Syria and the Arab Return

assad

 

By the end of 2018, the Syrian–Arab relations witnessed a new beginning. The UAE announced the re-opening of its embassy in Damascus, while Bahrain said its diplomatic mission in Syria had been operating “without interruption.”

Other sources also expect other Gulf states, such as Kuwait, to soon reopen their embassies in Damascus. Egypt, for its part, received the head of the Syrian National Security Bureau, Maj. Gen. Ali al-Mamluk, and some sources quoted reports of Egyptian mediation between the Kurdish forces in the city of Manbaj and the Syrian regime.

Observers may argue about the legitimacy and possibility of full normalization with the Syrian regime. Hassan defines Arab regimes’ diplomatic moves toward the Assad regime as efforts to “restore autocratic rule throughout the greater Middle East.” Such a view may appeal to many who see Arab rulers as counter-revolutionaries. In reality, however, regarding Syria, Arab autocrats are only acknowledging the reality and fully understand that Assad has restored and will continue to cement his autocratic rule with or without them. The restoration of diplomatic ties is basically an acknowledgment of the current reality in Syria. Moreover, others, for example Tunisia’s democratic Islamist Ennahda partyhas also called for “reconciliation” in Syria.

Dr. Anwar Gargash, UAE Minister of State for Foreign Affairs, described his country’s decision as a “careful reading of the developments, and understanding that thet stage requires Arab presence and communication with the Syrian file.” He addedthat the Arab role in Syria has become more necessary for the regional transformation of Iran and Turkey.

But how will the Arabs handle the Syrian file now? Will they be able to stop the Iranian and Turkish domination of the Syrian sphere?

I have written before about how the Arab discourse on the Syrian conflict is riddled with poor judgments and errors in strategic miscalculations. I identified a few reasons, including their downplaying the ability of the Iranian axis to infiltrate and control the Syrian regime and the Arab backing of “jihad” in Syria, at least at the beginning of the Syrian civil war, which opened the door to the rise of myriad radical Islamist militias that ruined the democratic aspirations of the Syrian opposition.

Currently, Arabs face enormous challenges in Syria. They were sidelined for years by many regional and global powers, including Turkey, Iran, and Russia. Moreover, the US policy in Syria is currently in disarray, shrouded in confusion and contradictions. Needless to add, there is no united Arab policy toward Syria, even among allies like Saudi Arabia, the UAE, and Egypt. Such disunity has to be resolved, and Arab allies need to adopt a united multidimensional approach toward Syria.

Facing Erdogan’s ambitions

One of the glaring byproducts of the Arab absence from the Syrian scene was the rise of the Astana tripartite of Turkey, Iran, and Russia. Snookering Turkey out of this triangle has to be the Arabs’ first objective in Syria. Arabs need to abandon their nostalgia for pan-Arabism and instead work with Kurdish and non-Islamist forces in Syria to stop the Turkish aggression.

Following the Turkish threat to invade Manbaj, Kurdish forces started negotiations with the Assad regime about handing the city and other areas under their control over to the regime. There are two possible stumbling blocks facing such a smooth handover. First, the Kurds want clear guarantees for their safety and security after Assad forces enter their controlled areas. Second, they want the promise of a future political process that can lead to federalism or at least self-control for Syrian Kurds. Yet I doubt Assad is keen to offer of even discuss any concession to anyone now, not just the Kurds.

Hence, the Arabs have a role to play. Although the US downplayed the prospect of Arab forces being deployed in Syria, Arabs can use US Secretary Pompeo’s visit to the region to articulate a vision whereby the US serve s as a liaison that organizes and guides regional peacekeeping forces to stop Turkish expansion and avoid friction and confrontations between Kurds and regime forces.

Meanwhile, the Arabs’ relations with Assad have to be pragmatic—lukewarm, but not overtly friendly. Normalization with Assad must be gradual and linked to reform measures of the regime toward its people. In return for resuming economic and political relations, Arab states need to campaign to stop the Syrian regime’s policies of demographic change and the forced displacement of Syrians. Arab countries, especially those that have adopted the Syrian opposition, have a moral obligation to the Syrian civilians who believed the dream of revolution but then paid a heavy price for this dream. These countries must defend the interests of the Syrians before applauding Assad and allowing him to return to the Arab League.

As for countering the Iranian infiltration in Syria, it should be the last file to be addressed by the Arab powers. Syria is like a boxing arena, where Arabs cannot win with a decisive punch, but rather by patiently scoring points. It is naïve to assume that Assad will abandon his Iranian allies anytime soon. No amount of Arab embraces, gestures, or money can wipe out seven years of Iran and Hizballah infiltration into the Syrian arena. Indeed, Iran is exhausted economically and politically, but it still controls the backbone of the Syrian regime and will not allow it to stray. Assad may be tempted to play both sides by earning Arab money while still maintaining his Iranian bond, but Arabs should not fall into this trap.

In short, unlike other fronts, like Yemen, Arab States have a good opportunity to correct past mistakes and contribute positively in Syria. A clear Arab policy that balances the inevitable while dealing with the Assad regime, while serving the interests of the Syrian people against the Iranian and Turkish aggression, is indeed possible. It is time to reverse the past trends of haste and mediocrity.

An Arabic version of this piece was published in Al-Hurra

 

 

 

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Twitter Thread: On Egypt and the Copts

As Egyptian Copts celebrate Orthodox Christmas, I herewith compile a thread on my personal experience regarding  how the treatment of Copts  has changed in Egypt. 

 

 

 

 

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This Week in Egypt: Week 1-2019 ( Dec 31-Jan 6)

Top Headlines

  • Egyptian explosives expert killed while trying to defuse bomb near a church in Cairo
  • Palestinian Authority pulls employees from Egypt-Gaza crossing
  • Sisi says Egypt and Israel cooperate against ISIS in Sinai
  • Egypt’s Court of Cassation upholds acquittal of #Mubarak‘s chief of staff Zakaria Azmy
  • Egyptian cabinet to legalise 80 churches and attached buildings

  Main Headlines

Monday

  • Egyptian court imposes jail term over activist Amal Fathy’s harassment video
  • Egyptian cabinet to legalise 80 churches and attached buildings
  • UAE banks invest Dh87 billion in Saudi Arabia and Egypt
  • Belgium Queen Mathilde spent New Year’s Eve in Egypt

Tuesday

Wednesday

  • Egyptian gay couple have been attacked after Media publicized their engagement
  • Navigation at Suez Canalrecords second highest worldwide in terms of vessels and tonnage
  • Al-Azhar Grand Imam visits Pope Tawadros II for Christmas
  • Egyptian universities order disciplinary action against couple who “hugged”on campus

Thursday

  • Ethiopia’s Renaissance Dam To Be Ready By 2020
  • Egypt’s Supreme Media Regulatory Council d postponed the adoption of a controversial set of bylaws for media violations for one week
  • Head of Old Cairo district is arrested for receiving a bribe

Friday

  • Secretary Pompeo’s travel to Amman, Cairo, Manama, Abu Dhabi, Doha, Riyadh, Muscat, and Kuwait City
  • Diplomatic sources rule out imminent restoration of Syrian-Arab relations
  • Germany approves Meko 200 frigate export to Egypt
  • Terminal 2 at Hurghada Airport to be reopened in February

Saturday

Sunday

Reports

  • House Democrats slash aid to Egypt. Bryant Harris
  • Abdul Fattah al-Sisi: Why did Egypt want CBS interview pulled? BBC
  • On the Egyptian pound, living standards and real estate: An economy forecast for 2019. Mada Masr

Good Read

From Twitter

On Saturday’s terror attack near a Coptic Church 

On President Sisi’s interview with CBS: 

Plus

  • Egypt is among CNN’s best ’19 places to visit in 2019
  • Brits are ditching Benidorm for Turkey and Egypt where holidays are much cheaper

 

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This Week in Egypt: Week 52-2018 ( Dec 24-31)

Top Headlines

  • Three Vietnamese tourists and a local tour guide have been killed after a roadside bombhit a bus near the Giza pyramids in Egypt
  • Egypt’s Mubarak testifies in the trial of his ousted successor
  • Cairo military court confirms journalist Ismail Alexandrani’s ten-year jail sentence
  • An Egyptian appeals court has imposed a two-year prison sentence against activist Amal Fathy, who criticised authorities for failing to tackle sexual harassment
  • Egypt is expected to receive 5th tranche of IMF loan in January

Main Headlines

Monday

Tuesday

Wednesday

  • Egypt’s Mubarak testifies in the trial of his ousted successor
  • Mubarak: Gaza tunnels were used by fighters to launch 2011 prison break in Egypt

Thursday

Friday

Saturday

Sunday

Good reports

Good Read 

 From Twitter

 

Plus

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This Week in Egypt: Week 51-2018 ( Dec 17-23)

Top Headlines

  • Egyptian court acquits 43 NGO workers over 2013 illegal foreign funding’ case
  • Egypt appoints new military intelligence chief
  • Cairo court starts hearings in a case to prolong Sisi’s terms in office
  • Libyan authorities hands over 12 Egyptian children of ISIS parents to Egypt
  • Egyptian security forces kill 14 Islamist fighters in Sinai
  • Egyptian policeman referred to criminal court for murder of two Copts in Minya
  • Mo Salah garners BBC’s best African footballer award in 2018 for second time in a row

 Main Headlines

 Monday 

Tuesday

Wednesday

  • Egyptian court ordered the release of activist Amal Fathy, who was detained after criticising authorities for failing to tackle sexual harassment
  • Egypt’s Coptic Church to assign international lawyers in Jerusalem’s Deir Sultan Monastery ownership case
  • Egypt’s prosecutors summon parents of engaged underage couple

Thursday

Friday

  • Libyan authorities hands over 12 Egyptian children of ISIS parents to Egypt
  • Egypt’s military production minister signs MoU with Chinese energy company
  • Hurghada receives first Finnish flight in 6 years
  • Mo Salah garners BBC’s best African footballer award in 2018 for second time in a row

Saturday

Sunday

Good Reports

  • In Egypt, weddings get costlier as economic hardships deepen. Lena Masri

 Good Read

From Twitter

Plus

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This Week in Egypt: Week 50-2018 ( Dec 10-16)

Top Headlines

  • Archaeologists in Egypt have made an exciting ‘one of a kind’ discovery -untouched for 4,400 years
  • Egypt releases prominent activist blogger Wael Abbas
  • Egypt’sannual urban consumer price inflation falls to 15.7 percent in November
  • Egypt’s president decries migrants heading to Europe and refusing to integrate instead of fixing their own countries 
  • European Parliament adopts resolution condemning human rights violations in Egypt
  • Egypt to renovate its Jewish sites with LE1.27 billion

 Main Headlines

 Monday

 Tuesday

 Wednesday 

  • Egypt releases prominent activist blogger Wael Abbas After 7 Months in detention

Thursday

  • Egypt’s president decries migrants heading to Europe and refusing to integrate instead of fixing their own countries
  • European Parliament adopts resolution condemning human rights violations in Egypt

Friday

 Saturday

Sunday

 Good Read

From Twitter

Sports

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This Week in Egypt: Week 49 ( Dec 3-9)

Top Headlines

  • Egypt says police kill two gunmen behind November attack on Coptic Christians
  • Italy names Egyptian police in murder student case Giulio Regeni
  • Egypt’s Sisi inaugurates Egypt’s first arms exhibition in Cairo
  • Egyptian court orders release of prominent Wael Abbas
  • Egypt and France’s Naval Group reach five-year maintenance agreement
  • Mediation between Egyptian and Ethiopian churches over Jerusalem’s monastery has failed
  • Egyptian prosecutors question actress Rania Youssef over revealing dress

 Main Headlines

Monday

Tuesday

Wednesday

Thursday 

Friday 

Saturday

Sunday 

 Reports

Good Read

From Twitter

 

Plus

  • Egypt’s growing population reaches 98 million
  • Egypt’s Sisi launches a risk insurance fund to encourage Egyptian investment in Africa
Posted in Diary of Aak, Egypt | Tagged , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

This Week in Egypt: Week 48-2018 ( Nov 26-Dec 2 )

Top Headlines 

  • Egypt’s Sisi receives Saudi Arabia’s Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman
  • Giulio Regeni: Italy names Egyptian agents as murder suspects
  • Italian foreign minister summons Egyptian ambassador over Regeni murder
  • Internal ISIS documents sheds light on aid Hamas gave to ISIS in Sinai
  • Egyptian actress Ranya Youssef could face five years in prison for wearing revealing dress
  • Egyptian excavators have unearthed eight newly discovered ancient mummies inside limestone coffins
  • US clears Apache sales for Egypt

 Main Headlines

 Monday

Tuesday

  • Egypt’s Sisi and Saudi Arabia’s Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman confirm “depth of ties”
  • Egypt says it won’t ask for further funding from the IMF when its $12 billion program expires next year
  • Egypt launches first international oil and gas exploration in the Red Sea
  • Egypt’s FM heads to Khartoum for ministerial meeting on Libya

Wednesday

 Thursday

Friday

 Saturday

Sunday

Reports

Good Read

  • Internal ISIS documents sheds light on aid Hamas gave to ISIS in Sinai. Jewish News Syndicate
  • Sinai tribes in Egypt’s war on terror. Tahrir Institute
  • Did Egyptian secret agents torture cambridge student Giulio Regeni or was he set up? Barbie Latza Nadeau

From Twitter

Plus

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Social Islamism In Egypt

Egyptian actress Ranya Youssef is facing trial next month charged with public obscenity after she showed up at the closing ceremony of a film festival in Cairo wearing a see-through dress that revealed the entirety of her legs. This type of trial is fairly common, and it reflects a deeply embedded social Islamism within the Egyptian society. I re-blog a previous piece in which I tried to explain this sad phenomenon. Ranya has issued an apology, but it is unfortunate to see such enforced coercion. As I wrote, Social Islamism is Egypt’s silent killer. It garners fear, breeds intolerance, hinders creativity, and ultimately leads to radicalism. Despite the decline in the Muslim Brotherhood’s influence, other Islamist forces are still influential and are unwilling to abandon their coercive social doctrine.

Nervana

An English version of my original Arabic piece in Al-Hurra

Sheik Jackson movie

Amr Salama’s Movie’s Sheikh Jackson

In recent days, in Egypt, an Oscar-nominated film was referred to Al-Azhar, a crowd of Muslim worshippers attacked a church, and an actress became the focus of insults on social media for her comments regarding how Muezzins sound. These three incidents in Egypt over a span of weeks may seem unconnected, but they are linked. They all are alarming outcomes of a social Islamism that has infested Egypt and is increasingly bursting out in boils.

Egypt’s general prosecutor initiated an investigation against Amr Salama’s movie Sheikh Jackson after a “member of the public,” a Giza-based solicitor, submitted a complaint accusing the movie and its director of “contempt of religion.” This was put forth despite the movie being previously cleared and authorized by Egypt’s censorship committee. Rather than dismissing the complaint as nonsense and discharging the…

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This Week in Egypt: Week 47 (Nov 19-25)

Top Headlines

  • Egypt and Sudan set up joint patrols against cross-border threats
  • Court in Egypt upheld death sentences for nine people convicted of the murder of top prosecutor three years ago
  • Well- preserved Mummified woman dating back 3,000 years is unveiled in Egypt
  • Egypt’s Sisi calls on scholars to speed “tolerant teaching ” of Islam. Al-Azhar Grand Imam insists on importance of Hadiths

 Main Headlines

Monday

Tuesday

  • Egypt’s ministry of military production signs a deal with Slovenia’s Iskra on energy infrastructure
  • Egypt’s interior ministry allows 44 citizens to acquire foreign nationalities, relinquishing Egyptian nationality

Wednesday

Thursday

Friday

 Saturday

  • A perfectly preserved mummified woman dating back 3,000 years is unveiled in Egypt
  • A report claims that ISIS affiliate in Sinai seizes Iranian weapons shipment bound for Hamas
  • Heavy rains create disruption, spark flood warnings in Egypt

Sunday

Good Reports

Good Read

From Twitter

https://twitter.com/mahmouedgamal44/status/1065553352975634432?s=21

 

Sport

  • Egypt’s Salah leads Liverpool to win over Watford with 7th Premier League goal

 Plus

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