News / Middle East

    Saudi King’s Egypt Trip Highlights Regional Bonds

    FILE - Saudi King Abdullah bin Abd al-Aziz.
    FILE - Saudi King Abdullah bin Abd al-Aziz.
    Elizabeth Arrott
    Saudi King Abdullah’s rare visit to Cairo Friday is a show of solidarity between Arab leaders who make counter-terrorism their battle cry.
     
    As Iraq cracks along sectarian lines, both Cairo and Riyadh condemn the religious extremism of the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL), the Sunni Muslim group making swift territorial gains against Iraq’s Shi’ite-dominated government.
     
    Egypt’s Foreign Ministry has called for a quick resolution of the violence to ensure future generations “can cope with the forces of extremism and maintain the concept of the nation-state in Iraq and the Levant.”
     
    The latter is an apparent reference to Syria, where ISIL also holds ground. Egypt’s current government officially sides with Syria’s opposition, but is extremely wary of having Egyptians fight alongside the more extreme elements, and bringing those views back home.
     
    Saudi Arabia has also condemned the extremism of ISIL, but in a sign of the deeply entangled alliances and suspicions that haunt the region, was forced this week to deny an Iraqi government claim it supports the militants.
     
    Even as questions linger on their respective positions on ISIL, what indisputably binds the leaders of Sunni-majority Egypt and Saudi Arabia is their disdain for the founding group of modern Islamism, the Muslim Brotherhood.
     
    Brotherhood as godfather
     
    Supporters of Egyptian President Abdel Fattah el-Sissi view the Iraqi conflict as a vindication of their government’s crackdown on the Brotherhood and the idea of removing Islamism from politics.
     
    Gruesome videos of the excesses of ISIL bolster their view. So, too, does commentary this week on the Brotherhood’s website, which characterizes the bloodshed in Iraq as a “revolt for freedom.”
     
    “We made it very clear that if you want to play politics, stay away from religion,” said Cairo-based publisher and political commentator Hisham Kassem. A defender of Sissi’s role in ousting Egypt’s first freely elected president, Brotherhood member Mohamed Morsi, Kassem says his country offers an example for Iraq and the region. “Egypt will be teaching a lesson: that we put our foot down early on this religious, sectarian politics.”
     
    For sidelining the Brotherhood, long viewed by the Saudi monarchy as a challenge to its rule, Riyadh has been generously grateful. The kingdom has sent billions of dollars in aid to post-Morsi Egypt, keeping afloat, if barely, its sinking economy.
     
    Of course, few countries mix religion and politics more deeply than Saudi Arabia. With its strict application of Sharia, or Islamic law, human rights groups regularly cite it as among the most oppressively religious-run nations in the world.
     
    Religion vs. rights
     
    Rights groups have also condemned Egypt’s repression of the Brotherhood.  The crackdown has claimed some 1,000 lives, seen hundreds sentenced to death and, by the government’s own estimates, at least 16,000 imprisoned.
     
    Yet both Egypt and Saudi Arabia say the answer to the problems in Iraq is tolerance. Officials have urged leaders in Baghdad to move beyond Shi’ite-centered sectarian politics to include more of the nation’s Sunni majority. 
     
    The politics of inclusion were also championed this week by the Arab League, that creaking home of regional unity on the banks of the Nile.
     
    Observers note that few, if any, of the League’s member states practice what they preach. In Egypt, one Western diplomat warns that the government does so at its own risk.
     
    “When you see the consequences of a lack of inclusion in countries around the region, even if Egypt is not likely to turn into a Syria or Iraq - historical conditions and composition are different - you still have to worry about the consequences of a not-inclusive policy and continuing the tradition that the winner takes all,” said the diplomat.
     
    That “winner takes all” approach, argue some analysts, may be the region’s one, true common denominator, cutting across the battle lines of sectarianism, extremism, military-backed governments and theocratic rule.

    You May Like

    Video Somali, AU Forces Face Resurgent Al-Shabab

    Somalia’s Western backers frustrated over country’s slow progress in establishing its armed forces to bring security after 25 years of chaos

    Israel Makes Push for Gaza Strip Recovery

    After years of economic blockade and attempts to disable Hamas, Israeli leaders eventually realized that Hamas’ downfall could lead to chaos or the rise of a more radical Jihadist group

    Slump in Chinese Tourists Hitting Hong Kong Retail

    Mainland Chinese account for up to three-quarters of visitors to Hong Kong, but that number is falling, and shopping centers are struggling to 'shift gears' and maintain sales

    Featured Videos

    Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
    Somali, African Union Forces Face Resurgent Al-Shababi
    X
    Henry Ridgwell
    April 28, 2016 4:20 PM
    The Islamic State terror group claimed its first attack in Somalia earlier this week, though the claim has not been verified by forces on the ground. Meanwhile, al-Shabab militants have stepped up their attacks as Somalia prepares for elections later this year. Henry Ridgwell reports there are growing frustrations among Somalia’s Western backers over the country’s slow progress in forming its own armed forces to establish security after 25 years of chaos.
    Video

    Video Somali, African Union Forces Face Resurgent Al-Shabab

    The Islamic State terror group claimed its first attack in Somalia earlier this week, though the claim has not been verified by forces on the ground. Meanwhile, al-Shabab militants have stepped up their attacks as Somalia prepares for elections later this year. Henry Ridgwell reports there are growing frustrations among Somalia’s Western backers over the country’s slow progress in forming its own armed forces to establish security after 25 years of chaos.
    Video

    Video Bangladesh Targeted Killings Spark Wave of Fear

    People in Bangladesh’s capital are expressing deep concern over the brutal attacks that have killed secular blogger, and most recently a gay rights activist and an employee of the U.S. embassy. Xulhaz Mannan, an embassy protocol officer and the editor of the country’s only gay and transgender magazine Roopban; and his friend Mehboob Rabbi Tanoy, a gay rights activist, were hacked to death by five attackers in Mannan’s Dhaka home earlier this month.
    Video

    Video Documentary Tells Tale of Chernobyl Returnees

    Ukraine this week is marking the 30th anniversary of the world's worst nuclear accident, at the Chernobyl nuclear power plant. Soviet officials at first said little about the accident, but later evacuated a 2,600-square-kilometer "exclusion zone." Some people, though, came back. American directors Holly Morris and Anne Bogart created a documentary about this faithful and brave community. VOA's Tetiana Kharchenko reports from New York on "The Babushkas of Chernobyl." Carol Pearson narrates.
    Video

    Video Nigerians Feel Bite of Buhari Economic Policy

    Despite the global drop in the price of oil, Nigerian President Muhammadu Buhari has refused to allow the country's currency to devalue, leading to a shortage of foreign exchange. Chris Stein reports from Lagos businessmen and consumers are feeling the impact as the country deals with a severe fuel shortage.
    Video

    Video  Return to the Wild

    There’s a growing trend in the United States to let old or underused golf courses revert back to nature. But as Erika Celeste reports from one parcel in Grafton, Ohio, converting 39 hectares of land back to green space is a lot more complicated than just not mowing the fairway.
    Video

    Video West Urges Unity in Libya as Migrant Numbers Soar

    The Italian government says a NATO-led mission aimed at stemming the flow of migrants from Libya to Europe could be up and running by July. There are concerns that the number of migrants could soar as the route through Greece and the Balkans remains blocked. Western powers say the political chaos in Libya is being exploited by people smugglers — and they are pressuring rival groups to come together under the new unity government. VOA's Henry Ridgwell reports.
    Video

    Video Russia’s TV Rain Swims Against Tide in Sea of Kremlin Propaganda

    Russia’s media freedoms have been gradually eroded under President Vladimir Putin as his government has increased state ownership, influence, and restrictions on critical reporting. Television, where most Russians get their news, has been the main target and is now almost completely state controlled. But in the Russian capital, TV Rain stands out as an island in a sea of Kremlin propaganda.
    Video

    Video Kurdish Town Receives Refugees but Lacks Resources

    A wave of refugees is pouring into the Kurdish town of Afrin in northern Syria as a result of fighting between rebel forces and Islamic State militants. VOA’s Amina Misto went to the town and reports local authorities are finding it difficult to cope with this influx of internally displaced people. Bronwyn Benito narrates her report.
    Video

    Video Scientists Build Human Tissue on Animal Matrix

    The question has always been, if a gecko can grow back its tail, why can't we regenerate our lost body parts? Well, maybe we can, someday. Scientists are moving towards the ability to rebuild fully functioning organs, and have made significant progress replacing muscles and other tissue.
    Video

    Video Containing Chernobyl Radiation Continues 30 Years After Explosion

    April 26 marks the 30th anniversary of the Chernobyl nuclear disaster. Hundreds were killed following the explosion and it's estimated that thousands more have died from cancers caused by the radiation. Henry Ridgwell traveled to Chernobyl and reports for VOA on the continuing efforts to decommission the site -- and on the fledgling plans for a new future in the vast exclusion zone.
    Video

    Video Frustration Builds Among Refugees Trapped at Macedonian Border

    On the Greek border with Macedonia, 12,000 refugees continue to wait. Since the route to the rest of Europe was closed last month, the makeshift camp at Idomeni has seen protests and tear gas. But while those here wait, their frustration grows — as do reports of people attempting to find new ways of continuing their journey. John Owens reports from Idomeni.
    Video

    Video Researchers: Bees Help Kenyan Farmers Fend Off Elephants

    Elephant crop-raiding continues to be a major source of human-wildlife conflict in Kenya, so one elephant researcher is helping to alleviate the problem near Tsavo East National Park with beehive fences, which use elephants’ natural aversion to bees to deter them from farms. VOA’s Jill Craig visited the area ahead of this month's Giants Club Summit, which will bring together dignitaries at Mount Kenya to find solutions to combat poaching, the No. 1 threat to elephants.

    Special Report

    Adrift The Invisible African Diaspora