Ankara reiterates mediation proposal to host Kyiv-Moscow peace negotiations 

Special Ankara reiterates mediation proposal to host Kyiv-Moscow peace negotiations 
Russian President Vladimir Putin and his Turkish counterpart Recep Tayyip Erdogan eat ice cream as they visit the MAKS 2019 air show in Zhukovsky, outside Moscow, Russia, Aug. 27, 2019. (Reuters)
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Updated 28 February 2022

Ankara reiterates mediation proposal to host Kyiv-Moscow peace negotiations 

Ankara reiterates mediation proposal to host Kyiv-Moscow peace negotiations 
  • Military assault in Ukraine ‘will have lasting ramifications for security of Turkish people,’ analyst tells Arab News
  • Debate on whether Turkey will implement the wartime articles of the Montreux Convention on its Dardanelles and Bosporus straits

ANKARA: On Sunday evening, Turkey pursued a terminological change in defining the ongoing Russian assault on Ukraine as a “war” — a strong wording compared to its earlier statements that described it as an “unacceptable military intervention.”

Ankara also reiterated its mediation proposal to host peace negotiations between Kyiv and Moscow. 

Ankara’s latest move sparked debates about whether it will implement the wartime articles of the Montreux Convention on its Dardanelles and Bosporus straits that would bar Russian warships not associated with the Black Sea fleet from crossing the Turkish straits for the duration of the conflict.

“We are witnessing yet another war in our region. President Erdogan has offered to mediate between Russia and Ukraine as we have strong relations with both countries. . He also called for a unified stance on the part of the allies,” Fahrettin Altun, Turkey’s communications chief, tweeted. 

Another critical question is whether Turkey can play an effective role in mediating between the warring parties at a time when Ankara is attempting to maintain its good ties with Ukraine and Russia to secure both its energy imports and tourism flows from Russia and defense cooperation with Ukraine. 

In a similar vein, Mevlut Cavusoglu, Turkey’s foreign minister, said in an interview with Turkish broadcaster CNN Turk that “the situation in Ukraine is officially a war according to the Article 19 of the Montreux Convention.” 

On the first day of the war, Ukrainian Ambassador to Ankara Vasyl Bodnar urged Ankara to close the straits to the passage of Russian warships.

But Cavusoglu emphasized that Turkey cannot block all Russian warships reaching the Black Sea because a clause in the Montreux Convention exempts those returning to their registered bases. 

Ankara’s move to describe events in Ukraine as a war under the Montreux Convention gives Turkey the right to act accordingly. Until Sunday, it termed the conflict as a “military intervention” or an unacceptable “operation.”

So far, Turkey’s senior officials repeatedly urged the parties to begin ceasefire negotiations and to immediately halt Russian attacks. 

As a diplomatic tool, Turkey attaches high importance to mediation. A decade ago, it launched with Finland the Mediation for Peace Initiative, a group of countries that work on different mediation practices.

Turkey’s mediation offers have been consistently welcomed by the Ukrainian side, while Russia would welcome any Turkish effort to convince Ukraine to come into compliance with the existing Minsk Protocol of 2015 as a result of any mediation offer.

Ryan Bohl, a senior Middle East and North Africa analyst at Rane Intelligence, said that Turkey’s announcement to partially close the Bosporus straits to Russian military activity will probably make the country appear less neutral in any potential Ukrainian-Russian peace talks.

“That being said, Russia is feeling very isolated at the moment and could be looking to give Turkey some sort of symbolic win to improve Moscow’s relationships in the post-war aftermath,” he told Arab News. 

But Bohl added that the potential of Turkey mediating any talks relies on the assumption that Russia is interested in serious ceasefire negotiations.

“It’s still not clear if Putin’s maximalist aims that he laid out in his nationwide speeches are going to remain Russia’s strategy going forward,” he said. 

“If they do, then any role Turkey might play in negotiations would be symbolic,” he added.

On Sunday, Cavusoglu conducted intense diplomatic contact with key figures for the conflict’s resolution, including OSCE Secretary-General Helga Maria Schmid, UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres and Russian Minister of Foreign Affairs Sergey Lavrov. 

According to Jonathan Katz, senior fellow and director of Democracy Initiatives at the US-based German Marshall Fund, Turkey should support Ukraine through direct military and humanitarian assistance, bolster the defense of NATO and its partners, including in the Black Sea and South Caucasus. 

“Therefore, Ankara shutting down the Bosporus and Dardanelles to Russia’s warships is also critical,” he told Arab News.

“Putin’s war with Ukraine is a direct threat to Turkey’s security and will have lasting ramifications for the security of the Turkish people.”

At least six Russian warships and a submarine passed through Turkey’s straits this month. 

Although Ankara is yet to join Western sanctions against Russia, the Russian side is still skeptical about a possible role that Turkey might play in the peace talks, especially after Ankara openly defined the Russian invasion as a “war” and termed Russia’s annexation of Crimea as an occupation. 

Andrey Kortunov, director general of the Russian International Affairs Council, a think tank close to the Kremlin, said that it would be difficult for Russian President Vladimir Putin to accept Erdogan’s mediation. 

“The reason is that because the latter has always sided with Ukraine since 2014. It’s like having two Zelenskys at the table across Putin instead of one,” he told Arab News. 

Since 2018, Turkey has sold Bayraktar TB2 drones to Ukraine, which has helped the military destroy significant amounts of Russian armor, while the two countries also agreed to jointly produce some defense and security technologies.

“Although being a mediator between Ukraine and Russia would be Turkey’s dream scenario, it is increasingly unlikely it will happen, especially if Turkey really decides to close the Straits to Russia warships as it will be a clear political signal that it chooses the pro-Ukrainian side,” Karol Wasilewski, a Turkey analyst at the Polish Institute of International Affairs, told Arab News. 

“I also doubt the Russians would agree to that,” he added. 

“The regime is increasingly isolated and would definitely connect the dots that Turkey’s change of rhetoric about the Russian aggression — the fact that Turkey started to call this a ‘war’ — came right after the NATO summit,” said Wasilewski.

UAE President Mohamed bin Zayed to visit Oman

UAE President Mohamed bin Zayed to visit Oman
Updated 26 sec ago

UAE President Mohamed bin Zayed to visit Oman

UAE President Mohamed bin Zayed to visit Oman
  • Reinforcing economic relations will be at the center of the visit

DUBAI: UAE President Sheikh Mohamed bin Zayed Al-Nahyan will visit Oman on Tuesday in his second official visit since assuming presidency in May.

The two-day visit comes in response to the invitation of Oman’s Sultan Haitham bin Tariq, according to Emirates News Agency (WAM).

During the visit, both leaders will meet to explore opportunities for increased collaboration in several sectors including finance and industry, as well as review ways to empower youth for a better future for the two countries.  

Reinforcing economic relations will be at the center of the visit, said WAM.

Both leaders will review the recent developments in the Arab region and reflect on efforts made to achieve peace and prosperity.

“The visit will also cement the two nations’ shared vision for a secure and stable region that promotes sustainable development and supports a thriving economy,” read the WAM statement.

In a statement, Sayyid Ahmed Hilal Al Busaidi, Ambassador of Oman to the UAE, said the visit would strengthen business partnerships and increase investment opportunities.

He said the longstanding keenness of both countries to deepen relations have spurred growth in various fields, which can reflect positively on the wider region.

Al Busaidi also highlighted the significance of bilateral coordination at the political level through coordination and consultation about various regional and international issues.

Tunisians protest against poverty, high prices and food shortages

Tunisians protest against poverty, high prices and food shortages
Updated 26 September 2022

Tunisians protest against poverty, high prices and food shortages

Tunisians protest against poverty, high prices and food shortages
  • Tunisia seeks to secure an IMF loan to save public finances from collapse

TUNIS: Hundreds of Tunisians protested on Sunday night in a poor neighborhood in the capital against poverty, high prices and the shortage of some foodstuff, escalating pressure on the government of President Kais Saied, as the country suffers an economic and political crisis.
Tunisia is struggling to revive its public finances as discontent grows over inflation running at nearly 9 percent and a shortage of many food items in stores because the country cannot afford to pay for some imports.
The North African nation is also in the midst of a severe political crisis since Saied seized control of the executive power last year and dissolved parliament in a move his opponents called a coup.
In the poor Douar Hicher district in the capital, some protesters lifted loaves of bread in the air. Other chanted, “Where is Kais Saied?.” Angry youths burned wheels.
Protesters chanted “Jobs, freedom and national dignity,” and “We can’t support crazy price hikes,” “Where is sugar?.”
Food shortages are worsening in Tunisia with empty shelves in supermarkets and bakeries, adding to popular discontent at high prices of many Tunisians who spend hours searching for sugar, milk, butter, cooking oil and rice.
Videos on social media showed on Sunday dozens of customers scrambling to win a kilogram of sugar in market.
Tunisia, which is suffering its worst financial crisis, is seeking to secure an International Monetary Fund loan to save public finances from collapse.
The government raised this month the price of cooking gas cylinders by 14 percent for the first time in 12 years. It also raised fuel prices for the fourth time this year as part of a plan to reduce energy subsidies, a policy change sought by the IMF.

Mahsa Amini’s death in Iranian police custody has lit a spark in a nation seething with anger and discontent

Mahsa Amini’s death in Iranian police custody has lit a spark in a nation seething with anger and discontent
Updated 26 September 2022

Mahsa Amini’s death in Iranian police custody has lit a spark in a nation seething with anger and discontent

Mahsa Amini’s death in Iranian police custody has lit a spark in a nation seething with anger and discontent
  • At least 41 people have died since protests erupted over the death of the 22-year-old 
  • Amini was arrested by morality police for allegedly violating the regime’s strict dress code 

DUBAI: Protests have spread to almost all of Iran’s 31 provinces and urban cities since the death of 22-year-old Mahsa Amini at the hands of the morality police. On Sept. 13, Amini was arrested by a morality police (Gasht-e Ershad) patrol in a Tehran metro station, allegedly for violating the Islamic Republic’s strict dress code.

She was hospitalized after the arrest, fell into a coma and died three days later. Iranian authorities maintain that she died of a heart attack. Her family says thart she had no pre-existing heart conditions.

Her death has sparked outrage in a country seething with anger over a long list of grievances and a wide range of socio-economic concerns.

Iranian women, fed up with the morality police’s heavy-handed approach, have been posting videos of themselves online cutting locks of their hair in support of Amini. Protesters who have taken to the streets have been chanting “Death to the moral police” and “Women, life, freedom.”

In acts of defiance, female demonstrators can be seen taking off their headscarves, burning them and dancing in the streets. State police have been cracking down on the protesters by attacking them with tear gas while volunteers from the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps have been beating them. At least 41 people have died so far.

“The Internet in Tehran has been cut off. I have not been able to reach family members, but every now and then they are able to get a message through,” an Iranian man who fled to the US during the days of the Islamic Revolution, told Arab News.

Mehdi, who did not want to give his full name, added: “We are hopeful that the government will offer concessions this time. It has been the biggest demonstration since the revolution. We take pride in what is happening in Iran.”

Writing in The Washington Post, Karim Sajdadpour, a senior fellow at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, described the protests against the killing of Amin as “led by the nation’s granddaughters against the grandfathers who have ruled their country for over four decades.”

Since the Islamic Revolution in 1979, Sharia laws in the country require women to wear headscarves and loose garb in public. Those who do not abide by the code are fined or jailed.

Iranian authorities’ campaign to make women dress modestly and against the wearing of mandatory clothing “incorrectly” began soon after the revolution, which ended an era of unfettered sartorial freedom for women under Shah Mohammad Reza Pahlavi. During the shah’s rule, his wife Farah, who often wore Western clothing, was held up as a model of a modern woman.

The image of protesters destroying portraits of Iranian leaders in the northern city of Sari is just one of many emerging from Iran over the past week in a symbol of anti-regime sentiment. (AFP) 

By 1981, women were not allowed to show their arms in public. In 1983, Iran’s parliament decided that women who did not cover their hair in public could be punished with 74 lashes. In recent times, it added the punishment of up to 60 days in prison.

Restrictions kept evolving, and the extent of enforcement of the female dress code has varied since 1979, depending on which president was in office. The Gasht-e Ershad was formed to enforce dress codes after Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, the ultraconservative mayor of Tehran, became president in 2005.

The restrictions were eased a little under the presidency of Hassan Rouhani, who was considered a relative moderate. After Rouhani accused the morality police of being aggressive, the head of the force declared in 2017 women violating the modesty code would no longer be arrested.

However, the rule of President Ebrahim Raisi appears to have emboldened the morality police once again. In August, Raisi signed a decree for stricter enforcement of rules that require women to wear hijabs at all times in public.

In his speech at the UN General Assembly last week, Raisi tried to deflect blame for the protests in Iran by pointing to Canada’s treatment of indigenous people and accused the West of applying double standards when it comes to human rights.

When I look at how the women are standing up to the vicious regime that never shied away from genocide, it gives me goosebumps.

Mehdi, who fled to the US during the Islamic Revolution

Raisi’s government, meanwhile, is seeking some form of guarantee whereby the lifting of severe sanctions and resumed business activities by Western firms cannot be disrupted if a future US president rescinds the 2015 nuclear deal. Iranian officials also dispute the concerns of the International Atomic Energy Agency about illicit nuclear material found at three sites and want the IAEA’s investigation to close.

Protests in Iran are not new. In 2009, the Green Movement held protests over election results believed to be fraudulent. In 2019, there were demonstrations over the spike in fuel prices and deteriorating standard of living conditions and basic needs.

This year’s protests are different in that they are feminist in nature. Firuzeh Mahmoudi, executive director of United for Iran, a human rights NGO, said it is unprecedented for the country to see women taking off their hijabs en masse, burning police cars and tearing down pictures of Ayatollah Ali Khamenei (the country’s supreme leader).

It is also unprecedented to see men chant “We’ll support our sisters and women, life, liberty.”

“Through social media, mobile apps, blogs and websites, Iranian women are actively participating in public discourse and exercising their civil rights,” Mahmoudi said. “Luckily for the growing women’s rights movements, the patriarchal and misogynistic government has not yet figured out how to completely censor and control the Internet.”

Protests against the death of Mahsa Amini have erupted across Iran, and among the diaspora living around the world. (AFP)

Masih Alinejad, an Iranian political activist who has been living in exile in America since 2009, said that she has been receiving many messages from women in Iran. They have been sharing with her their frustrations, videos of the protests, and their goodbyes to their parents, which they believe might be for the last time.

Saying that she can feel their anger through their messages, Alinejad said the hijab is a way for the government to control women and therefore society, adding that “their hair and their identity have been taken hostage.”

Scores of Iranian male celebrities have also voiced their support of the protests and women. Toomaj Salehi, a dissident rapper who was arrested earlier this year because of his lyrics on regime change and social and political issues, posted a video of himself walking through the streets saying: “My tears don’t dry, it’s blood, it’s anger. The end is near, history repeats itself. Be afraid of us, pull back, know that you are done.”

For its part, the movie industry released a statement on Saturday calling on the military to drop their weapons and “return to the arms of the nation.”

A number of famous actresses have taken off their hijab in support of the movement and the protests. Mohammad Mehdi Esmaili, Iran’s culture minister, said that actresses who voiced their support online and removed their hijabs can no longer pursue their careers.

In a tweet on Saturday, Sajdadpour said: “To understand Iran’s protests it’s striking to juxtapose images of the young, modern women killed in Iran over the last week (Mahsa Amini, Ghazale Chelavi, Hanane Kia, Mahsa Mogoi) with the images of the country’s ruling elite, virtually all deeply traditional, geriatric men.”

Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi holds up a photo of Quds Force Commander General Qassem Soleimani, who was killed in a U.S. attack, during his remarks at the 77th session of the United Nations General Assembly. (AFP)

Iranian authorities have shut down mobile Internet connections, disrupting WhatsApp and Instagram services. On Iranian state media, ISNA, Issa Zarepour, minister of communications, justified the act for “national security” and said it was not clear how long the blocks on social media platforms and WhatsApp would continue, as it was being implemented for “security purposes and discussions related to recent events.”

However, Mahsa Alimardani, an academic at the Oxford Internet Institute who studies Iran’s Internet shutdowns and controls, said the authorities are targeting these platforms because they are “lifelines for information and communication that’s keeping the protests alive.”

On Twitter, the hashtag #MahsaAmini in Farsi has exceeded well over 30 million posts.

“Everyone in Iran knows that the authorities will crack down very hard on the protesters and kill them,” Mehdi, the US-based Iranian, told Arab News.

“It’s almost target practice for them. When I look at how the women there are standing up to the ruthless and vicious regime that never shied away from genocide to maintain their power, it gives me goose bumps. It takes a certain courage to do what they are doing.”

Looking forward to the future with hope, he said: “The flame has been ignited and we are not the kind of people who back out.”


Freed Moroccan POW speaks of Ukraine struggle

Freed Moroccan POW speaks of Ukraine struggle
Updated 25 September 2022

Freed Moroccan POW speaks of Ukraine struggle

Freed Moroccan POW speaks of Ukraine struggle

CASABLANCA: A Moroccan prisoner of war released as part of an exchange between Moscow and Kyiv said he wanted to draw attention to the “struggle” of Ukraine as he returned home Saturday.

“I’m happy to come home after going through very difficult times,” said Brahim Saadoun, 21, an aeronautical engineering student who had been based in Ukraine since 2019.

“I want to draw attention to the difficult situation in Ukraine and the struggle of its people in this painful time,” he said at his family home, in a working-class district of Casablanca.

Saadoun was freed on Wednesday, one of 10 foreign prisoners of war — including five British and two American citizens — transferred to Saudi Arabia as part of the exchange between Moscow and Kyiv.

Smiling and appearing in good health alongside his mother, Saadoun thanked Saudi Arabia, the Turkish government and the Moroccan people “who stood in solidarity with us.”

His father, Taher Saadoun, said he had “an indescribable feeling of joy,” and also praised Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman for his role in the release.

Brahim “has suffered from the imprisonment but he will recover and get back to his studies,” he said.

Brahim Saadoun was sentenced to death alongside two British men by the unrecognized Donetsk People’s Republic in early June.

After his trial, the Moroccan government said that Saadoun had been “captured while wearing the uniform of the military of the state of Ukraine, as a member of a Ukrainian naval unit.”

It said he had been “imprisoned by an entity that is recognized by neither the United Nations nor Morocco.”

Rabat has adopted a position of neutrality in the war between Russia and Ukraine.

Morocco is keen not to alienate Moscow, a UN Security Council member, on the issue of the disputed status of Western Sahara, a vast stretch of mineral-rich desert which Rabat considers part of its own territory.

Borrell says Iran protest crackdown ‘unjustifiable, unacceptable’

Borrell says Iran protest crackdown ‘unjustifiable, unacceptable’
Updated 26 September 2022

Borrell says Iran protest crackdown ‘unjustifiable, unacceptable’

Borrell says Iran protest crackdown ‘unjustifiable, unacceptable’
  • A wave of protests has rocked Iran since the death of 22-year-old Kurdish woman Mahsa Amini in the custody of Iran’s morality police

BRUSSELS: The EU’s foreign policy chief Josep Borrell said Sunday that Iran’s crackdown on protests is “unjustifiable” and “unacceptable,” as Tehran vowed no leniency against the unrest gripping the country.
A wave of protests has rocked Iran since the death of 22-year-old Kurdish woman Mahsa Amini in the custody of Iran’s morality police.
At least 41 people have died, mostly protesters but including members of the Islamic republic’s security forces, according to an official toll, although human rights groups say the real figure is higher.

In a statement on behalf of the EU, Borrell said: “For the European Union and its member states, the widespread and disproportionate use of force against nonviolent protesters is unjustifiable and unacceptable.”
Moves “to severely restrict Internet access by the relevant Iranian authorities and to block instant messaging platforms is a further cause for concern, as it blatantly violates freedom of expression,” he added.
Amini was arrested on September 13, accused of having breached rules that mandate tightly fitted hijab head coverings as well as ripped jeans and brightly colored clothes.
Iran’s judiciary chief on Sunday “emphasised the need for decisive action without leniency.”