Voices from the Arab Press: A likely change in Turkish intentions

A weekly selection of opinions and analyses from the Arab media around the world.

 TURKISH PRESIDENT Recep Tayyip Erdogan addresses supporters in Istanbul, Nov. 5. (photo credit: UMIT BEKTAS/REUTERS)
TURKISH PRESIDENT Recep Tayyip Erdogan addresses supporters in Istanbul, Nov. 5.
(photo credit: UMIT BEKTAS/REUTERS)

A likely change in Turkish intentions

Al-Masry Al-Youm, Egypt, December 17

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It has become clear that Turkey made a wild bet on political Islam, and that that bet has failed. With it, the Turkish dream of controlling the Arab world and reviving the Ottoman Empire came crashing down. Anyone who observed the collapse of the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt could have seen this coming – but not Recep Tayyip Erdogan, who chose to play with fire. The collapse of the Turkish economy, the nosedive in the exchange rate of the Turkish lira, and the disappearance of foreign investments all reflect uncertainty and lack of confidence in the Turkish regime’s ability to stabilize the country, both politically and economically. Turkey’s foreign policy has been erratic and confusing. It resembled, at times, a circus performer who kept jumping from one high bar to another, dazzling the viewers and earning the admiration of the crowd. But that performer failed to notice when the audience left and the lights were turned off. And the fall from the trapeze is dangerous and painful once the show is over. In essence, Turkey failed to understand the changing regional and international sentiments. It became irrelevant. Worst off, it became ostracized.

So what can we learn from the Turkish experience? For starters, it’s clear that Egypt’s foreign policy is far more thoughtful, responsible, and pragmatic. Ultimately, what governs Egypt’s foreign relations are our national interests. Sometimes it is wise for Egypt to intervene in other countries’ affairs, and other times it is better to sit out. Therefore, when we maintained closed economic and commercial relations with Turkey, we did so because it was the right move for us. And when we refrained from exerting pressure on the Turkish public to affect regime change, that was also wise. At the same time, we have defined clear red lines that must not be crossed, especially as they pertain to our country’s national security. For example, Turkey’s presence in Libya is one of those issues that crossed a clear red line and required a forceful Egyptian response. It is noticeable that there are shifts in Turkish attitudes toward Egypt. Turkey is isolated and deserted, and it is seeking to warm up its ties with Cairo. Some positive results may be starting to emerge, but progress is still partial and slow. Despite the Turkish government’s hostile stance towards Egypt, we may start to see good goodwill measures coming from Ankara in the immediate future.

– Abdul Latif Al-Manawi

 A SUSPECTED ISIS member sits blindfolded in a Taliban Special Forces car in Kabul, Afghanistan, Sept. 5. (credit: WANA VIA REUTERS) A SUSPECTED ISIS member sits blindfolded in a Taliban Special Forces car in Kabul, Afghanistan, Sept. 5. (credit: WANA VIA REUTERS)

India’s partnership with Russia

Al-Ittihad, UAE, December 16

Relations between India and Russia may have gone through ups and downs over the years, but during the pandemic, and following recent developments in Afghanistan, the two old partners once again witnessed a warming of ties in their relations. Russian President Vladimir Putin visited India last week for the annual India-Russia summit. A testament to the importance Russia assigns to this bilateral relationship is that this was Putin’s only second trip abroad since the outbreak of the pandemic, the other being to Geneva to meet with US President Joe Biden. During the summit in New Delhi, the two leaders – Vladimir Putin and Narendra Modi – sought to expand their countries’ bilateral relations by exploring ways to deepen their cooperation in the fields of energy and trade. The two countries also signed a 10-year defense cooperation agreement covering current and future projects, including an arms deal to purchase 600,000 AK-203 assault rifles from Russia. The Russian president described India as an “old friend,” noting that the two nations’ military relations were “unparalleled.” This summit was preceded by talks between the countries’ foreign and defense ministers. All in all, the two countries signed 28 agreements, including cooperation in their respective space programs.

Russia and India have been allies since the time of the Cold War, when New Delhi relied on Moscow for all of its military supplies. For many years, both sides emphasized the special relations that exist between the two countries. However, India’s growing proximity to the US is seen as having a negative impact on relations with Russia. Observing India’s growing relations with the US sent Russia to deepen its relations with India’s regional rival, Pakistan, much to the annoyance of New Delhi. However, there has been an increasing strategic alignment between the two nations on some issues recently, for example, the recent developments in Afghanistan, which fostered greater consultation between the two sides. Despite its rapprochement with America, India has proceeded with the purchase of the Russian S-400 missile system, although this deal may draw sanctions against it under the US Countering America’s Adversaries Through Sanctions Act. The purchase itself shows that New Delhi assigns great importance to its military cooperation with Russia despite its increasing proximity to Washington and the strengthening of its defense cooperation with it. After all, 70% of India’s military equipment still comes from Russia. Although defense remains the mainstay of these bilateral relations, there are larger strategic reasons guiding the two countries’ alliance, as well. New Delhi cannot play an active role in Afghanistan and the Eurasia region without cooperation with Moscow, and its relations with the US have their own limitations. On the other hand, Russia also finds importance in relations with India. Russia played a role in bringing India and China to the negotiation table after relations between them were strained due to a major dispute, the worst of its kind in four decades. Russia also desires to consult with India on Afghanistan and to see multipolarity in the region. A strong India is expected to be a good thing for Russia, as well. This summit was a clear indication that New Delhi places a high priority on its relations with Moscow, and vice versa, as both countries are keen to strengthen their ties. However, during the summit, the two countries not only strengthened those relations but also pledged to raise the annual trade volume between them to $30 billion by 2025. The current trade volume, estimated at $10 billion, is seen as below the real potential of the two countries. In 2020, trade fell by 17% but has rebounded by 38% this year. However, the main conclusion of the Modi-Putin summit is that Russia remains an important partner for India in the region. 

– Zikru Al-Rahman 

Between the awakening of ISIS and return of al-Qaeda

Al-Arabiya, Saudi Arabia, December 17

British prime minister Sir Winston Churchill once said: You can always count on Americans to do the right thing — after they’ve tried everything else. Nowhere is this statement truer than regarding America’s foreign wars, such as the ones in Afghanistan and Iraq. The American withdrawal from Afghanistan was confusing, leaving observers around the world with fundamental questions about what Washington succeeded in achieving and where it failed in its so-called “war on terror.” One of the most important goals of the American campaign in Afghanistan was to eradicate the terrorism that had grown and flourished in the mountains of Tora Bora and Kandahar, under the leadership of al-Qaeda. Another goal, albeit a far more utopian one, revolved around the democratization of Afghanistan, a country that has always been considered the graveyard of empires.

A few days ago, the commander of the US Central Command, Gen. Kenneth F. McKenzie, testified before the US Congress and claimed that al-Qaeda had already managed to restore some of its capabilities since the withdrawal of US forces from Afghanistan in August. The general further indicated that current Taliban leaders were divided over whether they would honor their pledge to sever ties with the group. In his testimony, McKenzie essentially acknowledged and admitted that the departure of the US military and intelligence assets from Afghanistan was a mistake. McKenzie’s conclusion is jarring, not because of its substance, but because it was self-evident to everyone for a very long time. Even the most junior political and military analysts could have predicted the inevitable re-emergence of al-Qaeda following the US withdrawal – especially considering the geopolitical turmoil in the region. The American confusion was clear in Iraq, as well, where the US left behind a force of about 2,500 personnel. One can appreciate that the Pentagon doesn’t want to leave its soldiers in Iraq as easy prey for pro-Iranian militias. But what is less comprehensible is what the Pentagon was planning on doing with the resurgence of ISIS and its attempt to take over Iraq again. Between the return of al-Qaeda and the awakening of ISIS, the Americans should think slowly and carefully and rethink their strategy, both in the past and at present day. More specifically, they should really ask themselves: what could the US do to affect change in the world using soft power, and not only through hard force that has proven ineffective to date? 

– Amil Ameen

The Gulf isn’t just oil

Asharq Al-Awsat, London, December 18

The Gulf Isn’t Just Oil was the title of one of my books, which was published almost 50 years ago. It was a vision for the future and a call for Gulf countries to invest in its people to protect and ensure the future of an entire generation. Five decades later, many of my dreams and predictions have come true. Not all of them have been achieved, but many are on their way. The result of the 42nd meeting of the six-member Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC), held in Riyadh last week, is a living testament that the path toward the Gulf’s future has become clear, but it isn’t void of obstacles along the way. The most important thing charting the way forward is the economic agreements signed by Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman with several Gulf countries, most of which provide investments in development projects and foster collaboration between the private and the public sectors.

Another encouraging fact is a look at the budgets of GCC states, where the non-oil component is truly remarkable, especially when compared with the same budgets just a few years ago. There is an astonishing shift into investment in other economic activities, including manufacturing and services, as well as tourism. Granted, some Gulf countries still need to make urgent investments in training their workforce to remain economically competitive. But the crown prince’s groundwork provides for much-needed hope. The crown prince’s policy is preparing the Gulf for dramatic changes in the regional and global economy. Indeed, the political status of the Gulf is difficult to predict. Therefore, the goal is to unify GCC states’ vision on how to address their common threats. A look at the final statement issued at the conclusion of the summit reveals the GCC’s clear priorities: they must maintain close security coordination and take an active part in conversations and negotiations surrounding the Iranian nuclear deal. The statement also referred to economic partnerships and economic unity between GCC states, as well as domestic reforms related to women’s empowerment and their effective participation in the workforce. The statement also mentioned collaboration in the field of cybersecurity and digital infrastructure. Notably, while discussion of external challenges consumed a large part of the summit, member states also discussed internal threats and ways to ensure political stability at home. As social media platforms become weapons exploited by external actors to wreak havoc and create social and political instability, it has become more important than ever before for Gulf states to fight misinformation and fake news. GCC leaders also discussed ways to ensure the circulation of fact-checked information. It is my belief that while the past five decades saw major transformations in the Gulf region, the next five decades will usher in even more changes in this dynamic part of the Middle East. The GCC summit in Riyadh will be remembered as a pivotal milestone in this regard. Preserving and defending the successes and development of the Gulf region has become a goal for all GCC member states. 

– Mohammed Al-Rumaihi

Translated by Asaf Zilberfarb.