to many successive global crises. Also, in view of the multiple regional, continental and international roles that Egypt plays and the influential and major role it has now enjoyed with all parties, the features of the Egyptian project for modernization and development through which the new republic in Egypt, led by President “El-Sisi”, presents a model for comprehensive and sustainable development, as it adopts a multi-dimensional strategy.
If we analyze the final statement of the G20 Summit in India in the presence of President “El-Sisi”, we will see that it reflects the Egyptian agenda in the international action necessary to confront the challenges that the world is currently witnessing, whether on the security, military, political, economic and development levels, or the problems of hatred and discrimination and the importance of respecting the cultures and beliefs of peoples or anything related to confronting them. Climate problems. The statement also adopted the Egyptian point of view regarding Africa’s demands and the need to support the development efforts of its people. Knowing that the African Union has been accepted as a member of the G20, which is a major and notable qualitative development in the African march of advancement led by Egypt, under the leadership of President “El-Sisi”. This is if we focus on the speech of President “El-Sisi”, in his capacity as Chairman of the Steering Committee of Heads of State and Government of the “African Union Development Agency” (NEPAD), and his announcement of setting specific goals in consultation with African partners to support the countries of the continent, including enhancing continental economic integration, implementing the African development agenda and activating Continental Free Trade Agreement.
The note worth noting for me remains that President Sisi’s meetings during the G20 summit were not limited only to the leaders of the participating countries, but rather extended to the heads and representatives of international organizations and groups on various continents and those responsible for them, the most prominent of which is President Sisi’s participation in the African-European Summit. The mini conference, which was held on the sidelines of the G20 summit. The most important agenda put forward at the top of President Sisi’s agenda, during his participation in the summit of the Group of Twenty major economic countries, was the emphasis on strengthening Egyptian and international efforts to facilitate the integration of developing countries into the global economy in an equal manner, against the backdrop of the mutual opportunities and advantages that this provides. It contributes to attracting investments and achieving economic growth and development for all parties. Also, in light of Egypt’s previous hosting of the “COP27” climate summit in Sharm El-Sheikh, President “El-Sisi” will be keen to determine the extent of developed countries’ commitment to their pledges within the framework of international agreements and mechanisms to confront climate change, and to enable developing countries to increase their reliance on new and renewable energy sources.
Accordingly, President “El-Sisi” was keen to present the features of the new Egyptian Republic during the G20 Summit in India, which was a source of great confidence from all international partners in the strength of the Egyptian economy. This is not the result of the moment, but the result of great economic work undertaken by Egypt since years during the era of President “El-Sisi”, and it reflected positively on the increase in foreign investment inside Egypt, and on the occurrence of many successes in the field of cooperation between Egypt and major international companies, especially with the strength of the Egyptian economic situation now, as a result of the reform measures taken by the new Egyptian Republic during the era of President “El-Sisi”. Therefore, during his participation with the permanent members of the G20 in the India Summit, President “El-Sisi” was keen on a pioneering plan aimed at enhancing trade between India, Egypt and various countries of the Middle East and Europe, as it will thus link the regions that represent about a third of the global economy, which represents the pinnacle of success for the New Republic of Egypt during the era of President “El-Sisi”.
The Surge in Saudi Arabia’s Tourism
Saudi Arabia, a land traditionally synonymous with oil and Hajj pilgrimages, is making headlines with its burgeoning tourism sector. Over a three-month period, the kingdom witnessed a staggering inflow of 7.8 million people, generating a revenue of $9.86 billion in the first quarter of this year. This unprecedented growth has not only stimulated the Saudi economy but has also thrown a spotlight on the country’s untapped potential in sectors beyond oil.
Saudi Arabia has long been a destination for religious tourism, particularly for the Muslim pilgrimages of Hajj and Umrah. With the sacred cities of Mecca and Medina within its borders, the Kingdom has drawn millions of devout Muslims from around the world. This influx has inevitably contributed to the revenue stream, especially in sectors like hospitality, food, and travel.
Saudi Arabia’s Vision 2030, an ambitious blueprint for diversifying its economy, aims to reduce dependency on oil revenues and invest heavily in various sectors, including tourism. Spearheaded by Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, Vision 2030 encompasses transformative projects like the Red Sea Resort and NEOM, a planned $500 billion megacity. These initiatives intend to open Saudi Arabia to international tourists, attracting a demographic that goes beyond religious pilgrims.
Saudi Arabia has gradually eased its travel restrictions and visa policies to make it more tourist friendly. The introduction of the e-visa system, in particular, has made it easier for travelers to visit the Kingdom.
The recent revenue of $9.86 billion from tourism serves as an immediate economic shot in the arm for Saudi Arabia. The numbers are impressive, especially when compared to other nations with robust tourism sectors. The surge in tourism directly translates into increased Gross Domestic Product (GDP) and employment opportunities. The tourism sector has started to become a pivotal component of the Saudi economy, potentially contributing to a percentage rise in the annual GDP. The massive inflow of tourists is also expected to generate job opportunities, especially in hospitality, retail, and transport.
Saudi Arabia has recently been grappling with a fragile economic situation, exemplified by a current account deficit. The influx of tourism revenue significantly ameliorates this concern, facilitating a healthier balance of payments and boosting financial reserves. The robust earnings from tourism herald a new phase of financial diversification for Saudi Arabia. As the country reduces its dependency on oil revenues, a balanced economic portfolio incorporating tourism revenue minimizes vulnerability to global market fluctuations in the oil sector.
The surge in tourism is also a strong magnet for foreign investment. Investors are likely to see the economic uptick as a signal to invest in Saudi tourism and related sectors. Moreover, it opens doors for international collaborations and partnerships. Whether it’s in marketing strategies to promote tourism or technology transfer for sustainable practices, global partnerships are expected to enrich Saudi Arabia’s tourism landscape in multiple dimensions.
The tourism boom also brings a wave of cultural interchange. The conservative nation is now exposed to various global perspectives, which could be a step toward more progressive societal norms. However, this sudden rise in international exposure raises questions about the country’s cultural ethos. How will a traditionally conservative Saudi society balance its deeply rooted customs and religious norms with the more liberal attitudes of a diverse global tourist populace?
Saudi Arabia’s staggering earnings in a short period elevate it to the league of nations like the United Arab Emirates, which earned $44.4 billion in tourism. It is clear that Saudi Arabia has not only joined the tourism competition but has also managed to give some of the leading nations a run for their money.
Impact on Industries
The sheer number of tourists flocking to Saudi Arabia in such a short span undoubtedly places a considerable demand on the hospitality industry. Hotels, resorts, and other lodging options need to be ready to accommodate millions, which creates a positive ripple effect in related sectors like construction, interior design, and facility management. Moreover, there’s a corresponding need for improved public infrastructure, including roads, airports, and mass transit systems to cope with the influx of visitors.
As part of the country’s broader digital transformation goals, the Saudi government is looking at adopting smart city technologies not only for its futuristic NEOM project but also in existing cities to facilitate smooth tourism operations. This could mean the rise of app-based services that guide tourists, digital information kiosks, electronic payment gateways, and similar tech-savvy enhancements that modern travelers expect.
With a multicultural visitor base, the demand for a diverse range of food options is inevitable. This change is likely to fuel a boom in the food and beverage industry, perhaps even encouraging a more cosmopolitan culinary scene in Saudi Arabia, which is traditionally dominated by Middle Eastern cuisine.
Any surge in tourism comes with environmental ramifications, and Saudi Arabia is no exception. From pollution and waste management to natural resource consumption, the country needs to invest in sustainable practices to mitigate the environmental impact of its booming tourism sector.
Saudi Arabia is located in a geopolitically sensitive area, and thus security is a significant concern. The country will need to invest in both physical and cyber security measures to protect its visitors and its newfound economic interests.
Saudi Arabia’s astronomical rise in tourist numbers and the corresponding billions earned in revenue mark an unprecedented shift in the country’s economic and social landscape. It is a bellwether not just for Saudi Arabia but also for how countries can pivot their economies in the 21st century. The transformation from a mono-economy, dependent on fossil fuels, to a diversified portfolio that includes a burgeoning tourism sector, could serve as a model for other nations seeking to adapt and thrive in a rapidly changing global marketplace.
The next ten years will be crucial for Saudi Arabia, not only to maintain this momentum but also to address the associated challenges effectively. If managed wisely, this sea change in Saudi tourism could be a cornerstone in the country’s long-term growth and stability, fundamentally altering its role and reputation in the global arena. With strategic planning, investment in sustainable practices, and a commitment to evolving without losing sight of its cultural heritage, Saudi Arabia is well on its way to defining a new future for itself and setting a precedent for the world to follow.
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