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MIDEAST MIRROR 01.06.15, SECTION B (THE ARAB WORLD)

  

1-A difficult task

2-Blair’s unlamented departure

3-Fateful elections

 

1-A difficult task

 

The ongoing confrontation requires deploying all available diplomatic, economic, intellectual, and military means. It seems that it is Cairo and Riyadh's fate to assume this difficult task at this delicate point in time. This is the context in which to view new Saudi Foreign Minister 'Adel al-Jubeir's visit to Cairo and his consultations with senior Egyptian officials regarding developments in Yemen, Syria, and Libya and the means of confronting terrorism. The major Arab countries have come to the realization that 'Arab solidarity' is the sole means of improving the conditions in the Arab world and confronting the attempts to spread anarchy there. Moreover, the explosive crises in Yemen, Syria, and Libya cannot withstand wasting any more time. Unless Cairo and Riyadh lead the way and assume their responsibilities, it is hard to imagine an alternative that is capable of replacing them in fulfilling this task--Egyptian al-Ahram

 

Egypt’s leadership is especially sensitive about the Turkish/Qatari alliance, and this extends to any party that draws close to this alliance, since this is tantamount to backing the Muslim Brotherhood. It is unlikely that relations between Egypt and Saudi Arabia can be very warm after the latter has joined this alliance because President 'Abdelfattah as-Sissi's Egypt places the war on political Islam at the top of its list of priorities, viewing the Muslim Brotherhood as a 'terrorist' movement. Operation Decisive Storm has faltered and has failed to achieve most of its aims…After over two months of aerial bombardment, Saudi Arabia may be forced to reconsider its policies and alliances, especially after the Houthis have carried the war into Saudi territories and the recent bombings of Shiite mosques in ad-Dammam and al-Qutaif by ISIS sleeper cells. These two bombings in less than a week have generated a sense of fear and panic among both Saudi officials and the Saudi people. Saudi Arabia’s return to Egypt after a period of alienation and lukewarm relations is one indication of such a review, or at least paves the way for it-- pan-Arab www.raialyoum.com

 

The new Saudi foreign minister's visit to Cairo, which is his first since he assumed his post, addressed the situation in Yemen, Syria, and Libya and the need for common Arab action for dealing with the wars raging in the three countries, says the editorial in the leading Egyptian daily. The minister's visit reflects the major differences between Saudi Arabia and Egypt, especially over the Syrian file, according to the editorial in an online pan-Arab daily. But Riyadh’s faltering war in Yemen may also be forcing it to reconsider both its alliances and policies on this issue.

 

NO DOUBT: "There is no doubt that the entire Arab world looks to Egypt and Saudi Arabia to save the region from drowning in the quagmire of terrorism, poverty, extremism and foreign schemes," claims the editorial in Monday's authoritative Cairo daily al-Ahram.

U.S. President Barack Obama recently declared in no uncertain terms that the U.S. does not wish to fulfill the Middle Eastern governments duties for them; ‘they and not the U.S. have to protect their own national security,' he said.

At a first glance, it may seem logical for the U.S. to want to back away from any commitments. But that has not prevented Washington from being involved in seeking to affect the Middle East balance, siding with one side at the others' expense, invading Iraq, adopting a policy that promotes ‘creative chaos’ with research centers closely linked to the U.S. administration rushing to speak of redrawing the Middle East’s map. In other words, the facts on the ground seem to be different from the declared policies, and the least that can be said about these American practices is that they complicate the situation in the region further and do not contribute to resolving any of its problems. Moreover, they are not in line with the Arabs’ view of how best to deal with the region's issues.

But regardless of U.S. policy, the region cannot brook any more disregard or hesitation. The ongoing confrontation requires deploying all available diplomatic, economic, intellectual, and military means. It seems that it is Cairo and Riyadh's fate to assume this difficult task at this delicate point in time. This is the context in which to view new Saudi Foreign Minister 'Adel al-Jubeir's visit to Cairo and his consultations with senior Egyptian officials regarding developments in Yemen, Syria, and Libya and the means of confronting terrorism.

The major Arab countries have come to the realization that 'Arab solidarity' is the sole means of improving the conditions in the Arab world and confronting the attempts to spread anarchy there. Moreover, the explosive crises in Yemen, Syria, and Libya cannot withstand wasting any more time. Unless Cairo and Riyadh lead the way and assume their responsibilities, it is hard to imagine an alternative that is capable of replacing them in fulfilling this task.

"For this reason, the major international powers are scrutinizing the Arab roadmap for dealing with the crises closely," concludes the daily.

End…

 

EXTENDED CLOSED MEETINGS: "On his first official visit to Cairo since he became Saudi Arabia’s foreign minister, Mr. 'Adel al-Jubeir insisted at the press conference he held with his Egyptian counterpart Samih Shukri after their extended closed meetings, that there were no disagreements between Riyadh and Cairo over the Syrian and Yemeni issues, and that both countries' points of view were identical in this regard. But Mr. Shukri expressed a different point of view towards the Syrian file," notes Monday's editorial on pan-Arab www.raialyoum.com.

The Saudi foreign minister's visit to Cairo comes after a period when relations between the two countries had cooled and that witnessed Egyptian media campaigns attacking Saudi Arabia and the war it is waging in Yemen (Operation Decisive Storm) directly. This is the war that Egyptian journalists who are considered to be pro-regime have described as 'an aggression'-- something that has provoked many Saudi journalists into a harsh response.

The disagreement began and worsened after Saudi Arabia joined the Turkish/Qatari alliance hostile to Egypt and that backs the Muslim Brotherhood and the other Islamist factions, especially the [Syrian Islamist opposition] Jayshul Fateh. Most members of this faction belong to two al-Qa'ida-affiliated organizations, the Nusra Front and Ahrar ash-Sham. Saudi Arabia’s 'indirect' financial and military support for this faction has shifted the military balance of power on the ground, and has led to Jayshul Fateh’s control of Idlib and Jisr ash-Shughour, as well as the Qarmid military base in northwestern Syria. Preparations are now underway for a major offensive that aims to take control of Aleppo.

There are major differences between the Saudi and Egyptian views of the Syrian file. These have been reflected in the two countries' backing for competing opposition factions: Riyadh is hosting a conference in mid-June in which the 'non-jihadi' Islamist factions will take part with the aim of establishing a new opposition coalition. This means that the Muslim Brotherhood will be strongly represented in this coalition. For its part, Cairo, will shortly host a conference in which the liberal and leftist 'patriotic' opposition factions will take part, but without the participation of Islamist factions-- moderate or extreme.

At the aforementioned press conference, Mr. Shukri stressed the importance of backing the ‘patriotic’ Syrian opposition forces ‘to enable them to engage in political action that extracts Syria from its crisis and resists the phenomena of terrorism and terrorist elements on the Syrian arena.’ He said nothing about the need to topple the Syrian regime.

It was also worth noting that while Mr. Shukri showed no disagreement with his Saudi counterpart regarding the Yemeni file, he also said nothing about Iranian intervention in that crisis. He deployed general and ambiguous terms saying: 'In today's talks, we discussed everything that concerns Arab national security and the need for security and stability in the Arab countries and the Arab peoples; Egypt's national security is closely linked to Saudi Arabia and the Gulf's security in general.' He added: 'Egypt refuses any outside intervention in Arab affairs' – which was the sole and 'indirect' reference to Iran.

The two ministers held a closed ‘four-eyes’ meeting. Mr. al-Jubeir was almost certainly bearing a message from the Saudi monarch to the Egyptian authorities regarding many issues, primarily the Syrian crisis. It is impossible to know the message's content but Saudi sources have confirmed to raialyoum.com that 'the Saudi/Turkish alliance is not as strong as reported in the press,' adding that it was 'temporary' and that Saudi Arabia still values Egypt’s role in the region's crises and understands that it cannot be disregarded.

Egypt’s leadership is especially sensitive about the Turkish/Qatari alliance, and this extends to any party that draws close to this alliance, since this is tantamount to backing the Muslim Brotherhood. It is unlikely that relations between Egypt and Saudi Arabia can be very warm after the latter has joined this alliance because President 'Abdelfattah as-Sissi's Egypt places the war on political Islam at the top of its list of priorities, viewing the Muslim Brotherhood as a 'terrorist' movement.

Operation Decisive Storm has faltered and has failed to achieve most of its aims, the most important of which was to force the Houthi/Saleh alliance to withdraw from Sana'a, to hand over the weapons they have captured from the Yemeni army and to allow Yemen's 'legitimate' [exiled] President 'Abed-Rabbo Mansour Hadi to return.  After over two months of aerial bombardment, Saudi Arabia may be forced to reconsider its policies and alliances, especially after the Houthis have carried the war into Saudi territories and the recent bombings of Shiite mosques in ad-Dammam and al-Qutaif by ISIS sleeper cells. These two bombings in less than a week have generated a sense of fear and panic among both Saudi officials and the Saudi people.

"Saudi Arabia’s return to Egypt after a period of alienation and lukewarm relations is one indication of such a review, or at least paves the way for it. All we can do now is to wait and see what happens next," concludes the daily.

Ends…

 

 

2-Blair’s unlamented departure

 

The former British PM did nothing over eight years as International Quartet Envoy, and his resignation marks the end of both his post and the mechanism it was meant to represent, says Ali al-Jarbawi in Palestinian al-Ayyam

 

International Quartet special envoy Tony Blair’s resignation effectively marks the end of both his post and the Quartet itself, maintains a Palestinian academic and former PA minister. Although there were objective reasons for Blair’s failure, his own personal ambitions and political views also played a major role in foiling his prospects of success.

 

AFTER MUCH FOOT-DRAGGING: “Finally and after much foot-dragging, Tony Blair announced his resignation from his post as the International Quartet's Middle East peace envoy,” writes Ali al-Jarbawi in the leading Palestinian daily al-Ayyam.

Blair departs a scene that stretched for over eight years without achieving anything worthwhile, apart from some petty details such as reopening some crossing point or removing a military checkpoint set up by the occupation during the second intifada.

The Quartet spent tens of millions of dollars on its envoy that were meant as aid for the Palestinian people. In addition to his expenses, this included the cost of his luxurious office, his team’s enormous salaries, the high costs of his residency and his continuous travels. But the result of all of this can be eloquently summarized in one word: Nothing!

Blair achieved nothing. Yet he remained in this post that bears an honorific title for eight years. This represents an excellent example that should be studied and taught regarding posts that have resounding titles but that lack any real content. The important thing for those who hold such posts is their title and not their content.

It may be useful to examine the reasons for Blair's failure after many years at his post with the resounding title. One can think of five reasons for his failure, which are all interconnected. Collectively, they provide an explanation but not a justification, for Blair's failure in his mission.

- The first reason stems from the ineffectiveness of the body that appointed him as an envoy. The International Quartet – which consists of the U.S., Russia, the EU, and the UN – was meant to be a follow up mechanism for a political settlement between the Palestinians and Israel. But this framework was not given a chance and was unable to take charge of the peace process from the moment it was established. That dossier remained the monopoly of the U.S., while the International Quartet remained hostage to the power that dominated it. It held meetings only when necessary, and issued statements only when necessary.

A framework’s ineffectiveness is certain to affect its results. The Quartet’s envoy will thus necessarily be ineffective. Faced with direct American control over the entire dossier, he has neither enough power nor sufficient influence. The initiative and the ability to influence what happens are not his.

- The second reason has to do with the fact that the Quartet’s envoy’s mandate was limited to enhancing the Palestinian economic and administrative performance in preparation for the establishment of a Palestinian state. This meant that the political domain was not part of Blair’s remit. But the separation between the economic and the political dimensions represents the source of the problem and the cause of failure, since the roots of the problem of occupation are political and not economic.

The source of economic problem is political. Therefore, improving the Palestinians’ economy and their institutional performance requires a change in the occupation’s policies. As an occupying force, Israel is in full control of Palestinian life in all its aspects and details. If the Quartet’s envoy’s mandate does not include dealing with the political roots of the problem but focuses on its economic dimensions alone, he will be unable to achieve the required breakthrough.

- If the basis for the two first causes of failure has to do with the International Quartet’s objective conditions and its diminished if not neutralized role, then Blair’s personality and goals from assuming his post represent another major reason for failure. After the British Labor party removed him from its leadership and as head of the UK government, Blair sought another post. In the aftermath of the mass criticism of his role in the [2003] war on Iraq, he hoped to regain some stature on the international arena. He tried to head the EU Commission, but failed. He then turned to the International Quartet. The Bush administration helped him to secure this post in recognition and gratitude for his role in the war on Iraq.

Blair was neither serious nor sincere in fulfilling his mission. He turned his post into a PR exercise, trying to use it to mend his battered reputation and cleanse it of the accusations directed against it. Blair was also focused on acquiring money via his many consultancies that distracted him from pursuing his job as Quartet envoy. He visited Palestine intermittently and at separate periods. He held some meetings, distributed smiles before the TV cameras, made a few statements, then left for months on end, after which he would return and repeat what he had done the time before. It is true that the objective conditions for his work were not really suitable for achieving anything; but he exerted no effort to change this and have a positive impact.

- The fourth reason stems from Blair’s clear unwillingness to confront or anger Israel. For in addition to being a traditional sympathizer, his reaction to its occupation policies that impinge on every aspect of Palestinian life lacked any integrity. He would choose his words very carefully when speaking of Israel, ensuring that they would ultimately be totally meaningless or useless. It was as if he was begging for ‘gifts’ from the occupation authorities and never seriously tried to pressure them in any way. He acted merely as a ‘mediator’ who conveyed Palestinian demands and came back with Israel’s rejections of these demands. And if the Israelis granted him some ‘small gift’ every now and then, that was exaggerated and presented as a huge achievement.

- Finally, it should be acknowledged that the Palestinian/Israeli situation was not conducive to any breakthrough or progress in the political process for much of Blair’s term as International Quartet’s envoy: Right-wing Israeli governments with clear pro-settlement policies; successive wars on the Gaza Strip; a domestic Palestinian split; and regional and international scene that was preoccupied with other problems.

None of this helped to prepare the appropriate climate for proceeding with the peace process-- one that was and still is faltering. Blair did not succeed, and he knew that he would not succeed. Yet he did not draw the necessary conclusions. He did not address the reasons for his failure or resign his post early. Instead, he squeezed the very last drop from his post till leaving it dead and lifeless, with no chance of it ever reviving.

“It would thus be better to write the obituary of the envoy’s post and that of International Quartet as well,” concludes Jarbawi.

Ends…

 

 

3-Fateful elections

 

Turkey’s upcoming general elections will constitute a turning point in the country’s domestic and foreign policy, says Mohammad Noureddin in Lebanese as-Safir

 

As Turkey prepares to head to the ballot box next Sunday (June 7th), it is clear that these will be the country’s most momentous general elections for almost a decade, maintains a Lebanese commentator on Turkish affairs. Their results will have major repercussions for the situation in Syria and Egypt, and for Turkey's relations with Saudi Arabia.

 

TURNING POINT: “June 7th is not only the date for general elections in Turkey; it will also mark a turning point in Turkey’s policy towards Syria and the Middle East,” writes Mohammad Noureddin in the left-leaning Lebanese daily as-Safir.

Everything depends on their outcome. Their impact on foreign policy will be clear: Either even greater impetus to the policy of foreign entanglement, especially in Syria; or the beginning of the countdown to ending Turkey’s predicament, departing the Syrian quagmire (or as some have begun to refer to it, Ankara’s potential Vietnam) to a large extent and withdrawal from the region’s many crises. If this occurs, it will also have a great impact on Turkish/Egyptian relations.

President Erdogan is impatiently waiting for the evening of Sunday June 7th to declare the ruling Justice and Development Party’s (AKP’s) victory in the first parliamentary elections that will be held without him officially at the party’s helm. This is despite the fact that he still seems to be the party’s effective leader, heading to over three venues a day to address the masses, or attend some celebration, or inaugurate some project.

Erdogan’s intervention in the elections is in violation of the president’s role that should remain neutral and above the domestic electoral competition.  The elections’ outcome will affect both the domestic balance and Erdogan’s aspiration to be appointed ‘sultan’ with absolute powers, as well as the country’s foreign policy direction. He does not want to end his political life as a resounding failure.

The decisive factor here has to do with whether the AKP can win two-thirds of parliamentary seats (367 of the total of 550) allowing it to amend the constitution, or win the 330 seats at least that are necessary for transforming any proposal to amend the constitution into a referendum. Otherwise, the situation will remain as it is today.

But if the Kurdish Peoples' Democratic Party (HDP) manages to pass the electoral threshold with 10% or more of the vote, and if the AKP fails to win between 43% to 44% of the vote, then this would mean that it had failed to secure half-plus-one of the seats. That would be a great catastrophe for the party, since it would be unable to dominate the government exclusively. In that case, it will call for early elections or form a coalition government with another party. But whichever party that may be, Turkey’s domestic and foreign policies will not be the same as they are today if it agrees to form a coalition with the AKP.

The People’s Republican Party’s (CHP’s) views on Syria are not in line with the AKP’s; and the same goes for its policies towards Egypt. As for the Kurdish HDP, it will only enter a coalition with the AKP on very strict terms that the ruling party cannot accept. The party whose ideological views are closest to the AKP is the National Movement Party. But this party also strongly opposes Erdogan’s Middle Eastern policies and calls for an end to Turkish intervention in Middle Eastern and especially Syria’s affairs, which only serve Washington’s greater Middle East project, in the party’s view.

In light of this, Turkey seems to be at a crossroads: it will either head towards a full non-parliamentary ‘Sultanate’ regime if the HDP fails and the AKP wins over 44% of the vote; or it will head in the opposite direction should the AKP fail to monopolize power. But even if the latter wins a small majority of no more than 300 seats, this would mean that support for the party’s domestic and foreign policies will change. Persisting with the same policies would be a risky venture that would not enjoy support even from within the AKP.

In fact, we should not exclude the possibility that this could be a gateway towards shakeups and rifts inside the AKP, especially in light of [former president] Abdullah Gul’s protests. Gul refused to take part in Erdogan's celebrations of the 'Conquest of Istanbul' even though he was invited to them. Similarly, Bulent Arinc has been criticizing the party for its role in economic development, but not providing justice.

In addition, many leading party figures have eschewed direct political activity because the party's bylaws prevent any member from running for office for a fourth time – which does not apply to Erdogan who is now president, and who has worked on eliminating all potential competitors inside the party. As a result, we seem to be facing a new version of the ‘Motherland Party’ whose disintegration began after its head Turgot Ozal moved from the premiership to the presidency in 1989. (Here, we should open a pair of parentheses to say that the Turkish/Saudi/Qatari coalition in Syria is in a race with time before the elections in anticipation of surprises. This is why it has intensified its pressure in Syria, leading to the developments in Idlib, Jisr ash-Shughour, and Tadmur).

The AKP's failure in the elections or if it only secures a modest result are likely to exert pressure on the government to alter its Syrian policies. But if the party achieves a major victory and if the HDP fails, Turkish intervention in Syria will intensify wagering on a new popular mandate and benefiting from Saudi backing.

In this instance, Erdogan will fall victim to megalomania, believing that remaining in power will enable him to expand his intervention, especially in light of the reports of an 'in-principle' Turkish/American agreement to provide air support for the opposition in Syria. And this unambiguously means that drones or piloted Turkish warplanes will take off from Turkey and fly over Syrian territories to test the possibility of establishing a security zone.

This would entail sinking deeper, directly and publicly into the Syrian quagmire this time around, eliciting certain, not just a possible, Syrian, Iranian, and Russian reaction to this development, and changing the manner in which this axis has been dealing with Ankara. By taking such a step, Ankara would only be inviting the military battle and violence into Turkey’s interior, which will not be spared the inevitable destruction that any Turkish involvement in a new Vietnam will bring with it this time around-- according to the Turkish daily Radikal

This leads us to Egypt. Erdogan has resumed his sharp discourse against President 'Abdelfattah as-Sissi, describing him once again as a putschist, and as someone who used to pray behind [deposed Muslim Brotherhood president] Mohammad Mursi before he betrayed him and toppled him from power. He also repeated that he would never recognize Sissi as Egypt's president. Erdogan's renewed critical tone, which he has repeated in his electoral campaigns over recent days, suggests that the Qatari and Saudi effort to mediate with Ankara so as to cease its intervention in Egyptian and Gulf affairs in general has failed.

It also reflects the fact that Erdogan is still wagering on his and his party's special project from which no country is to be excluded. Heading the list of targets is Saudi Arabia, whom Erdogan holds responsible for the failure of his project in Egypt because it toppled the Muslim Brotherhood's regime. Here Erdogan is playing a deceptive double game with Riyadh. On the one hand, he welcomes its support in Syria; but on the other hand, he has refrained from supporting Saudi Arabia in its war on Yemen and confined himself to offers of intelligence and logistical support that make no difference to the direct ground, aerial, and naval support that Riyadh wants from its backers.

In light of his policy that knows no friends or companions either old or new, Erdogan's absence will deprive Saudi Arabia from a means of pressure on Damascus. But the situation in Syria aside, Riyadh will not be too unhappy if Erdogan were to be weakened, or even if the AKP loses the elections. This is not because the alternative to Erdogan is likely to offer Saudi Arabia more; there is no such alternative. Rather, it is because Riyadh will be rid of its strongest competitor for leadership of the Sunni Muslim world, one which has caused it many problems by embracing the Muslim Brotherhood and by continuing its contacts with Tehran, even this remains below a set ceiling.

If Erdogan, however, secures a major victory in the elections, this should be reason for panic in Saudi Arabia. It would mean that the entire Turkish state would be centralized in his hands thereby injecting the Ottoman horse with a new dose of madness at the foreign level. It would also lead its rider to try to regain Egypt and undermine Saudi influence there and monopolize intervention in Syria and deciding on policies based on what he believes is appropriate for Turkey with no consideration for Saudi calculations. In fact, the best alternative for Saudi Arabia would be for the AKP to remain in power, but with no change to its current size if not a reduction thereof.

If Turkey’s parliamentary map remains largely as it is, however, this would mean that its stance and positions would remain as they are, grasping whatever opportunities may emerge here or there, while Erdogan's eyes remain focused on some inalterable aims: toppling the regime in Syria, and trying to change the situation in Egypt as much as possible.

"All this is linked to one or half-a-points up in one place, or two points down in another, which makes the Turkish elections truly interesting this time round with major consequences," concludes Noureddin.

Ends…

 

 

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