Turkey tensions foretold: AKP overreach, booze ban politics & the PKK

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While the Turkey Pulse team covers the protests in Turkey, don’t miss some of the prescient analysis Al-Monitor ran in recent months about growing domestic concern at creeping authoritarianism and AKP overreach that explains and anticipates the tensions that erupted in recent days.

Yavuz Baydar, in Turkey’s ‘moral majority’ tests its power, wrote May 27, 2013:

…The trap of populism has become more attractive for the AKP ahead of three critical elections and a possible constitutional referendum expected in 2014, and, notably, in the wake of the strategic regional “synchronization” with the White House, which effectively means also a blank check for arbitrary action in domestic politics.

In other words, Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan and the AKP will either steer the 12-year “Turkish Glasnost” era in the right direction, or Turkey will continue to be a semi-democracy under a hegemonic political power and in a tutelage system where the only change is the identity of the government that opts for the easy way of its own convenience and interests. […]

Other suffocating moves are likely to follow the alcohol bans, the kissing ban and the punishment of opinions deemed to offend religion and sacred values.

But one has to see all those controversies in the big picture to realize that the threats looming for Turkey are all essentially problems of democratization.

One thing is certain: No matter what you call it — be it Islamism, post-modern authoritarianism or high-handedness — this “Kulturkampf” will have no winner.

Mustafa Akyol introduced post-Kemalist Turkey, writing April 4, 2013:

…Most of these secular liberals are now becoming concerned about the AKP’s own authoritarian tendencies, real or perceived. Some of them also note that, despite enormous changes, some things never change in Turkey, such as the patriarchal political culture and the hubris of whomever comes to power.

Kadri Gursel explained the politics behind Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s anti alcohol push:

Why really is the AKP in a rush about alcohol bans? Why the hurry? Continue reading

Netanyahu apologizes to Turkey over Gaza flotilla raid

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Friday apologized to Turkey for a 2010 raid on a Gaza-bound flotilla that killed 10 Turks, in what US officials hailed as “a first step” toward reconciliation between the former allies.

The apology was made in a thirty minute, three-way call between President Obama, Netanyahu and Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan, conducted from a trailer on the airport tarmac in the last hour of Obama’s historic visit to Israel, the US officials said.

“Netanyahu apologized for the Mavi Mara flotilla incident and acknowledged ‘operational mistakes,'” said one senior US official, according to the White House pool report.

“Prime Minister Erdogan accepted the apology on behalf of Turkey,” the US official added.

Netanyahu also agreed in the call to set up a humanitarian fund to pay compensation to the families of those killed in the raid, making way for the restoration of full diplomatic ties between the two countries, which are both important US allies.

Erdogan, in the call, spoke “of the importance he attaches to the shared history and centuries old ties of strong friendship and cooperation between the Jewish and Turkish peoples,” a statement from the Turkish prime minister’s office said.

The U.S. nudge towards restoration of Turkish-Israeli diplomatic ties marks a significant “get” in Obama’s visit to Israel that has been otherwise short of concrete deliverables, while long on warm words and upbeat reassurances on the strength of the US-Israeli alliance and security ties.

Nine Turks and one Turkish-American citizen were killed in the May 2010 Israeli assault on the Mavi Marmara flotilla, which had sought to break Israel’s blockade to deliver humanitarian supplies to the Hamas-controlled Gaza strip. Turkey downgraded diplomatic ties with Israel following the incident, and said it would not restore them until Israel formally apologized and paid compensation.

A past US effort to broker a resolution reportedly fell apart at the last minute after Netanyahu, under pressure from his then foreign minister Avigdor Lieberman, decided not to issue the agreed-upon apology language. Temporarily out of the new Israeli government while awaiting trial on alleged corruption charges, Lieberman on Friday railed against the Israeli apology, saying it endangered Israeli troops and counterterrorism operations.

Once close Israeli-Turkish ties have grown increasingly strained since Israel’s 2008 Cast Lead operation against Hamas, and more broadly as Erdogan’s ruling Islamist Justice and Peace (AKP) party has moved to bolster ties with Arab countries and peoples in the region, while also moving to subvert the country’s once dominant secular military command.

Military ties formed the backbone of the Turkish-Israeli strategic alliance at its height, said Dan Arbell, Israel’s recent Deputy Chief of Mission in Washington, who is studying the relationship as a guest scholar at the Brookings Institution Saban Center. Even the restoration of formal diplomatic ties now–as well as brisk economic trade–is not likely to return Israel and Turkey to the level of rapport they enjoyed in the past, given the reduced role the Turkish military plays under Erdogan and the AKP, he said.

“This begins a process of normalization, but I do not see it bringing the countries back to the level of relations they had between them in the 1990s,” Arbell told Al-Monitor in an interview Friday. However, an opening for rapprochement has arisen amid a growing “convergence of interests” between Ankara and Jerusalem in the region, he said, including shared concerns about spillover from the Syria conflict, and Ankara’s deepening rift with Iran.

Though Turkish-Israeli reconciliation was expected to be an agenda item during Obama’s conversations in Israel this week, Arbell said he was pleasantly surprised at the speed of the diplomatic breakthrough.

“The pace of this was surprising,” he said, adding that the parties would not have been able to overcome the diplomatic impasse wihout Washington’s mediation.

Following the call Friday, Obama traveled to Amman, Jordan for the final leg of his Middle East trip. In Jordan, he will meet with King Abdullah and then travel to the ancient city of Petra.

Roundup: Obama to dine with Miss Israel; Iran's man in Iraq

Erdogan condemns hit Turkish TV drama


Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan has given the thumbs down to a hit Turkish television series, the “Magnificent Century,” which has riled Turkish conservatives with its steamy depiction of the decadent Ottoman reign of Suleiman the Magnificent, the Wall Street Journal’s Emre Peker reports:

The show chronicles the reign of Suleiman the Magnificent, whose 46-year rule which ended 1566, is seen as the pinnacle of the Ottoman Empire. Attracting a third of the prime-time audience every night it’s on air, and broadcasting to 150 million people in 22 countries from the Czech Republic to Japan, the series is a sure hit for Tims Productions–the Istanbul-based firm behind some of the most successful series and movies in the past decade.

But the decadent representation of Suleiman’s life, hinting that the sultan known as ‘the Lawgiver’ was given to alcohol and promiscuity, also drew widespread criticism from conservatives. […]

In a rhetorical flourish that rallied his supporters but baffled many commentators, the prime minister then meshed his defense of government policy with a salvo against the “Magnificent Century,” arguing for active international engagement by deriding the limited scope of the opposition’s stance and the show’s limited focus the luxuries of the palace.

“That’s not the Sultan Suleiman we know, that’s not the Lawgiver we know, 30 years of his life was spent on horseback, not in a palace like you see in TV shows,” Mr. Erdogan told a cheering crowd of thousands at an airport opening ceremony in the western province of Kutahya on Sunday. Continue reading

Cairo hosts Gaza mediation talks as parties seek to avert Israeli invasion

Cairo is host to four-way talks on the Gaza crisis Saturday, as regional parties seek to move Hamas and Israel to a cease-fire and avert an Israeli ground invasion of Gaza.

Egyptian President Mohamed Morsi is hosting consultations with Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan, Qatari Emir Hamad bin Khalifa al-Thani, and several Palestinian leaders.

Speaking from Cairo, a senior advisor to Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas praised Egyptian mediation efforts, while lamenting Israeli action as further unravelling aspirations for a two state solution.

“President Abbas has consistently offered negotiations for a two-state solution, but Israel has shown no interest in these negotiations,” the senior Abbas adviser told Al-Monitor’s Andrew Parasiliti Saturday. “So this is the result. And the Palestinian people pay the price. We have warned for a while that such a confrontation could be the outcome of the Arab Spring, in the absence of a peace process.”

With regard to the role of Egypt, the Palestinian senior adviser added, “Egypt has a critical role to play for both Palestinian mediation, according to the mandate from the Arab League, and between Israel and Hamas in the present crisis.”

Hours into day four of Operation Pillar of Defense, Israel has hit some 800 targets in Gaza, while Hamas has launched some 750 rockets into Israel, including five in the direction of Tel Aviv and two towards Jerusalem, Yossi Melman reports from Tel Aviv Saturday:

Three Israeli civilians have been killed, and 40 Palestinians, both Hamas combatants and civilians, including children.

Eighty of the attempted Hamas rocket launches have failed, while 27 rockets hit urban areas and caused damage. The Iron Dome anti ballistic missile defense system has intercepted 230 Hamas rockets– about 8 out of 10 rockets it has attempted to intercept in the current confrontation.

Melman estimates that:

Israel is very reluctant to move in with a ground attack. The mobilization of reservists is mainly for psychological purposes to increase pressure on Hamas.

2. The chances of a cease fire are increased.

Continue reading

Turkey’s Erdogan meets Iran’s Ahmadinejad on Syria

Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan held a surprise meeting with Iran’s President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad on the sidelines of a regional economic conference in Baku, Azerbaijan Tuesday, to discuss Syria.

The Turkish leader proposed that Turkey, Egypt and Iran might hold three-way talks on resolving the Syria conflict, that has sharply strained relations between Ankara and Tehran. While Iran has backed its ally the Assad regime, Turkey has supported the opposition, while hosting an influx of over 100,000 Syrian refugees and fighting escalating border clashes this month after Syrian mortar killed five Turkish civilians.

Continue reading

Turkey authorizes military operations after Syria attack

Turkish border units shelled targets in Syria for a second consecutive day Thursday, a day after Syrian mortar shells hit a Turkish border town, killing five civilians.

The tit-for-tat retaliation came as Turkey’s parliament voted to give Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan authority to conduct military operations abroad, although Turkish analysts expected Turkish military intervention to be limited.

“Turkey has no interest in a war with Syria,” Ibrahim Kalın, a top foreign policy advisor to Erdogan, wrote on Twitter.”But Turkey is capable of protecting its borders and will retaliate when necessary.”

“The aggressive actions targeting our national lands are at the threshold of armed attacks,” Erdogan said in the bill submitted to parliament, the Wall Street Journal reported. Continue reading

Clinton: Middle East “did not trade tyranny of dictator for tyranny of mob”


A somber Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, speaking at the transfer of remains ceremony for four US diplomatic personnel killed in Libya Friday, called on the people and leaders of the Middle East to reject mob violence.

“The people of Egypt, Libya, Yemen and Tunisia did not trade the tyranny of a dictator for the tyranny of a mob,” Clinton said at the solemn ceremony at Andrews Air Force Base, Maryland Friday, flanked by President Obama.

“Reasonable people and responsible leaders in these countries need to do everything they can to restore security and hold accountable those behind these violent acts,” she continued.

Deputy Secretary of State Bill Burns accompanied the remains of US Ambassador to Libya Chris Stevens, foreign service officer Sean Smith, and US diplomatic security officers Tyrone “Rone” Woods and Glen Doherty on the flight from the region to Andrews Air Force Base.

“We will bring to justice those who took them from us,” President Obama vowed at the ceremony.

Clinton, clearly grieving, recounted the great affection and genuine respect she, State Department colleagues and the Libyan people had for Stevens. “People loved to work with Chris, and as he rose through the ranks they loved to work for Chris,” Clinton said. “He was known not only for his courage but for his smile.”

She cited as but one example of the affection with which Stevens was held by Libyans the hand-written sign carried by one veiled woman in Benghazi: “Thugs and killers don’t represent Benghazi nor Islam.”

“We will wipe away our tears, stiffen our spines, and move forward undaunted,” Clinton vowed.

Protests, sometimes violent, against American and Western targets spread to several countries Friday, including Tunisia, the West Bank, Sinai and Sudan. This Google map captures the extent of the protests. The demonstrations have been spurred in part by anger over a crude anti-Islamic video trailer posted to YouTube by an Egyptian American convicted felon, Nakoula Basseley Nakoula.

A cameraman for Al-Monitor filming a mob of thousands protesting at the US Embassy in Tunisia Friday was surrounded and assaulted by a group of bearded Salafi men.

Black smoke rose from the US Embassy north of the capital Tunis after an explosion. The angry mob also pillaged the American school next door, he recounted in a dispatch.

Continue reading

Slavin: Egypt’s Voters Lean Toward Turkish Model

My colleague Barbara Slavin writes:

Egypt’s voters appear to be seeking someone similar to Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan as their new president.

A poll released just before the May 23 election rates personal trustworthiness as the most important characteristic of Egypt’s next leader. Of those polled by the University of Maryland, 66 percent said Sharia should be the basis for Egyptian laws but 83 percent said Islamic law should be “adapted to modern times.”

Shibley Telhami, a professor at the University of Maryland and nonresident senior fellow at the Brookings Institution, presented the findings Monday at Brookings. He noted distinctions between the characteristics Egyptians said they sought in members of parliament and as president. Where 24 percent of Egyptians rated party affiliation as the number one reason for choosing a member of parliament, 31 percent cited personal trust as the key determinant in voting for president. Continue reading