Turkey reacts to threat of US sanctions with military deployment near Syria

Turkish army tanks gather close to the Syrian border at Hassa in Hatay province, a southern Turkish province on the Mediterranean coast. (AFP)
Updated 14 July 2019

Turkey reacts to threat of US sanctions with military deployment near Syria

  • Significant deployment of heavy weapons has taken place near the strategic northern border town of Tal Abyad, controlled by the Syrian Kurdish YPG militia

ANKARA: An increase in Turkish military deployments near the Turkish-Syrian border has raised fears of an extensive conflict east of the Euphrates.

A significant deployment of heavy weapons has taken place near the strategic northern border town of Tal Abyad, controlled by the Syrian Kurdish YPG militia. The control of Tal Abyad helped the YPG connect noncontiguous territory in northern Syria and organizing it into cantons such as Afrn, Kobani and Al-Jazira.

The Turkish operation into Syria might be linked with the risk of approaching US sanctions through the Countering America’s Adversaries Through Sanctions Act (CAATSA) over the purchase of Russia’s S-400 missile defense system.

A US delegation is set to arrive Ankara next week, and military movements by Turkey in Syria are expected to form part of its agenda.

Dr. Sinan Hatahet, a Syrian analyst based in Istanbul, believed that conflict was unlikely because there are ongoing negotiations about the safe zone in northern Syria and Manbij.

“Both countries are still resolved to solve their bilateral issues through diplomatic channels. But if the US impose sanctions, it could harm this long-dated relationship,” Hatahet said.

The Turkish military has initiated troop deployments several times over recent years to put pressure on the US to realize its agreement in the northern city of Manbij.

“The only unique aspect of this deployment is that it is happening just after the delivery of S-400 components. The American priority in Syria is to advance negotiations for a political solution and to challenge Iranian expansion,” Hatahet said.

Mehmet Emin Cengiz, a research assistant at the Al Sharq Forum in Istanbul, said even though Ankara constantly emphasizes its willingness to find a workable solution in northern Syria, US sanction threats could lead Turkey to consider new options.

“If the US decides to impose harsh sanctions that will cripple the Turkish economy, Turkey can go for a unilateral military operation in Northern Syria. Sanctions might trigger a new military operation in the east of the Euphrates,” Cengiz said.

Cengiz believes that Ankara’s decision to amass troops along the Turkish-Syrian border adjacent to YPG-controlled areas is a direct signal to the US.

“Turkey has been losing its patience with the US in recent years. The Manbij issue has been problematic between the two sides for a long time. The shared plan for the city was not implemented for more than a year,” he added.

“The nature and scale of the planned safe zone in Northern Syria is still an issue between the two sides. The US seems to be clear in its decision to back the YPG in the future,” Cengiz added.

According to Cengiz, with this recent military deployment, Turkey is trying to strengthen its hand in response to US threats.

Joe Macaron, a fellow at the Arab Center in Washington, DC, thinks that Erdogan has two goals in mind: Influence Trump’s thinking on sanctions and react to the US’ decision last week to consider deploying European troops along the Syrian-Turkish border.

“Since Trump and his national security advisers are not talking in one voice on the S-400, Erdogan is trying to weigh in on this debate by highlighting the potential risks to US forces, however this move might further antagonize the US against Ankara,” he said.

“While Erdogan is trying to have leverage over the upcoming talks between the Turkish and American militaries regarding northern Syria, the unintended risk is provoking a confrontation with Kurdish forces, which might increase the cost of Turkish intervention in Syria at a critical time in Erdogan’s political future,” Macaron said.

In addition to CAATSA sanctions, Ankara could likely face punitive measures from Brussels. In response to Turkey’s gas drilling activities in Cypriot waters, the EU is also threatening to cut pre-accession funding to Ankara by €145.8 million ($164.6 million), Politico recently reported.


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.”