El-Sisi affirms Egypt’s support for new Tunisian government

During his meeting with Tunisian Prime Minister Najla Bouden, El-Sisi expressed his wishes for the government’s success. (Reuters/File Photos)
During his meeting with Tunisian Prime Minister Najla Bouden, El-Sisi expressed his wishes for the government’s success. (Reuters/File Photos)
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Updated 13 November 2021

El-Sisi affirms Egypt’s support for new Tunisian government

During his meeting with Tunisian Prime Minister Najla Bouden, El-Sisi expressed his wishes for the government’s success. (Reuters/File Photos)
  • Bouden extended the greetings of the Tunisian president and expressed appreciation for Egypt’s support for her country

CAIRO: Egyptian President Abdel Fattah El-Sisi has affirmed Cairo’s support for efforts by Tunisia’s new government to achieve national stability and development.

During his meeting with Tunisian Prime Minister Najla Bouden, El-Sisi expressed his wishes for the government’s success in overcoming the various challenges facing the country.

El-Sisi also affirmed Egypt’s readiness to offer all possible help to Tunisia, and to develop cooperation in order to consolidate the two countries’ historically brotherly relations.

Bassam Rady, spokesman for the Egyptian presidency, said the meeting emphasized the common desire to strengthen cooperation frameworks and channels of communication, especially at the political and security levels, and to exchange information on combating terrorism and extremist ideology. 

The meeting also touched on regional issues of common interest, especially the situation in Libya.

The two sides agreed on the importance of strengthening relevant coordination frameworks given that Egypt and Tunisia share an extended border with Libya.

There was an emphasis on supporting efforts to achieve security and stability in Libya by implementing relevant UN and international agreements.

The latest developments regarding Ethiopia’s Renaissance Dam were also reviewed. El-Sisi expressed his appreciation for Tunisia’s support for Egypt’s position on the need for a comprehensive and legally binding agreement on filling and operating the dam. 

Bouden extended the greetings of the Tunisian president and expressed appreciation for Egypt’s support for her country. 

She also affirmed Tunisia’s pride in its close relations with Egypt and its interest in bolstering coordination, especially in the economic and security fields.


British MPs slam Tehran’s ‘brutal crackdown’ on water protests

Earlier this year, protests also erupted in certain southern Iranian cities because of water shortages. (Social Media/File Photo)
Earlier this year, protests also erupted in certain southern Iranian cities because of water shortages. (Social Media/File Photo)
Updated 20 sec ago

British MPs slam Tehran’s ‘brutal crackdown’ on water protests

Earlier this year, protests also erupted in certain southern Iranian cities because of water shortages. (Social Media/File Photo)
  • Cross-party group urges UK, EU, UN to impose sanctions on Iranian regime
  • ‘The Iranian people have systematically been deprived of their most fundamental rights’

LONDON: The British Committee for Iran Freedom condemned Tehran on Friday for its “brutal crackdown” on protests against water shortages.

The BCFIF — a cross-party body that includes members of both houses of Parliament, former Cabinet ministers and some 200 peers — said it stands “in solidarity with the people and farmers in Isfahan and other cities and provinces across Iran who are demanding their right to water.”

Protests began two weeks ago in the city of Isfahan then spread elsewhere after farmers staged a sit-in in the dried-out bed of the Zayanderud River.

Earlier this week, police used tear gas and batons to disperse crowds, with reports that protesters’ tents had been set on fire, and footage on social media of running clashes. It is unknown how many people have been arrested.

Water from the river had previously been diverted upstream toward several military and civilian installations, including a steel mill, an Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps base and a nuclear facility, according to the BCFIF. 

In July, protests also broke out in the southwestern province of Khuzestan over water shortages, quickly spreading to other regions of Iran.

In a statement on behalf of the BCFIF, Lord Alton of Liverpool said Tehran had “once again” reacted “with violence, ordering its security forces to crush the protests and threaten the peaceful demonstrators with arrests.”

He added: “Every human being has the right to freely access water. It is fundamental to human dignity and to life itself. The Iranian people have systematically been deprived of water and clean air in addition to their most fundamental rights and freedom including the freedom of assembly and the right to protest. 

“The Supreme Leader (Ali) Khamenei and the IRGC are primarily responsible for the destruction of Iran’s environment, the domestic repression as well as for the rooted poverty and unemployment.”

The statement urged the UK, the EU and the UN “to condemn the regime’s crackdown on protesters and impose sanctions against the regime and its leaders for destroying the environment and suppressing the people who are claiming their most basic rights.”


Tunis police fend off attack by axe-wielding extremist

Tunis police fend off attack by axe-wielding extremist
Updated 46 min 58 sec ago

Tunis police fend off attack by axe-wielding extremist

Tunis police fend off attack by axe-wielding extremist
  • Video footage taken by witnesses showed the bearded man brandishing an axe outside the interior ministry
  • Several passers-by intervene, throwing metal barriers in his path, before a police officer shoots him twice

TUNIS: A man lunged at Tunisian police with an axe and a knife in central Tunis on Friday before officers shot and wounded him with rubber-tipped bullets, witnesses and police said.
Video footage taken by witnesses showed the bearded man brandishing an axe outside the interior ministry in the central Habib Bourguiba Avenue.
Several passers-by intervene, throwing metal barriers in his path, before a police officer shoots him twice and he falls to the ground.
A police officer at the site said the “extremist” had been trying to attack security forces outside the heavily guarded ministry, which is surrounded by portable metal barriers.
“He had a knife in one hand and an axe in the other and was running toward the ministry shouting ‘Allahu akbar (God is greatest)’,” the officer said.
The interior ministry did not make any immediate official comment.
Lotfi, who witnessed the incident, said police “threw barriers at him but he continued to run and threaten police with his knife and his axe.”
Members of the public can be heard in video footage of the incident shouting at police to shoot the man.
A police officer told AFP the man had been shot with rubber-tipped bullets and taken to hospital.
Tunisia saw several deadly jihadist attacks following its 2011 revolution that overthrew longtime dictator Zine El Abidine ben Ali, notably in 2015 when 38 people, mostly Britons, were killed in a beachside shooting rampage.
The last deadly attack took place in September last year, when attackers with knives killed a Tunisian National Guard officer and wounded another Sunday before three assailants were later shot dead in a firefight.
Friday’s incident comes four months after President Kais Saied seized far-reaching powers amid a deepening economic and political crisis.


UN decries attack on court in Libya ahead of national vote

UN decries attack on court in Libya ahead of national vote
Updated 26 November 2021

UN decries attack on court in Libya ahead of national vote

UN decries attack on court in Libya ahead of national vote
  • On Thursday, armed men surrounded the court in Sabha and prevented judges from convening to look into Seif al-Islam Gadhafi's appeal
  • The country's electoral body had deemed Seif al-Islam ineligible to take part in the presidential race set for next month

CAIRO: The UN mission in Libya condemned on Friday an attack by armed men on an appeals court as it was set to re-examine an earlier decision that disqualified longtime dictator Muammar Qaddafi’s son from running for president.
On Thursday, armed men surrounded the court in the southern town of Sabha and prevented judges from convening to look into Seif Al-Islam Qaddafi’s appeal. Earlier, the country’s electoral body had deemed Seif Al-Islam ineligible to take part in the presidential race set for next month, citing his previous convictions.
“Attacks against judicial or election facilities or judicial or elections personnel are not only criminal acts, punishable under Libyan law, but also undermine Libyans’ right to participate in the political process,” tweeted the UN mission, known as UNSMIL.
Libya is to hold the first round of presidential elections on Dec. 24, after years of UN-led attempts to usher in a more democratic future and end the country’s civil war. However, the upcoming vote faces many challenges, including unresolved issues over laws governing the elections and occasional infighting among armed groups. Other obstacles include the deep rift that remains between the country’s east and west and the presence of thousands of foreign fighters and troops.
The oil-rich North African county is currently governed by an interim government that was elected by Libyan delegates after UN-led talks in Geneva in February.
Interim Interior Minister Khaled Mazen vowed to hunt down and prosecute the assailants in Thursday’s attack. He insisted that the transitional government is keen on securing the electoral process in order to encourage all Libyans to vote, according to Libya’s state-owned news agency.
On Wednesday, Libya’s High National Elections Committee decided to exclude Seif Al-Islam from the race, citing his criminal record. He had been sentenced to death by a Tripoli court in 2015 for using violence against protesters in a 2011 uprising against his father, but that ruling has since been called into question by Libya’s rival authorities. He is also wanted by the International Criminal Court on charges of crimes against humanity related to the uprising.
The announcement of his possible candidacy stirred controversy across the divided country, where a number of other high-profile candidates have also emerged in recent weeks. Among them are powerful military commander Khalifa Haftar and the country’s interim prime minister, Abdul Hamid Dbeibah.
“The Mission reiterates its call for holding transparent, fair and inclusive elections on 24 December,” said UNSMIL.
The US Embassy in Libya also issued a statement on Friday voicing concern over the attack. It condemned the attack and stressed that the electoral process must be protected.


Protesters, police clash in central Iran after rally over water shortages

Protesters, police clash in central Iran after rally over water shortages
Updated 26 November 2021

Protesters, police clash in central Iran after rally over water shortages

Protesters, police clash in central Iran after rally over water shortages
  • Isfahan has been the site of protests over water shortages held in the dried up riverbed of Zayandeh Rud, the region’s largest river
  • Semi-official news agency Fars said demonstrators threw rocks and set fire to a police motorcycle and an ambulance

DUBAI: Hundreds of protesters, some throwing rocks, clashed with police in Iran's central city of Isfahan on Friday, Iranian news agencies and social media posts said.
Clashes happened after officers fired tear gas at demonstrators backing farmers demanding water for crops.
Isfahan, Iran's third largest city, has been the site of protests over water shortages held in the dried up riverbed of the Zayandeh Rud, the largest river in the region.
The semi-official news agency Fars said demonstrators threw rocks and set fire to a police motorcycle and an ambulance. "They are in groups of 40-50 on streets around Khaju Bridge and are estimated at around 300," Fars said.
State TV showed police firing teargas at demonstrators gathered in the dried riverbed. A video posted on social media showed protesters chanting back: "Shame on you!" Reuters could not independently verify the clip.
Overnight, farmers holding a two-week long peaceful sit-in to protest against water shortages in the drought-stricken region were dispersed by unidentified men who set fire to their tents. Social media posts said they were security forces while state media said they were "thugs".
State media earlier said farmers had agreed to leave after reaching a deal with authorities.
The farmers in Isfahan province have for years protested against the diversion of water from the Zayandeh Rud to supply other areas, leaving their farms dry and threatening their livelihoods. A pipeline carrying water to Yazd province has been repeatedly damaged, according to Iranian media.
In July, street protests broke out over water shortages in Iran's oil-producing southwest, with the United Nations' human rights chief criticising the fatal shooting of protesters. Tehran rejected the criticism.
Iran has blamed its worst drought in 50 years for the water shortages, while critics also point to mismanagement.
With an economy crippled by U.S. sanctions, Iran has been the Middle East's worst-hit country in the COVID-19 pandemic. The drought has forced Iran to import a record volume of wheat.


From the Mediterranean to Europe — the complicated path of natural gas

From the Mediterranean to Europe — the complicated path of natural gas
Updated 26 November 2021

From the Mediterranean to Europe — the complicated path of natural gas

From the Mediterranean to Europe — the complicated path of natural gas
  • The Middle East’s gas reserves have been witnessing the fastest growth in the world since 2009
  • For several weeks, the focus has been on restarting the “Arab gas pipeline” from Egypt toward Jordan, Syria and Lebanon

PARIS: As natural gas becomes one of the main energy sources across the world, the Middle East and North Africa region is witnessing a peak in the tensions surrounding this resource.

The decommissioning of the Algeria-Morocco gas pipeline, the repercussions of Turkey’s actions in the Mediterranean and problems related to the delineation of Lebanon’s maritime borders are among the many disputes.

The discovery and exploitation of new resources in the MENA region, like the regional crises, intensifies the tug-of-war surrounding gas. We see a complex interaction between energy and geopolitics, which are usually connected.

The Middle East’s gas reserves have been seeing the fastest growth in the world since 2009. These “proven” gas reserves (the quantity of hydrocarbon resources that can be extracted from a field with a reasonable level of certainty, NDLR) have soared to 40.4 percent in 2020, compared to 31.4 percent in 2000.

In conjunction with the development of natural gas in the region, we are witnessing an increase in the battles and showdowns taking place. This energy resource, which is far from appearing as an element that promotes cooperation, has indeed become a factor causing tensions.

The consequences of the decommissioning of the Maghreb-Europe gas pipeline

Following the breakdown of diplomatic relations between Algiers and Rabat last August, Algeria continued to retaliate against its neighbor, putting an end to 25 years of the Maghreb-Europe gas pipeline service — the operations contract ended on Oct. 31, 2021.

However, this decision affecting Morocco is also contributing to disrupting an already unstable regional context (from Libya to Mali, passing through Tunisia). It might also affect Spain, which, like a good portion of Europe, is threatened by a gas crisis attributed to Moscow, especially as this pipeline represents the main source of the country’s natural gas supply.

At first glance, it was a severe blow for Spain because Algeria is its main natural gas provider, supplying half of its yearly natural gas consumption: Madrid would have experienced a significant increase in the prices of gas as well as electricity. To avoid such a scenario, Algiers proposed to “continue to ensure, in a better way, the delivery of gas through Medgaz, according to a well-defined schedule.” The submarine natural gas pipeline Medgaz, which was inaugurated in 2004, directly connects the two countries.

However, some people doubt that this alternative will be sufficient to cover Spain’s needs. The capacity of the Medgaz pipeline is lower than that of the Maghreb-Europe gas pipeline: It delivers about 8 billion cubic meters a year, while the capacity of the decommissioned gas pipeline was 10 billion cubic meters a year. Algiers is therefore relying on “the recent project to extend the capacity of the Medgaz pipeline.”

Ultimately, Algeria’s decision will greatly affect the economy of Morocco, as the Maghreb-Europe gas pipeline supplied the production of electricity in Morocco before reaching its final destination in Spain. Some statistics show that Morocco used to produce almost 17 percent of its electricity through this channel. Morocco will also lose the transit-related taxes (between €50 and 150 million a year).

In addition, it will not be easy for Morocco to find an alternative to supply itself with gas. The options are currently limited and uncertain.

On the other side of the Arab world, the situation seems less tense.

The gas issue in Syria, Turkey’s greed and the commissioning of the Arab gas pipeline

For several weeks now, the focus has been on restarting the “Arab gas pipeline” from Egypt toward Jordan, Syria and Lebanon. This phase is taking place with the initial approval of the US (to make an exception regarding the Caesar Act, which imposes sanctions on Damascus) in conjunction with the arrival of Iranian diesel to Lebanon based on Hezbollah’s initiative. It is also considered an entry point for a partial normalization of ties with the Syrian regime.

Since the multifaceted Syrian conflict started, natural gas has been perceived as an indirect cause of the Russian intervention. After that, there has always been a certain connection between the continuity of the military presence of the US and eastern Syria, which is rich in energy resources.

Consequently, gas will undoubtedly have an impact on the shape of the future map of Syria as well as the maps of the new Middle East.

In a wider context, the contemporary theories of strategic security highlight the importance of energy not only from an economic perspective, but also as a trigger of conflicts and a power elements indicator of the countries of origin, the countries through which the pipelines pass and the downstream countries. In any new process of delineation or demarcation of borders, it is highly probable that the energy resources of gas, oil and water will be taken into account.

Within the wide geographical range of the map of gas fields, markets and passage routes of pipelines, Syria occupies a significant position because it is located at the heart of the Levant, while its seas and coasts, like the rest of the countries of the Eastern Mediterranean basin, are rich in energy resources.

In addition, gas could become an important pillar of the economies of numerous Arab and Mediterranean countries, which could provide Israel with the opportunity to integrate economically into the regional economy. This evolution would naturally become a source of worry for Iran and Qatar when it comes to their role as pioneers of the gas market. It would also have the ability to unsettle Turkey, which could lose its status as a crossroads to ensure exportation; this country is the point of arrival of pipelines and gas pipelines.

In a broader context, we should point to the emergence of the East Mediterranean Gas Forum in 2020, which comprises seven countries: Egypt, Israel, Cyprus, Greece, Jordan, Palestine and Italy (with the US, the EU and France as observers). This was the culmination of efforts exerted by the forum, which was established in 2015 under the same name. Egypt became a new leader in gas; this was enough for Ankara to see it as an attempt to intimidate it due to the disputes that are either territorial or based on the region’s wealth. This was the case particularly after the signing of several bilateral agreements aimed at delineating the maritime borders, such as the agreements signed between Egypt and Greece or between Greece and Italy.

During this period, litigation and disputes related to the exploration rights in the Eastern Mediterranean basin intensified. These developments were preceded by a Turkish advance in the Eastern and Western Mediterranean, which defined the maritime borders with Libya, or through the disputed fields over which it is at odds with Cyprus and Greece.

Last year also saw the resumption of negotiations aimed at delineating the maritime borders between Lebanon and Israel. Several gas fields are involved, particularly block 9, which is at the center of a dispute between the two countries.

We can conclude that relaunching the idea of the Arab gas pipeline after two decades would be beneficial for the concerned parties, especially for a country such as Lebanon. However, it cannot take place without a tentative agreement or mutual consent between the major regional actors and a certain American-Russian agreement.

This story originally appeared in French on Arab News en Francais