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    Middle East
     Aug 20, '13


Egypt's Sisi banishes wild dogs
By M K Bhadrakumar

Yves Jego, mayor of Montereau-Fault-Yonne, in the southeast suburb of Paris, announced on Monday that dog owners in his town with no sense of civic duty will be henceforth caught on closed-television cameras if they do not pick up their pet's waste, and offenders will be fined 35 euros (US$46).

Mr Jego compared irresponsible dog owns to traffic offenders who pose a threat to public safety. The analogy can be applied to Syria. Indeed, even as the mayor spoke to Agence France-Presse, the French news agency also reported on an innocuous meeting being scheduled for the middle of next week, away from



the glare of international publicity in a city 468.7 kilometers to the north of Paris - The Hague.

There are stirrings of hope that a clean-up act over Syria cannot entirely be ruled out.

Byzantine city of wild dogs
According to the AFP, the proposed meeting of top US and Russian officials at The Hague was originally conceived at the August 9 meeting in Washington within the "2+2" format of the foreign and defense ministers of the two countries.

Wendy Sherman, US undersecretary of state for political affairs, will lead the American team, which includes, interestingly, US Ambassador to Syria Robert Ford, whom President Barack Obama recently re-designated as the next envoy to Cairo. Lakhdar Brahimi, the UN-Arab League envoy on Syria, will also participate.

The stated purpose of The Hague meeting is to discuss preparations for the long-delayed international peace conference on Syria, dubbed as the "Geneva 2", aimed at bringing together the Syrian regime and its allies and the opposition.

Moscow is yet to disclose at what level it will be represented at The Hague meeting. Russia will be anxious to convey that it's business is as usual with Washington despite the brouhaha over the ex-CIA whistleblower Edward Snowden affair and the ensuing cancellation of President Barack Obama's "bilateral" with Russian President Vladimir Putin next month.

On the other hand, Ford's presence at The Hague could be somewhat disconcerting, given his controversial record as diplomat both in Iraq and Syria of leaving behind mountain heaps of dog waste, but then, Moscow will also ponder over an interesting thought that it is often such able hands who are also best employed to hold the broom and do an efficient job of cleaning up, since they know better than anyone else where the stench originates.

Equally, there is a lot going in favor of the Syrian peace talks picking up. For one thing, the dogs of war in Syria are finding themselves increasingly in dire straits. General Abdel Fattel al-Sisi, the Egyptian strongman, intensely hates dogs and has ordered the Syrian breed to vacate Cairo.

He is all set to follow Mr Jego's footsteps and install CCTV cameras all along the Nile banks, and the best part is that, although a poor man himself, his enterprise is a 100% self-financing one, being generously funded by the very same wealthy sheikhs to whom the dogs of war in Syria not too long ago belonged.

These sheikhs are increasingly worried that the winds might carry the stench in Egypt all the way to their own grand palaces and pollute their beautiful desert environs, in which case all the perfumes of Arabia would be insufficient to mask the odor.

An emboldened Sisi now intends to bring out of retirement former dictator Hosni Mubarak, whose legendary skills in dog-waste management are a legion in the Middle East and whom the sheikhs implicitly trust.

At any rate, the Syrian canine breed has been quick to read the ominous signs of Sisi's displeasure and have fled from Cairo to Istanbul, taking advantage of the authorities in Turkey and Egypt not being on talking terms anymore.

But they aren't going to be safe for long in Istanbul, either, because it is an ancient Byzantine city and there are wild dogs there, too. The Syrian breed is a relatively delicate one, whereas the ones from Kurdistan and further beyond in Mesopotamia are real bloodhounds and some of them are rumored to be dog-eating-dogs.

Also, there are vague hints that it is a matter of time before the Turkish master may himself follow Sisi's footsteps and decide to get rid of all dogs streaming into Anatolia from the surrounding regions that are polluting his beautiful compound too.

Tragic but potentially cathartic
This needs some explaining. Turkish Prime Minister Recep Erdogan phoned up Putin two weeks back and set up a meeting between the two on the sidelines of the Group of 20 summit early next month in St Petersburg for a man-to-man talk regarding Syria.

Erdogan, being a gifted politician, understands that he has lost the game over Syria, while Putin holds most of the trump cards, including the fearsome "Kurdish card".

Amid the growing signs of a Kurdish entity shaping up in northern Syria along the Turkish border on the lines of Iraqi Kurdistan, Moscow has suggested with a poker face that Syrian Kurds could be independently represented at Geneva 2 talks.

Erdogan was quick to grasp the message. Sheikh Hamad bin Khalifa al-Thani of Qatar and Mohamed Morsi of Egypt used to be his closest associates in the Syrian project. But both have now relinquished power - one abdicating and the other deposed.

On the other hand, Egypt's coup finds Erdogan to be the odd man on the regional chessboard, while Saudi Arabia and its Gulf Cooperation Council allies, Iraq, Syria, Israel and even Iran have decided to do business with the junta in Cairo.

The unkindest cut of all has been that Obama is nowadays ignoring Erdogan. From the high pedestal of being acclaimed as a role model for the new Middle East, Erdogan has fallen and it has been a "Shakespearean fall" - at once tragic but potentially cathartic.

Erdogan knows that Obama has his hands full with Egypt for the rest of his term in the White House, which means the US is being forced into a virtual disengagement from the Syrian project. At any rate, this is not the best of times to push for "regime change" in the Middle East.

In sum, Erdogan understands perfectly well that Moscow sizes up that the tide has turned in Syria.

The blistering propaganda campaign from Moscow regarding the specter of al-Qaeda raising its hood in Syria has registered in Western consciousness, and meanwhile, Bashar al-Assad is pressing home the advantage on the battlefield and is edging closer than ever to getting re-elected as Syria's president in the 2014 poll.

Portents of evils imminent
Simply put, post-Soviet Russia is back with a bang on the Middle East's chessboard. Indeed, strange things are beginning to happen all over the region.

The Syrian National Council representative in Istanbul, Khaled Khoja, bitterly said in an interview with Turkey's Hurriyet newspaper over the weekend,
The movement of the Syrian opposition in Egypt is being limited [by the new rulers] and opposition figures are leaving the country. We are moving the headquarters of the Syrian National Coalition from Egypt to Turkey.

Politically, Bashar al-Assad has become a role model to Arab dictators. What al-Assad and the Shabiha [armed men in civilian clothing who support al-Assad] are to Syria, [General Abdel Fatteh] al-Sisi and axmen [armed groups] are to Egypt.

A conviction is going around among Arab dictators that somehow the Arab Spring can be stopped. They include the leaders of Saudi Arabia, Jordan and the United Arab Emirates, which are in the group of the Friends of Syria. All of them have supported al-Sisi.

Following a nine-month siege, the opposition forces got hold of the airport near Aleppo and found Saudi Arabian rockets destined for the regime. The UAE is in the Friends of Syria Group, but Dubai has become the central bank of the Syrian regime. While members of the Friends of Syria should support the opposition, they are now showing the tendency of safeguarding the regime.
Unsurprisingly, Moscow's warm equations with the Mubarak-era Egyptian "deep state" and the manifest empathy it is now displaying toward the junta in Cairo, coupled with its visceral hatred of the Muslim Brotherhood historically, are bringing about a strange proximity between Russia and Saudi Arabia over the vital issues affecting the future trajectory of the Arab Spring.

Looking back, King Abdullah's initiative to depute his spy chief, Prince Bandar, to meet Putin last month underscored that the Saudis feel a commonality of interests over Syria emerging today on the regional plane with Moscow, which it does not feel with any other big power, including the US.

From all reports, it might have appeared that Putin and Bandar kept an ostentatious distance and warily probed each other, but in actuality they talked for four intense hours in the Russian leader's residence.

Syria has been and perhaps still remains a point of difference between Saudi Arabia and Russia, but then, both Putin and King Abdullah are pragmatists par excellence, and as Mao Zedong once put it, "The differences between friends cannot but reinforce their friendship."

Put differently, Sisi's decision to kick out the Syrian National Council fellows from their watering hole in Cairo couldn't have been possible without a Saudi nod and a wink, and it is highly improbable Bandar didn't sensitize Putin. The council's chief, Ahmad Jarba is, after all, widely regarded as a Saudi protege.

Syrian National Council representative Khoja could as well have repeated Julius Caesar's words in William Shakespeare,
Calpurnia, my wife, stays me at home;
She dreamt to-night she saw my statua,
Which, like a fountain with an hundred spouts,
Did run pure blood; and many lusty Romans
Came smiling, and did bathe their hands in it:
And these does she apply for warnings, and portents,
And evils imminent; and on her knee
Hath begg'd that I will stay at home to-day.
Ambassador M K Bhadrakumar served as a career diplomat in the Indian Foreign Service for over 29 years, with postings including India's ambassador to Uzbekistan (1995-1998) and to Turkey (1998-2001).

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