Poor Egypt and poor Sinai

Poor Egypt. Can you imagine it? Prices of goods have gone through the roof, including the price of basic foodstuffs. These are harsh times.

Meanwhile, even the elite suffer, with the introduction of more draconian taxes.

However, President Sisi remains moderately popular. America still continues to provide huge financial support to the Egyptian army. And there is still some Gulf money coming in, though less than there once was. And nobody wants more revolution and counter revolution. So, for now, Egyptians are patient. They have no choice. Indeed, many are fiercely loyal to President Sisi.

The one source of income that truly filters through to the people in Egypt is tourism. But this is an industry that limps along at best. What, then, can be done?

Peace in the Sinai would make such a difference. Each time there is trouble from the Arabs of the Sinai, its sets Egyptian tourism back on its heels.

Of course, it’s not just that. Each time there is an attack on a Coptic church. Each time there is a killing of any kind like the killing of the Italian PHD student, Giulio Regeni in 2016, tourism is knocked back severely.

The thing is that Egypt has never quite got the knack of dealing with its social, political and ethnic minorities, like the Salafists, the Muslim Brotherhood, the Copts, the Sinai Arabs and the Nubians. But they are Egypt. All of them. Egypt is a mosaic.

And the best starting point in sorting out the conundrum that is Egypt would be to deal with the Sinai Arabs. And to deal with them in a spirit of brotherly love.

All that is needed is one major industrial project in the unhappy town of Al Arish, Sinai’s de facto capital. A steelworks or something. It would change the mood of the people of Sinai, and potentially mark the beginning of the end for extremism in Egypt.

Banksy - "There is always Hope"

Veritas Omnia Vincit

On 13 September 2017, Italy’s ambassador Giampaolo Cantini was sent back to the Egyptian capital after more than one year of soured relations between the two countries over the death of the Italian PhD Cambridge student, Giulio Regeni, in Cairo in January 2016. The 28-year-old student was tortured and killed in Egypt, allegedly by the Egyptian security services who, since the very outset of the affair, have denied any involvement.

The issue quickly triggered an open diplomatic crisis between Egypt and Italy due to al-Sīsī’s government’s repeated avoidance of their responsibility to investigate the murder in the face of hard evidence implying that the Egyptian security services were culpable. For more than one year, faced with the hardline stance taken by the Italian government as they strove to obtain the names of those responsible and the reason for this abhorrent act, the Egyptian authorities have been trying to cover up the truth, forging documents and misleading Italian magistrates with false trails. This misdirection is the umpteenth deplorable act of a state whose crackdown on human rights is going down in history as one of the worst in years. And while everything seemed to suggest the diplomatic deadlock was unlikely to break, out of the blue the Italian ambassador was sent back to Cairo and the crisis magically resolved, as if it had never happened.

No change of strategy, official apology or acknowledgment of guilt was issued by the Egyptian authorities. Likewise, no clear explanation was provided by the Italian government on the matter. So, what led the Italian government to take the incongruous decision to give up its legitimate right to pursue the truth about the brutal death of one of its citizens in a foreign land? Interestingly, the solution to this conundrum may not lie too far away. And with a subtle combination of imagination and cynicism, we might be able to find it.

If the world ran according to a Machiavellian conception of politics, then one might think that everything happens for a reason and nothing in politics is left to chance. Accordingly, one might think for instance that the investigation into the death of Giulio was sidelined in exchange for a halt of the migration flow from Libya to Italy, given the strong friendship that binds Al-Sīsī to Haftar, the Libyan strongman in control of the eastern part of the country. Indeed, the bizarre coincidence of the sudden halt in migrant influxes to Italy on those same days when the Italian ambassador was sent back to Cairo, after years of unsuccessful attempts to curb them, might represent enough evidence to a more cynical mind. Or, equally, the complacency of the Italian government in not taking action when confronted with some “explosive evidence” on the case provided by the Obama administration could serve as a further clue in this respect.

Nobody will ever know what happened on those days for it is no longer the intention of the Italian government to unravel the truth. People will never know for sure why Giulio was killed, who tortured and assassinated him; neither will they know why the Italian government abruptly sent its ambassador back to Cairo, forever waiving the right to justice for one of its citizens, a son of Italy. The truth will be covered up, wiped out according in the Italian tradition of state secrets.

And now only sorrow is left. Sorrow of a girlfriend in losing the love of her life. Sorrow of a family in losing a son. Sorrow of a nation in losing its future and its honour. Yes, its honour. Honour because Giulio is not just a human viciously slaughtered on foreign soil. Giulio represents a vision, a feeling, an idea. The idea that unites men and women of different countries and different cultures; the idea that human rights violations in Egypt are real, raw and ruthless, and affect men and women whatever their nationality; the idea that Italy is a country whose leaders had no hesitation in selling the truth, trust and hope of its own citizens as well as its own dignity in exchange for some political or economic payoff; the idea that western democracies “fill their mouths” with nice words on human rights but that after all it is a mere façade, as they continue to aid and abet such crimes and violations where convenient.

There is a Latin saying whose power and meaning has always struck me. It expresses the universal principle of a vision, a feeling, an idea. The Truth. “Veritas Omnia Vincit”, truth conquers everything. And Giulio represents the Truth, for his death has shined a light on the lies, the falsehood, the cruelty and the wickedness of a global system that brings together democracies and dictatorships, thus rendering them accomplices. It does not matter that the official version will never admit the existence of any deal, agreement or negotiation between Italy and Egypt in exchange for silence on the death of Giulio. For the conspicuous silence on the part of Italian government speaks louder than any official statement.

And hence, Veritas Omnia Vincit: we will know when a state betrays its own citizens, its own values and future for its own gain;

Veritas Omnia Vincit, when public outcry spreads across the world after Giulio’s death, against al-Sīsī’s authoritarian rule, thus uniting men and women who, just like Giulio’s family, have lost their loved ones.

And again, Veritas Omnia Vincit, when the mask of this self-proclaimed democracy is removed revealing the true face of power.

I recently visited a Banksy exhibition at the Moco museum in Amsterdam. I was taken aback by how the author emphasised the existence of a thread that connects sorrow to hope and love. In suffering and grief people can gather and unite, taking solace from the shared experience of finding justice, truth or stillness. Such feelings bring them hope. And being able to connect and to hope means being able to love. This is what is happening in Egypt, Italy and elsewhere in the world at the moment. The sorrow caused by the circumstances of Giulio’s death has spread across the globe, uniting people in hope for justice, for “truth” and for a better world.

“Only in the darkness can you see the stars”, (Martin Luther King Jr).

Giulio is your son, your brother, your cousin; Giulio is your colleague, your neighbour, your friend; Giulio is a vision, a feeling, an idea.

Giulio is hope, love and truth, and he has already won.

Veritas Omnia Vincit.

Ciao Giulio

#veritàpergiulioregeni

The Next Century Foundation at the United Nations – Intervention on Discrimination and Intolerance against Women

The Next Century Foundation took part in the 36th session of the Human Rights Council in Geneva. During the General Debate on Item 9 “Racism, racial discrimination, xenophobia and related forms of intolerance” the NCF delivered an oral intervention on the issue of gender discrimination in the Arab States urging them to take the necessary steps in order to improve women’s conditions, following the recent example of Bahrain.

FGM: Why have we not eradicated it yet?

Female Genital Mutilation (FGM) causes severe bleeding and health issues including cysts, infections, infertility as well as complications in childbirth. It affects at least 200 million girls and women alive today. Despite this, very few charities, Non-Government Organisations or activist groups focus on this as one of the most serious issues the globe currently faces. FGM could be eradicated within one generation yet the current response to FGM by government and the media is one of denial and inaction. Why is this?

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The UN defines FGM as all procedures that involve altering or injuring the female genitalia for non-medical reasons and this is recognized internationally as a violation of the human rights of girls and women.

FGM is a global problem, not just an issue facing central African countries, and should be tackled as such. The UN have been ignoring the prevalence of FGM globally most particularly in parts of the Middle East and Asia. Indian activist, Masooma Ranalvi, recently urged governments and donor countries to help fund research and data collection in Asia at the 2017 ‘Ban FGM’ conference in Rome. This would allow a much better picture of the seriousness of FGM across the globe and would help to spotlight which countries and cultures need the most attention.

It is not just a lack of funding and research which undermines attempts to eradicate FGM. Many cases of FGM go unreported but cases which are reported tend to have very lenient prison sentences. This sends the wrong signal to those who continue to practise FGM. In January 2017, four people were prosecuted for FGM after 17-year-old Mayar Mohamed Moussa died from undergoing a procedure in Egypt. Mayar’s mother and doctor were given a fine of £1000 (EYP) and a suspended sentence of only one year. Lawyer Reda Eldanbouki, who was representing Mayar, expressed shock at the sentences saying “it is unfair and unjust and will be ineffective as it sends the wrong signal”.

A serious side effect has occurred because of the pressure that is starting to be put on communities that perform FGM in Africa. There are a greater number of reports suggesting FGM is being performed on much younger girls and in the dead of night in order for people to avoid the consequences of the law. This ‘under the radar’ approach makes it more complicated for authorities to effectively deal with the problem. The UN and human rights groups need to come together to stop these inhumane procedures by educating people on the dangers of procedures being done incorrectly or in unsanitary conditions.

We have an obligation as compassionate humans to eradicate FGM and help to rebuild the lives of the millions of women and girls it has already affected.

Uncomfortable trio: West, Dictators and Terrorism

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“People talk about the Middle East as if there were only two options: dictatorship or terrorism. However, this is a false dichotomy, both are terrorist groups”.

(Dr Maha Azzam)

This concluding remark by Dr Azzam last night at “Al Qaeda and Beyond: where do Arab dictatorships fit” is a powerful key to interpreting developments in the Middle East. Experts on Yemen, Syria, Egypt and Iraq analysed the relationship between dictators and terrorism, posing the question “why is the West so obsessed with dictatorships?”

In a post Arab Spring world, voices from both Europe and the USA have been advocating a return to dictatorial government in the Middle East. Distant spectators observed democratic revolutions turning into violent uprisings, peaceful protests becoming armed resistance groups and once quiet areas becoming terrorist controlled regions. The focus quickly shifted back home, with many voices denouncing ISIS attacks and asking how all of this could have happened. It is this fear and shock that has lead many to advocate increased support for Assad and Saleh, questioning the possibility of a democratic future in the region.

The history of support for dictatorships by the West is a story as long as colonialism. Even at the time of the Pahlavi dynasty in Persia, Western powers strongly supported dictators throughout the Middle East. A single individual was easier to control than a democratically elected government and his ethnicity could easily be exploited to maintain the divide and rule strategy adopted in colonial times.

It is clear that the West has benefitted from their relationship with dictators since the end of formal colonialism. From the trade deals between Italy and Libya to the military support given to Mubarak by the US, dictators in the region have been strong partners and supporters of Western interests in the area. On the opposite side of the spectrum, whenever an unfriendly government took power, Western democracies resorted to terrorist groups to destabilize the country and re-obtain their control. A classic example was the Taliban in Afghanistan, armed and supported by the US in its quest for a pipeline from Central Asia.

We should not disregard however the use dictators themselves made of terrorist groups. As illustrated by Basher Al Assad releasing jihadist prisoners in the wake of the Syrian revolution, terrorist groups have been widely used by local powers to portray themselves as “the lesser of two evils”. More recently, Sisi has used the threat of ISIS to curb peaceful civil society groups and to justify the brutal actions of Egypt’s army in Sinai. This creates a vicious cycle in which opponents of the government, deprived of their freedom of speech and assembly, resort to armed revolts, justifying increased violence from the government.

Nowadays there are two terrorist movements in the Middle East: state terrorism and religious terrorism. Depending on the time and circumstance, the West has simply opted for one or the other, perpetrating breaches of human rights and the lack of democracy in the region.

By Martina Villa

The EU-Turkey Deal: Between a Rock and a Hard Place

Turkey Camp
Syrian Refugee Camp on the Turkish Border

In 2015 1.2 million people entered Europe from countries as disparate as Syria, Pakistan, Afghanistan and Iraq. With further displacement and migration forecast for the coming years, an existential crisis is now threatening the very foundations of the European Project. In a mood of desperation and political expediency negotiations to curb migrant numbers have been accelerated with Turkey, culminating in a deal that now faces severe legal, ethical and practical difficulties.

In a nutshell, the agreement attempts to mitigate refugee flows that may otherwise overwhelm frontier European states, relocating the exigencies of asylum processing back to the Middle East and providing space to devise a more tolerable, long term solution. In principle, it also aims to undercut and degrade the mechanics of an extensive trafficking economy now proliferating across the Mediterranean. The commercialisation of people smuggling has exacerbated the number of refugees travelling, and sometimes even perishing, along sea routes. By adopting a hardline stance on ‘boat-people’ and diminishing the pull factor of assumed European altruism, people trafficking will, in theory, devolve into a high-risk low-reward enterprise that depresses demand and channels refugees towards more easily regulated outlets.

Under the auspices of a ‘one in one out’ system, any ‘new irregular migrants’ arriving in Greece after March would be deported to Turkey and relegated to the back of the queue of those seeking asylum. In return, EU member states are obligated to resettle properly processed Syrian refugees from Turkey and expedite visa liberalisation for Turkish nationals wishing to visit Europe.

There are obvious benefits to this approach. On a human level, the sharp fall in individuals traveling to Greece in the aftermath of the deal will hopefully translate into lower mortality rates for those refugees seeking entry into Europe. It also relieves pressure on Frontex, the underfunded European border management agency, and allocates new resources for efficient processing schemes. In the face of perpetually gridlocked EU institutions, the political intransigence of Eastern European governments, rising right wing populism and the resurrection of internal border controls, it provides a palatable alternative for European publics that may be able to preserve the cosmopolitan values of Schengen while also delivering immediate results. Perhaps most importantly, the agreement alleviates the burden on Ankara. Supplemented by an aid package of €3 billion earmarked for improving ‘the lives of refugees’ in the region, and a series of concessions with regard to Turkey’s prospective membership in the EU, it is hoped the agreement will deliver desperately needed investment to fund accommodation, education initiatives and welfare services for the two million refugees in Turkey itself.

However, despite the humanitarian rhetoric espoused by its proponents, the broader implications of the deal remain a cause for concern. Any claims suggesting the authoritarian tendencies of the Erdogan regime may be ameliorated by visa-liberalisation and closer political cooperation between Turkey and the EU are spurious to say the least. As negotiations concluded, the government has shown no sign of slowing its crackdown on independent journalism, seizing control of the national newspaper Zaman in March and tightening its grip over civil society. The fact these excesses hardly elicited any reaction from the West, and that German authorities are now considering the prosecution of a local comedian for ‘insulting’ Erdogan, allude to the leverage Turkey currently enjoys. As such, by colluding with autocrats the EU may paradoxically be compromising its liberal values on another front, namely free speech and free expression.

Crucially, there are also significant legal and practical issues that need to be considered. Human rights organisations have cited grave problems with the agreement. They argue it not only contravenes international law and its underlying humanitarian norms but also fails to exert pressure on Turkey to improve the protection it offers Syrian refugees. Amnesty International (AI) in particular maintains “the EU is…incentivising the opposite’, referencing a concerted effort by local Turkish authorities to expel asylum seekers back into Syria and close the Southern border to stop any further influx. While the ‘one in one out’ system explicitly circumvents controversy over blanket returns by certifying a right for refugees to make individual asylum claims, there is no doubt that the testimonies collected by AI deliver a damning indictment of Turkish migratory policy. It also undermines the fallacy that any claimants deemed irregular by the EU are being deported to a ‘safe third country’. To assume Turkey is safe is to ignore the Kurdish insurgency waging in its Eastern periphery and the horrendous conditions refugees are currently living under. Non-Syrians face the threat of further extradition back to dangerous home nations under the conditions of independent bilateral agreements between Ankara and, for example, the Afghan government. For those remaining in Turkey, many lack work permits and are forced into unregulated black market jobs for little to no salary. Perhaps more worryingly, 400,000 of 700,000 school age Syrian children aren’t receiving any formal education. There is simply no opportunity for integration, leading to societal tensions that will exponentially grow as the crisis gets worse. Unless this trend is radically altered, the EU’s refugee policy as it stands today is giving rise to a disenfranchised, socio-economically marginalised and uneducated ‘lost generation’ completely at odds with the humanitarian virtues the organisation claims to champion. On a practical and moral level this is untenable.

Europe is therefore between a rock and a hard place. Its migratory infrastructure cannot manage a crisis of this magnitude and it does not have the institutional or democratic flexibility to deliver an equitable scheme for effectively distributing shares of refugees across its membership. But as Kenan Malik, a London based lecturer and broadcaster, argues, by ratifying this deal with Turkey the EU seems to be regressing back to its antiquated mentality of the 1990s; ‘criminalising’ migrants, militarising its external borders and paying peripheral states to ‘operate as immigration police’. Outsourcing the problem and pretending it isn’t there is not a viable option. There needs to be a substantive, systemic transformation in how Europe both conceptualises and engages with the refugee problem. Anything short of this is simply not sustainable and the EU risks having its moral authority irreversibly damaged.

Shock continues as circumstances around the Giulio Regeni atrocity unfold

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Contribution by Ashley Forbes

Public outrage continues to soar over the mysterious death of Italian student Giulio Regeni, whose mangled body was discovered last Wednesday on an Egyptian roadside. New information has emerged regarding Mr. Regini’s involvement with a left-wing Italian newspaper, Il Manifesto. The newspaper published an article last Friday claiming that weeks before his death, the student wrote an article for their paper under a pseudonym, criticising Egyptian President el-Sisi.

Over the years, foreigners, and even locals, who dare to express opinions in opposition to the ideas of the Egyptian government tend to find themselves imprisoned, tortured, and sometimes dead. Usually, those detained find themselves in jail or in a courtroom. This begs the question: why wasn’t Mr. Regeni jailed instead of tortured to death? The barbaric nature in which Mr. Regeni was found indicates that his death was no accident. However, even if he was writing for Il Manifesto, and even if the Egyptian government took issue with his opinions, why was he not brought in for questioning, or given his time in court? This occurrence undoubtedly heightens security risks for all foreigners travelling to Egypt. If a PhD student can end up brutally tortured to death for simply wanting to expand his academic background through field research, then are any of us really safe anymore?

In memory of Giulio Regeni

Giulio-Regeni

Giulio Regeni, a PhD student at the University of Cambridge, was a visiting scholar at the American University in Cairo, researching on trade unions and labour rights in post-Mubarak Egypt. He was of Italian origin, but had an international background which made him a citizen of the world. On the 25th January, the anniversary of the 2011 uprising, Giulio was supposed to meet his friends near Tahrir square. He never got there. His body was found five days later in a ditch, half-naked from the waist down, with clear signs of torture (stab wounds, cigarette burns, mutilation): evidence of what was a non-accidental, slow death.

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As the Italian and Egyptian authorities proceed with a supposedly joint investigation, we cannot help but wonder: How is this possible? How can we accept this horror? Giulio had moved to Egypt for academic purposes, doing research on the field on what was his expertise. The circumstances of his murder suggest that he was killed because of his ideas, that is, because of his decision to pursue his studies even if that meant living in a difficult environment.

As Angelo Martelli, PhD student at the London School of Economics, powerfully commented, “Giulio has paid the price of someone who believed that knowledge has no borders and that academic research in order to flourish needs to be truly free. (..) With Giulio’s murder academic research has also been assassinated, because we are depriving academia of its core idea of universitas, of a community of scholars without borders, where minds are challenged to discover new knowledge and contribute to the welfare of a broader society. A community where freedom of thought is elevated to its highest level without the fear of being persecuted for your ideas or discriminated on the basis of culture, religion or ethnicity. (…) Giulio was an example of a young free man who does not give up, who follows his instinct for knowledge and finds his sense of fulfilment by contributing with his research work.”

Now not only do we find this terrible loss hard to process, but we are more than concerned about the ramifications this event has in terms of freedom of movement, freedom of thought, freedom of expression. As The Guardian recalls, Giulio’s death ‘is not the first incident of a foreign national dying in suspicious  circumstances on Egyptian soil’. Thus my first appeal goes to Egypt to provide better security for its national and international citizens. But what if, as many have suggested, the Egyptian government or its institutions are to some extent responsible for this death? Should that be the case, then the same appeal goes to the international community: we cannot let our people be killed in such a dramatic and terrible way. If it is true that pursuing one’s research in sensible topics may carry the risk of travelling to unsafe areas, this cannot entail torture and death. It is simply not acceptable.

Giulio, we will remember you as a person who followed his dreams and interests and was not afraid of doing that, raising up your voice in search for a deeper knowledge. At the same time, as we keep on affirming, when terrorism and extremism bring horror and death, this tragic event should not represent an obstacle to those of us willing to explore the world and continue our work, whether it is for academic purposes or not.

We believe in freedom, and we want justice.

 

 

MRA Boss on Islam

Dr Omnia Marzouq, who is of Egyptian heritage and is President of Initiatives of Change (the movement known in the Mid East as Moral ReArmament), talks on the Four Freedoms, the Four Absolutes, and Islam.

The USA and Russia bury the hatchet to focus on Syria – at last

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Secretary Kerry participates in the GCC meeting

In the first few days of August, the foreign ministers of the GCC, Russia and the U.S. descended on Doha, Qatar, for talks. The U.S. Secretary of State, John Kerry, assured GCC foreign ministers that the risk Iran poses had been greatly minimised as a result of the Iran nuclear deal. Secretary Kerry had just been to Egypt where he assured his counterpart, Sameh Shoukry that “There can be absolutely no question that if the Vienna plan is fully implemented, it will make Egypt and all the countries of this region safer than they otherwise would be or were”.

Secretary Kerry clearly wanted to secure the support of America’s crucial Persian Gulf allies for the deal in a bid to give it more credibility, as the Obama administration is currently fighting to prevent a Congressional attempt to derail the deal. The GCC states gave Kerry tacit support for the nuclear deal, saying that it should bring stability and “good neighbourliness”, rather than interference.

Qatari foreign minister, Khalid al-Attiyah said the alliance wanted to spare the region “from any dangers and threats from any nuclear weapons.” He said that this should be done by authorising the use of nuclear power for peaceful purposes in line with international rules. Many Gulf States are worried that the agreement will quicken reconciliation between Tehran and Washington, emboldening the Islamic Republic to support their paramilitary allies in the region. 

Russia’s agenda

A curious and clearly significant meeting occurred on the sidelines of this GCC meeting, where Secretary Kerry held trilateral talks with the Russian foreign minister Sergey Lavrov and Saudi Arabia’s foreign minister Adel bin Ahmed al-Jubeir, regarding the Syrian Civil War. Ever since the Iran nuclear deal, which Russia helped in securing, Moscow has been ramping up its once low-key foreign policy in the region. There has been a marked rapprochement between Saudi Arabia and Russia, with the Saudi Minister of Defence Mohamed Bin Salman recently meeting President Putin. This trilateral talk between Saudi Arabia, Russia and the U.S. marks a significant rise in not only Russia’s foreign policy presence, but also of Saudi Arabia’s.  The meeting looked at ways forward for the Syrian conflict, and attempted to find common ground in the fight against ISIS.

Secretary Kerry announced that the US would defend moderate Syrian rebels against any attack, thus suggesting it could target Syrian government troops in future. Mr Lavrov condemned this new strategy and said it would be a violation of international law and represents an obstacle on the road to forming a united front against terrorism. He added that Russia provides military and technical support to the Syrian government to fight ISIS, just as they provide support to Iraq to do the same. Kerry stressed Washington’s commitment to supporting anti-ISIS fighters on the ground but also, that Assad’s “brutality” against Syrians is helping incite foreign fighters to join ISIS. At least publicly, Secretary Kerry and Mr Lavrov kept to the same line they have maintained since the onset of the conflict.

The man to watch?

Another meeting that was not reported in the press and is worth mentioning was Sergei Lavrov’s meeting with former chairman of the National Coalition for Syrian Revolutionary and Opposition Forces Moaz al-Khatib during his working visit to Qatar. They focused on discussing the situation in Syria and emphasised the need to find political settlement of the Syrian crisis. Moaz al-Khatib is arguably one of Syria’s most respected opposition figures and one possible reading of this meeting is that it is hinting at Lavrov’s diminishing faith in Assad. The West loves Moaz because, as one NCF member put it, “He doesn’t throw all his toys out of the pram”.

A Damascus-Riyadh link?

At the end of last month Syrian National Security Bureau chief, Ali Mamlouk visited Riyadh, Saudi Arabia to have an unusual talk with the Saudi Deputy Crown Prince, Mohammad Bin Salman. This unexpected meeting has been described as “the miracle meeting”. The sit down was brokered by President Vladimir Putin of Russia who, after organising it, flew Mamlouk – one of Assad’s chief advisers – to meet Prince Mohammad. During their meeting Mamlouk appealed to Prince Mohammad for Saudi Arabia to change its policy regarding Syria, saying that Qatar was unduly influencing Riyadh. Mamlouk also thanked Russia for it’s “noble initiative” and said that Saudi Arabia and Syria both need to resolve their differences. At the same time Mamlouk blamed Saudi Arabia for everything that’s happened in Syria and accused the Kingdom of submitting itself to the will of Qatar’s ruling elite.

Prince Mohammed responded to this by expressing his fears to Mamlouk that Iran was exercising too much influence in Syria. He said that Saudi’s main issue with Syria is that they let themselves be led by Iran who are involved in a large scale conflict with Saudi on the level of the entire region. The deputy crowned prince ended the discussion by saying “may this meeting be an opening for us to talk to each other”. The two parties agreed to maintain communication but did not arrange a date for another meeting.

And meanwhile Iran

While these talks were happening, several Arab newspapers published an article written by Iran’s foreign minister, Mohammad Javad Zarif, asking the GCC states to work with Iran to counteract instability in the Middle East. As optimistic as the tone was, the reality is that Iran and Saudi Arabia remain arch-rivals in the Middle East, and the recent incident of a deadly sectarian bombing in Bahrain suggests that Saudi-Iranian competition won’t be abated anytime soon.

For more detailed behind the scenes analysis those that are subscribing members of the NCF can go to the private NCF blog