How UAE, Greece came close together

How UAE, Greece came close together
Greece’s Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis, left, meets with Abu Dhabi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Zayed during his visit to the UAE capital on Nov. 18, 2020 (WAM)
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Updated 25 February 2021

How UAE, Greece came close together

How UAE, Greece came close together
  • ‘Greece can be a springboard for the development of the new leading role that the UAE aspires to play from the Gulf to Libya,’ expert tells Arab News
  • Greek PM visited Abu Dhabi in November to meet with crown prince

On Nov. 18, 2020, Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis visited Abu Dhabi for the second time in a few months to meet with Crown Prince Mohammed bin Zayed.

The meeting proved historic. Greece and the UAE signed a strategic partnership agreement, including a mutual defense clause. Athens hailed it as one of the most important agreements it had signed since World War II.

Bilateral cooperation on foreign policy and defense is expanding rapidly. On Sunday, Greek Defense Minister Nikos Panagiotopoulos visited the UAE, accompanied by the Chief of the General Staff Gen. Konstantinos Floros, to discuss deepening defense cooperation and to participate in two international defense fairs: IDEX 2021 and NAVDEX 2021.

Last summer, the UAE sent F-16 fighter jets to Crete to participate in military exercises with the Hellenic Air Force.

In a further sign of growing military cooperation, Greece, the UAE, Cyprus, Egypt and France conducted from Nov. 30 to Dec. 6 a joint multinational aeronautical exercise codenamed “Medusa” in Alexandria, Egypt.

The exercise was an unofficial, although direct, message to Turkey against its muscle flexing in the eastern Mediterranean.

A joint military exercise between Greece, Cyprus, Israel, the UAE, Slovakia, Spain, Canada and the US is on the cards for later this year.

“Defense cooperation is very important for Greece as far as it contributes to two sectors — first, in increasing investment by the UAE in Greece’s defense industry; and second, in cooperation between the two countries in technology development and intelligence,” Sotiris Roussos, associate professor at the University of Peloponnese and head of the Centre for Mediterranean, Middle Eastern and Islamic Studies, told Arab News.

“Greece can be a springboard for the development of the new leading role that the UAE aspires to play from the Gulf to Libya.”

The roots of Greek-Emirati cooperation can be traced back to the Arab Spring, which created a new dynamic from the Mediterranean to the Gulf.

Since then, Turkey has become an extremely assertive and geopolitically ambitious challenger of the regional status quo in two ways.

Firstly, it is threatening the sovereignty and sovereign rights of Greece, Cyprus and Egypt in the eastern Mediterranean by forcefully questioning either their territorial integrity, or their rights to explore and develop their national resources in their continental shelves or exclusive economic zones (EEZ).

The November 2019 memorandum of understanding between Libya’s Government of National Accord (GNA) and Turkey, which establishes a maritime boundary between the two countries while ignoring the Greek and Egyptian EEZs, is a prime example of how Ankara views the protection of its geo-economic and geopolitical interests in the region.

Secondly, Turkey poses a threat to the post-Arab Spring regional order, mainly through its support for the Muslim Brotherhood but also its presence in Syria, Libya and the Horn of Africa. The Brotherhood is anathema to both the UAE and Saudi Arabia.

Additionally, Ankara is following a strategy to exert influence in areas where it sees a power vacuum emerging.

This strategy is founded on its Mavi Vatan (Blue Homeland) doctrine, aimed at presenting Turkey as a maritime power from Libya to the Gulf.

These developments have brought Greek and Emirati interests in close alignment. “Greece could become a particularly relevant interlocutor for the UAE. Despite its peripheral role in the EU and a devastated economy as a result of the 2009 crisis, Greece is emerging as a potential big player in the Mediterranean, and Athens’ geostrategic significance can’t be overlooked,” Cinzia Bianco, Gulf research fellow at the European Council on Foreign Relations, told Arab News.

“Greece is positioned between three continents, and has geographical proximity to North Africa and the Middle East. Coupled with projected economic growth of 4.1 percent by 2021, significant investment in defense, and anticipated additional expenditure on new warships and fighter jets, this could herald a new and more assertive Greece.”

In this context, the UAE was accepted in December as an observer at the Cairo-based East Med Gas Forum.

Athens and Abu Dhabi have seen their interests closely linked in Libya too as they both oppose the pro-Turkey GNA leadership in Tripoli.

It should also be noted that the Abraham Accords between the UAE and Israel offers to Abu Dhabi the opportunity to project power in the eastern Mediterranean.

Most recently, the UAE — alongside like-minded Arab countries such as Egypt and Saudi Arabia — participated in the Philia Forum in Athens.

Greek-Emirati partnership could counter Turkey’s regional assertiveness and serve as a bridge between the EU and the Gulf in an era of widening geopolitical competition.


Saudi Arabia, UAE and Kuwait condemn failed coup attempt in Sudan

Saudi Arabia, UAE and Kuwait condemn failed coup attempt in Sudan
Updated 17 min 34 sec ago

Saudi Arabia, UAE and Kuwait condemn failed coup attempt in Sudan

Saudi Arabia, UAE and Kuwait condemn failed coup attempt in Sudan

DUBAI: Saudi Arabia condemned the failed coup attempt in Sudan, Al-Arabiya TV reported on Wednesday, citing the kingdom's foreign ministry.

The United Arab Emirates and Kuwait also condemned the failed coup attempt in Sudan and renewed their support for the Sudanese people.  

Sudanese authorities reported a coup attempt on Tuesday by a group of soldiers but said the attempt failed and that the military remains in control. 

It said the plotters were loyal to ousted president Omar al-Bashir.  


UAE government eases face mask rules in some public places

UAE government eases face mask rules in some public places
Updated 22 September 2021

UAE government eases face mask rules in some public places

UAE government eases face mask rules in some public places

DUBAI: The UAE government has removed the mandatory requirement to wear face masks in some public places, the country’s health ministry announced Wednesday. 

The decision means it is no longer obligatory to wear masks while exercising outdoors, sitting at the beach, or by the pool.

Individuals driving in a private car alone or with members of the same household will also not be required to wear them.

Masks will also not be required in indoor places such as hair salons when people are alone. 

The decision came after the number of daily Covid-19 cases decreased by 60 per cent in August this year as compared to the same period last year.


Syrian rebel stronghold Idlib struggles with coronavirus surge

Syrian rebel stronghold Idlib struggles with coronavirus surge
Updated 22 September 2021

Syrian rebel stronghold Idlib struggles with coronavirus surge

Syrian rebel stronghold Idlib struggles with coronavirus surge
  • The total number of cases seen in Idlib province has more than doubled since the beginning of August
  • Extreme poverty and the ravages of Syria’s civil war have made the situation in Idlib uniquely terrible

BEIRUT: Coronavirus cases are surging to the worst levels of the pandemic in a rebel stronghold in Syria — a particularly devastating development in a region where scores of hospitals have been bombed and that doctors and nurses have fled in droves during a decade of war.
The total number of cases seen in Idlib province — an overcrowded enclave with a population of 4 million, many of them internally displaced — has more than doubled since the beginning of August to more than 61,000. In recent weeks, daily new infections have repeatedly shot past 1,500, and authorities reported 34 deaths on Sunday alone — figures that are still believed to be undercounts because many infected people don’t report to authorities.
The situation has become so dire in the northwestern province that rescue workers known as the White Helmets who became famous for digging through the rubble of bombings to find victims now mostly ferry coronavirus patients to the hospital or the dead to burials.
“What is happening is a medical catastrophe,” the Idlib Doctors Syndicate said this week as it issued a plea for support from international aid groups.
Idlib faces all the challenges that places the world over have during the pandemic: Its intensive care units are largely full, there are severe shortages of oxygen and tests, and the vaccination rollout has been slow.
But extreme poverty and the ravages of Syria’s civil war have made the situation in Idlib uniquely terrible. Half of its hospitals and health centers have been damaged by bombing, and the health system was close to collapse even before the pandemic. A large number of medical personnel have fled the country seeking safety and opportunities abroad. Tens of thousands of its residents live in crowded tent settlements, where social distancing and even regular hand-washing are all but impossible. And increasing violence in the region is now threatening to make matters worse.
Large parts of Idlib and neighboring Aleppo province remain in the hands of Syria’s armed opposition, dominated by radical groups including Al-Qaeda-affiliated militants who have struggled to respond to the outbreak, which intensified in August, apparently driven by the more contagious delta variant and gatherings for the Muslim feast of Eid Al-Adha.
Cases and deaths have also been increasing in recent weeks in government-held areas and those under the control of US-backed Kurdish-led fighters in the east, but the situation appears to be worse in Idlib, though it’s hard to measure the true toll anywhere.
In response, the political arm of the insurgent group that runs Idlib has closed some markets, forced restaurants to serve outdoor meals only, and delayed the opening of schools by a week.
But most residents are daily laborers who could not survive if they stopped working, making full lockdowns impossible.
“If they don’t work, they cannot eat,” said Idlib resident Ahmad Said, who added that most people cannot even afford to buy masks.
What’s more, a population that has suffered through so much already is often too weary to follow restrictions that have tested people even in easier circumstances.
“It is as if people have gotten used to death,” said Salwa Abdul-Rahman, an opposition activist who reports on events in Idlib. “Those who were not killed by regime and Russian airstrikes are being killed now by coronavirus.”
The vaccination campaign meanwhile, has been slow, though the arrival of some 350,000 doses of a Chinese vaccine earlier this month could help. According to the World Health Organization, only about 2.5 percent of Idlib’s population has received at least one shot.
The new virus outbreak also comes amid the most serious increase in violence in Idlib, 18 months after a truce reached between Turkey and Russia who support rival sides in Syria’s conflict brought relative calm. In recent weeks, airstrikes and artillery shelling by government forces have left scores of people dead or wounded.
At Al-Ziraa hospital, Dr. Muhammad Abdullah says there is no sign that the outbreak has reached its peak yet.
But for some Idlib residents, getting infected is the least of their worries.
“We have gone through more difficult situations than coronavirus,” said resident Ali Dalati, walking through a market without wearing a mask. “We are not afraid of coronavirus.”


Houthis not willing to make peace, Yemen’s parliament leader tells US envoy

Houthis not willing to make peace, Yemen’s parliament leader tells US envoy
Updated 22 September 2021

Houthis not willing to make peace, Yemen’s parliament leader tells US envoy

Houthis not willing to make peace, Yemen’s parliament leader tells US envoy

DUBAI: The Iran-backed Houthi militia are unwilling to make peace in Yemen and are actually undermining efforts for hostilities to cease in the conflict-ridden country, a senior Yemeni politician said.

“We’re ready to achieve peace, but the Houthi militia has not yet agreed to do so, it has continued to deliberately undermine peace efforts and proposals, going on fighting. These indicators show they have never been willing to make peace,” Parliament speaker, Sultan Al-Barakani said as he met US envoy to Yemen Timothy Lenderking to discuss peace initiatives for Yemen.

The Houthis are to blame for blocking peace efforts and initiative and escalating military actions targeting civilians and facilities including Mocha port, state news agency SABA quoted the parliament leader as saying.

Al-Barakani pointed to the recent public execution of nine people, who were accused of being involved in the killing of Houthi leader Saleh Al-Samad in 2018, as an example of the militia’s crimes against the Yemeni people.

Meanwhile, the Yemeni Network for Rights and Freedoms claimed it had documented 6,476  violations committed by the Houthis against women in more than five years, involving mostly deaths and injuries caused be artillery shelling, as well as mines and other explosive devices detonating.

The rights group also said there had been 770 cases of arrests and kidnapping, 195 cases of enforced disappearance and 70 cases of torture of women in Yemen during the period from Jan. 1, 2015 to June 1, 2021.

It also confirmed cases of torture and degrading treatment against 70 women who were detained in secret and public prisons of the Houthi militia.

This amounted to false charges against their honor, as well as trafficking in their honor – according to what was reported – in the testimonies of some of the released women, the group said, leading to some of them to commit suicide.


COVID-19, Palestine and Iranian nukes feature in first day of UN General Assembly speeches

COVID-19, Palestine and Iranian nukes feature in first day of UN General Assembly speeches
Updated 22 September 2021

COVID-19, Palestine and Iranian nukes feature in first day of UN General Assembly speeches

COVID-19, Palestine and Iranian nukes feature in first day of UN General Assembly speeches
  • The leaders of the US, Egypt and Turkey raised the issue of Palestinian rights and statehood, and called for a just and comprehensive solution
  • Iran’s president took aim at Washington, saying it has ‘no credibility; Qatar’s emir hailed the resolution of the dispute with neighboring countries

NEW YORK: The COVID-19 pandemic dominated the first day of speeches by world leaders during the 76th session of the UN General Assembly. But some also took the opportunity to raise the question of Palestinian statehood and express their fears about Iran’s nuclear ambitions. 

The leaders of the US, Egypt, Turkey, Qatar and Iran were among the premiers who addressed the UNGA on Tuesday. The speeches continued late into the evening, with many running over their allotted 15-minute slots.

US President Joe Biden declared that the US is back on the world stage and remains committed to multilateralism. As evidence of this he cited the nation’s return to the Paris Climate Agreement and its contribution to the international Covax vaccine-sharing initiative.

“Already, the United States has put more than $15 billion toward the global COVID response,” said Biden, who was making his first in-person speech to the UN as president. “We’ve shipped more than 160 million doses of COVID-19 vaccine to other countries. This includes 130 million doses from our own supply,” with “no strings attached.”

Moving on to other issues, he called for the establishment of a sovereign and independent Palestinian state, saying that this is the “best way” to safeguard Israel’s future.

“We must seek a future of greater peace and security for all people of the Middle East,” Biden said. “The commitment of the United States to Israel’s security is without question, and our support for an independent Jewish state is unequivocal.

“But I continue to believe that a two-state solution is the best way to ensure Israel’s future as a Jewish democratic state, living in peace alongside a viable, sovereign and democratic Palestinian state.

“We’re a long way from that goal at this moment but we should never allow ourselves to give up on the possibility of progress.”

On the issue of Iran’s nuclear program, Biden said: “We’re prepared to return to full compliance (with the 2015 Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, commonly known as the Iran nuclear deal) if Iran does the same.”

Egyptian President Abdel Fattah El-Sisi also addressed the issue of Palestinian statehood.

“There can be no stability in the Middle East without a just, lasting, and comprehensive solution for the Palestinian question, which remains the central cause of instability for the Arab region,” he said. “This must happen in accordance with international resolutions to establish a Palestinian state along the June 4, 1967 border, with East Jerusalem as its capital.

“Egypt also calls upon the international community to take the necessary measures to improve the living conditions of the Palestinian people.”

Turning his attention to matters closer to home, El-Sisi said Egypt is “immensely proud” of its African identity but decried the lack of progress in negotiations over the Ethiopian Grand Renaissance Dam project. Located upriver on the Nile, Egyptian authorities say it threatens their country’s existence due to its reliance on Nile water.

In his prerecorded speech, Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi, who assumed office this year, took aim at the US over its withdrawal from Afghanistan and the Capitol riots in Washington on Jan. 6, saying that America has “no credibility.”

He also blamed American authorities for causing the COVID-19 crisis in Iran, accusing them of preventing the country from obtaining vaccine supplies. He failed to mention that in January, Iranian Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei banned the import of Western-produced vaccines, falsely claiming they could not be trusted. The ban was subsequently reversed but left Iran facing relentless waves of COVID-19 infections.

Raisi also attempted to convince world leaders that his country does not seek to develop nuclear weapons. “Nukes have no place in our defense doctrine and deterrence policy,” he said.

He also made a plea for sanctions relief, saying: “The Islamic Republic considers useful the talks whose ultimate outcome is the lifting of all oppressive sanctions.”

The leaders of Qatar and Turkey called on the international community to cooperate in delivering vaccines to the world’s most vulnerable countries.

Qatari Emir Tamim bin Hamad Al-Thani also urged the world to take action to fight what he called the “other pandemic:” COVID-19 misinformation.

He also celebrated his country’s return to the fold of Middle East diplomacy in January, after a dispute with a number of neighboring countries, including Saudi Arabia, was resolved through the AlUla declaration.

“We have repeatedly stressed the importance of the Gulf Cooperation Council, and our commitment to settling any differences through constructive dialogue,” he said. “The AlUla declaration came as an embodiment of the principle of settling differences through dialogue.”

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said his country would soon start to provide vaccines produced there to the international community. He also echoed the comments by other leaders about the importance of working to find a lasting solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

Heads of state will continue to address the General Assembly throughout the week. The speech by Saudi Arabia’s King Salman is scheduled to take place on Wednesday.