Category Archives: Turkey-Israel

Post-revolt Arab Transitions: Driven by Distrust and Inexperience

Post-revolt Middle Eastern and North African countries are struggling to manage the transition from autocratic to more transparent, accountable societies. Increasingly prejudice, distrust and inexperience are proving to be greater obstacles, argues James M. Dorsey.

Post-revolt Arab nations are experiencing tumultuous times. The assassination of a prominent Tunisian opposition leader has sparked mass protests against Islamists held responsible for his death. Prime Minister Hamadi Jebali has called for the replacement of the Islamist-dominated Cabinet by a government of technocrats that would lead the country to elections, to the chagrin of his Ennahada party that fears loss of power.

Egypt has been wracked by violent street protests that have left more than 60 people dead in three Suez Canal and Red Sea cities, forcing President Mohamed Morsi to declare emergency rule and bring the military back into the streets and soccer stadiums to maintain law and order.

Underlying Fault Lines

Underlying the volatility in Egypt and Tunisia as well as difficult transitions in Libya and Yemen is the increasing lack of confidence between Islamists and non-Islamist forces. That fault line is fuelled by an ever deeper secularist suspicion that the Muslim Brotherhood and other Islamists who by and large have emerged from the revolts as the largest, most organised political force, are bent on creating Islamist states and enforcing Islamic law. This mistrust drives the weakening of the civilian and armed opposition to President Bashar Al Assad in the continuing civil war in Syria.

For their part, Islamists, including moderates, are not certain where the allegiances of non-Islamists lie and whether significant segments of the secularists would opt for a less free society in cooperation with institutions like the judiciary, the police and security forces in a bid to halt what they see as an Islamist power grab.

To be sure, the militancy and violence of more radical Islamists in Tunisia in recent months as well as Morsi’s imperious style of government, his failed attempt to acquire absolute power, his unilaterally pushing through of a controversial constitution, his failed attempt to fire a state prosecutor and increased reliance on the despised police and security forces, have done little to assuage anti-Islamist fears.

Similarly, Syrian opposition forces with Islamists in the lead have failed to convince the country’s key minorities who could have made a difference in reducing the regime’s power base, that there would be a place for them and that their rights would be secured in a post-Assad Syria.

Yet, lost in the mixture of misperception and prejudice is the recognition that Islamists came to power virtually unprepared for government, having a history of a pressured existence either underground, a legal nether land or exile. The Muslim Brotherhood, two years after the overthrow of Mubarak and seven months after Morsi’s election as president, remains nominally an illegal organisation in Egypt. As a result, this reinforces a sense that he and the Brotherhood fail to truly understand the concept of democracy and are more focused on fending off threats and settling old scores.

A Mental Transition

Morsi, like his counterparts in other post-revolt Arab nations, (apart from Libya that suffers the consequences of Muammar Gaddafi’s refusal to build institutions), have inherited states dominated by police and security forces and populated by institutions moulded by the former autocratic regimes with their own vested interests. It takes a degree of political savvy, mastering of electoral politics, backroom horse trading, give-and-take and an ability to manage public expectations rather than the bunker mentality in which Islamist leaders operated in the past. With few exceptions, they have yet to demonstrate that they can make that mental transition.

In retrospect, Morsi’s deft alliance late last year with the second echelon of Egypt’s military command that allowed him to sideline long-serving commanders who unsuccessfully sought to grab power in the period between his election and his assumption of office, seems more an exception than an indication of his ability to manoeuvre the minefield that constitutes Egyptian transition politics.

Jebali’s call for an interim technocratic government in a bid to avert a second popular revolt in Tunisia comes closest to Morsi’s rare display of political deftness in his handling of the military. It contrasts starkly with Morsi’s surprising reluctance to tackle reform of the police and security forces who for many years targeted the Muslim Brotherhood, his seeming willingness to maintain Mubarak-era structures and his increased reliance on them despite the existence of reformists within all of those institutions.

Relative calm has returned to the streets of Egyptian cities, giving Morsi at best a month to build bridges in advance of the country’s next flashpoint when a court in Cairo pronounces verdict in the case of the remaining 52 defendants accused of responsibility for the deaths of 74 soccer fans a year ago in a politically-loaded brawl in Port Said.

Flashpoint Offers Leverage

To do so, Morsi would have to convincingly reach out to his detractors in a bid to convince them that he has put the bunker mentality behind him, wants his government to be inclusive rather than exclusive and that he is serious about reform of key state institutions and is focusing on a turnaround of the country’s economy.

As much as the Port Said case constitutes a flash point – the court’s sentencing last month of the first batch of 21 defendants to death sparked the most violent protests – it also gives Morsi leverage. In the absence of a justification of the court’s ruling, a leaked summary of the prosecution’s case put the blame for the brawl as much on the police as it did on spectators in the stadium.

The prosecutor’s case, coupled with human rights reports that document that the police and security forces are a law unto themselves, provide Morsi with the ammunition to start the difficult process of reforming law enforcement. It is a move that would prove immensely popular and would help restore political calm needed to embark on a road of economic recovery.

A convincing move to amend the constitution in ways that removes fears of an Islamist takeover would further serve to bridge the widening gap in Egyptian politics. It is too early to write Morsi off as a failed leader. The ball is in his court, though time is running out.

James M. Dorsey is Senior Fellow at the S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies (RSIS), Nanyang Technological University, co-director of the University of Wuerzburg’s Institute for Fan Culture, and the author of The Turbulent World of Middle East Soccer blog.

A Peace Package for the Middle East

Three highly-dangerous Middle East problems — Iran’s nuclear ambitions, the bloody civil war in Syria, and the long-festering Israeli-Palestinian conflict — pose a grave challenge to President Barack Obama and his foreign policy team of John Kerry at State, Chuck Hagel at Defence and John Brennan at the CIA, notes Patrick Seale.

Three highly-dangerous Middle East problems — Iran’s nuclear ambitions, the bloody civil war in Syria, and the long-festering Israeli-Palestinian conflict — pose a grave challenge to President Barack Obama and his foreign policy team of John Kerry at State, Chuck Hagel at Defence and John Brennan at the CIA. America’s vital interests in the Middle East, its political reputation, its ability to project power and influence are intimately tied up with the way it deals — or fails to deal — with these problems. So what advice might one be bold enough to give to President Obama and his team?

Each of these three problems is profoundly destabilising for the region as a whole and risks triggering a war of unpredictable consequences. Taken separately, each of them has so far defied resolution. One suggestion is that tackling them as a package might prove more effective.

Consider, for a moment, how closely inter-connected they are. No one is more concerned than Israel about Iran’s nuclear programme, which it sees as a threat to its military supremacy and ultimately to its security. It fears that a nuclear capable Iran would restrict the freedom — which Israel has enjoyed for decades — to strike its neighbours at will, when they seem threatening.

Iran, however, does not stand alone. Its fate is closely linked to that of Syria, its principal regional ally. Syria has also been the most ardent champion of Palestinian rights and of Lebanon’s freedom from Israeli control. Indeed, the so-called ‘resistance axis’ of Iran, Syria and Lebanon’s Hizballah has sought to deter or contain Israeli attacks while challenging U.S.-Israeli hegemony in the Levant.

Needless to say, Syria’s calamitous civil war has gravely weakened the resistance axis. Israel’s dearest hope is to destroy what remains of it by urging the United States and its allies to bring down the Tehran and the Damascus regimes, thus freeing Israel from any constraint from these powers in its relentless drive for a ‘Greater Israel’.

It can thus be seen that Iran’s nuclear programme, Syria’s existential crisis and Israel’s land hunger are inextricably linked. Attempts to deal with these problems separately have so far failed. The obvious conclusion is that they may be better dealt with as a package. These are not marginal problems which can be left to fester. If the United States wishes to protect itself, its interests and its allies in a highly turbulent environment it must make a supreme effort to resolve them.

Moreover, this is a unique moment: President Obama has been re-elected for a second term. His political authority has been enhanced. The world is looking to him for leadership. Although many other foreign policy problems clamour for his attention — the rising colossus of China first among them — he knows that the Middle East, for all its maddening complexity, latent violence, and the current resurgence of Al-Qaeda, not least in Syria, cannot be ignored.

He should consider the possibility of a trade-off between Iran’s nuclear programme and a Palestinian state. The proposal is simple enough: If Iran were to agree — under strict international supervision — to give up, once and for all, its ambition to become a nuclear-capable state, Israel would, in exchange, agree to the establishment of an independent Palestine on the West Bank and Gaza, with its capital in East Jerusalem. The exact terms of the trade-off would evidently need negotiation and refinement, but the main lines and necessary mutual concessions of an Israeli-Palestinian deal have been extensively debated and are widely known.

Such a bargain between Iran’s nuclear ambitions and an Israeli-Palestinian settlement is not as far-fetched or as fictional as it may sound. Iran has boxed itself into a corner. It knows that the United States will not allow it to become a nuclear power. It wants a dignified exit from its present predicament and an end to crippling sanctions. Israel, in turn, faces international isolation — not to speak of the permanent threat of terrorism — if it insists on stealing what remains of the West Bank. It, too, needs a dignified exit from the insanity of its fanatical settlers and religious nationalists who, if unchecked, would condemn Israel to pariah status and permanent war. A trade-off would resolve two of the region’s most intractable problems to the great benefit of everyone concerned. Peace and normal relations with the entire Muslim world would be Israel’s very substantial reward.

What about Syria? It lies at the very heart of the regional power system. Its on-going civil war is threatening to destabilise its neighbours — Lebanon, Turkey, Iraq and Jordan. Israel itself will not be immune. Islamist fighters, some linked to Al-Qaeda, are flowing into Syria, while refugees are fleeing out to neighbouring states in very large numbers. The toll of dead and wounded is heavy, material destruction great and human misery incalculable.

It is by now abundantly clear that there is no military solution to the conflict: Neither the regime nor its opponents can hope to win an outright victory. No outside power wants to intervene militarily. Yet the regime and its enemies are incapable of negotiating an end to the conflict without outside help.

What should the international community do? First, the United States and Russia (with active support from other powers) should join together in imposing a ceasefire on both sides of the conflict. This could involve deploying an international force around Syria’s borders to prevent the inflow of fighters, weapons, and other military equipment to both government and rebels.

Secondly, major external powers — Arab, Western, Chinese, Russian and others — should solemnly pledge to contribute to a Syria Reconstruction Fund of some $10bn-$15bn. The money would be entrusted to the World Bank and disbursed only when a permanent ceasefire is in place and when some clear progress is made towards a negotiated settlement. The existence of the Fund will provide a real incentive.

Thirdly, the United Nations Secretary General, with unanimous backing from the Security Council, should summon a conference of national reconciliation in Damascus attended by regime representatives as well as by all Syrian factions, groups, parties and prominent individuals prepared to renounce war.

The task will not be easy. The wounds of the conflict are very deep. But for the sake of Syria and its neighbours — for the sake of peace in the region — a supreme effort must be made to prevent the collapse of the Syrian state and its possible fragmentation. The difficult task will be to reshape Syria’s political system on democratic lines. Political freedoms will have to be guaranteed, individual rights respected, police brutality ended, the rule of law observed, government services restored and minorities protected. An essential goal must be the preservation of the Syrian Arab army as the indispensable institution of the state. In Iraq, it was the disbanding of the army which led to the collapse of the state, triggering the catastrophic civil war from which the country has yet to recover.

If Barack Obama were to adopt the programme outlined above and throw his full weight behind it, his place in history as a great peacemaker would be assured.

Patrick Seale is a leading British writer on the Middle East. His latest book is The Struggle for Arab Independence: Riad el-Solh and the Makers of the Modern Middle East (Cambridge University Press).

President al-Assad accuses Turkey for of helping Syrian “Terrorists”

DAMASCUS- 04/07/2012 President Bashar al-Assad stressed in part 2 of the interview he made with the Cumhurieyt Turkish daily that the Government of Erdogan has gone beyond the fraternal relations with Syria to direct interference and to get involved later in the bloody events through providing logistical support to terrorists.

Following is part 2 of his interview with Turkish daily the Cumhurieyt:
Journalist: Mr. President, Syrian-Turkish relations were excellent in recent years on the political level as well as the personal and family levels between you and Prime Minister Erdogan. Could you please tell us what happened to these relations so that things reached the current situation?

President Assad: First of all, we have to identify who changed. Look at Syria’s relations with other countries and you’ll find that our relations with Iraq, Iran, Jordan and other countries have not changed and remain the same. On the other hand, you can see that Turkey’s relations with most countries of the region, not only with Syria, have changed.

As far as we are concerned, what changed on the Turkish side is that in the first stage of the crisis, Turkey transgressed against the brotherly relations with Syria and started to interfere directly in Syrian affairs, which is absolutely unacceptable for us in Syria. We are an independent country which respects itself and respects its sovereignty. That was in the first stage.

Later on, the Turkish government started to get involved in the bloody events in Syria by providing logistic support to the terrorists who have been killing innocent people. The Turkish government started adopting policies which are dangerous both to the Turkish people and the Syrian people. That is as far as the political aspects of the relations are concerned. I will not talk here about the personal characteristics of this man who, in his statements, has transgressed against the moral and ethical values that should characterize any politician in the world or even any human being.

Journalist: Mr. President, you said that you do not allow any foreign intervention in internal Syrian affairs. But Erdogan, in almost every speech he made, used to say that he told you, asked you, advised you; and that you promised him, or told him that you would do this and that. What did he say to you? And what did you promise him?

President Assad: First, what you are saying about these statements is evidence of what I said: that he was interfering in our internal affairs. Based on the principle that he has nothing to do with internal Syrian affairs, how could I promise him? Isn’t that evidence that he was lying?

He used to ask me and provide advice; and I have my vision of things which I have announced in my speeches. He used to advise concerning reforms; and we announced a package of reforms six days after the beginning of the events in Syria in March 2011. We have implemented everything we promised, even changing the constitution completely. If you ask him now, he might talk about reform. But let me raise the question now: if he were genuine in calling for reform, why didn’t he talk about it years ago, since the beginning of our relations with him in 2004?

Has he suddenly felt love, affection and concern for the Syrian people? Is it logical that he should feel more concerned for the Syrian people than I do?

What would you say about me if I told you that I am more concerned about the Turkish people than you are as a Turkish citizen? You would no doubt say that this is hypocrisy. Let Erdogan concern himself with his internal affairs and not with others’ in order to preserve what remains of the zero-problem policy that can be implemented.

Journalist: If you want to sum up, Mr. President, what did Erdogan want?

President Assad: In brief, he had an agenda wider than the Syrian issue. It concerns his personal position and the position of his team. He wanted the terrorists to have a free hand in Syria, that they shouldn’t be arrested or imprisoned, and that we do not defend ourselves. Then, things will be alright for him.

Journalist: What do you mean by the terrorists? Do you mean the Muslim Brothers?

President Assad: Years before the crisis, Erdogan was always concerned for the Syrian Muslim Brothers. He was concerned about them more than he was concerned about Syrian-Turkish relations. There is no doubt now that they are one of his main concerns in the Syrian events, namely defending and helping them. Of course, we do not allow this, neither for Erdogan’s sake nor for the sake of anyone else in the world.

Journalist: It seems that bridges between you and Erdogan have been destroyed.

President Assad: I think so, because he lost his credibility. Rebuilding these bridges depends on his ability to restore credibility on the Arab arena in general, not only in Syria, because this is not a personal issue. When he has the courage to stop and acknowledge his numerous mistakes at this stage, I don’t think the people of our region, and the Arab and Syrian people in particular, will have a problem in forgiving him. And I believe that the Turkish people will forgive him too.

Journalist: Mr. President, concerning Syrian-Turkish relations, there has been a number of incidents. An aircraft was downed; Prime Minister Erdogan threatened you, deployed forces on the borders and made all the noise you’re aware of. What is, in your opinion, the way out of the Syrian-Turkish crisis?

President Assad: The way out is that the Turkish government corrects the mistakes it made in dealing with the Syrian situation, not manipulating or exploiting any event in order to create big problems, and putting the interests of the Syrian and Turkish people before the narrow personal interests of their officials. So, the way out is there and the process is quite simple and not difficult at all. I am sure that the Turkish people, and the Syrian people, will support this, and at the forefront at these people will be the families of the two Turkish pilots. It is enough for Erdogan to listen to the statement made by the father of one of the pilots to find the way out.

Journalist: You said that Erdogan has changed. Why, in your opinion, has he changed? And what are the things which changed in him?

President Assad: The circumstances have changed, and these circumstances showed Erdogan’s reality. I’ll give you some evidence. For example, we heard a lot of shouting in defense of the Palestinians in 2008 when Israel attacked Gaza. But two and a half years before that, we did not hear that kind of shouting when Israel attacked Lebanon. The resistance was there in both cases, and Israel killed in both cases, and in both countries the number of martyrs was approximately 1500.

Journalist: Why, in your opinion?

President Assad: Because he showed his sectarian mentality. Because the difference between the two cases is only the sectarian aspect. Today, Erdogan is shedding the tears of hypocrites for the Syrian people. Why hasn’t he cried for those killed in some Gulf countries, although they are innocent, peaceful and unarmed? Why isn’t he speaking about democracy in some Gulf countries?

Journalist: Which country?

President Assad: Qatar, for instance. Why didn’t he do anything after the Marmara ship incident except shouting? Why did he challenge Israel, and then suddenly agreed to deploy the missile shield in Turkey? Did he deploy it in order to protect Turkey from the attack of a hostile country?

Did America build these bases in order to protect itself against this region? Which country in the region has the capability to threaten America?

No country. So, the answer is that he deployed it to protect Israel. These circumstances revealed Erdogan’s reality, no more, no less. Erdogan hasn’t changed. What has changed is the way the people of the region look at him. He has failed on the Arab arena. He no longer exists, neither him nor his credibility.

Tunisian Islamist in favor of mild Shariah

Friday, October 7, 2011–
ISTANBUL – Hürriyet Daily News–
Shariah is not something that is alien or strange to Tunisia, Ghannouchi says, adding that Islamic law was already enshrined in his nation’s legal code.

Tunisia’s most important Islamist party would prefer to see a mild form of Shariah law implemented in the North African country rather than the “neo-laicism” promoted by Turkey’s prime minister during a recent visit to Tunis, the party’s leader has said.

“What is meant by secularism is different between the Arab world and Turkey. In the Arab world, secularism has been linked in recent decades with dictatorship and with oppression, whereas secularism in Turkey is linked to democracy and freedom of choice,” Rachid Ghannouchi, the leader of the front-running Ennahda Party, told the Hürriyet Daily News in an interview on Oct. 7.

“Shariah is not something that is alien or strange to our societies,” Ghannouchi said, adding that Tunisian society was familiar with Shariah law and that some aspects of Islamic law were already enshrined in both Tunisian and Egyptian legal codes. “We don’t see Shariah as intervening in people’s private lives and to their freedom to wear what they want. Personal freedom is very important for us.”

Ghannouchi said there were different types of secularism even in Turkey. “The secularism promoted by Prime Minister [Recep Tayyip] Erdoğan, which is close to Anglo-Saxon secularism, respects people’s freedom of choice and is neutral in regards to religion. The other secularism, which is Marxist secularism or French ‘laicite,’ is forced upon people and is anti-religion,” he added.

“There is the Turkish model of bringing together modernity and Islam, and we can have a Tunisian model that may be different in bringing together modernity and Islam. All share the same principles but there might be some differences between them,” Ghannouchi said, adding that they nonetheless believed the Turkish democratic model was very close to the model that they would like to have in Tunisia.

Erdoğan had issued calls for the North African Arab Spring countries of Egypt, Tunisia and Libya to adopt “neo-laicism” during his trip to the countries last month. But while Ghannouchi differentiated between Anglo-Saxon and French secularisms, the Turkish prime minister slammed Western secularism.

“[Ours] is not secularism in the Anglo-Saxon or Western sense; a person is not secular, the state is secular,” Erdoğan said, describing Turkey as democratic and secular. “A Muslim can govern a secular state in a successful way. In Turkey, 99 percent of the population is Muslim, and it did not pose any problem. You can do the same here.”

Gender equality in elections

Ultimately, Ghannouchi said his dream was to see Tunisia “free, democratic, developed and at peace with its own identity and at peace with modernity.”

Enhanda is “a moderate party,” he said. “Our party seeks to combine democracy, which is a Western product, with Islam, which is our own heritage.”

The Ennahda leader also said his party supported the principle of establishing a quota for women for parliamentary elections to take place in two weeks’ time.

“According to the new law, 50 percent of the election lists have to have women candidates. Many of our lists are headed by women, [some of whom] don’t wear a hijab. We have challenged many of the parties who claim to be liberal and who claim to respect women,” Ghannouchi said, adding that his party challenged these liberal competitors to name head-scarved women on their lists.

The most important issue is to emphasize the importance of equality between all people and the principle of equal citizenship between men and women, he said. “All people should be treated equally regardless of their faith and regardless of their gender, whether they are male or female.”

Ghannouchi said that although he was the leader of the party, he would not be a candidate in the next elections. “I want to give an opportunity to young people, because this revolution was made by young people.”

Role model Turkey, secular and democratic?

Thursday, October 6, 2011

Turkey is a democratic country. Over the past almost 90 years we could not manage to define what we understand from “secularism,” but Turkey is a country with an overwhelming Muslim population and “secular” and “democratic” governance. Turkey is the only island of “secular democracy” in the Muslim world.

With “secularism” the Turkish state, at least so far, understands controlling the practice of Islam through a state agency. That Religious Affairs Directorate or “Diyanet,” has a budget and organization bigger than six combined ministries. After all the great openings of the current Islamist government Diyanet “improved a lot,” it is reported that it will soon be elevated considerably in the state protocol as well, and has become the fundamental tool in persuading the people of this land to convert to Sunni-Hanefi, a certain sect of Sunni Islam. While Sunni-Hanefi believers are given a “more equal” status than the rest of Muslim folk, particularly of the Alevis, the minute non-Muslim sections of the society expect “equal treatment” from the state, believing that “secularism requires the state to remain at equal distance from all religions.”

For the “democracy” assumption, there are of course some who still believe in the “rule by people for the people” principle. However, they are in minority. The current prime minister, for example, believed for some time, nowadays he claimed to have changed that perception, that democracy is a wagon to be traveled on and left behind on reaching the final destination [Islamic governance]. Some other politicians considered it a tool to come to power, fill the coffers of her/his political clan at all costs to the state and resign to Bosporus mansions. Some believed it was not just a word but a web of norms, values and of course rights. In the 1970s and 1980s they were imprisoned and they long have abandoned those goals and have become rich businesspeople. There are some idealists, or lunatics perhaps, who still hope that this country will eventually become a democracy.

Democracy, of course, cannot be achieved in the absence of either the principle of equality or the supremacy of law. It appears as a farce indeed to talk about a democratic country that might be a model for its neighborhood if in that there are “more equals” than others or where a prime minister can boast of having “my justice” or “my judges, my prosecutors” like “my policemen, my teachers, my civil servants” or whatsoever and a prison was converted into a gigantic concentration camp to isolate the “not so welcome critics,” potential adversaries, patriots, Kemalists and of course the retired soldiers (those active officers arrested are at a military prison) in small cells.

Turkey is a sovereign country. At least, many people, including the writer of this article, assume it as such. Yet, this sovereign country is now at a jaw-jaw stage, thank God not at a war-war affair, with a small country of the region over its arrogance, spoiled behavior and indeed barbarism over members of another nation that it has been occupying its land. The tall, bold and bald ever-angry prime minister aspiring to be an absolute ruler in this model “democracy” for the Muslim nations, has been very angry with that small neighbor. He has been rightly demanding it apologize and agree to pay compensation for an act of piracy and murder of nine Turkish citizens in international waters on the Mediterranean. Yet, when the Americans wanted to deploy a radar system – that the angry tall man originally opposed – to fend of possible Iranian missiles aimed at that small arrogant state, this country has become the host of the system protecting that arrogant neighbor. Well, this might be “real politik” but it stinks.