Maria Dubovikova

Maria Dubovikova

Maria Dubovikova is IMESClub President.

Jordan prepares the ground for the Helsinki summit, wrote my friend, journalist of the Russian prominent Kommersant newspaper. And somehow it is true. But Jordan proceeds not with global charity and assistance, but pursues very certain national interests, seriously affected by the situation in Southern Syria and the influx of refugees to the Syrian-Jordanian borders as Jordan rejects to accept any more refugees into the kingdom.

After King Abdullah’s visit June 25th  to Washington, Jordan, as expected, proceeded with mediation between Washington and Moscow over the issue of the opposition in south Syria. The king voiced his concern to the American administration over the spillover of a military escalation in South Syria. The Syrian army has paved the way for the military assault after liberating the outskirts of Damascus and Ghouta from terrorist gangs in the area as officially reported.

 With Russian air cover, the Syrian army is heading towards the Jordanian-Israeli borders. The pace of battles has surprised the militant opposition and posed a high risk on Jordan’s national security, not only because some of the terrorists are among those refugees but also due to the demographic imbalances that such a flood would cause.  The day the war in south Syria started, humanitarian concerns sparked. Jordan, closed the border, being unable to cope with the new flow of refugees, and prepared the trucks with humanitarian aid  requiring Damascus permission to cross the border and reach people in need. Jordanian officials’ visits to Moscow in the past few months and recently aimed to ask Russia to exercise pressure on the Syria government to open the border for Jordanian convoys loaded with humanitarian aid. All Jordanian visits to Russia since the beginning of 2018 aimed to exercise more pressure on Damascus not to push the militants towards the Jordanian borders as this will cause a major threat not only to Jordan but to Israel as well as this would lead to further skirmishes on the Jordanian borders with Israel.

The situation for the Syrian refugees is dramatic for Jordan as it leverages enormous pressure on the already troubled economy of the country. Further deterioration of the situation in Syria might become fatal to the Kingdom in terms of refugee influx which required huge budgets to handle. And since Jordan is facing a huge financial deficit and debts due to economic hardships, the refugee scenario would cause further deterioration of the whole Jordanian economic plans.

But what is a problem for Jordan is not a matter of deep concern to Russia as the mopping up of the area from the gangs of Jabhat an-Nusra is far more vital matter. Jordan prefers not to talk about countering terrorism at this region as it gives priority to peaceful talks rather than fighting. The south region of Syria include three governorates: Deraa, Suwaid and Qunaitra and they all have a population of 5 million.

The deescalation zone was established July 2017 after the Trump-Putin short meeting on the sidelines of G20 summit in Hamburg and is guaranteed by two sides: Russia, and the US where the US responsibility was to talk to terrorists demanding their withdrawal from the areas of tension. Jordan hosted the military operations center to monitor the de-escalation zones in south Syria.  Russia, in its turn, guaranteed the withdrawal of the non-Syrian forces, in other words Shia-militias, out of the area, especially by the Israeli-Syrian border and it is apparently fulfilling its obligations.

Jordan is shuttling between Washington and Moscow having exclusive relations with both. Pursuing purely national interests, Jordan creates agenda for Russia and the US to work on. Both countries are interested in stable Jordan. Any complications inside Jordan are worrisome and undesirable so they are both likely to listen to Jordanian concerns. Reasons why Jordan is important for the countries are quite numerous, but they are different for Moscow and Washington. Jordan’s strategic location allows it to play significant geopolitical role in the region despite poor natural resources and numerous economic problems. It is a frontier between Israel and the other countries in the Middle East, mainly the Gulf that stopped the terrorism to expand to these areas. It is one of the last more or less stable fort-posts in the region, keeping it away from the absolute chaos. Jordan hosts the US military bases and works perfectly as a mediator in some slippery issues. For Russia, Jordan is a vital regional partner with which Russia has a positive history of bilateral relations hosting Jordanian King at least once in a year. Jordan is an important counterpart for Russia in Syria in terms of its mediative role. Furthermore, it has significant tribal influence in Southern areas of Syria, needed in settlement issues in the area as the tribes in Northern Jordan and the same in Southern Syria.

On the eve of the Helsinki summit the efforts of Jordan might lay the ground for some new advanced agreements between the US and Russia on Syria. Though the current situation in Southern Syria is far from being stable and de-escalation zone has literally failed, the guarantors continue insisting on the perseverance of the deescalation zone.

As for the humanitarian convoy from Jordan, though the Russian side did not give publicly any promises, Russia is likely to proceed with assistance to Jordan. Obviously,  Damascus has no reasons to oppose entrance of the Jordanian humanitarian convoy but it has the right to inspect them for fear the same history repeats itself when humanitarian aid convoys were allowed in northern Syria. Both Russia and Syria have the right to monitor any convoy entering Syria and after inspection, the convoy can be given the permission to reach destination.

Складывающаяся в настоящее время ситуация в Иордании возникла не на пустом месте. Протесты, привлекшие внимание мировых СМИ, начались не сейчас, а сотрясают Иорданию, почти не переставая, с начала года и постепенно наращивают обороты. Сейчас страна столкнулась с сильнейшими народными волнениями за последние двадцать лет. Почему и как так вышло?

Иордания традиционно воспринимается как своего рода оазис стабильности и относительного процветания на Ближнем Востоке. Несмотря на протяженную границу с Сирией и Ираком, силам безопасности практически без осечек удается пресекать террористическую активность, обеспечивать безопасность подданных и государственных границ. Достаточно светские король и королева формируют позитивный образ страны за рубежом. Активно развивается туризм. Вроде бы все хорошо, однако реальная ситуация внутри страны очень далека от того, чтобы говорить о ней в позитивном ключе.


Иордания изначально существует «не благодаря, а вопреки». Не будучи «запланированным» государственным образованием изначально, возникшая, по сути, в результате предательства англичанами и французами лидеров арабского восстания, созданная как механизм сохранения британского влияния в регионе, Иордания все же смогла построить собственную государственность и закрепиться на карте мира. Ее расположение — в «обрамлении» Палестины, Израиля, Египта, Саудовской Аравии и Ирака — обеспечило ее геополитическую роль и значимость в регионе, в особенности в контексте арабо-израильского конфликта. Однако её небольшие размеры, немногочисленное население и ограниченность природных ресурсов не позволяют стране динамично развиваться. Арабо-израильский конфликт для Иордании — это не только внешнеполитическая проблема, но и внутренняя. Палестинские беженцы создали дисбаланс в стране, который она преодолевает уже на протяжении 70 лет. Многолетний и кровопролитный сирийский конфликт, в свою очередь, усугубил давление на экономику, поскольку страна вынуждена принять 1,3 млн сирийцев(по данным иорданских властей, официально зарегистрированных ООН 666 113 беженцев), бежавших от войны.

Ее расположение — в «обрамлении» Палестины, Израиля, Египта, Саудовской Аравии и Ирака — обеспечило ее геополитическую роль и значимость в регионе, в особенности в контексте арабо-израильского конфликта.

Но основная проблема заключается не только и не столько в этом. Проблемы в стране копились годами, но правительство не предпринимало каких-либо реальных шагов для их разрешения. Спусковым механизмом для протестов, которые происходят в последний месяц, стали резко вводимые меры жесткой экономии.

Причинами этих мер стал разработанный и одобренный для Иордании в 2016 г. МВФ план проведения структурных реформ, основная цель которых — сокращение к 2021 г. государственного долга страны с 96% от ВВП до 77%. МВФ выделил 723 млн долл. на три года на поддержание структурных реформ. Однако реформы и предпринимаемые меры не встретили энтузиазма среди населения. Акции протеста проходили еще в 2017 г. в Солте, Караке, Мадабе на фоне роста цен на хлеб.

Постепенно к экономическим требованиям добавились осуждение нормализации отношений с «государством-оккупантом».

Здесь надо понимать, что для любой арабской семьи хлеб — это ежедневная насущная необходимость. Для малоимущих семей тем более, поскольку хлеб фактически ключевой продукт питания. Хлеба едят много, поэтому рост цен на хлеб всегда и неминуемо остро сказывается на кошельках семей и на планировании семейного бюджета.

Первые народные выступления в начале 2018 г. начались в этих же городах — на фоне жесточайших мер безопасности со стороны полиции, которая буквально взяла протестующих в осаду, что тоже было воспринято иорданцами крайне негативно. Люди тогда вышли на улицы выразить свой протест против повышения налогов и цен на продовольствие. Они также выдвигали требования сократить государственные расходы на пособия, командировочные и, наконец, взять коррупцию под контроль. Постепенно к экономическим требованиям добавились осуждение нормализации отношений с «государством-оккупантом» (Израилем) и призывы разорвать с ним газовый контракт, заключенный в 2016 г. на сумму 10 млрд долл. сроком на 15 лет.


Несмотря на протесты, правительство продолжило намеченный курс, подняв еще больше цены на хлеб, сократив его субсидирование и увеличив стоимость госуслуг и налогов. Вследствие этого начались забастовки профсоюзов и фермеров. Они и переросли в итоге в массовые акции протеста по всей стране после объявления новой налоговой реформы. Согласно реформе, помимо остальных положений, налог должны будут платить семьи с годовым доходом от 8 тыс. иорданских динар (около 11 тыс. долл.), также она вводит повышение налога на добавленную стоимость до 16%. Параллельно поднимаются цены на бензин и электроэнергию. Это все стало последней каплей. Только за этот год цены на бензин взлетели в пять раз, а счета за электроэнергию выросли на 55%. Но главным триггером протестов стала сама реформа.

Иордания — бедная страна с прослойкой очень богатых людей, сделавших в большинстве своем состояние через уклонение от уплаты налогов, коррупцию и непотизм. Реформа предполагала ужесточить налоговые сборы, однако в текущих политических условиях и при «нездоровой» системе коррупции и фаворитизма, она прежде всего ударила бы по основной массе населения.

Учитывая происходящие подвижки, протестные настроения будут только нарастать, поскольку власти до сих пор не проявили серьезных намерений по отношению к борьбе с коррупцией и прочими пороками государственной системы.

Необходимо указать на еще один важный момент. Иордания — маленькая племенная страна, где все друг друга знают. Самоидентичность иорданца всегда определяется как «страна гражданства» и «принадлежность к племени», притом подчас принадлежность к племени превалирует над гражданством. По фамилии иорданцы безошибочно определяют принадлежность друг друга к конкретным семьям, кругам в иерархии страны, доступ к финансовым потокам и т. д. Все махинации и игры политиков и бизнесменов видны простым иорданцам как на ладони. Их терпение лопнуло именно тогда, когда сделанные нечистыми на руку воротилами и политиками дыры в экономике страны решили залатать, в очередной раз обирая население страны, и без того доведенное до критического состояния за последние годы.

Требования граждан обобщает, хоть и добавляет некоторую вариативность, плакат, замеченный у одной из протестующих в Аммане. Он гласит: «Настоящая реформа: смена правительства, отмена нового закона о подоходном налоге, пересмотр текущего налога на продажи, субсидирование хлеба, обновление закона о государственной гражданской службе, сокращение цен на электроэнергию и топливо, принятие законодательных мер по борьбе с коррупцией».

Полная прозрачность принятия политических решений и национальный диалог — это, пожалуй, то немногое, на что может пойти власть в текущих условиях.

Призыв к национальному единству и меры, принятые королем, — отмена реформы, заморозка роста цен на топливо, отставка кабинета министров — позволили в некоторой степени снять напряженность. Король ответил на главные требования своих подданных. Однако люди продолжают протестовать. И это в священный для мусульман месяц Рамадан! И если в Аммане протесты происходят очень мирно, то, к примеру, в Солте ситуация напряженная. «Они хотят, чтобы я забыл то, что они мне сделали до этого? Нет! Я помню, что поднялись цены. Мы задыхаемся», — подытоживает общие настроения протестующий в Солте.

Иорданцы почувствовали, что они могут влиять на политические решения и жизнь в стране. Учитывая происходящие подвижки, протестные настроения будут только нарастать, поскольку власти до сих пор не проявили серьезных намерений по отношению к борьбе с коррупцией и прочими пороками государственной системы. Народ же убежден, что корень всех проблем именно в коррупции и разграблении страны определенными лицами и их семьями.

Но как бы то ни было, экономика Иордании остро нуждается в деньгах. Реформирование экономической системы — жизненная необходимость, но оно, в свою очередь, ставит простых иорданцев на грань выживания.

На руку королю играет то, что в Иордании отсутствует сильная и внятная оппозиция. «Братья-мусульмане», потерпевшие сокрушительное поражение на недавних выборах в парламент, значительно поумерили свою активность и амбиции. На демонстрациях — только флаги Иордании как символ единения нации. Это говорит об отсутствии политического подтекста и нагнетания происходящего в интересах каких-либо политических сил.

На днях Король Иордании Абдалла II отправился в Мекку с сыном не только для совершения хаджа, но и для того, чтобы встретиться с Королем Саудовской Аравии, эмиром Кувейта и премьер-министром ОАЭ, по итогам встречи с которыми было объявлено, что Иордании будет выделен пакет помощи в размере 2,5 млрд долл. Кроме того, появились сообщения, что в этом году Иордания возьмет в долг 785 млн иорданских динар для погашения дефицита бюджета. Эти меры носят временный характер и проблемы не решат. Руководство Иордании пока не в состоянии адекватно оценить ситуацию и определить стратегию решения накопившихся проблем. Борьба с коррупцией и непотизмом может серьезно расшатать сплоченность кругов вокруг короля и привести к непредсказуемым последствиям для политической системы. То же касается пересмотра всех назначений, сделанных с 2011 г., потенциальной практики подотчетности состоятельных граждан на тему возникновения и приумножения их богатства, хотя за это выступают и сами иорданцы. Полная прозрачность принятия политических решений и национальный диалог — это, пожалуй, то немногое, на что может пойти власть в текущих условиях.

Власти Иордании уже сейчас находятся между США и ожиданиями своего народа как между молотом и наковальней.

Другая проблема, которая раскачивает Иорданию изнутри, — это ситуация вокруг Иерусалима и Палестины. Решение Д. Трампа создало пока малозаметный сторонней публике, но очень ощутимый изнутри раскол между арабами и их правительствами, проявившими абсолютную пассивность в отношении этого вопроса, если не считать заявлений и осуждения. Правящие круги арабских стран, держащие деньги в банках США, зависящие от американских инвестиций, дотаций и благосклонности, оказались не в состоянии встать на защиту Палестины. Для простых арабов подобное положение дел неприемлемо. Иорданцы ждут от Короля более жесткой позиции и действий, как и остальные арабы от своих лидеров, но пойти на более жесткие шаги король не может. В перспективе США также будут давить на Иорданию, чтобы та отказалась от статуса хранителя мусульманских святынь в Иерусалиме. Власти Иордании уже сейчас находятся между США и ожиданиями своего народа как между молотом и наковальней. Эта ситуация и усугубление палестинской проблемы создаст крайне взрывоопасную обстановку и потенциально может спровоцировать новую волную арабских народных восстаний, наподобие «арабской весны».

Во всех отношениях Иордания находится в крайне непростом положении. Перспективы урегулирования ситуации туманны. Новый кабинет министров, скорее всего, не протянет больше полугода. Акции протеста могут временно пойти на спад, но затем разгорятся с новой силой. Королевство будет пытаться привлечь иностранные инвестиции в инфраструктуру и экономику страны, однако с учетом проблемы беженцев, продолжающегося кризиса в Сирии и обнаружившейся нестабильности внутри страны (пусть даже народ выступает не против режима, а против его определенных действий и решений) это будет сделать крайне затруднительно.

Усугубление нестабильности в Иордании не в интересах и внешних игроков, включая страны Персидского залива, да и самих США. Иордания, скорее всего, продолжит получать финансовую помощь, без которой исторически не может обходиться, однако если требования и чаяния граждан останутся без ответа правительства, протесты вновь наберут силу и парализуют страну. Тем не менее переворот пока маловероятен. Иорданцы, наученные горьким опытом соседей по региону, не хотят повторения подобных событий в своей стране. Их путь теперь — взять бразды правления собственной судьбой в свои руки, давить на существующую власть, вынуждая ее к диалогу, и путем прямого и прозрачного взаимодействия строить общее будущее. Возможно, именно так, здесь и сейчас, рождается настоящая демократия.

Статья опубликована в РСМД:

Фото: REUTERS/ Ammar Awad

Since 1948, Russia has been an advocate of the two-state solution and has been pushing both Arabs and Israelis to resolve the Palestinian-Israeli conflict in accordance with this plan, leaving Jerusalem for the final talks. Recently, Russia has started to exert more pressure on Israel to cease building new settlements in the occupied West Bank. This has been clear from the many statements issued by the Russian Foreign Ministry expressing deep concern at the deteriorating situation when it comes to Israel’s settlement projects.

Why Moscow is pushing for the two-state solution and for the procrastination of the status of Jerusalem can be explained by Russian fears that a lack of progress in the peace process could result in unilateral steps that would undermine the prospects of resolving the conflict. In other words, Russia is concerned about the liquidation of the Palestinian cause.

If the superpowers of the US and Russia do not have the sincere will to reach a solution, it would lead either to seriously harming the Palestinian cause or to the spreading of extremism in the region. Russia seeks to achieve a win-win deal for both Israelis and Palestinians rather than a win for one party at the expense of the other.

The announcements by the US of recognizing Jerusalem as the capital of Israel and moving its embassy there were deemed by Russia as a blow to all peace attempts, driving the whole region toward a direct clash.

With the increased tension between Iran and Israel in Syria and the failure so far to eradicate terrorism from Syria and Iraq, as well as other countries in the region, there is great potential for further conflict if the stalemate in the peace process continues and if new settlements continue to be built. The Israeli government has, in the past few months, approved plans to build 1,100 new units in 20 settlements in the West Bank. This not only undermines the whole peace process, but it is also a blatant attempt to wipe out Palestinian identity.

Why has the Russian position toward Israel changed in the past few years? It is a result of the shifting Israeli perspective on the peace process, which was supposed to solve the conflict and declare an independent Palestinian state many years ago. 

Russia alone cannot solve the Palestinian-Israeli conflict — it needs regional cooperation and support from the EU and of course, the US.

– Maria Dubovikova

When the region’s leaders make official visits to Moscow, their meetings with President Vladimir Putin touch on bilateral relations. However, Putin also insists on discussing the Palestinian-Israeli conflict which, if it remains unresolved, will lead to further skirmishes throughout the Middle East.

During his trip to Moscow this month, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu was told by Putin that the issue of Jerusalem should only be determined in final status talks and that the two-state solution is the best way to avoid any spillover to neighboring countries.

As Russia adheres to the UN resolutions on the principles of a peaceful settlement, including the status of East Jerusalem as the capital of the future Palestinian state, Moscow seeks the leeway to bring both sides together in a conference similar to that in Sochi for Syria. It is hoped these direct negotiations would help the two parties reach appropriate agreements.

But clearly, Russia alone cannot solve the Palestinian-Israeli conflict — it needs regional cooperation and support from the EU and of course, the US. Only concerted efforts can bring peace to the region and solve the complicated conflict in a manner that leads to co-existence in two states where both peoples respect each other and cooperate for the betterment of their nations.

Article published in Arab News:

The 21st century presents Arabs with many challenges that affect their existence and identity for many years to come. Many scholars are now concerned about how to maintain their  cultural identity without being dependent on the West who have the upper hand in terms of influence regarding educational and media systems due to the pervading globalisation which cannot be stopped or controlled.

Though many Arab intelligentsias have written many articles and books about the need for independence in the face of the West’s superiority; however, the risks of westernisation of Arab and Islamic culture are uncontrollable and the influence will be directed against Arab-Islamic heritage and national cultural identity. Though globalisation can be viewed as positive, many scholars consider it negative as a sign of colonialism and cultural invasion, which threatens people’s identity and cultural individuality. Thus, the creation of Daesh in Iraq and Syria as well as al-Qaeda aimed not only to destroy the two countries’ armies but rather to destroy their cultural and historical heritage which leads to deconstructing national identity as well. Why Daesh has destroyed historical sites in Iraq and Syria?

The Arabs and Muslims are living in the middle of the world. Thus, they are under the influence of power polarisation or polarity. One would notice that Arabs at present are living in a state of displaced, intellectual dispersion, cultural disparity or a state of cultural reliance.

Nowadays, the youth are thinking of recreating the old glory and dignity of the caliphate era as they consider they have lost their identity in the so-called “conflict of civilisations”. They wanted to reconstruct a new state which unify them all under the slogan of Islam. This has been the trap for many of them by Daesh and al-Qaeda which have netted a web that misled the youth who fold-blindly followed the path of radicalism to revive the era of the caliphate.

Arabs and Muslims, mainly the youth, due to the high levels of unemployment, are thinking crystallising an ideological and intellectual project that accommodates them to revive their ancient glories. This message would overlap between Arabs and Muslims in terms of originality and modernity because many of the youth, if asked, would say that the past of the Arabs and Muslims was much better than the present era as they were influential and had a say and now they are influenced and have to obey what other nations dictate on them. Thus, they believe the way out is by getting back to the foundations of Islamic religion, though it is restricted by many conditions and determinants in our today’s world to better shape their political and economic future.

In other words, Muslims and Arabs are torn apart between Islamic identity and modern identity. They seek to follow the Islamic teachings and no to relinquish modern civilisation’s blessings. The principle of Islamic identity is one of the Islamic principles. It has enabled the nation's prosperity. Thus, to understand how the young seek extremism, one should know why they follow the teachings of Jihadist leaders in Afghanistan, Iraq, Syria, Libya, Yemen, Nigeria and elsewhere.

In Samuel. P. Huntington's thesis “The Clash of Civilizations”, the West will try to rule the world by permeating their notions and morals in other countries.  Thus, the rejection to these plans comes from the young generation in the Arab and Muslim worlds as they are not bound to adhere to Western soul and ethics. Such rejection leads to a state of radicalism and a state of counter-acting against the interests of the west in the Arab and Islamic worlds or anywhere else. What turns the young Arabs and Muslims to be extremists then terrorist is the conflict between the West and their civilization in various terms including culture, economy, military, political and educational systems, values, beliefs, norms and traditions in addition to religion. Such difference are conducive to counteractions which would drive them to act against interests of the West, to insulate their communities from being penetrated by other civilizations not only the West, and to work on producing arms and weaponry that would create a deterrent power against any external threat such as the case with Daesh and al-Qaeda which both have their tactics and techniques to produce local-made arms.

Thus, linking historical identity with national interests is very significant to determine the moral perspective of extremists’ strategies and their way of thinking. Though political relations of conflicts, alliances and understandings between nations in the 21st century are important, Daesh and its affiliates as well as al-Qaeda and its affiliates do not consider this very important as long as they believe in unity of destiny and beliefs.

What Arabs and Muslims are facing now is their cultural identity issue at the global level. Jihadists realised that the main source of conflict in the next new world will not be political ideology or economics alone but also cultural. That is why they destroy all the ancient sites in the countries they take over. Therefore, the major conflicts will take place, according to the beliefs of these fanatic groups, between nations and groups belonging to different civilizations. It is a battle of civilizations to draw the new borders.

The outbreak of the so-called "revolutions" of the Arab Spring, which erupted in Tunisia, Egypt, Libya, Yemen and Syria, and the resulting identity struggle in an unprecedented manner, have led to hundreds of thousands of deaths and the migration of millions of citizens from their countries of origin to Europe, fleeing the inferno of “searching for an identity”, which none of those fighting for has a clear understanding what he is fighting for or who is he fighting.  Syria may be a model for the bloody identity struggle, exacerbated by the battles of the superpowers and their deep rivalry over political influence.

In the end, there are social, cognitive and religious situations that may remain in the structure of a society and culture, and may provoke some clashes from time to time. However, at a historical moment and for multiple reasons, it could lead to a sudden abrupt transition from a state of equilibrium to a situation of bloody conflict between multiple parties in a bid to search for an identity.

Extended version of the article published in Arab News:

Campaigning began on Saturday ahead of the Iraqi parliamentary elections, which will be held on May 12. Some 7,000 candidates have registered to stand and will compete for 329 parliamentary seats. But how will the elections affect Iraq’s relations with its Arab neighbors?

For the first time since the rise of Daesh, Iraqis across the country will be able to cast their votes at the ballot box. Voters will elect the representatives they want to guide the country out of its political, economic and security quagmire. Many candidates hope to return Iraq to its pre-1991 era, when the country led the Arab world in various fields. And with many countries in the Middle East supporting different candidates and blocs, regional players will be hoping for a result that best serves their interests.

After the US intervention in Iraq in 2003, many Arab countries chose a state of non-interference in Iraqi affairs, but they may have paid a heavy price for this policy of self-restraint, as it allowed Iran to extend its influence in Iraq. In spite of this, key regional players like Saudi Arabia are now seeking to reactivate the relationship between the two countries in an effort to achieve common political, security and economic goals. 

Iraq’s Arab neighbors are possibly seeking to take advantage of the opportunity brought about by strained US-Iranian relations under the Trump administration in order to restore the days when they had a presence in Iraqi politics. They hope to regain influence in Iraq to protect their interests and security, since the country has become an almost exclusive arena for Iranian influence.

In security terms, Iraq is now ruled by opponents of the regime of Saddam Hussein, most of whom have returned from exile in Iran. The country’s neighbors may now seek to strengthen their relations with the Iraqi government in order to protect their borders and to limit Iran’s ability to influence factions against their interests.

Many candidates hope to return Iraq to its pre-1991 era, when the country led the Arab world in various fields.

– Maria Dubovikova

The Iraqi governments since 2003 have disrupted their relations with neighboring Arab countries in favor of Iran. Iraq has suffered a lot through sectarian wars, the proliferation of violence and terrorism, and the conflict between its rival political camps, depriving the country of stability and development. Now, Iraqi leaders believe that a development of the relationships with its neighbors will positively affect Iraq and pave the way for it to regain its status among Arab countries.

The Iraqi government is almost entirely isolated in the Arab world because of the Iranian influence in its politics and military. Therefore, Baghdad hopes to develop bilateral relationships to obtain an effective regional presence. Prime Minister Haider Abadi, in particular, is seeking gains to reflect positively on his future and against his rivals.

Iraq is also suffering from the negative effects on its economy of the continued restrictions on its borders with Saudi Arabia and Syria. Iraq’s poor infrastructure and the deterioration of its economic conditions have impacted the social stability of its citizens and their relationship with the government. The more stable Iraq is, the more economic benefits its people will gain from open borders with their direct neighbors.

But challenges may hinder the development of Iraq’s relations with its Arab neighbors, some of which may be constrained by the negative image created during the recent past that Iraq is under the influence of non-state actors and Iran. The presence of armed militias loyal to Tehran is a major challenge.

Relations between Iraq and the rest of the Arab world are still in the process of normalization, reconciliation and the resolution of problems. Confidence-building measures would be welcome, as well as developing and strengthening their cooperation. The development of Iraqi-Arab relations depends largely on Baghdad’s post-election desire to develop these ties and reduce the influence of Iran within its borders.

Article published in Arab News:

Who benefits from a chemical attack such as the one reported to have taken place in Douma last weekend? Is it Russia or Syria? Hardly. It was already clear that any such attack would provoke a tough response from the US and its allies — direct military involvement in Syria with the aim of punishing Bashar Assad, his forces and allies, and ultimately toppling the regime.

The alleged attack raises many questions, the most important being the timing; there was no reason for the Assad regime to carry it out. The Syrian and Russian armies had recaptured most of Eastern Ghouta. Russia was in talks with the militant group Jaish Al-Islam over a deal to allow their fighters to leave Ghouta for Idlib. Civilians trapped in Ghouta had been released. 

Videos reporting the supposed attack do not stand up to scrutiny. One shows a reporter filming as he goes down into the shelter where it took place, but without taking any precautions or wearing any protection. Later, another White Helmet appears with a mask, and says the place is full of gas. Is this logical? Then the White Helmet puts on a mask, but with his bare hands, in ordinary clothes and with his neck uncovered. If there was a chemical attack, how is this possible? 

The White Helmets also reported that most of the victims of the attack were in an underground shelter. But Assad was accused of dropping barrel bombs filled with toxic gas. If this were true, most of the victims would have been at ground level. In addition, Russian military personnel in Douma were not affected by any kind of chemical poisoning, and an investigation by the Russians found no traces of chemical weapons. 

An investigation should be carried out first by the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons and other independent international bodies. The stakes are enormous because for Assad to carry out such such an attack would be to commit suicide. He is surely not naive enough to fall into this trap.

There are genuine concerns about what happens next. Any military retaliation without a detailed investigation, on the sole basis of reports from the White Helmets, would be an attempt to change the course of recent developments in Syria, and deprive Russia and Turkey of their achievements on the ground.

The ramifications are enormous, and the price of military intervention may be too much to bear. The examples are clear: The military intervention in Iraq cost hundreds of thousands of Iraqi lives, and led to the emergence of Daesh. The operations to liberate Mosul and Raqqa also cost thousands of civilian lives. We can hardly calculate how many lives would be sacrificed if the West’s aggressive declarations were followed through, or how long that road to hell would be. 

A full-scale attack, as was the case with Libya, would lead to terrorist and extremist gangs spreading all over Syria and the region, leading to chaos and anarchy. Furthermore, we would stand on the brink of a direct confrontation between two nuclear powers, Russia and the US. Nobody would be able to count the innocent victims of such a confrontation.

Article published in Arab News:

Photo credit: Anadolu

Sino-Russian relations have been historically quite close, as the countries have shared the same vision of the need for multipolarity and diversity while looking to counter US dominance. Facing increasing competition from the US, China considers promoting regional economic partnerships as a key strategic priority. Moreover, the improvement of China’s recent ties with its regional partners has added extra assets to its economic integration. Meanwhile, Russia is also looking to counter US dominance by constructing a multipolar world of equals and fair play. And here the two countries have “found” each other.

China’s proposed Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership, which is aimed at further opening up to other countries and speeding up domestic reforms, is deemed an effective approach to integrating into the global economy. The partnership with the 10 ASEAN countries — Brunei, Myanmar, Cambodia, Indonesia, Laos, Malaysia, the Philippines, Singapore, Thailand, and Vietnam — as well as India, Japan, South Korea, Australia and New Zealand would give China the flexibility to counter the American trade measures against its economy.

China views the American shift toward the Pacific region — as Washington increases its influence through economic activities and through military and political cooperation, in addition to a rise in anti-China rhetoric — as a major threat to its sovereignty.

The history of China’s dreams of ending US dominance started in the late 1990s with a book, “Unrestricted Warfare,” written by Chinese generals Liang Qiao and Wang Xiangsui. The main idea is that China can defeat the US, despite it being technologically superior and a more developed country, by avoiding traditional means of warfare. It proposed a variety of means that could be used to defeat the US, including lawfare, economic warfare, and network warfare. The book had a big impact in the US and, nearly 20 years after its publication, we can see that America and its Western allies have adopted many ideas of unrestricted warfare, developing them in accordance with new opportunities, technological breakthroughs and the peculiarities of the modern world.

The trade war launched by the Trump administration is being used as leverage and an instrument of exercising power, rather than for protectionism of the American economy. The aggressive rhetoric against China and exchange of tariff hikes on certain products and goods are raising the heat in bilateral relations between Beijing and Washington. The US is officially considering China a threat to its national interests. In keeping with Asian traditions, China is keeping its door open for talks until the very last moment, but it is unlikely this generosity will be appreciated by the US. 

Taking into account that the two powers have the same perceptions of how the world must be shaped, their alliance is promising to be fruitful and will cause many headaches in Washington.

– Maria Al Makahleh (Dubovikova) 

Understanding that the US has practically declared war on China using non-military means will bring Russia and China closer together. Taking into account that the two powers have the same perceptions of how the world must be shaped, their alliance is promising to be fruitful and will cause many headaches in Washington. Both China and Russia have repeatedly declared that they are trying not to mix politics and economics, but are trying to form a new kind of relations. There is therefore an urgent need to reset relations and establish permanent channels of communication based on the interests of both countries.

Russia and China have in recent years demonstrated agreement in the UN on many issues, including Syria, to the great disappointment of the US. But Sino-Russian cooperation in Syria goes far beyond the hall of the UN Security Council, as they successfully cooperate on the ground. China has deployed its limited special forces contingency to back the Syrian army and is active on many fields nowadays without the need for pompous announcements on its philosophy and foreign policy approaches.

China and Russia oppose the deployment of the US missile defense system on the Korean Peninsula, as it is deemed to be jeopardizing their national security and damaging the strategic balance in the region. The decision to deploy the Terminal High Altitude Area Defense (THAAD) system is part of the global anti-missile shield that Washington wants to serve US superiority. The move, which was said to be for protecting South Korea from North Korea, is undoubtedly directed against both China and Russia. At the same time, Russia and China have merged their satellite tracking systems into one global navigation giant.

Russia now awaits a visit by the Chinese Minister of Foreign Affairs Wang Yi, who postponed a trip to Moscow last week. In the framework of the growing US-China tensions, this visit will boost Sino-Russian cooperation. The agenda promises to be huge and will cover most fields of bilateral and global interest. China’s new Defense Minister Gen. Wei Fenghe is already in Moscow and has declared that the visit by the Chinese delegation is aimed at showing the US the strength of bilateral ties and cooperation between Moscow and Beijing. He explained that he made Russia his first port of call in his new role to demonstrate China’s will to deepen the strategic cooperation between the two countries’ militaries. Wei also stressed that China is ready to show full-scale agreement with Russia on most of the issues on the global agenda.

Russia and China, despite their differences, are now moving closer together to counter the US and reshape the world.

Article published in Arab News:

The recent series of firings and appointments in the American administration have come quicker than expected. After the sudden dismissal of Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, US President Donald Trump appointed conservative politician and hardliner John Bolton as national security adviser, triggering mixed reactions. Bolton’s appointment as successor to H.R. McMaster has created an earth-shaking outcome worldwide, especially as the US government was already heading in a hawkish direction with the appointment of Mike Pompeo as Tillerson’s replacement.

From the beginning of the Trump era, Bolton was named as a candidate for foreign affairs or national security. Although he was previously ruled out by Trump, the president had many times voiced his appreciation of Bolton’s approach to Iran and North Korea. While Trump’s foreign policy remains motivated by his “America First” motto, Bolton’s appointment came after Pompeo had already bolstered the hawkish pro-war neocon camp in the White House.

Are these appointments indicating a strike against North Korea? Are they a signal for ripping up the nuclear deal with Iran? Both Bolton and Pompeo favor a hard line approach to Pyongyang, possibly even a pre-emptive strike, and are for cancelling rather than amending the Iran deal.

The selection of Bolton means that the US is probably seeking to impose more sanctions on Russia following President Vladimir Putin’s election victory. Pompeo, US ambassador to the UN Nikki Haley and Bolton are all similar in their attitude toward Iran. They call on ending the pact with Tehran and even toppling the regime as they see no prospect of reforming the nuclear deal, which is deemed a strategic disaster for the US. 

Thus, the three recent changes in the American administration — including the appointment of Gina Haspel as Pompeo’s successor as director of the CIA — means three hawkish officials will be dealing with North Korea and Iran in a harsh manner. All of this means the serious rise in tensions between Moscow and Washington in the Middle East and globally will continue. The three partisans all support US military involvement in conflicts, adopting regime change in rival countries, and the use of hawkish rhetoric.

It is important to remember that Bolton served as under secretary of state under George W. Bush, was the US ambassador to the United Nations between 2005 and 2006, and was one of the signatories to a letter sent to Bush shortly after 9/11, which publicly called for the US to launch a unilateral war to remove Saddam Hussein from power. Despite the disastrous outcome of that intervention, Bolton continues to boast that the Iraq War a right step.

With neocon hawks such as Bolton and Pompeo in place, the White House will be far less careful in its foreign policy decisions, potentially endangering the world by escalating conflicts and further destabilizing war zones.

– Maria Al Makahleh (Dubovikova)

Both Pompeo and Bolton reject the nuclear deal with Iran. Last August, Bolton presented a plan to rip up the agreement and to blacklist the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps for its terrorist activities. Thus, the three new appointments will support Iranian opposition forces in bringing about regime change, and will back imposing comprehensive sanctions that cripple the Iranian economy.

The views from Iran about these appointments are that the US seeks to humiliate an arch-enemy. However, this may have negative repercussions if Iran seeks Russian and Chinese support, leading to limited regional clashes that could lead to international involvement in the region on a larger scale.

The American appointments are considered an enhancement of its security approach, with Washington set to become more extreme and less rational. With the new White House team, there is a growing belief that the administration will not endorse the Iran agreement and will renew all US sanctions on Tehran, meaning Iran will likely act on its threat to resume the production of highly enriched uranium within five days of the deal being revoked. This will drive the whole region to a nuclear arms race.

Britain, France and Germany had proposed new EU sanctions on Iran over its ballistic missile program and its role in the Syrian war in order to ensure the US will not revoke the nuclear deal or impose any further sanctions. This means further concessions from Iran, which Tehran will not accept.

The scene is generally viewed as being set for further tension. The US announced last December that it was working to build an international coalition to counter Iran’s behavior, calling on all countries to join it in facing down the Iranian threat and indicating that the international community should act before Iran becomes like North Korea.

Surprisingly, Russian reaction to the appointment of these hawkish figures in the White House has been quite reserved, with Moscow asserting that it is ready for constructive dialogue. Furthermore, during a question and answer session on an official visit in Hanoi, Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov shared his personal views regarding the personality of Bolton. Lavrov characterized him as “a professional” and “a tough diplomat and politician.” Lavrov added that “after he resigned (as ambassador to the UN), he remained active in politics and we called each other from time to time.”

Russia continues to hope that the US might start constructive dialogue with Moscow on the burning issues of the international agenda, but current trends show that the process is moving in the opposite direction. With neocon hawks such as Bolton and Pompeo in place, the White House will be far less careful in its foreign policy decisions, endangering the world by escalating conflicts and further destabilizing war zones. The chances of a Russia-US confrontation will increase significantly as the issues surrounding Syria, Iran and North Korea are less likely to be settled though dialogue as the US administration closes the door on talks.

Article published in Arab News:

Photo credit: Andrew Harrer / Bloomberg / Getty

The paradoxes between the strategic priorities of global and regional powers are an inherent trait of Middle Eastern conflicts. This was clear when Iraqi Prime Minister Haider Abadi said last month: “The priorities of Western countries are contrary to those of the countries of the region. Therefore, the process of finding solutions to the crises of the region has not been possible; the clear examples are the Syrian, Libyan and Yemeni crises.”

It is well known that the West, led by the United States, is serious in its fight against terrorism in Syria and Iraq. However, Western countries build their alliances not with governments but with specific groups, ethnicities or minorities — this prolongs the war on terrorism. On the other hand, the priority of some European and Middle East states, such as Egypt, Saudi Arabia and the UAE, is to remove the Muslim Brotherhood’s influence. On the contrary, Sudan, Turkey and Qatar support the group. This conflict of priorities has led to the escalation of crises and prolonged regional wars.

The changes that have taken place within Western countries, mainly after the rise of populist trends in America and Europe, have led to radical shifts in their policies toward the Middle East. For instance, shortly after US President Donald Trump was sworn in, he changed American foreign policy regarding the Middle East, ending the approach of former President Barack Obama, who preferred a state of non-interference.

The last seven years have witnessed an expansion of the influence of regional forces threatening Western powers’ interests. This has been a result of erroneous policies adopted by Western countries, such as the change of the political system in Iraq and the support extended to the Arab Spring, which has led to security and political vacuums in some countries, allowing terrorist organizations to emerge. The priorities of the international community have turned from changing political regimes to fighting terrorism. Though the terrorist threat has not yet ended, but has rather cloned into other forms, the focus has moved to how to counter Iran’s influence in the Middle East. 

Only Middle Easterners should have a say in solving their issues and avoiding sectarian wars — the international players should just monitor and help the Arab world achieve a positive solution.

– Maria Al Makahleh (Dubovikova)

The contradictory agendas of international and regional powers will not lead to a solution to the conflicts in the Middle East but rather will lead to complicating them, helping them reach a state of deadlock; causing further arms races, more bloodshed and anarchy. The Middle East is currently witnessing rapid change, with zero-sum outcome wars and inevitable conflicts between several international and regional actors. What people in the Middle East ignore or pretend is not true is that the world at present is not the world before 2011. The foundations of the global political and military systems have changed within a structure that enshrines control and exclusivity of power within the US, Russia and China, who delegate some regional powers to act on their behalf. History does not repeat itself, but events are the same.

The most important outcome of this game is to build the foundations of an era of collective security. All means are available in this risky game because the most important thing is a Middle East with no sectarian war. Iran is a major political influence in the region and it is also a military power, so much so that even superpowers make careful considerations before taking action against its army. Where would a regional war take place? Iraq, Lebanon, Syria, or anywhere else in the region?

Are we in the midst of a new Marshall Plan for rebuilding the Middle East? The inevitable outcome of this game is a comprehensive peace that will be followed by strategic and psychological variables that will allow Middle Eastern countries to develop political stability and peace with more moderate and open cultural and political concepts.

In the 20th century, the “sick man” was the Ottoman Empire, and in the 21st century it is the turn of the Arab world. Arab interests are at stake because of structural weakness and disintegration, which comes as a result of the fall of Iraq in 2003 under the US-led invasion. Since then, the Arabs have lost their compass and can’t find their way.

Middle Eastern political actors are striving to have a say in the future of the region, to have a seat for the journey and to turn from being paradigms into effective models. For this purpose, it is important to note that China is pushing to achieve its One Belt One Road Initiative at the same time as the Century Deal led by Washington and Riyadh. To what extent these two projects will succeed without colliding or clashing, only the next few months will reveal.

The chaos the Middle East is undergoing will lead to more losses. Only Middle Easterners should have a say in solving their issues and avoiding any sectarian wars that could destroy everything. The international powers should just monitor and harmonize the players to reach a positive solution and avert any destructive repercussions.

Article published in Arab News: 

Thursday, 15 March 2018 23:16

Major powers step up battle for Africa

Rex Tillerson’s final overseas visit before Donald Trump fired him as US Secretary of State was to Africa, where many global and regional powers are coming into direct competition. Tillerson’s trip came within the framework of the American administration’s bid to secure its influence in Africa following the humiliation caused by President Donald Trump’s alleged comments, which badly affected Africa-US relations. Tillerson’s visit was also to compete with the Chinese and Russian influence in Africa, as the continent becomes like a tart that should be divided among these powers and some other less-developed regional players such as Turkey, Iran and some Middle Eastern countries.

Visits to the continent by Tillerson, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov all came just a few weeks before the African Union announces the huge Continental Free Trade Area, which is expected in April and will make the African economy and its markets a global economic bloc that all countries should take into consideration. The continent’s Gross Domestic Product will amount to about $3.5 trillion annually and the population is estimated to reach 1.3 billion by the end of 2018. Many African countries are also working hard to counter terrorism and eradicate corruption.

Statistics issued by the World Bank forecast that Africans will make up 40 percent of the world’s population and 30 percent of its workforce by 2100. Africa will also continue to be a major natural resources and raw materials reserve. Economic and political experts believe that whoever controls Africa controls the world — after all, Africa is the bridge between America, Europe and Asia.

The visits of Russian, American, Turkish and Chinese officials to Africa stem from their readiness to help African states fight terrorism. This is one of the pillars Tillerson relied on in his tour. He wanted first to beautify the image and reputation of the US in Africa and to neutralize Russia and China on the continent, as many governments are geared toward enhancing economic as well as trade ties with Moscow and Beijing. This explains why Tillerson warned African governments not to ink arms deals with China or approve any military assistance from Moscow. 

Conflict and political rifts between the US, China and Russia are shifting to the fast-growing continent, where many new geopolitical and economic opportunities are available.

– Maria Al Makahleh (Dubovikova)

Tillerson also tried during his tour to erase, which was cut short by a day so he could return to Washington and face the music, to erase the tensions caused by Trump’s alleged remarks on African countries two months ago. He voiced his country’s commitment to supporting development and democracy, and to building bridges of trade and investment relations with the continent.

Over 30 percent of Chinese firms in Africa are in industrial fields, compared to only a small fraction of the American businesses operating there. However, 90 percent of American businesses in Africa are oil-related.

China has supported development in Africa without enforcing terms and conditions that would turn Beijing into a political dictator or an economic authoritarian. In short, the Chinese have adopted an approach that focuses on the establishment and development of infrastructure and transport projects across the continent. China’s projects include funding a $3.2 billion railway network in Kenya, which was inaugurated last year, and the construction of the African Union headquarters in the Ethiopian capital. This was fully built by the Chinese and handed over to the AU as a gift in 2012.

It is not only Ethiopia that the three great powers fight over, it is also Djibouti, where China has built a 750-kilometer railway connecting the coast with Addis Ababa. Security-wise, China has begun to expand its military presence in the Horn of Africa, specifically in Djibouti, to support anti-piracy efforts in East African waters. Beijing has also deployed 3,000 peacekeepers in Africa under the flags of the UN and the AU.

China’s growing presence in Africa prompted the now-fired Secretary of State to warn African leaders during his tour that, while welcome to accept Beijing’s assistance, they should “not forfeit any elements of your sovereignty as you enter into such arrangements with China.”

Turkey has also regarded Africa as an area open to expanding its interests, which are ambitious, but not up to the level of Chinese, American and Russian dreams. Turkey’s attitude toward Africa has been palpable in meetings between the sides since 2011, and has been crystallized in a military base in Somalia. Since 2003, Erdogan has undertaken many trips to Africa, the most recent of which last month saw him take in four major countries: Mali, Senegal, Mauritania, and Algeria. Turkey has greatly increased its embassies in Africa, while Turkish Airlines reaches nearly 50 destinations on the continent. Significantly, at the end of 2017, Ankara and Khartoum announced cooperation to rehabilitate the Sudanese island of Suakin — a former Ottoman era base on the Red Sea.

For Russia, Africa is a buffer zone against America's expansionist policies. Last week, Lavrov made a state visit to Zimbabwe as Moscow searches for an African foothold following the overthrow of former President Robert Mugabe. Lavrov began his African tour on March 6, Tillerson two days later. The Russian minister’s schedule included five sub-Saharan countries — Angola, Zimbabwe, Mozambique, Namibia, and Ethiopia — while the American took in Ethiopia, Djibouti, Kenya, Nigeria, and Chad.

It seems that conflict and political rifts between the three major world powers is shifting to Africa, and that new geopolitical and economic interests are on the rise. This may ultimately ignite a new world war, but this time on the African chessboard.

Article published in Arab News:

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