Pompeo: US relationship with Saudi Arabia essential for Middle East stability

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Abu Dhabi Crown Prince Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed greets Secretary of State Mike Pompeo in the UAE capital. (AFP)
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Abu Dhabi's Crown Prince Mohammed bin Zayed Al-Nahyan (C-L) receives visiting US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo (C-R) prior to their meeting at Al-Shati Palace in the UAE capital Abu Dhabi on January 12, 2019. (AFP)
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Abu Dhabi's Crown Prince Mohammed bin Zayed Al-Nahyan speaks with U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo during a meeting at Al-Shati Palace in Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates January 12, 2019. (Reuters)
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Abu Dhabi's Crown Prince Mohammed bin Zayed Al-Nahyan speaks with U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo during a meeting at Al-Shati Palace in Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates January 12, 2019. (Reuters)
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US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, right, walks with Vice Adm. James Malloy, commander of the US Naval Forces Central Command/5th Fleet, after a tour of the US Naval Forces Central Command center in Manama, Bahrain, Friday, Jan. 11, 2019. (AP)
Updated 13 January 2019

Pompeo: US relationship with Saudi Arabia essential for Middle East stability

  •  US secretary of state says America wants an Arab coalition capable of facing the different challenges in the region
  • Pompeo holds talks in Abu Dhabi with Crown Prince Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed

DUBAI/LONDON:  Washington’s relationship with Saudi Arabia is “fundamental to the stability and security of the region,” US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said on Saturday.

“The relationship must go forward. We have to have good relations with the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia and this administration intends to do so,” Pompeo said in an interview with Al Arabiya.

The secretary of state was speaking in Abu Dhabi on the latest leg of a nine-nation Middle East tour aimed at reassuring allies of US commitment to the region after President Donald Trump’s announcement that American troops would be withdrawn from Syria. He is expected in Saudi Arabia this week

The pullout caused particular concern among Kurdish YPG forces in northern Syria, who fought with the US-led anti-Daesh coalition but fear the withdrawal of US protection will lead to an attack by Turkey, which views the YPG as terrorists.

Pompeo said he had discussed the issue with Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu and was confident that it could be resolved.

“We recognize the Turkish people’s right to defend their country from terrorists, but we also know that those ... who are not terrorists and fought alongside us for all this time deserve to be protected,” he said.

“There are many details to be worked out but I am optimistic we can achieve a good outcome.” 

He said the US envoy for Syria, Jim Jeffrey, had traveled to northeast Syria last week and would soon go to Ankara for talks on a UN-led political process to end the conflict in Syria.

He suggested that talks between the Assad regime and the Syrian Kurds could be part of a broader political solution in Syria. “We hope we can turn the corner here,” he said.

Pompeo said the withdrawal of US troops from Syria would make no difference to America’s regional strategic objectives; the mission to destroy Daesh and counter Iran’s influence remained the same.

“The fact that a couple of thousand uniformed personnel in Syria will be withdrawing is a tactical change,” he said.

“It doesn’t materially alter our capacity to continue to perform the military actions that we need to perform.”

In a speech in Cairo on Thursday, Pompeo vowed that the US would “expel every last Iranian boot” from Syria. “It’s an ambitious objective, but it is ours, and it is our mission,” he said.

The US wants to create a Middle East Strategic Alliance against Iran, comprising the Gulf states, Egypt and Jordan.

Washington will convene an international summit in Poland next month focusing on peace and stability in the Middle East, including Iran’s influence.

Egypt’s creative solutions to the plastic menace

Updated 24 August 2019

Egypt’s creative solutions to the plastic menace

  • Egyptian social startups are taking alternative approaches to fostering awareness and reducing waste

CAIRO: Global plastics production reached 348 million tons in 2017, rising from 335 million tons in 2016, according to Plastics Europe. 

Critically, most plastic waste is not properly managed: Around 55 percent of it was landfilled or discarded in 2015. These numbers are extremely concerning because plastic products take anything from 450 to 1,000 years to decompose, and the effects on the environment, especially on marine and human life, are catastrophic.

While initiatives around the world are taking action to combat this problem, some Egyptian projects are doing it more creatively.

“We’re the first website in the Middle East and North Africa that trades waste,” said Alaa Afifi, founder and CEO of Bekia. “People can get rid of any waste at their disposal — plastic, paper and cooking oil — and exchange it for over 65 products on our website.”

Products for trading include rice, tea, pasta, cooking oil, subway tickets and school supplies.

Bekia was launched in Cairo in 2017. Initially, the business model did not prove successful.

“We used to rent a car and go to certain locations every 40 days to collect waste from people,” Afifi, 26, explained. “We then created a website and started encouraging people to use it.”

After the website was launched, people could wait at home for someone to collect the waste. “Instead of 40 days, we now could visit people within a week.”

To use Bekia’s services, people need to log onto the website and specify what they want to discard. They are assigned points based on the waste they are offering, and these points can be used in one of three ways: Donated to people in need, saved for later, or exchanged for products. As for the collected waste, it is given to specialized recycling companies for processing.

“We want to have 50,000 customers over the next two years who regularly use our service to get rid of their waste,” Afifi said.  

Trying to spread environmental awareness has not been easy. “We had a lot of trouble with initial investment at first, and we got through with an investment that was far from enough. The second problem we faced was spreading this culture among people — in the first couple of months, we received no orders,” Afifi said.

The team soldiered on and slowly built a client base, currently serving 7,000 customers. In terms of what lies ahead for Bekia, he said: “We’re expanding from 22 to 30 areas in Cairo this year. We’re launching an app very soon and a new website with better features.”

Go Clean, another Egyptian recycling startup dedicated to raising environmental awareness, works under the patronage of the Ministry of Environment. “We started in 2017 by recycling waste from factories, and then by February 2019 we started expanding,” said founder and CEO Mohammed Hamdy, 30.

The Cairo-based company collects recyclables from virtually all places, including households, schools, universities, restaurants, cafes, companies and embassies. The customers separate the items into categories and then fill out a registration form. Alternatively, they can make contact through WhatsApp or Facebook. A driver is then dispatched to collect the waste, carrying a scale to weigh it. 

“The client can be paid in cash for the weight of their recyclables, or they can make a donation to a special needs school in Cairo,” Hamdy explained. There is also the option of trading the waste for dishwashing soap, with more household products to be added in the future.

Trying to cover a country with 100 million people was never going to be easy, and Go Clean faced some logistical problems. It overcame them by hiring more drivers and getting more trucks. There was another challenge along the way: “We had to figure out a way to train the drivers, from showing them how to use GPS and deal with clients,” said Hamdy.

“We want to spread awareness about the environment everywhere. We go to schools, universities, companies and even factories to give sessions about the importance of recycling and how dangerous plastic is. We’re currently covering 20 locations across Cairo and all of Alexandria. We want to cover all of Egypt in the future,” he added.

With a new app on the way, Hamdy said things are looking positive for the social startup, and people are becoming invested in the initiative. “We started out with seven orders per day, and now we get over 100.”