West Asia Roundup: June 2023
Amb Anil Trigunayat, Distinguished Fellow, VIF
Prime Minister’s Visit to Egypt

On his way back from a highly successful visit to USA, Prime Minister Narendra Modi was on a State visit to Egypt on 25 January at the invitation of Egyptian President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi in Cairo. Both leaders signed a joint declaration to upgrade the relations to strategic partnership. MoUs/ Agreements in the fields of agriculture, archeology, antiquities and competition law were signed. The bilateral talks between Prime Minister Modi and President El-Sisi covered topics such as issues of food and energy insecurity, climate change, cooperation in G-20 as well as areas such as trade, investment, renewable energy, IT; pharmaceuticals etc. Both leaders agreed about the need of Global South to have a concerted voice.

The Indian Prime Minister received Egypt’s highest state honour, “Order of the Nile”. Narendra Modi tweeting about the award noted that, “With great humility I accept the "Nile Necklace". I thank the Government and people of Egypt for this honour, which demonstrates the warmth and affection they have towards India and the people of our nation". Prime Minister Modi visited Cairo’s Al Hakim mosque renovated with the help of India-based Dawoodi Bohra community. He also met the Grand Mufti of Al Azhar University and India agreed to set up a Centre of IT Excellence at the campus. PM Modi also paid tribute to Indian soldiers who died in World War I in Heliopolis War Cemetery in Cairo. Both states agreed to increase high level visits, facilitate direct flights between New Delhi and Cairo and develop Indian investments in Egypt.

The Egyptian President was the chief guest in India’s Republic Day celebrations in 2023. During the visit by President El-Sisi in January 2023, both leaders agreed to boost Indian investments in Egypt including dedicating land area for Indian industries in the Suez Canal Economic Zone. Three Indian companies have committed US$ 18 billion for setting up green hydrogen plants in the Zone.

NSA Visits Oman

Shri Ajit Doval, NSA paid an official visit to the Sultanate of Oman on 26 June 2023.
He called on His Majesty Sultan Haitham bin Tarik and delivered a personal message of greetings from Prime Minister Shri Narendra Modi. NSA also held wide ranging discussions with H.E. General Sultan bin Mohammed Al Nomani, Minister of the Royal Office, and H.E. Mr. Sayyid Badr bin Hamad Al Busaidi, Foreign Minister of the Sultanate of Oman. The discussions enabled a high level review of the multifaceted bilateral relations between India and the Sultanate of Oman with focus on strengthening mutually beneficial cooperation in key areas for economic & technological development, mutual security and regional stability. The visit by NSA reflects the strong bilateral relationship between India and Oman, the importance of the Sultanate of Oman as a key partner for India in the Gulf and highlights India's commitment to strengthening its strategic partnership with Oman. The visit provided an opportunity for high-level engagements and further cemented the strong bonds of friendship between India and the Sultanate of Oman.

West Asia Condemns Sweden for Burning of Holy Quran

On 28 June, An Iraqi-Christian Salwan Momika after obtaining permission from local authorities in Stockholm, Sweden burnt the Holy Quran on Eid al-Adha holiday. The permission by Swedish authorities under the pretext of freedom of speech has sparked the ire of several states in the West Asian region. Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan condemned Sweden for the incident announcing that Turkey will never bow down to a policy of provocation or threat. Erdogan warned that if Sweden does not display respect to the religious beliefs of Turkey or Muslims, Ankara will not support Stockholm’s membership in NATO. However, eventually Turkey has lifted its objection to the NATO entry of Sweden in return for F16s and dialogue for entry into the EU.

Saudi Arabia said that, “these hateful and repeated acts cannot be accepted with any justification”. Gulf States such as Qatar, Kuwait, and the United Arab Emirates (UAE) also condemned the act. Morocco responded by recalling its Ambassador for an indefinite period. The Foreign Ministry summoned Sweden’s charge d’affaires in Rabat to register its complaint.

Iranian Foreign Ministry summoned the Swedish Charge d’ Affairs in Tehran to express its displeasure and called it an insult to the most sacred Islamic sanctities. Foreign Minister Hossein Amir-Abdollahian warned that this kind of behaviour only encourages terrorism and extremism. Egypt raised concern about repeated incidents of Quran burning in Europe as well as escalation of Islamophobia and crimes of blasphemy. Iraq summoned the Swedish ambassador and called the act as racist and irresponsible. Baghdad argued since Salwan Momika is Iraqi, he should be handed over for trial according to the Iraqi law. The Swedish embassy in Baghdad was stormed by protestors to register their anger over the incident.

Jordan also summoned the Swedish ambassador condemning the act as racist. Amman said that rejecting extremism is a collective responsibility that everyone should abide by. The Palestinian foreign ministry called the desecration a “flagrant attack on human rights, values of tolerance, acceptance of others, democracy and peaceful coexistence among followers of all religions”.

US Secretary of State Anthony Blinken’s visit to Saudi Arabia

US Secretary of State Anthony Blinken visited Saudi Arabia on 6 June and met with Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman. The purpose of the visit was to stabilize the bilateral relationship that has been affected by disagreements over human rights, Iran nuclear issue, regional security, oil prices etc. Blinken emphasised on the US’ commitment to advance stability, security and prosperity in the region. He also noted that the bilateral relations have strengthened due to progress on human rights by Riyadh. Blinken also thanked Saudi Arabia for its support in evacuating American citizens from Sudan.

On 28 June, a shooting incident outside the US consulate in Jeddah led to the death of one Nepalese security guard as well as the gunman who initially opened fire. The US State Department informed that no US citizens were injured in the attack. The US consulate in Jeddah was attacked earlier in 2016.

Saudi Foreign Minister’s Visit to Iran

Saudi Foreign Minister Prince Faisal bin Farhan Al Saud visited Tehran on 17 June and met with Iranian Foreign Minister Hossein Amirabdollahian as part of efforts to end the diplomatic rift and restore engagement after years of antagonism. Both sides discussed about trade ties, joint investments, promoting tourism, maritime security and reducing proliferation of weapons of mass destruction (WMD). Iranian Foreign Minister noted that, “the Islamic Republic of Iran has never equated security with militarism, and considers security to be a comprehensive concept, which includes political, economic, cultural, trade and social dimensions between all the countries of the region”.

UAE President’s Visit to Russia

The President of the UAE, Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed Al Nahyan visited St. Petersburg and met with Russian President Vladimir Putin on 16 June to discuss the ongoing conflict with Ukraine. The UAE President called for stronger diplomatic ties. The UAE since the beginning of Russia-Ukraine war has maintained its neutrality. The UAE offered its help to facilitate peace and mentioned that it favours de-escalation and political solution through dialogue and diplomacy.

Qatari Emir’s Talks with Vladimir Putin

In the aftermath of confrontation between the Russian military and Wagner group on 24 June, Qatari Emir Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Al Thani held telephone conversation with the Russian President Vladimir Putin to discuss bilateral relations as well as latest regional and international developments. The Qatari Emir expressed concern over the developments in Russia following the armed uprising by the Wagner mercenary group and reiterated support for the actions of Russian authorities. Qatari Emir affirmed the Gulf state’s position calling for resolving differences through dialogue and diplomatic means. He also stressed the need to respect Ukraine’s sovereignty and territorial integrity within its internationally recognised borders. The Qatari Foreign Ministry noted that the escalation between Russia and Ukraine has negative repercussions on international peace and security, food and energy supplies etc.

Qatari Firms Invest in Iraq

Three Qatari firms and Iraq’s National Investment Commission have agreed to develop US$ 9.5 billion worth of projects in Iraq including construction of power plants generating around 2,400 megawatts of electricity. On 15 June, UCC Holding and the investment commission signed a 25 year public private partnership linked to the two power plants with expected cost at US$ 2.5 billion. Iraq hopes that the power plants will help reduce its reliance on Iran for its energy needs. Iraq’s investment commission and Doha based Estithmar Holding signed US$ 7 billion deal to manage hospitals and develop two new cities and build a series of hotels.

UAE and Qatar Reopen Embassies

The United Arab Emirates (UAE) and Qatar on 19 June have announced the reopening of their embassies. Reportedly, the Qatari embassy in Abu Dhabi and consulate in Dubai have resumed working. The Foreign Ministers of both states spoke on phone and congratulated each other on the reopening of the diplomatic missions. The UAE along with Saudi Arabia, Bahrain and Egypt imposed boycott and blockade on Qatar in 2017 for its alleged support for terrorist groups and close ties with Iran. The boycott was officially lifted in January 2021. The US welcomed the positive diplomatic initiatives between Qatar and the UAE calling it an important step in promoting regional stability.

Russian Air Strike in Rebel-held Idlib

Russian fighter aircrafts carried out number of strikes in multiple locations in rebel-held Idlib killing nine civilians and injuring more than 34. Reportedly, two Russian Su-24s targeted Idlib city, Benin town and Al-Arbeen mountain area with five strikes and one Russian Su-34 attacked in Jisr al-Shughour town. The frequency of attacks by Syrian regime and Russian forces has increased in the recent weeks. The Idlib region remains under the control of the rebel group, Hayat-Tahrir al-Sham and Syrian regime had made several efforts to recapture the territory.
Syrian forces on 22 June carried out airstrikes in Kafr Nouran village near Aleppo killing three and injuring six people. The military escalation coincided with the 20th round of Astana talks represented by Turkey, Russia, Iran and delegations from the Syrian government and opposition.

Sudan Conflict

The clashes between the military and paramilitary in Sudan have continued throughout the month displacing 2.5 million Sudanese and causing a humanitarian crisis. Rapid Support Forces (RSF) had reportedly seized the headquarters of heavily armed police unit on 25 June. The capture of the Central Reserve Police has allowed RSF to gain access to ammunition, weapons and vehicles. The conflict between the security forces has led to political vacuum causing ethnic violence and killing of people from the Masalit community in El Geneina in West Darfur. On 14 June, the West Darfur state Governor Khamis Abakar was killed marking a new escalation in the conflict. RSF has been suspected to be behind the murder of the governor.

The US in response to the conflict in Sudan imposed its first sanctions and warned that anybody who undermined peace will be held accountable. The US sanctions including visa restrictions were directed against two firms associated with the Sudanese armed forces and two firms close to RSF.

Iranian President’s Latin America Tour

Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi went for a four day visit starting on 12 June to Venezuela, Cuba and Nicaragua. Notably, all three Latin American states have been sanctioned by the US. Raisi was accompanied by ministers of foreign affairs, petroleum, defence and health, Chief of Staff and Deputy for Political affairs. Iran signed a 20 year cooperation plan with Venezuela to upgrade the bilateral relations to strategic level. Both states signed agreements to develop an oil platform; petrochemical products plant; maritime transport; agriculture; medicine; IT; insurance and cultural ties. Iran has helped Venezuela to repair and overhaul refineries and sending shipments of heavy crude.
Iran enjoys close ties with Cuba especially in the field of healthcare. Iran and Cuba signed six agreements including framing a political cooperation roadmap; building a joint health cooperation working group etc.

Iranian Foreign Minister’s visit to Gulf States

Iranian Foreign Minister Hossein Amirabdollahian visited Qatar, Oman, Kuwait and the UAE between 19 and 22 June to promote regional dialogue and cooperation. Amirabdollahian welcomed the proposal by the UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres to convene an eight country regional forum in New York in September. The proposed forum would include Iran, Iraq, Saudi Arabia, the UAE, Qatar, Oman, Kuwait and Bahrain. Notably, Iranian Foreign Minister met with Mohammed Abdulsalam, the chief negotiator of the Houthi movement in Yemen, at the Iranian embassy. Iran is keen to expand trade and investment to strengthen bilateral ties and security with its Gulf neighbours. Discussions are also afoot with normalizing ties with Egypt.

Turkey’s New Cabinet Takes Office

President Recep Tayyip Erdogan managed to win another term defeating his opponent, Kemal Kilicdaroglu in two rounds of election. On 3 June, Erdogan announced a new cabinet that focused on handling the ongoing economic crisis facing high inflation and collapse of the lira. He named former economy chief, Mehmet Simsek as Treasury and Finance Minister. Erdogan during his presidential address called for unity and solidarity and appealed for forgetting resentment and anger caused by intense polarization during the election campaign.

First Direct Flight between Sana’a and Saudi Arabia

The first direct flight between Yemen and Saudi Arabia in seven years carried around 270 Yemenis from rebel held Sana’a to Jeddah on 18 June. The Yemen Airways flight transported Yemeni Muslims on the annual Islamic pilgrimage of Hajj in Mecca. Sana’a airport was shut down by Saudi led military coalition in August 2016 as part of an air and sea blockade against Houthi forces in Yemen. Saudi Arabia and Houthis are seeking to reach a permanent ceasefire deal. On 1 April 2022, the UN brokered a two month truce between Houthis and the internationally recognised government in which both sides accepted to halt all offensive operations; allowing entry to fuel ships in Hodeidah region and commercial flights from Sana’a. The truce was further extended by another two months in early August and has held on.

Saudi Arabia Signs EV Deal with China

On 12 June, Saudi Arabia signed a US$ 5.6 billion deal with Chinese firm, Human Horizons to develop, manufacture and sale of electric vehicles (EV). Riyadh as part of Vision 2023 is seeking to diversify the economy and boost investments in non-oil sectors including in electric cars. The business deal was signed in the background of the 10th Arab-China Business Conference which was aimed to enhance strategic partnership based around the Belt and Road Initiative. Reportedly, more than 3500 government officials, investors, business representatives and experts from 23 states participated.

Mahmoud Abbas’s Visit to China

On 13 June, Palestinian Authority (PA) President Mahmoud Abbas visited Beijing and met with Chinese President Xi Jinping. China in the recent years has displayed readiness to help in facilitating Israeli-Palestinian peace talks. Notably, it was Abbas’ fifth official visit to China. Both leaders discussed about developments in the Palestinian arena as well as on regional and international issues of mutual concern. Abbas noted that, “China has always firmly supported the just cause of the Palestinian people to restore their legitimate national rights”. President Xi Jinping emphasised on China’s support of Palestinian struggle for statehood and called for an independent state based on the 1967 borders with East Jerusalem as its capital.

Contact Us