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Arab’s New Found Interest In Diplomatic Relations And Peace Agreements

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Cynicism runs deep in the Middle East and suspicion, more than any other factor, has shaped relations. A lack of socio-political and economic engagement is one of the reasons for prolonged hostilities. But two new projects (Tracks for Regional Peace and Mega City of Neom) in the region and the Arab Israel Peace Agreement seek to change the status quo by engaging Middle East states in a web of  cooperation.

These geo-economic projects will physically connect Israel to the Arab world. Israel has been surrounded by hostile neighbours since 1948, putting it in a huge security dilemma, though it emerged victorious in all the conflicts. The Arab states and Pakistan refused to even recognise it as a sovereign state. Surprisingly, last year, the UAE announced the opening its airline services and diplomatic communication with Israel, followed by Bahrain, Oman, Saudi Arabia and other states.

Saudi has lost credibility amongst Arabs by these plans and now, badly needs a victory to cover it all up. The majority of Arab society still opposes this normalisation, so it has been a government-to-government dealing against public opinion. The Arab world seems to have taken a complete U-turn on its Israel policy, a move that would possibly also mean betrayal to the long cherished “Palestinian issue” and “Pan Islamism” identity.

Biden wants to revive the JCPOA and Trump has tried hard to push through the deal before Biden came in, making it impossible for him to reverse Trump’s decisions. Photo credit: Mark Wilson/Getty Images)

The agreement signed between Israel, the UAE and Bahrain just formalised a relationship already in place, led by the USA. Normalisation in simple terms is having formal diplomatic relations between states. But something like this happening in the Middle East was unthinkable till recently. Former US Secretary of State John Kerry said on record that the Arab-Israel relationship can’t happen without doing justice to the Palestinians issue. Just imagine the sheer amount of diplomatic manoeuvrability, skills, nuance and hardcore negotiation it takes to achieve a deal like this.

Though each country had different reasons for doing so, there are some overlapping national interests. First is the loss of pan-Islamism based on religious identity and the rhetoric around it in the Arab world itself, specially after the Arab Spring revolution. This also gave a huge geo-political leverage to the cause of Palestinians. Although the process is now in public, it had been happening for a long time behind the curtains: Oman accepting Israeli diplomats, Bahrain hosting Israeli business summits etc.

Saudi even went to the extent of acquiring Israeli weapons. The second important reason was Iran and its nukes as it made difficult for any one Arab state to contain Iranians (this also has the Shia-Sunni angle). As Acharya Chanakya said 2,000 years ago, “Enemy’s enemy is my friend.” The boyz teamed up against Iran through back channel engagements, intel sharing etc. While Iran was busy meddling in Yemen and Lebanon, Israel smartly moved closer to its rivals.

The third reason is the huge economic potential generated by the abovementioned projects and the Saudi plans to diversify its economy from oil dependency. The Tracks for Regional Peace project (supported by the USA) aims to connect Europe to the Persian Gulf, connecting Haifa-Jordan-Saudi Arabia-Bahrain-Oman-UAE through inland ports and railways. Much of the infrastructure already exists except that Jordan will need to build a few more stuff. The project is expected to start generating profit by 2030 with a turnover of $250 billion.

Saudi Arabia’s peace deal with Israel is more than just about economic benefits. Mohammed bin Salman is also trying to make his own image of a modern leader, unlike his ancestors of a medieval mindset,

The second project of the Neom megacity ($500 billion investment) on the Gulf of Aqaba in Saudi aims to cash in on the benefits of the first project and the Red Sea trade by providing requisite services, thus rocketing Saudi in a post-oil era. It also aims to connect Saudi to Egypt and Jordan through Tiran Strait with a bridge on the strait. Thus, herein, we understand that Saudi and Israel are the two key stakeholders.

A long-term viability of these projects depends on peace in the area and also takes care of security interests of both. The former Saudi King was favourable to the Palestinians cause, unlike his son Mohammed bin Salman (MBS), who thinks differently. The secret meeting between Netanyahu and MBS has been doing the rounds of strategic circles. Sudan has also joined in. The Palestinians are out on ground, protesting against the entire process, even against MBS.

Social media in the Gulf states and Israel is full of advertisements, marketing each other’s products and services. The recent collaborative video of an Israeli band with an Emirati musician raised many eyebrows. Saudi wants to benefit from Israeli technology, but the peace deal is more than just about economic benefits. MBS is also trying to make his own image of a modern leader, unlike his ancestors of a medieval mindset, and wants a solution to the Yemen conflict. He wants to ascend power without any outside/Western disapproval of the same, especially the USA.

He needs friends in high places. The other partners in the deal have also gone soft on MBS on the Jamal Khashoggi issue of 2018, a good strategic signal. This was sailing well till the time Trump was in power. His son-in-law was allegedly in constant touch with MBS, even at a personal level. With Joe Biden coming in, this is expected to change. MBS has openly made a statement, “One day, we don’t want to wake up and just discover that Iran has made the N Bomb.”

Biden wants to revive the JCPOA and Trump has tried hard to push through the deal before Biden came in, making it impossible for him to reverse Trump’s decisions. It will be interesting to see how the entire game plays out in the long term as public opinion is essential for any genuine Normalisation agreement to succeed, in letter and in spirit.

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An ambassador and trained facilitator under Eco Femme (a social enterprise working towards menstrual health in south India), Sanjina is also an active member of the MHM Collective- India and Menstrual Health Alliance- India. She has conducted Menstrual Health sessions in multiple government schools adopted by Rotary District 3240 as part of their WinS project in rural Bengal. She has also delivered training of trainers on SRHR, gender, sexuality and Menstruation for Tomorrow’s Foundation, Vikramshila Education Resource Society, Nirdhan trust and Micro Finance, Tollygunj Women In Need, Paint It Red in Kolkata.

Now as an MH Fellow with YKA, she’s expanding her impressive scope of work further by launching a campaign to facilitate the process of ensuring better menstrual health and SRH services for women residing in correctional homes in West Bengal. The campaign will entail an independent study to take stalk of the present conditions of MHM in correctional homes across the state and use its findings to build public support and political will to take the necessary action.

Saurabh has been associated with YKA as a user and has consistently been writing on the issue MHM and its intersectionality with other issues in the society. Now as an MHM Fellow with YKA, he’s launched the Right to Period campaign, which aims to ensure proper execution of MHM guidelines in Delhi’s schools.

The long-term aim of the campaign is to develop an open culture where menstruation is not treated as a taboo. The campaign also seeks to hold the schools accountable for their responsibilities as an important component in the implementation of MHM policies by making adequate sanitation infrastructure and knowledge of MHM available in school premises.

Read more about his campaign.

Harshita is a psychologist and works to support people with mental health issues, particularly adolescents who are survivors of violence. Associated with the Azadi Foundation in UP, Harshita became an MHM Fellow with YKA, with the aim of promoting better menstrual health.

Her campaign #MeriMarzi aims to promote menstrual health and wellness, hygiene and facilities for female sex workers in UP. She says, “Knowledge about natural body processes is a very basic human right. And for individuals whose occupation is providing sexual services, it becomes even more important.”

Meri Marzi aims to ensure sensitised, non-discriminatory health workers for the needs of female sex workers in the Suraksha Clinics under the UPSACS (Uttar Pradesh State AIDS Control Society) program by creating more dialogues and garnering public support for the cause of sex workers’ menstrual rights. The campaign will also ensure interventions with sex workers to clear misconceptions around overall hygiene management to ensure that results flow both ways.

Read more about her campaign.

MH Fellow Sabna comes with significant experience working with a range of development issues. A co-founder of Project Sakhi Saheli, which aims to combat period poverty and break menstrual taboos, Sabna has, in the past, worked on the issue of menstruation in urban slums of Delhi with women and adolescent girls. She and her team also released MenstraBook, with menstrastories and organised Menstra Tlk in the Delhi School of Social Work to create more conversations on menstruation.

With YKA MHM Fellow Vineet, Sabna launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society. As a start, the campaign aims to begin conversations on menstrual health with five hundred adolescents and youth in Delhi through offline platforms, and through this community mobilise support to create Period Friendly Institutions out of educational institutes in the city.

Read more about her campaign. 

A student from Delhi School of Social work, Vineet is a part of Project Sakhi Saheli, an initiative by the students of Delhi school of Social Work to create awareness on Menstrual Health and combat Period Poverty. Along with MHM Action Fellow Sabna, Vineet launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society.

As a start, the campaign aims to begin conversations on menstrual health with five hundred adolescents and youth in Delhi through offline platforms, and through this community mobilise support to create Period Friendly Institutions out of educational institutes in the city.

Find out more about the campaign here.

A native of Bhagalpur district – Bihar, Shalini Jha believes in equal rights for all genders and wants to work for a gender-equal and just society. In the past she’s had a year-long association as a community leader with Haiyya: Organise for Action’s Health Over Stigma campaign. She’s pursuing a Master’s in Literature with Ambedkar University, Delhi and as an MHM Fellow with YKA, recently launched ‘Project अल्हड़ (Alharh)’.

She says, “Bihar is ranked the lowest in India’s SDG Index 2019 for India. Hygienic and comfortable menstruation is a basic human right and sustainable development cannot be ensured if menstruators are deprived of their basic rights.” Project अल्हड़ (Alharh) aims to create a robust sensitised community in Bhagalpur to collectively spread awareness, break the taboo, debunk myths and initiate fearless conversations around menstruation. The campaign aims to reach at least 6000 adolescent girls from government and private schools in Baghalpur district in 2020.

Read more about the campaign here.

A psychologist and co-founder of a mental health NGO called Customize Cognition, Ritika forayed into the space of menstrual health and hygiene, sexual and reproductive healthcare and rights and gender equality as an MHM Fellow with YKA. She says, “The experience of working on MHM/SRHR and gender equality has been an enriching and eye-opening experience. I have learned what’s beneath the surface of the issue, be it awareness, lack of resources or disregard for trans men, who also menstruate.”

The Transmen-ses campaign aims to tackle the issue of silence and disregard for trans men’s menstruation needs, by mobilising gender sensitive health professionals and gender neutral restrooms in Lucknow.

Read more about the campaign here.

A Computer Science engineer by education, Nitisha started her career in the corporate sector, before realising she wanted to work in the development and social justice space. Since then, she has worked with Teach For India and Care India and is from the founding batch of Indian School of Development Management (ISDM), a one of its kind organisation creating leaders for the development sector through its experiential learning post graduate program.

As a Youth Ki Awaaz Menstrual Health Fellow, Nitisha has started Let’s Talk Period, a campaign to mobilise young people to switch to sustainable period products. She says, “80 lakh women in Delhi use non-biodegradable sanitary products, generate 3000 tonnes of menstrual waste, that takes 500-800 years to decompose; which in turn contributes to the health issues of all menstruators, increased burden of waste management on the city and harmful living environment for all citizens.

Let’s Talk Period aims to change this by

Find out more about her campaign here.

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A former Assistant Secretary with the Ministry of Women and Child Development in West Bengal for three months, Lakshmi Bhavya has been championing the cause of menstrual hygiene in her district. By associating herself with the Lalana Campaign, a holistic menstrual hygiene awareness campaign which is conducted by the Anahat NGO, Lakshmi has been slowly breaking taboos when it comes to periods and menstrual hygiene.

A Gender Rights Activist working with the tribal and marginalized communities in india, Srilekha is a PhD scholar working on understanding body and sexuality among tribal girls, to fill the gaps in research around indigenous women and their stories. Srilekha has worked extensively at the grassroots level with community based organisations, through several advocacy initiatives around Gender, Mental Health, Menstrual Hygiene and Sexual and Reproductive Health Rights (SRHR) for the indigenous in Jharkhand, over the last 6 years.

Srilekha has also contributed to sustainable livelihood projects and legal aid programs for survivors of sex trafficking. She has been conducting research based programs on maternal health, mental health, gender based violence, sex and sexuality. Her interest lies in conducting workshops for young people on life skills, feminism, gender and sexuality, trauma, resilience and interpersonal relationships.

A Guwahati-based college student pursuing her Masters in Tata Institute of Social Sciences, Bidisha started the #BleedwithDignity campaign on the technology platform, demanding that the Government of Assam install
biodegradable sanitary pad vending machines in all government schools across the state. Her petition on has already gathered support from over 90000 people and continues to grow.

Bidisha was selected in’s flagship program ‘She Creates Change’ having run successful online advocacy
campaigns, which were widely recognised. Through the #BleedwithDignity campaign; she organised and celebrated World Menstrual Hygiene Day, 2019 in Guwahati, Assam by hosting a wall mural by collaborating with local organisations. The initiative was widely covered by national and local media, and the mural was later inaugurated by the event’s chief guest Commissioner of Guwahati Municipal Corporation (GMC) Debeswar Malakar, IAS.

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