Prince Philip and the Gulf: The story of an enduring friendship

Picture taken on September 26, 1952 in Balmoral castle park showing Queen Elizabeth II walking along with her daughter Princess Ann (2nd R), Prince Philip (R), King Faisal II of Iraq (2nd L) and the regent of Iraq. (AFP/File Photo)
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Picture taken on September 26, 1952 in Balmoral castle park showing Queen Elizabeth II walking along with her daughter Princess Ann (2nd R), Prince Philip (R), King Faisal II of Iraq (2nd L) and the regent of Iraq. (AFP/File Photo)
The British Royal Family walk in the park of Balmoral castle along with King Faisal II of Iraq, on September 26, 1952. (AFP/File Photo)
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The British Royal Family walk in the park of Balmoral castle along with King Faisal II of Iraq, on September 26, 1952. (AFP/File Photo)
King Hussein of Jordan (2nd L) and his wife Queen Dina (R) pose with Queen Elizabeth II (L),  Prince Philip, Prince Charles and Princess Anne on June 19, 1955 at Windsor Castle. (AFP/File Photo)
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King Hussein of Jordan (2nd L) and his wife Queen Dina (R) pose with Queen Elizabeth II (L), Prince Philip, Prince Charles and Princess Anne on June 19, 1955 at Windsor Castle. (AFP/File Photo)
The Queen Elizabeth II and the Prince Philip pose with Iran Shah Mohammad Reza Pahlavi and his wife Farah Pahlavi during their state visit, March 1961 in Tehran. (AFP/File Photo)
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The Queen Elizabeth II and the Prince Philip pose with Iran Shah Mohammad Reza Pahlavi and his wife Farah Pahlavi during their state visit, March 1961 in Tehran. (AFP/File Photo)
Britain's Queen Elizabeth II (L-R) with King Abdullah ll and Queen Rania of Jordan and the Duke of Edinburgh pose before attending a State Banquet at Windsor Castle 06 November 2001. (AFP/File Photo)
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Britain's Queen Elizabeth II (L-R) with King Abdullah ll and Queen Rania of Jordan and the Duke of Edinburgh pose before attending a State Banquet at Windsor Castle 06 November 2001. (AFP/File Photo)
Britain's Queen Elizabeth II (L) and her husband Prince Philip (R) stand next to the President of the UAE Sheikh Khalifa bin Zayed Al-Nahayan during a Ceremonial Welcome in the town of Windsor on April 30, 2013. (AFP/File Photo)
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Britain's Queen Elizabeth II (L) and her husband Prince Philip (R) stand next to the President of the UAE Sheikh Khalifa bin Zayed Al-Nahayan during a Ceremonial Welcome in the town of Windsor on April 30, 2013. (AFP/File Photo)
King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia (R) talks with Queen Elizabeth II (C) and The Duke of Edinburgh (L) before the State Banquet at Buckingham Palace in London after the first day of the Saudi King's visit. (AFP/File Photo)
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King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia (R) talks with Queen Elizabeth II (C) and The Duke of Edinburgh (L) before the State Banquet at Buckingham Palace in London after the first day of the Saudi King's visit. (AFP/File Photo)
King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia, (front center) accompanied by Britain's Prince Philip, (Front R) reviews a Guard of Honor in Horse Guards, before a state carriage procession along the Mall, in London, 30 October 2007. (AFP/File Photo)
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King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia, (front center) accompanied by Britain's Prince Philip, (Front R) reviews a Guard of Honor in Horse Guards, before a state carriage procession along the Mall, in London, 30 October 2007. (AFP/File Photo)
Britain's Queen Elizabeth II (3rd L) and Prince Philip (L) welcome King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia (2nd L) to Buckingham Palace in London, 30 October 2007. (AFP/File Photo)
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Britain's Queen Elizabeth II (3rd L) and Prince Philip (L) welcome King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia (2nd L) to Buckingham Palace in London, 30 October 2007. (AFP/File Photo)
Britain's Queen Elizabeth II (3rd R) and Prince Philip (2nd R) greet Bahrain's King Hamad bin Issa Al-Khalifa (2nd L) and Sheikha Sabika bint Ibrahim Al-Khalifa (3rd L) at Windsor Castle on May 18, 2012. (AFP/File Photo)
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Britain's Queen Elizabeth II (3rd R) and Prince Philip (2nd R) greet Bahrain's King Hamad bin Issa Al-Khalifa (2nd L) and Sheikha Sabika bint Ibrahim Al-Khalifa (3rd L) at Windsor Castle on May 18, 2012. (AFP/File Photo)
Britain's Queen Elizabeth II and her husband Prince Philip (L) stand with Abu Dhabi Crown Prince Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed Al-Nahayan upon their arrival to visit the Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque in the Emirati capital on November 24, 2010. (AFP/File Photo)
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Britain's Queen Elizabeth II and her husband Prince Philip (L) stand with Abu Dhabi Crown Prince Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed Al-Nahayan upon their arrival to visit the Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque in the Emirati capital on November 24, 2010. (AFP/File Photo)
Oman's Sultan Qaboos bin Said welcomes Britain's Queen Elizabeth II and her husband Prince Philip (C) upon their arrival at Muscat on November 25, 2010 following her trip to the UAE. (AFP/File Photo)
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Oman's Sultan Qaboos bin Said welcomes Britain's Queen Elizabeth II and her husband Prince Philip (C) upon their arrival at Muscat on November 25, 2010 following her trip to the UAE. (AFP/File Photo)
Britain's Queen Elizabeth ll and her husband the Duke of Edinburgh (L) are welcomed by Omani Sultan Qaboos bin Said (R) at an official welcoming ceremony ceremony on November 26, 2010, in Muscat. (AFP/File Photo)
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Britain's Queen Elizabeth ll and her husband the Duke of Edinburgh (L) are welcomed by Omani Sultan Qaboos bin Said (R) at an official welcoming ceremony ceremony on November 26, 2010, in Muscat. (AFP/File Photo)
Britain’s' Queen Elizabeth II and her husband Prince Philip (L) attends an equestrian show which included the Omani Royal Cavalry in the presence of Oman’s leader Sultan Qaboos bin Said (R) at Madinat al-Hidayat on November 27, 2010. (AFP/File Photo)
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Britain’s' Queen Elizabeth II and her husband Prince Philip (L) attends an equestrian show which included the Omani Royal Cavalry in the presence of Oman’s leader Sultan Qaboos bin Said (R) at Madinat al-Hidayat on November 27, 2010. (AFP/File Photo)
The Queen and Duke of Edinburgh stand next to the then-Crown Prince of Saudi Arabia, Prince Abdullah Bin Abdul Aziz Al-Saud, after he arrived at Balmoral Castle for lunch during a visit to the UK. (AFP/File Photo)
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The Queen and Duke of Edinburgh stand next to the then-Crown Prince of Saudi Arabia, Prince Abdullah Bin Abdul Aziz Al-Saud, after he arrived at Balmoral Castle for lunch during a visit to the UK. (AFP/File Photo)
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Updated 13 April 2021

Prince Philip and the Gulf: The story of an enduring friendship

King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia (R) talks with Queen Elizabeth II (C) and The Duke of Edinburgh (L) before the State Banquet at Buckingham Palace in London after the first day of the Saudi King's visit. (AFP/File Photo)
  • The royal couple attached special importance to maintaining Britain’s historic relationship with Gulf monarchies
  • In February 1965 Prince Philip flew to Riyadh as guest of King Faisal, and returned with the queen in 1979 on a state visit

LONDON: The death on Friday of Britain’s Prince Philip, the “strength and stay” of Queen Elizabeth II through the long years of her reign, is being mourned throughout the world, and nowhere more so than in the Gulf states, with which the royal couple had such an enduring and warm relationship.

The leaders of Saudi Arabia, Bahrain and Oman sent messages of condolence to the queen.

From the UAE, cables were sent by President Sheikh Khalifa bin Zayed Al-Nahyan; Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al-Maktoum, UAE prime minister and ruler of Dubai; and Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed Al-Nahyan, Crown Prince of Abu Dhabi.

In his condolence message to the queen, the British government and the people, Bahrain’s King Hamad bin Isa Al-Khalifa lauded Philip’s efforts to serve the UK and its friendly people. An Oman News Agency statement said “Sultan Haitham bin Tarik sent a cable of condolences to Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II, Queen of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland and the President of the Commonwealth.”

Born on June 10, 1921, the Duke of Edinburgh’s death — he had recently spent a month in hospital — came just two months short of his 100th birthday. His was a remarkable century.

PRINCE PHILIP: KEY DATES

* June 10, 1921 - Born on Greek island of Corfu.

* Dec 5, 1922 - Family flees to Paris when King Constantine I is overthrown.

* 1939 - Joins the Royal Navy.

* 1947 - Renounces Greek, Danish royal titles, becomes naturalized Briton.

* 1947 - Marries Princess Elizabeth at Westminster Abbey, becomes Duke of Edinburgh.

* 1952 - Wife Elizabeth becomes queen.

* 1956 - Founds Duke of Edinburgh Award, a youth self-improvement scheme.

* 1961 - Becomes first president of the World Wildlife Fund UK.

* 2017 - Steps back from royal duties, age 96.

* April 9, 2021 - Dies at Windsor Castle, age 99.

Born in Corfu as Prince Philip of Greece and Denmark, in 1939 he joined the British Royal Navy and served with distinction during the Second World War, seeing action in the North Sea, Indian Ocean and the Mediterranean, where he took part in the Battle of Crete.

He was mentioned in despatches for his service during the Battle of Cape Matapan, which also earned him the Greek War Cross, and on board the HMS Wallace he took part in the Allied invasion of Sicily.

On board the destroyer HMS Whelp with the British Pacific Fleet, he was present in Tokyo Bay to witness the formal surrender of the Japanese on Sept. 2, 1945, and the end of the Second World War.

As Prince Philip of Greece and Denmark, he had first met Princess Elizabeth, Britain’s future Queen, in 1934. At the outbreak of war, Philip, then 18, and the 13-year-old Princess began writing to each other. As he sailed the world with the Royal Navy, and she served with the Auxiliary Territorial Service (ATS), the women’s branch of the British Army, and braved the bombs of the Blitz, their letters raised each other’s spirits and they became firm friends.

INNUMBERS

* 143 - Countries visited by Prince Philip in official capacity.

* 22,191 - Solo engagements as longest-serving consort in UK history.

In July 1947, two years after the cessation of hostilities, they became engaged.

Before the engagement was announced, the prince renounced his Greek and Danish titles, adopted his maternal grandparents’ name, Mountbatten, and became a naturalized British subject.

With his dashing good looks and outstanding military record, the queen’s fiance immediately won the hearts of the British public.

On the eve of the wedding — a glittering ceremony at Westminster Abbey in London on Nov. 20, 1947, that raised the spirits not only of the British, but also a war-weary British Empire — Philip was appointed Duke of Edinburgh by the princess’s father, King George VI, and granted the title His Royal Highness.




King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia, (front center) accompanied by Britain's Prince Philip, (Front R) reviews a Guard of Honor in Horse Guards, before a state carriage procession along the Mall, in London, 30 October 2007. (AFP/File Photo)

On Feb. 6, 1952, a few days after the prince and the princess had set out on their first tour of the Commonwealth, the couple received the news that Elizabeth’s father, the king, had died.

They flew straight home and from that moment on the man who had served Britain so valiantly throughout the Second World War had a new, vitally important role to play.

For the next 69 years, the great, great-grandchild of Queen Victoria would never be far from Queen Elizabeth’s side, supporting her in everything she did, from entertaining visiting heads of state to making state visits around the world.




The Queen and Duke of Edinburgh stand next to the then-Crown Prince of Saudi Arabia, Prince Abdullah Bin Abdul Aziz Al-Saud, after he arrived at Balmoral Castle for lunch during a visit to the UK. (AFP/File Photo)

A terrific conversationalist, with a quick wit, dry sense of humor and mischievous disregard for stuffy protocol, it was often Philip who put a human face on the potentially intimidating countenance of monarchy, lightening the mood and putting at ease all those daunted by the prospect of meeting the Queen.

Throughout those years both Queen Elizabeth and Prince Philip attached a special importance to maintaining Britain’s special relationship with the monarchies of the Gulf.

State visits by Queen Elizabeth II and Prince Philip to Arab countries

* Kuwait: Feb. 12-14, 1979.

* Bahrain: Feb. 14-17, 1979.

* Saudi Arabia: Feb 17-20, 1979.

* Qatar: Feb. 21-24, 1979.

* UAE: Feb. 24-27, 1979.

* Oman: Feb. 28-March 2, 1979.

* Tunisia: Oct. 21-23, 1980.

* Algeria: Oct. 25-27, 1980.

* Morocco: Oct. 27-30, 1980.

* Jordan: March 26-30, 1984.

* UAE: Nov. 24-25, 2010.

* Oman: Nov. 25-28, 2010.

In one early solo visit to the region, in February 1965 Prince Philip flew to Riyadh as the guest of Saudi Arabia’s King Faisal. Two years later, King Faisal renewed his acquaintance with the prince when he made a state visit to London.

For over 150 years Britain had had the closest ties, sealed by treaties signed in the 19th century, with what it termed the Trucial States, but on Dec. 1, 1971, those treaties were revoked.




Britain's Queen Elizabeth II (L) and her husband Prince Philip (R) stand next to the President of the UAE Sheikh Khalifa bin Zayed Al-Nahayan during a Ceremonial Welcome in the town of Windsor on April 30, 2013. (AFP/File Photo)

Led by Sheikh Zayed bin Sultan Al-Nahyan, the ruler of Abu Dhabi, the Trucial States became the United Arab Emirates. However, the bonds between Britain and the Gulf states, and between the monarchy of Britain and the crowns of all the Gulf states, remained strong, thanks in no small part to the efforts of the royal couple.

Key Britain-Saudi royal visit dates

* May, 9-17, 1967: King Faisal makes UK state visit.

* Feb. 17-20, 1979: Queen Elizabeth II and Prince Philip visit Saudi Arabia.

* June, 9-12, 1981: King Khalid makes UK state visit.

* March 24-27, 1987: Saudi Arabia’s King Fahd makes UK state visit.

* Oct. 30-Nov. 1, 2007: King Abdullah makes UK state visit.

In 1979 Prince Philip was by the queen’s side when she visited the UAE, entertaining Sheikh Zayed on board the Royal Yacht Britannia, which had sailed to the Gulf for the occasion.

Thirty-one years later, there was a poignancy to the occasion when Queen Elizabeth and Prince Philip returned to Abu Dhabi in 2010, to visit Sheikh Zayed’s tomb and Grand Mosque in the company of his son, Abu Dhabi Crown Prince Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed Al-Nahayan.




Britain's Queen Elizabeth II and her husband Prince Philip (L) stand with Abu Dhabi Crown Prince Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed Al-Nahayan upon their arrival to visit the Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque in the Emirati capital on November 24, 2010. (AFP/File Photo)

Some of the photographs in the album of Prince Philip’s many meetings with the states and leaders of the Middle East are overshadowed by the events that followed.

A black-and-white photograph taken on Sept. 26, 1952, for example, shows Philip, holding the hand of his daughter, Princess Ann, walking in the grounds of Balmoral Castle in Scotland with the Queen and their guests, the young King Faisal II and Prince Abdullah, the regent of Iraq. Both men, along with members of their family and staff, were brutally murdered in July 1958 when Faisal was overthrown in a bloody coup.

In March 1961, the royal couple flew to Iran for a state visit to a country that 18 years later would undergo a shocking transformation. Photographs of the visit show Prince Philip and Shah Mohammad Reza Pahlavi grinning broadly alongside the queen and Farah Pahlavi at a state occasion. In 1979 the Iranian monarchy would be swept aside by an Islamic revolution that would send shockwaves around the region.

State visits by Middle East and North African leaders to the UK

* July 16-19, 1956: Iraq’s King Faisal II.

* May 5-8, 1959: Iran’s Shah Mohammad Reza Pahlavi.

* July 19-28, 1966: Jordan’s King Hussein I and Princess Muna.

* May, 9-17, 1967: Saudi Arabia’s King Faisal.

* June, 9-12, 1981: Saudi Arabia’s King Khalid.

* March, 16-19, 1982: Oman’s Sultan Qaboos.

* April, 10-13, 1984: Bahrain’s Emir Sheikh Isa.

* Nov. 12-15, 1985: Qatar’s Emir Sheikh Khalifa.

* March 24-27, 1987: Saudi Arabia’s King Fahd.

* July 14-17, 1987: Morocco’s King Hassan II.

* July 18-21, 1989: UAE’s President Sheikh Zayed.

* July 23-26, 1991: Egypt’s President Hosni Mubarak and First Lady Suzanne Mubarak.

* May 23-26, 1995: Kuwait’s Emir Sheikh Jaber.

* Nov. 6-9, 2001: Jordan’s King Abdullah II and Queen Rania.

* Oct. 30-Nov. 1, 2007: Saudi Arabia’s King Abdullah.

* Oct. 25-28, 2010: Qatar’s Emir Sheikh Hamad.

* Nov. 27-29, 2012: Kuwait’s Emir Sheikh Sabah.

* April 30-May 1, 2013: UAE’s President Sheikh Khalifa.

But in the main, the photographic record of Prince Philip’s long relationship with the region evokes only happy memories — such as of the honeymoon visit to Britain in 1955 of King Hussein of Jordan and his wife Queen Dina, the four-day state visit to Britain in 2001 of King Abdullah and Queen Rania of Jordan, and the state visit of King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia in 2007.

The happy, laughing faces in so many of the photographs taken of Prince Philip over the years, whether on state visits or during walkabouts, also captured something of the essence of the man and the part he played in maintaining the bonds between royal families, and helping to make the monarchy accessible.

Queen Elizabeth, in a speech to mark the couple’s golden wedding anniversary in 1997, put it this way: “He has, quite simply, been my strength and stay all these years, and I, and his whole family, and this and many other countries, owe him a debt greater than he would ever claim or we shall ever know.”

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Twitter: @JonathanGornall


Lebanon MPs hide in fear of Hezbollah assassins

Lebanon MPs hide in fear of Hezbollah assassins
Updated 17 October 2021

Lebanon MPs hide in fear of Hezbollah assassins

Lebanon MPs hide in fear of Hezbollah assassins
  • Crisis surrounds probe being conducted by Judge Tarek Bitar, who wants to question former and serving ministers linked to Hezbollah and the allied Amal Party about their responsibility for the deadly port blast

BEIRUT: Members of parliament hid in their homes on Saturday in fear of assassination by Hezbollah gunmen as new turmoil in Lebanon threatened to spiral out of control.

Security services advised MPs from the Lebanese Forces party not to venture out amid growing tension over a judicial investigation into the Beirut port explosion in August 2020, which killed more than 200 people and devastated swaths of Beirut.

“Yes, this advice was given to the MPs of the Lebanese Forces,” party media chief Charles Jabbour told Arab News. “There is fear of them being exposed to assassination and murder, which Hezbollah has practiced before. The solution requires that Hezbollah hand over its weapons to the state.”

The crisis surrounds the investigation being conducted by Judge Tarek Bitar, who wants to question former and serving ministers linked to Hezbollah and the allied Amal Party about their responsibility for the deadly port blast. The ministers claim the judge’s actions are political, and have refused to cooperate.

Opinion

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Tensions erupted into violence last Thursday, when seven people were killed after gunfire erupted during a Hezbollah and Amal protest against the investigation in a mainly Christian area of central Beirut.

Justice Minister Henry El-Khoury said on Saturday he supported Judge Bitar, who had the right to summon whoever he wanted in the case. “I stand by the ... investigator,” El-Khoury said. He said he did not have the authority to replace Bitar, and faced no pressure to do so.

The minister held crisis talks on Saturday to discuss the investigation with Prime Minister Najib Mikati, Supreme Judicial Council president Suhail Abboud and public prosecutor Ghassan Oueidat. They decided to invite Bitar to a meeting of the council on Tuesday.

“Judge Abboud is committed to judicial, not political, approaches to resolving the problem,” a judicial source told Arab News.

There was also support for Bitar’s investigation from a surprising source —  former Foreign Minister Gebran Bassil, leader of the Free Patriotic Movement, Lebanon’s largest Christian bloc. “The Free Patriotic Movement is for continuing the probe, revealing the truth and putting those responsible on trial,” Bassil said on Saturday.

Bassil, who is President Michel Aoun’s son-in-law and is widely thought to be angling to replace him, is under US sanctions for alleged corruption, and for having ties to Hezbollah.


Merkel vows continuity on last visit to Erdogan

Merkel vows continuity on last visit to Erdogan
Updated 17 October 2021

Merkel vows continuity on last visit to Erdogan

Merkel vows continuity on last visit to Erdogan
  • Germany, Turkey hope cooperation prospers between both countries

ISTANBUL: Chancellor Angela Merkel on Saturday vowed continuity in Germany’s relations with Turkey that included both cooperation and criticism of Ankara as she paid her final visit to President Recep Tayyip Erdogan.

Merkel and Erdogan developed complex but close relations over the German chancellor’s 16-year term that navigated the perils of Turkey’s tumultuous ties with the West.

Their personal bond was instrumental in helping Europe manage a refugee crisis in 2016 and calm simmering tensions in the east Mediterranean last year.

Merkel also helped iron out some of the difficulties that have crept into Erdogan’s relations with Washington and French President Emmanuel Macron.

The two leaders had lunch and private talks in a presidential villa overlooking the Bosphorus on the latest leg of Merkel’s parting foreign tour.

“I have always said that our collaboration was very good in the years that I worked with Mr. Erdogan,” Merkel told reporters after the talks.

The 67-year-old German leader said her “advice” to Turkey today was to expect “the same thing for the coming government in Germany.

“The relationship between Turkey and Germany, with its negative and positive sides, will go on. It will be recognised by the next government,” she said.

Erdogan referred to Merkel as his “dear friend” twice during the closing media event.

But he also hinted at the difficulties Turkey might have in promoting its interests after Merkel formally gives way to a new coalition government taking shape in Berlin following elections last month.

“If there had been no coalition government, (Germany’s) relations with Turkey might have been easier. Of course, it is not easy to work with a coalition government,” Erdogan said.

Erdogan headed Turkey as prime minister when Merkel became the first woman to head Germany in 2005.

The two have since shared a long list of differences and numerous testy exchanges on issues ranging from Turkey’s crackdown on human rights to its military campaigns in Syria and Libya.

But Germany also played a central role in defusing a crisis in the east Mediterranean last year that erupted when Turkey began searching for natural gas in disputed waters claimed by Cyprus and Greece.

Analysts say Merkel was more sympathetic to Erdogan’s position because of the presence of an estimated 3 million ethnic Turks in Germany.

She has also been sensitive to Erdogan’s threats to let an estimated 5 million migrants and refugees temporarily living in Turkey under a 2016 deal with the EU to leave for Europe unless Ankara’s interests are respected by Brussels.

After admitting hundreds of thousands of refugees to Germany in 2015, she stressed Turkey’s role in preventing a repeat of such large-scale migration to Europe and helped engineer a deal for Turkey to stem the flow of people seeking to cross the Aegean Sea.

“Their relations were very difficult in many respects but they managed to establish and maintain working cooperation,” analyst Gunter Seufert of the German Institute for Security and International Affairs told AFP.

Seufert predicted that the new German government will be more “sceptical” about extending the terms of the Turkey-EU agreement on migrants or continuing arms sales to Ankara — particularly submarines.

“With the new chancellor, no matter who they will be ... it will be more difficult to coordinate the European policy with Turkey to the level and degree Angela Merkel did.”


Sudan prime minister announces steps to move out of political crisis

Sudan prime minister announces steps to move out of political crisis
Updated 17 October 2021

Sudan prime minister announces steps to move out of political crisis

Sudan prime minister announces steps to move out of political crisis
  • Tensions between the civilians and generals in the transitional government have increased since the foiled coup attempt within the military

CAIRO: Sudan’s prime minister has announced a series of steps for his country’s transition to democracy less than a month after a coup attempt rocked its leadership.

In a speech, Prime Minister Abdalla Hamdok called the coup attempt an “alarm bell” that should awaken people to the causes of the country’s political and economic challenges.

“The serious political crisis that we are living in right now, I would not be exaggerating to say, is the worst and most dangerous crisis that not only threatens the transition, but threatens our whole country,” he said.

Authorities announced the coup attempt by a group of soldiers on Sept. 22, saying that it had failed. They blamed supporters of the country’s former autocrat Omar Bashir for planning the takeover.

It underscored the fragility of Sudan’s path to democracy, more than two years after the military’s overthrow of Bashir amid a massive public uprising against his three-decade rule. Sudan has since been ruled by an interim, joint civilian-military government.

Months after Bashir’s toppling, the ruling generals agreed to share power with civilians representing the protest movement.

But tensions between the civilians and generals in the transitional government have increased since the foiled coup attempt within the military.

There is wide-scale mistrust of the military leaders among the protest movement, and tens of thousands have taken to the street in the past two years to call for an immediate handover of power to civilians.

Earlier this month, the Sudanese Professionals Association, which spearheaded the nationwide uprising that kicked off in December 2018, said the interim government must end its power-sharing agreement with the military council. Their call then for demonstrations brought thousands more to the streets.

Hamdok said Friday that the root issues behind the political crisis have long been there, in an attempt to bring all parties back to the table for talks. He laid out a series of measures that he said would help speed the handover to a completely elected and civilian government.

They included repeated exhortations for groups of differing opinions to work together, and for the country’s transitional constitution and judicial bodies to be respected.

“This crisis was not created today, it did not descend upon us from the sky, and it did not surprise us at all,” he said of the recent political turmoil.


Iran’s former central bank chief gets 10-year jail term in $160 million currency fraud case

Iran’s former central bank chief gets 10-year jail term in $160 million currency fraud case
Updated 17 October 2021

Iran’s former central bank chief gets 10-year jail term in $160 million currency fraud case

Iran’s former central bank chief gets 10-year jail term in $160 million currency fraud case
  • Besides violating the currency system, Valliollah Seif also had a role in smuggling foreign currency

TEHRAN/JEDDAH: The former governor of Iran’s central bank was sentenced on Saturday to 10 years’ imprisonment for fraud, corruption and smuggling several million dollars in foreign currency.

Valiollah Seif, 69, headed the monetary authority under former President Hassan Rouhani from 2013 until he was dismissed in 2018, and is the first Iranian central bank governor to be indicted. He remains free pending an appeal.

In 2018, the US Treasury Department placed Seif under sanctions for helping transfer millions of dollars to Hezbollah.

Ahmad Araghchi, who was Seif’s deputy from 2017 to 2018, was sentenced to eight years in jail on the same charges. A third senior figure at the central bank, Rassoul Sajad, received a 13-year sentence for illegal foreign currency trading and taking bribes.

Eight others were also sentenced to prison terms, judiciary spokesman Zabihollah Khodaeian said. All of those convicted have the right to appeal.

Khodaeian said the three central bank officials were involved in violations of the currency market in 2016, a time when the Iranian rial sustained considerable losses in value against major foreign currencies. They illegally injected $160 million and €20 million into the market.

The rial exchange rate was at 39,000 to $1 in 2017 at the beginning of Araghchi’s time in office but it reached more than 110,000 to $1 by the time he was dismissed in 2018.

The change partly coincided with severe US sanctions imposed on Tehran.

The rial has tumbled from a rate of about 32,000 rials to $1 at the time of Iran’s 2015 nuclear deal with world powers to about 27,000 rials to $1 in recent months.

The currency unexpectedly rallied for some time after President Donald Trump’s decision to withdraw the US from the nuclear deal and reimpose crippling trade sanctions on Iran in 2018.

The sanctions have caused Iran’s oil exports, the country’s main source of income, to fall sharply.

(With AP)


How viable is the Kurds’ autonomous territory in northeast Syria?

Members of the Syrian Kurdish internal security services known as “Asayish” march in a procession ahead of the body of their fallen comrade Khalid Hajji. (AFP/File Photo)
Members of the Syrian Kurdish internal security services known as “Asayish” march in a procession ahead of the body of their fallen comrade Khalid Hajji. (AFP/File Photo)
Updated 17 October 2021

How viable is the Kurds’ autonomous territory in northeast Syria?

Members of the Syrian Kurdish internal security services known as “Asayish” march in a procession ahead of the body of their fallen comrade Khalid Hajji. (AFP/File Photo)
  • Bashar Assad appears uninterested in a more decentralized state in which the Kurds have greater autonomy
  • America’s botched Afghanistan exit might work in the Kurds’ favor if Biden wants to avoid similar scenes in Syria

MISSOURI, USA: Ilham Ahmed, head of the political wing of the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), has been lobbying Moscow and Washington to support Kurdish representation in the long-stalled, UN-backed Syrian peace process.

Ahmed, who has visited both capitals in recent weeks, also wants the country’s Kurdish-run region to be exempted from sanctions imposed under the 2019 Caesar Syria Civilian Protection Act, the US legislation that sanctioned the regime of President Bashar Assad for war crimes against the Syrian people.

But what are the Syrian Kurds hoping for, precisely, and how viable are their proposals?

Russian jets, Iran-backed fighters, Turkish-supported insurgents, Islamist radicals, US troops and Syrian government forces, as well as the Kurdish People’s Protection Units (YPG), operate across the patchwork of territories that constitute northern Syria.

The US views the YPG as a key ally in the fight against Daesh in northeastern Syria while Russia has forces in the area to support President Assad.

While some media outlets reported that Ahmed, as the president of the executive committee of the Syrian Democratic Council (SDC), was lobbying for American or Russian support for the creation of a breakaway state, the Syrian Kurds are not actually pushing for such a maximalist goal.

The Syrian Kurdish parties are sympathetic to the ideology of jailed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) leader Abdullah Ocalan. They say they reject nationalism, secession and statism in general, in line with Ocalan’s post-2001 writings.

At the same time, however, Syrian Kurdish organizations appear to be establishing all the trappings of their own separate state in the territory they control.

Their military forces — including the SDF, the YPG and the YPJ, the YPG’s all-female militia — are working assiduously to establish and maintain their monopoly on the use of force in the northeast.

They have clashed not only with Turkish forces and various Islamist extremist groups in the area, but also on occasion with Kurdish armed groups, the military forces of the Assad regime, Free Syrian Army rebels and others.

A member of the Kurdish internal security services known as Asayish stands guard during a demonstration by Syrian Kurds against the Turkish assault on northeastern Syria and in support of the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), in Syria's northeastern city of Qamishli. (AFP/File Photo)

Competing political parties in the territories under their control have likewise faced pressure, or outright bans, as the SDC and its ally, the Democratic Union Party (PYD), seek to bring everyone under the same institutional and governing structures that they created and dominate.

In some ways the Kurds of the SDC and PYD have proven to be very liberal, happily welcoming Arab tribes, Christians, Yezidis, Armenians, Turkmen and other groups and ethnicities into their ranks and governing structures.

However, they appear much less accepting and tolerant of those who seek to operate outside of the “democratic autonomy” political umbrella they have established.

With their own security forces, political institutions, schools and a variety of party-established civil-society organizations, it does at times look as though the Syrian Kurds are intent on creating their own separate state. But what choice did they have after the outbreak of civil war in Syria in 2011?

The Assad regime had brutally repressed Kurds for decades prior to the war. After Assad withdrew his forces and much of the Syrian government’s personnel from northeast Syria early in the conflict, to focus on the western and southern parts of the country where the rebel threat appeared the greatest, someone had to fill the resultant vacuum.

Syrian Kurdish women carry party flags, as they take part in a rally in support of the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) and the People's Protection Forces. (AFP/File Photo)

PKK-aligned Syrian Kurdish groups moved in to defend the area against Daesh and other extremist groups that were trying to take over. They fought extremely hard against the radical Islamists, handing Daesh its first defeat, in Kobani in 2014.

Freed from the regime’s iron grip for the first time in their lives, the Kurds seized the opportunity to establish Kurdish and other minority-language programs, cultural centers, schools and institutions.

Fearing the malign “divide and conquer” tactics of neighboring powers, the new Syrian Kurdish authorities rejected attempts by other Kurdish parties, particularly those under the influence of Iraqi Kurdistan’s regional government, and Arab rebel groups to establish competing parties and militias in their hard-won territory.

Authorities in Turkey, meanwhile, were concerned by what they saw as an emerging PKK-controlled proto-state on their southern border. Through three military incursions in the last five years that displaced hundreds of thousands of ethnic Kurds, Ankara seized hundreds of kilometers of the border strip and pushed around 30 km into northern Syria.

In 2018, Moscow appeared to greenlight the Turkish invasion of Afrin, which at the time was under SDF/YPG/PYD control, withdrawing its troops and allowing Turkish jets to operate in air space previously controlled by Russia.

Woman watch from a rooftop as US troops patrol in 2020 along the streets of the Syrian town of Al-Jawadiyah and meet the inhabitants, in the northeastern Hasakeh province, near the border with Turkey. (AFP/File Photo)

The following year, Washington appeared to do the same, withdrawing US troops from the Tal Abyad area on the border with Turkey just before the Turkish invasion.

These incursions have left the Syrian Kurdish administration in a serious bind. Without American support and the presence of a token US tripwire force, Turkey could well expand its area of control in northern Syria.

Just this week, President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said Turkey was determined to eliminate alleged threats originating in northern Syria and that a suspected YPG attack that killed two Turkish police officers in Azaz was “the final straw.”

Meanwhile, the Assad regime appears uninterested in any proposals for a “more decentralized Syrian state” in which parts of the northeast would remain nominally a part of the state but actually fall under Syrian Kurdish control.

Ahmed’s recent diplomatic forays have therefore focused on Moscow and Washington. In the former, the Syrian Kurds hope to convince the Russians to cajole the Assad regime into some sort of a compromise that would safeguard as much autonomy in northeastern Syria as possible. In the latter they aim to secure a US commitment not to abandon them again.

Cars drive past election campaign billboards depicting Syrian President Bashar Al-Assad, a candidate for the upcoming presidential vote, in the capital Damascus, on May 24, 2021. (AFP/File Photo)

Ahmed outlined her hopes during a conference hosted by the Washington Institute on Sept. 29.

“The Syrian Democratic Council seeks a lasting political solution to the conflict, advocating internal dialogue and, ultimately, political and cultural decentralization that respects the country’s diversity and bolsters economic development,” she said.

“Continued support from our partner, the US, is crucial to this mission. The Autonomous Administration of North and East Syria faces numerous obstacles, including insecurity, poverty, foreign intervention, and terrorism.

“In addition, the Geneva peace process and constitutional process have stalled. The US could help alleviate these issues in the pursuit of a more stable Syria free of despotism, proxy conflicts and terror.”

America’s chaotic exit from Afghanistan in August undoubtedly will have unnerved Syrian Kurds already apprehensive about their own future. Assad, Turkey and Daesh would all welcome a similar US withdrawal from northeastern Syria.

It is unlikely the “Autonomous Administration of North and East Syria,” the governing body of which is the SDC, would be able to hold up against such combined pressures.

US troops patrol along the streets of the Syrian town of Al-Jawadiyah. (AFP/File Photo)

However, the botched American withdrawal from Afghanistan might actually work in Syrian Kurds’ favor, as the Biden administration will probably try to avoid a similar embarrassment in Syria any time soon.

Following meetings in Washington last month with representatives of the White House, State Department and Pentagon, Ahmed seems to have received a reassuring response.

“They (the Americans) promised to do whatever it takes to destroy Islamic State (Daesh) and work to build infrastructure in northeastern Syria,” she told the Reuters news agency. “They said they are going to stay in Syria and will not withdraw — they will keep fighting Islamic State.”

She added: “Before, they were unclear under Trump and during the Afghan withdrawal, but this time they made everything clear.”

With no change of attitudes in Damascus or Ankara, the Syrian Kurds are left with little choice but to continue to rely on the American presence, cooperation and support. At best, they can extend the status quo and the longevity of their precarious autonomy.

If they can convince Washington and Russia to help them reopen the crossings on the border with Iraq, exempt them from the sanctions designed to target the Assad regime, and allow the delivery of international aid directly to their enclave, rather than being routed through Damascus with the result that it rarely reaches the northeast, then the political and economic situation will improve.

Without a more durable political solution on the horizon, this is probably the best the Syrian Kurds can hope for.

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* David Romano is Thomas G. Strong professor of Middle East politics at Missouri State University