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MIDDLE EAST

The formula of Türkiye-Egypt relation: “The past should remain in the past”

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The foreign policy priorities of Turkey, after the presidential elections, can be divided into two categories: to find a position in new Asian initiatives while lowering tensions with the West. The primary factors promoting Turkey’s normalization with its neighbors and Middle Eastern nations are the economic challenges that require this foreign policy direction.

In the normalization train of the Arab states, who assessed the damage after the Arab Spring, Turkey believes there is a wagon set out for it. Following the United Arab Emirates (UAE), Saudi Arabia, and Egypt, a final settlement in Syria will take up a sizable portion of Ankara’s post-election foreign policy agenda.

On the other side, relations with Egypt have a greater impact, the contacts between Ankara and Cairo are extensive, encompassing Turkey’s contacts with the West in the context of the Eastern Mediterranean and Libya. In this context, we interviewed Dalia Ziada, Director of the Center for Middle East and Eastern Mediterranean Studies  regarding how Egyptians considered about the Turkish election process.

  • Egyptian President congratulated President Erdogan. What can that say about a new era which has begun between the two countries?

The Egyptian and Turkish presidents’ phone call in the wake of the elections is an important indication of the sincere intentions of the top policymakers in both countries to start a new page in their relationship. Honestly speaking, there are some giant differences between the perception of each of the two presidents on crucial regional and domestic policies. That includes for example the situation in Libya, the complex maritime conflicts in the Eastern Mediterranean, and the Islamists’ right for political participation. However, we are seeing an unprecedented determination by both sides to get over these differences and focus on the common ground of economic and geopolitical cooperation.

Ironically, many observers had expressed their pessimism about the potential of the rapprochement process between Turkey and Egypt to succeed as long as the two heads of state, El-Sisi and Erdogan, remained in power. Yet, in December 2022, the two heads of state met in Doha, warmly saluted each other, and then spent 45 minutes talking about the next steps they should take to overcome the obstacles that kept their countries separated for too long. The friendly encounter between the Turkish and the Egyptian presidents cannot be seen as a standard act of courtesy that happened out of sheer coincidence. It was the climax of a year of backstage arrangements by dedicated diplomatic missions and concerned civil society organizations in both countries.

Since then, the Turkish and Egyptian foreign ministers have been exchanging visits and making public promises about implementing the reconciliation process as soon as the general elections in Turkey are completed. As the election in Turkey has been completed successfully, this week, the two countries need to continue working on completing the reconciliation process for their mutual benefit and the entire region’s benefit.

Mending broken ties between Turkey and Egypt is not only beneficial for the political well-being of the two states. It is equally important for the personal image enhancement of each of the two presidents before their peoples and also before observers from the international community. Egypt is having a presidential election in less than a year. Improving his relationship with President Erdogan will dramatically increase President El-Sisi’s support among the huge Islamist-biased voter base.

  • How the Turkish elections resonated in Egypt. What are the prominent evaluations in the Egyptian press?

In general, the Egyptian people are so impressed and inspired by the democratic process in Turkey and the political maturity of the Turkish people who massively participated in the voting at the parliamentary elections and the two rounds of the presidential elections. We wish – we dream – to see a similar democratic process in the coming presidential election which is expected to happen in mid-2024. In other words, the successful democratic practice in Turkey has set the bar high for election processes in Middle East countries, in general, in countries where people are yearning for democratization, such as Egypt and most North Africa countries, in particular.

On another level, the street reaction to President Erdogan’s victory varies greatly from one citizen group to the other. The majority of the Egyptian grassroots citizens, who are mainly characterized by their religious piety, are so excited. They are celebrating President Erdogan’s victory, as they perceive it as a victory of a Muslim idol over the opposition party leaders who exhibited hatred towards Muslims and Arabs.

Meanwhile, the Egyptian intellectual elite, who are mostly secular, are expectedly not so happy with President Erdogan’s victory. Some of them warned that he will encourage the political Islamist groups – such as the Muslim Brotherhood – to seek political competition in Egypt once again and renew the state of political instability in the country. But, in my opinion, that is a little too exaggerated, especially in light of improved ties between the Egyptian and Turkish presidents in the past few months.

On the political stage, most members of the government, political parties, and media agree that it is time for Egypt to reconcile with Turkey and with its elected president. “The past should remain in the past;” they say. That is a healthy attitude, I think, because it will pave the way for a lot of mutual benefits for Egypt and Turkey in the future, and will also be beneficial to the regions of the Middle East and the Eastern Mediterranean.

  • How do you consider the normalization process between the two countries to proceed after the election? Which steps could be taken initially?

In their first phone call after the successful completion of the Turkish presidential elections, presidents Erdogan and El-Sisi agreed to immediately proceed with their reconciliation process by elevating their diplomatic ties to the ambassadorial level. That is a very significant first step for two reasons:

First, it fixes the rift that had been broken between the two states in 2013 and had kept the two countries estranged for ten years. The ambassadors were the first scapegoats to be slaughtered during the dramatic breakup between Egypt and Turkey, then. Each of the two countries immediately declared their mutual ambassadors as persona non grata. Therefore, the return of the ambassadors today is like an official declaration of the end of the decade-long conflict and the beginning of the negotiations phase.

Second, upgrading the diplomatic missions to ambassadorial levels is so crucial to accelerate and facilitate the discussions on critical bilateral and regional issues that represent a conflict of interest between the two states. Right now, the mutual diplomatic missions in both countries are limited in size and scope to the level of chargés d’affaires. Therefore, most negotiations between the two countries had to happen through security channels and intelligence bureaus more often than they happened between diplomatic missions. This caused the reconciliation process to go very slowly in 2021.

The rapprochement process only started to leap when the Turkish ambassador, Salih Mutlu Şen, got hired as charges d’affaires in Cairo, in the second half of 2022. He exerted a tremendous effort to wake the embassy from the dead by directly engaging with ordinary citizens in the Egyptian streets and reaching out to media personnel, civil society organizations, and political groups. That paved the way for a successful meeting between the two presidents, El-Sisi and Erdogan, in November 2022 in Doha. After the presidential meeting, the reconciliation process took a whole new turn.

Therefore, I believe that raising the diplomatic representation to the ambassadorial level will allow diplomatic channels to take the lead in the negotiation process, thus accelerating the rapprochement process and improving the quality of the outcomes of future negotiations.

However, that is not enough. There must be direct and personal talks between presidents Erdogan and El-Sisi, at the nearest time possible. It is not a secret that the two leaders adopt divergent – if not contradicting – political ideologies. For example, El-Sisi’s political image is mostly built upon his role in removing the Muslim Brotherhood from power in 2013. In contrast, Erdogan’s legacy is entirely based on his image as a successful Muslim leader, coming from a political Islamist party, in a secular democratic system of governance. How the two presidents are going to compromise their ideological differences is so important for the success of the reconciliation process between Egypt and Turkey and for ensuring its sustainability in the long term. Such a compromise can only happen through direct face-to-face and heart-to-heart conversations between the two presidents over the coming weeks or months.

In parallel to that, the senior policymakers and government officials from Egypt and Turkey should engage in lengthy discussions about enhancing their areas of cooperation and limiting their areas of conflict. For example, Egypt and Turkey already have a successful record of economic cooperation that can be further improved. In the meantime, there are a lot of areas of potential cooperation between our two militaries, building upon the history of cooperation in the defense industry sector between the two countries. They will also need to discuss their conflicting foreign policies in the Levant region, and the Eastern Mediterranean region, keeping into consideration the concerns and the interests of other key players in these regions, such as Libya, Syria, Greece, and Israel.

MIDDLE EAST

Hezbollah, Israel exchange fire as violence spikes at Lebanese border

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Fierce clashes between Hezbollah and the Israeli army have been going on for two days in the border area of southern Lebanon.

Israel, which is preparing to retaliate against Iran’s attack, has stepped up its attacks on southern Lebanon. It was reported that Israel attacked a town in southern Lebanon with phosphorus bombs. Hezbollah also hit the military headquarters in the village of Arab al-Aramshe, 19 Israeli soldiers were wounded in the attack, 6 of them seriously.

The Israeli army announced that the village of Arab al-Aramshe, located on the Lebanese border in northern Galilee, was attacked by a drone and an anti-tank missile, and that 19 soldiers were wounded as a result of the attack.

Footage on social media showed a kamikaze drone, reportedly sent from Lebanon, targeting an area in Arab al-Aramshe. Hezbollah announced yesterday that it had targeted the Israeli military headquarters. The statement said that the military headquarters was attacked with guided missiles and kamikaze drones and that there were dead and wounded among the Israeli soldiers.

On the other hand, according to the Lebanese official agency NNA, the Israeli army targeted the town of Khiyam, located in the south of Lebanon and on the border line, with heavy artillery shelling and phosphorus bombs. According to another report, Israeli drones targeted a building in the town of Iaat in the city of Baalbek. While it was stated that the building was targeted by 3 missiles in the attack, no information was given about the dead and wounded.

Hezbollah gave information about the losses and attacks in the clashes with Israel over the past two days. The statement said that Israeli soldiers were targeted in the Metula settlement on the border with Israel while trying to tow a military vehicle that had been hit earlier, and that there were dead and wounded among them.

Hezbollah also said that Israel attacked the Malikiye position, also on the border.

Hezbollah said 2 more of its members had been killed in clashes with Israel.

This brings to 278 the number of Hezbollah members killed in clashes with the Israeli army on the border since 8 October.

In addition, 54 Lebanese civilians, 18 members of the Amal movement, 13 members of Hamas, 12 members of Islamic Jihad, 7 Israeli civilians and 11 soldiers were killed in the clashes.

Travel warning from Turkish Foreign Ministry

The Turkish Foreign Ministry has issued a travel warning for some provinces in Lebanon following the intensification of clashes on the border. In its announcement on the issue, the ministry advised Turkish citizens to be cautious and not to travel to Nabatiyeh, South Lebanon, Bekaa and Baalbek-Hermel provinces unless absolutely necessary.

US sanctioned, Mossad executed

Meanwhile, Lebanon’s interior ministry blamed Israel’s Mossad for the death of Lebanese businessman Mohammed Srur, who had previously been placed on a US sanctions list for allegedly transferring money to Hezbollah and Hamas on behalf of Iran.

Lebanese Interior Minister Bessam Mawlawi told the Associated Press (AP) that the Mossad was behind the execution of Srur, a 57-year-old exchange house owner who was found dead after being kidnapped in the Metin district north of Beirut on 10 April: “The way the murder was carried out led us to this conclusion.

Mawlawi said the suspects had rented a three-storey villa in Beirut’s Beit Meri neighbourhood before the incident using fake Lebanese identity cards, adding that security units had analysed footage of the suspects entering and leaving the city to identify them.

Noting that many bullet marks were found on Srur’s body, Mevlevi said that the investigation into the murder was ongoing and would be shared with the public and judicial authorities when it was completed.

The US Treasury Department’s Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) announced in 2019 that Srur had been placed on the sanctions list for transferring money to Hezbollah and Hamas on behalf of the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps.

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MIDDLE EAST

Italy ready to send ‘peacekeepers’ if Palestinian state created

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Forza Italia leader and Italian Foreign Minister Antonio Tajani said on Tuesday that Italy was considering sending ‘peacekeepers’ as part of its strategy to de-escalate the situation in Gaza and in the event of the creation of a Palestinian state with the support of other countries.

Tajani’s comments come ahead of the G7 foreign ministers’ meeting in Capri on 17-19 April.

Speaking at a forum organised by Ansa on Tuesday, Tajani said: “Our task is to prevent conflicts and reassure our public opinion: The Italian government is strongly committed to peace. We are friends of Israel, but we want to work for peace, including the possible deployment of troops in the event of the creation of a Palestinian state with the support of other countries,” Tajani said.

Tajani reiterated the importance of the “two-state solution” as “the only viable option for regional stability” and stressed that Italy continues its efforts to engage in dialogue with the main political actors in the region.

The Foreign Minister also noted that Italy maintains a strong dialogue with the Palestinian Authority and has invited the new Prime Minister, Mohammed Mustafa, “to show his willingness to engage with the only legitimate Palestinian authority”.

According to Tajani, the topics of the G7 meeting in Capri will be Gaza, Iran-Israel and the Red Sea.

“We will work on this in Capri, as the Prime Minister will do. Italy, with its Western tradition, can play a leading role. Italy’s leadership of the G7 is an opportunity for everyone to achieve peace”.

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MIDDLE EAST

Israel-Iran confrontations worry Afghan refugees about their safety and fate

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Iran’s recent attack on Israel has worried Afghan immigrants in Iran who have sought refuge in that country mainly due to unemployment and security threats inside their country.

The Afghan refugees say that tensions between Israel and Iran have negatively affected the lives of millions of Afghan immigrants and if Israel attacks Iran, the lives of thousands of people who have gone to that country from Afghanistan due to security threats, will once again be in danger.

They called upon the international community to address the concerns of immigrants in Iran as soon as possible.

Meanwhile, a number of political experts, considering the current situation, say that there is a possibility that tensions between Iran and a number of other countries will increase.

According to the experts, the return of Afghan immigrants to the country is impossible due to security and political problems. They emphasize that due to the current situation in the region, the Taliban must make a “total political change”.

Some factories in Tehran closed over possible Israeli attack

Iran’s attack on Israel and its consequences have worried many Afghan immigrants in that country.

Jamshid is one of the Afghan immigrants in Tehran, the capital city of Iran. He, who has been living with his family in Iran for more than 10 years, says that Iran’s recent attack on Israel has had a negative impact on their work environment.

Demonstrators wave Iran’s flag and Palestinian flags as they gather in front of the British Embassy in Tehran on April 14, 2024, after Iran launched a drone and missile attack on Israel. (AFP)

“Since the attack, we are all shocked. I was working in a factory but our work has been temporarily stopped. No reason was given behind the shutting down, but apparently the reason for stopping our work is due to concerns about a possible Israeli attack,” Jamshid said.

He also said after the increase in tensions between Iran and Israel, the process of deporting undocumented immigrants from Iran has been increased in an unprecedented manner.

Nisrat Sekandari, another Afghan refugee said that police forces are everywhere in the cities and roads and they detain and deport Afghan immigrants without documents.

“I don’t have a legal stay document, so I quit my job for a few days and I don’t go out of the house,” he lamented. He said that he tried to get documents, but the procedure is very difficult and failed to obtain legal documents and expressed fear of being deported to Afghanistan anytime when police catch him.

Refugees can’t return to Afghanistan due to security reasons

The Afghan refugees emphasize that in the event of a possible Israeli attack on Iran, the lives of millions of Afghan immigrants in that country will be in danger.

Maryam, is the daughter of one of the soldiers of the previous Afghan government, said that they moved to Iran after the Taliban regained power in Afghanistan.

“We, the immigrants, are very worried about Israel’s attacks on Iran, because we can no longer return to the country. My father used to be a soldier, and if we return, he will either be arrested or killed by the Taliban like thousands of other soldiers,” Maryam lamented.

Weas Naseri, a political expert said that it is impossible for Afghan immigrants to return to the country due to security and political problems.

“In a situation where Iran itself is exposed to the danger of an attack by the countries of Israel with the cooperation of US, France, UK and other countries, therefore the lives of millions of our immigrant compatriots in Iran is in danger,” Naseri added.

He furthered, “considering the current edgy situation in the region and the world, a very large and widespread war is likely to take place.”

He said that due to possible war between Iran and Israel, it is better for the Taliban to make a general political change, and within a few weeks and months, a new step and political agreement should be established to facilitate a transitional government.

He said that Talian should form a government which should be acceptable to all Afghans, including the opposition parties.

Iran terms attack on Israel as a great success

On Saturday night, Iran launched a massive attack of apparently over 300 missiles and drones toward Israel, and Iranian officials called the attack a success.

Iran’s direct attack on Israel lasted several hours and Israel vowed to retaliate in a proper time which has taken the Middle East closer to a wider conflict.

Iran and Israel have been in tensions for many years and Iran since the 1979 revolution, took an anti-Israeli posture.

Other countries in the region like Lebanon, Syria, Iraq, Yemen and Palestine are having bitter ties, while other Arab countries like UAE, Saudi Arabia, Jordan and some others condemned Iran’s attack on Israel.  The West, mostly, condemned Iran for attacking Israel, but at the same encouraged Israel not to retaliate and maintain peace in the region.

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