Walaa Abu Steit – Cairo
Mohamed Sadek Ismail, the Director of the Arab Centre for Studies, an Egyptian think tank, in an interview with MedyaNews shared his perspectives regarding the manner in which United States President Joe Biden is likely to change the regional approach of the US and pressure Turkey’s President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan into altering policies which would also entail changes to Turkey’s status in the region.
Mohamed Sadek Ismail expects US President Joe Biden’s approach to the Middle East to be different from that of his predecessor Donald Trump, as he noted that Biden’s appointment of Brett McGurk as coordinator for the Middle East and North Africa portends the strong return of the US to the region, especially when it comes to Syria.
Biden will likely follow a different approach to Turkey and its expansionist policies in the region and the relations between the US and Europe may be renewed to increase the likelihood of sanctions against Turkey, Ismail observed.
Biden has just been inaugurated. This raises questions about what his approach will be in the Middle East. What do you expect his approach to be like?
I believe President Biden will have an approach to the region that will be different from that of former President Donald Trump. During his four years in office, President Trump kept his country away from regional hotspots, such as Syria, Libya and Yemen. The United States did not intervene directly in these countries. Trump also liked to use Turkey as a tool of his country in the region.
I believe the Democratic Party will work to reassert the US role in the region. It will do this primarily by protecting Israel’s security. This will make it necessary for the US to get involved in Syria again. The US will do this to ensure Russia is not the only global power controlling what is happening in Syria.
I also think the US will play a role in reorganizing things in Libya and Yemen, especially in the light of the latest designation by the US State Department of the Houthi militia as a terrorist organization. This development will open the door for solving the Yemeni crisis. This solution will come through cooperation between the US and Gulf states against the Houthis.
Given all of this, I think President Biden will bring his country back to the region and strongly at that. The US will also likely maintain strong ties with principal states in the region, such as Egypt, Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates and Jordan. The US has strategic alliances with these states.
Perhaps Biden has given us an insight into his possible Middle Eastern policy by appointing Brett McGurk as his country’s coordinator for the Middle East and North Africa. How do you view this appointment?
I think McGurk, who quit his job within the Trump administration, will play an important role in the return of the US to the region. This role will eventually be political and military. The US troop withdrawal from Syria gave Russia the chance to be the most influential power in this country. Russia shares influence in this country with Turkey and Iran, of course. Trump preferred that his country’s military presence outside its borders be restricted to the protection of its security and stability.
I think the Democratic Party will take a different course, given the intensity of regional problems. This is why I think McGurk’s appointment will help the US make a policy change in the coming period. This man knows the region very well.
Does this mean that America’s new policy in the region will counter Turkey’s policies, especially when it comes to its occupation of parts of Syria and Iraq?
Of course, yes. The US will have a different point of view when it comes to Turkey. Trump used Turkey a lot when it came to Syria and Iraq. He gave Ankara freedom of movement in the region. This encouraged it to occupy Iraqi and Syrian territories. It also backed the Houthis in Yemen. Turkey also went to Libya. Turkey was Trump’s invisible hand in the region.
However, the Democratic Party will likely rein in Turkey, especially with Biden’s expected good links with the Europeans. Europe has already started imposing economic sanctions on Turkey. There may be a different sanctions regime placed on Turkey in March.
How will the US deal with President Erdoğan who has no friends in the region now because of his policies? What type of change will happen?
US-Turkish relations will not likely be good in the coming period, in the light of President Erdoğan’s expansionist strategies in the region. President Biden will not allow the Turkish president to maintain these strategies. The return of the US to the region will rein Turkey in. I think relations between Biden and Erdoğan will not be good unless the Turkish president succumbs to the US president’s regional view.
Some commentators have expressed fears concerning Biden’s expected policy on the Muslim Brotherhood, which is designated as a ‘terrorist’ movement in Egypt, Saudi Arabia and other countries. What is your assessment?
I believe President Biden will deal with the Muslim Brotherhood differently from President Barack Obama. It is important to note that the US Congress, which has a majority of Democratic Party members, has recently designated the Muslim Brotherhood militia, Hasm, as a ‘foreign terrorist entity’. As a group, the Muslim Brotherhood has lost influence. It has lost its following in the region. It is no longer capable of carrying out any attacks. I expect the group to grow even weaker in the coming period.
President Joe Biden is obliged to deal with the current regimes in the region, including Egypt and Saudi Arabia. These regimes have stated that they have succeeded in eradicating ‘terrorism’. Biden has to be mindful of their positions in this matter.