Friday, November 25, 2022

Climate Change Impact on Global Security | Halifax International Security Forum 2022


I participated in a panel discussion on the impact of climate change on global security. 

This panel is part of the Halifax International Security Forum, held in November 2022, in Halifax, Canada. 

I focused on the part related to climate change impact on domestic and regional politics, governance systems, and government policies.

Wednesday, November 23, 2022

Turkey and Egypt: What Is After Presidential Handshake?

The Egyptian President, Abdel Fattah El-Sisi, and his Turkish counterpart, Recep Tayyip Erdogan have shaken hands and smiled at each other, at the inauguration ceremony of the FIFA World Cup 2022 in Doha. If you have been following the past nine years of media wars and diplomatic boycotts that compounded a heap of personal prejudices between the two leaders, you will realize that this handshake was bigger than an act of courtesy. It is a historical moment marking a turning point in the relationship between Egypt and Turkey.

It would also be a mistake to expect this historic handshake to happen as a coincidence. The two presidents have previously met in several international forums, but have always been careful not to involve in any direct encounter with each other. However, this time each of them wanted, with sincere intentions, to swallow personal grudges for the benefit of their people. 

Over the past year, in particular, there have been lots of arrangements, on more than one level in the two countries and beyond, to bring the Egyptian and Turkish leaders together at this particular time and place. Since its successful reconciliation with Egypt in 2021, the Qatari leadership of Prince Tamim Bin Hamad has been determined to fix the rift between Egypt and Turkey and subsequently restore the geopolitical and geo-economic balance in the regions of the Middle East and the Eastern Mediterranean, where the two countries are key agenda-setters.

Nevertheless, the meeting between El-Sisi and Erdogan, despite its significant symbolism, is merely the beginning of a series of serious negotiations that need to happen between the Egyptian and the Turkish state. Diplomatic and military leaders from both countries need to clear the air by sincerely discussing their future policies on several critical regional issues where the two states adopt confrontational positions. That includes Libya, the maritime delimitations in the eastern Mediterranean, and the Muslim Brotherhood.

On the issue of Libya, a meeting between the Egyptian and the Turkish leaderships needs to happen to discuss their divergent perceptions about the presence of the Turkish troops in Tripoli. The Egyptian state is still concerned about the issue and sees it as a threat to Egypt’s national security, despite the insistence of the Turkish state that the troops in Tripoli are only there to preserve the balance of power and prevent the eastern militia from taking over the government. However, Egypt is still a staunch supporter of the eastern political elite and Khalifa Haftar’s Libyan National Army (LNA).

In the eastern Mediterranean, Egypt will not be able to back down from its Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ) agreement signed with Greece in 2020. Yet, this should not prevent Egypt from convening similar agreements with Turkey or make it even hesitate to do so. In all cases, it is in Egypt's best interest not to involve in the century-long conflict between Turkey and Greece, or side with one party against the other. Needless to mention, Egypt is set to harvest bigger benefits from a maritime agreement with Turkey than it can have from any other agreement with any other country on the northern side of the Mediterranean. 

Regarding the Muslim Brotherhood, it would be unrealistic to expect that Turkey may extradite the members of the group, who sought refuge in Turkey to escape prison sentences in Egypt, following the removal of the Muslim Brotherhood regime, in 2013. However, in the past year, Turkey has been exerting tremendous effort to prevent them from using Turkish land as a platform to attack the Egyptian state. That should be appreciated by Egypt, especially since the Muslim Brotherhood group has become too weak to act as a threat to any party. The group is already collapsing from within and it needs years to rebuild its severely damaged bases and credibility. This is, also, something that President Erdogan is now clearly aware of.

Monday, November 21, 2022

The Middle East Between Biden’s Rock and Republican’s Hard Place

Since before the congressional midterm elections in the United States, observers in the Middle East have been wondering about their influence on the future of the Biden Administration’s foreign policy in the region. However, parallel to this, an equally important question should be asked about the potential impact of the Middle East countries’ policies on the future of the U.S. Administration of President Biden. 

The latest vote counting shows that the Republicans are closer to taking over the House of Representatives from the Democrats, who have been leading it since 2019. Meanwhile, the Senate is expected to split between the two parties or, in the best-case scenario, fall into the lap of Democrats who could win with a slight majority. In the shadow of the extreme political polarization that the United States has been drowning in for five years, it is valid to predict that the Republicans in Congress will be more hawkish, not on Russia or China, but on President Biden and his government. 

Logically speaking, they should exert every effort possible to further lower Biden’s already declining approval ratings, in order to pave the way for their presidential candidate in the 2024 elections, whether they choose to nominate Trump or someone else. This week, former President Donald Trump officially announced his bid for leading the Republicans in the coming presidential elections, building on the Republican comeback to controlling the lower house of the U.S. Congress. Meanwhile, Biden’s citizen approval rating is declining and his Administration's relationship with Middle Eastern allies is still relatively tense. 

Biden has exerted a remarkable effort to ease tensions with allies in the Arab Gulf region by paying a visit to Saudi Arabia and Jerusalem in the summer. For the first time, President Biden clearly admitted that his initial policy “to pivot away from the Middle East had been a mistake.” He told the officials in Saudi Arabia that “as the world grows more competitive and the challenges we face more complex, it is only becoming clearer to me that – how closely interwoven America’s interests are with the successes of the Middle East. We will not walk away and leave a vacuum to be filled by China, Russia, or Iran. And we’ll seek to build on this moment with active, principled American leadership.” 

However, it did not take too long for the tensions to rise again when OPEC+ decided to lower production volume in October. The Biden Administration and Democratic legislators saw this as an attempt to weaken their position in midterm elections and vowed to take revenge on Saudi Arabia. 

Building on historical experience, some could claim that a Republican-led Congress should be more favorable to Arab Gulf countries in contrast to Biden’s Administration. Most Arab Gulf countries, and Middle East countries in general, had a strong relationship with the Republican party and the Trump Administration. However, this is hardly going to be the case with the Congress members who will take the lead after the completion of midterm elections. 

Looking closer at the fabric of the elected congressional legislators, we will discover that a record number of 82 Muslim candidates have been voted in, on both the red and the blue seats. That is good news for American democracy, but, certainly, a headache for the Middle East leaders, not only in the Arab Gulf but also in Egypt and Israel. The aggressive stance of Muslim Congresswomen, Ilhan Omar, and Rashida Tlaib against Saudi Arabia and Israel are still solid. Both of them kept their seats throughout the midterm elections. The current tensions between the Biden Administration and the Saudi-led OPEC+ organization over the volumes of oil production are creating a fertile ground for such congressional pressures to grow and be more effective.

The Muslim representatives are also expected to give a hard time to Israel, especially in light of the re-election of Netanyahu as Prime Minister. Historically, Netanyahu had tensions with Democratic presidents compared to his warm connections with the Republican presidents. However, it would be unrealistic to expect that the newly voted congress, despite being led by a Republican majority, will be as supportive of Israel’s interests as the previous ones. 

One exception to that scenario is a strong congressional position against Iran. Most likely they will halt Biden’s talks with Tehran over the nuclear deal and show stronger support for the waves of protests that have been sweeping the country for more than a month calling for the fall of the Mullah regime. That will eventually serve the interests of the Arab Gulf countries and Israel, however indirectly.

The United States foreign policy, in general, is one of the areas where the political conflict between the Democratic president and the Republican-majority House is going to manifest. A Republican-led Congress has the power to obstruct the government’s activities abroad, due to its control over foreign spending appropriations, which intersects with decisions related to the budget of the Pentagon and the State Department, and the foreign aid or contributions they can offer to other countries. For example, Republican candidates have been talking about reviewing the size of U.S. military aid to Ukraine and the level of U.S. involvement in the war in Eastern Europe. 

Such a review will not only affect the balance of power in the Russia-Ukraine war but will also have an indirect impact on countries in the Middle East. Important U.S. allies, such as Egypt, are expected to be hurt in the process, mainly due to their vulnerable economic standing in face of the ongoing global economic crisis. A Republican Congress may, also, question the annual military aid to Egypt and delay its payment. Yet, they will not do this for reasons related to the Egyptian state's performance on human rights issues, as the Democrats do. 

They will simply do it to disturb the newly found balance in the relationship between Biden’s Administration and the Egyptian leadership of President El-Sisi. Before leaving office in December 2020, former President Trump, out of nowhere and despite his friendly relationship with the Egyptian President, made a video statement accusing Egypt of using the military aid money offered by the United States to purchase Russian-made weapons. Several republicans applauded him for saying that. Obviously, Trump’s goal was mainly to make it more difficult for the Biden Administration to start on a good foot with Egypt.  

In the past year, the Biden Administration has been trying to find a point of balance in its relationship with Egypt, between pressuring for human rights reforms and collaborating on solving regional strategic impasses. Right now, Egypt is America's best buddy among all the Arab countries, especially after recent tensions with OPEC+ leadership. It is in the best interest of Egypt and the United States to remain strong partners.

That was clearly exhibited in the warm conversations that President Biden and House Speaker, Nancy Pelosi, had with the Egyptian President in Sharm El-Sheikh, last week. The photos of President El-Sisi laughing with US President Biden and walking arm-in-arm with U.S. House Speaker, Pelosi, down the aisle of the COP27 Summit, created a positive roar on social and traditional media. 

However, soon, Pelosi will hand the gavel to the House Republican leader Kevin McCarthy and Biden will get too busy with handling Republican pressures on his government, marking the beginning of a new era of two years or more, that may not be so favorable to most countries in the Middle East.

Wednesday, November 16, 2022

Newly-Found Balance in US-Egypt Relationship

Egypt and the United States have obvious disparities on the issues of civil rights and democratization. Yet, the mutual interests of the political leadership of the two countries are fostering their will to cooperate over their tendency to disagree. That was clearly exhibited in the warm conversations that the United States President, Joseph Biden, and House Speaker, Nancy Pelosi, had with the Egyptian President, Abdel Fattah El-Sisi, in Sharm El-Sheikh on Friday.

The photos of President El-Sisi laughing with US President Biden and walking arm-in-arm with U.S. House Speaker, Pelosi, down the aisle of the COP27 Summit, created a roar on social media. The pro-state media interpreted the footage as an emphasis on Egypt’s central role on the regional and world stages. Meanwhile, the media figures affiliated with the Muslim Brotherhood group, most of them living outside of Egypt, got perplexed about how to justify the scene to the group’s bases inside Egypt. 

For weeks, they have been claiming that Biden was going to lecture El-Sisi about the importance of the Muslim Brotherhood and force him to bring them back to the country. They even called for a so-called revolution against El-Sisi on the same date of Biden’s visit. To their disappointment, that was not the case and Biden did not even mention the issue in his meeting with El-Sisi. 

Nevertheless, the topic of Egypt’s efforts to advance human rights reforms has been raised by both leaders, in Sharm El-Sheikh. At the public opening remarks that preceded their bilateral meeting, President El-Sisi made sure to bring up the issue in the presence of journalists. El-Sisi said he is keen on improving state performance on human rights and asked the United States for support and advice.

“First of all, I would like to emphasize the strength of the strategic relationship between Egypt and the United States that has not changed over 40 years. There has always been a common understanding regarding all the issues relating to this region;” said President El-Sisi. “But there’s always a point that is the center of the debate, that we appreciate very much, and this is the human rights issue. In this particular regard, we have a comprehensive approach that I would like to inform you about because we are very keen on improving this issue;” E-Sisi emphasized by counting the initiatives taken by the state in that regard, ranging from setting a national strategy for human rights, starting a national dialogue with the opposition parties, and convening a presidential pardon committee to look into cases of political prisoners. 

To that, President Biden responded with applause. That was not only to praise the Egyptian state’s efforts to improve its human rights record but most importantly to thank Egypt for its regional role in the Israel-Palestinian conflict and its stance towards the war in Ukraine.

“Egypt has been, by the way, a key mediator, and I appreciate what we were able to do about Gaza and the strong counterterrorism partnership that we have established;” stressed President Biden. “In the face of Russia’s war in Ukraine, Egypt has spoken up strongly at the United Nations, and that is appreciated very much as well.” 

Over 40 years, cooperation between Egypt and the United States on security and geo-strategic issues has been sustained, despite obvious disagreements over issues related to human rights and democratization. Right now, Egypt is America's best buddy among all the Arab countries, especially after recent tensions with OPEC+ leadership over oil production volumes. It is in the best interest of Egypt and the United States to remain strong partners. The United States' success in the Middle East is mostly dependent on Egypt's cooperation. On the flip side, Egypt's security and political stability is so correlated to a close relationship with the United States.

The newly found balance between pressuring for human rights reforms and collaborating on solving regional strategic impasses is going to shape the relationship between the Egyptian leadership of President El-Sisi and the United States Administration of President Biden for years to come. State supporters and opposition in both countries should accept and adapt to this reality. 

Friday, November 11, 2022

COP27 Prepares Egypt To Be A Hub for Clean Energy

The world has come to Egypt, the mother of the world, to discuss urgent strategies to save our Planet Earth from the horrific impacts of climate change on human health and the worldwide economies. The initial outcomes of the conference show that Egypt is up to the mission thanks to its natural resources and unique geo-strategic locations at the center of the world. 

In Sharm El-Sheikh, at the 27th edition of the United Nations Climate Change Conference of the Parties (COP27), about forty-thousand state leaders, decision-makers, experts, activists, and media personnel from 110 countries are currently collaborating on figuring out a realistic action plan to control the consequences of climate change on the sustainability of livelihood, which is rapidly shrinking, resulting in water scarcity, forest fires, and ravaged agricultural fields. The COP27 summit has so far succeeded in pressing world leaders to take tangible steps to limit the problem. 

The most notable of these initiatives is the Green Hydrogen Plant, which the Egyptian President, Abdel Fattah El-Sisi, launched its beta operations on the third day of the conference. The plant, which is based in Al-Sukhna industrial city, quite close to the economic zone of the Suez Canal, is the first of its kind in Africa and the Middle East. The plant's first phase shall be working with a capacity of 100 megawatts to produce 15 thousand tons of green hydrogen that will be used as a feedstock for the production of up to 90 thousand tons of green ammonia per year. 

In addition, the Egyptian government has already signed three agreements and memoranda of understanding to establish three major projects with regional and international partners to produce energy from wind farms. The three projects are expected to produce a rough total of 20 gigawatts per year.

The green hydrogen plant and wind farms, in addition to the existing Benban Solar Park, are expected to turn Egypt into a crucial hub for green energy that is expected to serve countries in Africa, the Middle East, and Europe. That adds to Egypt’s already rising profile in the eastern Mediterranean as a geo-strategic hub for natural gas liquefaction and exportation.  

In January, President El-Sisi launched Benban Solar Park in the southern city of Aswan to satisfy the needs of Upper Egypt cities and African neighbors for electricity. Benban Solar Park is the largest compound of solar plants in the entire world. Upon the completion of the project in 2035, it will produce about 1.8 gigawatts of electricity per year from 41 solar plants. That means about 20% of Egypt’s electricity production will come from clean resources. 

Egypt is one of the biggest winners of the COP27 conference. That is mainly because the conference has allowed Egypt to show its unique capabilities to host and operate clean energy projects on its land. However, as these projects are expected to enhance Egypt’s economy in the long run, they also need huge funding to be fully established. In that sense, Egypt’s partnership with sister Arab Gulf countries is crucial to guarantee its success in becoming a world hub for green energy.