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Monday, January 29


Monday, January 29

Bashar al-Jaafari (C) is pictured ahead the start of talks on Syria in Vienna


Glacial Syrian peace talks continue in Sochi

Bashar al-Jaafari (C) is pictured ahead the start of talks on Syria in Vienna
Photo: Reuters/Alex Halada

Sochi welcomes over 1,500 participants for the Syrian National Dialogue Congress, which convenes for the next two days. This Russian initiative is meant to provide representatives of the Syrian regime, opposition and Kurdish forces a stable environment to negotiate the end of the Syrian civil war and the drafting of a new constitution.

The conference closely follows the eighth round of UN-sponsored peace talks in Vienna that again fell short of producing comprehensive solutions. Both Syrian opposition and Western leaders have expressed suspicion that Russia’s hosting the Congress is an attempt to usurp the UN’s peace efforts with the intention of swaying Syria’s political future towards one favouring President Bashar al-Assad under Russian backing. Consequently, Syrian opposition groups have refused to participate in Sochi.

The talks take place amid tension regarding the roles of Russia, Turkey and Iran as the guarantors of de-escalation agreements in the Idlib and Ghouta regions that have recently experienced devastating offensives by the Syrian military and Turkey. Expect the Syrian National Dialogue Congress to be met with accusations of Russian hypocrisy and a lack of recognition of the talks as a legitimate step in the Syrian peace process.


US report to detail corruption within Russia’s elite

Photo: Kremlin

Today, the US Treasury Department will present its “Kremlin Report,” which Congress tasked it with creating as part of the passage of sanctions on Russia.

The report will detail the relationships of hundreds of Russian oligarchs with President Vladimir Putin, and put their finances, families and lives under a microscope. It is probable that Washington intends to divide Russia’s elite and sow dissatisfaction with Mr Putin by jeopardising their relative standing in the world economy.

Though no legal repercussions will come to those whose names are published—at least for now—they will find it more difficult to conduct dealings in the West, as businesses will be wary of reputational risks. Similarly, Washington could use the list in the future to levy official sanctions against Russia’s elite.

Though the report may create tension within Putin’s inner circle ahead of the March election, it’s unlikely to spark an elite rebellion against the president. Instead, it looks to hold the financial dealings of Russian oligarchs hostage with the threat of sanctions, putting pressure on Mr Putin’s foreign policy adventurism.


Egypt continues its descent into authoritarianism

Photo: Charles Platiau/AFP/Getty

Today is the deadline for presidential candidates to register to challenge incumbent Abdel Fattah el-Sisi. It comes amid increased international concern over the legitimacy of the upcoming elections.

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Presidential hopeful Khaled Ali, a human rights lawyer, withdrew his campaign citing threats to his liberty after the arrest of former military chief of staff Sami Annan—who was regarded a serious challenger to Mr Sisi—on electoral fraud charges. Most other contenders have been detained on questionable charges.

Barring any unexpected registrations today, Egypt’s election will proceed with just one candidate—the current president. Such a one horse race highlights the increasingly authoritarian nature of Egyptian politics since the 2011 revolution. The election will now largely symbolise the power struggle between Egypt’s armed forces and its security services and further consolidate power for Sisi. However, even the cosmetic appearance of an election has failed to hide Sisi’s continued need to appease the powerful military and security forces, something his predecessors eventually failed to do.

Expect no further opposition to challenge Sisi’s re-election chances. However, there is the possibility of further internal power struggles and contenders rising from within Egypt’s armed forces. With a tumultuous past few years consolidating power, expect Sisi to spare no effort to ensure his re-election.

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