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Power struggle


There’s a flurry of interest in natural-gas reserves off the Cypriot coast; reserves that could become a critical supplier to Europe. Foreign companies are renting offices in Nicosia, giving the island nation’s economy a boost as they aim to take advantage of the energy boom – not to mention Cyprus’s low tax rates.
Ever since gas fields were discovered off the coast of Cyprus in 2011, debate has raged over who on this divided island should benefit. The Greek-Cypriot government says that it’s willing to share revenue with Turkish Cypriots in the breakaway Northern Cyprus but only if talks to reunify the island are revived.
Turkey is staking its own claim to the fields by sending drilling ships, protected by navy gunboats and armed drones, into the Cyprus Exclusive Economic Zone (eez) where the reserves have been discovered. The move drew the threat of sanctions from EU officials in November, while Greek-Cypriot leaders say that Ankara is infringing on the nation’s sovereignty and endangering peace talks.
“Turkey has clearly made a decision to make the status quo increasingly painful for Greek Cypriots,” says Fiona Mullen, director of Nicosia-based consultancy group Sapienta Economics. But Turkey could be on a fool’s errand: Mullen says that the country will struggle to find buyers for gas extracted in a rogue operation.
Meanwhile, energy companies aren’t wasting time. Eni, Total and ExxonMobil have secured contracts to develop reserves in Cypriot waters and some have made significant discoveries. Richard Scrase, a spokesperson for ExxonMobil’s European operations, says that, despite the tensions, the company is moving forwards with preliminary drilling “to determine the full commercial potential of the resource”.
Turkey is also being cut out of lucrative gas-transit revenues. Other nations in the eastern Mediterranean have joined forces to develop the reserves and build pipelines from the Middle East, ignoring claims from Ankara that a pipeline through Turkey would be the shortest route to European markets.
Such moves risk isolating Turkey further. “As there are no negotiations, Turkey’s actions will only escalate,” says Andromachi Sophocleous, a political analyst and consultant in Nicosia. For a real future Cyprus needs to break the political deadlock that has stalled economic progress.

Cyprus natural-gas fields:

  1. Calypso, discovered 2018. Stakeholders: Eni, Total
  2. Aphrodite, discovered 2011. Stakeholders: Noble Energy, Delek Drilling, Royal Dutch Shell
  3. Glaucus, discovered 2019. Stakeholder: ExxonMobil, Qatar Petroleum

Pivotal poll


On 21 February, Iranian citizens will elect the country’s consultative assembly. Although candidates can only stand if approved by 12 unelected officials, the poll still serves as a test of the government’s popularity, which could be an issue for president Hassan Rouhani. After the US withdrew from the nuclear deal in 2018, Iran’s economy went into a tailspin. Protests against fuel prices were met with brutal crackdowns that decimated public trust. “The government could rebuild its legitimacy,” says Sanam Vakil of Chatham House’s Iran forum. “Or things could get much worse.” These elections should reveal which way the country is likely to turn.

Political animals


If you’re going to succeed as a political movement, it helps to offer a bit of levity on occasion. And what better way to do it than to adopt an animal (real or make-believe) to show your fluffier side. Here are three beasts that have taken up the protest mantle and pawed their way into people’s hearts.

The Sardines Born in Bologna as a flash-mob protest against far-right Italian politician Matteo Salvini, The Sardines (pictured) have grown into a movement that’s filling squares in cities across Italy. Sardines – the fish – travel in packs and unite against bigger enemies, making them a fitting mascot for standing up to power.

Dogs in harm’s way Dogs – stray ones in particular – are a favourite of protest movements. There’s Negro Matapacos, a black dog in a red bandana who first barked at police during Chilean student protests in 2011 and remains a symbol of protest today; Chalo, a stray canine who joined a 200km protest march in Armenia; and the “democracy dogs” brought to city protests in Hong Kong by their owners. Canines unite!

‘Baby Shark’ calms a baby The protests surrounding Lebanon’s volatile politics are hardly places for small children. But when a 15-month-old child found himself caught in the back seat of a car driving through a protest in Beirut, demonstrators restored calm by breaking out into the popular “Baby Shark” song and dance. The video quickly went viral, having captured a moment showing that protesters have a softer side too.

Kind of a big deal


In this issue’s spirit of living a gentler life, we look at the role of mediators in Northern Ireland and Hong Kong (see right) and ask what it takes to get two sides that despise each other back to the negotiating table.

“If you’re trying to make peace,” says Jonathan Powell, “it’s not like buying a car. You’re not trying to haggle a price down.” Powell, 63, is the founder and ceo of Inter-Mediate, a charity devoted to negotiation and mediation – disciplines that he’s learned at several sharp ends. As chief of staff to former UK prime minister Tony Blair, he was the government’s lead negotiator in Northern Ireland. He was also involved in attempting to resolve conflicts in Spain, Colombia, Afghanistan and Myanmar, among others.
So how do you get two warring sides to talk? Timing is key, says Powell: the fighting won’t stop until people want it to stop. “The academics call it a perceived mutually hurting stalemate,” he says. By 1997, when Powell arrived in Downing Street with Tony Blair (pictured), there had been war in Northern Ireland for nearly 30 years and even those waging it were weary. The Good Friday Agreement, signed in 1998, wasn’t perfect but it was a vast improvement on what preceded it and a case study in conflict resolution.
Leadership is also important. “In South Africa, even if you had Nelson Mandela, it would have been hard to get an agreement if you hadn’t had FW de Klerk,” he says. The same goes for Northern Ireland, where Irish Republican figures Gerry Adams and Martin McGuinness “risked their lives and political futures”, along with Unionists Ian Paisley and David Trimble. “And if we hadn’t had Tony Blair and Bertie Ahern, we wouldn’t have had an agreement,” says Powell.
History can turn on whether people get on. There’s been no more bemusing political friendship than that of Paisley, a Unionist firebrand, and McGuinness, an infamously ruthless ira chief.
“In 2007 I got a call saying that Paisley was in a bad mood and wasn’t going to agree to anything,” says Powell. “He’d been up very late, Scottish-Irish dancing with McGuinness.”
The main quality a mediator needs, however, is patience. “Negotiations aren’t just about the piece of paper,” says Powell. “They’re about getting that paper implemented. It can take a long time.”


Former US diplomat
The US & the UK

Lewis Lukens served in the US embassy in London from 2016 to 2019 and is now a senior partner at Signum Global Advisors. As Brexit looms and there are fears that the US could gain a stake in the UK’s National Health Service, Lukens surmises the countries’ relationship going forwards.

How strong is the US/UK ‘special relationship’ as we start the new year?
With Boris Johnson elected and Donald Trump focused on his own campaign, I don’t see much of a change. The close military, diplomatic and trade ties will remain. The wild card will be the EU. I wouldn’t be surprised to see a scenario where the UK/EU relationship gets better and Trump is left disappointed.

Do you expect the US to be a good ally or take advantage of the UK’s vulnerabilities?
Trump didn’t make up “America First”; US diplomats and trade negotiators have always looked out for the US. Their job is to get the best deal and the UK negotiators will be trying to do the same. So even though our countries are closely aligned, the reality is that the trade negotiations will be complicated and difficult.

What do you make of the relationship between Johnson and Trump?
It’s certainly warmer than the relationship between Trump and Theresa May. But the president is so thin-skinned that it could change in a second. That warmth could cool quickly.

Do you think that the UK should wait until after November’s US elections to negotiate?
Remember, [Trump losing] is not a done deal. Besides, the US and UK negotiators have met, know each other and are ready to go. Neither side wants to wait another year.


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