Egyptian President Abdel Fattah El-Sisi has met with senior Russian officials to discuss boosting economic ties between the two countries, marking the 14th year of the joint Egyptian-Russian committee. The committee is currently holding a meeting in Cairo to outline cooperation in fields such as commerce, industry, research, and the arts. The talks included discussions on increasing Russian investments in Egypt, the establishment of a Russian industrial complex in the Suez Canal Economic Zone, and co-manufacturing goods with Russian producers operating in the canal zone.
The meeting also addressed the current global crisis in the supply of grain and food, and discussed the continuing trading of wheat and grains between the two countries. In 2022, Egypt imported 4.9 million tonnes of Russian grain, making Russia one of Egypt’s biggest suppliers of grain and wheat, along with Ukraine.
Egypt’s reliance on Russian grain is expected to continue throughout 2023, according to a January statement from Egypt’s state grain buyer. After announcing its exit from the UN Grain Trades Convention, Egypt is expected to look more towards Russia to fulfill the grain needs of its 104 million population. In January, Russia’s Deputy Prime Minister said Moscow was studying a mechanism to settle payments for grain exports to Egypt in roubles instead of dollars.
Despite calls by Western powers to isolate Russia over its invasion of Ukraine last year, Cairo has maintained relations with Moscow. In fact, Russian efforts to bolster its relations with African and Arab nations have intensified since the invasion, as Moscow continues to face harsh sanctions from the US and Europe. Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov addressed the Arab League in July 2022 in a bid to curry favour among its member states.
The visit of Russian officials to Cairo came two days after the International Criminal Court announced an arrest warrant for President Vladimir Putin on the war crimes accusation of unlawfully deporting Ukrainian children. However, the meeting in Cairo did not address this development.
Egypt’s economy has suffered greatly since the invasion of Ukraine last year, with food prices skyrocketing and contributing to a punishing economic crisis. Nonetheless, Egypt has continued to maintain strong relations with Moscow, given its dependence on Russian imports for food and other critical supplies. The meeting between the Russian officials and El-Sisi is seen as an attempt to further strengthen economic ties between the two countries and to mitigate the impact of the ongoing global crisis on Egypt’s economy.
Image Credit: Egyptian presidency
Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu made a historic visit to Cairo on Saturday in a bid to restore full diplomatic relations between Turkey and Egypt, despite Ankara’s ongoing support for the Muslim Brotherhood group. During a joint news conference with Egyptian Foreign Minister Sameh Shoukry, Cavusoglu revealed that Turkey was using its influence to extend a Black Sea grain deal, allowing the export of grain from Ukraine, in its role as mediator between Moscow and Kyiv.
The fact that Shoukry and Cavusoglu held a joint news conference indicates a significant shift between the two countries after almost ten years of strained relations that followed the ouster from power of the Muslim Brotherhood and former Egyptian President Mohamed Morsi. Both diplomats hinted that full diplomatic relations will be restored soon amid a general thaw of hostilities throughout the Middle East following the recent agreement between Iran and Saudi Arabia to resume diplomatic ties severed in 2016.
“We largely agree on most issues. We have to improve bilateral relations in every field from transportation to trade,” Turkey’s Mevlut Cavusoglu said at a joint press conference in Cairo with Egyptian counterpart Sameh Shoukry.
Cavusoglu emphasized the dangerous ramifications of the Russia-Ukraine conflict and the need to avoid a more serious — potentially nuclear — conflict. He said Ankara had pushed to gain Russia’s agreement on renewing a Black Sea grain deal that allows Ukraine to export grain to various Middle Eastern and Third World countries, including Egypt.
Egyptian Member of Parliament Mustafa Bakri told Saudi-owned al Arabiya TV that restoring normal relations with Turkey is important for several strategic reasons, including “using Turkey’s good relations with Ethiopia to ease tensions over the Renaissance Dam,” which has caused consternation in Egypt due to its potential to disrupt the flow of water on the Nile.
Latent tensions between Cairo and Ankara over who controls parts of Libya and undersea natural gas resources in the eastern Mediterranean have also made relations between the two countries acrimonious, and improved relations between the two countries could avoid potential conflict in those areas. Egypt’s foreign minister said talks with Turkey on the possibility of restoring ties to the ambassadorial level would happen at “the appropriate time” during the first visit to Cairo by Turkey’s top diplomat since relations ruptured a decade ago.
At the joint news conference, Shoukry and Cavusoglu said Turkey would upgrade its diplomatic relations with Egypt to ambassador level “as soon as possible”. Ties between Turkey and Egypt were severely strained after Egypt’s then-army chief Abdel Fattah el-Sisi led the removal of Muslim Brotherhood’s Mohamed Morsi, an ally of Ankara, in 2013. El-Sisi was elected president the following year. The two countries have also been at odds in recent years over Libya, where they backed opposing factions in an unresolved conflict, and also over maritime borders in the gas-rich Eastern Mediterranean.
The recent warming of relations between Turkey and Egypt coincides with Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s attempt to improve strained ties with the Arab world in anticipation of May’s elections. The two countries’ relationship has been troubled for years, largely due to Turkey’s support for the Muslim Brotherhood, which Egypt has classified as a terrorist organization. This was exacerbated by the military removal of former Egyptian President Mohamed Mursi in 2013. Additionally, Egypt and Turkey have had disagreements over other regional conflicts, as well as rivalling claims to energy resources in the East Mediterranean.
Cavusoglu said on Saturday that Turkey’s President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and Egypt’s el-Sisi would meet “after the Turkish elections,” including the presidential vote slated for May 14, to mark the end of a decade of estrangement between the two countries.
Image Credit: Reuters
Tunisia’s Interior Minister Taoufik Charfeddine has resigned from his post citing family reasons, according to a report by state-run news agency Tap. The announcement came on Friday, with Charfeddine informing Tunisian President Kais Saied of his decision to step down. The President quickly appointed Kamal Feki, the former governor of Tunis, as the new interior minister.
Charfeddine explained to reporters that his decision to resign was based on a desire to take care of his family, particularly his children, after the death of his wife in a fire caused by a gas leak in June of last year. He had held the post since October 2021 and was considered one of the President’s closest aides.
The appointment of Feki, who is known as one of Saied’s staunchest supporters, came just hours after Charfeddine’s resignation. Feki has already refused to grant a protest permit to the opposition Salvation Front coalition, citing their involvement in plotting against state security. However, the Interior Ministry allowed them to protest.
Charfeddine was a key figure in the election campaign that propelled Saied to the presidency in 2019. He had also served as interior minister under former Prime Minister Hichem Mechichi, who sacked him in January 2021 due to strained relations between the president and prime minister. However, Saied reappointed Charfeddine after dismissing Mechichi and seizing most powers.
In recent weeks, Tunisian authorities have detained several opposition figures, charging them with conspiring against state security. Police have also carried out a crackdown on African refugees lacking residence permits, leading to accusations of detaining hundreds and turning a blind eye to racist attacks.
Saied has taken increasing control over security forces since July 2021, when he dismissed Mechichi’s government. He shut down the parliament and moved to rule by decree before writing a new constitution that he passed last year.
The president has faced international criticism over his treatment of opposition figures and African refugees. Last month, Charfeddine was present during a video meeting with the president, where Saied expressed his position on illegal refugees from sub-Saharan Africa. “There is no question of allowing anyone in an illegal situation to stay in Tunisia,” Saied said. “I will not allow the institutions of the state to be undermined or the demographic composition of Tunisia to be changed.”
Yesterday, March 16 marked one year since Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe release from Iran. On the one year anniversary of Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe release, a British-Iranian woman who was detained in Iran in 2016, has called for sanctions against 10 Iranian officials on the first anniversary of her release from prison.
Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe and her legal advisers marked the first anniversary of her release from an Iranian jail by urging Britain to sanction 10 Iranian officials they say are responsible for a resurgence in state hostage-taking of foreign nationals.
Zaghari-Ratcliffe was arrested in Iran in 2016 while on a visit to see her parents in Tehran. She was separated from her daughter Gabriella, who was a toddler at the time, and subjected to vigorous interrogation by authorities. The UK-Iranian was later sentenced to five years in prison for allegedly plotting to overthrow the regime, a charge she has always denied.
Since her release from prison in March 2022, Zaghari-Ratcliffe has been working tirelessly to campaign for the release of other dual national and political prisoners detained in Iran. She and her husband Richard have been trying to balance a normal life with their daughter Gabriella, while also advocating for policy changes in the UK to prevent other families from going through similar ordeals. In September, Zaghari-Ratcliffe filmed herself cutting her hair in solidarity with protesters in Iran after the death of Mahsa Amini.
British-Iranians Morad Tahbaz and Mehran Raoof are known to still be held in Iranian jails, while another dual citizen Ali Reza Akbari was executed earlier this year. At least three dual nationals have recently had a death sentence confirmed, and it is estimated that 40 dual nationals have been arrested since a wave of street protests in Iran started last September.
Zaghari-Ratcliffe’s legal advisers at Redress have submitted the names of 10 Iranian officials they believe should be subject to human rights sanctions over state hostage-taking, according to The Guardian. The couple is also calling on the UK government to appoint a special envoy for hostages to handle such crises in the future.
However, Foreign Office minister David Rutley has stated that the UK does not believe a state can be a hostage-taker and instead uses the term “arbitrary detention for diplomatic leverage”. This statement has disappointed Zaghari-Ratcliffe and her family, who feel that more needs to be done to hold those responsible accountable.
Zaghari-Ratcliffe’s husband, Richard Ratcliffe, accused the UK government of being less interested in sanctions for cases such as theirs since his wife’s release. He is worried that the UK’s soft approach will only encourage more state hostage-taking by Iran.
Zaghari-Ratcliffe’s case has garnered international attention, with many countries and organizations calling for her release. While her release was a positive development, the fact that other dual nationals remain detained or have been executed shows that there is still much work to be done to improve the human rights situation in Iran.
The Ratcliffe family continues to campaign for the release of Morad Tahbaz and Mehran Raoof and for greater accountability for those responsible for state hostage-taking. They hope that by raising awareness and advocating for policy changes, they can prevent other families from experiencing the same trauma they have gone through.
Image Credit: BBC
Turkey has been hit by yet another natural disaster, as torrential rain caused deadly flooding in two provinces that were devastated by catastrophic earthquakes last month. At least 14 people have been confirmed dead, with several others missing, after surging waters swept away homes and inundated campsites sheltering earthquake survivors.
The south-eastern province of Adiyaman and the neighbouring province of Sanliurfa were particularly badly affected, with videos from the region showing flood waters surging along streets and sweeping away cars. In Tut, a town in Adiyaman, a container home where a group of earthquake survivors were living was swept away by the raging waters.
In Sanliurfa, a flooded campsite where earthquake survivors were sheltering in tents, as well as a hospital, were both evacuated, according to HaberTurk. Governor Sali h Ayhan reported that four people were killed and two firefighters were missing in Sanliurfa, while in Adiyaman, one person was confirmed dead and four more were missing.
Rescue teams are currently searching for five people who were reported missing in three locations. Television footage showed that the floodwaters caused part of a motorway in the region to collapse.
The flooding in Turkey comes after last month’s, a magnitude 7.8 earthquake struck parts of Turkey and Syria, killing over 52,000 people, the majority of them in Turkey. More than 200,000 buildings in Turkey were either severely damaged or collapsed.
Turkey’s disaster management agency said that more than a dozen professional divers are involved in the ongoing rescue efforts in each of the two affected provinces. The latest flooding has increased the misery for thousands who were already left homeless by the earthquake last month.
Image Credit: Hakan akgun/Dia via AP
Late last month, Hezbollah leader Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah and Hamas leader Ismail Haniyeh met in Beirut to discuss the 11-day conflict between Israel and Palestine in the Gaza Strip. While the conflict was the topic of conversation, the discussion also focused on counterbalancing Egypt’s growing role in the region, with the aim of boosting Iran’s regional influence. The North African country played an important mediating role during the recent conflict, helping to broker a ceasefire, and its regional power appears to be growing. Given this, Iran perceives Egypt as a major threat to its geopolitical agenda.
The recent 11-day conflict is the latest in the decades-long conflict between Israel and Palestine. At least 254 people were killed along with immense infrastructure damage in both Israel and the Gaza Strip. While Egypt played a critical role in negotiating the ceasefire, the country has been in this situation before. In 2014, it helped broker a truce after weeks of war between Israel and Hamas. Over the past year, numerous Arab countries, including the United Arab Emirates (UAE) and Bahrain, have normalized diplomatic relations with Israel, sparking backlash from the Palestinian territories. This placed Egypt in a unique position to broker peace between the two warring parties.
During the recent talks between Nasrallah and Haniyeh, however, the two leaders sought to undermine Egypt’s role in the current ceasefire and counterbalance its broadening influence. This is because Egypt’s geopolitical agenda is not aligned with Tehran, as Iran is the primary backer of Hamas and Hezbollah, something Egypt is firmly against. Hamas is a militant group based in the Gaza Strip, receiving backings from Qatar and Iran. Tehran supplies Hamas with weapons and funding and intends to exert control over the conflict’s mediation efforts. Similarly, Iran also backs Hezbollah, a Shiite Muslim political party and designated terrorist organization based in Lebanon. Hezbollah has established significant political and military power in the country, and it has promoted Iranian ideals in the region, including anti-Western sentiment. Both Hamas and Hezbollah act as proxies for Iran in the Middle East.
According to individuals familiar with the June dialogue, the two leaders discussed how they could align Iran and Hamas’ regional agendas and continue to promote Iranian influence in the Middle East in the wake of normalization efforts with Israel. Haniyeh particularly expressed an interest in obfuscating Egypt’s role in establishing a ceasefire between the Palestinian Islamist movement and Israel. In doing this, Iran would be able to demonstrate it retains control over Hamas, and it would be able to counterbalance Egypt and Israel’s expanding influence in the region.
The recent talks between Nasrallah and Haniyeh are a strong reflection of Iran’s desire to continue expanding its prowess in the Middle East and undermining the presence of Egypt.
Flash floods triggered by destructive monsoon rains across much of Pakistan have killed more than 1,000 people and injured and displaced thousands more since June, officials have said.
The updated death toll came a day after the prime minister, Shehbaz Sharif, asked for international help in battling deadly flood damage. More than 33 million people have been displaced.
The government has declared an emergency to deal with monsoon flooding, which began in June and continues to cause havoc in Pakistan.
The National Disaster Management Authority said on Sunday that 119 people had died in the previous 24 hours as heavy rains continued to lash parts of the country. That brought the death toll since mid-June to 1,033 with at least 1,456 injured.
The authority’s report the previous day said 45 people were killed in flood-related incidents from Friday to Saturday.
Many parts of Pakistan have become inaccessible, and rescuers are struggling to evacuate thousands of marooned people from flood-affected areas. Balochistan and Sindh provinces are believed to be among the worst-affected areas.
Image Credit: AP Photo/Zahid Hussein
Barn’s, the popular Saudi Arabian coffee chain, has announced its plans to expand globally and aims to have 1,000 stores worldwide by 2030. The company, which was founded in 1992 by the Al Amjaad Group, currently operates over 430 stores in Saudi Arabia and is the country’s second-largest chain behind US-based Dunkin’.
In its expansion efforts, Barn’s will focus on drive-thru stores and smaller format sites, with its initial international expansion expected to target fellow Middle Eastern and North African markets. CEO of the Al Amjaad Group, Mohamed Al-Zein, also revealed that Barn’s will launch an initial public offering (IPO) this year, allowing the public to become “investors in the company’s success.”
According to the World Coffee Portal research, the Middle Eastern branded coffee shop market comprises over 8,870 outlets and is expected to reach 11,840 stores by 2027. Meanwhile, Project Café Middle East 2023 identified Saudi Arabia as the largest branded coffee shop market in the region, with a growth of 18.5% in the 12 months ending November 2022, reaching 3,556 outlets. Currently accounting for 40% of all stores in the Middle East and North Africa, the Saudi Arabian branded coffee shop market is projected to surpass 5,350 outlets by 2027.
It is not surprising that Barn’s plans to expand globally considering that their coffee is loved by many in Saudi Arabia. A recent study found that Saudi Arabia is classified among the top 10 coffee-consuming countries in the world. The consumption of coffee by Saudis is estimated at about one billion riyals annually. Saudi coffee is known globally due to the high-quality beans grown in the region. Saudi Arabia is one of the largest coffee producers in the world, producing some of the finest arabica beans. These beans are known for their rich, smooth flavor and full-bodied aroma, making them the perfect ingredient for delicious and aromatic coffee.
How Saudi coffee is made
Saudi Arabian coffee is made from coffee beans that can be roasted either lightly or heavily. The brewing methods may vary, but the typical way to make it is to boil the coffee and serve it without filtering, which makes it black. Sugar is not a common addition to coffee, but spices such as saffron, cinnamon, cardamom, or cloves may be added depending on the location in the country. The coffee is traditionally served using a pot called a dallah, which is used to pour small amounts of coffee at a time into a cup (known as a finjal). Unless instructed otherwise, your host or waiter will continue to pour small amounts of coffee into your cup. To balance the bitter taste of the coffee, it is often served with sweet treats such as dates, nuts, or candied fruit.
Princess Iman of Jordan, the eldest daughter of King Abdullah II and Queen Rania, married Venezuelan-born Greek national Jameel Thermiotis on Sunday in a ceremony on the outskirts of the capital city of Amman. The wedding took place at the Dabouq Palace, hosted by the bride’s parents.
Princess Iman, 26, was escorted to the ceremony by her brother, Crown Prince Hussein, wearing a white dress with a long train and a lace veil by Dior. She wore a diamond tiara reportedly owned by her grandmother, Princess Muna Al Hussein. The wedding was a rare occasion when most members of the Hashemite family were seen in public, and parts of the ceremony were broadcast live on state television.
Under Jordan’s constitution, all significant powers in the country are with the monarch, who has to be male. Princess Iman sat with her new husband, Mr Thermiotis, and King Abdullah in front of a green Quran placed on a table as a palace cleric recounted how marriage is an exalted virtue in Islam. The couple then signed the marriage document, which declared them husband and wife.
The newlyweds walked under spears carried by Royal Honour Guards, who usually greet foreign leaders when they come on official visits to the kingdom. They jointly used an Arab sword to cut a six-layer wedding cake.
Guests at the wedding included Prince Hasan, the only living brother of the late King Hussein, who is seen as an elder statesman in Jordan, as well as members of the Hashemite family and Mr Thermiotis’s parents and siblings. Crown Prince Hussein, the king’s eldest son, is due to marry fiancee Rajwa Al Saif, from Saudi Arabia, on June 1.
The engagement of the couple was announced by the Royal Hashemite Court in July last year, and last week, Queen Rania shared photos from her daughter’s pre-wedding henna party.
Image Credit: ROYAL HASHEMITE COURT/FACEBOOK