Archive for March 9, 2018


January 31, 2018

Egypt, Ethiopia and Sudan have agreed to establish railways and roads to connect them to each other, Khartoum’s Foreign Minister Ibrahim Ghandour said yesterday.

The presidents of the three countries met on the sidelines of the 28th ordinary AU Summit in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, yesterday where they “agreed to establish railways and roads connecting the three countries,” Ghandour said in a press statement.

They also agreed to establish a joint financial fund to support these projects, he added.

Remarking on the talks regarding Ethiopia’s dam, Ghandour said a joint political, security and technical committee which includes the ministers of foreign affairs and irrigation, as well as directors of the security and intelligence services from the three countries will be formed in order to provide technical studies for the heads of the three countries related to filling the dam’s lake and how it will operate in a way that does not affect Egypt and Sudan’s share of Nile water.

The Sudanese minister said that Khartoum and Cairo have also agreed to form a committee of foreign ministers and security and intelligence chiefs who will meet in Cairo during the next two weeks to discuss all outstanding issues.

“The presidents of the two countries stressed that the relationship between Egypt and Sudan is eternal and must be maintained,” he said.

Source: Middle East Monitor.

Link: https://www.middleeastmonitor.com/20180131-roads-trains-to-link-sudan-egypt-ethiopia/.

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Thursday 25 January 2018

CAIRO: Egyptian president Abdel-Fattah el-Sisi submitted his nomination documents on Wednesday, a day after a potentially serious challenger in the March vote was arrested by the military.

El-Sisi is virtually certain to win a second four-year term in the March 26-28 vote, as two would-be challengers have withdrawn from the race and another two have been arrested. But his supporters have been actively gathering signatures from voters in an attempt to show he has popular support.

Would-be candidates must secure 25,000 “recommendations” from voters or the support of 20 lawmakers to be eligible to run. El-Sisi already has the support of more than 500 of parliament’s 596 lawmakers. But on Wednesday his official Facebook page posted images of workers unloading boxes of recommendations from a van, each bearing the president’s image and the slogan “Long live Egypt!“

On Tuesday, the military arrested former chief of staff Sami Annan over a slate of serious allegations, all but ending his hopes of running in the election and ensuring that el-Sisi, a former general, will not face off against another member of the country’s powerful military establishment.

Amnesty International said the arrest of Annan amounted to an attack on rights to public participation and freedom of expression.

“It is clear that the Egyptian authorities are hell-bent on arresting and harassing anyone who stands against President el-Sisi,” said Najia Bounaim, Amnesty’s North Africa Campaigns Director. “This is consistent with the Egyptian government’s ongoing efforts to crush dissent and consolidate power by attacking civil society, activists and human rights defenders in the country.”

Annan’s arrest leaves prominent rights lawyer Khaled Ali as the only serious would-be candidate to challenge el-Sisi. But Ali’s candidacy is also at risk because he was convicted in September of making an obscene hand gesture in public. If that ruling is upheld on appeal, he will be ineligible. The next appeal hearing is scheduled for March 7, less than three weeks before the vote.

Two other presidential hopefuls have withdrawn.

Former prime minister and air force Gen. Ahmed Shafiq, who finished a close second in Egypt’s first free election in 2012, said he did not think he was the “ideal” man to lead the nation after days of harsh criticism by pro-el-Sisi media.

Another would-be candidate was former lawmaker Mohammed Anwar Sadat, the nephew of the Egyptian leader who was assassinated in 1981. He said the country’s political “climate” was not conducive to campaigning and because he feared for the safety of his supporters.

Another hopeful, Army Col. Ahmed Konsowa, was court martialed and sentenced to six years in prison for breaching military regulations prohibiting political activism.

In his first public comments since Annan’s arrest, el-Sisi on Wednesday reiterated vague warnings that Egypt is the target of a foreign conspiracy.

“The evil people are still trying to achieve their goal and all eyes are on Egypt, but no one will hurt Egypt,” he said at a ceremony marking Police Day.

“We are talking construction, building and development. We don’t want anyone to lead us astray with rhetoric that we don’t need,” he said, in what may have been a reference to Annan’s video message announcing he would run.

In the video, Annan spoke of deteriorating living standards and what he called the “erosion” of the state’s capabilities, which he blamed it on the military’s growing involvement in the economy and politics. “Wise” policies were needed to bring in the civilian sector, but that required respect for the constitution and guarantees of freedoms, added Annan.

He also took the unusual step of appealing to the military and state institutions to remain neutral in the election, saying they should not be biased in favor of el-Sisi.

El-Sisi led the 2013 military overthrow of Egypt’s first freely elected president, Muhammad Mursi, whose year in power proved divisive. The government has since waged a wide-scale crackdown on dissent, silencing nearly all its critics.

Except for Mursi and interim president Adly Mansour, who succeeded him in 2013, all of Egypt’s presidents since the establishment of the republic in the early 1950s have come from the military, and the security apparatus is believed to wield great power behind the scenes.

Source: Arab News.

Link: http://www.arabnews.com/node/1232271/middle-east.

2018-01-08

CAIRO – Egypt’s former prime minister Ahmed Shafiq said on Sunday that he will not now be a candidate in this year’s presidential election, reversing a previous pledge to stand.

His decision to step aside is likely to pave the way for the poll to be dominated by incumbent Abdel Fattah al-Sisi.

The National Elections Authority is expected to announce a date for the election on Tuesday.

Shafiq’s decision not to stand came after he was returned to Egypt last month from the United Arab Emirates, where he had lived in exile since 2012.

“I have decided to not run in the upcoming 2018 presidential elections,” Shafiq said in a statement posted online.

“I saw that I will not be the best person to lead the country in the coming period.”

Shafiq was appointed premier by former president Hosni Mubarak shortly before he was toppled in 2011. He was seen as a main challenger for Sisi who has not yet officially announced his candidacy but is expected to cruise to a new term.

“His withdrawal from the elections might be leaving the scene void of any strong personality that can challenge President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi,” said Mustapha Kamel al-Sayyid, a political science professor at Cairo University.

– Deported from UAE –

Shafiq announced his plan to stand in a November 29 video from the UAE, saying that it seemed Egypt needed “new blood” to face “many problems in all aspects of life”.

After angering his Emirati hosts by saying in a video first aired by Al-Jazeera that he was being prevented from leaving the country, his aides said he was deported on December 2.

After arriving in Egypt, Shafiq disappeared for around 24 hours before reemerging to tell a talk show host he was reconsidering his bid for the presidency.

On Sunday Shafiq appeared to have dramatically changed his tune on the situation in Egypt.

Being in exile “may have kept me away from carefully following updates in the homeland, of progress and accomplishments,” he said.

Shafiq narrowly lost out on the presidency in 2012 to Islamist president Mohammed Morsi.

After the election he was tried in absentia on corruption charges, and was eventually acquitted.

Sisi, a former army chief, was elected president in 2014, a year after leading the military’s ouster of Morsi.

“Shafiq was considered a strong potential candidate to challenge President Sisi as he enjoyed popularity when he ran in the 2012 presidential elections,” Sayyid said.

“Perhaps many people are nostalgic for the days of Hosni Mubarak, who see Shafiq as a continuation of Mubarak’s rule. That’s why it was expected he would attract a large number of voters,” he said.

Other potential candidates may not be able to be muster similar interest, Sayyid added.

– Other candidates –

Such candidates include Khaled Ali, a rights lawyer and presidential candidate in 2012 who challenged the government over Red Sea islands Egypt gave to Saudi Arabia.

In November, Ali announced his intention to stand again in 2018.

However, he had been sentenced in September in absentia to three months in jail on accusations of “offending public decency”, a ruling he appealed.

This was in relation to a photograph, that Ali says was fabricated and that appeared to show him making an obscene gesture while celebrating a court ruling in the case of the islands’ transfer to Saudi Arabia.

Ali said only the committee organizing the election can decide whether that ruling would disqualify him as a candidate.

Another presidential hopeful, military colonel Ahmed Konsowa, was given six years in prison in December by a military court after the previous month announcing his intention to stand.

Konsowa’s lawyer said his client was given the jail sentence for stating political opinions while still in the military, even though Konsowa said he had been trying to resign from the military for more than three years.

Lawyer Asaad Heikal said Konsowa had only followed Sisi’s example in announcing his candidacy. Sisi was in uniform when he did so, before later resigning as defence minister.

Source: Middle East Online.

Link: http://www.middle-east-online.com/english/?id=86686.

December 30, 2017

Egyptian President Abdel Fattah Al-Sisi ordered tighter security measures on Friday for vital facilities across the country, Anadolu has reported. The order came just hours after gunmen attacked Mar Mina Church and a shop in southern Cairo, killing at least 10 people, including eight Christians, and wounding a number of others.

Al-Sisi said that he “is following the consequences of the terror attack closely.” Such “desperate” terrorism, he insisted, will never destroy Egyptians’ national unity. An estimated 10-15 per cent of the population in Egypt are Christians.

Hours before the church attack, the Egyptian army announced that six soldiers and three gunmen had been killed in two separate incidents in North Sinai. Another three soldiers were killed in an attack in Beni Suef.

Only last Tuesday, Egypt’s Minister of the Interior raised the security alert to the highest level during the holiday period. Soldiers were deployed in several cities to secure places of worship.

Source: Middle East Monitor.

Link: https://www.middleeastmonitor.com/20171230-sisi-orders-tighter-security-for-vital-facilities-in-egypt/.

December 29, 2017

An Egyptian court yesterday sentenced 15 persons to ten years in jail each for taking part in protests in late 2013 in the country’s southern province of Minya, a judicial source told the Anadolu Agency.

Fourteen of the defendants were sentenced in absentia and one was present in the court while the verdict was being pronounced.

The verdict may be appealed at a higher court.

Prosecutors accused the defendants of protesting, inciting violence, attempting to wreck public property and membership in an outlawed group, in reference to the now-banned Muslim Brotherhood.

The defendants were arrested during a protest in December 2013. Prosecutors referred them to criminal trial in May 2015 and the first trial session was held two months later.

An interim government issued the controversial protest law in November 2013, four months after then-defense chief Abdel Fattah Al-Sisi led a military coup against the country’s first democratically elected President Mohamed Morsi.

In the wake of the coup, the government also banned the Muslim Brotherhood group, accused it of terrorism, and rounded up its members and sympathizers. Thousands have been behind bars in pretrial detention or facing trial for membership in the Brotherhood and over accusations such as “inciting violence” and “membership in a terrorist group”. The Brotherhood has repeatedly denied the accusations and stressed that it adheres to peaceful protests against the coup.

The protest law, which was issued in response to a wave of protests that opposed the coup and called for Morsi’s reinstatement, was described by international watchdog Human Rights Watch as “deeply restrictive” and by Amnesty International as “draconian” and “repressive”.

Source: Middle East Monitor.

Link: https://www.middleeastmonitor.com/20171229-10-year-jail-terms-for-15-protesters-in-egypt/.

March 4, 2018

Around 200 Bosnian women on Saturday set off from Sarajevo to Istanbul to join an all-women convoy to raise awareness about the suffering of women and young girls imprisoned in Syria by the regime forces.

The International Conscience Convoy which describes itself as the “voice of the oppressed women in Syria” will set off from Istanbul on Tuesday with the participation of women from nearly 55 countries.

Among the women joining from Bosnia are women who shared the same fate with Syrian women during the Bosnian war between 1992-1995 including members of the Mothers of the Srebrenica group.

The President of the Association of the Mothers of Srebrenica and Zepa Enclaves, Munira Subasic joined the send off ceremony of the Bosnian women. Speaking to Anadolu Agency, she said:

Srebrenica’s mothers are well aware of what pain means, now Syrian women are experiencing the same pain we went through

“We are in the 21st century, the United Nations, the U.S. and Russia need to be ashamed,” she added.

Speaking to Anadolu Agency, the Balkan Cultural Alliance Association (BAKIDER) representative Enida Gujo said that the Bosnian women joined the convoy with the support of Turkey.

“On March 08 we will all together call out for help for the Syrian women held in Syrian prisons,” she said.

Nearly 150 buses will take part in the journey which will make stops at Izmir, Sakarya, Ankara and Adana cities before reaching the southern Hatay province at the Turkey-Syria border.

Source: Middle East Monitor.

Link: https://www.middleeastmonitor.com/20180304-bosnian-women-set-off-for-all-women-convoy-in-turkey/.

February 26, 2018

ANKARA, Turkey (AP) — Turkey has submitted documents to the Czech authorities formally requesting the extradition of the former leader of a Syrian Kurdish party, Deputy Prime Minister Bekir Bozdag said Monday.

Salih Muslim, former co-chair of the Democratic Union Party, or PYD, was detained in the Czech capital of Prague on Saturday under an Interpol red notice based on a Turkish request for his arrest. Turkey considers the PYD a “terrorist group” linked to outlawed Kurdish insurgents fighting within Turkey’s own borders.

Muslim was put on Turkey’s most-wanted list earlier in February with a $1 million reward. On Monday, Turkish prosecutors issued a new warrant for his detention, accusing Muslim and about 30 other people of being behind a bomb attack on a tax office in Ankara earlier this month.

Nine people — suspected Kurdish militants — were detained in connection with the attack, which caused damage to the tax office but no casualties. Bozdag said during a live television interview Monday that Turkey’s Justice Ministry had sent a “file” formally requesting his extradition.

Muslim was expected to appear before a Prague court on Tuesday, which would then decide if he will remain in detention, Turkish Ambassador in Prague Ahmet Necati Bigali told Turkey’s state-run Anadolu Agency.

The PYD is the leading political Kurdish force in northern Syria, and Muslim remains highly influential in the party, even after stepping down as co-chair last year. On Jan. 20, Turkey launched an incursion into northern Syria, seeking to rout the U.S.-backed Syrian Kurdish militia, known as the People’s Protection Units or YPG, from the enclave of Afrin. The YPG is the armed wing of the PYD.

February 25, 2018

A Turkish foundation provided aid to 200 Palestinian families in East Jerusalem on Saturday.

Enes Erbas, board member of Sadakatasi, said the aid included electric blankets and winter clothing.

The distribution was organized by the Jerusalem Zakat Committee.

“We have been working in Palestine for the last eight years and strive to heal the wounds of our Palestinian brothers and sisters,” he said.

Hamza Kasisi, an official from Jerusalem Zakat Committee, thanked the Turkish people and the foundation for its support.

The foundation has previously helped several families living under Israeli occupation in East Jerusalem and Gaza Strip.

Source: Middle East Monitor.

Link: https://www.middleeastmonitor.com/20180225-turkish-foundation-aids-200-palestinian-families-in-jerusalem/.

February 13, 2018

Turkish naval vessels have intercepted the route of a ship belonging to the Italian oil exploration company Eni, which was on its way to explore the recently discovered gas reserves in Cypriot waters.

On Sunday, Cypriot media reported that Turkish warships were conducting maneuvers in the region, and pointed out that the incident occurred last Friday.

The Turkish military warned the ship’s crew of continuing the journey, because the region will witness military maneuvers, according to what a spokesman of the Italian company told to the Associated Press news agency, which confirmed that the ships will remain in place.

Cyprus said the drillship Saipem 12000 was on its way from a south-south-west location of Cyprus towards an area in the southeast of the island when it was stopped by Turkish warships.

In a news conference in Nicosia, Cypriot President Nicos Anastasiades said that Cyprus is taking the necessary steps regarding the matter, adding that the Cypriot authorities’ actions reflect the exhortation to avoid anything that could lead to an escalation of the situation without, of course, ignoring Turkey’s violation of international law.

For his turn, Cyprus Foreign Minister Ioannis Kasoulidis stated that his country is conducting excessive contacts with the company and the Italian government regarding the ship’s matter.

In the same context, the Cypriot ambassador in Cairo expressed his concern about the Turkish escalation in the Mediterranean Sea and stressed on the Turkish government’s inability to threaten the Egyptian-Cypriot interests in the Mediterranean Sea, especially that the agreement between Egypt and Cyprus had been concluded years ago, the gas had been already explored and production was done. Thus, they cannot threaten our “interests.”

The Cypriot ambassador expressed his country’s intention to establish an Egyptian-Cyprus Parliamentary Friendship Association.

On January 28, Turkish Coast Guard forces prevented Greek Defense Minister Panos Kammenos from approaching a military boat from the Turkish Çardakrocky islands in the Aegean Sea.

Last week, Egypt warned Turkey against trying to undermine its sovereignty over its economic zone in the eastern Mediterranean after Ankara announced it had not endorsed the 2013 agreement of demarcation of the maritime Egyptian-Cypriot borders.

The official website of the Egyptian Ministry of Defense broadcasted a documentary showing the protection of the Mistral helicopter carrier of the Eastern Mediterranean gas fields.

Entitled Amaliqat Al-Bahr (Sea Giants), the documentary showed the Egyptian marine protecting the natural gas field of the Mediterranean Sea, using modern naval vessels of Mistral.

Source: Middle East Monitor.

Link: https://www.middleeastmonitor.com/20180213-turkish-military-intervenes-to-prevent-exploration-of-mediterranean-sea/.

Osama Al Sharif

February 27, 2018

Jordan and Turkey are bolstering ties in a bid to unify positions toward regional challenges where the two countries share mutual interests, including the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and the Syrian crisis. King Abdullah II hosted Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu and Gen. Hulusi Akar, the commander of the Turkish Armed Forces, on separate visits to Amman over the course of two days, Feb. 19 and 20, respectively.

Cavusoglu met with the Jordanian monarch to review bilateral relations and the latest regional developments, according to a Royal Court statement. The king stressed his “keenness to continue coordination on issues of concern to the Islamic nation and enhance security and stability of the region.” Moreover, the two sides discussed economic cooperation and bilateral trade. Cavusoglu announced that his government “would revise the Jordanian-Turkish free trade agreement to facilitate the entry of Jordanian exports to Turkey.” He also said Turkey was looking into using the “Aqaba port as a regional hub for Turkish exports to various markets, including Africa,” the Jordan Times reported. A day later, Abdullah and Akar discussed bilateral military cooperation and the fight against terrorism, according to the Royal Court.

During a meeting with Turkish nationals in Amman on Feb. 18, Cavusoglu said that President Recep Tayyip Erdogan planned to visit Jordan in the near future. Erdogan last visited the kingdom in August 2017, and Abdullah had traveled to Ankara on Dec. 6, the day US President Donald Trump announced his decision to recognize Jerusalem as Israel’s capital and relocate the US Embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem.

Erdogan shares Abdullah’s opposition to Trump’s decision on Jerusalem. On Dec. 13 in Istanbul, the king attended a special session of the Organization of Islamic Cooperation, where they rejected Trump’s proclamation.

The promotion of Jordanian-Turkish bilateral ties comes at a time when Amman and Ankara are recalibrating their positions in the wake of recent regional developments and in anticipation of the possible fallout of Trump’s Middle East peace plan, which is expected to be announced in the coming weeks. The two countries are yet to react to the news that the US State Department had sped up moving the US Embassy to Jerusalem, now scheduled for May 2018.

Abdullah is a strong supporter of the two-state solution as the only way to resolve the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, and he is committed to his role as custodian of the Muslim and Christian holy sites in East Jerusalem. Both issues could be affected by Trump’s peace plan and Israel’s far right coalition government.

Abdullah’s pivot toward Turkey comes at a time when Jordan is worried that some key Arab states might be ready to embrace Trump’s plan even if it rejects the two-state option. There is a belief in Jordan, supported by anti-Iran statements from the Saudis, that Riyadh considers the issue of Iran as a regional threat to be more important and pressing than the Arab-Israeli conflict. Egypt’s position is unclear but will be crucial in determining the fate of the US peace plan.

It is no secret that relations between Amman and Riyadh have further cooled since Trump’s decision on Jerusalem. According to local analysts, the Saudis resisted calls by Amman to hold an emergency Arab summit on Jerusalem after the US announcement. In addition, Saudi Arabia was not satisfied with Jordan’s reaction to its moves beginning last June to pressure and isolate Qatar.

Amman did not cut ties with Doha, choosing instead to only downgrade diplomatic relations and close Al Jazeera offices. Other reasons for the cooling in bilateral relations concerns Amman’s position on the war in Yemen — Jordan’s participation in the Saudi-led coalition was symbolic and short-lived — and courting of the Muslim Brotherhood, which has representation in the Jordanian parliament.

Jordan is keen to avoid being seen as joining regional blocs or coalitions. Despite Amman’s historically close relations with the Gulf states, especially Saudi Arabia, Abdullah has always followed an independent policy that shuns polarization. This is demonstrated in Amman maintaining low-key diplomatic relations with Tehran, despite its rejection of Iran’s controversial role in Syria, Iraq and Yemen. Abdullah was the first Arab leader to warn of a Shiite crescent, going back to 2004.

Given Abdullah’s approach to foreign policy, Jordan’s growing closeness to Turkey, which has sided with Qatar in the Gulf dispute, will be carefully managed. The two sides have shared interests in the outcome of the Syrian crisis, and they both back Palestinian rights and the two-state solution. Turkey’s strong support for the Hashemite’s role in East Jerusalem is of important moral value.

Yet according to Jordanian political analyst Amer al-Sabaileh, both Jordan and Turkey are affected by “the damaging US regional policies.” In this regard, he told Al-Monitor, “[For] Jordan, it is the peace process and Trump’s derailing of the two-state solution, and for Turkey, it is the US backing of Syria’s Kurds and the uncertainty over the latest Turkish incursion into northern Syria.”

In addition to deeper political coordination, Jordan, which has suffered economically as a result of the crises in Syria and Iraq in the past few years, stands to benefit from better commercial ties with Turkey. Former Jordanian Deputy Prime Minister Jawad Anani told Al-Monitor that the Turkish economy is around the 15th largest, and Turkey’s political and economic standing in the region is beyond dispute.

“The boosting of ties comes at a crucial time for Jordan, since Turkey represents a huge market for Jordanian goods, as well as a source of incoming tourists,” Anani said. “After Cavusoglu’s visit, Turkey exempted over 500 Jordanian goods from customs duties, which is a major opportunity for local industries.” He added that Turkish products and TV dramas are popular in Jordan, and Turkey is the No. 1 tourist destination for Jordanians.

Erdogan, however, remains a contentious figure among Jordanians. Many admire him for standing up to Israel and the United States, and for dialing back Turkey’s secular culture, but others view him as a demagogue and a political opportunist. Ironically, Abdullah’s view of Erdogan has not always been positive. In April 2003, The Atlantic reported the king as perceiving the then-Turkish prime minister as “merely promoting a softer-edged version of Islamism” and saying that Erdogan had told him that democracy is like “a bus ride” — “Once I get to my stop, I’m getting off.” Since that time, the two leaders appear to have realized that they are better off working together to offset common challenges in their troubled region.

Source: al-Monitor.

Link: https://www.al-monitor.com/pulse/originals/2018/02/jordan-turkey-boost-relations-face-regional-challanges.html.