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Middle East Report: Changing alliances in Syria and other stories

Sep 24, 2021

By Staff Writer

On Tuesday, Israeli news website Walla News reported that Russia requested Israel lobbies for a trilateral meeting with the US and Russia to discuss Syria.

This follows increased Russian criticism of Israeli attacks in the country since the new government in Tel Aviv.

The meeting reported having taken place on 9 September preceded a meeting between Putin and Asad in Moscow. Russia promised support for Asad’s intentions of territorial control, especially in light of a Russian brokered deal, which saw a ceasefire being re-negotiated in the opposition-held city of Deraa.

The deal, while halting the violence, has enabled government forces to enter territory upheld since 2013. Recent years have seen Syrian allies Moscow and Tehran adopt differing stances on the transition, with Asad expertly manipulating them to remain in control.

Israel supports the meeting as Tel Aviv believes it is a means of further weakening Iran’s influence, while Moscow favours it to squeeze Turkish and US troops from the North, the last rebel-held bastions in the country. Ankara has increased its troop deployment in and around Idlib, especially following increased Russian activity in the region.

Meanwhile, the current power struggle between the president and Prime Minister in Somalia raises fresh questions over the imposition of democracy in countries.

This follows the fall of the Afghan government, despite 20 years of US and NATO support. A similar fate is predicted for Somalia when AMISOM troops exit by the end of 2021 but will likely be extended.

It is noteworthy that Al Shabaab is rooted in Somali society, has a relatively operational governance structure, and can transcend its clan-based structures.

Counter-terrorism strategy thus needs to evolve to account for the fact that militancy in such countries, and most of the ‘Muslim’ world, are less about ideology and more about local responses to issues.

Many such as the renowned academic Azzam Tamimi have argued that fear of political Islam leads to rebel groups, with localised and justifiable regencies, being militarily confronted, explaining the lack of success of such strategies.

Security-first approaches, such as what was implemented in Afghanistan and is currently being implemented in Somalia, are likely to fail, especially in light of these rebel groups’ domestically routed and nationalistic nature.

Last, the trial of Patrick Zaki, an Egyptian student arrested in 2020 for documenting discrimination met out toward Coptic Christians in Egypt, finally commenced after Zaki had spent 19 months in pre-trial detention.

Zaki’s trial is interested in that Coptic Christians are mainly supportive of the El Sisi regime, which sees it as a critical base and touts its credentials in support of Christian rights as a means of deflecting from its atrocious human rights record. “He’s quite fair with us Christians because most of our presidents…not all of them supported Christians.”

A pharmacist in her 50s from upper-class background firmly assert that Sisi is working hard for Christians. Another Christian in his 30s said he supported Sisi mainly for security reasons. He argued that Egypt needs a strong government to curb Islamist powers, and he believes that Sisi would be the right person for that task. A solid relationship required the state and the Church (and the larger Christian believed) seems to continue.’

Egypt’s Coptic Christians, which comprise around 10% of the country’s population, do still face discrimination, especially concerning the construction of churches; however, the group has been advantaged by the Sisi regime, especially since it was one of the first to support the overthrow of Mohamed Morsi.

Zaki’s arrest and pre-trial detention are more concerning his supposed opposition to the regime, which has been ruthless at arresting political figures and activists, with over 60 thousand being in prison, most from the now-banned democratic Muslim Brotherhood organisation.

Alaa Abdel Fattah, an activist, now detained for over 14 months without charges, has in recent weeks reportedly become suicidal. However, Alaa’s case, like that of Zaki, is different. The publicity provided may force the authorities to be more lenient, especially the thousands of Islamist political prisoners. Many have been tortured, sexually abused and even died in detention, the most prominent being Morsi himself.

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