UN chief says: Cyprus talks show progress but no ‘quick fix’

Cypriot President Nicos Anastasiades, UN chief Antonio Guterres and Turkish Cypriot leader Mustafa Akinci pose before a trilateral meeting ahead of the Conference on Cyprus at the European headquarters of the UN in Geneva on Thursday. (AFP)
Updated 13 January 2017

UN chief says: Cyprus talks show progress but no ‘quick fix’

GENEVA: Talks to resolve the division of ethnically-divided Cyprus have been showing encouraging results, UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres said on Thursday, but cautioned against expectations of a quick fix.
Flanked by Greek Cypriot leader Nicos Anastasiades and Turkish Cypriot leader Mustafa Akinci, Guterres said instruments were needed to implement an end to a conflict which has defied mediation for decades.
“Our goal here is to get the necessary results, and to do that we want to work seriously for the amount of time that is necessary,” he said. “We are facing so many situations of disaster, we badly need a symbol of hope. I strongly believe Cyprus can be the symbol hope of the beginning of 2017.”
Turkish Cypriot leaders have agreed in principle to return some of the land they have controlled since the failed 1974 coup.
Guterres is chairing a security conference on Cyprus in Geneva, attended by the foreign ministers of Greece, Turkey and Britain who are guarantor powers of the island under a convoluted treaty system which granted Cyprus independence from Britain in 1960.
Guterres was undertaking his first foreign trip as the UN’s new secretary general in a bid to achieve a breakthrough at a Geneva summit that involves rival Cypriot sides as well as Greece, Turkey and former colonial power Britain.
The top diplomats from Britain, Greece and Turkey joined the UN-hosted talks.
The arrival of Foreign Ministers Boris Johnson of Britain, Nikos Kotzias of Greece and Mevlut Cavusoglu of Turkey means years of efforts to reunify Cyprus have reached high-level diplomacy, tackling security issues for the first time. Security is pivotal to any deal to end the 43-year split because it strikes at the heart of fears among both Greek and Turkish Cypriots.
The ministers were hoping to make progress that could pave the way for their prime ministers to join, a possible signal that a wide-ranging accord also involving issues like governance, property and territory could be on tap. Britain is a former colonial overseer in Cyprus, and today operates two military bases on the island.
“The prime minister will travel to Geneva if there are signs that a resolution is achievable,” Greek government spokesman Dimitris Tzanakopoulos told reporters in Athens, referring to Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras. A spokesman for Turkish Prime Minister Binali Yildirim said he, too, was waiting for signs of progress from the foreign ministers.
European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker was also participating in the talks.
Turkey stationed some 35,000 troops in the breakaway north following the 1974 coup by Greek Cypriots hoping to unify Cyprus with Greece. The minority Turkish Cypriots see Turkey’s military might as their sole insurance against any Greek Cypriot hostility if a peace deal unravels, and insist on keeping the troops as part of a final accord.
Greek Cypriots consider a Turkish troop presence as a threat and an instrument of Ankara’s influence on the island. They insist that Turkey, which is not a European Union member state, should neither keep troops on the island nor have the right to intervene militarily in Cyprus, which is part of the 28-country EU bloc.
The eastern Mediterranean island has been divided since 1974, when Turkish troops invaded in response to an Athens-inspired coup seeking union with Greece.
Thursday’s multi-party talks follow three days of negotiations between Greek Cypriot President Nicos Anastasiades and Turkish Cypriot leader Mustafa Akinci aiming to forge a united, two-zone federation.
The intra-Cypriot talks have focused on thorny domestic issues such as territory and what a future, unified government might look like.
UN Cyprus envoy Espen Barth Eide has called this week “the moment of truth” and insisted that a deal to solve the long-standing division was within reach.
Guterres, in office since Jan. 1, was hosting top diplomats from Cyprus’s so-called “guarantor powers,” including British Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson, and his counterparts Nikos Kotzias of Greece and Turkey’s Mevlut Cavusoglu.
Under a 1959 treaty, those nations were allowed to intervene to defend the island’s sovereign integrity, which Ankara used to justify its invasion.
Any peace deal will likely include significant changes to or even the elimination of the guarantor power arrangement.
Greece has called it out of date and Britain has said it was happy to give it up if Cypriots asked, but Turkey on Thursday insisted that some form of the system needed to be preserved.
“Taking into consideration the current situation in our region, continuation of the Security and Guarantees system... is a necessity,” Cavusoglu told the closed-door conference, according to a speech released from his office.
Britain also retains military bases in Cyprus that are sovereign British territory but has offered to give up nearly half of its land as part of a final settlement.
The estimated 30,000 Turkish troops deployed on the island remain a deeply divisive issue, with Anastasiades wanting them to leave the island but Akinci determined to keep a military presence.
UN peacekeepers also safeguard a buffer zone between the two sides.
Greek Cypriot government spokesman Nikos Christodoulides said that the presented map was “within the framework” agreed during previous negotiations that foresees the Turkish Cypriot zone amounting to a maximum of 29.2 percent of the island.
“We consider it as a particularly positive development,” Christodoulides said while noting that disputes remain and a final map has not been agreed.
On Tuesday the two sides tackled the island’s relations with the European Union, with the UN seeking to create a unified nation that would be a full EU member.
While Cyprus has been an EU member state since 2004, Anastasiades’s internationally recognized government exercises no control over the northern Turkish-ruled part of the island, and EU legislation is suspended there until a settlement is reached.
The foreign ministers of Britain, Greece and Turkey met on Thursday to thrash out a security deal for a reunited Cyprus and end a conflict rooted in Britain’s colonial past and Greek and Turkish rivalry in the region.
For the first time in decades, the three countries were to discuss a 1960 treaty cited by at least one of them in the past as a basis for intervening in the Mediterranean island.
Greek Cypriots and their ally Greece want an overhaul of the current security setup, while Turkish Cypriots and Turkey say it must be maintained.
“Continuing the security and guarantor arrangements, which have been the basis of security and stability on the island for the last 43 years, is a necessity given the situation in the region,” Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu told a conference at the Geneva headquarters of the UN.
“We are expecting this issue to be evaluated with an understanding in line with the realities on the island.”
Cyprus was split by a Turkish invasion in 1974 that followed a brief coup engineered by the military then ruling Greece. It has remained split ever since, with Turkish Cypriots in the north of the island and Greek Cypriots in the south.
European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker was also in attendance. Cyprus is a member of the European Union, represented by the internationally recognized Greek Cypriot government.

Arabs reject use of religion to gain power, poll suggests

Updated 21 min 16 sec ago

Arabs reject use of religion to gain power, poll suggests

  • Use of religion for political gain is rejected by 58 percent of respondents in a YouGov poll
  • Experts believe there is now more awareness of the tactics of religion-based political parties

DUBAI: Across the Arab world, an increasing number of citizens disagree with the “use of religion for political gain,” according to a recent YouGov survey.

As part of its partnership with the Arab Strategy Forum, Arab News commissioned a survey of the views and concerns of Arabs today and their projections for the future of the region.

A total of 3,079 Arabic speakers were surveyed, aged 18 and above and living across 18 countries in the Middle East and North Africa (MENA).

Results revealed that 43 percent strongly disagree with the “use of religion for political gain,” while 15 percent “somewhat disagree.” By contrast, 7 percent strongly agree and 8 percent “somewhat agree.”

Another 14 percent “neither agree nor disagree” with the “use of religion for political gain.”

The combined average, however, unambiguously opposes the idea — at 58 percent. “The cases of Lebanon and Iraq shows a streak of anti-sectarianism rather than that of anti-religion per se,” said Dr. Albadr Al-Shateri, politics professor at the National Defense College in Abu Dhabi.

“Religious beliefs are deep-seated in these societies, so the advent of Western-style secularism in the region is doubtful. Even the most secular country in the Middle East, Turkey, turned out to have religious inclinations when it voted in an Islamist party” more than a decade ago. 

As long as people have little trust in political institutions, they will revert to their primary social institutions, notably religion, family and tribe, Al-Shateri told Arab News.

Dr. Abdulkhaleq Abdulla, a former chairman of the Arab Council for Social Sciences, said that the YouGov findings suggest that the days of using religion for political gain are over.

“We are seeing more and more awareness that religion-based political parties are not so genuine in their religious preaching,” he told Arab News.

“People are becoming aware that those who preach freedom, equality, democracy and women’s empowerment using religious discourse are no longer believable.”

Significant numbers disagreed with the statement in Iraq and Kuwait (74 percent), as well as in Lebanon (73 percent), Libya (75 percent), Sudan (79 percent), and Syria and Yemen (71 percent). 

“Ultimately, it’s a question of credibility of politicians,” said Nadim Shehadi, an associate fellow at Chatham House, adding that “the credibility of political establishments is on the decrease globally because they are failing to deliver.”

He said that there is a general sense globally that political establishments are corrupt and not credible, which he partly pins on shifts in generational issues.

“Your grandparents’ concerns were probably more nationalistic,” he told Arab News.

“The generation of your parents were more about religion and, frankly, the new generation is more concerned about gender issues than anything else.

“Nationalism is totally irrelevant to them and religion far less.”

According to Shehadi, exploitation of religion no longer stirs up the young generation as they have different concerns. “They are on a different planet from politicians,” he said.

“Politicians are addressing issues that are very different from what the new generation is concerned with.”

With unrest continuing in several Arab countries, including Iraq and Lebanon, Abdulla sees it as a second round of the so-called Arab Spring, this time gripping Algeria, Sudan, Lebanon and Iraq.

“What is clear is that this second round is much more peaceful, focused and has already delivered a great deal,” he said.

“In Sudan, we have seen a very peaceful transition that was done to the satisfaction of the Sudanese people, and transition to democracy is going smoothly.

“In Algeria, it’s settling down and an election is coming up with some opposing it. But none of these two cases have witnessed the violence that engulfed Libya and Syria.”

That said, the future will depend on how governments and societies respond to the demands of the youth, according to Al-Shateri.

“The region faces many problems. However, the underlying cause is the lack of good governance. The concept of good governance has its provenance in Arab and Islamic traditions; it is not the equivalent of Westminster-style government necessarily.

“It is based on accountability, justice, equality, rule of law, ombudsmanship and the right to petition the government.”

Al-Shateri said Lebanon, Algeria, Iran and Iraq are examples of countries that have failed to provide these conditions, adding that the same was the case in Tunisia, Egypt, Yemen and Syria when the Arab Spring uprisings began in 2011.

If regional countries achieve good governance, Al-Shateri expects many improvements in society, the economy and governance. “Short of that, the region will languish in backwardness, underdevelopment and conflict,” he said.