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Egypt will not cover Giza pyramid with granite blocks following expert report

Fri, 02/16/2024 - 12:30
Egypt will not cover Giza pyramid with granite blocks following expert report
Government reverses Menkaure Pyramid restoration plan after recommendations by a multi-national scientific commission
Sondos Shalaby Fri, 02/16/2024 - 12:30
Renovation work at the Pyramid of Menkaure at the Giza Pyramids Necropolis, west of Cairo, 29 January 2024 (AFP/Khaled Desouki)
Renovation work at the Pyramid of Menkaure at the Giza Pyramids Necropolis, west of Cairo, 29 January 2024 (AFP/Khaled Desouki)

The Egyptian government has reversed a plan to restore the smallest of the three main pyramids in Giza, after a committee of experts recommended against any change to its current shape. 

“Today science won,” Monica Hanna, one of the scientists who mobilised against the original plan, said on Thursday.

“I thank every single person who stood up for the right to protect Egyptian heritage,” she wrote on X.

In January, the Egyptian archaeological community was stunned after a senior official announced he was overseeing a plan to reconstruct the outer layer of the Pyramid of Menkaure using existing granite stones scattered around the pyramid or buried underground.

In one video, Mostafa Waziri, the secretary-general of Egypt's Supreme Council of Antiquities, hailed it as the "project of the century", with workers setting blocks of granite on the base of the pyramid.

//

Waziri, who headed an Egyptian-Japanese mission tasked with the now halted project, said the aim was to reconstruct the granite layer that encased the pyramid when it was originally built thousands of years ago. He said work was set to last for three years and would be "Egypt's gift to the world in the 21st century".

Conservationists and Egyptologists opposed the plan, saying it was approved without consultation with experts, and warned it would violate international conservation standards and conventions

Egypt pyramid restoration plans under review following outcry
Read More »

In an apparent reaction to the criticism, the Ministry of Tourism and Antiquities commissioned a scientific committee last week headed by archaeologist and former minister Zahi Hawass to evaluate the plan.

Hawass’s team included six senior scientists and experts from Egypt, the United States, the Czech Republic, and Germany. Their findings are binding, said Hawass

The report, according to a government press statement, highlighted the committee's unanimous decision not to reinstall any of the granite blocks around the Menkaure Pyramid. 

“The committee emphasised the need to preserve the current state of the pyramid without any additions due to its exceptional global archaeological value,” according to the statement from the State Information Service.

“The original covering of the pyramid can be inferred through the existing seven rows of limestone blocks on the pyramid's body for thousands of years.”

"The committee emphasised the impossibility of determining the original and exact location of any of these granite blocks on the pyramid's body. Reinstalling them would cover the existing evidence of ancient Egyptian construction methods for the pyramids," it added.

State Department ‘discrimination’ traps relatives of Palestinian Americans in Gaza

Thu, 02/15/2024 - 17:06
State Department ‘discrimination’ traps relatives of Palestinian Americans in Gaza
Palestinian Americans have been unable to help their families escape Israeli bombardment due to the Biden administration's rigid definitions of family
Umar A Farooq Thu, 02/15/2024 - 17:06
Palestinians crowd oustide a bakery to buy bread in Rafah in southern Gaza on 15 February 2024.
Palestinians crowd oustide a bakery to buy bread in Rafah in southern Gaza, on 15 February 2024 (Mohammed Abed/AFP)

Eight-year-old Shahd was sheltering with her parents and more than 30 other Palestinians when an Israeli bomb struck their building in northern Gaza, burying them under concrete blocks and bits of twisted metal. 

As Israeli jets circled the skies and continued to pound the besieged enclave, neighbours, who saw and felt the devastating strike, scrambled to the blast site to help retrieve survivors.

Clawing through the debris, trying to find as many survivors as they could, Shahd was recovered after a two-hour effort - albeit bloodied and bruised.

But her parents, like everyone else around in her home, were found dead under a heap of crumpled concrete. In an instant, Shahd's life was forever changed.

When Shahd's uncle, Hani Dawoud, a US citizen based in Cupertino, California, heard the news, his heart sank. He knew he now had to do everything possible to get both her and his ageing parents, who had sought shelter in another part of Gaza, out from the enclave.

War on Gaza: Palestinian Americans snub Blinken briefing on Gaza as protesters camp outside residence
Read More »

"I started making my calls because I know she was in the south and an evacuation should be doable," he said.

But for weeks since then, one major barrier has stood in the way of bringing his niece to safety: the US government.

Since the 17 November air strike, Dawoud has repeatedly contacted the State Department to help get her Shahd out of Gaza and into the US.

But the State Department's response hasn't changed from the scripted response they first received.

"They can preach about guidelines all they want, but there are people that are vulnerable and fit a very humanitarian criteria. And they are just turning a blind eye to them," Dawoud told Middle East Eye.

As Dawoud wrangles with the State Department, Shahd is still languishing in Gaza - struggling to process what happened and why.

//

"She's living a nightmare, constantly asking about her mother or father," he said, adding that Shahd regularly wakes up in the middle of the night screaming and crying about what happened.

'Not based in law'

Dawoud's experience is one faced by dozens of other Palestinian Americans who have been trying for months, in vain, to get their families out of Gaza amid Israel's looming invasion of Rafah.

"The most annoying thing is when they start talking about how they are against the displacement of people. It means that in that context, you are okay with them dying. Because if they are not displaced right now, they can die at any minute," Dawoud said.

The current process for getting the families of US citizens as well as legal permanent residents out of Gaza begins with those individuals applying to the State Department on their relatives' behalf by using an online crisis intake form.

The State Department then reviews that form, and if approved, it sends that list to Egypt and Israel for further review.

Once that review is completed and approved, the list is sent over to Palestinian authorities in Gaza, who publish a daily list of the individuals approved to leave via the Rafah border crossing.

The labyrinthine process was described by Sammy Nabulsi - a lawyer from Boston who has refocused his work on helping Palestinian Americans get their families out of Gaza - as similar to "walking through mud while boulders are coming at you".

'There's no legal basis to have to have carved this narrow category'

- Sammy Nabulsi, lawyer

"You have a population here that is literally in a cage," he said, adding that the US government has much more leverage to get American relatives out of the besieged enclave than it lets on.

The State Department told MEE that it has successfully helped more than 1,600 Palestinians "including US citizens, Lawful Permanent Residents (LPRs), and their family members" leave Gaza and enter Egypt via the Rafah crossing.

"We are aware that this is a difficult situation for US citizens, LPRs, and their families who are seeking to depart Gaza, and we are doing what we can to assist," the State Department told MEE.

Nabulsi says that in the cases in which an American is trying to get relatives out of Gaza that fall under the categories set by the State Department, he has had success in getting them out of Gaza.

However, Nabulsi says whenever there is a case in which the relative falls just outside the parameters set by the US, there is no flexibility on the part of the Biden administration. The lawyer said this rigidness does not have any sort of legal basis to justify it.

"Hani Dawoud is committed to taking care of his niece and bringing her in, and the State Department won't put her on the list. This is completely tragic, it makes no sense," Nabulsi told MEE.

//

"The State Department has made a decision that's not based in law. There's no legal basis to have carved this narrow category."

As it stands, only US citizens, their spouses, parents and unmarried children under the age of 21 are permitted by Washington to leave Gaza. Any siblings under 21 can also be approved to leave, but only if their US citizen sibling is also under the age of 21, according to Nabulsi.

MEE asked the State Department whether it would consider expanding the category of family members of US citizens allowed out of Gaza, but the department said it had no further comment.

Nabulsi said he has been working with dozens of families who have relatives stuck in Gaza - brothers, sisters, nieces and nephews - who are not eligible to leave Gaza due to the conditions set by the US government.

"The gatekeeper for Americans is the United States government, it's the State Department," Nabulsi said.

"There's no attention given to case-by-case situations that really do need some flexibility on the part of the State Department just from a human perspective. Again, the people making the asks are US citizens."

In some cases, the Palestinian Americans are the only relatives that these residents in Gaza have left due to the massacres they have suffered by the Israeli military.

//

For Dawoud, his niece was able to get to his parents who are also still stuck in Gaza.

The three of them are in Rafah, ten minutes away from the Egyptian border. Because his parents fit the category of those relatives of US citizens allowed to leave, Dawoud is hoping they'll be able to bring Shahd with them to the border. He says he's heard that border guards will allow young children accompanying adults to be allowed passage.

But with his parents still not on the list despite US approval, and Israel's invasion of Rafah looming, the situation is dire. It's unclear whether a security check from Egypt or Israel is holding them back.

"Our hope was - we heard the stories of minors who can go with their parents or grandparents even if their names didn't appear. But the problem is even my parents are not appearing on any list," he said.

'State Department is not trying'

The US State Department told MEE that it's doing everything it can to assist the families of both US citizens and Lawful Permanent Residents in Gaza. But lawyers working on these cases like Nabulsi and congressional offices who are receiving inquiries from constituents about their relatives in Gaza describe the State Department's efforts as lacklustre.

"I worked assisting during the Afghan evacuation after Kabul. And that was a disorganised mess, but it was obvious that the State Department was trying," said one congressional aide, who spoke to MEE on the condition of anonymity. 

"This is a disorganised mess and it's incredibly obvious the State Department is not trying. It is insane."

Israel-Palestine war: Palestinian Americans from Gaza relive trauma while fearing for families back home
Read More »

The aide said that there have been no clear lines of communication between the State Department and congressional offices about how to get people out of Gaza.

The aide's congressional office said they were not made aware that there was a State Department task force created to address the war in Gaza. They only found out in January, a month after it was disbanded.

The State Department confirmed that its Israel-Hamas Task Force was disbanded on 8 December 2023.

"The suspension of Task Force operations reflected a change in requirements, and in turn, a changing choice of tools as we continue our sustained attention to this crisis, including to the safety and security of US citizens," the State Department said.

Nabulsi, the lawyer from Boston, noted that the initial intake form on the State Department's website doesn't work, and now Palestinian Americans are being told to directly email the US embassy in Jerusalem.

If their relatives don't meet the criteria, they shouldn't even bother trying since they won't get a response.

"They basically are saying if you're Palestinian American, your [US] passport doesn't matter," the congressional aide said.

"It's a beautiful portrait of discrimination by the State Department."

MEE tried filling out the crisis intake form on the State Department website but received a message saying it could not be completed.

A screenshot showing that the online crisis intake form on the State Department's website no longer works.
A screengrab showing that the online crisis intake form on the State Department's website no longer works (Screengrab)

Selective limits of US citizenship

The contrast between how Israeli Americans were immediately jettisoned out of the country after war broke out on 7 October and the path Palestinian Americans have had to take has been described as stark.

"Despite very little movement - and it continues to be very difficult - the United States very quickly and in the earliest days of the conflict provided a number of means to get US citizens and relatives out of Israel through hourly chartered flights and cruise ships, and you name it," Nabulsi said.

"Both from the perspective of getting people out and then finding a pathway to give these people a safe haven in the United States with their own family members, the Palestinian Americans and their family members have been treated totally different."

'It became common knowledge that these people [the US government] don't think we are anything beyond numbers'

- Shahd, an eight-year-old Palestinian in Gaza

On Wednesday, a group of 16 US Senators, led by Cory Booker, sent a letter to the Biden administration, imploring it to expand the categories of American relatives that can be allowed permission to leave Gaza.

For Dawoud, one of the reasons he worked towards getting citizenship was so he could get his family out of Gaza.

"It's disappointing to say the least, because the work towards US citizenship was a choice that I made. And it was a choice based on the values that this country represents," he said.

"But then, if you expect to show your faith and respect to that country that you're becoming a citizen of, you also have rights. And one of the basic rights is protecting your loved ones."

Since the war broke out in Gaza, Israel has killed more than 28,000 Palestinians, the majority of them women and children, and has levelled entire residential neighbourhoods and laid siege to numerous hospitals.

Shahd, who is still recovering from wounds from an Israeli air strike, told her uncle that children in Gaza have come to learn quickly that the US government only sees Palestinians as numbers.

"For kids who are born and living there [in Gaza], it became common knowledge that these people [the US government] don't think we are anything beyond numbers," Dawoud recalled his niece saying.

Washington

War on Gaza: Why Egypt fears Israel's Rafah attack and what it means for their peace treaty

Wed, 02/14/2024 - 15:39
War on Gaza: Why Egypt fears Israel's Rafah attack and what it means for their peace treaty
Egyptian authorities already seem to be planning for an influx of refugees - but they seem keen to keep relations with Israel at an even keel
Sondos Shalaby Wed, 02/14/2024 - 15:39
A satellite image shows the construction of a wall along the Egypt-Gaza border near Rafah, 15 February (Maxar Technologies/Reuters)
A satellite image shows the construction of a wall along the Egypt-Gaza border near Rafah, 15 February (Maxar Technologies/Reuters)

As the Israeli military plans a ground offensive on the Gaza town of Rafah, south of the border Egypt is preparing for the worst - with a humanitarian crisis and threat to its peace treaty with Israel looming.

Rafah is the last refuge for nearly 1.4 million Palestinians fleeing the ferocious Israeli bombardment of the Gaza Strip. Once designated as a “safe zone” for those forcibly displaced by Israel's war on Gaza, it has lately been the target of deadly aerial bombardment by Israeli aircraft and remote-controlled quadcopters. 

Prior to the war, the town was home to around 250,000 people. Now, displaced Palestinians, including 600,000 children, are crammed in makeshift tents in an area of just 62 sq km. Aid workers told MEE this week that an Israeli land operation on the densely populated area will lead to a humanitarian and healthcare "catastrophe".

Added to this is the prospect of Israeli troops deployed along Egypt's border with Gaza, which anonymous Egyptian sources have previously briefed could have consequences for the peace treaty with Israel - though this was denied by Foreign Minister Sameh Shoukri.

When Israel and Egypt signed their 1979 peace treaty, the town of Rafah found itself divided. Israeli troops withdrew from the Sinai peninsula they had been occupying since 1967, and a border between Egypt and the Gaza Strip was created, splitting Rafah into two parts: one Egyptian and another Palestinian. 

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One of the main provisions of the treaty was designating four zones in Sinai and Israel as demilitarised. The Egyptian side of Rafah falls within Zone C, which only allows for the deployment of a civilian police force armed with light weapons, as well as UN peacekeepers. 

'The biggest concern of the Egyptian government is the infiltration of militants who will then operate from Sinai and target Israel, giving the Israelis reasons to retaliate'

- Egyptian military source

Israel has allowed exceptions to this provision over the past decade, however, with Egyptian President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi's government deploying troops to the area to fight an insurgency.

Key to maintaining peace and security along the border has been the Philadelphi Route, also known as the Philadelphi Corridor: a 14-km long, 100-metre-wide demilitarised buffer zone along the entire border between Gaza and Egypt. Israel, whose troops then occupied Gaza, was given control over the corridor by the 1979 treaty.

Later, following the 2005 Philadelphi Accord and Israel's disengagement from Gaza, the Palestinian Authority took control of the corridor, and since 2007 Hamas has overseen the area.

Last month, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu declared that Israel must reoccupy the corridor. "The Philadelphi Corridor - or to put it more correctly, the southern stoppage point [of Gaza] - must be in our hands," he said.

"It must be shut. It is clear that any other arrangement would not ensure the demilitarisation that we seek."

In response, the Egyptian government said reoccupation of the corridor would violate the peace treaty. 

Egypt-Israel agreements

According to Djaouida Siaci, an international lawyer, Israel’s occupation of the Philadelphi corridor and any deployment of tanks there would be a “blatant violation” of the peace treaty.

“It would be considered an illegal occupation of that narrow strip,” she told Middle East Eye. 

Mohannad Sabry, a Sinai expert and writer, agreed, saying the reoccupation would be “a full breach” of the treaty's security terms.

Even when Israeli forces occupied Gaza before 2005, the Philadelphi corridor remained a demilitarised buffer zone, Sabry noted.

A displaced Palestinian family who fled their house due to Israeli strikes, prepare food as they shelter at the border with Egypt, in Rafah, Gaza, 10 February (Reuters/Mohammed Salem)
A displaced Palestinian family who fled their house due to Israeli strikes, prepare food as they shelter at the border with Egypt, in Rafah, Gaza, 10 February (Reuters/Mohammed Salem)

But, Sabry argues, even if Israel breaches the treaty, a full military confrontation with Egypt is highly unlikely.

“The peace treaty is not going anywhere. As minister Shoukri said, the treaty will remain intact,” he said.

//

“The back-and-forth statements in the media are for public consumption. What matters is what’s happening behind closed doors, in intelligence coordination meetings in Cairo and other capitals.”

Likewise, Joost Hiltermann, an analyst at the International Crisis Group think tank, said suspension of the treaty “won’t happen”.

“Relations between Israel and Egypt remain strong, despite what is taking place in Gaza.”

'Relations between Israel and Egypt remain strong, despite what is taking place in Gaza'

- Joost Hiltermann, International Crisis Group

According to Sabry, Egypt has done little to confront Israel’s invasion of Gaza, despite nearly 30,000 Palestinians killed and hundreds of thousands more forced to its border.

Egypt’s main concern about a Rafah offensive is the mass influx of Palestinians, rather than its peace with Israel, he said.

“The reoccupation of Rafah, including or not including the Philadelphi Corridor, has not been refused per se,” Sabry said. “It’s accepted under certain circumstances.”

For Egypt and the United States, an Israeli assault on Rafah, where it says four Hamas battalions are based, would be acceptable as long as there is somewhere for Palestinian civilians to safely flee to.

“This is the only condition," Sabry said.

Buffer zone

Indeed, where Palestinians will be able to flee to if Israel moves into Rafah is a burning question for Egypt and the international community. There are indications that Egypt is preparing for an influx of refugees.

On Wednesday, the Sinai Foundation for Human Rights said Egyptian authorities are preparing a 10 km buffer zone to receive displaced Palestinians.

Contractors working on the project told the independent rights group that work is being carried out under the supervision of the Armed Forces Engineering Authority, predicting it will be completed within 10 days.

Satellite images released on Thursday showed the construction of a concrete wall along the border. The Wall Street Journal reported that authorities are building an 8 sqm "walled enclosure" to accommodate up to 100,000 Palestinians. A large number of tents have been delivered to the site, the newspaper added.

A satellite image shows tent shelters for displaced people in Rafah, Gaza, 7 February (Maxar Technologies/Reuters)
A satellite image shows tent shelters for displaced people in Rafah, Gaza, 7 February (Maxar Technologies/Reuters)

A military source, speaking to MEE on condition of anonymity, confirmed the Sinai Foundation's report, but denied that Egypt would accept a “mass influx of Palestinians”.

//

He said the construction is “to create a centralised area to limit infiltration of militants into Sinai and prepare for the worst.”

The source noted that such a scheme is not new, and something similar was created following Egypt's 2014 war on militant groups in north Sinai. “What is new is securing it with higher walls and installing well-guarded gates for entry and exit,” he said.

“There is a difference between accepting the displacement and getting ready in case the worst happens.”

War on Gaza: Egypt building buffer zone to receive Palestinian refugees, rights group says
Read More »

Sabry, the Sinai expert, said however that there are “extremely strong signals that Egypt has already reached a semi-finalised agreement on receiving the Palestinians of Gaza either in part or in full”.

“This will be revealed within the coming days,” he said. 

Egypt has faced an influx of Palestinians from Gaza before. In January 2008, Gaza was facing a humanitarian crisis caused by Israel's siege of the enclave, exacerbated by Egypt's closure of the Rafah crossing.

In response, Palestinians destroyed a section of the barrier along the border, allowing nearly half the population of Gaza to cross into Egypt seeking food and essential supplies.

Hosni Mubarak, then president of Egypt, ordered troops not to attack the Palestinians.

“As the situation is very intense, Egypt is taking all necessary measures and looking into all scenarios,” the military source told MEE.

“The state does not want to repeat what happened in 2008, where chaos in the Gaza Strip led to hundreds entering Egypt undocumented and unregulated, endangering their lives and the security of Egypt.”

The source said that Cairo is aware that Palestinians will either flee north or towards Egypt if Israel attacks Rafah.

“This area currently being prepared might be a secure space to allow the Egyptian authorities to continue providing humanitarian assistance to the displaced and allow Egyptian police to scan identification documents,” he said.

“The biggest concern of the Egyptian government is the infiltration of militants who will then operate from Sinai and target Israel, which would then give the Israelis reasons to retaliate.”

An injured Palestinian woman reacts as she is transported on a gurney by Egyptian Red Crescent paramedics after evacuation from the Gaza Strip via the Rafah border crossing into Egypt on February 3, 2024
A wounded Palestinian woman is transported on a gurney by Egyptian Red Crescent paramedics after evacuation from the Gaza Strip via the Rafah border crossing into Egypt on 3 February (AFP)

Sabry said there are no indications of a major destabilisation in relations between Egypt and Israel since the war on Gaza began.

“Egypt has so far succumbed to every Israeli condition,” he said. “Look at the aid, for example. Egypt has been told to not send aid directly to Gaza and not break the siege, and Egypt accepted. They sent the aid through Nitzana and al-Awja [40km south of Rafah] to be checked first by the Israelis and then the Israelis decide if aid goes in.”

He also pointed out that Israel has to sign off on the names of wounded Palestinians, as well as ordinary travellers, before their evacuation to Egypt. 

“The only thing that actually has been proven that Egypt has done is profiteering from the aid shipments and transports,” he said, referring to revelations by MEE that an intelligence-linked firm charges aid groups thousands of dollars to get aid into Gaza.

Cairo
London
Why Egypt fears Israel's Rafah attack and what it means for their peace treaty

Biden called Sisi the 'president of Mexico'. It turned a meme into reality

Fri, 02/09/2024 - 14:28
Biden called Sisi the 'president of Mexico'. It turned a meme into reality
US president makes gaffe about Egyptian ruler, sparking jokes about the authoritarian ruler already referred to as 'El-Meksiki'
Mera Aladam Fri, 02/09/2024 - 14:28
Egypt's President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi sits with the German Chancellor during their meeting in Cairo, Egypt on 18 October 2023 (Michael Kappeler/Pool/AFP)
Egypt's President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi sits with the German Chancellor during their meeting in Cairo, Egypt on 18 October 2023 (Michael Kappeler/Pool/AFP)

A badly timed gaffe by US President Joe Biden during an address on Thursday night turned a "meme into reality", according to users on Egyptian social media.

During a press conference at the White House that was meant to refute claims in a report that he was losing his memory, Biden mistakenly referred to Egypt’s President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi as the “president of Mexico”. 

"As you know, initially, the president of Mexico, Sisi, did not want to open up the gate to allow humanitarian material to get in [to Gaza]. I talked to him. I convinced him to open the gate," the president said. 

"I talked to Bibi to open the gate on the Israeli side," Biden said, referring to Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. "I've been pushing really, hard, really hard, to get humanitarian assistance into Gaza."

The comments were made in an unannounced address aimed at refuting allegations in a scathing report by Special Counsel Robert Hur, a former Republican lawmaker, which raised concerns about Biden’s memory and age.

//-->

It is not the first time Biden has mixed up world leaders, dead and alive, having this week claimed to have spoken to Francois Mitterand, the late president of France, and Helmet Kohl, the late chancellor of Germany, during his diplomatic efforts.

The clip of the latest error was quickly shared across social media, including among many Arab and Egyptian social media users.

In Egypt, Sisi is often referred to as “El Meksiki”, or “the Mexican” in Arabic - a long-running joke which orginated from a viral video several years ago. 

“The president of Mexico, Sisi, did not want to open up the gate to allow humanitarian material to get in.”

US President Joe Biden's gaffe, referring to the President of Egypt Abdel Fattah el-Sisi as the "president of Mexico," has gone viral, capturing widespread attention and… pic.twitter.com/gdcAiDc7lX

— Middle East Eye (@MiddleEastEye) February 9, 2024

In the clip, an Egyptian man dedicated a message to the president, calling him “Abdel Fattah el-Meksiki”. The young man called on "El-Meksiki" to lower prices and to improve the quality of life in the north African country. 

Since then, the title has been used widely amongst Egyptian users online, especially in connection to poverty and the cost of living.

'Memed into reality'

One social media user wrote on X, formerly known as Twitter: "Egypt is a dictatorship ruled by Abdel Fattah el-Sisi. You can’t criticise the president freely so Egyptians started calling him “El Meksiki” (“the Mexican” in Arabic) because it sounds like “El Sisi” so they can avoid censorship and criticise him freely."

The Vegetable president, Mr. Biden, calling Egyptian president the Mexican president is something else. We’ve successfully memed this to reality pic.twitter.com/HWq7itgGYL

— Hussein (@hussein91) February 9, 2024

One Egyptian user said that jokes about Sisi's imagined Mexican origin were used to show that "he is not one of us, nor will he ever be". 
 

كل الناس طلعت عارفة حكاية أنه المكسيكي.

ميكنش علشان كده دايما بيقول "أنتوا يا مسريين"، "صحيح يا مسريين".

ما هو مش واحد مننا و لا عمره هيكون.#المكسيكي_جاب_درفها #ارحل_يا_سيسي #الجنية_المصرى #بايدن pic.twitter.com/xhU1y55Bp7

— Dr. Ramy Aziz|رامي عزيز (@aziz1_dr) February 9, 2024

Translation: Everyone knew the story that he was Mexican. That's why he always says, "You Egyptians," "That's right, Egyptians." He is not one of us, nor will he ever be.

Another user noted that the running joke had been used to highlight what some Egyptians consider as being "under ‘Mexican occupation’", implying that Sisi behaved like a far-away foreign leader with little "interest or knowledge in Egypt's well being". 

Since becoming president in 2014 - after leading a military coup on Egypt's first democratically elected president Mohammed Morsi a year earlier - Sisi has overseen a ferocious crackdown on dissent.

An estimated 65,000 political prisoners are currently held in Egyptian jails, while torture has become widespread and systematic and thousands have been forcibly disappeared. 

//-->

Sisi was re-elected for a third term in December, after a vote marred by the exclusion of opponents and accusations of bribery and intimidation.

Home to more than 109 million people, Egypt is currently grappling with a severe economic crisis, with record inflation and foreign currency shortages. 

In August, annual inflation in Egypt reached close to 40 percent, according to official figures, plunging many Egyptians near or under the poverty line. More than half the population had already been below or close to the poverty line before the current crisis. 

On Wednesday, Sisi ordered a 50 percent increase in minimum wages, amid speculation about an imminent devaluation and subsequent inflation.

Meanwhile, the Egyptian president and government have also been heavily criticised for its handling of Israel’s war on Gaza.

Last month, a charity told Middle East Eye that it was being forced to pay $5,000 a truck to a company linked to Egypt’s General Intelligence Service (GIS) to get aid into Gaza.

UK to invest over £5m in 'politically motivated' antisemitism training in schools and universities

Fri, 02/09/2024 - 14:02
UK to invest over £5m in 'politically motivated' antisemitism training in schools and universities
Campaigners warn new training uses controversial antisemitism definitions and could affect free speech
Katherine Hearst Fri, 02/09/2024 - 14:02
People take part in a protest to mark 100 days since the ongoing Israeli assault on Gaza, in London, 13 January 2024 (Reuters)

Pro-Palestinian campaigners have criticised as "politically motivated" new plans by the British government that it says are aimed at tackling antisemitism in the education system.

Details of the £5.5m initiative, which the government says is intended to “tackle antisemitism in education” and to promote the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (IHRA) “working definition” of antisemitism in schools and universities, were revealed on Tuesday.

According to the government website, the programme aims to “support schools, colleges, and universities to tackle antisemitism effectively” by “increasing understanding of antisemitism amongst staff and learners” and “increasing staff ability to identify and tackle incidents of antisemitism”.

"Alongside this, the Supplier(s) will also be responsible for the development and implementation of supporting resources, including on the situation in Israel following the terrorist attacks on 7 October, which tackle mis- and disinformation, and can be used in student engagement activity," reads the website, referring to the Hamas attack on southern Israel.

The procurement is split into two: the first is dedicated to programmes targeting universities, with the “cornerstone” of the contract being the rollout of the IHRA definition of antisemitism.

The second tranche of funding is earmarked for rolling out the initiative in schools and colleges.

Not fit for purpose

The new initiative comes amid what the University and Colleges Union (UCU) has described as “endemic” cuts to the arts and humanities at UK universities.

The English Language and Linguistics department at the University of Kent recently announced that they were at risk of “being cut entirely".

In this climate, some campaigners have claimed the new initiative is more about playing politics than ensuring safety for Jewish students.

Home Office refuses visa for Palestinian refugee supported by prestigious UK scholarship
Read More »

“The UK has decided to invest over £5m in the [IHRA] definition's implementation at a time when universities across the country, including places like Kent, are slashing programmes in humanities and firing staff members,” Neve Gordon, the chair of the British Society for Middle Eastern Studies (BRISMES)'s Committee on Academic Freedom and professor of human rights at Queen Mary University in London, told MEE.

“There is money to invest in a politically motivated definition that has been used to shield Israeli crimes, but there has been no support offered by the government for Palestinian students and staff, no partnerships with Palestinian universities."

A report co-authored by BRISMES and the European Legal Support Center (ELSC), previously concluded that the IHRA definition was undermining academic freedom and the rights to lawful speech by staff and students.

The report analysed 40 cases in which UK university staff and students were accused of antisemitism based on the IHRA definition and found that in all but two instances, the accusations were rejected.

Describing the IHRA definition as "not fit for purpose", BRISMES and the ELSC said it was harming the mental health, reputation, and career prospects of students and staff who had been falsely accused of antisemitism. 

Over 200 universities, colleges, and higher education providers in the UK have adopted the definition.

War on Gaza: What it’s like to be a journalist in Gaza right now

Fri, 02/09/2024 - 13:05
War on Gaza: What it’s like to be a journalist in Gaza right now
Ahmed Abu Aziz transported dead bodies between reporting, slept on the ground for over 60 days and watched his home get destroyed amidst his ongoing coverage of the war on Gaza
Ahmed Al-Sammak Fri, 02/09/2024 - 13:05
A man holds a candle during a vigil to remember journalists killed and wounded in Gaza outside the St George's Cathedral, in Cape Town, South Africa, January 28, 2024 (Reuters)
A man holds a candle during a vigil to remember journalists killed and wounded in Gaza outside the St George's Cathedral, in Cape Town, South Africa, 28 January 2024 (Reuters)

War broke out in Gaza on 7 October, following a Hamas-led attack on Israel that killed around 1,200 people. Since then, Israel has launched a fierce military campaign on Gaza, which has so far killed nearly 28,000 people. 

Among those killed are at least 122 Palestinian journalists and media workers, with many more wounded. At least three Lebanese journalists have also been killed by Israeli shelling near the Israel-Lebanon border. 

The war has had a catastrophic effect on Gaza, particularly for reporters who have been working around the clock while living through dire conditions, bombardment, and personal loss. 

On 27 January, Palestinian TV journalist Amr al-Dahdoudi collapsed live on air while reporting on Gaza for Al Jazeera due to exhaustion and malnutrition. 

Days later, on 30 January, Palestinian correspondent Hind Khouday said that other journalists were also feeling the impact of working in extreme conditions and that journalist Ali Jadallah was taken to the emergency room due to extreme exhaustion. 

//--> //--> //--> //-->

Ahmed Abu Aziz, a journalist from Gaza working for al-Quds News, is one of the many reporters who has not stopped working since the start of the war, despite the threat to his life, exhaustion, and malnutrition. 

Here, he explains what life has been like for journalists in Gaza.

As told to Ahmed al-Sammak and Nadda Osman

Outbreak of the war

We were all surprised by the outbreak of the war. Just a few days before, I had finished wrapping up an episode on the landmarks and heritage in Gaza. The first episode was filmed on 5 October.

When the attack happened on 7 October, all of my plans changed, and I had to be on the ground reporting the news. This became particularly difficult as telecommunications were cut for a few days following Israel’s attacks on Gaza.

Everything has become a challenge. Before the war, I had a severe phobia of needles, operations, and graphic scenes. That all changed after 7 October. I had to transform, and by the third day of the war, that was all I was seeing.

gaza
Men walk along a street ravaged by Israeli bombing in Rafah in the southern Gaza Strip on 9 February 2024 (AFP)

//--> //--> //--> //-->

I was based in the al-Nasser Hospital for a while to cover Israel’s attacks on civilians and hospitals, and I had to see what was happening in the emergency rooms and the mortuary refrigerators. 

Every day, I would see countless dead people, it changed me 180 degrees. There were many times when I would have to pause my reporting to go and help transport dead bodies out of the hospital into the courtyards.

There have been many times, where in the middle of reporting, I have had to stop to carry the scattered limbs and body parts of those who had been killed in Israeli air strikes.

//--> //--> //--> //-->

As Israel had cut off all resources for Gaza, including fuel, water, food, electricity, and aid, there was huge pressure on me, and other journalists while covering events because we had no equipment or tools. This has had a significant impact on my mental health.

Nightmares and deteriorating mental health 

My two close colleagues were killed in the first week of the war, this took a huge toll on my mental health. 

I used to spend a lot of time with my colleagues, Jamal al Muntir, and Ahmed Khair al-Din, who was a photographer in north Gaza. We would call each other every day to coordinate, take care of each other, and warn each other about which areas were dangerous. 

Khair al-Din lost 26 members of his family; they were all killed in Israeli attacks, including his father and sister. This all happened by the seventh day of the war. 

By this point, it felt like I was all alone and the only one left on the ground as so many more of my colleagues were being killed. 

For the first 63 days of the war, I was sleeping on the bare ground in a tent designated for journalists. This marked a new set of challenges for me. 

I suffer from horrible nightmares, I still get them today. I see dead and wounded people in my sleep, and there are times when I will go two or three days having slept a total of two hours, all because of the harrowing scenes I witness during the day. 

Home destroyed, family displaced

My own house was bombed in an Israeli air strike, by an F-16 fighter jet. The house was completely levelled.

Over 30 people from my family and extended family were wounded in the attacks on our home.

gaza
A man stands amid the destruction in the aftermath of Israeli bombardment in Rafah in the southern Gaza Strip on 9 February 2024 (AFP)

At this point, it became difficult to continue reporting while trying to help my family, many of whom were heavily wounded, to safety. 

I was trying to report on the attacks, but at the same time I was dealing with the loss of our home, and seeing my aunts, uncles, and family scattered around and displaced.

The Israeli forces showed no humanity, even as I tried to get my family to Rafah, the bombing continued.

No wedding 

We’re going into five months of war now, and I have not even managed to see my fiance for five minutes. 

I am worried for her life, and between the bombing and air strikes, we never have the chance to cross paths or spend time together. 

'We’re going into five months of war now, and I have not even managed to see my fiance for five minutes'

We had planned to get married in January, but unfortunately, the Israeli occupation has destroyed our homes and hopes. 

I had been preparing for the wedding for months, but Israeli forces destroyed everything I had got ready for our marriage. 

Things are very complicated and gruelling, every single person in Gaza is suffering mentally and physically. I am seeing the physical strain on my body, everyone is emotionally exhausted too. 

There is a huge lack of food, water, and nutrients, which is making it harder to keep going. We never imagined that this would happen to us. 

This is worse than any horror movie anyone could have ever imagined.

What it’s like to be a journalist in Gaza right now

War on Gaza: US intelligence officials say Israel not close to defeating Hamas

Fri, 02/09/2024 - 12:44
War on Gaza: US intelligence officials say Israel not close to defeating Hamas
Warnings come as Netanyahu vows to continuing attacking Gaza until the Palestinian group is defeated
MEE staff Fri, 02/09/2024 - 12:44
Hamas leaders in the Gaza Strip Ismail Haniya (C) and Yahya Sinwar (R) meet the chairman of the Palestinian central election committee Hanna Nasser in Gaza city, on 28 October 28 2019 (Mahmud Hams/AFP)

Israel has not even come close to defeating Hamas through its military offensive on the Gaza Strip, US intelligence officials have said.

According to the New York Times, the officials told members of Congress earlier this week that while Israel had managed to degrade Hamas’s fighting capabilities, they were still very far from crushing the organisation itself.

Officials also said that given the nature of Hamas' military wing as a fundamentally "guerilla" force, defeating the group might not even be possible and that simply weakening their combat strength might be a more realistic goal.

Their comments come despite repeated insistence from Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu that the defeat of the Palestinian group was the ultimate goal of his country's ongoing attack on Gaza.

In a press conference late on Wednesday, Netanyahu vowed to continue Israel's military offensive until "total victory" was secured, saying his country would achieve this "within months".

"We won't settle for less," he said, as he rejected a ceasefire plan proposed by Hamas.

Earlier on Wednesday, several news agencies, including Middle East Eye, said they had seen the Palestinian group's proposed three-stage ceasefire plan.

Among the proposals was for all Israeli women, children under 19, the elderly, and the sick to be released from Gaza during the first 45-day phase in exchange for the release of all Palestinian female, children, sick, and elderly prisoners over 50 years old from Israeli jails. 

The Palestinian death toll in four months has risen to more than 27,900, with over 67,400 wounded and at least 7,000 missing, who are believed to be dead and buried under rubble. 

Over 70 percent of the victims are children and women, according to health officials.

While Netanyahu claimed last month that Israel had killed two-thirds of Hamas' fighting force, American officials say privately that their estimates are considerably lower, saying maybe only a third of Hamas's estimated 20,000 to 25,000 fighters had been killed.

US intelligence officials say Israel not close to defeating Hamas

War on Gaza: German research institute sacks professor over criticism of Israel

Fri, 02/09/2024 - 11:14
War on Gaza: German research institute sacks professor over criticism of Israel
Lebanese-Australian anthropologist Ghassan Hage says dismissal not surprising amid anti-Palestinian landscape in Germany
MEE staff Fri, 02/09/2024 - 11:14
Ghassan Hage was a visiting professor at the Max Planck Society (X)

Lebanese-Australian professor of anthropology has been sacked by a leading German research institution after criticising Israel’s ongoing assault on Gaza.

In a statement published on 7 February, the Max Planck Society said they had severed their relationship with "highly acclaimed" academic Ghassan Hage over a set of social media posts that they said were "incompatible" with the society's values.

The statement added that "racism, Islamophobia, antisemitism, discrimination, hatred, and agitation have no place in the Max Planck Society".

In response, Hage said he could not accept being characterised as racist over his views.

He said on Thursday that he was informed of his dismissal following a query made to the institute by right-wing newspaper, Welt am Sonntag, alleging that a series of his social media posts criticising Israel were antisemitic.

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Hage said the newspaper on 31 January emailed him saying they noticed him making "increasingly drastic statements towards the state of Israel".

The paper also alleged that Hage has been “an activist for the [Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions (BDS)] movement for years,” which he refuted, saying that “I take my job as an academic too seriously to have time to be an activist”.

Shortly after, Hage’s institute received a similar query and informed him that the president of the Max Planck Society in Munich had forwarded it to the society’s lawyers.

“No one in Munich, lawyer or otherwise, contacted me or sought my opinion about [the allegations],” he said.

I will soon issue my own statement.

I would have lived with the first part re incompatibility. But finishing with ‘there is no place for racism’ implying that i am a racist, I cannot accept.

Statement of the Max Planck Society about Prof. Ghassan Hage https://t.co/XhJXJOjNT0

— Ghassan Hage (@anthroprofhage) February 7, 2024

The following day, the institute’s directors notified him of the termination of his two-year post as a visiting professor.

“The decision was based on the way antisemitism has come to be defined and institutionalised in Germany which has been analysed and critiqued by many,” Hage said in his statement.

“For anyone who knows the German landscape at the moment, there is nothing surprising about this happening to me. Many people other than me have copped a variation on this same treatment.”

On 20 December, the Max Planck Society announced it would provide “additional funding for German-Israeli collaborations".

//-->

Citing the Hamas-led attack on 7 October, the society pledged an initial payment of 1m euros to Israeli research institutions.

Pro-Palestine voices silenced

Since the Israeli assault on the Gaza Strip began on 7 October, Germany has seen an escalating crackdown on pro-Palestinian advocacy, with rallies and Palestinian flags banned in many parts of the country.

Pro-Palestinian speech and the traditional keffiyeh scarfs have also been banned in schools, while Samidoun, a group that advocates for Palestinian prisoners, was banned in the immediate aftermath of the 7 October attack.

In the cultural sector, pro-Palestinian voices have also been widely silenced with cultural institutions reporting pressure to cancel events featuring groups critical of Israel.

In October, the Frankfurt Book Fair cancelled a planned award ceremony for the Palestinian author, Adania Shibli.

In November, Oyoun, a cultural institution, lost its state funding following its hosting of an event for a Jewish-led organisation that supported the BDS movement against Israel, a movement that Germany’s Bundestag classified as antisemitic in 2019.

On 31 October, British playwright Caryl Churchill was stripped of the European Drama Prize she had been given in April in recognition of her life’s work, over her support for Palestine.

German research institute sacks professor over criticism of Israel

War on Gaza: Biden calls Israel's conduct 'over the top' as he pushes for aid

Fri, 02/09/2024 - 10:16
War on Gaza: Biden calls Israel's conduct 'over the top' as he pushes for aid
US president's comments come as Antony Blinken cancels Gaza crossing visit over far-right blockade of aid shipments
MEE staff Fri, 02/09/2024 - 10:16
US President Joe Biden answers questions about Israel after speaking about the Special Counsel report in the White House in Washington DC, on 8 February 2024 (Mandel Ngan/AFP)

US President Joe Biden said Israel's conduct in Gaza has been "over the top", adding that he is seeking a sustained pause in fighting to allow the release of hostages taken by Hamas.

Speaking to reporters at the White House on Thursday, Biden said it was urgent that action be taken to get support for Palestinians in Gaza, who aid groups have warned are at risk of a major famine.

"I'm of the view, as you know, that the conduct of the response in Gaza, in the Gaza Strip, has been over the top," he said.

"There are a lot of innocent people who are starving, a lot of innocent people who are in trouble and dying, and it's got to stop."

Biden pointed out that he had successfully managed to convince Egyptian President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi - who he initially appeared to confuse with the president of Mexico - to allow assistance into Gaza from the south.

"I talked to him, I convinced him to open the gate. I talked to Bibi to open the gate on the Israeli side," he continued, referring to Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

"I've been pushing really hard, really hard, to get humanitarian assistance into Gaza."

Biden's comments come as Secretary of State Antony Blinken cancelled a planned visit to the Kerem Shalom crossing into Gaza after Israel said it could not commit to preventing protests that have stopped aid crossing into the strip in recent weeks.

The visit was aimed at allowing Blinken to evaluate the passage of aid trucks through the Israeli crossing.

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Far-right protesters, who claim to represent the families of hostages held in Gaza, have successfully managed to disrupt a number of aid shipments through their sit-ins.

Over 27,900 Palestinians have been killed since 7 October, the Palestinian health ministry said on Friday. More than 67,400 have been wounded in Israel’s onslaught on the blockaded territory.

On Thursday, the UN’s aid agency, OCHA, warned that the risk of famine in Gaza is “increasing by the day”, especially for some 300,000 people in northern Gaza.

OCHA reported that the World Food Programme has warned that the amount of humanitarian aid reaching Gaza City in the north was “not enough to prevent a famine”.

Washington and more than a dozen of its mostly western allies have suspended funding to the UN agency for Palestinian refugees, Unwra, the main body providing essential aid to Gaza,

Despite repeated warnings from health and aid agencies, Biden's administration has been largely supportive of Israel's actions in Gaza and has rejected calls to demand a ceasefire.

On Thursday, Biden said that he was still working to arrange a deal whereby there could be a halt to fighting and secure the release of hostages held by Hamas.

"I'm pushing very hard now to deal with this hostage ceasefire. I've been working tirelessly on this deal," he said.

Biden calls Israel's conduct in Gaza 'over the top' as he pushes for aid

Iranian press review: Families of executed dissidents demand burial rights

Fri, 02/09/2024 - 10:14
Iranian press review: Families of executed dissidents demand burial rights
Meanwhile, former officials criticise rapidly increasing brain drain, and authorities exert more pressure on media ahead elections in March
MEE correspondent Fri, 02/09/2024 - 10:14
The mother of executed dissident Mohsen Mazloum (R) receives mourners on the second day of her son's funeral (X)

Government refuses to hand over bodies of executed prisoners

The family members of the four Kurdish leftist dissidents who were executed on 29 January have urged authorities to hand over the bodies of their loved ones, as announced by Iranian rights activists. 

On Monday, a 20-second video went viral on Farsi social media in which the mother of one of the executed political activists, Mohsen Mazloum, demanded authorities let them bury her son's body.

"To bring peace to the family, either hand over my son's body or at least tell me where he is buried," Mazloum's mother said in the video.

Mazloum, along with Mohammad Faramarzi, Wafa Azarbar and Pejman Fatehi, was hanged based on accusations of espionage for Israel.

Rights activists and families of the four executed dissidents say that they were forced to confess under harsh torture and that their basic rights were violated during the trial process at the Islamic Revolutionary Court. 

Before Mazloum’s mother published the video, his wife, Joanna Taimasi, wrote on X, formerly known as Twitter, that the establishment told the families they would bury the prisoners themselves.

Iranian officials have widely used this strategy for the collective punishment of the families of dissidents and political activists, specifically targeting the Kurdish and Baluch ethnic minorities.

Brain drain decried by former ministers

Two former ministers and a vice president, who served in the government of former president Hassan Rouhani between 2013 and 2021, have voiced serious concerns about the rapidly increasing brain drain and the migration of highly educated youth from Iran.

On Monday, former ministers of foreign affairs and culture, Mohammad Javad Zarif and Reza Salehi Amiri, and former vice president Ali Akbar Salehi, during a book launch addressing the crisis, warned that the establishment was losing its human capital due to escalating migration, as reported by the Ham Mihan daily.

Goodbye, genius: How Iran’s best and brightest are leaving the country
Read More »

At the event, Zarif, who endeavoured to establish a connection between Iranian talents abroad and the government during his tenure, highlighted the correlation between the lack of hope in society and the increasing rate of migration.

“There is a direct relation between hope for a better future and migration. In 2015 and 2016, we instilled hope in society, and many talents returned to the country. Unfortunately, we ourselves destroyed that hope,” he remarked, referring to the years when Rouhani’s administration pursued a policy of normalisation with western powers.

Due to a lack of access to transparent information in Iran, no data is available about levels of migration from the country. However, a 2022 survey presented at the launch indicated that 60 percent of doctors and nurses desired to migrate from the country due to socio-political issues.

During the event, held amid the 10-day annual ceremonies of the 1979 Islamic Revolution, Salehi criticised the establishment for maintaining discriminatory policies, such as the nationality law, which the pre-1979 monarchy had implemented.

“After the revolution, we retained all the detrimental laws and regulations, dismissing the positive ones as monarchist. One of those detrimental laws is the nationality law that only passes through the father in Iran,” he emphasised.

Pressure mounts on journalists ahead of March elections

As the March parliamentary and Assembly of Experts elections approach, authorities in Iran have significantly increased pressure on journalists and domestic media critical of the establishment.

On Tuesday, local media reported that Mehdi Afsharnik, an economic journalist, was arrested a week earlier, but news of his arrest was not publicised.

In a separate incident on Monday, security officers raided the Farday-e Eghtesad news site building in Tehran, detaining several journalists at their workplace.

Raisi wins expert assembly election as rivals removed from ballot: Iranian press review
Read More »

However, the journalists were allowed to leave the building on Tuesday, and the outlet stopped posting new content on its webpage and social media platforms.

Following this incident, Iran’s judiciary announced that the raid was unrelated to journalistic practices, providing no further details on the reasons behind it.

Meanwhile, the Aftab News website suggested that the raid was linked to Kian Financial Group, the owner of Farday-e Eghtesad.

According to Aftab News, the raid was a result of the political activities of Majid Zamani, a former leading stakeholder at Kian Financial Group, who had sold all his shares in the firm and is now residing outside Iran. 

Zamani was also arrested during the 2009 Green Movement, which saw nationwide protests against the re-election of then principlist president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.

After leaving Iran, Zamani funded an opposition group called The Government for Iran.

On the website of this group, the main reason for its formation was announced: “The Government for Iran was formed with the aim of creating a platform for the creation of public dialogue and organising the civil participation of the Iranian people to achieve the right to rule over their own destiny.”

* Iranian press review is a digest of news reports not independently verified by Middle East Eye

Why Putin delayed a visit to Turkey, again

Fri, 02/09/2024 - 08:37
Why Putin delayed a visit to Turkey, again
The Russian president postponed a trip to Turkey for the third time since last year, officials cite Russian elections for the move
Ragip Soylu Fri, 02/09/2024 - 08:37
This handout photograph taken and released by the Turkish Presidency Press Office on September 4, 2023, shows Russian President Vladimir Putin (R) and his Turkish counterpart Recep Tayyip Erdogan (L) shaking hands after a press conference following a meeting in Sochi. (AFP)
Russian President Vladimir Putin (R) and his Turkish counterpart Recep Tayyip Erdogan (L) shaking hands after a press conference following a meeting in Sochi (AFP)

Russian President Vladimir Putin has postponed an official visit to Turkey scheduled for next week due to domestic concerns, such as the upcoming elections, two Turkish sources familiar with the visit told Middle East Eye. 

Several sources earlier this month suggested that Putin was scheduled to visit Ankara on 12 February, which would be his first trip to the country since 2020. 

Kremlin spokesperson Dmitri Peskov said on Thursday that there was no postponement since Moscow had not announced a definitive date for the visit. Separate sources told Ria Novosti, the Russian state news agency, that a trip might be in the pipeline for late April and May. 

“It appears that the Russian presidential elections caused a delay,” a source familiar with the trip told MEE.

The source said the bilateral relations between Ankara and Moscow were stable and there were no negative developments that would have an impact on the trip. 

“This was pure Moscow, it doesn’t have anything to do with us,” the second source said. 

Russian officials said last week that the primary issue that the two presidents would discuss was the Ukraine war. But both countries also need to make progress on a Putin-proposed gas hub in western Turkey, hold further talks on establishing a second nuclear power plant near the Black Sea, and current peace negotiations between Azerbaijan and Armenia. 

The Russian presidential elections are scheduled for 15-17 March while Turkey is also holding local elections at the end of March.

Experts say Putin would need a strong standing in the elections as the Ukraine war is becoming unpopular at home. 

Turkey last year also began to increasingly comply with the western sanctions against Russia. A sudden drop was recorded in Turkish dual-used exports to Moscow in October and November.

Russian and Turkish media reported earlier this month that Turkish banks were increasingly avoiding making transactions with their Russian counterparts, worried over possible US sanctions. 

Putin twice planned to travel to Turkey last year but ended up postponing the trip. 

Sources at the time told MEE that security concerns might have played a role in delaying it. 

But since then Putin has made several visits to Central Asian and Gulf countries, such as the United Arab Emirates and Saudi Arabia

Ankara

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