Corruption in Bahrain
Bahrain’s Crown Prince has ordered the referral of a number of cases mentioned in the National Audit Court (NAC) report to the Public Prosecution for criminal investigation on suspicion of corruption, singling out cases related to the state-owned Bahrain Flour Mills Company and the Bahrain Chamber for Dispute Resolution for special mention. It was announced that those on trial for corruption charges would be also be suspended from work.
The unprecedented announcement could almost not have been better timed. For the past month, local press has been full of the usual controversy that surrounds the annual publication of the anti-corruption NAC report. But calls for greater accountability have grown louder over the past few days as the government hesitantly announced its intention to embark on a subsidy reform program. Basic commodities are expected to be affected: diesel will see a price hike of up to 20% as early as January 2014.
The NAC, an entity independent of the executive created by the King in 2002, issues an annual report that documents instances of financial and administrative violations committed by ministries, public agencies and state-owned enterprises. In cases of a criminal nature, article 11 of Decree Law no. 16 for 2002 grants the NAC power to transfer these to the judiciary for prosecution.
Although the NAC report is not a public document, its major elements are published in the press, and copies usually obtained by members of parliament can often be found freely exchanging hands at almost any of Bahrain’s traditional diwaniyya’s.
It was the government’s misfortune however, that the publication of the NAC this year roughly coincided with an deluge of rain that exposed weaknesses in the country’s infrastructure, leaving a number of roads and social housing projects considerably affected. To add insult to injury, word was soon out that the Minister of Education had ordered schools not to provide pictures of flooded schools and classrooms to the press, reinforcing public anger against corruption and the incompetence of certain government officials.
To make matters worse, the NAC report proved incapable of assuaging public concern over the level of public-sector corruption. Due to restrictions on its mandate, the report omits some of the major instances of corruption committed by government officials, some of which have eventually made themselves known to the public. Over the years, this has afforded the report the semblance of impotence.
To illustrate, in an otherwise staunchly pro-government, traditional diwaniyya in the Sunni stronghold of Muharraq, one MP from Bahrain’s Muslim Brotherhood society aptly described the NAC report as “a PG photo album of a very decadent party”.
One such case is the multi-million dollar Alba corruption scandal that predates the creation of the NAC. The case has captivated public opinion, but is nowhere to be found in the report – the result of the NAC‘s inability to investigate violations retrospectively. To the frustration of many, the related bribery trial of businessman Victor Dahdaleh in British courts appears to have recently collapsed.
The NAC has consistently failed to make any meaningful use of its power to transfer cases to the judiciary for prosecution, even when the scope of its findings has remained relatively narrow. The NAC’s recommendations to government entities routinely fall on deaf ears, since no credible threat or enforcement mechanism has so far been put in place.
So unsurprisingly, frustration over the level of corruption has anything but leveled. Bahrain’s ranking in the Corruption Perception Index – which “measures perceived levels of public sector corruption” – worsened six places down in 2013 compared to the previous year, ranked 57th out of 175 countries worldwide.
Even then however, the Crown Prince’s renewed anti-corruption effort faces serious threats particularly from powerful elites with a deep vested interest in maintaining the fig leaf of impunity. In the latest episode of the ongoing proxy war around corruption, a small yet vocal clique of individuals have gone to some lengths to protect a senior official implicated in the $3 billion Alba corruption scandal. They have waged a smear campaign against Mahmood Al-Koheji – CEO of Bahrain’s sovereign wealth fund Mumtalakat – for allegedly authorizing the $45 million legal fees required to see the $3 billion case through court. The intimidation campaign is the latest in a series of efforts intended to dissuade Al-Koheji and others from taking on similar cases.
El Sisi: the revolutionary president?
Over the weekend there were some dramatic announcements, later rescinded, that General El Sisi had been relieved of his position as Minister of Defense in preparation for the formal announcement of his presidential candidacy. El Sisi has been well positioned by the media, as well as by coopted intellectuals and the revolutionaries of yesterday, oppressors of today, to run and comfortably win any “free and fair” election that takes place in Egypt. His candidacy will be the most obvious symptom of the attempt of the Egyptian military to return to the pre-1967 political order, where the military ruled overtly, in a centralized fashion. But this attempt will prove much more difficult, and his decision to run might provide a breath of life to the revolutionary movement that has been badly damaged and splintered, since the coup of June 30.
A brief historical overview is in order. The regime during Nasser’s reign was an outright military regime, where the military overtly controlled the state, using a civilian cloak for legitimacy purposes, namely “The Nationalist Union”. However the power remained concentrated in the hands of the military, with officers controlling most posts in the government. This was possible due to the then hegemonic nature of the Egyptian political order, where the Nasser regime followed populist policies that benefited large segments of Egyptian society, particularly the middle and lower classes, providing the regime with a solid social base, which allowed it to rule alone, through a centralized power structure.
After the devastating defeat of 1967, this centralized power structure was no longer tenable for the regime. The military started to retreat from overt to covert rule, the government was civilianized, and the military began to rely on civilian partners in the ruling coalition, namely the crony capitalist class that relied on the state to subsidize capital accumulation, and the Islamist elites that agreed to act as an illiberal opposition in exchange for an increased role in civil society. This set-up in the end allowed the state to re-trench and withstand the onslaught from the once powerful Egyptian left. The above-mentioned partners are also known as the National Democratic Party (NDP), the ruling party under Mubarak and Sadat, and the Muslim Brotherhood (MB), which acted as an illiberal opposition to the military regime, crowding out genuine opposition, and supporting the regime in the realm of civil society.
The current situation in Egypt has severely damaged the traditional power structure, where the crony capitalist class and the Islamists played their conventional role, of acting as a shell and facilitators of military rule. The crony capitalist class were a focus of the anger of the masses of Egyptians that poured into the streets on 25 January 2011. The power of this class has been decimated, and its ability to act as a front for military rule has been severely damaged. With all the weaknesses of the revolutionary movement, which have been discussed elsewhere, it was nevertheless able to expose and severely diminish the ability of the crony capitalist class to act as a surrogate for military rule. The façade has been destroyed, and it is difficult to imagine a situation where the credentials of this class can be repaired.
The only other possible alternative was the Muslim Brotherhood, that was organically connected to the crony capitalist class. One only needs to remember that Khairat El Shater and Hassan Malik, among the top brass in the Brotherhood, are also successful members of the crony capitalist class. The Brotherhood seemed to present a logical escape from this conundrum, where it would replace the National Democratic Party as the ruling party, absorbing popular anger arising from unpopular policies, and a worsening economic and social situation. This would have allowed the military to enjoy its privileges, and maintain its position as an independent power centre heavily penetrating the State. In short, the Presidency of Morsi seemed to provide an invaluable opportunity. However, as things turned out, the lust for power, as well as, the failures of the Brotherhood have instead provided the military with the motivation and opportunity for what looks like a historic blunder.
The removal of the Brotherhood from power has placed the military in a difficult position. Their traditional allies have now been vilified and their ability to play their traditional role has been all but destroyed. There are a number of movements that might attempt to fill the void left by the National Democratic Party and the Muslim Brotherhood, namely “Tamarod”, as a replacement of the National Democratic Party, and the Salafist Al-Nour party as a replacement for the Muslim Brotherhood. But these options are fragile and have a much weaker social base, in terms of civil society penetration. This places the military between a rock and a hard place, where they have to attempt to re-centralize the Egyptian power structure, in a manner that would make them the only ruling power in the land.
This helps to explain the apparent rush of the military to consolidate power, and their use of severely repressive techniques to silence any possible opposition, however timid it may be. One look at the Egyptian constitution and one can see the military’s glaring attempt to legalize repression, and protect its position. However, there is a fatal flaw in this plan, namely, that the military’s legitimacy is based on the demonization of the Brotherhood by labeling them as a terrorist organization, and the securitization of Egyptian political discourse. This means that support for the military, in essence, shares one of the main failures of the Egyptian revolutionary movement, namely that it is a rejectionist movement which is unable to offer the masses a vision that could act as the ideological basis for a new regime. The military is not offering civil society the basis for a new hegemonic political order, but calling on support that could dissipate with the waning of what is perceived by many, particularly in the urban middle classes, as the “threat of the Brotherhood”.
Another fatal mistake in the military`s power grab, is its new exposure to direct criticism from the revolutionary movements. Civil society, previously controlled by the military’s loyal allies, the Muslim Brotherhood and the National Democratic Party, has now been merged directly with the state, making any assault in the realm of civil society a direct assault on the State. In other words, the military has run out of allies capable of absorbing popular discontent, and civil society has lost its effectiveness as a moat that protects the State from direct assault.
In this way El Sisi running for president might be the best thing that has happened to the revolutionary movement. Social and economic failures will be blamed on those actually responsible, rather than on the sidekicks of the military. This could lead to further de-mystification of power relations within the Egyptian polity, exposing the military regime to direct attack and hastening the collapse of “false consciousness” that has spread throughout the urban middle classes. Attacks on the regime will now become more effective and painful, unless the military is able to find other allies who can effectively fill the shoes of the Muslim Brotherhood and the National Democratic Party. It is only a matter of time before repression reaches a point that becomes unacceptable, leading to severe instability and un-governability.
El Sisi, I sincerely hope that you run and win!
Kafr Batna, Syria
By Emily Reid
It started with a general awareness of what was happening in Syria – the knowledge garnered through reading the news and seeking out information about the current goings on in the Middle East. But through a friendship made in Egypt over the summer, I have gained a disturbing insight into the unseen realities of life for ordinary Syrians. As the fighting has raged on for close to three years, the international media has become bored of yet more desolate images of a country going through civil war.
I met Emad in Nuweiba, East of the Sinai Peninsula. He spent a brief spell at the farm I was working on and opportunities occurred for us to meet again, stay in contact and become good friends. A few weeks ago, Emad made a humanitarian appeal on behalf of the people of his hometown, Kafr Batna, on the outskirts of Damascus. This neighbourhood is under control of the Free Syrian Army (FSA) but is subject to government blockades and tactics intended to ‘starve out’ the opposition. As a result, basic necessities are being denied to the civilian population: there is a dire shortage of bread, other food supplies, and medicine: nothing is allowed in. A black market exists but who can afford the skyrocketing prices? Bread costs $20 USD for 1 kilogram. People are hungry and cold. The plummeting temperatures are adding to an already dismal situation. Images of refugee children whose families have fled to surrounding Turkey, Lebanon and Jordan are seen playing in the snow and ice. In the background, frost-covered tents and figures with haunted eyes huddled around fires burning in metal bins belie the hard actuality of these people’s escape and current existence. In Syria itself, the once stunningly beautiful cities of Homs and Damascus are tragedy exemplified under a dusting of white. Buildings are ripped concrete and shattered glass. Streets are erupted tarmac sniper-runs. Entire neighbourhoods are the shooting ranges of the FSA and regime forces.
This is the general picture of Syria: the cruelly stroked canvas that is painted by the main media outlets. If given a glimpse beyond that narrow window, what you find there is seared into your conscious. My glimpse was obtained through the story of Saleh Zeno.
Emad went to school with Saleh and fate has brought them in these last years to two very disparate points. Taken into custody on the 1 January 2011, Saleh Zeno is but one among the many civilians arrested without charges being brought against them. Taken to Harasta Air Force Intelligence prison in Ghouta, and following an error by the officer registering prisoner names into the computer, Zeno was left to languish in jail for almost two years. Saleh only emerged after having starved to death on the 12 November 2013. His body was discovered in one of the basement systems of Harasta in a state of severe malnutrition. Tim Damascene, of East Ghouta, was also imprisoned for seven months in the Harasta branch of Air Force Intelligence – he met Saleh there and has given evidence regarding the conditions of the prison. Each single cell was one metre by one metre (maximum 1m x 2m). In Room 2, the ‘water room’, dripping water is used as a method of sleep deprivation.
For the first seven months of Saleh’s imprisonment, he was in Room 4; however, he was then transferred to solitary confinement for a week. In this time, Saleh developed a neurological condition and was put in the courtyard of the prison. Reputed as the ‘courtyard of breath’, it reportedly houses more than 300 prisoners. A typical daily diet was breakfast of bread and olives or uncooked potato with an evening meal consisting of semi-cooked rice or bulgur. ‘Once a week they fed us meat but we were always sick from it – we don’t know why. All our food was without salt. During my time as a prisoner, I never tasted sugar’ reported Damascene.
Emad first learned of his school friend’s death through the delivery of Saleh’s emaciated corpse: the body was found close to the line of fire separating the strong holds of the FSA and regime forces. Weighing 30kg, Saleh Zeno is thought to have been sent as a message to the Free Army: tactics of trapping and starvation have not been spoken about from anyone within the regime ranks. Normally the victims of these circumstances are put into unmarked mass graves. Saleh’s body, in being given back to the family, suggests some pointed motivation by the regime.
Saleh Zeno is a tragic – and tragic in the true sense of the word – example of the kinds of injustice that are being inflicted on the people of Syria every day. War is raging on and civilians are paying the price. Emad feels that nothing can or will be done, that people are numbed to such images of pain and suffering, and that the political powers have the unchallenged capacity to command the fates of millions. Maybe to an extent this is true. But I want to believe, have to believe, that when people learn of what is truly going on, when they hear the story of a man such as Saleh, they will want to act. To stop, and acknowledge that this is happening. Perhaps then we can move to some tangible change and work towards a global society where these things are not widespread yet unreported horrors.
Lebanon: a year which promises little but foreboding?
People stayed off the streets to welcome in the New Year in Lebanon, deterred by the car bomb in central downtown a few days earlier, or perhaps unwilling to celebrate the arrival of a year which promises little but foreboding. This time last year Lebanon’s involvement in the Syrian conflict was still being fiercely denied but, a year on, it is now widely accepted that most of the country has become immersed in the turmoil.
‘Most of the country’ still remains an inaccurate statement on a geographically fractured Lebanon. Lebanese Sunni militants now regularly engage in violent clashes with pro-Assad Shiite and Alawite rivals in geographical hotspots such as the southern city of Saida and the eastern Bekaa Valley, as well as the northern city of Tripoli, which has been perpetually unstable for the past two years.
The north and border regions of the country have collapsed into limbo areas of unrest as refugees, soldiers and arms regularly cross arbitrary borders and civilians fear attack from the air regardless of their nationality. The car bombs which devastated the southern suburbs of Beirut and Tripoli during the summer of last year, and the suicide bomb attack to target the Iranian embassy in November, were regarded by most as attacks specifically against Hezbollah, seen as a entity ‘separate’ from the state, in geographical and ideological terms. These attacks, widely believed to be perpetrated by Sunni radicals, were aimed at forcing Hezbollah to withdraw their support from Syrian President Bashar Assad, who they publicly confirmed they would assist last May. Whilst causing devastating loss of life, they were still seen by some as geographically isolated.
But the assassination of anti-Assad minister Mohammad Shatah in the central Downtown district of Beirut on 27 December, widens the threat of violence to new actors, and has opened the possibility of hitherto relatively peripheral attacks becoming increasingly centralised. Before the assassination, central Beirut, still rumbling with the noise of construction and the advertised promise of a bright future, had remained relatively isolated from direct violence. Now, even as it reels from that deadly warning, it continues its pretensions to normalcy, but is increasingly self-conscious doing so.
The view from an individual perspective in Lebanon, which will necessarily differ according to where one is living, is a foggy one, obscured by political stalemate, inflamed by sectarian competition and the impact of indirect international prevarication over Syria. The individual is, again, victim both to unfavourable geopolitical influences on the country and its own domestic complexities.
Domestically, political stalemate is entrenched. There is currently no middle ground between the effectively oligarchic system of politicians at the ‘top’ of the political chain, and the numbers of private individuals and groups, largely operating along sectarian agendas, taking violent action at the ‘bottom’ end of the chain; the Lebanese citizen is stuck between a rock and a hard place with little real democratic power.
While proposals for a new ‘all-embracing’ cabinet formation have been announced, which represent a slight weakening of the political paralysis, they are yet to gain the support of all ministers. The Sunni population remain the key group here. Essentially politically leaderless since the 2005 assassination of former Prime Minister Rafiq Hariri, private individuals, mostly fundamentalist leaders, have filled the political vacuum.
The mainstream Sunni community in Lebanon today has few unifying political options and the increasing numbers of Lebanese Sunni militants, coupled with continuing Hezbollah dominance over the state, economic fragility, and increasing resentment at the neutral Lebanese Army, continues to exacerbate tensions. That the car bomb attacks directed against Hezbollah - the latest in Beirut’s suburbs on January 2 in response to the Shatah assassination - appear to have been the work of Sunni extremist groups has prompted analysts to voice concerns about their increasing strength, and potential for larger-scale militancy. With politics at the ‘state’ level effectively nonexistent, and Hezbollah (acting as another ‘state’ entity) distracted in Syria, there is currently little to stop nonstate groups taking free reign in Lebanon.
Geopolitically, while Lebanon continues to host direct proxy wars between Saudi Arabia and Iran (through the Sunni community and Hezbollah) and, indirectly, the US and Russia in Syria, there are signs that the west may be losing patience over its inability to take a domestic political rapprochement seriously. According to reports, the Belgian foreign minister, Didier Reyners has warned Lebanon that international interest in the country was declining, a stance which poses particular questions over the numbers of UNIFIL international troops currently stationed in the country.
As if to make up for political interference, the international community is attempting to exert itself in other ways by wrapping its legal and humanitarian arms around the country. But many in Lebanon remain unconvinced. People may respect the intentions of the trial of the Special Tribunal for Lebanon in The Hague to try four Hezbollah men, accused of perpetrating the Hariri assassination in 2005, due to start this week. But they are cynical about the actuality of the perpetrators being convicted and appropriately punished.
Decades of unsolved kidnapping and murder during the civil war, alongside later political assassinations never brought to court, have given the Lebanese little faith in legal practice. Similar cynicism pervades the international humanitarian response to the refugee crisis which, while supportive of providing financial assistance to refugees in Lebanon, has not extended to opening doors to those fleeing the Syrian implosion. 64,000 refugees have sought asylum in Europe (2.4 per cent of the exodus), mostly in Germany and Sweden. To date, five hundred have been accepted in France, 10 in Hungary, 90 in Ireland, and none in the UK. The burden of providing assistance is a heavy one for Lebanon, where Syrian refugees represent roughly a quarter of the population. Here, they can deservedly feel let down by the international community’s response.
The feeling of being hamstrung by international events both out of their control but with direct consequences, combined with domestic political stalemate and factionalism, is all too familiar. Sitting tight and hoping that one, or both, of these levels will firstly prioritise Lebanese cohesion and secondly inspire it, remains top of the New Year wish list for most people in Lebanon.
Reveries of an English teacher on vacation
These past three weeks have been a contrasting set of experiences for me, so please excuse me if I tend to ramble through my reveries.
Events began with the American Studies Association (ASA) adopting a resolution to boycott Israeli universities. On a different forum I became involved in a discussion of this action and, as you might expect, I expressed criticism of the ASA boycott. As is my practice, I read all of the pro and con material that came my way. Most of the pro-boycott articles contained the usual negative characterizations of Israel and Zionism. However, in one of the articles, the writer made the unusual accusation that the State of Israel's school system was an example of segregation, like that practiced in the American South back in the 1950's and 60's. I was surprised by this description of the Israeli education system. I have taught in several Israeli schools over the years and have never viewed them as being segregated. Certainly Israeli colleges and universities, the objects of the ASA ire, cannot be described as segregated either in terms of student body or faculty. But the question remains as to what is it about Israeli K-12 schools which would cause someone to think that they are segregated? The answer came to me on the last day of school just before the winter vacation.
In the Bedouin school where I teach, the semester came to an end and the winter vacation began about three weeks ago. On the last day of school a ceremony was held to give certificates of accomplishment to several students as well as celebrate the end of the semester. The assembly began with a ninth grade male student reading a selection from the Quran. This was followed by a young female student reciting with great feeling a poem that she had written about the Prophet. The entire ceremony was conducted in the Arabic language. It was there that I began to understand why the Israeli school system could look segregated to someone on the outside, even though it is not. In the Israeli case the misperception results from the State of Israel's attempt to abide by principles laid down in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.
Article 26 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights deals with education and has three parts. They read as follows:
(1) Everyone has the right to education. Education shall be free, at least in the elementary and fundamental stages. Elementary education shall be compulsory. Technical and professional education shall be made generally available and higher education shall be equally accessible to all on the basis of merit.
(2) Education shall be directed to the full development of the human personality and to the strengthening of respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms. It shall promote understanding, tolerance and friendship among all nations, racial or religious groups, and shall further the activities of the United Nations for the maintenance of peace.
- (3) Parents have a prior right to choose the kind of education that shall be given to their children.
Those who are familiar with education systems dealing with minority populations may notice the contradiction between the first two paragraphs and the third in the UDHR. Essentially what is one to do when parents do not want their children educated according to the curriculum designed for the majority population? In fact how does one design an educational system to meet the demands of modern society according to the UCHR when parents don't want their children educated at all? In the case of the Israeli school system, what is to be done when parents refuse to educate their children, limit their children's education or insist on what the content must or must not be? In the Bedouin school where I currently teach English, it is quite a challenge to get some of the parents to send their daughters to school. Some parents agree to send their daughters on condition that their daughters' faces are completely covered while in school or they won't let them attend. So, something that would be considered an unacceptable infringement of women's rights in some European states is permitted in our school as a compromise so that girls can be educated. These parents certainly would not allow their daughters, covered up or not, to attend a Jewish or mixed Jewish-Muslim school. Bedouin parents justifiably insist on the curriculum containing the study of the Quran, and that this study be conducted in the Arabic language. They also insist that the curriculum not contain any study of the Jewish or Christian bible. Hebrew is taught in the school but as a second language just as Arabic is taught as a second language in most of the other Israeli schools. Thus the Israeli schools are structured to meet the educational demands of the community of parents which they service. This is consistent with paragraph three of Article 26, but to an outsider it may look like a segregated school system.
There is one other element which differentiates the educational situation in Israel and segregated education in the mid-twentieth century American south. There is no law in Israel forbidding the education of Jews and Arabs together. In fact I have taught mixed classes in Israeli schools. This situation can be beneficial to all but not without costs. As one Arab mother whose children attended a non-Arab school and who lived in a Jewish neighborhood in Be'er Sheva told me, she was worried that her children were assimilating into Israeli society and forgetting their Arabic language and culture.
I enjoyed my vacation from teaching school and spent my extra time working on my farm. I had my first pick of pineapples, which I picked, sorted and packed on my own. Unfortunately I developed a mild case of the flu so my wife insists that the rest of the season I use hired workers for the job.
Towards the end of my vacation Ariel Sharon died. The papers were full of analyses, commentary and obituaries. The best that I read appeared in an American Jewish newspaper called the Algemeiner. I can't add much to the Algemeiner article. I met Sharon only once and that was at my home, about 36 years ago when he was Minister of Agriculture. It was his first important post as a politician and his reputation until then was based almost solely on his army career. Our village was among the first to grow tomatoes in hot houses for export to Europe. Most of the growing problems had been overcome but we were having a big problem with the Israeli bureaucracy when it came to managing the export of our produce. About a dozen of us drove up to Sharon's farm to complain, only to discover that he wasn't home. I wrote a note inviting him down to our village to discuss the problems and left it with someone there. A few hours later Sharon called and said that he would come down to meet with us the following Sunday, --two days away.
On Sunday morning he arrived with about a half dozen cars full of Ministry of Agriculture officials and one of his sons. My neighbors, the ministry officials and Sharon gathered in our living room, Sharon sat on the biggest chair that we owned and we discussed the various problems. What surprised me was how quickly he understood the problems and what he needed to do to fix them. And truth to tell, during his tenure as Minister of Agriculture things went quite well with government officialdom.
The winter vacation had come to an end but the day of Sharon's funeral coincided with the Prophet's birthday and my Bedouin school was closed. Therefore, unlike most other Jewish teachers in the country I had the day off and I was able to follow the events on TV. Sharon was buried on a hill, next to his second wife across the road from his farm house. I entertained the idea of attending the funeral but I decided not to go. Instead I will pay my respects in the spring when the hill is covered with the bright red wild flowers for which it is named.
The many crises of Erdogan: have we come to an end-game?
By Oguz Alyanak
Never has the end seemed so near for the Prime Minister of Turkey, Recep Tayyip Erdogan and his Justice and Development Party (AKP). That is the word on the street, the prophecy circulating lately in various op-eds, news pieces, and messages via social media. Although this is neither the first time that the AKP has come under the spotlight, nor the first attempt to predict its expiry date, the most recent episode in the AKP’s list of crises is certainly doing the most harm to the party. But why now? How is this crisis any different from previous ones?
December 2013: the great corruption probe, a.k.a. #AKPGate
Image Source: roarmag.org
First, a brief description of the current crisis. On 17 December 2013, shady business deals that involve members of the AKP were brought to light by the Istanbul Police Department. Scandalous corruption charges were directed at the sons of AKP ministers—of Interior, Economic Affairs, and Environment and Urban Planning—along with the Mayor of Fatih district of Istanbul (Mustafa Demir/AKP), the general manager of the biggest state-owned bank in Turkey (Suleyman Aslan/Halkbank) a construction magnate (Ali Agaoglu), and an Iranian-Azerbaijani businessman (Reza Zarrab). There were bribes involved, sent from the construction magnate to the Minister of Environment and Urban Planning in exchange for illegal construction permits. Hidden transactions of a similar nature allegedly took place between Reza Zarrab and the other ministers. The accusation was that Zarrab bribed the ministers’ sons, and the general manager of Halkbank in order to carry out illegal transactions between Turkey and Iran, and to obtain Turkish citizenship for himself and his family. The amount of transaction Aslan had undertaken between 2009 and 2012 was an alleged 87 billion Euros. An amount of 4.5 million dollars, which was found at HalkBank general manager’s home, stacked into shoeboxes, was the most striking evidence that opened the door to this dubious affair.
Although this is not the first time that the AKP is charged with corruption, the case this time appears to be better grounded. Previously in 2008, the AKP faced a similar challenge when a sum of 41 million Euros collected by the transnational Islamic charity organization, Deniz Feneri e.V, was embezzled by the organization’s chairpersons. Although the Frankfurt court in charge of the case found no trace of money transfer from Deniz Feneri e.V to the AKP, eyebrows were raised in Turkey. Various media outlets affiliated with the biggest media conglomerate in Turkey, Dogan Holding, pointed out alleged ties between Deniz Feneri e.V and entrepreneurs close to the AKP’s circles. In 2008, ministers of the AKP interpreted the case as a “conspiracy” that aimed to bring down their party. It was seen as a foul scheme deployed against them. Today, the same rhetoric is in play. However, with Erdogan asking for the resignation of the ministers involved, corruption appears to be more established as a reality that surrounds the AKP than it was in 2008.
Furthermore, powerful actors in the diaspora are also irritated by these shady deals. Two days after the transactions were discovered, another blow to the AKP came from their long time supporter, preacher/scholar Fethullah Gulen and his transnational hizmet movement. The movement, which is an integral part of the larger Islamist movement in Turkey, represents an important transnational network in the US, Europe, Middle East and Central Asia, and is connected to a considerable body of supporters as well as business circles in Turkey. Many members of the Cabinet come from the hizmet circles and are known for bringing the AKP into close proximity with the hizmet network. Nevertheless, the relations between Gulen, who has been in self-imposed exile in Pennsylvania since 1999, and Erdogan have been lukewarm for quite some time—with the cracks becoming all too apparent in their divergent responses to the Gezi Protests (and before that, to the Mavi Marmara flotilla incident). These relations now are en route to a speedy collapse as Erdogan threatened Gulen with the closure of prep-schools in Turkey, which serve as an essential financial and intellectual lifeline for hizmet.
Soon after the corruption charges were publicized, Gulen commented on the developments on his website by staging a public stunt where he literally cast a curse on all those involved with corruption. A day later, the three ministers involved with the scandal resigned following a request from the Prime Minister, which led later that day to the reshuffling of ten ministers of his Cabinet. As the court case continues, what is now on the horizon is that new charges will be summoned, eventually reaching the Prime Minister himself and his own family (sons), bringing them to Court and thus putting an end to his power. Rumour has it that Erdogan’s son has already received a notification inviting him to testify in the General Public Prosecutor’s Office.
May - June 2013: the Gezi Park protests
May-June 2013: Gezi Park Protests. Wikipedia/Public Domain.
In light of these recent corruption charges, one of the first reactions by thousands in Turkey was to go out on the streets - a spirit rediscovered over the summer and adopted by the masses since then. The protests of the Summer of 2013 started with the occupation of a public park and later spread to dozens of cities around Turkey. Millions were out on the streets for weeks, protesting against the government’s authoritarian role, lack of accountability, and its dismissal of the rule of law. Protestors asked for a more responsible government and a more critical media. In return, they received brutal treatment at the hands of the police forces.
Gezi Protests may be seen as “the beginning of the end of Erdogan's era”. It was, after all, an “awakening” in itself. Although the Turkish state’s use of violence against its own citizens comes as no surprise to those even vaguely informed about the armed conflict that has been taking place—mostly—in southeastern Anatolia since the mid 1980s, nevertheless, with the exception of May Day protests, state violence has never been so clearly deployed in western Turkey. This was the first time. The state took the lives of young protestors and left dozens without eyes or limbs. Streets were no longer safe but at the same time, streets were the places where the fight had to be lost or won. It was a profoundly shocking discovery that the power people fought against lacked even a modicum of tolerance and sympathy. At Gezi, the AKP lost whatever humanity was left within it.
Moreover, Gezi was also a breaking point for the AKP in terms of retaining international prestige. With Gezi, AKP lost not only legitimacy at home, but also abroad. Countries like the US could not longer turn a blind eye to Turkey’s deteriorating human rights record—as has been clearly spelled out by the US Ambassador to Turkey Francis Ricciardone both during the summer protests and today. Unlike the pre-Gezi days, international media is now much more critical in its analysis of the AKP’s deeds. Hence, all the bitter headlines accusing Erdogan of misdeeds and pointing out to him his own limits.
May 2013: The Reyhanli Bombings
Image Source: Milliyet / www.milliyet.com.tr
In May of 2013, two car bombs exploded in the Reyhanli district of Hatay province, killing 51 and injuring over 140. The event was to be recorded as the biggest terrorist attack on Turkish soil to date. Bombings in urban settings are a relatively rare scene in Turkey, so people have questioned the forces behind the attacks. Although the organization responsible for the killings is yet to be identified, many looked for suspects at the Turkish-Syrian border and blamed the attack on the escalating tension between the two countries. The Syrian state was unofficially deemed guilty of the crime, and the bombing has been interpreted as a warning by the Syrian leader Bashar al-Assad against Turkey’s increasing involvement in the Syrian Civil War.
The escalation of violence in Syria must come under the heading of Turkey’s discretion with regard to Turkey’s foreign policy emphasis in the region as a whole. Hosting a large number of Syrian refugees, Turkey took an active role in the Syrian conflict—a matter widely contested by the opposition in the Parliament, as well as in the Turkish media and among Turkish voters. In addition, relations with Syria were particularly tense due to Syria’s Sunni majority population ruled by the Alawite al-Assad family. Certain commentators pointed a finger at the AKP for using the bombing as an excuse to undermine Syria’s Alawite government and play the Sunni brother card.
From this perspective, the conflict has reached a point of no return with the Reyhanli bombings. They make crystal clear the Alevi (in Turkey)/Alawite (in Syria) element that the AKP is allergic to, and urgently needs to come to terms with in orienting its policies towards the Middle East. In short, Turkey’s Middle Eastern policy in general and the AKP’s Syria policy in particular has been undermined by this severe failure. With NATO/American forces not intervening and Assad regaining power in Syria, Turkish policy has reached a dead-end. The Reyhanli bombings were a stern warning sign flagging up the AKP’s foreign policy as dysfunctional.
December 2011: the Roboski Massacre
The Turkish public woke up to a late December day watching a massacre committed by its own armed forces. The fact that this one—unlike many others—was televised, aggravated its effect. People saw dead bodies being wrapped up in body bags on their screens. These bodies, unlike the initial expectation, turned out not to belong to the “enemy”. In brief, a group of smugglers carrying diesel oil and cigarettes across Turkey’s Iraqi border—a common practice at the border—were taken for the enemy, that is, the Kurdish guerillas (PKK) and consequently, the Turkish Armed Forces, already ostracized due to previous neglect in taking action against PKK raids, bombed the smugglers' convoy. The F-16s took the lives of the country’s own citizens. The burned and mutilated bodies of 34 people were discovered in the morning, and visual images of the destruction zone were shared with the media. What followed—in addition to a broadcast ban—was a blame game between the Kurds and the AKP, with no formal apology granted to the families of those killed by the bombing.
Leaving the precarity of life aside, what was additionally troubling was the lack of communication between the Armed Forces and the Prime Minister, as well as both actors’ disregard for the gravity of the scene. While Erdogan took no responsibility for the act (“I certainly did not give the order”), the Chief of General Staff dismissed the case as an accident. The case, which was under investigation by the military prosecutor, reached a non-jurisdiction decision on 8 January 2014, meaning that the army officials under investigation were cleared of accusations. According to the statement issued by the Military Prosecutor’s Office, the “mistake” made at Roboski was “unavoidable”, thus necessitating “no reason to file a criminal case against the actions of the suspected persons.”
The Roboski bombing was a sad yet revealing moment in Erdogan's history and that of the AKP. Not only did it provide the opposition with material to exploit, it also gave Turkish people a snapshot of the AKP’s lack of authority over the country’s Armed Forces (both the President and the Prime Minister chair the National Security Council’s bimonthly meetings, and other select members of the cabinet attend these meetings), and the extent of the mutual mistrust between the party and the Kurdish population—whose votes Erdogan had oriented towards the AKP quite successfully in previous elections.
May 2010: MV Mavi Marmara Flotilla incident
Mavi Marmara, also known as the Gaza Freedom Flotilla, brought Turkey into a diplomatic crisis with Israel in 2010, a year after the much cited exchange took place between the Turkish and Israeli Prime Ministers at the World Economic Forum meeting at Davos. While en route to Gaza, the Turkish flotilla carrying a number of activists and bringing aid was stopped by the Israeli navy (who claimed the activists were armed). The resistance to the military operation led to the killing of nine activists on the ship and the wounding of many others.
Although Erdogan’s ardent stance in requesting an apology from the Israeli Prime Minister (which he received in 2013) was lauded by his constituents at home and his supporters in the Middle East (thus granting him the “Sultan” title), the aggravation of relations with Israel (such as expelling the Israeli ambassador) was also read as an immature and hastily taken diplomatic move that was directed only at gaining a more favourable position in the Middle East (particularly among the Sunni Muslims) at the expense of losing Israel. Furthermore, the growing tension with Israel was also read as a sign of growing anti-Semitism in Turkey. Neither the Jewish citizens of Turkey nor its Jewish investors felt safe under the rule of a government that openly detested Israel. Erdogan and the AKP may have won the hearts of their Muslim constituents, however, this only came at the expense of the sympathy of their Jewish friends.
October 2007; October 2008; June 2012: PKK raids and intelligence crises
Image Source: Today’s Zaman / www.todayszaman.com
AKP’s legitimacy in handling Turkey’s longstanding conflict with Kurdish guerillas (PKK) has been severely tested numerous times. Although ending the conflict was one of Erdogan’s promises in collecting his votes, his attempts have been intermittently interrupted. The latest major occasion was the Daglica raid of June 2012, which led to the killing of eight Turkish Army soldiers, with 16 others wounded. The raid was reminiscent of another attack that took place in October 2007, in the same district of Hakkari, where Kurdish guerillas killed 27 members of the Turkish army, wounding many others and kidnapping eight as prisoners in two separate instances. In response, the Turkish army retaliated. Thousands of protestors came out on the streets to condemn the PKK, proffer solidarity to the Turkish army and call on the AKP to take immediate action.
The AKP was challenged by the PKK also in 2008, when over 600 guerillas carrying heavy arms raided a Turkish outpost located at the northern Iraqi border, killing fifteen members of the Turkish military and wounding many others. What particularly spurred public debate this time was the lack of intelligence in detecting the movement of such a large group in an organized fashion. In addition to blaming the PKK, the public also sought to blame the army, as well as the AKP. Public attitude took a particularly sharp turn when a Turkish newspaper, Taraf, headlined a piece stressing the gravity of the neglect in handling the raid. It emerged that intelligence regarding a forthcoming raid was passed onto the General Staff almost a month before the raid took place. This signaled a lack of professionalism and more importantly, miscommunication between the Turkish Army and the AKP in handling Turkey’s most critical threat.
Rather than taking full responsibility, the Armed Forces and the AKP instead chose to blame Taraf for revealing state secrets, installed a national broadcast ban and opened up a lawsuit. A similar attitude was shown in both actors’ responses to the Roboski massacre and the Reyhanli bombings. Rather than discussing the failures, and learning from mistakes, the AKP (and the Turkish military) chose to cover it up.
March - July 2008: the AKP closure trial
Image Source: Aksam / aksam.medyator.com
In 2008, the AKP was brought to the Constitutional Court under the accusation that its “anti-secular” activities were jeopardising the Republic. In the Prosecutor’s words, the Republic was in danger. This was a claim that had been directed at previous representatives of the Islamic movement, later banned in Turkey, such as the Virtue Party (banned 2001) and the Welfare Party (banned 1997). It was also a claim that the Turkish public did not fully support. Despite the mass demonstration of late 2006 and 2007 in which secular Turks rallied against the election of Abdullah Gul (whose wife wore a headscarf, thus bringing a “covered” First Lady to the Presidential Palace) as the President, many others were undecided about (or outright rejected) the banning of a political party—regardless of its name or political orientation.
The 'closure trial' of 2008 could in some ways be read as a test for the reaffirmation of faith in Turkish democracy, and its representative, the AKP. Not only would the decision decide the fate of the AKP and its leader, Erdogan, but it would also provide Turkish democracy with yet another chance to solve its problems by itself—that is, without having to end a political party’s existence through a judicial manouevre (what the anthropologist Jenny White called a coup by court) or a military coup d’etat. The 2008 closure trial, moreover, provided the AKP with an opportunity for a fresh start: by remaining in politics, it would come out triumphantly as the democratic face of Turkey, therefore gaining the appreciation of both national and international actors. This would be a much needed success for the AKP, especially in light of the trust lost in its (mis) handling of the previous year’s Dink assassination and the May Day events.
When the judges voted one shy for the closure of the AKP, people hoped that the AKP would take the message and make its policies more in accordance with the needs of greater publics (and not just the AKP’s constituents). However, less than a year later, members of the AKP were not there to show solidarity with the pro-Kurdish Democratic Society Party (DTP), which was banned later that year by the Constitutional Court. This was a revealing moment regarding the Janus-faced character of Turkish democracy, and its product par excellence, the AKP.
January 2007: Hrant Dink's assassination
Xenophobia may be a value-laden term, yet it is also one that helps us explain the emergent feeling in Turkey that brought about the assassination of Hrant Dink in 2007. Following the Cartoon Crisis in Denmark, which caused great disturbance among Muslim populations all around the world, Turkish citizens belonging to minority religions in Turkey have been put under the spotlight. In this environment, the (February) 2006 murder of Father Andrea Santoro, the Roman Catholic Priest of Trabzon’s Santa Maria Church, and the (April) 2007 murder of three Christians at a Bible-publishing house, Zirve Yayincilik—though unfortunate—came as no surprise.
And then there was the assassination of the Turkish-Armenian journalist Hrant Dink. It was as much about the assassination as it was the state’s handling of the case in the following years that proved to be a major letdown for many liberals who have supported the AKP in previous elections (2002 and 2004) with the hopes of a transformed Turkey: that is, one that would come to terms with the past crimes committed against its minorities (particularly in 1915 and 1955) and turn over a clean sheet in negotiating with them today. The impression (which fueled people’s frustration) was that rather than seeking justice, the AKP used these assassinations as an excuse to further undermine its opponents in the military and among the secular elite.
Dink received death threats several times before the assassination took place. In addition to his Armenian heritage, as a journalist, Dink was under the spotlight for his statements on the Armenian genocide, and was under prosecution for “denigrating Turkishness” under Penal Code Article 301 (the same article the Nobel Prize winning author Orhan Pamuk was tried under a year before). Prior to his assassination, Dink was working on an investigation on the Armenian roots of the adopted daughter of Ataturk, the founder father of Turkey.
On January 19, Hrant Dink was shot dead in front of his office. Thousands attended his funeral, and even more participated in the demonstrations taking place in the following weeks (and years) asking the government to open a fully-fledged investigation into Dink’s assassination. In the hours following the shooting, a 17-year-old suspect was caught. The public learned about the suspect via a picture of him posing heroically in front of a Turkish flag next to gendarmerie officers at a police station. He was treated as a national hero.
Weeks after, the person behind the planning of the assassination was also caught. In his interrogation, he pointed to an intelligence officer within the police department as the primary suspect. All three were put on a trial which lasted for five years. Rather than explicating the organizational links behind the assassination, the trial ended with the acquittal of the intelligence officer and the imprisonment of the killer and planner. Many were not satisfied with the outcome. After all, it was documented that almost eleven months before the assassination took place, the police had information that the people who would later on take central roles in the assassination were planning to assassinate Dink. His assassination was part of a bigger scheme—yet no one in the government was brave enough to call for an investigation that would go this far.
The assassinations of Father Santoro, Hrant Dink and the three Bible-publishers in Malatya have revealed a great rift between the Turkish state and the AKP government. One could argue that in handling these cases, the AKP had little power over the state. In fact, part of the argument was that Dink’s assassination was part of a bigger plan to bring down the AKP by causing havoc in the country and promoting a coup d’etat. In response, as the 5-year-long trial “Ergenekon” which was to follow these assassinations reveals, the AKP exerted power over the state, and obtained the opportunity to expose the networks that orchestrated those tumultuous times. However, AKP’s democratization (through the Ergenekon trial) had its limits—perhaps because individuals close to AKP circles were benefiting from the ongoing conflict, as were the military generals. The case itself revealed that the main purpose behind the investigations was more about disabling AKP’s political opponents than bringing criminals to justice.
July 2004: the Pamukova train accident
Image Source: www.ntvmsnbc.com
Major accidents with grave consequences are expected to harm the legitimacy of even the most faultless-seeming government officials. Accidents create a moral obligation that lays the ground for the resignation of the ministers responsible and in charge. In Turkey, by contrast, responsibility is hardly ever sought if those involved are prominent decision makers. Those at the top are rarely held accountable for failures. In July 2004, the newly installed high-speed train between Istanbul and Ankara was put on a test run. The train, which was carrying 230 passengers, crashed due to excessive speeding, killing 41 and injuring over 80. Although a trial was opened against Turkish State Railways (TCDD), only the train’s operators faced charges. And even though the Minister of Transportation, Binali Yildirim, stated that he would resign if necessary, the necessity, apparently, never materialized. As of February 2012, the case was dropped due to a statute of limitations. The irony is not lost on the public when in response to a train accident in Spain, Binali Yildirim who is still serving as the Minister, takes it upon himself to comment on the accident with the following words: “This looks similar to what we experienced in Pamukova”.
The high-speed train was one of the first major projects that the AKP was to undertake. Although its failure was not widely discussed in 2004, its ghost was brought back to earth as the AKP undertook yet another railways project in 2013: this time, an undersea tunnel connecting the Asian and European banks of Istanbul. The project went through despite the recommendation for a delay by the Chamber of Architects and Engineers, and their detailed presentation on the possibility of a catastrophe, in which the Pamukova accident was also cited. The very first day Marmaray was opened, the project experienced a power outtage, which brought the trains to a halt midway through the tunnel. People had to walk in the underwater tunnel to the next station in order to make it to the nearest exit. Few dared to ask what the possible death toll could have been had power been restored, possibly frying the dozens walking on the tracks. Once again, rather than seeking the responsibility of those in charge of the project, blame was laid at the door of the passengers: “halts were caused by people who pushed the emergency button out of curiosity.”
Back to 2013, back to corruption…
The crises listed above do not provide an exhaustive inventory of AKP debacles. We exclude, among others, events of major importance such as the detention of Turkish soldiers by the American Forces (in retaliation to Turkey’s refusal to take part in the Coalition Forces and grant access to these forces to use Turkish land and airspace in 2003) or the public outrage over the Turkish government’s sloppy response to the earthquake in the city of Van in 2011.
The point here is that despite crises of such a grand scale, the AKP, under the helm of Erdogan has still managed to be a behemoth occupying every space, adopting every value, and appropriating every ideology. Despite the many challenges it has faced, the AKP has continued to grow. Much of this success has been credited to its leader, Erdogan, whose political aptitude and personal charisma has kept a political party that is necessarily representative of various political factions and interest groups intact. Also, many credited the strength of the Turkish economy to the AKP's handling - in the macro, for example, bringing the inflation and unemployment rate down, paying off Turkey’s debt to the IMF, increasing GDP/capita, undertaking major infrastructure projects or turning the country into an investors' paradise. The economy may have played a role in many people turning a blind eye to the AKP’s previous failures. The same could be argued when it came to the AKP's fight against the Kemalist establishment. In this fight, the AKP gained the sympathy of supporters who may have had little interest in Erdogan’s religious discourse but rather greater interest in taking down a repressive statist regime. (Today, especially in the aftermath of the Hrant Dink trial and Gezi, it would not be too much of an exaggeration to argue that the AKP has lost that voter base completely.)
However, now is the time to ask: is the AKP really the omnipotent force we make of it? Let us stop for a second and reflect on what we make of this political machine. As people critical of the repressive form the AKP has taken over the years, we cannot simply continue blaming Erdogan’s conservative, nationalist and faithful/Islamic constituents (and they constitute a fragment of AKP voters) for fashioning this Sultan figure. Altogether, we have constructed a mirage of invulnerability, and turned the Prime Minister into the leader of a political party whose supreme power today drowns out our protests. Instead, we need to believe that it is a mirage after all. A recent New Yorker commentator writing on the corruption crisis starts the account with a trite yet relevant phrase: “the revolution always eats its children first”. For those who have constructed this revolutionary nightmare, the time is ripe to finally disappear. After all, once the strings holding the party intact are cut, both Erdogan and his followers would have to comply with the rules of physics and fall… because so does everything else.
The reason for us to be encouraged to finally open our eyes and witness Erdogan’s downfall lies in the peculiarities of the latest episode of the crisis. The corruption case reveals obvious signs of weakness for both Erdogan and his AKP. Erdogan has never been this lonely in his ten years of rule as the Prime Minister of Turkey. In previous crises, he may have lost the support of liberals in Turkey, as well as minorities, Israel and the US. However, he still had the support of his own cabinet, the spiritual figure Fethullah Gulen, and many of the institutions (such as the police and the judiciary) arguably “infiltrated” by or representative of Gulen’s hizmet network. His prestige may have shattered those outside the Islamic movement, but inside, he was still impervious to criticism.
The corruption case, however, has deprived him of all these lines of support. First, the people who were once his closest allies no longer hesitate in directing their critiques at the Prime Minister. When the Minister of Environment and Urban Planning Erdogan Bayraktar handed in his resignation, he openly stated that his stepping down would also necessitate PM Erdogan relinquishing his position as the Prime Minister. Here was criticism coming from the inside, from one of the people close to the Prime Minister. Such an act, in AKP’s three-term rule, is unheard of.
Then, he lost the backing of hizmet circles, as well as his credibility within the larger Islamic movement. Today, rather than perpetuating ties with the hizmet network, Erdogan is purging those whom he believes to be followers of Gulen. He is attempting to bring the High Council of Judges and Prosecutors, an institution chiefly in charge of appointing judges and prosecutors in Turkey, under the surveillance of the Ministry of Justice (which is a major violation of the principle of the separation of powers). He is also firing and reassigning police forces, thus reshaping the organizational schema of the police department. Although Erdogan argues that in doing this he is taking preventative measures against a coup d’etat against his AKP, his method of attack is no less coup-like.
Also in retaliation to hizmet, there are some signals that Erdogan is considering befriending his old enemy, the secular military, by reopening the trial on the previous coup d’etat plots: Sledgehammer and Ergenekon. Although this is still an idea in progress within AKP circles, experts argue that by showing that these trials, conducted by judges and prosecutors close to the hizmet circles, and reached a verdict on 2012 and 2013 respectively, were held in an unfair manner, Erdogan attempts to “vilify” Fethullah Gulen and “expose” the true face of his movement. As the local elections draws near, blaming hizmet for the current episode of the nation’s ills may be a strategic move aimed at regaining his constituents’ trust.
Finally, Erdogan seems to be losing one of his strongest pillars, Turkey’s economic figures and credit ratings. With credit rating companies sending the government warning signals and the Turkish lira seeing record lows against the American dollar (which, apparently, does not please investors and businessmen), the Turkish Prime Minister will have to do more than retaliate against his enemies. This is not the Gezi “gang” that he blamed for “smashing windows”. The threat, this time, comes from those who are (were) closest to him.
There is also an emotional or more intimate side of this story that most analyses often forgo - possible due to the fact that it offers a much less complicated explanation than the ones listed above. Corruption, in short, has a peculiar nature. Ironically, in today’s world, killing dozens of innocents is more easily justifiable than embezzling taxpayers’ money.
In previous crises the AKP has faced, the blame could have been placed in other quarters. As discussed above, Turkey’s Kemalist legacy, the Turkish military, Turkish media, Israel, the US, reckless train mechanics, Kurdish guerilla forces, Christian missionaries, spying minorities, among others, could have been singled out as primarily responsible for these failures. The blame could have been diverted.
However, with a corruption scandal that hits the friends closest to you, and is expected to hunt you down, it is hard to play the blame game. Not that Erdogan, as well as other ministers in the AKP are not attempting to do this. They are. But it no longer carries its power of persuasion because the scandal attacks the very moral foundation that he has built over years. The rhetoric before was that both the failures and successes were committed for the good of the nation. They were all undertaken with good intentions. As the AKP’s 2009 election jingle stated: “Everything is for this nation.” Erdogan and his ministers were servants of the nation and Allah. This rhetoric, equating them almost to the messengers of Allah, provided them with an aura of protection.
However, these corruption claims challenge this rhetoric in two ways. First, corruption leaves nothing for the nation to gain. While all the gains are personal, only the losses become collectively shared. And second, corruption is a sin; rather than serving Allah, one starts serving oneself—thus seeking personal and material gains rather than communal and spiritual ones. In short, corruption takes away from Erdogan’s repertoire both the worldly and otherworldly references. Whether this graft probe is yet another coup attempt against him or not, the damage is already done. For a politician that relies so much on the power of community and spirituality, which constitute the main themes around which he build his speeches, the question then is, can he succeed without them?
He may, but possibly not in this current configuration, where he serves as the Prime Minister of a tainted political party. Perhaps he could as a dictator or a Sultan in the true sense of those words, as someone who has absolute power, and therefore rules over all other institutional powers. AKP ingenuity has surprised us many times before. But today, facing a corruption scandal, and with the local elections only three months away, the future for Erdogan and his party looks alarmingly bleak. The AKP’s rise to power may have been an unexpected development. And despite the gravity of the crises it has faced in the past, equally unexpected has been its maintenance of power. Its retirement from power, by contrast, may not be so unexpected.
A constitutional mirage in Egypt
“Next 4 months vital in #Egypt. A referendum and elections which are open, free and fair would create stability and a platform for growth”
This was tweeted last November by Stephen Hickey, UK Deputy Ambassador to Egypt, echoing what the military-backed government portrayed as its agenda for post-coup Egypt.
A month later, the 50-member constitutional committee assigned by interim president Adly Mansour - who in turn was assigned by the military - finished their amendments on the 2012 constitution to which a referendum will take place on the 14 and 15 January 2014. Up until this point, it all sounds hopeful as Mr Hickey said Egypt is heading towards stability and growth, however the reality of what is taking place on the ground is completely different. A glimpse at events that have taken place over the past few months may put everything into perspective.
Let’s assume that the constitution will emphasize the independent rule of the judiciary; will it be the judiciary that imprison youth today for having a camera, or girls for raising balloons with the Rabaa sign on them, or schoolboys for having a ruler and notebook with the same sign? This is the same judiciary that acquitted all the police officers accused of killing thousands of Egyptians during the 25 January 2011 revolution and it is also the same judiciary that refuse to look into any cases related to the thousands of Egyptians killed by the authorities after the coup on 3 July 2013.
Let’s assume that the constitution guarantees freedom of expression. Will the security forces that shot journalists during demonstrations and imprison others for reporting views other than their own apply such articles of the constitution? A superficial look at state-run and private media outlets, all singing the same song, will give you a sense of where freedom of expression is heading.
Many will argue about the right and importance of education in this draft, but how many students have been killed and injured inside university campuses across the country during the barbaric raids of security forces to quell student’s protests while the constitutional committee was discussing such articles? Or army officers giving a speech at a primary school about the “armed legitimacy” that tops any other legitimacy? A clear indication of what and how the coming generation will be taught.
There is no doubt that the right of assembly has a place in the constitution, but a glance over what is actually taking place since July 3 reasserts the dangers of these rights in the “new” Egypt. Every protest, rally or march expressing people’s opposition to the coup has been attacked, suppressed and demonized with every possible tactic the police and army forces possess; from water canon to live ammunition. Such repression was not only meted out to Islamists, it was extended to secularists, and the imprisonment of three liberal activists for protesting against the “Protest Law” issued in November 2013 was a clear message that the military will not tolerate any group of Egyptians singing a note other than their own.
Finally, the decision of the government to sentence any Egyptian participating in an anti-coup demonstration to five years with the potential to execute those leading such demonstrations gives one the clear message of how those in power in Egypt now are serious about protecting Egyptian rights until they have dealt with their last opponent.
These examples are only a glimpse of what is actually taking place on the ground. From the tragic to the ridiculous, human beings, animals and puppets it seems are all under threat: from the violent dispersal of the Rabaa and Nahda sit-ins, to the arrest of a “spy stork” and most recently the investigation of a puppet, Abla Fahita, for conspiring against Egypt.
In such a “promising” environment, there is little hope for the campaigns on the referendum; where only “yes” vote posters are allowed to be displayed everywhere across the country and aired hourly on state-run and privately owned TV channels. Those calling for a boycott or a “no” vote are being sent to prison. All this gives a clue about how fair and transparent such a referendum will be.
A constitution is no doubt a vital document for any nation that strives to have a progressive and stable political environment, but at the end of the day it is just a piece of paper. What gives such a rulebook significance, legitimacy and value is the people’s will and determination to apply what is actually stipulated in such a document.
In the case of Egypt, the constitutional draft and referendum are only cosmetic changes to cover up the atrocities of the military regime, and a way to obtain legitimacy; not from the Egyptian people but in the eyes of other nations, who feel they need “Mubarak style” elections and a referendum to legitimize their support for the military coup. Till this fake referendum and elections take place, will we see tweets like that of Mr. Hickey while mass killings and repressive measures receive faint condemnations, if any, in routinely published statements, exactly the same as during the old days of Mubarak?
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