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Middle East Press ( 28 Nov 2020, NewAgeIslam.Com)

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Middle East Press on Abiy Ahmed, Armenia and Azerbaijan and Nagorno-Karabakh: New Age Islam's Selection, 28 November 2020

By New Age Islam Edit Desk

28 November 2020

•  Bright Promise Of Ethiopia’s Abiy Ahmed Era Lies In Tatters

By Dr. John C. Hulsman

• Peace Deal Between Armenia And Azerbaijan Is A Disaster For Iran

By Dnyanesh Kamat

• Egypt-US Relations Unlikely To Suffer Under Biden

By Dr. Abdellatif El-Menawy

• Can President Aliyev Be Trusted On Nagorno-Karabakh?

By Emin Milli


Bright Promise Of Ethiopia’s Abiy Ahmed Era Lies In Tatters

By Dr. John C. Hulsman

November 27, 2020


Abiy Ahmed


Like Henry Kissinger, I came to Washington with an academic background, attempting to make the professional leap from merely analyzing foreign policy to participating in making it. And, like the venerable secretary of state, I came to the conclusion that, while an intellectual life has given me a huge advantage in successfully helping to craft policy, it also has its limitations.

While an understanding of world historical forces is absolutely necessary, of equal importance is the human, practical comprehension of specific leaders — their likes and dislikes, strengths and weaknesses, hopes and fears — if one is to get anywhere.

My practical Washington education has led me to embrace the deeply unfashionable “great man” theory of history, which says that specific people determine outcomes, as well as the larger world historical forces I had mastered in acquiring my doctorate. As such, every once in a while, a leader comes along who inspires actual hope that, through their unique biography, they can transcend the formidable obstacles in their path, leaving their country and world a changed and fundamentally better place through their mighty efforts. Winston Churchill, Mahatma Gandhi, Martin Luther King, Jr., and Abraham Lincoln were such men. For a brief but glorious moment, it seemed that Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed might be destined to join the pantheon.

But, as ever, Shakespeare knew what he was talking about when he wisely noted: “Expectation is the root of all heartache.” Over these past weeks, as Ethiopia has slid closer and closer to the abyss, something more was dying than merely the hopes for a renaissance in Africa’s second-most populous country. It is the beguiling dream that one man could transcend the formidable historical difficulties strewn around him and remake East Africa for the better.

It is easy to see why Ahmed, 44, inspires such fervor. Young, learned (he earned a Ph.D. in conflict studies) and a former intelligence officer in the government, Ahmed came to power in April 2018 following a period of great turbulence. Mass protests forced the long-ruling junta — dominated by minority ethnic Tigrayans — to cede power to Ahmed, who, while he was part of the ruling party, comes from mixed Oromo and Amhara stock. The Oromo are the largest tribal grouping in the country, comprising 35 percent of Ethiopians, while the Amhara are the second largest at 27 percent, with the heretofore militarily dominant Tigrayans comprising only 6 percent.

In handing power over to him, the junta was acknowledging the practical reality that — as a state comprising a mosaic of tribes as the basic political unit — to survive into the future as a unitary state, the government in Ethiopia had to expand its political legitimacy to a far broader segment of the population. The fear of the unraveling of the country based on this basic tribal division has been the snake in the garden haunting Ethiopia’s rulers over the past generation.

So the Ahmed experiment began. Quickly sidelining the formerly dominant Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF), he dramatically removed all TPLF ministers from his Cabinet. Stung, the TPLF withdrew to its regional stronghold in northern Tigray province. With the old junta ousted, Ahmed emptied the jails of political prisoners, allowed far more freedom of the press, promised national elections, allowed the formation of opposition parties, and promised to liberalize the Ethiopian economy. He even found time to formally end the country’s 1998-2000 war with neighboring Eritrea, fully 20 years after the conflict raged. For all this, Ahmed was rightly awarded the Nobel Peace Prize of 2019.

But Ahmed, and the expectations he had generated, were about to plummet back to earth. Increasingly suspicious that the formerly dominant TPLF was lurking to strike back at him, Ahmed postponed the all-important promised national election, set for August 2020, citing the COVID-19 pandemic as an excuse.

In defiance of the prime minister and the government’s orders, the Tigrayans went ahead with their own regional electoral contest, which the TPLF predictably won.

Fearing — ironically as had the TPLF — that the country was near to splitting apart along tribal lines, Ahmed fatefully decided to nip what he saw as the brewing Tigrayan rebellion in the bud. On Nov. 4, accusing the TPLF of attacking two federal army camps in the Tigray region and of seeking to destabilize the national government, he dramatically acted, launching a military offensive against the TPLF in its stronghold. With the federal army just 60 km from Mekelle, the Tigrayan capital, Ahmed is presently preparing a full tank-led assault on the city of half-a-million people.

While Ahmed is likely to emerge victorious in the short run, something profoundly important has died. The brewing civil war has already killed hundreds and made for tens of thousands of refugees. More importantly, the bright promise of the Ahmed era — that one great man could remake his region — lies in tatters as he grows ever more autocratic and ever more martial. Again, we must return to Shakespeare, as the problem with relying on people is that they can very often let you down. Or, as the bard put it in “Julius Caesar:” “The fault, dear Brutus, lies not in the stars, but in ourselves.”


Dr. John C. Hulsman is the president and managing partner of John C. Hulsman Enterprises, a prominent global political risk consulting firm. He is also senior columnist for City AM, the newspaper of the City of London.


Peace Deal Between Armenia And Azerbaijan Is A Disaster For Iran

By Dnyanesh Kamat

November 27, 2020

The latest conflict in Nagorno-Karabakh has been a disaster for Iran. The terms of the cease-fire agreed on by Armenia and Azerbaijan represent a grave threat to Tehran’s long-term strategic interests.

The effects of this are likely to affect the perception of the regime among the Iranian people, and alter its policies on Azerbaijan and Syria.

Azerbaijan now has control over the entirety of its border with Iran along the Aras river. While this is cause for celebration in Baku, it is viewed with alarm in Tehran because an extension of Azerbaijan’s border gives Israel access to more territory from which it can keep tabs on Iran.

Despite denials from Baku, it is no secret that Israel and Azerbaijan enjoy substantive cooperation in intelligence, energy and military matters.

Azerbaijan is one of the largest buyers of Israeli weaponry. Its use of Israeli “kamikaze” drones during the war played an important role in tilting the battlefield to its advantage — although Turkish-made Bayraktar TB2 drones have been credited as the true game-changer in the conflict.

In addition, Azerbaijan and Israel maintain deep intelligence ties. Were Tel Aviv to launch airstrikes against Iranian nuclear installations, Azerbaijan would likely play a vital role, either as a refueling stop or launchpad.

The other consequence of the war is the proposed creation of a transit corridor through Armenian territory, connecting Azerbaijan to its Nakhchivan exclave. It is likely that this corridor, which will be patrolled by Russian troops, will run parallel to Armenia’s border with Iran. This has already raised concerns in Tehran, as it could effectively cut off Iranian access to Armenia, and from there to Europe via Georgia. For a country already reeling from international sanctions, it is of great importance to Iran that it maintains access to friendly neighbours.

Such is the panic that has set in, Iran’s Deputy Foreign Minister Abbas Araghchi was compelled to explicitly issue an assurance that access to Armenia will not be threatened. It is noteworthy that Iranian Foreign Minister Javad Zarif will soon travel to Moscow and Baku to discuss the issue in more detail.

However, it is even more important to take note of a capital city he will not be visiting: Ankara. Turkey is another important winner in the conflict. Not only will its troops maintain a presence in Azerbaijan, it also will have direct access to the Caspian Sea through the proposed Nakhchivan-Azerbaijan corridor. Ankara can now directly project influence in Central Asia, which has been one of President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s most cherished ambitions.

Tehran will have taken note of Russia’s reluctance to offer full-throated support to its ally, Armenia. The takeaway from Moscow’s role in the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict is that it is happy to sacrifice an ally if it becomes too bothersome. Nikol Pashinyan, Armenia’s prime minister, came to power through the sort of “color revolution” detested by Russian President Vladimir Putin. Pashinyan further annoyed him by jailing Robert Kocharyan, Armenia’s former president and erstwhile Putin ally.

In this conflict, then, Moscow stuck to the letter, rather than the spirit, of its alliance with Yerevan, stating that its security commitments only extend to Armenian territory. The Russians allowed Azerbaijan to reclaim all its lost territories, while Armenia retained rump areas around Nagorno-Karabakh’s capital.

Moscow will maintain its influence in the region by providing a peacekeeping force in Karabakh and along the proposed Nakhchivan-Azerbaijan corridor. It also will be happy to see the back of Pashinyan, whose political career seems to be over. Russia also appears to be guided by its broader goal of ensuring that Turkey remains out of the orbit of the West.

Astute policymakers in Tehran will likely draw the right conclusions from this, particularly in terms of what it might augur for Iran’s ally in Syria, Bashar Assad. Having seen the eagerness with which Russia and Turkey were willing to hash out a deal between themselves, Tehran is likely to push the Assad regime in the direction of concluding the Syrian civil war.

The main effect the outcome of the conflict will have on domestic politics within Iran is likely to be psychological. It is yet another blow to Tehran’s self-image as a regional hegemon. Indeed the fact that the regime was a bystander to the conflict, unable to influence its outcome, will revive memories of the two Russo-Persian Wars of the 19th century, which resulted in Persia having to cede control over the entire South Caucasus.

It reveals to the Iranian people that Tehran no longer has the economic might, the technological sophistication or an alluring political model to influence a region that was under Persian influence for hundreds of years — one is tempted to say thousands, since the time of the Achaemenid empire.

Taken together, all of this represents yet another slight to the legitimacy of the regime that has ruled Iran since 1979.


Dnyanesh Kamat is a political analyst specializing in the Middle East and South Asia. He also advises governments on policies and strategic initiatives to foster growth in the creative industries, such as media, entertainment and culture. Copyright: Syndication Bureau


Egypt-US Relations Unlikely To Suffer Under Biden

By Dr. Abdellatif El-Menawy

November 26, 2020

Many Egyptians, politicians and non-politicians alike, believe that Joe Biden’s victory over Donald Trump in the US presidential election was not in the best interests of their country. Their fears are based on the stance that was taken by former President Barack Obama, which was considerably different from that of his successor, Trump.

However, this view of political science is not correct at all. Rather, it indicates a narrow view and simplistic understanding of the rules of international politics, based on the idea that “no friendship lasts nor is enmity prolonged in the world of politics.”

Trump is a friend of the Egyptian state and has been supportive of its policies in specific areas, in particular its efforts to combat terrorism. The Obama administration, on the other hand, was largely supportive of the terrorist Muslim Brotherhood movement. But this does not necessarily mean that Biden will adopt Obama’s policy by supporting the Brotherhood and putting pressure on the Egyptian state.

The Obama administration supported the Jan. 25 revolution in 2011 and Obama himself delivered an eloquent speech in which he praised and gave his blessing to the youth movement in the country.

With the passing of a period of instability, consultations took place between US officials and representatives of the Brotherhood in Egypt, which was considered the strongest and most organized faction on the ground (we heard that a lot in those days). As a result, the Obama administration decided that US interests were best served by backing the group.

Washington gave its blessing to the election of Mohammed Morsi as president of Egypt in June 2012, but when a constitutional declaration in November that year effectively granted him unlimited powers, opinions about him and the Brotherhood grew more divided among administration officials. Some, including US Ambassador to Egypt Anne Patterson, continued to believe American interests were best served by the Brotherhood remaining in power, while others were concerned that the group was attempting to establish a fascist religious state.

The popular uprising in Egypt on June 30, 2013, shocked the Brotherhood and its supporters, who intervened forcefully in an attempt to defeat those who had taken to the streets to save their country. Nevertheless, the revolution succeeded and the Brotherhood regime was toppled.

This was a defining moment in the evolution of the form of the relationship between Egypt and the US. I say “form” and not “content” because the new administration in Cairo was supported by the vast majority of the Egyptian people, while Washington was constrained by its recent actions, experiences and contacts with Egypt, and an incomplete understanding of the reality of the changes there. As a result, there was friction in bilateral relations, made worse by areas of mutual misunderstanding.

The second and third generations of leading Brotherhood figures in other countries, who had been educated in the UK, the US and Canada and spoke fluent English, set about trying to save their comrades in Egypt. They wrote articles for major newspapers, magazines and think tanks, and their voices were heard in the US Congress.

The Egyptian state was keen to end this nightmare. When Republican candidate Trump defeated his Democratic opponent Hillary Clinton — who, like Obama, was a supporter of the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt — in the 2016 presidential election, he began to implement an overhaul of US policies. Among other things, he rejected the Brotherhood, canceled US treaties with Iran, and even made diplomatic overtures to North Korea and Russia.

Meanwhile, the Egyptian state sought to make improvements architecturally, socially and economically, and to build bridges of communication with the world. These efforts have borne fruit. Egypt has become an important international force on many levels and in issues such as combating terrorism, Mediterranean gas, the Libyan crisis, and peace in the Middle East.

As a result of the progress made by Egypt in these areas and others, the international community is increasingly eager to cooperate with Cairo. Over time, the world saw through the Brotherhood’s lies and unfounded allegations of injustice.

This brings us back to Biden, whose foreign policy team will certainly adopt a different approach to Egypt than that of the Obama administration, in which Biden served as vice president. As president, his policies will be based on the current realities, not past events.

Those Egyptians who are unhappy about Biden’s election are ignoring the enhancement of economic relations between Egypt and the US in recent years. This was only possible by agreeing to deal with American leaders.

During President Abdel Fattah El-Sisi’s visit to New York in September 2019, we saw the extent of the recent growth in US investment in Egypt, which the new occupants of the White House will certainly take into consideration during their dealings with Cairo.

Egypt has also acquired a prominent new position in the natural gas sector in the eastern Mediterranean — a development the Biden administration will want to study well and benefit from. There are also the issues of the Libyan crisis, illegal immigration to Europe, and regional peace to take into account, all of which are issues in which Egypt has become a pivotal player.


Dr. Abdellatif El-Menawy is a critically acclaimed multimedia journalist, writer and columnist who has covered war zones and conflicts worldwide.


Can President Aliyev Be Trusted On Nagorno-Karabakh?

By Emin Milli

26 Nov 2020

On November 10, a peace deal was signed between Armenia and Azerbaijan to end the fighting over the Nagorno-Karabakh region. Although there were accusations on both sides of ethnic cleansing, such mass violence did not take place. The exodus of Armenians which some envisioned also did not happen.

After the deal was signed, Azerbaijan’s President Ilham Aliyev, for his part, called for peaceful coexistence between Armenians and Azerbaijanis. But given his questionable democratic credentials, many have doubted his intentions.

I can understand this. In 2009, I was imprisoned for more than two years for what I believed was merely helping a friend put together a satirical film, which the authorities deemed an act of “hooliganism”.

Clearly, this is an administration with which I have had profound disagreements. Yet on the question of Nagorno-Karabakh and the reassertion of Azerbaijan’s sovereignty over its territory, I find myself for once in total agreement with it, as do Azerbaijani opposition parties, civil society and indeed the population at large.

Nobody in Azerbaijan craves a deluge of reprisals against the ethnic Armenians of Nagorno-Karabakh, neither do I believe we shall see one. How governments deal with political dissidents is different than how they treat minorities. The violation of civil rights in a country is not the same as the systematic persecution of a group on the basis of ethnicity and religion.

Modern-day Azerbaijan demonstrates this. Democratic hurdles aside, the nation is multicultural. All – whether Muslim, Jewish or Christian – are equal in rights and dignity, including the 30,000 Armenians who call Azerbaijani regions outside Nagorno-Karabakh home. This is not a matter of democracy, but of peaceful coexistence. The latter is by no means contingent on the former. In fact, recent history has provided us with many examples where democracies have failed to prevent racist violence and ethnic cleansing.

President Aliyev’s intention in pursuing the military operation in Nagorno-Karabakh appears to overlap with the Azerbaijani people’s desire for reaching a solution for this decades-old conflict and upholding the right of return of the 700,000 displaced Azerbaijani refugees back to their homes. There is no reason why this must come at the expense of the Armenians who have lived in Nagorno-Karabakh for generations.

If the military operation had been driven by more nefarious impulses, the November 10 deal would not have held. The Azerbaijan military appeared to be winning and it could have reclaimed more of Azerbaijan’s territory occupied by Armenian forces. Instead, Baku agreed to peace.

This agreement differed markedly from the three previous ceasefires as it provided for the deployment of foreign peacekeepers in the conflict zones, as well as the vital corridor that connects Nagorno-Karabakh with Armenia.

To agree to peacekeepers from Russia – Armenia’s principal backer in the conflict – was a substantial compromise for Azerbaijan. Given many quarters in Azerbaijani society were pushing for liberation of all territories held by Armenian forces, it is not a decision that had been taken lightly. It very much signals the desire of the political leadership for peaceful coexistence moving forward.

The presence of the Russian peacekeepers over the next five years will reassure the ethnic Armenian population, giving the Azerbaijani government time to earn their trust, build confidence and ensure security in the region.

Civil society should also be reaching out across the ethnic divide to provide reassurance. Trust is difficult to build not only at the government level, but also at the societal level. For far too long Armenians and Azerbaijanis have seen each other as the enemy. We now must begin the complex process of demystifying the other, of seeing each other as humans, speaking in the language of dialogue and compromise.

A platform should be established through which the Armenian and Azerbaijani civil societies can connect. Organisations from the European Union and the United States could facilitate this rapprochement. Whatever form this outreach takes, it must be part of a truth and reconciliation process that must also take place. Without it, mutual mistrust will be allowed to fester.

In parallel, a large-scale effort to rebuild Nagorno-Karabakh has to get under way. Despite the deficit in some freedoms, the Azerbaijani government does have a good track record in development, social welfare programmes and large-scale infrastructure. It has significantly improved the standard of living of ordinary Azerbaijanis since the 1990s.

For 30 years, Nagorno-Karabakh has been held back by conflict and international isolation. It is time for the benefits of the Azerbaijani state largesse to extend to its population as well. An ambitious economic development plan that provides opportunity for all in Nagorno-Karabakh will go a long way in facilitating reconciliation.

Peaceful coexistence between Armenians and Azerbaijanis has always been possible. We only need to look at the time before the 1990s war for proof. It is clear that President Aliyev is trusted by his own people to deliver his promise of liberation and peaceful coexistence. Should the rest of the world trust him, too? His actions should speak for themselves.



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