Fortnightly Review and Analysis: Iran, West Asia, Eurasia, Central Asian Republics (CAR) & Africa (Vol 2 Issue XIV)

July 16 - 31, 2017

West Asia

Qatar Crisis: Politics over Hajj

Qatar's foreign minister has rebutted accusations by his Saudi counterpart that Qatar is trying to politicise the annual Islamic pilgrimage to Mecca. Adel al-Jubeir, Saudi Arabia's foreign minister, appeared to accuse Qatar of politicising the issue and "declaring a war" against the kingdom by demanding the internationalisation of the Hajj. However, this claim was denied by Sheikh Mohammed bin Abdulrahman Al Thani. On the other hand, he said that it was Saudi Arabia who has tried to politicize Hajj issue. Qatar also addressed the UN Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Religion on 29 July 2017, expressing concern about obstacles facing Qataris who want to attend Hajj this year.

Iraqi Shiite leader Al Sadr’s visit to Saudi Arabia

In a rare visit, influential Shia-leader from Iraq, Muqtada al Sadr, visited Saudi Arabia and met with Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman and other officials. According to the Saudi News Agency, SPA, the meeting was a discussion on issues of common interests. The two sides spoke of the need to re-evaluate Iraq- Saudi relations. This was Sadr’s first visit to Saudi Arabia since 2006, his last visit to Saudi Arabia. A statement from Al Sadr’s office stated, “We have been very pleased with what we found to be a positive breakthrough in the Saudi-Iraqi relations, and we hope it is the beginning of the retreat of sectarian strife in the Arab-Islamic region,”

Al-Sadr, enjoys a wide base support as leader of Al-Sadr movement, comes from a prominent Shiite family and is the fourth son of a highly-respected Shiite cleric, the late Grand Ayatollah Mohammed Sadeq Al-Sadr.

Israel Removed New Security Measures from Al- Aqsa Mosque
Muslim leaders of the al-Aqsa Mosque compound in Jerusalem have given their approval for Palestinians to re-enter the site after Israel removed new security measures, following almost two weeks of protests that saw several Palestinians killed and hundreds injured. Officials of the Islamic Waqf authority that administers the holy site said that Muslims should claim victory after Israel backed down, and urged them to once again pray inside the mosque. Abdel-Azeem Salhab, director of the Islamic Waqf Council said, "We will be able to offer prayers inside the compound".

Israel had erected railings, gates and scaffolding where cameras were mounted at the al-Aqsa Mosque compound entrance, claiming the measures were necessary for security after an attack on July 14. Palestinians protested against increased security, which they viewed as an encroachment of Israeli control over the holy site, and a form of collective punishment.

Rival Factions in Libya Agreed to Ceasefire and holding Elections

The two main rivals in conflict-ridden Libya made a joint commitment, in France, to calling a ceasefire and holding elections that French President Emmanuel Macron said would take place in spring 2018. Macron said Libya's UN-backed prime minister, Fayez al-Sarraj, and Khalifa Haftar, the military commander based in the east, had shown "historic courage" in talks outside Paris. Sarraj and Haftar "struck an agreement to hold elections next spring", Macron said after hosting the meeting. A 10-point statement backed by the two leaders said, "we commit to a ceasefire and to refrain from any use of armed force for any purpose that does not strictly constitute counter-terrorism.” It also says the two sides are committed to "building the rule of law" in a country where dozens of armed groups have proliferated in the power vacuum created by the toppling of longtime dictator Muammar Gaddafi in 2011.


The US- Central Asia Security Dialogue Takes Place in Dushanbe

The United States (US) - Central Asia (C5+1) Security Working Group met on 26 July at Dushanbe, the capital of Tajikistan. Representatives from the US, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan participated in this meeting. R. Carl Paschall, from the State Department's Bureau of Counterterrorism and Countering Violent Extremism, led the US delegation with the participation of the US Ambassador to Tajikistan, Ms. Elisabeth Millard. The group discussed regional cooperation in counterterrorism and the threat of Foreign Terrorist Fighters in Central Asia.

The C5+1 format is a platform that brings together the US and the five Central Asian Republics (CARs) to discuss and work on issues of common concern. The first C5+1 meeting was held in Samarkand in November 2015, with the participation of the then Secretary of State John Kerry and the Foreign Ministers of five CARs. C5+1 mainly focuses on three sectors of common interest– security, economics, and environmental challenges. Under this framework, five joint projects across these three sectors have been launched, where the US has announced funding of $15 million.

C5+1 was an important multilateral initiative from the US side; till then US had mainly preferred bilateral approach. The aim of American policy in Central Asia is two fold - to integrate these countries quickly into the world economy, and promotion of democracy, rule of law and human rights. Nevertheless, after Trump’s accession to power, the US policy towards Central Asia has become uncertain. There are reports suggesting that the new US administration plans to cut US assistance programs to Central Asia. At this backdrop, successful conduct of security dialogue of C5+1 at Dushanbe is remarkable.

Kazakhstan Plans to Switch from Cyrillic to Latin Alphabet

Kazakhstan has announced shift from the Cyrillic to the Latin alphabet by 2025. A special commission has been established under the Ministry of Education and Science for creating the appropriate variant of the Latin-based script for the Kazakh language, the task which is to be completed by the end of this year. The Kazakh President Nursultan Nazarbayev has ordered that all publications, documents, and street signs be transformed to Latin by 2025.

In the 20th Century, Kazakhstan went through the exercise of switching alphabet twice. The Kazakhs had been using a 29-character Arabic script prior to the creation of Soviet Kazakhstan. The Soviets first introduced the Latin (1929-1940) and then the Cyrillic alphabet (in 1940). Kazakhstan, which became independent in 1991, continued with the Cyrillic script for almost 25 years. President Nazarbayev has recently commented that the decision by the Soviets to introduce Cyrillic was purely political and did not reflect the cultural and linguistic reality of Kazakhstan.

Immediately after the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991, former Soviet republics of Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan had switched to the Latin alphabet. Kazakhstan is the third CAR to initiate the process. Nevertheless, Cyrillic alphabet is widely used in both the republics which had introduced Latin in 1990s. The old generations still prefer the Cyrillic, as they were trained during the Soviet times. The analysts of Central Asia argue that shift from Cyrillic to Latin is the indication of ‘distancing’ from Russia, in linguistic and cultural terms.


African Union Troops Ambushed in Somalia

The Al-Shabab fighters ambushed a convoy carrying troops from the African Union Mission in Somalia (AMISOM). Somalia’s Al-Shabab, which wants to force out the peacekeepers, oust the western backed government and impose its strict interpretation of Islam in the country targeted the African Union peacekeepers in Bulamareer district southwest of its capital Mogadishu. The Al-Shabab insurgents and troops from the African Union peacekeeping mission clashed on 30th of July, 2017, where about 39 soldiers have been killed. The ambush turned into a fierce fight between the two. The exact casualty figure could not be immediately independently verified as the Government officials were not available for immediate comment.

Maiden Youth Summit Held in Rwanda, where Over 2,000 Young Africans Met

The three-day maiden Youth Connekt Africa summit opened under the theme ‘Realizing Africa’s Youth Potential’, where 2800 youth from all over the African continent gathered in Rwanda’s capital Kigali - to shape the future of the continents youth. This Summit was the outcome of the initiative launched in 2012 by the government of Rwanda and the United Nation Development Programme. According to the Rwanda’s Minister of Youth and Information and Communication Technology, there is a need to bridge the gap between African youth and the limitless opportunities which the continent offers. The Youth Connekt Africa Program alone aims to oversee the creation of 10 million jobs and this will be achievable young people are put at the centre stage of inclusive and sustainable development. The Summit also focused on establishing a policy, programmes and partnerships to guide the continent to its goals of creating at least 54 million jobs that will absorb the growing labour force. The Summit was jointly organised by the Government of Rwanda in collaboration with UNCTAD, UNDP and other Youth Connekt partners.

Navy Chief Sunil Lanba Headed To Mozambique and Tanzania for Better Bilateral Cooperation

Navy chief Admiral Sunil Lanba was on eight-day-long tour of Mozambique and Tanzania. The aim was to explore new avenues of bilateral defence cooperation and consolidate bilateral defence relations with Mozambique and Tanzania. Admiral Lanba, who also heads the powerful Chiefs of Staff Committee (COSC), held extensive talks with Mozambique national defence minister Atanasio M'tumuke, Chief of General Staff General Graca Chongo besides chiefs of the army, navy and air force of the African nation. He also met the President of Tanzania John Magufuli, defence minister Hussein Mwinyi, foreign minister Augustine Mahiga and Chief of Defence Forces General Venance S Mabeyo among others. Indian Armed Forces cooperate with the armed forces of Mozambique and Tanzanian on many fronts, which include training and hydrography, besides participating in each other's defence events.

India, East Africa to Collaborate in Healthcare and Education Sectors

Both India and East Africa has decided to cooperate and collaborate in health care and education sectors to develop greater exchange and partnership opportunities
Delegation of Confederation of Indian Industry from healthcare and education sectors met the representatives of the International Trade Centre (ITC), Geneva, to explore the avenues for possible collaboration for expanding into and developing the two sectors in Eastern part of Africa. ITC, through its Supporting Indian Trade and Investment for East Africa (SITA) project, is working towards promoting Indian investment in key sectors primarily in agri-business and manufacturing sectors. It includes five East African countries which are Ethiopia, Kenya, Uganda, Rwanda and the Republic of Tanzania.