New Age Islam Edit Bureau
16 September 2015
Could Syria Be Putin's Afghanistan?
By Luke Coffey
Why the Surge in Terrorism?
By Yusuf Kanli
Not Quite an Empire
By Burak Bekdil
The Geostrategic Importance of Good Governance
By Ahmed El-Sayed Al-Naggar
From Suez to Washington
By Abdel Aziz Aluwaisheg
Could Syria be Putin's Afghanistan?
14 Sep 2015
In the late 1970s, the Soviet Union sent dozens of "advisers" to Afghanistan. By the early 1980s, these advisers turned into hundreds of thousands of troops who fought in a war that, in part, brought the Soviet Union to its knees.
Today, Russia makes no secret of the fact that it has "advisers" in Syria. Even more, Russian warships have been called into Syrian ports, and Russian warplanes and helicopters can be spotted on Syrian airfields. Social media accounts have shown Russian soldiers on the ground in Syria. There have even been reports that Russia is building a military base in Syria.
The actual number of Russian troops and the extent of their involvement in day-to-day combat in Syria are not yet clear. If there are a large number of Russian soldiers on the ground, their presence will not be kept a secret for long.
Concern As Russia Reportedly Increases Presence In Syria
The Kremlin's soldiers in Syria are bound to stick out like a sore thumb. Even in eastern Ukraine - which shares so many similar cultural, linguistic, ethnic, and religious traits with Russia - Moscow has failed spectacularly at keeping the presence of its troops a secret.
Russia's Goals in Syria
When US President Barack Obama said that Syrian President Bashar al-Assad "has to go", he did nothing to back up his words; when Russian President Vladimir Putin said that Assad will remain in power, he did everything to back up his words.
Obama's weakness and Putin's willingness to show strength have led us to the situation we find in Syria today.
Russia's ultimate goal in Syria is the preservation of the Assad regime. If Assad goes, Russia stands to lose its only naval base in the Mediterranean Sea at the port city of Tartous. As Russia's only port in the Mediterranean - and its only toehold in the Middle East - this would be a major blow to Moscow.
For Putin, the perception of the US failing in the Middle East is a victory for him.
Even if Assad hangs onto power, he will never control all of Syria as it once was. Putin knows this. Therefore, it is likely Moscow will help shore up Assad's defences in the region around Latakia - where he maintains his strongest support. Luckily for Putin, this is also where his naval base is located.
Middle East Spoiler
Putin sees the Middle East as another region on his global chessboard that can serve as a spoiler of Western policy. Deep down, Putin does not care if the Middle East burns or if thousands die. For Putin, the perception of the US failing in the Middle East is a victory for him. Keeping a naval base for Russia is merely an added bonus.
Assad is happy to play host to the Russians, no matter what the cost.
There has been a lot of focus on Iran being the primary guarantor of the Assad regime's survival. Though Tehran plays an important role in this regard, it should not be overstated.
While Iran can fund a war in Syria using proxies, it is only Russia that has the national resources and the expeditionary military capability to intervene in a meaningful way to prop up the regime.
More importantly, for Damascus, only Moscow has the right to veto on the UN Security Council that can delay, block, or frustrate international efforts that could result in the removal of Assad.
Russia Acts, the West Reacts
Obama believes that saying something is the same as doing it - that delivering a speech is the same as implementing policy. This is the main difference between Obama and Putin, and between the West and Russia.
Russia acts and then the West reacts.
This is a common theme between the West and Russia all over the world: With recent developments in eastern Ukraine, the testing of NATO, the Iranian nuclear deal, and now, Russian ground troops in Syria, it is clear that Russia has a strategy to achieve its national objectives. The West does not.
Until there is real leadership in the West, clear goals are defined, and a coherent and unified strategy is developed to achieve those goals, Russia will continue to run rings around the West in places like Ukraine and Syria.
How much Russian blood and treasure Putin is willing to spend to prop up Assad and keep its naval base in Syria remains to be seen; but one thing is for certain: Russia is playing a deadly game in Syria.
Although the situation in Syria is, in many ways, different from Afghanistan in the late 1970s and '80s, there are some notable parallels between the Soviets' incremental escalation in Afghanistan and what Russia is doing today in Syria. Before the Russian people realise what is going on, "advisers" quickly turn into soldiers, and soldiers quickly come home in body bags.
With the Russian economy in tatters, oil prices down, and the frozen conflict in eastern Ukraine, can Putin really afford another military adventure abroad?
The answer is he can, but the poor Russian people cannot.
Luke Coffey is a research fellow specialising in transatlantic and Eurasian security at a Washington DC-based think-tank. He previously served as a special adviser to the British defence secretary and was a commissioned officer in the United States Army.
By Yusuf Kanli
Let no one make wrong calculations. Irrespective of political view, the June 7 elections must be read in realism. The ruling Justice and development Party (AKP) lost the June vote, but its 40.08 percent vote share was bigger or just a nuance smaller than the combined vote of any two of the other three parties. The loser, therefore, was also the winner of the June poll.
Public opinion polls cannot be reliable. Those done by the biggest opponents of the AKP place it in between the 35-39 percent band, while pro-AKP pollsters or those paid by the AKP place the ruling party slightly better than its June performance at around 41-42 percent. Either way, it must be clear for everyone that most likely the Nov. 1 polls (if they can be held at all) will most likely produce a result very much like the present parliament. Thus, will it be fortune-telling to think President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan will not be happy with this result either and Turkey will probably head to a repeat of the repeat election sometime in March?
Hopefully not. Perhaps this time, the Nationalist Movement Party (MHP), particularly after the indecent Tuğrul Türkeş affair between itself and the Erdoğan-Prime MinisterAhmet Davutoğlu duo, will refuse to be the crutch or lifeboat of the troubled AKP, cooperate with the rest of the opposition and come to power as part of a “grand coalition” of the three opposition parties. Well, saying it is obviously far easier than doing it. To achieve that, the MHP must import tons of reason, common sense and some degree of realism.
Since the June 7 elections, due to rising separatist terrorism and terrorism-related violence, at least 158 Turks lost their lives. The small lifeless boy on shore nearby a plush touristic resort Bodrum beach became symbol of the ordeal of Syrian refugees and captured all of our hearts, but the kids losing their lives at Cizre and elsewhere because of terrorism are laid down silently. Was Cemile of Cizre less important than the Aylan of Bodrum? Definitely not. One was three years old, the other seven. They were both innocent. One ended up dead on a Bodrum beach, one ended up dead, stored in a deep freeze as she could not even be taken to a hospital morgue. In every ugly war or struggle, kids apparently pay a heavy price.
But, why does Turkey have this surge in terrorism after the June elections, while for the past three years before the June vote there was almost complete silencing of guns? What has changed? Why up until the last days of the June campaign period there was peace but from the Diyarbakır rally of the Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP) on and later “Peace process is in a deep freeze” declaration of Erdoğan, there was a rapid escalation of terrorism? Why did the separatist gang declare all of a sudden the period of “silent guns” had ended?
Many people awaited the outcome of the June 7 poll to see the end of the AKP’s sufficient parliamentary majority to form a single party government but Erdoğan and his men were aware of the situation. They were aware that the good old days were over. Were they, then, behind the Diyarbakır blast and later the Suruç bombing? It would be insane to think that a president and a ruling party could conspire or share a part in such heinous acts.
Yet, even top political figures confessed that should the nation have given the ruling party sufficient majority to rule the country “in stability,” the post-election’s chaotic situation could have been averted.
Anyway, why do we have a surge in terrorism and terrorism-related violence? First, a look at the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) flank might give a strong clue to the answer. What is the PKK and for what reason was it established in the late 1970s? Did not the gang derive whatever legitimacy it had from the oppression of the country’s Kurdish population in many ways? If an ethnic group is deprived of its language, culture, ethnic identity for whatever reason, terrorist gangs like the PKK might find themselves ordained with the legitimacy of “rebelling the oppressor.” The PKK was never, ever representative of the Kurds nor was it ever a group rebelling to acquire fundamental rights of Kurdish people. It was just a terrorist network, supported by some of Turkey’s enemies, as well as allies for several reasons. Could that PKK still have its claimed raison d’être if there were 80 deputies elected to parliament on the ticket of a Kurdish party? Thus, the PKK has been probably trying to kill the civilian politics card to again gain the upper hand in micro-Kurdish nationalist politics.
The AKP, on the other hand, can no longer get the Kurdish vote because it lost all its reliability but needs at least 18 additional seats in parliament in the repeat election. How it can do this, since Kurds are no longer a hope? By turning again to the nationalist vote. Thus, the nationalist rhetoric of the AKP, fuelled by the surge in terrorism and “determined fight” against terrorism, serve AKP targets well.
Yet, to the detriment of other plans, apparently Kurds are aligning more with the HDP, while the MHP is becoming more popular among nationalists because of these unpleasant developments.
Turkey would have ruled the Middle East first and the former Ottoman lands later. It would have ended the endless wars in the Middle East, once the mighty Turkish empire has emerged. Instead, the country smells of chaos and death.
Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu is proud that “our military took control of Dağlıca.” We, too, are proud that we hoisted the Turkish flag in a town in Turkish territory. In Turkish-speaking Turkey, mobs keep chasing Kurdish-speaking people to lynch and finding their property to burn down. In Kurdish-speaking Turkey, towns see wars, curfew or both.
Against such a “not-quite-an-empire” background, Talat Ulussever, board chairman of Istanbul’s stock market, has proposed “a model which would shape all stock exchange activity in line with a structure more compliant with Islamic rules.” In full support, your columnist even proposed a couple of ideas last week: Traders who swear never to drink a glass of wine or eat pork; traders whose wives have their heads covered…
What about insider trading activity? Permissible if it is accompanied by prayers of repentance? Initial public offerings with the suitable prayer? No more listings of alcoholic beverage producers? Banning bank shares to float because interest is not permissible in Islam?
The “displayed religion” hypocrisy never ends in this part of the world. President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan and his top cleric, Professor Mehmet Görmez, vehemently condemnedIsrael for what they called as “occupation” of Jerusalem’s Al-Aqsa mosque compound after the holy site became a scene to brief clashes between Israeli police and Palestinian protesters. Only a couple of days before Messrs Erdoğan and Görmez condemned the “occupation” of a mosque in foreign lands, the newly-appointed Culture and Tourism Minister Yalçın Topçu said that “his heart” wanted to see the Hagia Sophia “mosque” (church) to be reopened for Muslim prayers. (The Hagia Sophia Church in Istanbul was built in 537 and served as an Eastern Orthodox cathedral and the seat of the Patriarchate of Constantinople -- except between 1204 and 1261, when it was converted into a Roman Catholic cathedral under the Latin Empire.)
Minister Topçu, who earlier said that he would never allow (music) concerts where wine is consumed, said, “Opening the Hagia Sophia to prayers [for Muslims] is my personal dream, my goal, my ambition.” He did not say, though, whether he thinks it would be appropriate for non-Muslim countries to open mosques built centuries ago to non-Muslim prayers as there are plenty of such mosques in numerous European and Asian countries. The Islamist thinking here is very straightforward: “Don’t touch our mosques, but we will convert your churches!”
But should we be surprised at the crudity? My dear friend Fuad Kavur, a world-renowned Turkish-British director and producer of film and opera, is not: “Naturally, under best of circumstances [regarding Culture Minister Topçu], to hope for an André Malraux might have been slightly over-ambitious; instead, we seem to be lumbered with another Dr. Gœbbels - minus the doctorate from Heidelberg.”
“Why stop there [the Hagia Sophia]?” Mr Kavur asks. “There are other Christian places of worship in Turkey, Orthodox and Catholic, and a handful of synagogues; why not turn them all into mosques?”
His observation on the-more-surreal-than-surreal times we must endure between June 7 and Nov. 1 is interesting: “Obviously, in their soul searching as to why they did not quite make it on June 7, the AKP [Justice and Development Party] put two and two together and came up with five: Instead of suspecting they might have gone too far, they concluded they did not go far enough.”
Precisely. But the AKP may soon have to realize that their calculation including the unnecessary “one” they came up with in their equation may cost them more than “one.” In other words: the AKP, so far all-too happy with the bigger slice of a smaller cake, may have to learn to be content with the smaller slice of a smaller cake.
The Geostrategic Importance Of Good Governance
The Arab region, among all regions, seems to be like a boiling cauldron. In some countries, the long stability of despotic regimes, which was widespread across the entire Arab map, has dissipated; some were able to relatively regain it, while others couldn't.
This authoritarianism-based stability is about to unravel in other countries unless substantial reform measures are undertaken. Regional and international interference multiplied in a criminal spree against Arab uprisings and revolutions. These international and regional interference aimed at distorting the revolutions, deflecting them from their course, exploiting and making use of them in order to sabotage the region and break up its states, or sustain it under the rule of either the forces of tyranny or forces of religious fascism — as if they were inevitable options with no escape, and no role except foreclosing the future.
The region seems to be in a state of fluidity regarding the relationships among its states and the political-social alliances within each country. This may lead in any direction, according to however each state behaves internally, regionally and internationally. If the state perceives the givens of the moment and moves in an efficient and flexible way on all levels, it can make a breakthrough that will enhance its internal stability and regional and international status. But, if it moves in a bureaucratic manner, or loses its compass in its strategic options and its long term priorities, the cost will be enormous for the state and its future.
He who contemplates what's going on in the Arab world in its entirety will be stunned by the horror of the devastating violence hitting Arab countries, and the roar of cannons that is deafening in this corner of the world. This violence is characterised by infighting that it appears its parties, or at least some of them, lack the wisdom or desire to stop. Such internal wranglings have regional and international extensions, which are the main feeder for the continuance of the horrific fires sweeping the Arab world, destroying the social structure of some of its countries and states.
Such regional and international extensions are not just financial, or via arms given to groups of terrorists wreaking havoc and violence in Arab countries. It even extended to some Arab states entering direct confrontations; some of them for protecting a state from fragmentation, and others for destroying a competing or disputing Arab country over land and rights.
The tragic result is that the big Arab countries became torn, or are on the edge of being torn. The archaeological sites of the great civilisations, such as the Iraqi, Syrian and Yemeni civilisations, are facing damage and looting in a barbaric manner. Moreover, there are noble, great and civilised peoples whose sons in their millions are wandering in undignified circumstances as internal and external refugees. This along with hundreds of thousands of victims.
Anyone who contemplates what's going on in the Arab countries will be stunned by the shocking fact that no one has come forward to silence those cannons, or even tried to do so — at least in a serious manner — whether from the region's countries, or from influential international powers in the region.
Perhaps Egypt is the most qualified state to present inspiring and effective initiatives with the aim of silencing the cannons in the region, which is a matter that requires being distant from those cannons in order to play the role of the leader and mediator without provoking the sensitivities of any party. This distance from roaring cannons does not include confronting local terrorism or terrorist Wahhabi herds in the Arab region, and in Egypt itself, wreaking sabotage, slaughter and havoc, from ISIL (Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant) to Al-Nusra Front and Al-Qaeda.
What qualifies Egypt to play this role is its being the heart of the Arab region and the real centre weight on the aspects of population, civilisation, culture and politics, giving it a decisive and certain interest in the Arab region's stability. Even on the economic level, Egypt possesses the most diverse economy in the region and is a candidate for regaining its economic lead, and with a wide margin, in the near future.
Away from the necessities of the moment, the Arab circle is the first and nearest circle in Egypt's external relations, and it is the immediate circle in forging the profoundest and strongest political and economic relations, based on foundations of justice, parity and balance, relying on what is actually existing or what can be developed in those relations.
There are a number of big countries on the population, civilisation and culture levels, as well as politically and economically influential on the Arab and regional level, including Algeria, Iraq, Syria, Saudi Arabia and Morocco. There are politically influential countries despite their limited economic power, such as Tunisia and Oman, and financially influential countries in spite of their small population, including Kuwait, the United Arab Emirates, Qatar and Libya, along with states that have significant economic potentials if their resources are utilised effectively, such as Sudan, Mauritania and Yemen. There are also states that enjoy a strategic geographical location, in the light of Arab national security interests, such as Djibouti and Somalia, and states that enjoy a location and economic characteristics that qualify them to play a significant role on the level of regional financial and economic services, such as Lebanon, Bahrain and Jordan.
There is also one occupied Arab state and its cause is the foremost Arab cause: it is Palestine.
Regardless of these states' circumstances, they are the centre's circle, and spheres of action for Egypt which, should be put into consideration, it is an Arab, African and Mediterranean state and part of the global stage.
As for strategic relations in its narrow meaning (ie military), Syria is the partner of the most importance to Egypt in defending Arab national security and addressing the challenges it faces. In all Egypt's wars against the Zionist entity, both countries were in the same trench. Thus, any Arab strategy for Egypt should not allow the tearing apart and destruction of the Syrian state's unity, as the terrorist herds from Al-Nusra Front and ISIL are aiming to do, with the sponsorship some of the region's countries that are taking revenge on its nation states in order to elevate the tribal and sectarian state, and with the sponsorship of the United States and some European states working in this field for the interest of Israel, the partner linked organically with the West.
Balancing International Relations
It must be clear and obvious that the strategic relations between states, regionally and internationally, are linked to the strategic interests and visions of the two parties, and the extent of compatibility and consistency with the bases of internal construction. As for the immediate interests being connected, with special circumstances that link countries temporarily it can be possible to arrange immediate interest relations. However, special circumstances cannot create sustainable strategic alliances, unless they cause substantial changes in standpoints, interests and visions of the parties in the long run, and towards compatibility or conformity.
Egypt was able during the last two years — and especially the last year — to make a kind of balance in its international relations. It was able to utilise relative international fluidity to diversify its arms resources in a way that ensured obtaining weapons systems more developed and more capable of addressing the challenges that face Egypt.
Egyptian relations with the US, Europe, Russia, China and developing countries were the most balanced since former President Anwar El-Sadat threw all his cards in the American basket in the mid-1970s.
Moreover, Egyptian-African relations witnessed important developments on the political and economic levels. It is necessary that those developments go beyond the declaration of positive intentioned frameworks to reach effective cooperation, especially on the economic level, including solving some dangling problems, essentially related to Nile water and the Ethiopian Grand Renaissance Dam.
However, the balanced path in international relations, and perceiving the immediate and future weight of the great powers and forging relations with them on the basis of just and balanced mutual exchange of interests, is the strategic approach most suitable for Egypt's interests and that allows it freedom of manoeuvre in its international relations. It seems that's what Egypt is moving towards at the present time.
Critical Relations with Regional Powers
There are three big regional powers on the population, civilisation, culture, politics and military levels in the Arab region and neighbouring countries. Each one of them possesses a large and diverse economy that is capable of development. The regime's nature in every one of them, and the state of relations among them, influence the security, stability and development of the region as a whole. These powers are Egypt, Iran and Turkey.
According to World Bank data, the population of these countries are, in order, 82.1, 77.4 and 74.9 million people in 2013, at 234.4 million people combined.
It must be put into consideration that this data does not include every state's expatriates. The Gross National Product of Turkey, Iran and Egypt is respectively $882, $448 and $257 billion in 2013. As for Gross National Product in dollars calculated according to purchasing power parity between the dollar and local currencies, it reached around $885 billion for Egypt in 2013, around $1,207 billion for Iran, and around $1,391 billion for Turkey, with the three combined constituting $3,483 billion — thus more than three percent of Gross World Product, calculated in the same way.
As for the political, cultural, civilisation and historical weight of the three countries, it is gargantuan. In this context, Egypt's holding in civilisation weight surpasses any other. Any Egyptian regional strategy should take into account this reality in forging regional relations, in order to maintain Egypt's capability of undertaking a leading regional role, without undermining Egypt's relations with the rest of the region's countries.
Obviously, even if there are political disputes with the two political regimes in Ankara and Tehran, this does not detract from the importance of these two most important countries in the region, or that of Egypt, of course.
The region is witnessing fast and landmark developments in its interaction with neighbouring countries after the Iranian nuclear deal with the West. With the lifting of sanctions against Tehran, the gates will be opened wide for developing international relations with Iran, including its relations with the region's countries.
The UAE keeps the profoundest economic relations with Iran, for more than half the commodity and service trade between Iran and Arab countries is done with the UAE alone. There are full diplomatic relations between Iran and all Gulf countries. That's what makes the Egyptian-Iranian diplomatic estrangement a matter worthy of reconsideration by both parties. The existence of such relations would allow Egypt the possibility of undertaking a bigger role in mediation and crisis-solving between Iran and any Gulf state.
Egypt's Interior: The Need for Reform
The option of the democratic state based on citizenship, the separation of powers, and striking a balance between them, in respect for the constitution and what it implies on guarantees for freedoms, rights and human dignity, is key to political and security stability based on consent.
In this context is the necessity for respecting the law and applying on an equal footing, so as not to have those who are above the law and those who are beneath it. Discrimination in applying the law in practical reality takes from it its substantial characteristic, which is universality, and creates objective justifications for circumventing and breaking it.
Because the democratic option requires a separation between authorities, and striking a balance between them, the presence of parliament is obligatory. The state did well when it declared it would hold parliamentary elections in order to complete the Egyptian state's institutions, and for sake of the separation between authorities. The absence of parliament as a legislative and monitoring authority is a grave deficiency in any regime.
Moreover, the huge number of laws issued during the absence of parliament must be revised after parliament is elected, for this is an inherent right of parliament, according to the constitution. The constitution dealt with the issuance of laws during the absence of parliament as an exception, adding that the number of such laws should be limited and only issued when absolutely necessary. Thus, the constitution put time restrictions for revising such laws, to within 15 days.
However, what took place in Egypt during the last two years is that the exceptional legislative right of the president, amid the absence of parliament, was used on the largest scale. As a result, hundreds of laws were issued that the House of Representatives must revise within 15 days.
During such an extremely short period makes it impossible to revise even one percent of the laws issued. Thus, it is either the constitution that must be amended to deal with the issue, or it is very likely that many laws will be annulled in order, to revise them without time restrictions.
Protest Law as Anti-Freedom
Among the laws issued during the period of Interim President Adly Mansour, the protest law is the most controversial. Since its issuance, it was obvious that it was restricting of peaceful demonstration. In reality, the law was transformed into a prohibition on all peaceful opposition demonstrations, closing the door to free expression when opposition arises against authorities. This law resulted in transforming many peaceful actors who confronted Mubarak's despotic regime, and Morsi's fascist regime, in a peaceful way into prisoners.
Moreover, it constituted a main pickaxe in demolishing and breaking up the gigantic coalition that executed the huge revolutionary wave on 30 June 2013. This revolutionary wave, supported by the military and the police, toppled religious fascist rule and saved the state's institutions and sovereign bodies from being devastated at the hands of the same, deforming them into sectarian institutions and erasing their main identity as national institutions for all the nation's sons.
Furthermore, this law is not applied in all cases, for many demonstrations supportive of the regime were neither confronted nor were asked about permits to demonstrate — such as the demonstrations of lower-ranking police officers, despite their storming of the security directorate in Sharqiya.
On the whole, this law constituted a setback in democratic freedoms and was aimed mainly at peaceful demonstrations that use their constitutional right in this respect. As for violence and terrorism advocates, Egypt has an arsenal of laws by which it will confront them, and it was not in need of the protest law.
Historical experience points out that democratic political regimes are more capable of calling on the energies of their peoples to protect them, and the land and future. If these democratic regimes are coupled with social justice, it creates objective bases for political and security stability, established on consent not on mechanisms of command and control.
There are some media personalities and politicians that propagate despotic thoughts, trying to market the idea of an "exceptional moment" that requires despotic oppression to cross. This idea is a kind of inferior and ignorant incitement, trying to drive the state to walk this destructive path.
It is an entirely corrupt idea and cannot be applied in the current reality, locally and internationally, and doesn't create anything but more congestion. The really strong state is the state that respects the freedoms and rights of its citizens, achieves economic and social development, is committed to equality among its people, regardless of gender, religion, sect, colour and ethnicity, and triumphs social justice with all its requirements. Thus, it becomes strong, with its sons rally with her on the bases of citizenship, consent and faith in the state.
We can sum this up by saying that on the internal level there is a necessity to elevate the values of efficiency, science, work, equality, freedom, dignity, saving, investment, development, social justice, integrity and accountability as established bases for building a rising modern state, and achieving stability based on consent and sustainability.
The writer is chairman of the board of Al-Ahram Establishment.
On Sept. 4, Washington hosted the summit meeting between Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques King Salman and President Barack Obama, where they announced a “New Strategic Partnership for the 21st Century,” building on their already robust 70-year-old partnership.
The Washington summit has been compared with an earlier one, in February 1945, between King Abdul Aziz, founder of modern Saudi Arabia, and President Franklin Roosevelt.
The two meetings have many similarities but they also differ in some key areas. They had in common the objective of setting forth a new and stronger direction for Saudi-US relations amid profound changes taking place in the region and the world.
The purpose of the February 1945 meeting, held aboard USS Quincy near Suez (Egypt) was twofold: Roosevelt wanted to thank Saudi Arabia for its help to the Allies’ war effort and set the course for a more comprehensive partnership with Saudi Arabia.
Roosevelt came to Suez directly from Yalta following a meeting with Stalin and Churchill, just months before the Allies’ final victory in the war, when the US emerged as a global superpower after the defeat of Germany and Japan and destruction of Europe.
By that time, Saudi Arabia had also emerged as the most important independent powerhouse in the region, one of only a handful not under British or French control. King Abdul Aziz had become the undisputed ruler of Arabia, having restored his ancestral birthright by retaking Riyadh in 1901 and unified the rest of the country over the following decades with the proclamation of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia in September 1932.
In 1945, Saudi-US partnership was based on three pillars: Economic (oil and development), regional security and dealing with regional crises. Those pillars remain today with some changes. Today, terrorism and confronting Iran’s meddling in the internal affairs of its neighbours top the agenda. Crises in Yemen, Syria and Iraq are also major concerns. Economic cooperation has been delegated to the well-oiled machinery, in the government and private sector, which the two sides have developed over the past decades.
The bargain struck in 1945 was not always faithfully honored by subsequent administrations and the US occasionally committed grievous mistakes in its regional policy, but the Saudi-US partnership endured, because the two sides agreed that their relationship was pivotal for the preservation of their vital interests, despite differences of opinion sometimes.
But there were also notable differences between the two summits. The detailed joint statement issued at the conclusion of the Washington talks had one difference; there was no comparable document from the 1945 meeting, which was less formal. What was implicit then about Saudi Arabia’s regional role was made explicit in 2015, as the Washington statement acknowledged Saudi leadership in the Arab and Muslim worlds. King Salman too highlighted Washington’s significance to Saudi Arabia by choosing the US for his first state visit since assuming the throne in January 2015.
The Washington meeting was also explicit about the four pillars of the “New Strategic Partnership for the 21st Century.” In addition to bilateral cooperation, the two leaders emphasized joint commitment toward fighting terrorism; countering Iran’s destabilizing activities, and resolving regional problems.
Military commitments were also explicit, by emphasizing the need for fast-tracking delivery of weapons and spare parts, and for increasing cooperation in maritime security, cyber security and ballistic missile defence (BMD). No such references in 1945, indicating how far the two sides have come in their partnership, how the regional landscape has changed in 70 years.
Fighting terrorism and extremism was not a priority in 1945, but now it is, and so was reflected in the Washington statement: Disrupting financial flows and foreign fighters to terrorist groups and countering their messages.
The Washington statement detailed the two sides’ common positions on Palestine, Yemen, Syria, Lebanon and Iraq. This was a marked difference from 1945, when there was only informal agreement on how to deal with some regional issues, principally the Palestine problem and how to rid Arab countries of French and British colonial rules.
Perhaps the most glaring difference between 1945 and 2015 is the huge leap in Saudi economic fortunes. In 1945, Saudi Arabia produced only modest amounts of oil, its oil revenue was almost negligible and its entire gross domestic product (GDP) was a meager $4 billion. Compare that to the Saudi economy today: At nearly $750 billion of GDP, Saudi Arabia is among the top 20 economies globally, a force to reckon with. This enhanced economic position has significantly added to the pivotal role that Saudi Arabia plays in this strategic partnership.