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The Sisi Doctrine Aligns Egypt with Iran in Syria and against Iran in Yemen

March 9 2017

While Egypt’s regime and its sometime allies in the Persian Gulf share much in common—Sunni Islam, a pro-American outlook, antipathy to Islamist groups, and security cooperation with Israel—its regional priorities are fundamentally different, with important consequences. Eric Trager explains:

[M]uch to its allies’ chagrin, Egypt hasn’t become the anchor of a broader Sunni Arab alliance against Iran. Instead, President Abdel Fatah el-Sisi has charted his own course—one that sometimes aligns with this Gulf allies’ interests and at other times contradicts them, but which always follows the same pattern: Sisi supports states whenever they are in conflict with non-state actors.

Sisi’s foreign-policy outlook is . . . an extension of his domestic one. At home, Sisi sees himself as a strongman combating those who seek chaos, foremost among them the Muslim Brotherhood. According to the Egyptian government’s narrative, Sisi “saved” Egypt from the Brotherhood, which seeks the collapse of the Egyptian government and the establishment of an Islamist theocracy. . . . Sisi fleshed this out in his September 2016 address at the United Nations General Assembly, when he defined terrorism not as violence against civilian populations by non-state actors but as “a threat to the entity of the state.” To bolster Sisi at home, Egypt’s pro-government media routinely highlight the violence in Libya, Yemen, and Syria as examples of what might happen if the Islamists are allowed to challenge the Egyptian state.

Due to his strong preference for state actors over non-state ones, Sisi has diverged sharply from his Gulf allies regarding the Syrian conflict. The Gulf states have tended to see the Syrian conflict in terms of their broader concerns regarding Iran’s expanding regional influence, and they have strongly supported the overthrow of Bashar al-Assad’s Iranian-backed regime. . . .

Sisi, however, is less concerned about Iran’s regional influence than he is about the fallout if Sunni Islamist groups [fighting Assad] gain the upper hand, since, from Sisi’s standpoint, these rebels often look similar to the Islamists that he is fighting at home, and he has increasingly shown his preference for Assad. . . . [I]n October, Cairo supported a Russian UN Security Council resolution [on Syria] that Saudi Arabia strongly opposed, and a few days later it hosted the Syrian intelligence chief for talks that, according to Syria’s news agency, concluded with an agreement to “strengthen coordination in the fight against terrorism.” Egyptian-Saudi ties have been frigid ever since.

Read more at Caravan

More about: General Sisi, Iran, Middle East, Persian Gulf, Politics & Current Affairs, Saudi Arabia, Syrian civil war

Why Cutting U.S. Funding for Palestinian “Refugees” Is the Right Move

Jan. 22 2018

Last week the Trump administration announced that it is withholding some of America’s annual contribution to the UN Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA), the organization tasked with providing humanitarian aid to Palestinian refugees and their descendants. To explain why this decision was correct, Elliott Abrams compares UNRWA with the agency run by the UN high commissioner for refugees (UNHCR), which provides humanitarian aid to refugees who are not Palestinian:

One of [UNHCR’s] core missions is “ending statelessness.” [By contrast, UNRWA’s] mission appears to be “never ending statelessness.” A phrase such as “ending statelessness” would be anathema and is found nowhere on its website. Since 1950, UNHCR has tried to place refugees in permanent new situations, while since 1950 UNRWA has with its staff of 30,000 “helped” over 5 million Palestinian “refugees” to remain “refugees.” . . . UNRWA has three times as large a staff as UNHCR—but helps far fewer people than the 17 million refugees UNHCR tries to assist. . . .

The argument for cutting funding to UNRWA is not primarily financial. The United States is an enormously generous donor to UNHCR, providing just under 40 percent of its budget. I hope we maintain that level of funding. . . . The argument for cutting funding to UNRWA instead rests on two pillars. The first is that UNRWA’s activities repeatedly give rise to concern that it has too many connections to Hamas and to rejectionist ideology. . . .

But even if those flaws were corrected, this would not solve the second and more fundamental problem with UNRWA—which is that it will perpetuate the Palestinian “refugee” problem forever rather than helping to solve it. . . . [T]hat the sole group of refugees whom the UN keeps enlarging is Palestinian, and that the only way to remedy this under UN definitions would be to eliminate the state of Israel or have 5 million Palestinian “refugees” move there should simply be unacceptable. . . .

Perpetuating and enlarging the Palestinian “refugee” crisis has harmed Israel and it has certainly harmed Palestinians. Keeping their grievances alive may have served anti-Israel political ends, but it has brought peace no closer and it has helped prevent generations of Palestinians from leading normal lives. That archipelago of displaced-persons and refugee camps that once dotted Europe [in the aftermath of World War II] is long gone now, and the descendants of those who tragically lived in those camps now lead productive and fruitful lives in many countries. One can only wish such a fate for Palestinian refugee camps and for Palestinians. More money for UNRWA won’t solve anything.

Read more at Pressure Points

More about: Israel & Zionism, Palestinians, Refugees, U.S. Foreign policy, UNRWA