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Russia-Maghreb: What Future?

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The Maghreb region, with an estimated population of over 100 million people, has been an interesting geographical region for key global players due to its tremendous untapped natural resources. Algeria, Libya, Mauritania, Morocco, and Tunisia established the Arab Maghreb Union in 1989 to promote cooperation and economic integration. The union included Western Sahara implicitly under Morocco’s membership, and ended Morocco’s long cold war with Algeria over this territory. However, this progress was short-lived, and the union is now dormant.

That however, the region is an important gateway to Europe and to sub-Saharan Africa. Europe particularly has some investment, so also the United States. Now Russia is steadily making its way through war-thorn Libya and politically troubled Morocco and Tunisia. That compared Russia has significant trust-based relations with Egypt.

As Russia feverishly preparing for the second all-African leaders summit, Kester Kenn Klomegah held an emailed interview focusing on some aspects of Russia-Maghreb relations with Dr. Chtatou Mohamed, a senior professor of Middle Eastern politics at the International University of Rabat (IUR) as well as education science at Mohammed V University in Rabat, Morocco. The following are excerpts from the interview:

Question: In terms of geopolitical diplomacy, how do we assess Russia’s interest and approach since Soviet collapse in the Maghreb region? Do the current political changes pose challenges for Russia?

Answer: Given its geographical remoteness, the Maghreb did not constitute – unlike the Middle East – a pole of major strategic interest for the Soviet Union, and this until the period of decolonization in the 1950s. From this point on, and especially with the Algerian war of independence, Moscow began to invest in this sub-region of the Arab world. In fact, as in the Mashreq, the Soviet position strategic criteria, which explained the choice of a partnership with Algeria as early as 1962, and then, to a lesser extent, with Colonel Qadhafi’s Libya after he took power in 1969.

However, it was more in the name of the “anti-imperialist” struggle than of a real ideological proximity that these alliances were formed. Indeed, during the entire Cold War period, Soviet power could not count on local relays to strengthen its influence. The Maghrebi parties of communist persuasion were indeed far from having the weight and influence of their Middle Eastern counterparts, such as in Iraq or Iran. They were promptly removed from power and even repressed after independence, even if some of their leaders were later co-opted by the regimes in place, particularly in Morocco and Algeria. Nevertheless, the revolutionary Third Worldism claimed by Algiers as well as by Tripoli, even if it did not claim to be based on Marxist-Leninist ideology, was perceived by the USSR as conforming to its interests and its politico-strategic projections.

For all that, the leaders of the two “friendly” Maghreb countries, while taking into account the interest that an extended cooperation with Moscow (which also passed by links with satellite countries of Eastern Europe, particularly in terms of security with the German Democratic Republic), they were careful to keep a certain distance from this partner, refusing any form of subjection according to the principles of non-alignment.

Today, the Maghreb is not a fundamental interest for Russia, but rather a source of economic and political opportunities. The Russian redeployment in the Maghreb, which began during Vladimir Putin’s second term in 2004 and has been over the last decade, relies on new vectors, distinct from the old anti-imperialist aura from which the Soviet Union had benefited in Algeria and Libya. Three in particular stand out: (1) Investment in the economic sphere; (2) Increased cooperation in the security field, and; (3) A shared vision of international and regional issues.

Today, the federal state of Russia is increasingly present in the countries of North Africa; strategic partnership with Algeria, Morocco and Egypt, and is among the key players in the Libyan crisis.

Russia and the Maghreb countries seek above all to cultivate their economic relations. These relations cover various fields such as energy, agricultural products, tourism, space or, in the case of Algeria, the sale of arms. For Moscow, this also responds to the need to deal with the sanctions of the European Union imposed following the annexation of Crimea in 2014, seeking alternatives to European products, especially agro-food. Russia meets a similar desire on the Maghreb side, where there is a desire to diversify the partnerships dominated until now by the countries of the European Union. In 2016, Russia thus became, by passing France, the first supplier of wheat to Algeria and has remained so since. It should be noted that the Russian economic projection in the region does not necessarily responds to a state strategy driven by the Kremlin, but often satisfies commercial ambitions in search of new opportunities, although the political authorities can facilitate contacts with the various Maghrebi economic actors.

The North African countries have considerably developed their relations with Russia, as they did before with China, without however prohibiting themselves from cooperating with the other Western powers. Their objective is to take advantage of any opportunity that arises to develop their economies and avoid remaining aligned and dependent on a single pole as in the days of the Cold War, given that the world is increasingly multipolar.

Therefore, questions arise, what are the mutual interests behind this revival in relations between Russia and the countries of North Africa, and what are the future prospects of these relations?

Russia has a war fleet and a merchant fleet in the Black Sea. This sea is located between Europe, the Caucasus and Anatolia, it is a semi-enclosed sea since it only communicates with the Mediterranean through the Bosphorus Strait, the Sea of Marmara and the Dardanelles Strait. Therefore, the Mediterranean is an unavoidable access corridor for Russian ships, connected to its Black Sea ports, to go to the Atlantic Ocean via the Strait of Gibraltar, or to the Indian Ocean via the Suez Canal.

For the Kremlin, the countries of North Africa are of paramount geostrategic importance on the maritime level, because its merchant ships and warships transiting in the Mediterranean Sea cross 3 obligatory passages which are bordered by: Egypt for the Suez Canal, Tunisia for the Strait of Sicily and Morocco for the Strait of Gibraltar. These compulsory passages are, from the point of view of freedom of navigation, locks that can be easily controlled by the countries that border them on both sides.

On the geo-economic level, the five Arab countries of North Africa present themselves for the Kremlin as an unavoidable interface to enter the African continent, rich in raw materials and presented as the great world consumer market in the future because of the demographic explosion of its population. It was during his visit to Algeria in 2006 that Putin laid the first milestone for Russia’s return to Africa. It is also Egypt, which played a leading role in the organization of the 1st Russia-Africa summit in October 2019 in Sochi.

Russia’s economic interests in Africa are increasingly growing in recent years, Moscow’s trade with African countries exceeded $20 billion in 2019. This figure is still lower than that of China ($204 billion), the US and even some European countries such as France and Germany.

Russia aims to diversify its trade with African countries by focusing on high technology, such as civil nuclear power (in Egypt) and satellite launches (in Angola and Tunisia). Russia is also very active in the medical sector in Africa, vaccination campaign against the Ebola virus in Guinea, etc…

Q: United States and European Union have concrete strategic instruments, for instance, the U.S.-Maghreb FTA and Euro-Mediterranean Partnership. What could be described as Russia’s strategic economic tool in North Africa?

A: While China has been the focus of public attention on the African continent for some years, Moscow is no longer behind. After a prolonged absence since the demise of the Soviet Union, Russia is becoming more and more active, mixing armed forces presence, arms sales, economic investment, soft power and diplomatic support.

At the BRICS summit in Johannesburg on July 27, 2018, the Russian President raised the idea of a Russian-African summit bringing together all the continent’s leaders and himself. This ambitious initiative does not leave the traditional players established in this field worried that the Russian proposals will prove attractive enough for a number of local heads of state.

Indeed, Russia intends to return to the continent where its presence has often been fluctuating. Even in the 1970s, the height of the Soviet grip on Africa, its presence was episodic, with rare exceptions, such as in Algeria, Libya and Angola. Then the gradual removal of many heads of state who were allies of the Soviet Union led Mikhail Gorbachev, from 1988 onwards, to gradually weaken ties with the continent. These did not survive the disappearance of the USSR in 1991, and the Yeltsin period sounded the death knell for these friendships. It was not until the second term of Vladimir Putin, from 2008, that timid initiatives were taken to remind certain countries of Russia’s past role.

One of the notable changes from the Cold War era is that the new Russian policy in the Maghreb no longer relies solely on the historical partner of Algeria, but also extends to previously neglected states, namely Morocco and Tunisia, because of their political and historical ties to the Western world. Libya is a special case.

Russia’s renewed interest in the Maghreb is based on a number of parameters that have already been essentially well identified. First and foremost, there is the development of economic partnerships, whether in the fields of armaments, energy, infrastructure or agriculture. Next, in order of priority, are security issues, with the fight against terrorism and jihadism, but more broadly the effects of the Libyan crisis, even if Russia’s investment in this issue appears less developed and partisan than it appears at first glance.

The emphasis placed on the political-diplomatic aspect, crystallized from the Arab uprisings and more particularly since the overthrow of the Libyan regime following NATO’s intervention in 2011, constitutes the most novel parameter of this Russian reinvestment. As in the rest of the Arab world, Moscow is defending the status quo, or rather a “principle of conservation” defined by its support for the regimes in place, non-interference in the internal affairs of a state, and its opposition to regime change through foreign military intervention.

While Russia’s preferred visions and modes of action in the Maghreb seem to be fairly well identified, the perceptions and expectations, but also the possible reservations on the Maghreb are more rarely expressed by the leaders of these countries and little studied at the academic level. Perhaps we should look at this, as far as the powers that be are concerned, a concern for discretion regarding the sensitive aspects of this foreign policy component – this is particularly true for Algeria – an area on which they generally communicate little and for the academic research community in North Africa, a lack of knowledge related to the history, geography and culture of contemporary Russia.

If there is undoubtedly, on the Maghreb side and with important nuances from one country to another, a manifest interest in a development or a deepening of the partnership with Moscow, questions may remain about Russia’s objectives, especially in Rabat and Tunis. Despite this, the general and regional orientations of Russian policy are generally well perceived in the Maghreb capitals, because they correspond to local visions without, however, having the intrusive character that sometimes reproached to the historical European partners (France, Italy, Spain) and American partners.

Thus, the Russian approach responds to expectations of diversification in terms of partnership which correspond to an economic rather than a strategic necessity. This relationship appears to be facilitated by a convergence of views on major regional issues and the principles governing international relations, perhaps also because of the limits set for it. However, certain expectations on the Maghreb side could be disappointed, particularly concerning economic investments, but also a possible attempt at Russian mediation to facilitate a settlement process for the Libyan crisis, knowing that Moscow has some conditions.

One of the discreet tools used by the Russia in the Maghreb and Africa is the Wagner Group that is present in Algeria providing tactical help to the Polisario Front fighting Morocco over the Western Sahara and in Libya, on the side of Marshal Haftar forces.

The Wagner Group should be approached as a nebulous or informal entity, since it is a structure without any legal existence. Unlike other Russian private military companies, of which there are many and of which RSB-Group is a well-known example, Wagner is not registered as a commercial company. Wagner’s lack of a defined legal status is advantageous for the Russian government, as it allows it to deny responsibility for its actions when the group is mobilized in different fields.

The links between the Russian executive and Wagner are important and take various forms. First, logistically, the training of the members of the Wagner group took place in Russia, in a military base belonging to the Russian armed forces. Some of the weapons available to Wagner members in Syria and Libya came from the Russian military surplus, and their deployment is usually carried out by Russian military aircraft. The Wagner Group is furthermore financed by a businessman considered close to Vladimir Putin, Yevgeny Prigozhin, who has secured some fairly large contracts in the Kremlin, particularly in the catering business.

Thus, there are obvious military logistical links and personal affinities between the Wagner Group and the Russian government. However, the link between the two entities is not organic and not all of Wagner’s interventions are linked to the Russian executive. Sometimes they proceed from a more lucrative logic, specific to the personal interests of Yevgeny Prigozhin.

First of all, the Wagner Group is able to participate in armed operations. In this, it is not just a private military company but a mercenary company. As examples, the group was employed by the Syrian government to liberate the Syrian Al Sha’er oil field in Homs from the Islamic State after the battle of Palmyra in 2016, but also as support to the Syrian Arab Army (SAA) in the fighting in Khusham in February 2018. Wagner has also provided support for Marshal Haftar’s offensives against Tripoli in 2019 and 2020. The group has participated in armed operations in northern Mozambique against Islamist insurgents seeking to establish an independent state in Cabo Delgado province, and more recently engaged with the Central African Republic’s army against the Patriot Coalition.

With regard to Russian strategy in the region, there has been a renewed interest in sub-Saharan Africa over the past decade. Defence diplomacy, that is, strengthening the country’s presence via the military tool (training or physical presence), has been an important instrument for Russia since 2014-2015, and particularly in this region. About twenty agreements have thus been signed between Moscow and sub-Saharan African countries in the field of defence since that date.

Economic issues also motivate the renewed Russian interest in the region. In the field of armaments, the countries of the zone are an interesting clientele for Russia. In 2010, they represented 10% of Russian arms sales. Today they account for 30%, making Russia the leading supplier of arms to the region.

Finally, the Russian strategy has a geopolitical dimension. While the context between Russia and Western countries is highly troubled, and characterized in particular by a regime of sanctions and counter-sanctions, Moscow has more room for manoeuvre with the countries of sub-Saharan Africa. However, the tensions between Russia and Western countries are also present in sub-Saharan Africa: the issues surrounding the Wagner group are one of the facets of this crisis.

Q: Do you detect any competition and rivalry among key foreign players for influence in the region? In your opinion, how effective and useful the emerging China-Russia alliance could be in Maghreb countries?

A: The impression is striking of a flashback to the West-Russia tensions that characterized the second half of the 20th century, from the aftermath of World War II until the collapse of the USSR in 1991. The two rival camps are beginning to openly sketch out the comparison, although observers note significant differences.

Following the gradual advent of the multi-polarity of the world since the beginning of the 2000s, most Mediterranean Arab countries have opened up to practically all the major world powers, the USA, China, Russia, the European powers and the powers emerging. The objective is to better serve the interests of their peoples and find solutions to the problems that prevent their development by exploiting the opportunities presented by each of these powers.

Currently the geopolitical relations of most Mediterranean Arab countries with Russia are good, even for those who were allies of the USA during the period of world bipolarity along the years of the Cold War (the case of Egypt and from Morocco).

Algiers, October 2, 2021, the Algerian government decides to recall its ambassador in Paris and close its airspace to French military aircraft. This decision was prompted by a speech by Emmanuel Macron on the Algerian memory issue, which was deemed disrespectful.  This incident represents the second act of a political-diplomatic standoff between Algeria and France, which decided in late September to drastically reduce the issuance of visas to nationals of Maghreb countries. Since this measure, relations between the two countries have continued to deteriorate, further weakening the popularity of France on an African continent that is already attracting the covetousness of many powers such as Russia, a historical ally of Algeria, whose eyes are now turned towards Mali.

Since the early 2000s, Russia has placed Africa and the Mediterranean at the center of its foreign policy. This position became even more important in 2015 when Moscow saw Syria as a way to reaffirm its status as an international power while defending its security and economic interests, which are the fight against terrorism and the development of trade agreements around energy.

In such a paradigm, the regional power that is Algeria is a choice ally, especially since their relations have been at a good level since the end of the Cold War. Moscow and Algiers share a similar conception of domestic and foreign policy. The report of the Mediterranean Foundation for Strategic Studies highlights this:

“In the end, Russia and Algeria share many common representations and biases: a focus on the sacrosanct stability (particularly through the importance given to the fight against terrorism), a preference for flexibility in diplomatic relations and a willingness to contribute – through mediation – to the resolution of conflicts. The two countries share the same aspiration to assert themselves as an independent power and to establish themselves as a regional and international power, respectively. This convergence of vision pushes the two states to help each other. One example is the case of Vladimir Putin who does not hesitate to relay the anti-colonialist speeches of Algiers by encouraging African countries to mobilize for political and economic independence. The Russian president thus urged “African countries to stop their dependence on France and to work to develop the continent considered the richest in the world” (Algérie Patriotique. (21 octobre 2020). « Alger et Moscou ne veulent plus laisser Rabat et Paris jouer seuls en Afrique »).

However, once we move away from political statements, it is easy to see that, behind its airs of mentor, Russia is an actor who enjoys a form of dependence from Algeria via unequal cooperation in several key areas. Thus, in 2017, Dmitri Medvedev, then head of the Russian state, signed with Algiers no less than six (6) documents on Russian-Algerian cooperation in a multitude of areas such as justice, energy, education or health. It is also not anecdotal that the choice of vaccine in the fight against Covid-19 was the Sputnik-V vaccine. Such a choice clearly reflects Algeria’s distrust of other Western powers, but above all Russia’s unavoidable position as the sponsor of an Algerian state that is too weak to prosper alone. By offering its help to a fragile Algeria, Russia ensures, without exposing itself, a real anchorage on the African continent. 

After the 2008 crisis, Beijing’s geopolitical positioning on the international stage remains highly ambiguous. On the one hand, China is described as a developing country because of the domestic economic and political problems it faces (the nature of its economic growth, environmental challenges, the fight against inequality, social tensions). These structural obstacles require reforms that slow down its international deployment. On the other hand, China is perceived as a major emerging country, given its strong economic growth and its status as the world’s second largest economy, which mechanically pushes it to take a greater interest in international issues and to move away from its policy of “non-interference.

Today, Beijing’s positioning is characterized by approaches that are sometimes cautious when the issues concern it less, and sometimes more assertive when it comes to neighborhood issues where its interests may be directly at stake. In the end, this ambivalent policy and its internal problems explain China’s positioning: a true emerging power on the economic level, it is not yet completely so on the geopolitical level.

Nevertheless, China already carries so much weight on the international scene that it is changing the world order. The question is to know how willing and able it will be to transform the functioning of the international system. In many ways the emergence of Russia-China alliance will strengthen the hand of these two countries politically, economically and socially in the Maghreb. Many see the emergence of such important block as a viable alternative to the West that has oppressed and exploited the region for centuries. Today many Maghrebi students go east to study and many businessmen go there to do commerce.

Q: How is “soft power” working in this region? What could be the expectations from Maghreb bloc during the forthcoming second Russia-Africa summit planned this November 2022?

A: The North Africa region has undergone extremely rapid modernization. Growing literacy (in less than fifty years, societies in the region have achieved a literacy rate of over 70% among adults and close to 100% in all countries among 15-24 year olds, including women) or the affirmation of the place of women are signs of a modernization in progress. The demographic and socio-cultural structures of these countries are changing and the political order of their societies, which explains some of the instability in the region and the “Arab Spring”. Other countries, where frustrations are great and where the states are struggling to respond to the political and economic aspirations of their populations could experience similar episodes.

In recent years, the alleged return of Russia to the African continent has attracted attention. It is not only the media that are interested in it, but also diplomats and governments of countries that, since the fall of the USSR, are in economic competition on the continent.

The increase in this interest began with the holding of the first Russia-Africa summit in Sochi in October 2019. The second summit, scheduled for 2022, is helping to reinforce the hypothesis of Russia’s repositioning on the continent. Is this a real geostrategic turning point? Or can we rather suspect tactical re-compositions in search of arms export markets or the exploitation of rare minerals?

The private security company Wagner, run by a man close to Vladimir Putin, has become the main instrument of Moscow’s reengagement on the continent, against a backdrop of rivalry and tension with the West.

Is this the beginning of a strategic shift that would see a new “Russafrique” supporting “Chinafrique” in an anti-Western conspiracy? Or a media fantasy dramatizing punctual and opportunistic, often fragile, breakthroughs? The arrival of Russian instructors and paramilitaries from the private security company Wagner, which is close to the Kremlin, in Mali at the end of 2021, is raising questions in Europe and the United States about Moscow’s plans in Africa. Through the multiplication of defence agreements and the activities of the Wagner Group, Russia has succeeded in meddling in several African countries: Mali, Libya, Sudan, Central African Republic, Mozambique… An advance that is sometimes erratic, contested or deceptive, and which extends over about five years.

In Egypt, in 2014, Russia got closer to the newly elected President Al-Sissi. It took advantage of the American disengagement following the Arab Spring and signed a $3.5 billion arms contract. Other agreements will link the two countries: military cooperation treaties (supply of arms and training), an agreement for the construction of the first Egyptian nuclear power plant, an economic outlet for its grain, et cetera. More recently, the two countries signed a contract to supply Russian Su-35 fighter planes to Egypt.

Russia is thus rapidly becoming the main arms seller in Africa. Over the period 2014-2019, it provided 49% of the arms sold to the continent, far ahead of the other main contributors: the United States (14%), China (13%) and France (6.1%).

However, these contracts mainly concern North Africa, the picture being much more mixed for West Africa, for example. Russia has not been involved in any major arms agreement with Mali, with the exception of the 2016 agreement where Mali signed a contract with Russia for four Mi-35M combat helicopters.

Russia’s return to Africa is not limited to debt cancellation and arms sales. In 2018, Russia’s trade with the African continent reached $20 billion (17.2% more than the previous year) and its investments reached $5 billion (a far cry from the $130 billion invested per year by China). Its ability to offer technologies sought after by African countries gives it a place of choice. For example, it cooperates with Algeria, Nigeria, Zambia and Egypt in the nuclear field. Moreover, its companies are particularly present in the exploitation of minerals, oil or gas. Gazprom, Rosneft and Lukoil are very active in the Sahara, North Africa, Nigeria and Ghana.

These links have also been strengthened from a diplomatic point of view, with the organization of the first Russia-Africa summit in Sochi in October 2019, which will have enabled Russia to bring together some thirty African heads of state and to sign several bilateral treaties (the joint statement mentions “92 agreements, contracts and memoranda of understanding […] with a total value of 1,400 billion rubles”. This is in line with Russia’s goal of doubling its trade with African states by 2024 (which would make it a direct competitor of France).

Russian realpolitik may explain Russia’s growing influence in Africa. Unlike other actors such as the United States or France, which may make the granting of aid or the signing of partnerships conditional on the respect of certain principles, Russia does not demand any conditions related to democracy or human rights. This is the case in Nigeria, where the United States cancelled a contract that had already been signed for human rights violations by Nigerian forces in the fight against Boko Harm. This withdrawal allowed Russia to sign a new arms contract with the country.

With the decision to return and raise its influence on the continent, and especially the Maghreb region, Russia has to make consistent efforts, at least, in addressing significant aspects of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) in Africa. That however, the worsening of the Libyan crisis and the deterioration of relations with European states are the only two obstacles that could limit or more seriously slow down this nascent economic cooperation. The next few years will undoubtedly be decisive for the realization of structuring projects between the Russian Federation and the Maghreb.

MD Africa Editor Kester Kenn Klomegah is an independent researcher and writer on African affairs in the EurAsian region and former Soviet republics. He wrote previously for African Press Agency, African Executive and Inter Press Service. Earlier, he had worked for The Moscow Times, a reputable English newspaper. Klomegah taught part-time at the Moscow Institute of Modern Journalism. He studied international journalism and mass communication, and later spent a year at the Moscow State Institute of International Relations. He co-authored a book “AIDS/HIV and Men: Taking Risk or Taking Responsibility” published by the London-based Panos Institute. In 2004 and again in 2009, he won the Golden Word Prize for a series of analytical articles on Russia's economic cooperation with African countries.

Middle East

Iran and Sudan’s Rapprochement in 2023: New Changes in the Regional Geopolitics of the Middle East

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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.

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Middle East

Sisi and the “New Republic” model in Egypt

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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”.

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Middle East

The Surge in Saudi Arabia’s Tourism

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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.

Economic Ramifications

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.

Social Impact

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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