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Why Middle East Countries Flipped, And Joined Push For Russia To Halt War

Just two days after they'd signed an Arab League statement that did not condemn Russia and instead called for diplomacy, Egypt, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates joined 138 other nations in a UN resolution demanding Russia halt its invasion of Ukraine.

photo of putin leaning over to talk to saudi king salman

In a 2019 file photo, Putin meets in Riyadh with Riyadh, Saudi King Salman bin Abdulaziz Al Saud

Mikhail Metzel/TASS via ZUMA
Ehsan Salah

CAIRO — Egypt, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates joined 138 other nations to vote in favor of a United Nations General Assembly resolution demanding Russia halt its invasion of Ukraine and withdraw all troops.

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The move Wednesday by the three regional power brokers came just two days after they signed onto an Arab League statement that did not condemn Russia and instead called for diplomacy, an avoidance of escalation and consideration of the humanitarian situation.

The UN General Assembly vote was also an about-face for the UAE, which abstained from a UN Security Council resolution last week demanding Russia cease its invasion of Ukraine. The UAE, a non-permanent member and the current president of the security council, joined China in abstaining while the resolution was vetoed by Russia. At the time, senior Emirati diplomatic adviser Anwar Gargash justified the decision by saying that the UAE “believes that taking sides would only lead to more violence.”

Deploring Moscow's "aggression"

Wednesday’s vote came after the 193-member assembly convened its first emergency session since 1997. The resolution deplored Russia’s “aggression” against Ukraine “in the strongest terms” and demanded an immediate halt to Moscow’s use of force and the immediate, complete and unconditional withdrawal of all Russian forces from Ukraine’s internationally recognized borders.

The resolution passed by a 141 to 5 vote, with 35 abstentions. The five countries to vote against the resolution were Russia, Syria, Belarus, North Korea and Eritrea. Algeria and Iraq, which have strategic ties to Russia, abstained. Iran and Sudan also abstained in what a Western diplomatic source in Cairo told Mada Masr was a clear message to the West from the two countries.

Meanwhile, China, which announced large energy and commodity deals with Russia shortly before the invasion, voted for the resolution after abstaining in the security council vote last week.

Egypt explained its vote in a statement on Wednesday by the country’s permanent representative to the UN, Osama Abdel Khaleq, saying the resolution should not lead to turning a blind eye to the root causes of the crisis and that the main goal should be a rapid political solution.

Suez Canal is key

An Egyptian government source, who spoke before the vote, said he hoped the situation would be resolved quickly. “We hope we do not reach a point that would complicate the passage of ships through the Suez Canal,” the source said. “We have strong interests with the United States and we also have strong interests with Russia. The situation is very delicate.”

Earlier on Wednesday, the head of the Suez Canal Authority denied rumors that the United States had asked Egypt to close the canal to Russian ships due to the invasion.

Egypt has been under pressure from all sides to make public statements declaring support for either side. While the Russian embassy in Cairo has actively been advocating for Egypt to take a pro-Moscow stance, G7 ambassadors in Cairo issued a joint statement on Monday demanding greater public support from Egypt at the UN General Assembly vote.

Putin and al Sisi

A 2014 file photo of Putin and al Sisi


Arab League is worried

Amid this mounting pressure, Egypt formed an operations room to coordinate its management of the crisis. Government sources told Mada Masr earlier this week that Egypt has grown increasingly worried that the ratcheting up of isolationary measures by the West may harm its bilateral relations with Russia, which includes military and energy cooperation, as well as significant two-way trade in food commodities.

An Egyptian government source, speaking briefly after the vote, told Mada Masr that Cairo provided a full explanation to “Russian friends” about the reasons for its vote, linking Egypt’s position to what they said were “disturbing developments in the humanitarian crisis.” Though Cairo added that they “did not overlook the reasons for Russia’s concerns,” the source added.

According to a source in the Arab League, the countries will use a meeting of the league’s foreign ministers scheduled for this week to explain their position and will also call for a quick solution to the humanitarian crisis and stresses the importance of taking into account the causes of the political crisis.

Among the 35 countries that abstained from the General Assembly vote were a large number of states in West Africa and the Sahel region where Russia and France have been vying for influence and where forces from Russia’s Wagner Group have also been deployed. These countries included Senegal, the current president of the African Union, and Mali, which recently witnessed large demonstrations against France amid the withdrawal of French forces under a 2014 UN mandate.

A sweeping wave of economic sanctions by the European Union and the US targeting Russia has plummeted the ruble to record lows and sent Moscow’s stock exchange into a free fall.

Envoys from Ukraine and Russia are expected to meet on Thursday in Belarus for a second round of talks aimed at ending the fighting. However, Russian forces continued their offensive on Wednesday, bombarding Kharkiv, Ukraine’s second-largest city and moving a large military convoy closer to the capital, Kyiv. A week into the fighting, more than 870,000 people have fled Ukraine, according to the United Nations.

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FOCUS: Israel-Palestine War

Bibi Blinked: How The Ceasefire Deal Could Flip Israel's Whole Gaza War Logic

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has pushed ahead a deal negotiated via Qatar, for a four-day truce and an exchange of 50 hostages for 150 Palestinian prisoners. Though the humanitarian and political pressure was mounting, Israel's all-out assault is suddenly halted, with unforeseen consequences for the future.

photo of someone holding a poster of a hostage

Families of Israeli hostages rally in Jerusalem

Nir Alon/ZUMA
Pierre Haski

Updated Nov. 22, 2023 at 8:55 p.m.


PARIS — It's the first piece of good news in 46 days of war. In the early hours of Wednesday, Israel agreed to a deal that included a four-day ceasefire and the release of some of the hostages held by Hamas — 30 children and 20 women — in exchange for 150 Palestinian prisoners, again women and children. The real question is what happens next.

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But first, this agreement, negotiated through the intermediary of Qatar, whose role is essential in this phase, must be implemented right away. This is a complex negotiation, because unlike the previous hostage-for-prisoner exchanges, it is taking place in the midst of a major war.

On the Palestinian side, although Hamas leader Ismail Haniyeh is present in Doha, he does not make the decision alone — he must have the agreement of the leaders of the military wing, who are hiding somewhere in Gaza. It takes 24 hours to send a message back and forth. As you can imagine, it's not as simple as a phone call.

And on the Israeli side, a consensus had to be built around the agreement. Benjamin Netanyahu's far-right allies were opposed to the deal — in line with their eradication logic — even at the cost of Israeli lives. But the opposition of these discredited parties was ignored, and that will leave its mark.

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