Tag Archives: Turkey

Israel and the Syrian uprising

In an excellent post at Harry’s Place, Israeli writer Hadar Sela explained recently that calls for international intervention in support of Syria’s protesters ignore or downplay some very serious risks for Israel. After all, it can be taken for granted that Assad would try to spin any intervention as a “Zionist aggression” that he would happily answer with attacks on Israel.

A “Letter to a Syrian rebel” from Amotz Asa-El’s “Middle Israel” column in the Jerusalem Post reflects some additional concerns. Asa-El notes that already some 12 years ago – in an article advocating a “Golan-for-peace” deal – he anticipated that Syrians might one day rise up against the brutal rule of the Assads:

Now all have come to share my early faith in your cause. The question therefore is where you will head the morning after you remove your evil leaders. And since as long as you remain underground so do your thoughts, you will have to forgive us for keeping our expectations low. The fact that the people who ruled you for the past several decades never asked your opinion about anything, does not mean that when finally free to talk what you will say will please our ears.

We have been around this neighborhood long enough to assume, until proven otherwise, that you too hate us, certainly if you are Islamist, but also if you are not. And even if you are Druse, or Christian, or a Kurd, and therefore less hostile, or even secretly sympathetic to us, you will have to forgive us for remaining pessimistic; we have had bitter experience meddling in this sorry region’s minority politics, and can therefore be counted on to avoid it this time around.

Moreover, chances are high that your Syria, while undoing the alliance with Iran, will become the proxy Turkey now wants to make of you, and who knows what such a configuration will mean for all of us.

Perhaps there is a hint of what this will mean in a commentary on the Arab uprisings of 2011 written recently by Michael Young, the opinion editor of Lebanon’s Daily Star.

The [Syrian] president did not foresee that the narrative he held up as a basis for why he and the Syrian people were in purported harmony – their common embrace of a narrative of resistance to America and Israel above all – would count for little in the face of demands by Syrians for internal transformation.

That’s the real message from the Arab world this year. Societies may sympathise with foreign policies opposed to the West, the United States and Israel, but they no longer will allow regimes to use foreign antagonisms to validate stifling, sadistic, security-dominated political systems at home. Nor will they tolerate giving foreign matters precedence over their own welfare and that of their children.

If Young is right and this is “the real message from the Arab world this year,” the message is much less hopeful than he seems to suggest: holding on to the default preference for anti-western and anti-Israel policies means that the politics of resentment will continue to hamper rational political analysis and discourse in the Arab world. As I have argued elsewhere, there is unfortunately much reason to be concerned that in some crucial respects, the “new” Middle East will bring changes for the worse: while a secular despot like Assad would cynically view the anti-western “beliefs of the people” as a means to cement his grip on power, the region’s newly empowered Islamist rulers may turn out to be “true believers” in the vile conspiracy theories that have long been popular in the Arab world.

The Turkish ‘Democratic Dusk’ model

As noted in my previous post, pointing to the “Turkish model” is a favorite among pundits who think there is no reason to question the compatibility of Islamism and democracy.

I’ve now just come across a recently published article that describes “Turkey’s Democratic Dusk.”

If a lack of freedom and knowledge are indeed among the primary factors that are holding back the Arab world, it should be obvious that the “Turkish model” can hardly be recommended to improve things:

“Self-censorship has become routine. Media bosses anxious to retain Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s favor have fired many of those journalists who continue to criticize his regime. And government control now extends beyond the media, judiciary, and academia to the worlds of business and sports. Previously autonomous regulatory bodies (such as the competition authority) have been quietly subordinated to the government, with no debate or discussion. Even the Turkish Academy of Sciences has been targeted. A recent decree […] allows the government to appoint two-thirds of the Academy’s members, thereby ending even the semblance of scientific independence.”

Dani Rodrik, the author of the article, notes that so far, “the European Union and the United States have reacted to Turkey’s descent into authoritarianism with little more than vague statements of concern.”

Well, that’s understandable in a way: certainly the EU has already too much to worry about Israeli democracy, and as far as the US is concerned, it seems that no matter what Erdogan does, the Turkish prime minister is simply Obama’s favorite Middle Eastern leader.


Expect a long ‘Arab Winter’ of discontent

Ever since the unexpected development of the optimistically misnamed “Arab Spring”, it has become fashionable to insist that it would be foolish to try to predict how the events that shook the Middle East over the past year would pan out.

In today’s Ha’aretz, the always insightful Moshe Arens defies the councils of caution (and political correctness) and confidently states that while the “toppling of the Arab dictators was inevitable […] just as inevitable is what is going to follow their overthrow. It looks like it is going to be [a] long Arab Winter.”

As Arens’s analysis suggests, it will be a long winter of discontent because the Islamist groups that are now gaining power in the region will merely “replace secular dictatorships with Islamic ones” and the “deeply rooted shortcomings” that the UN’s Arab Human Development reports first diagnosed almost 10 years ago will continue to hamper meaningful progress in the Arab world.

Back in 2002, the Economist headlined its commentary on the UN’s first report on the Arab world with the brutally honest verdict “Self-doomed to failure.” Emphasizing the conclusion of the UN report, the Economist noted:

 “The barrier to better Arab performance is not a lack of resources […] but the lamentable shortage of three essentials: freedom, knowledge and womanpower. Not having enough of these amounts to what the authors call the region’s three ‘deficits’. It is these deficits, they argue, that hold the frustrated Arabs back from reaching their potential—and allow the rest of the world both to despise and to fear a deadly combination of wealth and backwardness.”

Does anyone really believe that Islamist regimes will work hard to increase “freedom, knowledge and womanpower”?

We now get to hear a lot about how wonderfully “moderate” most of the Islamists vying for power really are, and we are told all the time that Arab Islamists will follow the “Turkish model”.

But let’s not have too many illusions about what following the “Turkish model” would mean for freedom: Turkey is currently the world’s number one when it comes to imprisoning journalists, and for years, its Islamist government has been prosecuting hundreds of Turkish citizens who, on the basis of flimsy and fabricated evidence, are accused of anti-regime conspiracies.

Arguably, the pundits who wax lyrically about the “Turkish model” don’t realize that there is a solid case for concluding that Turkish Islamists are following the “Arab model.”

Consider this recent piece by Egyptian-born André Aciman, who wrote in The New York Times:

“Rather than see things for what they are, Egyptians, from their leaders on down, have always preferred the blame game — and with good reason. Blaming some insidious clandestine villain for anything invariably works in a country where hearsay passes for truth and paranoia for knowledge.

Sometimes those hidden hands are called Langley [i.e. the CIA], or the West, or, all else failing, of course, the Mossad. […]

False rumor, which is the opiate of the Egyptian masses and the bread and butter of political discourse in the Arab world, trumps clarity, reason and the will to tolerate a different opinion, let alone a different religion or the spirit of open discourse.”

Nothing that has happened since the media cheered the “Arab spring” suggests that forces able to tackle the Arab world’s deficits in “freedom, knowledge and womanpower” are being empowered.

And here is a thought: a genuine Arab spring will perhaps only be possible when Arabs are willing to look honestly at their societies and their history and acknowledge that, instead of blaming Israel for whatever is wrong with the region, they would be much better off accepting and emulating the Jewish state.