Trade, business, geography, geopolitics and wars. Since Caesar’s time, it has been hard to find two countries on the shores of the Mediterranean as connected as Egypt and Italy. After the discovery of the Zhor gas field, with a potential investment of 10 billion euros, ENI, the Italian oil and gas company, became an essential partner in the development of the Egyptian energy. With trade worth 5 billion euros, Italy was Cairo’s leading European partner.
It is well known that the oil and gas sector is the backbone of the Algerian economy, accounting for about 35 per cent of gross domestic product, and two-thirds of total exports; that the first commercial oil discovery was in 1956 and that production started in 1958 during the bloodiest anti–colonial revolt of national liberation in Arab history. And that Italy was at that time – and still is - in great need of this resource for its own development.
Oil is the main pillar of Saudi Arabia’s economy and the cornerstone of its development. According to the IMF's latest data(1), oil receipts accounted for around 85% of exports and almost 90% of fiscal revenue, while the oil sector comprises over 40% of overall GDP.
Russia’s military intervention in Syria at the end of September 2015 undoubtedly strengthened and sustained the Bashar Al-Assad regime. For the first time since the height of the Cold War Russian military personnel were actively involved in the Middle East as a combatant force with significant political leverage to counterbalance the roles of Saudi Arabia and Turkey in the Syrian conflict and thus the wider Middle East.
Over the last years the Gulf monarchies have emerged as assertive players both in the MENA region and in the global context. Relying on their huge energy reserves and financial assets, these states acquired increasing international leverage. On the one hand, the oil monarchies moved eastwards exploiting the opportunity provided by emerging Asian markets to diversify their energy relations and economic interests. On the other, in the wake of the Arab uprisings they adopted a more proactive approach that dramatically altered their influence in the region. Nonetheless, Gulf activism comes at a time when the monarchies are facing important internal and external challenges.
In this complex puzzle, the report aims to assess to what extent the rising Gulf monarchies are able to play as key actors both at the regional and the international levels. Are these monarchies adopting sustainable domestic policies in the long-term? How have they extended their influence in the MENA region? How are they reshaping their international relations? How do they act in the world energy market? What are the implications of the Gulf’s new assertiveness for the EU?
Egypt has reappeared again as a leading actor in the Middle East. After the fall of Mubarak, the rise to power of the Muslim Brotherhood and its ouster, the country has chosen its new ‘strongman’. Following the elections of al-Sisi, Egypt is back to pursuing a pro-active policy not only internally, but also in the neighbourhood.
The restoration of the strategic axis with Saudi Arabia and the struggle against radical Islam are the two pillars of this new political phase.
However, there are critical elements, too, from further deterioration of the political and civil liberties indexes, to the emergence of jihadist groups in the Sinai, to the enduring economic and financial difficulties. As a result of these changes, Europe and Italy should calibrate a new policy aimed at safeguarding their interests,especially from the points of view of security, stability and the fight against terrorism, also promoting more inclusive practices by the Cairo government vis-à-vis the opposition (including the Muslim Brotherhood) and developing policies which can help Egypt to respond to future challenges in terms of economic growth, poverty alleviation, demographic pressure and the creation of employment opportunities.
Months into mediation efforts led by UN Special Representative Bernardino Léon, Libya is yet to show any viable way out of its ongoing crisis. Today, the Spanish diplomat stepped dangerously close to the cliff of mission failure, as his fourth agreement draft proposal was rejected by Tobruk’s parliament, opposed to Tripoli’s and key actor in the conflict.
After a turbulent year both on the domestic and regional levels and on the eve of crucial parliamentary elections, it seems that Turkey’s ‘success story’ has waned. The Justice and Development Party (AKP), led by Recep Tayyip Erdogan, has been the main actor of this success story. The ‘AKP era’ has witnessed profound transformations in Turkey’s politics, society and economy.
Today Turkey is a more dynamic and developed country than it was at the beginning of the 2000s. At the regional level, it has been able to become one of the most influential players in the Middle East. The AKP can also take credit for bringing the country closer to the goal of European Union accession, starting negotiations at the end of 2005. However, this bright picture does not entirely fit the current situation.
The report aims at analysing the main features and changes Turkey witnessed in the ‘AKP era’ as well as the reasons for the reversing path it has been experiencing on both the domestic and regional levels in the last few years. The aim is to understand whether this means the conclusion of the successful cycle or a turning point towards a new, but uncertain, era.