Mideast Media Sampler – 06/05/2013 – Erdogan’s straits
1) Talkin’ Turkey
Claire Berlinski provides the recent background for the foment going on in Turkey:
Of late, almost every sector of the electorate has felt unease about one part or another of Erdoğan’s agenda. Restrictive new alcohol legislation, rammed through parliament, as usual, with contempt for the minority opposition, has prompted outrage; the so-called peace process with the PKK, which no one understands, has caused great unease. Anxiety is growing as well, not only about press censorship, but also about the prosecution of those who insult government officials or “Islamic values” on social media. There is outrage about the bombing in Reyhanlı that left 52 Turks dead and which appears to have been attributable to a series of inexcusable police and intelligence blunders (but no one knows, and no one believes what the press writes); there is fear of war with Syria; there is concern about strange reports that al-Nusra, a Syrian militant group affiliated with al-Qaida, has been cooking up Sarin gas in Adana, five miles east of the United States’ Incirlik Air Base; and there is deep skepticism about Erdoğan’s plans for grandiose construction projects—such as a third airport, a second Bosphorus canal, and a gigantesque mega-mosque intended to exceed in size every mosque left behind by his Ottoman predecessors. The thing will dominate Istanbul’s already-martyred skyline, and replace yet another pleasant and leafy park.
The recent announcement that a new bridge over the Bosphorus was to be named after Sultan Selim the Grim, slayer of the Alevis—a substantial and beleaguered Turkish religious minority—didn’t help matters. Nor did it soothe fears when a minor AKP official from the sticks wrote on Twitter that “My blood boils when spineless psychopaths pretending to be atheists swear at my religion. These people, who have been raped, should be annihilated.” Two weeks ago in Ankara, a disembodied voice on the subway, having apparently espied them by means of a security camera, denounced a couple for kissing. The voice demanded that they “act in accordance with moral rules.” In return, incensed Ankara lovers staged kissing protests: as the couples shyly smooched outside the subway station, a group of young men confronted them, chanting “Allahu Akbar!” It was reported but not confirmed that one of the kissers was stabbed; but given the mood of hysteria here right now, it would be unwise to believe every rumor one hears.
Erdoğan, it seems, severely underestimated the degree of his subjects’ displeasure, confident that God, a strong economy, and a weak opposition were all he needed to ensure his hegemony. He brusquely dismissed the tree protesters’ concerns: “We’ve made our decision, and we will do as we have decided.” An AKP parliamentarian then unwisely announced that some young people “are in need of gas.”
Michael Rubin explains that there isn’t unanimity in Turkey’s government:
Turkey’s been a pressure cooker for quite some time. Turks have radically different visions about their future. While the spark for the current unrest was an environmental protest against building a shopping center over a small Istanbul park, the greater issue is unease about Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s religious agenda and the rollback of rights inside Turkey. It is also a clash between visions. While Istanbul’s elites have traditionally looked toward Europe and the West for inspiration, the core of Erdogan’s constituency is Anatolian, and tends to look toward religion.
At the same time, it’s useful to think about a tripartite clash going in within the Turkish government. There are three main factional leaders: Erdogan, President Abdullah Gul, and Islamic thinker Fethullah Gulen who, depending on the analyst, is either a malicious cult leader or the leader of a movement promoting tolerance. All three are Islamist, but Erdogan seems most interested in personal power, and Gül is most tolerant. Gulen — who lives in a heavily guarded compound in Pennsylvania and whom Turks believe has long had American government support — dominates the security services. Whether people hold him accountable for the police abuse seen on the streets of abuse remains to be seen.
(Still Rubin doesn’t believe that Erdogan is likely to lose power.)
Not exactly what you’d want from President Obama’s best friend in the region.
2) Tom the dreamer
In Israel lives the Joseph Story, Thomas Friedman uses Stephen Hawking’s recent boycott of Israel (an action he didn’t take against China or Iran) as a chance to lecture Israel once again.
This global trend, though, is coinciding with a complete breakdown in Israel’s regional environment. Israel today is living a version of the Biblical “Joseph Story,” where Joseph endeared himself to the Pharaoh by interpreting his dreams as a warning that seven fat years would be followed by seven lean years and, therefore, Egypt needed to stock up on grain. In Israel’s case, it has enjoyed, relatively speaking, 40 fat years of stable governments around it. Over the last 40 years, a class of Arab leaders took power and managed to combine direct or indirect oil money, with multiple intelligence services, with support from either America or Russia, to ensconce themselves in office for multiple decades. All of these leaders used their iron fists to keep their sectarian conflicts — Sunnis versus Shiites, Christians versus Muslims, and Kurds and Palestinian refugees versus everyone else — in check. They also kept their Islamists underground.
So what does Friedman suggest?
In my view, that makes resolving the Israeli-Palestinian conflict more important than ever for three reasons: 1) to reverse the trend of international delegitimization closing in on Israel; 2) to disconnect Israel as much as possible from the regional conflicts around it; and 3) to offer a model.
There is no successful model of democratic governance in the Arab world at present — the Islamists are all failing. But Israel, if it partnered with the current moderate Palestinian leadership in the West Bank, has a chance to create a modern, economically thriving, democratic, secular state where Christians and Muslims would live side by side — next to Jews. That would be a hugely valuable example, especially at a time when the Arab world lacks anything like it. And the world for the most part would not begrudge Israel keeping its forces on the Jordan River — as will be necessary given the instability beyond — if it ceded most of the West Bank and Arab neighborhoods of East Jerusalem.
Together, Israelis and Palestinians actually have the power to model what a decent, postauthoritarian, multireligious Arab state could look like. Nothing would address both people’s long-term strategic needs better. Too bad their leaders today are not as farsighted as Joseph.
Let’s address Thomas’s three points.
1) When Friedman brought up Hawking’s boycott he allowed:
I strongly disagree with what Hawking did. Israelis should be challenged not boycotted.
Of course, superficial as he is, Friedman doesn’t acknowledge that the BDS movement isn’t about criticizing Israel but about destroying it. He should be condemning Hawking, not merely disagreeing with him. The “trend of delegitimization” is based on opposition to (or hatred of) Israel, not opposition to occupation. That he accepts Israel’s culpability in the delegitimization campaign shows that he is more aligned with those who wish to destroy than he is willing to admit.
.@tomfriedman Earlier, Joseph was falsely accused; as Israel is now. Funny that you left that part out.
— David Gerstman (@soccerdhg) June 5, 2013
2) The growing Shi’ite/Sunni divide manifest over Syria shows how wrong this is. When Sheikh Qaradawi calls Alawites worse infidels than Jews or Christians, and Hezbollah casts its participation in Syria’s civil war as a defense of a Shi’ite shrine, Israel is a non-factor. He acknowledges the growing political power of Sunni Islamists. If Israel makes peace with the Palestinians, who is more likely to be ruling the PA in ten years? The ideologically coherent Islamists of Hamas or the more secular Fatah? Israel is a footnote to the main currents of Middle East right now.
3) Did you notice a name missing from this column? Salam Fayyad. Remember how Friedman promoted “Fayyadism” as the future of the Palestinian Authority? Well now Fayyad has been replaced and he’s gone done Friedman’s memory hole. The problem was that he was a fig leaf. His seriousness made him a fig leaf for Western governments who wanted to pretend that their aid to the PA wasn’t being misspent. But more importantly he wasn’t Mahmoud Abbas. And Abbas got his position because he wasn’t Yasser Arafat. The more moderate Palestinian leaders go their positions because of who they aren’t rather than because of what they do. But that’s why they don’t accomplish much. The model of democratic governance in the Arab world is illusory. If the Palestinians were governed by those they supported politically, they would be governed by Hamas.
What Thomas has in common with Joseph is that both had dreams. Joseph, however, correctly predicted the future, Thomas, with his infinitely repackaged lectures of Israel shows that he has little grasp of past or present events and is, therefore, much less likely to foresee the future accurately.
I’d also point out that this column wasn’t appreciated by the anti-Israel crowd.
Crap from Tom Friedman. http://t.co/afhHdQ1CE0
— Scott Roth (@scottroth76) June 5, 2013
This column proves that he doesn’t really know what they’re about.
@tomfriedman "strongly disagree[s] w/what Hawking did" but doesn't mention real objectives and moral bias of #BDS.http://t.co/62624qmyv4
— (((Marco Sermoneta)))?? (@MarcoCSermoneta) June 5, 2013
3) The GCC’s case against Hezbollah
While he doesn’t expect that it will make any difference Abdulrahman Al-Rashed explains why the Gulf Cooperation Council declared Hezbollah to be a terrorist organization.
Although Hezbollah is involved in terrorist operations against Kuwait, Saudi and Bahrain, and has been for decades, these countries did not do anything against it. Hezbollah was completely involved in the attempt to assassinate Kuwait’s emir in a car bomb in 1985. The major culprit in that crime is Mustapha Badreddine. He was the perpetrator and he is also wanted by the Special Tribunal for Lebanon in their investigation of the assassination of Rafiq Hariri. The paradox is that Saddam Hussein released him five years later after he invaded Kuwait! Hezbollah also hijacked a Kuwaiti airplane in Muscat and killed two Kuwaiti passengers.
Several Hezbollah terrorist plans in Saudi Arabia and Bahrain have also been uncovered, and the party was not punished for any. Only the U.S., which categorized Hezbollah as a terrorist organization in 1995, placed it on the list of sanctioned organizations. Gulf countries chose to remain silent regarding Hezbollah’s crimes against its governments and citizens, because it was seen as a resistance organization with popular support among Arabs, when in fact it was a helpful hand of the Iranian Revolutionary Guards helpful hand. Gulf countries also wanted to maintain the balance of power in Lebanon and it maintained minimal relations with Hezbollah in order to support civil peace in Lebanon.
Gulf countries have finally decided to categorize Hezbollah as a terrorist organization after it became a major party fighting along Bashar al-Assad’s regime and is involved in the murder thousands of Syrians. Although the move comes late, I doubt that it will be implemented on different levels, and it will remain simply a political decision.
Hezbollah is a Shi’ite terror organization sponsored by Iran. It isn’t all that surprising that GCC countries would be among its foremost enemies.
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“Of late, almost every sector of the electorate has felt unease about one part or another of Erdoğan’s agenda.” Sorry, I didn’t see that from the descriptions that follow this statement. All the issues listed would upset those who love Democracy. But those people, like most Muslim countries in that region, will ultimately be found to be in the minority. Turkey’s population is 99% Muslim. Does anyone seriously believe they won’t follow their Imams’ leads? The Islamists will support Erdogan and help the military and police beat down any serious resistance. Sharia is in Turkey’s future if Erdogan is allowed to continue governing. Everything points to him prevailing in the next election.
Turkey is not Saudi Arabia; the number of Islamists is likely not as high as Erdogan hopes.
You’re right, but it looks an awful lot like Egypt. Started with high hopes for Democracy and were shortly outnumbered by the fanatics. Same will occur in Turkey if present conditions prevail.
One of the last acts of the Sultan was to build a train line from Ankara across to Medina. Cutting the travel time from 20 to 6 days. WWOne finished it off for good.
It is a .shame as it would have been a great trip. There were still original parts of the line & carriages in Damascus – very oriental style.
That reality of post WW One geopolitics still stands. One thing to be thankful for , there is no Armenian Massacre which also occurred in 1915.
As always I hope the architecture survives . Turkish Orientalism is right up there.
Meh. So long as everything that predates the Turks survives, I’m cool with whatever happens.
While we are on Turkey , do any readers have theories on Jason’s Golden Fleece , Noah’ Ark or anything more interesting than a few street frat parties?
They are in hiding until the reclamation of formerly JudaeoChristian lands from Islamic domination.
“Not exactly what you’d want from President Obama’s best friend in the region.”
No, but exactly what I’d expect.