Putin’s gas hub offer to Turkey sparks debate

Special Putin’s gas hub offer to Turkey sparks debate
The Turkey-flagged Abdulhamid Han, an ultra deepwater drillship owned and operated by the Turkish Petroleum Corporation, is anchored off the port of Tasucu, prior to setting off on its hydrocarbon exploration in the Mediterranean Sea. (AFP/File)
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Updated 17 October 2022

Putin’s gas hub offer to Turkey sparks debate

Putin’s gas hub offer to Turkey sparks debate
  • Proposal fits pattern of greater Ankara-Moscow ties amid Ukraine war, analyst tells Arab News

ANKARA: An offer by Russian President Vladimir Putin to establish Turkey as a gas hub to European markets has stirred intense debate on the feasibility of the plan.

The proposal looks to position the TurkStream pipeline as an alternative to Europe’s Nord Stream by exporting more gas through the Black Sea to Turkey.

On Friday, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, who recently met Putin on the sidelines of a regional summit in Kazakhstan, said that Russian and Turkish energy authorities have already been instructed to immediately begin technical work on the proposal.

“There will be no waiting,” he said.

The gas distribution center is expected to be constructed in Turkey’s Thrace region, bordering Bulgaria and Greece.

NATO member Turkey, which did not join Western sanctions against Russia over the invasion of Ukraine, still heavily depends on Moscow for its energy needs.

The project may help Europe in overcoming mounting energy challenges before winter, but there are still several details to solve in terms of feasibility.

Moscow already cut off Nord Stream 1 deliveries over technical problems, while Germany rejected a Russian proposal to increase gas flow to Europe through the Nord Stream 2 pipeline in the Baltic Sea.

However, Aydin Sezer, an Ankara-based expert on energy and Turkey-Russia relations, said that Moscow’s offer to Ankara should be approached cautiously.

“On the one hand, there is a question of demand in a period when Europe tries to wean itself off Russian gas despite imminent winter conditions,” he told Arab News.

“Also, Turkey has long sought to become an energy hub, but previous projects always positioned it as a corridor country. It is still unclear whether this proposal will again make Turkey a country where Russian gas will only transit through,” he said.

According to Sezer, to become an energy hub, Ankara should be provided with the means to set a reference price for gas and be able to receive gas from different sources, including Russia, Azerbaijan, Iraq and Turkmenistan, among other countries.

“If the gas flows only from one source, such as Russia, the price will be again set by the provider country, rather than Turkey. Being a hub means being able to set prices and gather alternative sources of energy in a pool,” he said.

The construction price of such a project may also prove too costly.

Corrosion-resistant steel pipes used in such projects are mainly produced in Germany and China, said Sezer.

The Saipem-owned pipelay vessels “are dispatched by Italy. And all these operations are regulated as part of the EU sanctions on Russia after its invasion of Ukraine in February,” said the expert.

Sezer suggested that Russia might consider giving Turkey a re-export license.

It would allow Turkey to conduct energy trade with Europe directly, meaning the gas flow originating from Russia would not be subject to Western sanctions.

According to Soner Cagaptay, director of the Turkish program at the Washington Institute, the proposal fits into the greater picture of growing Turkish-Russian ties in the background of the Ukraine war.

“Specifically, Turkey was pro-Ukraine but not anti-Russia. It supported Ukraine militarily, but it also maintained its deep economic ties with Russia because it needed the injection of Russian cash into its economy, tourism and direct investments, including oligarch money,” he told Arab News.

In July, Russian state-owned company Rosatom also transferred billions of dollars to its subsidiary, the Turkish Akkuyu nuclear plant, to cover procurement needs.

“Energy is part of that mutually beneficial relationship. For Putin, Turkey’s position is not ideal,” Cagaptay said.

“It is important that Turkey provides Russia an outlet to Europe and to the global economy. The energy hub proposal will therefore give Putin an exit path, while for Erdogan it is economically and politically quite beneficial as he will tell Turkish citizens that the country is in such a good position in getting gas when people in Europe are freezing in wintertime,” Cagaptay said.

Whether such a gas hub project would trigger a wave of sanctions toward Turkey is unclear.

But Cagaptay warned that the US government would likely use its business-to-business ties to persuade Turkish companies to avoid engaging in deals with Russia.

The US Treasury sent a letter to Turkish banks and businesses in August warning that they could not access the US dollar if they traded with Russia under the sanction regime. Turkish state banks that had accepted the Russian Mir payment system for credit cards have also been criticized by the US.

Madalina Sisu Vicari, a Brussels-based independent geopolitical analyst, said that Putin’s proposal for the gas hub has two goals: To increase geoeconomic interdependency between Russia and Turkey, and to preserve some part of the European market for Russian gas.

“Russia’s gas exports to its main market, Europe, have dramatically fallen since the beginning of the war, and they are still set to decrease,” she told Arab News.

“Moreover, the contract between Russia and Ukraine for the transit of the gas ends in 2024,” Sisu Vicari added.

“Still, with the two sides already at loggerheads over payments and arbitrations, and, more importantly, with a new geopolitical reality triggered by the war, it looks impossible to see a new gas deal between Russia and Ukraine after 2024,” said Sisu Vicari.

Therefore, Moscow will have huge volumes of gas without an export market destination, she added.

During his recent meeting with Erdogan, Putin said: “If Turkey and potential buyers in other countries are interested, Russia can consider building another gas pipeline and establishing a gas hub in Turkey for trade with third countries, first of all European countries, of course, but only if they are interested.”

Sisu Vicari said that the viability of the project “depends on EU countries’ willingness to continue to buy Russian gas over next year, and to buy it via Turkey.”

She added: “Such a decision will be principally shaped by the interplay of geopolitical factors, namely the outcome of the war in Ukraine, the relations between the West and Russia after the war, and also the relations between Turkey and the EU.”


Egyptians hope to bag bargains at book fair as crisis bites

Egyptians hope to bag bargains at book fair as crisis bites
Updated 14 sec ago

Egyptians hope to bag bargains at book fair as crisis bites

Egyptians hope to bag bargains at book fair as crisis bites
  • To incentivize readers, Egypt’s publishers’ association has encouraged sellers to give the option of buying books in instalments through popular buy-now-pay-later services

CAIRO: Thousands of Egyptian bibliophiles weave through a labyrinthine display of books, reviving an annual tradition at the Arab world’s largest book fair, but this year it comes at a steep cost.
The 54th Cairo International Book Fair was overshadowed by a punishing economic crisis that has seen Egypt’s currency, the pound, halve in value and prices skyrocket in the past year.
Organzers say the fair lured more than half a million visitors on its opening weekend alone — but with publishing houses already struggling to cover the rising cost of printing, many fear this will not translate to sales.
“We expected a much smaller turnout this year than we had,” said Wael Al-Mulla, one of more than 800 publishers at the fair.
Budgets are tight in Egypt, where inflation hit 21.9 percent in December, forcing many to dip into their savings to cover ever-rising daily costs.

BACKGROUND

Egypt’s robust publishing industry — historically a key exporter of Arabic literature, to which readers would flock for the region’s cheapest volumes — has already shown signs of trouble.

“Books are a luxury product,” said Mulla, who heads the Masr El-Arabia publishing house. “They’ll inevitably be less of a priority when people need to budget for the basics.”
A steep currency devaluation has compounded costs for import-dependent publishers, leading many to hike the price of books by up to double.
“You could once come with 2,000 pounds (now $66) and fill a suitcase with books,” said Mohamed El-Masry, CEO of El-Rasm Bel Kalemat Publishing.
“You can’t do that any more,” the 38-year-old lamented.
To incentivize readers, Egypt’s publishers’ association has encouraged sellers to give the option of buying books in instalments through popular buy-now-pay-later services.
State-owned publishers have also offered heavily discounted Arabic classics for under 30 pounds, or $1.
According to sellers, readers — eager for their annual haul despite the crisis — are deploying new methods to lessen the burden.
“We see most people coming with their friends as a group. They’ll decide what they want, divide the books among themselves and then pass them around,” said Abdallah Sakr, 33, a publishing manager at El-Mahrousa.
“Everyone’s surprised when they see the prices, but there’s still a desire to read. So instead of buying five books they’ll get two, or one instead of two,” he added.
To survive the crisis, publishing houses have grown more selective.
As the pound plummeted, the price of basic paper stock — all imported — quadrupled, forcing publishers to “decrease commissions and print fewer books per edition”, Mulla said.
“I have to be very careful with my choice of books, only picking the titles I’m really sure will be popular.”
Egypt’s robust publishing industry — historically a key exporter of Arabic literature, to which readers would flock for the region’s cheapest volumes — has already shown signs of trouble.
“Some publishing houses have had to downsize to the bare minimum, or halt activities until the economic landscape is a little clearer,” Mulla said, noting some had already had to shut down their presses permanently.
In a corner of the fair, vendors from the city’s well-known Azbakeya second-hand book market appeared unfazed by the economic downturn.
Nestled against the walls of the historic Azbakeya Garden, the stalls have for over a century sold used books, as well as pirated prints, for a fraction of the prices elsewhere.
As in past years, the booksellers have carted their innumerable volumes from the bustling market in central Cairo to the polished new exhibition centre on the city’s outskirts.
Like hundreds of thousands of loyal readers, 39-year-old Mohamed Shahin “made a beeline” for the Azbakeya booksellers with his family in tow, he said.
“This is the most popular place at the fair, even though the good books sell out quick because there aren’t a lot of copies,” 18-year-old engineering student and volunteer Malak Farid said.
Mohamed Attia, an imam in his 40s, travels to Cairo for the fair every year from his hometown of Dakahlia, some 150 km north of the capital.
With most volumes going for less than one dollar, the Azbakeya market has long been a treasure for Attia, and now it has become a necessity.
“Books are so much more expensive this year,” he said.
But, he added with relief, “prices in Azbakeya have remained the same” — a rare boon in today’s economic climate.

 


UN urges end to ‘illogic of escalation’ between Israel, Palestinians

UN urges end to ‘illogic of escalation’ between Israel, Palestinians
Updated 03 February 2023

UN urges end to ‘illogic of escalation’ between Israel, Palestinians

UN urges end to ‘illogic of escalation’ between Israel, Palestinians
  • Turk criticised Israel for measures that "can only lead to further violence and bloodshed"
  • Since the start of this year, the conflict has killed 36 Palestinians

GENEVA: UN rights chief Volker Turk on Friday called for an end to the “illogic of escalation” between Israel and the Palestinians, amid a spike in deadly violence between the two.
Turk criticized Israel for measures that “can only lead to further violence and bloodshed,” following a surge in attacks and fighting that have drawn calls from the international community for calm and restraint.
Since the start of this year, the conflict has killed 36 Palestinians — including attackers, militants and civilians — as well as the six Israeli civilians, including a child, and one Ukrainian.
“Rather than doubling down on failed approaches of violence and coercion... I urge everyone involved to step out of the illogic of escalation that has only ended in dead bodies, shattered lives and utter despair,” Turk said in a statement.
“Recent measures being taken by the Government of Israel are only fueling further violations and abuses of human rights law,” he continued.
“We know from experience that the proliferation of firearms will lead to increased risks of killings and injuries of both Israelis and Palestinians.”
The UN rights chief was referring to measures to ease access to firearms announced by Israel’s government last week following a shooting by a Palestinian in east Jerusalem that killed six Israelis and one Ukrainian.
The following day, a 13-year-old Palestinian boy shot and injured two Israelis the in Silwan neighborhood just outside the walled Old City in Israeli-annexed east Jerusalem.
The Jerusalem attacks followed the deadliest Israeli army raid in the West Bank in almost 20 years that on January 26 left 10 Palestinians dead in Jenin, including armed militants.
Israel’s ambassador to the United Nations in Geneva, Meirav Eilon Shahar, complained that the UN rights chief’s statement “does not even have the decency to describe the attacks last week for what they were, acts of Palestinian terrorism targeting the Jewish people.”
“It does not even have the courage to condemn the death of innocent worshippers,” she added.
In his statement, Turk urged “all those holding public office or other positions of authority — indeed everyone — to stop using language that incites hatred of ‘the other’.”
He added that other measures announced by Israel in response to the Jerusalem attack, including “punitive forced evictions and house demolitions” may amount to “collective punishment.”
US Secretary of State Antony Blinken visited the region last week, urging deescalation following the deadly upsurge in violence.
The latest uptick follows the deadliest year in the West Bank since the United Nations started tracking fatalities in the territory in 2005.
Some 235 people died in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict last year, with nearly 90 percent of the fatalities on the Palestinian side, according to AFP figures.


Iranian director Jafar Panahi released after hunger strike

Iranian director Jafar Panahi released after hunger strike
Updated 03 February 2023

Iranian director Jafar Panahi released after hunger strike

Iranian director Jafar Panahi released after hunger strike
  • The director had been arrested months before the current anti-regime protests erupted
  • His wife Tahereh Saeedi posted a picture on Instagram of Panahi being driven from prison in a vehicle

PARIS: Acclaimed Iranian filmmaker Jafar Panahi has been released on bail after starting a hunger strike to protest against his almost seven-month detention, supporters said on Friday.
The director had been arrested months before the current anti-regime protests erupted, but his imprisonment became a symbol of the plight of artists speaking out against the authorities.
Panahi has been released from Tehran’s Evin prison “two days after starting his hunger strike for freedom,” the US-based Center for Human Rights in Iran (CHRI) said on Twitter, while Iran’s reformist Shargh newspaper posted an image of Panahi jubilantly embracing a supporter.
His wife Tahereh Saeedi posted a picture on Instagram of Panahi being driven from prison in a vehicle.
The prize-winning director was arrested in July and went on a dry hunger strike on Wednesday to protest his continued detention.
“Mr Panahi was temporarily released from Evin prison with the efforts of his family, respected lawyers, and representatives of the cinema,” Iran’s House of Cinema, which groups together industry professionals, said in a statement.
The announcement that Panahi was going on a dry hunger strike sparked a wave of concern across the world about the director, who has won prizes at all of Europe’s top three film festivals.
“Today, like many people trapped in Iran, I have no choice but to protest against this inhumane behavior with my dearest possession — my life,” Panahi had said in the statement published by his wife.
“I will remain in this state until perhaps my lifeless body is freed from prison,” he said.
Panahi, 62, was arrested on July 11 and had been due to serve a six-year sentence handed down in 2010 after his conviction for “propaganda against the system.”
On October 15, the Supreme Court quashed the conviction and ordered a retrial, raising hopes among his legal team that he could be released, but he remained in prison.
Panahi won a Golden Lion at the Venice Film Festival in 2000 for his film “The Circle.” In 2015, he won the Golden Bear in Berlin for “Taxi Tehran,” and in 2018, he won the best screenplay prize at Cannes for “Three Faces.”
Panahi’s latest film, “No Bears,” which like much of his recent work stars the director himself, was screened at the 2022 Venice Film Festival when the director was already behind bars. It won the Special Jury Prize.
“It is extraordinary, a relief, a total joy. We express our gratitude to all those who mobilized yesterday,” his French distributor, producer Michele Halberstadt, told AFP.
“His next fight is to have the cancelation of his sentence officially recognized. He’s outside, he’s free, and this is already great.”
Panahi’s July arrest came after he attended a court hearing for fellow film director Mohammad Rasoulof, who had been detained a few days earlier.
Rasoulof was released from prison on January 7 after being granted a two-week furlough for health reasons and is still believed to be outside of jail.
Cinema figures have been among the thousands of people arrested by Iran in its crackdown on the protests sparked by the September 16 death in custody of Mahsa Amini, 22, who had been arrested for allegedly violating its strict dress code for women.
Star actor Taraneh Alidoosti, who had published images of herself without wearing the Islamic headscarf, was among those detained, although she was released in early January after being held for almost three weeks.


Kuwait ranks first in Arab region for organ donors per capita

Kuwait ranks first in Arab region for organ donors per capita
Updated 03 February 2023

Kuwait ranks first in Arab region for organ donors per capita

Kuwait ranks first in Arab region for organ donors per capita
  • Doctors carry out about 100 kidney transplants a year, official says
  • Nation seeking to boost number of donors to 30,000

KUWAIT: Kuwait has more organ donors per capita than any other country in the Arab region and the second most across the Middle East, a government official said.
Dr. Mustafa Al-Musawi, director of the organ provision unit at the Ministry of Health and head of the Kuwait Transplant Society, said that about 100 kidney transplants were carried out each year in the country.
“In 2022, the country witnessed around 50 kidney transplants sourced from 50 deceased individuals and 49 sourced from live patients,” he was quoted as saying by the Kuwait News Agency.
His comments were made during an event organized by the Kuwait Transplant Society to honor previous donors and encourage others to join the scheme.
The campaign hopes to boost the number of organ donors in the country to 30,000, from 17,000 at present.
While kidneys are the most commonly transplanted organs, Kuwait is making some inroads in the area of heart transplants.


Israel probes legality of US giving artifact to Palestinians

Israel probes legality of US giving artifact to Palestinians
Updated 03 February 2023

Israel probes legality of US giving artifact to Palestinians

Israel probes legality of US giving artifact to Palestinians
  • The clash brings into focus the political sensitivities surrounding archaeology in the Middle East
  • Israelis and Palestinians each use ancient artifacts to support their claims over the land

BETHLEHEM, West Bank: An ivory spoon dating back 2,700 years that was recently repatriated to the Palestinian Authority from the United States has sparked a dispute with Israel’s new far-right government over the cultural heritage in the occupied West Bank.
The clash brings into focus the political sensitivities surrounding archaeology in the Middle East, where Israelis and Palestinians each use ancient artifacts to support their claims over the land.
Israel’s ultranationalist heritage minister has ordered officials to examine the legality of the US government’s historic repatriation of the artifact to the Palestinians earlier this month, and is calling for annexing archaeology in the occupied West Bank.
The artifact — a cosmetic spoon made of ivory and believed to have been plundered from a site in the West Bank — was seized in late 2021 by the Manhattan District Attorney’s office as part of a deal with the New York billionaire hedge fund manager Michael Steinhardt.
It was one of 180 artifacts illegally looted and purchased by Steinhardt that he surrendered as part of an agreement to avoid prosecution.
American officials handed an artifact over to the Palestinian Ministry of Tourism and Antiquities on Jan. 5 in what the US State Department’s Office of Palestinian Affairs said was “the first event of such repatriation” by the US to the Palestinians.
Dozens of Steinhardt’s surrendered artifacts have already been repatriated to Italy, Bulgaria, Greece, Turkiye, Jordan, Libya and Israel. This spoon was the first and only item ever to be repatriated to the Palestinians.
The repatriation coincided with the first weeks of Israel’s new government, which is composed of ultranationalists who see the West Bank as the biblical heartland of the Jewish people and inextricably linked to the state of Israel.
Heritage Minister Amihai Eliyahu’s office said last week that the legality of the repatriation “is being examined by the archaeology staff officer with the legal counsel, which will examine all aspects of the matter, including the Oslo Accords that the US has signed.”
The case underscores how archaeology and cultural heritage are intertwined with the competing claims of the Israelis and Palestinians in the decades-long conflict.
“Any artifact that we know that it comes out illegally from Palestine, we have the right to have it back,” said Jihad Yassin, director general of excavations and museums in the Palestinian Tourism and Antiquities Ministry. “Each artifact says a story from the history of this land.”
The ministry is part of the Palestinian Authority, the government established as part of the Oslo Accords in the 1990s that exercises limited autonomy in parts of the Israeli-occupied West Bank.
Those agreements between Israel and the Palestinians were supposed to include coordination on a raft of issues, including archaeology and cultural heritage.
But the agreements have largely unraveled. Yassin said that the archaeology committee has not met in around two decades, and that there is virtually zero coordination between Israel and the Palestinians concerning antiquities theft prevention in the West Bank.
“We try to do our best to protect these archaeological sites, but we face difficulties,” he said.
Yassin said that around 60 percent of the West Bank’s archaeological sites are in territory under complete Israeli military control, and that his ministry’s theft prevention workers “manage to control in a high percentage the looting” in areas under Palestinian Authority control.
Nonetheless, many of the illicit artifacts that have made their way to Israel’s legal antiquities market were looted from the West Bank, he said.
According to court documents, Steinhardt bought the ivory cosmetic spoon in 2003 from Israeli antiquities dealer Gil Chaya for $6,000. The artifact had no provenance — paperwork detailing where it came from and how it had entered the dealer’s inventory — but Chaya said the object was from the West Bank town of El-Koum, which is under Palestinian Authority control.
Another artifact believed to have been looted from the same town, a “Red Carnelian Sun Fish amulet (that) dates to circa 600 B.C.E.,” remains missing, according to the DA’s office. Steinhardt has yet to locate the item, but if it is found, it will be repatriated to the Palestinians, the office said.
American authorities returned 28 objects to Israel last year, not including three that were seized in place at the Israel Museum of Jerusalem. Seven others meant to be returned to Israel have yet to be found. Several of the items returned to Israel are believed to have been looted from the West Bank.
The Israel Antiquities Authority declined comment on the artifact’s repatriation to the Palestinians.
Heritage Minister Eliyahu, a religious ultranationalist in Netanyahu’s government now in charge of the country’s Antiquities Authority, denies the existence of a Palestinian people.
Since taking office, he has accused the Palestinian Authority of committing “national terrorism” and “erasing heritage” at an archaeological site in a Palestinian-controlled area near the West Bank city of Nablus.
It remains unclear what impact, if any, a review by the ministry’s legal counsel could have. It appears unlikely Israel could confiscate the artifact from the Palestinians, but a legal opinion against the move could potentially complicate future repatriations.
Earlier this week, Eliyahu said he would be giving the Israel Antiquities Authority full control over archaeological sites, cultural heritage and theft prevention throughout the West Bank — a move that critics say would in effect apply Israeli law over occupied territory in breach of international law.
Currently, archaeological excavations and antiquities in the West Bank are managed by the Civil Administration’s archaeology staff officer, which is part of the Defense Ministry. Israel has not formally annexed the West Bank, and the territory is treated as occupied and is governed under military law.
“All heritage on both sides of the green line will earn full protection, at an international and scientific standard,” Eliyahu wrote in a Facebook post on Sunday. He said the state of Israel would “act in a uniform and professional manner from the (Mediterranean) sea to the Jordan.”
Alon Arad, director of Israeli cultural heritage non-governmental organization Emek Shaveh, said that putting the Israel Antiquities Authority in charge of archaeology in the occupied territory was “activating Israeli law in the West Bank, which means annexation.”
Eliyahu’s office declined repeated interview requests.
Yassin said that for the time being, the artifact will remain at the ministry, where it will be studied by one of its archaeologists. Then, he said, it will be displayed at one of the West Bank’s museums.
“It’s not the only one,” Yassin said. “It is the beginning.”