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The Takeaway: Egypt’s US envoy touts EastMed Gas Forum as regional model

Erdogan stands firm against NATO bids by Sweden and Finland; Israel pitched as alternative for Russian gas; Sudan’s coup leaders tested by violence; Turkey gains from Kurdish infighting; HTS in talks with Turkish-backed Syrian forces in Idlib. 
Motaz Zahran

The Lead: Egypt’s interests in water security merge with COP27 climate summit

Zahran: EastMed Gas Forum offers ‘political horizon’ 

  • Motaz Zahran, Egypt’s ambassador to the United States, said that the Eastern Mediterranean Gas Forum (EMGF) is the "perfect example" of a regional approach to address the Israeli-Palestinian issue and regional economic integration.  

  • Speaking at an Al-Monitor breakfast at Washington’s National Press Club on May 17, Zahran said that the EMGF, formally launched in September 2020, offers a "political horizon" for Palestinians because it is the only regional organization which includes both Israel and Palestine, as well as France, Egypt, Jordan, Greece, Cyprus and Italy. 

  •  Total, Eni, Novatek and Exxon have signed exploration and production agreements with EMGF member countries.  

COP 27 to focus on ‘implementation and delivery … adaptation and mitigation’ 

  • Zahran said that Egypt has seized its "responsibility to lead by example" in its role as host of  the 27th session of the Conference of the Parties (COP 27) to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change in Sharm El-Sheikh, Egypt, Nov. 7-18, 2022. 

  • Egypt, hosting the COP on behalf of the African continent, will focus on "implementation and delivery" of key climate initiatives, as well as mitigation and adaptation strategies  in response to climate change.   

  • Zahran said Egypt will show leadership in presentation of its own indices and progress on greenhouse gas emissions; wind and solar power and green hydrogen; and development of new cleaner cities. 

  • The American Chamber of Commerce in Egypt and the US Chamber of Commerce sponsored the GreenTech Business Mission to Egypt May 15-17, composed of 38-40 major companies, to discuss business opportunities around green and renewable energies.

Egypt faces ‘existential’ threat in Nile dispute with Ethiopia 

  • The COP27 summit will also allow Egypt to highlight the many challenges it and other countries face from water scarcity. 

  • Egyptian Environment Minister Yasmine Fouad said this month that Egypt will introduce water as an agenda item at the Sharm El-Sheikh climate conference, as we report here.

  • Zahran discussed the stalled talks with Ethiopia over the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam (GERD) and explained that any threat to the Nile waters, on which Egypt depends for over 90% of its needs, is “existential,” and appealed to Washington to help break the deadlock by using its leverage on Ethiopia, as we report here.  

  • Sarah Abdelkader, an environmental health PhD student at the American University of Cairo, won the L'Oréal-UNESCO Young Talented Scientist award for her research leading to a small unit for treating agricultural wastewater and recycling it for irrigation, which may help mitigate Egypt’s water shortages, as Ahmed Gomaa reports

From our regional correspondents: 

1. Turkey’s Erdogan stands firm on NATO threats  

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan doubled down on his threat to block Finland and Sweden’s bid for NATO membership, saying Monday they “need not bother to come” to Ankara to convince him otherwise. Erdogan has accused the two Nordic countries of harboring members of the Kurdistan Workers Party, which Turkey considers a terrorist organization.  

Erdogan’s opposition to Sweden and Finland’s membership has raised questions among former Turkish diplomats, reports Semih Idiz. “They believe Erdogan is attempting to cash in on Turkey's renewed strategic importance for the West after the invasion of Ukraine and force Finland and Sweden to comply with his demands.” As Amberin Zaman reminds us, this is hardly the first time that Erdogan has played hardball with NATO.

2. Israel pitched as Europe’s alternative to Russian gas  

As Europe reduces its dependence on Russian natural gas, experts say Israel could help meet the continent’s needs with gas from its offshore reserves. Danny Zaken writes that the recent discovery of another marine natural gas reservoir off the Israeli coast “underscores Israel’s emerging status over the past decade as a regional power in the field of natural gas.”  

Israel’s proven gas reserves amount to 921 billion cubic meters, but the country’s needs are not expected to exceed 500 bcm in the next 25 years, according to the Israeli Energy Ministry. Zaken looks at the options for transporting excess gas from Israel to Europe, one of which involves building an underwater pipeline to Turkey.   

3. Sudan’s coup leaders tested by wave of violence 

Tribal fighting in west Darfur has killed more than 200 people since late April, marking the war-wrecked region’s worst wave of violence since the Sudanese military openly seized power last October.  

“The episode has again exposed the inability of Khartoum to prevent and stop this type of assault,” writes Marc Espanol. The violence against civilians has been widely attributed to the Rapid Support Forces, a paramilitary group led by Gen. Mohamed Hamdan Dagalo, who is currently the vice president of Sudan's governing sovereign council. Unverified videos seen by Al-Monitor show armed fighters wearing RSF uniforms as the town of Kereinik was under attack last month. The United States and several European countries have condemned the violence in west Darfur, but stopped short of noting the direct involvement of at least some of the Sudanese authorities.  

4. Syrian Kurdish infighting a win for Turkey 

Turkey’s escalating military campaign against the Kurdistan Workers Party has reinforced divisions among northeast Syria’s Kurdish groups and undermined US efforts to unify them. In interviews with Al-Monitor, officials from the ruling Democratic Union Party (PYD) and the opposition Kurdish National Council (KNC) blamed each other for the breakdown in talks that have been frozen since October 2020. Amberin Zaman and Dan Wilkofsky write that the pause “serves Turkey’s agenda of keeping its Kurdish foes divided and weak,” as well as discourages deeper US political engagement in the region.  

They report on a document co-signed by a State Department envoy and Syrian Democratic Forces command-in-chief Mazlum Kobane in June 2021 that was meant to kickstart the talks. But a KNC official said the document was never made public due to the PYD’s “continued violations.” Meanwhile, a PYD official is blaming the stalled talks on the KNC’s links to Turkey.  

5. HTS holds secret talks with Turkey-backed rivals  

Sultan al-Kanj reports from Idlib on meetings held by Hayat Tahrir al-Sham, the terrorist group which controls Syria’s Idlib province, and the rival Levant Front, one of the strongest factions within the Turkey-backed Syrian National Army. A senior Levant Front source said the group’s commanders recently met with HTS leaders in Idlib in a bid to ease tensions. The two sides agreed to facilitate the movement of fighters between HTS-controlled areas and those held by the SNA, as well as stop their media attacks against each other. Despite the talks, experts doubt the two ideologically different armed groups would merge anytime soon.  

Multimedia this week: Hagia Sophia vandalism, Lebanon’s elections, Sinjar dispute 

Listen: Kurdish researcher Giran Ozcan and Amberin Zaman discuss the outsized role Kurds play in the Middle East, and whether their aspirations can benefit US interests in the region.   

Watch: Pinar Tremblay reports on vandalism at Turkey’s iconic Hagia Sophia. Experts warn the damage points to the state’s broader failure to protect its cultural heritage. You can watch the video here

Listen: Yazidi activist Mirza Dinnayi explains how the Yazidis’ ancestral homeland of Sinjar has found itself at the center of a regional dispute involving Turkey, Syria, Iran and Iraq.