Posted by jonathanfryer on Saturday, 15th June, 2013
Watching events in and around Istanbul’s Taksim Square over the past few days, as well as in Ankara and some other Turkish cities, has been like seeing a slow-motion car-crash without being able to do anything about it other than shout a warning. And, alas, the driver — Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan — has not been listening. What started out as a predominantly good-natured environmental protest against plans to redevelop Gezi Park turned into a much wider challenge to Mr Erdogan’s increasingly autocratic style in the wake of high-handed police activity. Police and army brutality is nothing new in Turkey but one of the undoubted achievements of the AK Party’s 10 years in power had been a rejection of the State’s right to trample on people’s freedoms at will — or so the outside world was given to believe. Actually, those of us who covered trials of writers and journalists, or who watched the way Kurdish activists — including some members of parliament — were treated realised that the situation was not that clear-cut. It is true that Mr Erdogan has overseen an extraordinary period of growth in the Turkish economy, the stabilisation of the currency and the recognition of Turkey’s significance as an inspiration, if not quite a model, in the MENA region. That makes it all the more tragic that he has thrown away so much of the genuine international goodwill by ordering a crackdown by the security forces on demonstrators. These he has portrayed as “looters” and worse, despite the fact that the crowds in Taksim Square, in particular, were extremely heterodox, as not just leftists and trade unionists but ordinary citizens with no fixed political affiliation felt motivated to get out on the streets and to stand up for their freedoms. The Prime Minster obviously feels he has to show himself to be a man of steel, but that does not go down so well in 2013 as it often did in the past. I suspect the current move against the people in and around Taksim Square was deliberately planned for a weekend, when most of the world’s parliaments are not sitting and the leaders of the top Western industrialised nations are deep in discussion about the global economy at the G8 Summit in Northern Ireland. But I would wager that Mr Erdogan has miscalculated in this, just as he has made a seriously wrong move on the ground. The world will notice and decry what is happening — as will a significant proportion of the Turkish population.
Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged: AKP, Ankara, G8, Gezi Park, Istanbul, MENA, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, Taksim Square, Turkey | 2 Comments »
Posted by jonathanfryer on Monday, 11th March, 2013
Thanks to a three-year cooperation programme with the Westminster Foundation for Democracy and the British Embassy in Tunis the Liberal Democrats hosted a group of visiting politicians from Tunisia and Lebanon at the Brighton Spring Conference. On the Saturday afternoon there was a closed session with the visitors and most of the Party’s International Relations Committee and parliamentary International Affairs Team, identifying how best that programme might proceed. But in the evening there was an open fringe meeting that addressed the subject of Liberalism in the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) and how various political forces that might consider themselves Liberal can or should relate to ruling parties that base their core inspiration from Islam. I was the opening speaker, drawing on my professional experience working or travelling in all of the MENA countries as well as teaching at SOAS. I made the point that Islam is the most political of all religions in that it is not just a faith but a code of practice for both private and public life. A number of parties that have come to power since the Arab Awakening — such as Ennahda in Tunisia and the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt — are indeed Islamic in inspiration but it is important to make a distinction between them and extremist, exclusive Islamists who have turned a perverted interpretation of the Koran into an oppressive and even murderous ideology (such as the Taliban when they were in power in Afghanistan). There is a worrying influence of salafi or ultra-conservative Islamic thought in much of the MENA region but people need to recognise at the same time that the main reason groups such as the Muslim Brotherhood gained such support was because they looked after people’s needs in societies in which the government was singularly failing to do so — in a sense engaging in community politics. I also made the point that the Arab Awakening, now barely two years old, is still in its infancy and it is likely to be a decade or more before its outcomes are clear.
Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged: Afghanistan, Egypt, Ennahda, Lebanon, Liberal Democrats, MENA, Muslim Brotherhood, Taliban, Tunisia, Westminster Foundation for Democracy | 1 Comment »
Posted by jonathanfryer on Friday, 11th January, 2013
Ever since the revolutionary train swept across North Africa and the Middle East (MENA) pundits have been asking whether Turkey could offer a model for post-Revolution Arab states to follow, so maybe it was not so surprising that the Turkish Review (for which I occasionally write) should highlight the issue at its UK launch at the House of Lords earlier today. Three very diverse speakers were on the panel (chaired by the LibDem peer and former President of Liberal International, John Alderdice): the journalist Kerim Balci, the young Oxford academic and political writer Miriam Francois-Cerrah and Gulnur Aybet, who teaches at the University of Kent, as well as in Turkey and the United States. Each put a totally different slant on the subject, Kerim Balci claiming (with some justification) that the so-called Arab Spring actually started earlier than in Tunisia in December 2010, in Kyrgyzstan, and that it is mirrored in various parts of Central Asia, China and India. What we are dealing with has a universal dimension, he argued. Miriam Francois-Cerrah declared that the majority of Arabs do see Turkey as a role-model, largely because it is a secular state that has nonetheless accommodated a variety of parties, including the AKP, with its Islamic origins. Gulnur Aybet emphasized that Turkey is seen by the West as a strategic partner in dealing with the MENA region, which maybe leads to a certain degreee of wishful thinking as to how much of a model it can be. More a source of inspiration, stated Miriam Francois-Cerrah, echoing a line I have often taken. But in the meantime Turkey has itself all sorts of internal contradictions to overcome; Gulnur Aybet deplored the growing polarisation she has noticed. Certainly Turkey has an enviable economic growth rate and has many things going for it, but it is by no means a perfect state that others might necessarily try to emulate.
Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged: AKP, Arab Awakening, Arab Spring, China, Gulnur Aybet, India, John Alderdice, Kerim Balci, Kyrgyzstan, MENA, Miriam Francois-Cerrah, Tunisia, Turkey, Turkish Review | Leave a Comment »
Posted by jonathanfryer on Monday, 24th September, 2012
The Liberal Democrat Friends of Turkey hosted an unusually sparky fringe meeting at the party’s Brighton conference today at which Andrew Duff MEP outlined a proposal which he said the European Parliament was working on to offer Turkey a form of (admittedly second class) associate membership of the European Union. The urbane Turkish Ambassador, Unal Cevikoz, slapped that suggestion down firmly, saying Turkey wanted all or nothing when it came to EU membership. But the two men — and a third panel member, the political analyst Daniel Levy — found more ground for agreement when it came to arguing for closer EU-Turkish cooperation in assisting the progress of the Arab Spring. Turkey has upped the ante in its foreign policy with regard to the MENA (Middle East and North Africa) region, partly because the EU and the West in general have not really done as much as they could to facilitate democratic change and economic cooperation in the southern and eastern Mediterranean. One of the questioners in the audience at today’s fringe meeting rightly highlighted the hypocrisy and double standards that have characterised much of the West’s dealings with the Arabian Gulf states, Israel and Iran. And there was a meeting of minds among the panel members when it came to encouraging a more mature European approach to Iran, rather than seeing it simply through the prism of the country’s nuclear programme. Of course it was not possible in the short space of one hour to formulate much of a coherent strategy for the improvement of the relations between the EU, Turkey and the MENA region but the gathering gave everyone plenty of food for thought.
Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged: Andrew Duff, Daniel Levy, EU, Iran, Israel, Liberal Democrat Friends of Turkey, Liberal Democrats, MENA, Turkey, Unal Cevikoz | Leave a Comment »
Posted by jonathanfryer on Thursday, 19th July, 2012
It’s a brave man (or woman) who risks publishing a book about an ongoing situation, as it can all too easily be overtaken by events. But Tariq Ramadan’s The Arab Awakening (Allen Lane, £20) gives more than temporary relevance to his text by relating the events of the past 18 months to a reappraisal of Islam and Islamic values in the 21st century. He is one who believes that Islam and democracy are compatible and although he does not see Turkey as a perfect role model he does feel it teaches valuable lesssons. As a radical academic he not surprisingly sometimes harks back to the narrative of the MENA region being a victim of the machinations of the West (and Israel) to what many readers may find an irritating degree. Though criticism of American and to a lesser extent European attitudes and their relation to resources such as oil has some validity, the evolving relatinship between the US, EU and the MENA region is far more complex than that. Arab countries must find their own way forward — and Libya’s electoral outcome shows that need not necessarily be a victory for Islamic parties. Professor Ramadan rightly rails against the simplistic Western media and politicians’ distinction between ‘moderate’ and ‘extremist’ Muslims. But much of his book is a sombre reflection on how the MENA region can move forward towards greater participatory democracy and human rights. His main text, with case studies from Tunisia, Egypt and Libya, is supplemented by appendices made up of articles he has written for a variety of outlets, including his own website. It was interesting to see him predicting the overthrow of Syria’s Bashar al-Assad as early as June 2011.
Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged: Bashar Al-Assad, Egypt, Israel, Libya, MENA, Syria, Tariq Ramdan, The Arb Awakening, Tunisia, Turkey | Leave a Comment »