Struggling to remain on the sidelines of the 21st century’s watershed war in Ukraine, Middle Eastern nations are discovering that they may be fighting their battles with an outdated toolkit.
As a result, the Ukraine war could saw off the legs from under the table of Middle Eastern détente that already are built on shaky ground.
For the past 18 months, Middle Eastern rivals – Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Qatar, Turkey, Iran, and Israel – have sought to hedge their bets by diversifying their relationships with major powers, the United States, China, and/or Russia.
Increasingly, the rivals are finding out that the Ukraine conflict threatens to narrow their ability to hedge. The conflict has, irrespective of the outcome of the war, reduced not only big power competition to a two- rather than three-horse race but also opened the door to a Cold War-style international relations based on the principle of ‘you are with us or against us.’
Even if portraying the Ukraine conflict as a showdown in a titanic battle between democracy and autocracy may be misleading and/or overstated, it does not distract from the fact that the war has shaken, if not undermined, a major pillar of autocracy, Russia.
Even so, Saudi Arabia, the UAE, and Israel may privately welcome potential Russian sabotage of negotiations in Vienna to revive the 2015 Iranian nuclear agreement, given that they view it as deeply flawed. Middle Eastern states may also find that the sabotage is one of Moscow’s last hurrahs as it is hit by harsh Western sanctions and drawn into what is likely to be an all-consuming quagmire.
As fears grew of a Russian monkey wrench, Iranian Spiritual Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei defended Iran’s support of militias in various Arab countries, including the Houthis in Yemen who have been firing missiles and drones at targets in the two countries. On Thursday, a Houthi drone attacked a refinery in Riyadh, causing a small fire.
“Our presence in regional issues is our strategic depth… (It’s) a means of power,” Mr. Khamenei told Iran’s Council of Experts that includes the country’s most powerful clerics.
Turkey and Israel have so far been able to package their hedge by exploiting their close ties to both Russia and Ukraine to play the role of mediator even if mediation at this stage of the war has little if any chance of success.
By contrast, Saudi Arabia and the UAE find themselves far more exposed and in the ironic position of sharing a boat with their nemeses, Iran and its Lebanese ally, Hezbollah, as they maneuver in a geopolitical minefield. Like the conservative Gulf states, Iran too has sought to remain on the sidelines of the Ukraine conflict.
More fundamentally, the conflict could upset the house of cards on which Middle Eastern détente is built. The driving principle of that détente is to kick the can down the road on significant disagreements over issues, including political Islam and Palestine in favour of closer economic, and in the case of Israel, the UAE, Saudi Arabia, and potentially Qatar, closer security cooperation.
This week, Israel Defense Forces chief Aviv Kohavi reportedly discussed military cooperation with his Qatari counterpart, Salem bin Hamad bin Mohammed bin Aqeel Al-Nabi, during an official visit to Bahrain. Unlike Bahrain and the UAE, Qatar has refused to formalize its informal relations with Israel as long as there is no settlement of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
The Russian invasion of Ukraine resonates among the Gulf’s smaller states, three of which know first-hand what bullying by larger neighbours in violation of international law means. Iran has occupied three Emirati islands in the Gulf since 1971. Iraq invaded Kuwait in 1990 while fears of a military intervention accompanied a 3.5 year-long Saudi-UAE-led economic and diplomatic boycott of Qatar.
This week, Washington Post columnist Farid Zakaria argued that the Ukraine conflict has ushered in a new era “marked by the triumph of politics over economics. For the past three decades, most countries have acted with one lodestar in mind: economic growth. They have embraced trade, technology, and domestic reforms, all to produce more growth. Those kinds of choices are possible in an atmosphere in which one does not have to worry that much about the core issue of national security.”
That could be as true for the Middle East as it is for much of the world, particularly if sitting on the fence becomes less of an option and fault lines sharpen if the Vienna talks fail.
Already, the crown princes of Saudi Arabia and the UAE, Mohammed bin Salman and Mohammed bin Zayed, may find that they overplayed their cards when they allegedly refused to take a phone call from US President Joe Biden to discuss cooperation in increasing oil production to reduce prices.
Mr. Biden ultimately spoke to King Salman, with Mr. Bin Salman listening in although not participating. Mr. Biden had earlier offered to talk with Mr. Bin Salman, breaking a boycott of the crown prince because of his alleged involvement in the 2018 killing of journalist Jamal Khashoggi.
Mr. Bin Zayed is proving to be the most overexposed. The UAE has already begun to dither on the oil production with its powerful ambassador in Washington, Yusuf al-Otaiba, suggesting that the Emirates was considering a hike, only for Energy Minister Suhail Al Mazrouei to reiterate the country’s commitment to current OPEC+ production levels.
Emirati officials insisted that the two statements were not contradictory. They said the UAE favoured a production increase but was bound by OPEC+ agreements. OPEC+ is scheduled to meet on March 31.
The manoeuvre was partly an Emirati effort to cover the country’s flank and partly a demonstration of the UAE’s ability to help reduce prices. Oil prices dropped 13 per cent after Mr. Al-Otaiba’s remarks.
The influx of Russians looking for places to safely park their money and assets; leaks about real estate holding of oligarchs in Dubai, including ones belonging to now sanctioned individuals; stepped-up private aircraft traffic between Moscow and Dubai, and the sighting of Russian-owned superyachts off the UAE coast could not come at a worse time.
Earlier this month, the Financial Action Task Force, a Paris-based international anti-money laundering and anti-terrorism finance watchdog, grey listed the UAE for lagging in identifying illicit funds flowing into the country. The listing that groups the UAE alongside 22 others, including Pakistan, Syria, South Sudan, Yemen, and Myanmar, dealt a blow to the country’s image as a go-to global financial hub
“What separates Dubai from other traditional havens for dirty money is the amazing secrecy. As a fugitive in Dubai, you can snatch up property, stash your yachts and set up bank accounts with very few obstacles. It’s also one of the few autocracies that’s a destination — rather than a transit location — for illicit flows,” said Jodi Vittori, who co-authored a study of Dubai’s financial flows.
Playing games in NATO, Turkey eyes its role in a new world order
NATO’s spat over Turkish opposition to Swedish and Finnish membership is about more than expanding the North Atlantic military alliance. It’s as much about Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s immediate political goals as Turkey’s positioning itself in a new 21st-century world order.
On its surface, the spat is about Turkish efforts to hinder support for Kurdish ethnic, cultural, and national aspirations in Turkey, Syria, and Iraq and a crackdown on alleged supporters of a preacher who lives in exile in the United States. Turkey accuses the preacher, Fethullah Gulen, of instigating a failed military coup in 2016.
The spat may also be a play by NATO’s second-largest standing military to regain access to US arms sales, particularly upgrades for Turkey’s aging fleet of F-16 fighter jets as well as more advanced newer models of the F-16 and the top-of-the-line F-35.
Finally, playing the Kurdish card benefits Mr. Erdogan domestically, potentially at a time that the Turkish economy is in the doldrums with a 70 per cent inflation rate.
“Erdogan always benefits politically when he takes on the Kurdistan Workers Party (the PKK) and groups linked to it, like the YPG in Syria… In fact, attacking the PKK and the YPG is a two-for-one. Erdogan is seen to take on genuine terrorists and separatists, and at the same time, he gets to take a swipe at the United States, which taps into the vast reservoir of anti-Americanism in Turkey,” said Middle East scholar Steven A. Cook.
While important issues in and of themselves, they are also likely to influence where Turkey will rank as the world moves towards a bi-polar or multi-polar power structure.
The battle over perceived Scandinavian, and mainly, Swedish support for Kurdish aspirations involves the degree to which the United States and Europe will continue to kick the can down on the road of what constitutes yet another Middle Eastern powder keg.
Mr. Erdogan announced this week that Turkey would soon launch a new military incursion against US-backed Kurdish fighters in northeast Syria. Mr. Erdogan said the operation would extend the Turkish armed forces’ areas of control in Syria to a 30-kilometer swath of land along the two countries’ shared border.
“The main target of these operations will be areas which are centers of attacks to our country and safe zones,” the Turkish president said.
Turkey asserts that the US-backed People’s Protection Units (YPG), a Syrian militia that helped defeat the Islamic State, is an extension of the PKK. The PKK has waged a decades-long insurgency against Turkey, home to some 16 million Kurds. Turkey, the United States, and the European Union have designated the PKK as a terrorist organisation.
Mr. Erdogan charges that Sweden and Finland give the PKK sanctuary and is demanding that the two countries extradite the group’s operatives. Turkey has not officially released the names of 33 people it wants to see extradited, but some were reported in Turkish media close to the government.
Swedish media reported that a physician allegedly on the list had died seven years ago and was not known to have had links to the PKK. Another person named was not resident in Sweden, while at least one other is a Swedish national.
Swedish and Finnish officials were in Ankara this week to discuss Turkey’s objections. Swedish Prime Minister Magdalena Andersson insisted as the officials headed for the Turkish capital that “we do not send money or weapons to terrorist organizations.”
Conveniently, pro-government media reported the day the officials arrived that Turkish forces found Swedish anti-tank weapons in a cave in northern Iraq used by the PKK. Turkey recently launched Operation Claw Lock against PKK positions in the region.
Mr. Erdogan’s military plans complicate Swedish and Finnish accession to NATO. The two Nordic states slapped an arms embargo on Ankara after its initial incursion into Syria in 2019. The Turkish leader has demanded the lifting of the embargo as part of any deal on Swedish and Finnish NATO membership.
A renewed incursion that would cement Turkey’s three-year-old military presence in Syria could also throw a monkey wrench into improving relations with the United States due to Turkish support for Ukraine and efforts to mediate an end to the crisis sparked by the Russian invasion.
Turkey slowed its initial incursion into Syria after then US President Donald J. Trump threatened to “destroy and obliterate” Turkey’s economy.
The State Department warned this week that a renewed incursion would “undermine regional stability.”
Revived US arms sales would go a long way to cement improved relations and downplay the significance of Turkey’s acquisition of Russia’s S-400 anti-missile system, even if Turkey’s opposition to Scandinavian membership will have a lingering effect on trust. The United States expelled Turkey from its F-35 program in response to the acquisition.
This week, Mr. Erdogan appeared to widen the dispute in NATO after Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis lobbied the US Congress against military sales to Turkey. “Mitsotakis no longer exists for me. I will never agree to meet him,” Mr. Erdogan said. He said that Mr. Mitostakis’ lobbying violated an agreement between the two men “not to involve third countries in our bilateral issues.”
The US arms sales would also impact Turkish Russian relations, even if Turkey, in contrast to most NATO members, will continue seeking to balance its relationships and avoid an open rift with Moscow or Washington.
“Russia’s geopolitical revisionism is set to drive Turkey and the West relatively closer together in matters geopolitical and strategic, provided that Turkey’s current blockage of Sweden and Finland’s NATO membership bid is resolved in the not too distant future,” said Turkey scholar Galip Dalay.
Turkey’s NATO gamble is a game of high-stakes poker, given that Russia is as much a partner of Turkey as it is a threat.
NATO is Turkey’s ultimate shield against Russian civilizationalist expansionism. Russian support in 2008 for irredentist regions of Georgia and annexation of Crimea in 2014 created a buffer between Turkey and Ukraine and complicated arrangements between Turkey and Russia in the Black Sea.
Nevertheless, Mr. Erdogan risks fueling a debate about Turkey’s membership in NATO, much like Prime Minister Victor Orban’s opposition to a European embargo of Russian energy has raised questions about Hungary’s place in the EU.
“Does Erdogan’s Turkey Belong in NATO?” asked former US vice-presidential nominee Joe Lieberman and Mark D. Wallace, a former senator, in an oped in The Wall Street Journal. Unlike Finland and Sweden, the two men noted that Turkey would not meet NATO’s democracy requirements if it were applying for membership today.
“Turkey is a member of NATO, but under Mr. Erdogan, it no longer subscribes to the values that underpin this great alliance. Article 13 of the NATO charter provides a mechanism for members to withdraw. Perhaps it is time to amend Article 13 to establish a procedure for the expulsion of a member nation,” Messrs. Lieberman and Wallace wrote.
The two men implicitly argued that turning the tables on Turkey would force the complicated NATO member back into line.
Adding to that, prominent Turkish journalist and analyst Cengiz Candar cautioned that “giving into Ankara’s demands amounts to letting an autocrat design the security architecture of Europe and shape the future of the Western system.”
The May 27 Coup: An Attempt to Analyze Politics in Gramscian Terms
On 27 May in 1960, Turkey witnessed its first full-fledged military coup. The coup was of a non-hierarchical nature in the sense that it was not carried out by generals but by other military officers belonging to lower status such as colonels. What paved the way for the coup can be seen as multi-dimensional. What I will try to do in this piece is not to put forward the reasons why that military intervention occurred or the impact it had upon society and politics in Turkey. My main concern is to analyze Turkish politics in Gramscian terms between the years 1960–1961.
The Democrat Party which was overthrown in 1960 can be viewed as a party which was supported by the masses who are critical of the single-party era. The strict state interpretation of secularism was undermined to some degree during the DP rule and this was welcomed by the masses in Turkey. Moreover, the economic backwardness of the rural areas was undermined to some extent, this development can also be seen as an important source of relief for the masses during that period. However, as Acton states “power corrupts”, the DP in the course of time had adopted some autocratic policies that discomforted the state establishment, most notably the military elites. Moreover, the state establishment thought that the DP had undermined the Kemalist principles especially in terms of challenging the secular character of Turkey.
Apart from political reasons, the structure of the military played a key role in the emergence of the 1960 coup d’état. As known, in 1952, Turkey became a part of the NATO, and this membership made the military personnel become more aware of the economic and technological backwardness of the army. Briefly, it can be said that those years were times of change: the military staff had become much more aware of the armies of other NATO members and as noted above, this paved the way for making them realize how backward they were both in technological and financial terms. On the other hand, there was a significant transformation of the Turkish society as domestic migration to cities was witnessed. Also the victory of the DP rule and then its tendencies towards a more authoritarian line played a central role in destabilizing the country.
What I attempt to do in this piece is to employ three of Gramsci’s terms / conceptualizations in analyzing Turkish politics before and after the 1960’s coup d’état. These concepts are hegemony, organic intellectuals and historical bloc. The term hegemony can simply be defined as the following: A society cannot be ruled through sole coercion and oppression; non-material instruments are needed, such as consent and persuasion, as well. Organic intellectuals can be defined as the intellectuals who are different from conventional intellectuals. Organic intellectuals have a significant role in society, they play a key role in the reproduction of the dominant ideology (hegemonic discourses) and they try to integrate the masses into the dominant ideology.
Historical bloc refers to a particular period of time with a particular type of power configuration shaped both by economic and political factors. The establishment of a historical bloc can be regarded as the end of the ideological dominance of a certain group while being the start of the dominance / ideological hegemony of another group.
First of all, the term ‘hegemony’ can be a good starting point in analyzing Turkish politics just before the military intervention. As noted, societies cannot be ruled by coercion only; there is also a strong need for consent. As known, the policies of the DP after the mid-1950s had begun to have an authoritarian character.
The DP rule chose not to negotiate with the opposing forces in the parliament, by contrast, the DP leaders chose to establish special investigative committees (tahkikat komisyonu) in order to cope with the opposing forces. These committees can be regarded as an instrument of coercion. In addition, freedom of speech had been under threat as the DP rule adopted strict censorship policies. These developments weakened the relative power of consent that was evident in the first years of the DP rule. In other words, it can be stated that, the hegemony of the political elites (the DP) had begun to be questioned right before the coup.
Secondly, the term ‘historical bloc’ can be employed in order to understand what had happened after the coup.As known, the military intervention put an end to the DP rule and party leaders while some other important political figures were sent to trial. Some of them were hanged later on. After the coup, transitional governments were established. These governments can be formulized as follows: Army + Republican People’s Party (RPP) = Political Power. It can be said that, the end of the DP rule can be seen as the end of a certain historical bloc. The historical bloc of the DP rule and its social/electoral basis had collapsed and another historical bloc, that of the RPP and the military came into-being.
Thirdly, a look at the new constitution drafting process will help us while evaluating the role of the ‘organic intellectuals’ in analyzing Turkish politics of that time period. After the coup, the military officers had asked some law professors to make a brand new constitution for Turkey. The nature of the 1961 constitution is not under investigation here, so only the role of the professors will be analyzed. The law professors were of Kemalist ideology and were determined to make a constitution in line with the ideology of the military. It is obvious that the professors played some sort of an organic intellectual role in making the new regime’s ideology dominant in the society. By drafting a new constitution, they aimed at justifying the coup as well as producing the ideology of the new regime. In addition, it can be stated that, the new constitution was seen as a tool for building up the new hegemony after the coup. The new laws paved the way for the diversification of the political arena letting new political actors emerge.
To put it in a nutshell it can be said that the events preceding and following the 1960 coup can be a good case study for applying Gramscian terms/conceptualizations in analyzing Turkish politics.
India-UAE tourism and education linkages
In spite of the continued uncertainty with regard to the trajectory of the covid19 pandemic, globally, countries are trying to return to normalcy. Significantly, the performance of United Arab Emirates (UAE’s) tourism sector in the first quarter of 2022 was not just back to pre-covid levels, but actually managed to do better.
H.E. Dr. Ahmad Belhoul Al Falasi, Minister of State for Entrepreneurship and Small and Medium Enterprises and Chairman of the UAE Tourism Council highlighted these point while providing tourism figures for Q1 2022.Hotels received an estimated six million visitors in the first quarter of the year – a rise of 10% from 2019. Revenues for the first quarter of 2022, were AED (United Arab Emirates Dinar) 11 billion or USD 3 billion (2.9 billion) which was a jump of 20% from the first quarter of 2019.
The stellar performance of UAE’s tourism sector in the first quarter of 2022 is being attributed to a number of factors including two major events — the Dubai Expo 2020 and the World’s Coolest winter campaign.
In order to attract more visitors to the Dubai Expo 2020, UAE had also relaxed conditions for international travellers. The Emirate has also introduced new visitor visa categories with an eye on giving a boost to tourism. What is remarkable is that during the first quarter of 2022, average occupancy increased 25% from 3 nights to 4 nights and witnessed an 80% growth (no other country had such high occupancy rates)
The total number of tourists received was 4 million, and not surprisingly, Indian nationals along with tourists from UK, US and Russia accounted for a significant percentage of tourists to UAE. While other countries like Singapore have also opened their borders to international tourists, including Indians, and removed restrictions, the biggest advantage the UAE has is its geographical location – especially for tourists from the South Asian region. Given that the travelling time is less, even short breaks are possible.
Apart from this, getting a UAE visa is relatively easier than one for the west and even ASEAN countries. UAE also has enough to offer for families in terms of shopping, recreation etc. There is also a wide variety of options, as far as hotels are concerned. Since a significant number of Indians have business links or even offices in Dubai, in many cases holidays are coupled up with business trips. The fact that UAE hosts important cricketing events – in 2021 it hosted the Indian Premier League (IPL) 2021 and T20 world cup – will help it in attracting more Indian tourists in the future.
UAE is not only likely to continue to remain as a favoured tourist destination, but in the near future, it is also likely to attract more international students, especially from India. Apart from its geographical location, and the fact that it is home to a substantial population of South Asian expats, it is also home to a number of campuses of UK and US universities.
Most importantly with an eye on attracting qualified professionals and researchers, UAE has introduced a long term residency visa, dubbed as Golden Visa for researchers, medical professionals and those within the scientific and knowledge fields, and remarkable students. Here it would be pertinent to point out that UAE-India Comprehensive Economic Partnership Agreement (CEPA) which came into effect earlier this month permits easier access for Indian engineers, IT professionals, accountancy professionals and nurses. The introduction of short term work visas will also help in attracting professionals from India.
In the past, one of the reasons why UAE lost out to other countries, in attracting professionals and students from South Asia (though the number of Indian professionals in UAE has been increasing in recent years), who preferred the West, Australia or Singapore, was the fact that UAE did not provide long term residency.
With the introduction of long-term visas, it is not only professionals, but even students who otherwise may have sought to pursue education in the west who will now look towards the UAE. One of the options, which students from India could go for is the dual degree program, which has been introduced by many UK universities, where they spend some time in UAE and the rest in UK. Here it would be pertinent to point out, that UAE universities are also offering scholarships with an eye on attracting international students. One of the provisions of the India-UAE Foreign Trade Agreement (FTA) which both countries signed earlier this year is that India will set up an IIT in Abu Dhabi.
The UAE has been seeking to re-invent for some years. A good example of this is the UAE Vision 2021, Dubai Vision 2030 and Abu Dhabi Vision 2030. The Gulf nation has been able not only to handle covid19 successfully, but with its innovative and visionary thinking it has been able to do remarkably well in attracting tourists. Its ability to think out of the box will enable it to emerge as an important economic hub. UAE is likely to not just remain a favoured tourist destination, but also could emerge as a top preference for Indian nationals to study and work.
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