Thursday, July 20

Thursday, July 20

YOU SHALL NOT PASS Amid an ongoing blockade, Egypt withdraws visa-free travel for Qataris Starting today, the Egyptian government discontinues

YOU SHALL NOT PASS

Amid an ongoing blockade, Egypt withdraws visa-free travel for Qataris

Photo: Daily News Egypt

Photo: Daily News Egypt

Starting today, the Egyptian government discontinues its visa-on-arrival policy for Qatari citizens. Cairo notes this is in response to Doha’s “current positions”—a reference to the accusations made by Egypt, Saudi Arabia, and others that Qatar supports terrorist organisations.

Tensions between Qatar and Egypt are not new. Said “positions” include allegedly supporting Arab Spring movements that led to the downfall of regional regimes—including that of former Egyptian president Hosni Mubarak. Qatar also supposedly propped up the Muslim Brotherhood’s Mohamed Morsi; Qatar shares ties with the party.

The military regime under Abdel Fatah al-Sisi feels severely threatened by the Muslim Brotherhood and has thus eagerly joined the UAE, Saudi Arabia and Bahrain to blockade Qatar. Ending the visa-free entry casts doubt over the status of private Qatari corporations and investments in Egypt—something Cairo notes it is still deliberating.

Feeling pressure from economic sanctions, though, Doha has begun withholding exit visas for foreign workers. So far, the large Egyptian foreign population has not been affected. But as Doha has not met the demands from the boycotting states, this could change, making a decrease in tensions unlikely.

RUSSIA’S FREE TRADE REFEREES

Dispute over Ukraine-EU Association goes to World Trade Organisation

Photo: AFP/Fred Dufour

Photo: AFP/Fred Dufour

The chair of the WTO’s committee on regional trade agreements has given the European Union and Ukraine until today to respond to a Russian complaint that the recently implemented DCFTA trade clause of 2014’s association agreement between the two exploits free trade to Russia’s disadvantage.

Since joining the WTO five years ago, Moscow has filed four complaints against the EU and two against Ukraine, protesting abuse of trade regulations. This specific suit follows on the heels of a demand to investigate Ukrainian sanctions against Russia, imposed in response to Russian aggression in Eastern Ukraine, which have slowed the growth of Russian online and business firms.

Russian critiques of the association agreement argue that it violates the Commonwealth of Independent States’ standing free trade agreements between Ukraine and the Former Soviet states, and thus disadvantages Russian trade. This mirrors Russia’s discomfort over Ukrainian accession to the European Energy Community, intended to reduce Eastern European energy dependence on Russia.

Russia will struggle to counter these measures economically, however, as Ukraine ended Russian gas dependence almost two years ago, further weakening Russia’s oil-based economic position.

GUARDING A FRAGILE PEACE

Joint patrols begin in Mali’s restive northern province

Photo: Eric Feferberg/AFP/Getty

Photo: Eric Feferberg/AFP/Getty

The implementation of a peace treaty between the Malian government and Tuareg separatists has lagged; a two-year interim period passed last June without the creation of a new government. However, combined rebel and government forces will begin patrolling Mali’s unstable northern region today, renewing the push towards implementing the 2015 deal.

Mali’s civil war erupted in 2012 as northern Tuaregs fought for independence, but the movement was hijacked by radicals Islamists. A 2013 French military intervention crushed organised Islamist forces, although terrorism remains a significant problem.

The patrols come after the government delayed a referendum on the new constitution, citing continued violence and lack of secure ballot access. The constitution has faced domestic blowback, with citizens taking to the streets to protest its sweeping presidential powers and concessions to rebels. Concessions include a regional governing body and renaming the northern region to its Tuareg name “Azawad.”

While both sides agree that Mali should remain unified and the Tuareg should receive limited autonomy, they will need to fulfil their respective obligations to prevent the treaty from collapsing like a similar one did in 2013.

HAPPENING ELSEWHERE…

Venezuela’s opposition has organised “zero hour”: a 24-hour nationwide strike to block Socialist President Nicolas Maduro from rewriting the constitution. US President Trump vowed to take “strong and swift economic actions” on Monday and is reportedly preparing to slap sanctions on senior Venezuelan officials. Expect large protests, some property damage and scuffles with security services.

Results from India’s presidential election will be announced. The post is largely ceremonial.

The European Central Bank will announce its interest rate decision. While no rate change is expected, investors will be looking for signs that the Continent’s central bankers are moving to retreat from its trillion-dollar stimulus program.

The Bank of Japan will also unveil its decision on interest rates. With inflation stubbornly low despite negative rates, expect no change in policy settings here.