The Week That Was #5
Foreign Policy Brief #175 | By: Ibrahim Sultan | March 14, 2023
Header photo taken from: The Guardian
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Photo taken from: China Daily / Reuters
A new series to catch you up on the top stories that occurred around the world last week.
China- Iran & Saudi Arabia Deal
Last week Beijing brokered a deal to restore diplomatic relations between Iran and Saudi Arabia, signaling a shift in the politics of the Middle East region and global diplomacy. Diplomatic relations between the two countries were cut in 2016 after Saudi Arabia executed a prominent Shia cleric, angering many in Iran. This cut in relations came after decades of animosity between the two countries.
After the signing of the new deal mediated by China, Saudi and Iranian officials have said they will also work to reimplement a decades-old security cooperation pact and revive agreements on technology, and trade. The two regional powers have been at odds for years with hostility directed at one another through indirect conflicts such as the war in Yemen where Saudi forces fought Iran-backed Houthi rebels.
The talks between Iran and Saudi Arabia were occurring at the same time that negotiations between Iran and the United States to revive the Iran nuclear deal were faltering. The new deal is an indicator of China’s growing influence in the Middle-East, as well as its growing role internationally as a mediator and global power. While the deal is a positive development for peace and security in the region, it demonstrates that China’s standing globally has risen, and the US has lost the confidence of many countries in the region.
Georgia’s Foreign Agent Law
Thousands of people took to the streets of Georgias capital Tbilisi last week to protest a controverial draft law proposed by the country’s congress. The proposed law “On Transparency of Foreign Influence” would target organisations such as media outlets and NGO’s that receive over 20% of funding from abroad, stating they would be classified as foreign agents.
Many in the country said the law if passed would stifle press freedom in Georgia, where a large portion of the media is already controlled by the government. The law was dubbed the new “Russian law” because of its similarities to a 2012 law in Russia that was used to crack down on non-state funded NGOs and media.
Those who opposed the new law, said it would not only limit press freedom but would also undercut Georgia’s efforts to become a candidate for EU membership. Georgia applied for EU membership in March 2022, only a week after Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.
The EU, however, rejected its application and approved the candidacies of Ukraine and Moldova. The rejection was widely seen as a consequence of democratic backsliding under the leadership of the Georgian Dream party.
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Much of the fury against the proposed law, that has since been struck down, was aimed at Georgian Dream’s founder, Bidzina Ivanishvili, a billionaire who made his fortune in Russia and reportedly continues to have close ties to the Kremlin.
There is widespread distrust of Russia in the country. In 2008, the Kremlin sent forces into Georgia to support two Russian-backed breakaway regions and Moscow continues to keep its troops there, giving them de facto control of 20% of Georgia’s territory.
Israelis continue weeks of protest against plans by Benjamin Netanyahu’s far right government to “reform” the country’s judicial system. For ten weeks now hundreds of thousands of Israelis have taken to the streets of Tel Aviv and Jerusalem to voice opposition to the reform which many see as authoritarian. The reforms would weaken the country’s courts and erode the judiciary’s ability to check the power of the country’s other branches of government and increase the powers of the Prime minister.
The legislation, if passed would give Israel’s parliament, the Knesset, the power to overrule the country’s Supreme Court rulings with a simple majority. The law would also allow the ruling far right government to continue legalizing further expansion into the occupied territories, something which the US has expressed concern over. US Secretary of DefenseLoyd Austin last week during a visit to Israel that was cut short due to the protests that called for “a halt in unilateral actions that undermine the US’ enduring goal of two states”. The Netanyahu administration has made no indication that it plans to reverse the proposed reforms.