When the world gets closer.

We help you see farther.

Sign up to our expressly international daily newsletter.

Enjoy unlimited access to quality journalism.

Limited time offer

Get your 30-day free trial!
Geopolitics

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.

Stay up-to-date with the latest on the Russia-Ukraine war, with our exclusive international coverage. Sign up to our free daily newsletter.

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

Wikimedia

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.


You've reached your limit of free articles.

To read the full story, start your free trial today.

Get unlimited access. Cancel anytime.

Exclusive coverage from the world's top sources, in English for the first time.

Insights from the widest range of perspectives, languages and countries.

Coronavirus

Chinese Students' "Absurd" Protest Against COVID Lockdowns: Public Crawling

While street demonstrations have spread in China to protest the strict Zero-COVID regulations, some Chinese university students have taken up public acts of crawling to show what extended harsh lockdowns are doing to their mental state.

​Screenshot of a video showing Chinese students crawling on a soccer pitch

Screenshot of a video showing Chinese students crawling

Shuyue Chen

Since last Friday, the world has watched a wave of street protests have taken place across China as frustration against extended lockdowns reached a boiling point. But even before protesters took to the streets, Chinese university students had begun a public demonstration that challenges and shames the state's zero-COVID rules in a different way: public displays of crawling, as a kind of absurdist expression of their repressed anger under three years of strict pandemic control.

Xin’s heart was beating fast as her knees reached the ground. It was her first time joining the strange scene at the university sports field, so she put on her hat and face mask to cover her identity.

Kneeling down, with her forearms supporting her body from the ground, Xin started crawling with three other girls as a group, within a larger demonstration of other small groups. As they crawled on, she felt the sense of fear and embarrassment start to disappear. It was replaced by a liberating sense of joy, which had been absent in her life as a university student in lockdown for so long.

Yes, crawling in public has become a popular activity among Chinese university students recently. There have been posters and videos of "volunteer crawling" across universities in China. At first, it was for the sake of "fun." Xin, like many who participated, thought it was a "cult-like ritual" in the beginning, but she changed her mind. "You don't care about anything when crawling, not thinking about the reason why, what the consequences are. You just enjoy it."

The reality out there for Chinese university students has been grim. For Xin, her university started daily COVID-19 testing in November, and deliveries, including food, are banned. Apart from the school gate, all exits have been padlock sealed.

Keep reading...Show less

You've reached your limit of free articles.

To read the full story, start your free trial today.

Get unlimited access. Cancel anytime.

Exclusive coverage from the world's top sources, in English for the first time.

Insights from the widest range of perspectives, languages and countries.

The latest