Will Turkey continue its policy of reconciliation in the region next year?

Turkey made significant efforts in 2021 to normalize its relations with Armenia, Egypt, the Gulf, and Israel after years of disagreements. (AP/File Photo)
Turkey made significant efforts in 2021 to normalize its relations with Armenia, Egypt, the Gulf, and Israel after years of disagreements. (AP/File Photo)
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Updated 31 December 2021

Will Turkey continue its policy of reconciliation in the region next year?

Turkey made significant efforts in 2021 to normalize its relations with Armenia, Egypt, the Gulf, and Israel after years of disagreements. (AP/File Photo)
  • On Thursday, Armenia announced its embargo on goods from Turkey would be lifted on January 1

ANKARA: Turkey made significant efforts in 2021 to normalize its relations with Armenia, Egypt, the Gulf, and Israel after years of disagreements.

The big question now is whether Ankara’s efforts to thaw the ice with these countries by de-escalating regional conflicts will continue with the same vigor in 2022.

On Thursday, Armenia announced its embargo on goods from Turkey would be lifted on January 1 and that Yerevan-Istanbul charter flights would soon begin again after decades of closed borders.

Two weeks ago, Turkey appointed its former ambassador to the US Serdar Kilic as its special envoy to conduct normalization talks with Armenia. This gesture was followed by Armenia appointing Ruben Rubinyan — who studied in Turkey through a scholarship from a Turkish NGO — as its special representative for dialogue. Moscow will host the first meeting between the two envoys in January.

“Turkey has been recalibrating its foreign policy in the eastern Mediterranean and the MENA region,” Prof. Michaël Tanchum, a non-resident fellow at the Middle East Institute in Washington and an associate senior policy fellow in the Africa program at the European Council on Foreign Relations, told Arab News. According to Tanchum, Turkey’s focus in the Eastern Mediterranean has been on Egypt and to a lesser extent Israel.

Regarding Egypt, Turkey this year asked all Istanbul-based Muslim Brotherhood-affiliated media channels to soften their criticism of the Egyptian government. The two countries held talks in September, while Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan recently announced that Ankara was considering sending ambassadors back to Egypt and Israel.

During his recent meeting with representatives from the Jewish diaspora, Erdogan underlined that Turkey-Israel ties are vital for the stability and security of the region. 

“Both (Egypt and Israel) have become key energy, economic, and military partners to Greece and Cyprus following the deterioration in their respective relations with Turkey in the early part of the previous decade,” Tanchum said. “Similarly, Ankara has been taken aback by Greece’s developing defense ties with the UAE and Saudi Arabia. The normalization of relations between the UAE and Israel under the Abraham Accords has solidified this alignment of Middle Eastern states with Greece and Cyprus.” 

Tanchum thinks that, for Egypt, the most immediate stumbling block — despite Ankara’s diplomatic outreach — is Turkey’s support for the Muslim Brotherhood.  

“Beyond this, the two countries are increasingly rivals for influence across Africa. The fact that Egypt was not invited to Turkey’s recent Africa summit shows the geopolitical limitations. Nonetheless, commercial relations between the two nations will likely increase, barring any major incident. The same is true for Israel-Turkey relations,” he said. 

Although Turkey and several regional actors backed different sides in the Libyan conflict, Ankara now supports Libya’s political transition towards elections.

Turkish Airlines is also expected to relaunch its flights to Benghazi once technical work and security precautions have been completed. 

Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu recently noted that Turkey does not differentiate between the west and east of Libya, and that Ankara was prepared to meet with both military strongman Gen. Khalifa Haftar and the speaker of the Tobruk-based parliament, Aquila Saleh. 

Turkey’s moves towards reconciliation with the UAE, Saudi Arabia, Egypt and Israel as part of its efforts to break its regional isolation have escalated in recent months.

The UAE committed to investing $10 billion in Turkey following the visit of Abu Dhabi Crown Prince Muhammed bin Zayed to Ankara on November 24 — offering a vital boost for the Turkish economy. The Turkish Central Bank is expected to sign deals with its counterpart in the UAE soon and Erdogan is reportedly scheduled to visit the UAE in February. 

“The rapprochement between Turkey and the UAE will likely continue, with expanding Emirati investment in Turkish companies. The Emirati fintech company Tpay’s acquisition of Turkey’s mobile banking and digital financial services firm Payguru is just one example of more investments likely to occur in 2022,” Tanchum said. 

Meanwhile, Erdogan announced that Turkey will work to improve its ties with Saudi Arabia. The two countries’ foreign ministers met in May and committed to holding regular consultations. Experts anticipate further such commitments between Riyadh and Ankara in the new year.

Of all its relationships that Turkey sought to improve in 2021, Tanchum sees Armenia as the wild card.  

“Because of the outcome of the Karabakh war, there is a genuine moment of opportunity for Turkish-Armenian reconciliation,” he said. “A grand diplomatic gesture on Turkey’s part that closes a chapter on an old historical wound could reset the tone of Turkish foreign policy with positive spillover effects for Turkey’s relations with its Eastern Mediterranean neighbors as well as with the European Union.” 

Soner Cagaptay, director of the Turkish program at the Washington Institute, agrees that 2021 has been a year of significant shifts in Turkey’s foreign policy. 

“By re-establishing friendships and forging new partnerships, Ankara has shown that it realizes it cannot stand alone and ignore everybody else in regional and global politics. Therefore, it chose to reset its ties with former rivals,” he told Arab News. 

Cagaptay expects Turkey’s next target for normalization of relations will be the US, but considering Ankara’s current power-sharing agreements with Russia in Syria, Libya and the South Caucasus, that process could be trickier and take longer. 

“Therefore, I think it’s not a complete pivot (in foreign policy), but the Middle East part of it is an attempt, at least,” he said. 

Regarding Turkey’s relations with Egypt, Cagaptay notes that it took Turkey nearly eight years to recognize that its singular support of the Muslim Brotherhood failed to pay off. 

“No one could have anticipated the speed of the Brotherhood’s fall from power. So I don’t blame Erdogan for that, but he should have been in touch with other political actors and I think that’s where the policy is ill-conceived,” he said. “There is now recognition of this, and 2022 is a pivotal year.”


US should prioritize Somali civilian protection: HRW

US should prioritize Somali civilian protection: HRW
Updated 20 May 2022

US should prioritize Somali civilian protection: HRW

US should prioritize Somali civilian protection: HRW
  • ‘Officials should be very clear on how forces will avoid harming Somali civilians during military operations’
  • Biden signed order reversing Trump administration decision to withdraw nearly all 700 troops

LONDON: US military forces redeploying to Somalia must make civilian protection “a priority,” Human Rights Watch said on Friday.

US President Joe Biden on Monday signed an order reversing a Trump administration decision to remove nearly all 700 American troops from the East African state and redeploy them as part of a joint operation with the Somali government to tackle Al-Shabab, an affiliate of Al-Qaeda.

“US officials should be very clear on how forces will avoid harming Somali civilians during military operations,” said Laetitia Bader, Horn of Africa director at HRW.

“They will need to work closely with the Somali and African Union authorities to avoid repeating past laws of war violations and promptly and appropriately respond to civilian loss.”

HRW said past American operations in Somalia had not only resulted in loss of life and Somali property, but that the US had neither recognized these losses nor provided redress.

US military activities have been conducted in Somalia since at least 2007, but 2017 witnessed a marked increase in airstrikes before the Trump administration ordered the troop withdrawals in late 2020.

Somalia’s new President Hassan Sheikh Mohamud welcomed the news that some 500 US troops would be returning, with HRW saying Al-Shabab has continued to conduct indiscriminate and targeted attacks on civilians and forcibly recruited children.

Nonetheless, Bader said the return of US military personnel must include a course correction that ensures it takes all allegations of civilian harm seriously and credibly investigates them.

“A culture of impunity for civilian loss breeds resentment and mistrust among the population and undermines efforts to build a more rights-respecting state,” she added.

“The US government recognizes the need to credibly investigate and compensate for civilian harm, but the military has yet to make this a reality.”


Iran arrests prominent activists on ‘baseless accusations’: HRW

Iran arrests prominent activists on ‘baseless accusations’: HRW
Updated 20 May 2022

Iran arrests prominent activists on ‘baseless accusations’: HRW

Iran arrests prominent activists on ‘baseless accusations’: HRW
  • This is ‘another desperate attempt to silence support for growing popular social movements’
  • Country rocked by ongoing labor strikes, protests over rising pric

LONDON: Iran has arrested several prominent activists on what Human Rights Watch described on Friday as “baseless accusations” amid ongoing labor strikes and protests over rising prices.

Citing news outlets close to Iran’s intelligence apparatus, HRW said the arrested are accused of “contact with suspicious foreign actors,” although no evidence was provided to back the claim bar the assertion by authorities that they had arrested two Europeans earlier this month.

“The arrests of prominent members of civil society in Iran on baseless accusations of malicious foreign interference is another desperate attempt to silence support for growing popular social movements in the country,” said Tara Sepehri Far, senior Iran researcher at HRW.

“Instead of looking to civil society for help in understanding and responding to social problems, Iran’s government treats them as an inherent threat.”

Since May 6, people have gathered in at least 19 cities and towns to protest the news that Iran will experience price-rises for essential goods in the coming months, with MPs saying at least two people have been killed in the protests so far.

In the last week of April, dozens of teachers’ union activists were arrested after calling for nationwide protests to demand reforms of the pay scale system.

HRW said over the past four years there has been a spike in widespread protests in Iran, organized by major unions, over economic inequalities stemming from declining living standards.

It added that security forces have responded to protests with excessive, lethal force, and have arrested thousands, using prosecution and imprisonment based on illegitimate charges as the main tool to silence prominent dissidents and human rights defenders.

Since these latest protests kicked off at the start of May, authorities have heavily disrupted internet access in multiple provinces.

“Iranian authorities have long sought to criminalize solidarity among members of civil society groups inside and outside the country,” said Sepehri Far.

“The intention is to prevent accountability and scrutiny of state actions that civil society provides.”


Yemen’s defense minister discusses bilateral cooperation with US, UK military attachés 

Yemen’s defense minister discusses bilateral cooperation with US, UK military attachés 
Updated 20 May 2022

Yemen’s defense minister discusses bilateral cooperation with US, UK military attachés 

Yemen’s defense minister discusses bilateral cooperation with US, UK military attachés 
  • Al-Maqashi highly praised the US administration's efforts to establish peace in Yemen and its support for the government

DUBAI: Yemen’s minister of Defense, Mohammed al-Maqdashi, met with Colonel Mark Rittman, American Military and Security Attaché in the country’s US embassy on Thursday. 

The two discussed ways they can fight terrorism, in addition to military and security cooperation between the two nations. 

Al-Maqashi highly praised the US administration's efforts to establish peace in Yemen and its support for the government. 

Separately, Al-Maqashi met with the British Military Attaché in the UN embassy in Yemen to discuss bilateral cooperation between the two countries in the field of defense.


Russian, Emirati officials look to enhance ‘strong ties’

Russian, Emirati officials look to enhance ‘strong ties’
Updated 20 May 2022

Russian, Emirati officials look to enhance ‘strong ties’

Russian, Emirati officials look to enhance ‘strong ties’
  • The two sides discussed ways “to better serve the interests of their people”

DUBAI: UAE and Russian officials met on Thursday to discuss ways to enhance “strong ties” between the two countries, state news agency WAM reported. 

Chairman of Abu Dhabi Chamber of Commerce and Industry, Abdullah Mohamed Al-Mazrouei, held meetings with Chairman of the Russian-Emirati inter-parliamentary Group, Аrsen Bashirovich Kanokov, in Abu Dhabi. 

During the meeting, which was also attended by Mohamed Helal Al Mheiri, Director-General of Abu Dhabi Chamber, the two sides discussed ways “to better serve the interests of their people,” according to WAM.

Al-Mazrouei highlighted that both the UAE and Russia possess the necessary capabilities to strengthen relations in areas such as trade, artificial intelligence and innovation. 

Kanokov expressed Russia’s keenness to enhance relations with the UAE in addition to strengthening ties between the business community in Abu Dhabi and Russia. He added that the goal is to build on what has been accomplished between the two sides over the years.

Kanokov also extended his condolences on the passing of the late Sheikh Khalifa bin Zayed, and congratulated Sheikh Mohamed bin Zayed Al Nahyan for being elected as UAE President.


Houthi pirates accused of attempting to hijack racing yacht in Red Sea

Houthi pirates accused of attempting to hijack racing yacht in Red Sea
Updated 20 May 2022

Houthi pirates accused of attempting to hijack racing yacht in Red Sea

Houthi pirates accused of attempting to hijack racing yacht in Red Sea
  • The attackers, armed with rocket-propelled grenades, were repelled by the yacht's security force
  • Lakota, owned by French yachtsman arget is one of sailing world’s most famous boats

AL-MUKALLA: The Iran-backed Houthi militia in Yemen were accused on Thursday of trying to hijack one of the world’s most famous racing yachts in the Red Sea off the coast of Hodeidah.
Attackers in three fast-moving skiffs and armed with rocket-propelled grenades tried to board the Lakota, a 19-meter sailing trimaran owned by the French yachtsman Philippe Poupon.
The trimaran’s crew repelled the attacks and continued sailing up the Red Sea toward the Suez Canal. The yacht carries a racing crew of five but it is not known if Poupon himself, who has recently been on an Antarctic expedition with his family, was on board.
Yemeni fishermen in nearby waters saw crew on the vessel exchange fire with the attackers. “Several attempts were made to board her,” the maritime intelligence company Dryad Global said. “Reports indicate she managed to get away.”
Satellite-tracking data on Thursday showed the Lakota just west of the Hanish Islands in the Red Sea between Yemen and Eritrea on the Horn of Africa coast.
The racing trimaran, previously called the Pierre 1er, is one of the most famous vessels in the sailing world. Built in 1990, it was once owned by the American tycoon and adventurer Steve Fossett.
Poupon bought the yacht this year for an estimated €250,000 euros ($263,000).
It was on its way from the Philippines to France, from where the yachtsman plans to sail it in the solo Route du Rhum transatlantic race in November, and had docked in Djibouti on the Horn of Africa last Sunday.
Yemeni government officials said they had no doubt that the Houthi militia had carried out the attempted hijack.
“Our information says three armed Houthi boats sailed from Al-Saleef in Hodeidah on Tuesday and were stationed in the sea. They attacked the boat,” one official told Arab News.
The attack on the Lakota came days after the Houthis hijacked another vessel in the Red Sea delivering food to government troops in the city of Medi, in northern Hajjah province.
The vessel, which had three fishermen and two soldiers on board, was sailing from government-controlled Khokha, south of Hodeidah, to the 5th Military Region in Medi on Sunday when it was attacked by armed Houthi boats.
“The crew sent an alert that the Houthis were surrounding them and would arrest them, two hours after leaving Khokha,” a local officer told Arab News.
In January, the Houthis hijacked the UAE-flagged vessel Rwabee with a crew of 11 off the country’s west coast, triggering local and international condemnation.
The Coalition to Restore Legitimacy in Yemen said the ship was carrying medical equipment from a temporary Saudi hospital on the Yemeni island of Socotra.