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This week's window on the Middle East - September 10, 2012

Arab Awakening's columnists offer their weekly perspective on what is happening on the ground in the Middle East. Leading the week: Dubai: a contemporary identity

Arab Awakening
10 September 2012
  • Dubai: a contemporary identity
  • The plot thickens
  • Overestimating Turkey’s influence in the Middle East
  • Algeria’s dangerous economic gamble
  • Looking for dignity elsewhere: Tunisian youth fleeing the birthplace of the Arab spring
  • Plus ça change: Egypt
  • Palestinian protesters: is it only an economic crisis?
  • Turkey and Kurdish mirror images
  • A new bearded face to the Egyptian police?
  • Dubai: a contemporary identity

    By Sacha Robehmed

    Somewhere along the way, journalistic portrayals of Dubai changed drastically. From regional success story and a city to aspire to, Dubai’s veneer of flash and brash then became the cautionary tale of the Middle East. Now we hear from the New York Times that high-rises “have turned downtown Beirut into generic Dubai.”  And in the subheading of AA Gill’s scathing Vanity Fair critique, “...Dubai is a cautionary tale about what money can’t buy: a culture of its own.”  

    It’s not only journalists wondering where Dubai’s culture is. Questions of national identity and culture are also on the minds of Emirati authorities  and Gulf-based researchers.

    As a teenager, it was frustrating to live in a ‘cultural wasteland,’ as one friend often described Dubai. But the few galleries there once was have multiplied, and there is now an emerging contemporary culture scene complete with an international art fair. Increasingly, community initiatives are pushing this development.

    Before the intense summer heat set in, I attended a MENAtalk run by tasmena, a community owned, not-for-profit design association. It aims to create “socially responsible opportunities for interaction between the community and the city, academia and industry, and the East and West,” described Nasreen Al Tamimi, cofounder of tasmena. Al Tamimi is a trained architect, while her cofounders Yunsun Chung Shin and Adina Hempel are professors at Zayed University in visual communications and urban design respectively. 

    Discussion focused on Al Khor, the Creek area of Dubai and the oldest part of the city. Prior to exploring the area on foot, tasmena had brought together academics, students, a government official working to preserve the historic area, and interested people from the community. The diverse mixture of professional backgrounds and different nationalities within the group was like nothing I had ever experienced before in the UAE. Although lower income expatriates (such as construction and domestic workers) are admittedly not adequately represented, tasmena’s initiatives are refreshing in providing a forum broadly reflecting Dubai’s demographic diversity. Group discussion and collaboration allow for re-engagement with the city, as its residents are empowered to take ownership of a place that is fragmented, constantly changing and often alienating.

    We gathered at the Jam Jar, a painting studio and arts consultancy founded in 2005, which also creates a popular art map of Dubai. “Accessibility to the arts was the intention from the word go,” remarked Hetal Pawani, director and founder of the Jam Jar. While it’s one of Dubai’s oldest community-minded spaces, several others have since appeared. These include collaborative co-working cafes such as Make and Shelter, The Pavilion, which aims to encourage dialogue between arts and the community, and Traffic, a gallery which has become a community-orientated space. Rami Farook, owner of Traffic and a designer, curator, publisher and entrepreneur, described the transition: “On January 1, 2012 we went non-profit and now operate as a school, studio and public space. The reason for this change is probably due to my developing interest in socialization, sustainability and independence.”

    Farook sees community as “very important” in cultivating creativity. Yet the UAE’s more grassroots, community-centric creativity is overshadowed by big-name projects, such as branches of the Guggenheim and the Louvre being constructed on Abu Dhabi’s Saadiyat Island, and a Modern Art Museum and Opera House planned for Dubai. This gives the impression that the arts, and a cultural identity, will just be imported. However, Hetal Pawani sees no problem with this, as “Importing is the way Dubai has done it for a long long time,” referring to the city’s past and present as a trading port. Instead, she sees these artistic ‘imports’ as being pivotal to audience education and the development of future artists.   

    Imports aside, UAE authorities and critical journalists alike would do well to take heed of Dubai’s grassroots contemporary culture scene. Although at an early stage, the growing emphasis on  collaboration and community creates space for residents to explore and contribute to their city’s identity. Community engagement through art and design is therefore a means to answer questions of national identity and culture.

    The plot thickens

    By Munir Atalla

    Palestinian refugees, previously stateless in Syria have packed their bags, yet again, and moved to Jordan.  There, they have been met with segregation and squalor, adding another dimension to an ever-deepening maze of a situation.

    Each summer in Jordan, the winds shift for a two-month period known locally as “the fifty”.  Instead of the regular westerly winds, sediment from the surrounding Arabian Peninsula is brushed into the country grain by grain until car owners awaken to find their windshields caked with sandy residue.   This year, the winds have also brought with them an influx of refugees from Syria.           

    Jordan is now host to about 180,000 Syrians who have fled in fear of escalating violence.  According to the BBC, that number is expected to rise to 240,000 soon, pushing the economically challenged country of Jordan far past capacity.  The UN refugee agency nearly doubled its request for aid funds in a matter of days, but even that was insufficient.  Jordan has taken in so many refugees since its inception, that it is barely managing its own population.  When the government took up the suggestion of the International Monetary Fund to announce a 10% raise in gas prices to free up more of the state budget, people took to the streets in their thousands.  From Irbid to the capital, people voiced their outrage.  Their cries were heard when King Abdullah II stepped in to block the change.

    A closer examination of the people entering reveals that not all of those displaced are Syrian.  Palestinian refugees from camps in southern Syria have also made it across the border.  These double refugees are clearly being segregated from their Syrian counterparts by the Jordanian government.  The Jordanian government fears the precedent that could be set if Jordan’s borders seemed suddenly permeable.

    According to Al-Hayat, Interior Minister Ghaleb Zubi said that Jordan “will not deal with Palestinians fleeing from Syria as refugees…these brothers were forced to leave due to the developments in Syria. They are refugees in other countries ... but we will deal with them as guests only.”           

    Classification is extremely difficult between the people of the Levant.  So many have been moved, removed, re-moved, exiled and re-exiled that definitions fail the inhabitants of the Fertile Crescent.  The reality points to the larger truth that the colonial post-Ottoman borders are senseless.  There will be neither peace nor stability as long as the jigsaw states struggle to fit their people into their borders.

    For the refugees and their children, this means prolonged periods of exile and hardship.  According to the New York Times, nearly half of the refugees are younger than 12, and the ratio of females to males is disproportionately tilted towards the former.  In Zaatari, the largest and quickest growing Syrian refugee camp, two dusty playgrounds service 10,000 children.  “We're living like animals here. The dust and the sun are unbearable. Just look at these children! How do they take it?” laments Fatima, a Syrian refugee who highlighted the dismal state of the camps. 

    It has been far longer than fifty days, but this summer, the winds show no signs of changing direction.

    Overestimating Turkey’s influence in the Middle East

    By Christopher Sisserian

    Last week’s images of the returning Lebanese hostage captured in Syria, arriving from Turkey and sporting a red tie bearing the Turkish flag were a clear signal of Turkey’s desire to boost its image and re-position itself in the Middle East [see image here ]

    Turkey’s aspirations to become a larger player in the Middle East, building on the zero problems with the neighbours policy developed by foreign minister Davutoglu, have drawn much international attention. The stalling of Turkey’s talks to join the EU can partly explain Turkey turning its back on Europe and as a result finding itself facing the other way, towards the Middle East. Labelled as neo-Ottomanism, the new approach has been viewed as a return to Turkey’s colonial past, as the successor state to the Ottoman Empire that once ruled most of the region. Many commentators, especially in Europe (perhaps to offer compensation for the stagnation of EU ascension talks), jumped the gun and labelled this shift the ‘emergence of Turkey as a global power that would come to shape the Syrian conflict’, before it had managed to properly establish itself as a regional one, as demonstrated by this Spiegel article. published in April this year.

    However far from being an opportunity to showcase its leadership in determining the fate of Syria, the Syrian crisis seems to have halted Turkey’s own regional ambitions and provided the final nail in the coffin for the zero problems approach. Instead of developing friendly ties, Turkey now seems to have problems with all of its neighbours. Aside from the old issues with Greece, Cyprus and Armenia, relations with Middle Eastern states began to deteriorate with the suspension of relations with Israel following the flotilla incident. Earlier this year the Iraqi Prime Minister labelled Turkey a “hostile state” and tensions remain high with the country, which is currently reviewing its relations with Turkey. Tensions with Iran are also constantly increasing as a result of Turkey’s position on Syria.

    Before the Syrian uprising, Turkey was a strong ally of Assad with improved relations with Syria being the jewel in the crown of Turkey’s rising influence in the region. However the speed with which this was abandoned in favour of supporting the Syrian rebels will make it difficult for Turkey to be viewed as a reliable partner in a region where the past is rarely forgotten and more likely to be brought up at any available opportunity.  The strong stance taken by Turkey in supporting the Free Syrian Army has also alienated many that would have been open to it potentially playing a greater role. Rather than building on past attempts at mediation, primarily between Syria and Israel as well as on the Iranian nuclear issue, and acting as the neutral mediator that many had hoped it would, Turkey is now viewed as having chosen sides in a conflict that is not its own.

    Turkey is unable to escape the fact that as a member of NATO it remains a member of the Western sphere, despite its attempts at repositioning itself as an independent actor. The decision to convene a NATO meeting following the downing of a Turkish warplane by Syria shows how seriously Turkey takes the US-led alliance.

    The Arab Awakening has been a movement for people in the Middle East and North Africa for greater control over their own lives. In the first instance this means removing despotic rulers. But in the second place it will mean ensuring that new regimes are able to steer their own path without being influenced by external great powers as were the previous club of dictators.

    As well as proving to be unpopular in the region, the position taken by Turkey is viewed increasingly unfavourably domestically. With Erdogan appearing intent on securing his position within the Turkish political sphere by conducting a Putin-esque manoeuvre to become President following the end of his maximum term as Prime Minister, the position he has taken on Syria may backfire as the government is receiving increasing criticism from the Turkish public as the conflict spills over the border.

    The Syrian conflict is proving unwilling to remain within its own borders and is having an impact on almost all neighbouring states. The Kurdish issue, which remains the single greatest problem faced by Turkey, has been especially aggravated. The Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) has stepped up attacks in its fight for greater Kurdish autonomy and many believe Assad is providing them with support as revenge for Turkey’s backing of the opposition. The most recent attacks, leaving 10 Turkish soldiers dead are likely to continue given that the Kurdish majority area of North-Eastern Syria is now effectively under Kurdish control, with neither the FSA or regime forces present in the area.

    This new power vacuum along with the vast amount of weaponry and men with military training / experience now in circulation due to the conflict could see Syria become a launch pad for increased attacks on Turkey, a situation Erdogan will be desperate to avoid as the end of his term approaches.

    That Turkey has a role to play in the Middle East is undeniable, but it will be as one voice amongst the many that are supporting the rebels, including those in the Gulf and ‘the West’. As the sectarian nature of the conflict continues to grow, the decision to clearly support one side may prove to have been a lasting mistake with regard to Turkey’s own foreign policy objectives. Once the dust has settled in Syria the decisions taken by the former colonial power in an increasingly divided region will not be quickly forgotten, limiting its capacity to have influence over individual states.  

    Meanwhile back in Lebanon the fate of two kidnapped Turkish nationals remains unknown and efforts to secure their release have thus far been fruitless. Given that the Hezbollah led government is broadly aligned with the Syrian regime, it would be easy to believe that locating them is not a top priority. Turkish authorities may offer another red tie to the next hostage that manages to secure a safe a passage through Turkey back to Lebanon, however sartorial influence offers little consolation for a regional ambition that seems to have failed.

    Algeria’s dangerous economic gamble

    By Kamal Benkoussa

    So far, the Arab Awakening has effectively skirted Algeria’s borders, leaving the regime unscathed, as well as Algeria’s political, social and economic crises intact.  But why?

    Firstly, alongside the 200,000 lives claimed by the civil war of the 1990s, our social fabric was destroyed, causing ordinary people to think twice before taking to the streets to hanker for the sudden downfall of the Leviathan.  Secondly, the grip of the Algerian regime is less iron, in public at least, than was Ben Ali’s Tunisia or Mubarak’s Egypt: it is possible to criticise government policies to a certain extent, within important limits.  But thirdly, and much more importantly, Algeria is endowed with significant hydrocarbon resources.  This has enabled the regime to increase spending on wages, subsidies and services, and to bank on the belief that expenditure can substitute for emancipation.        

    Yet even on its own terms, the government’s strategy is a losing one.  Indeed, the military regime holding sway in Algeria is making two dangerous economic gambles. 

    In the first place, the economy remains overwhelmingly reliant upon income from its oil and gas resources, which in 2011 comprised 98.6% of the country’s export revenues. At the same time, and despite the government’s clumsy attempts at economic diversification, exports of non-oil goods represent only 2.93% (source: Centre National de l’Informatique et des Statistiques des Douanes).  Industry continues to account for no more than 5% of the economy.  Thus, Algeria’s budget is extremely vulnerable to oil price shocks, particularly given the high level of capital spending to which the regime has committed itself in order to stave off the Arab Awakening.  Indeed, the government has launched a $286bn Public Investment Programme ($130bn for the completion of major projects and $156bn for the launch of new projects), financed from general government revenues over the period 2010-2014.  

    However, this deep dependence on hydrocarbons is fraught with long and short term risks.  To begin with, Algeria’s known oil reserves will last at current production levels for only 19.3 years.  Moreover, any drop in oil prices in the coming year will have a dramatic effect on Algeria’s external and fiscal balances.  An oil price of at least $112/barrel is needed in order to balance the 2012 budget.  This would only be possible with a sudden upturn in global oil prices in the coming months – that is to say, an unrealistic scenario, unless Israel were to launch a strike against Iran over its nuclear programme.  More likely, the Algerian government will be forced to make substantial cuts to its capital expenditure in 2013. 

    Of course, a budget deficit can be covered in the short term through foreign exchange reserves (more than $200 billion) and the government’s oil stabilisation fund (Fond de Regulation des Recettes).  However, if sustained low oil prices compel the government to draw upon these funds,that will almost certainly prompt a re-think regarding its commitments under the five-year infrastructure development plan.   That is, public spending – the pillar of the regime’s strategy to ‘buy social peace’ – will have to be cut.

    Secondly, as a major importer of agricultural products, the Algerian economy is highly exposed to fluctuations in global food prices.  In the first six months of 2012, the government spent $1.6bn on importing wheat alone.  In the past few weeks, and owing to hot weather and drought in the US cereals belt, wheat prices have skyrocketed.  Since 14 May, Chicago Mercantile Exchange Wheat Future prices have risen by 52% to $9/bu.  Because of significant increases in the costs of importing food – mainly wheat, but also corn and soya bean – Algeria’s year-on-year inflation rate is ever increasing (currently 8.2%). 

    By and large, Algerians cannot afford to eat beef, which is an imported luxury beyond the budget of the average household.  Chicken is widely used as a substitute.  Consequently, chicken farmers are highly dependent upon the corn used to feed their poultry.  However, a corn supply shock is soon likely, with potential for prices to more than double from their current (already elevated) levels.  This is because the US, which in recent years has exported more corn than the rest of the world put together, is set to deplete its corn stocks this year, which may well result in a reduction or outright ban on corn exports.  Such developments would lead to a major event the likes of which have not been witnessed since the 1970s, when the price of corn reached the inflation adjusted equivalent today of  $9/bu.  Below is the inflation adjusted chart of corn, going back to the mid-1950s:

    AlgeriaGraph

    A reversion to 1970s corn prices – or higher – would not be impossible.  Where will this leave Algeria, given that its consumer price index is heavily weighted to food at 43.1% (source: Office Nationale des Statistiques July 2012)?  Recall that spikes in the prices of sugar and cooking oil led to protests and riots in January 2011, prompting (as it turned out, premature) speculation that the Arab Awakening had taken hold in Algeria.  With inflation averaging around 9% in the first six months of 2012, a sudden rise in the cost of bread has the potential to spark more sustained political strife.

    The regime’s survival strategy in Algeria is its economic policy, and its economic policy is a gamble with awful odds.  Our leaders may not be capable of understanding the challenges by which Algeria is confronted, let alone of devising targeted solutions.  At the same time, the political system is closed to Algeria’s citizens, who cannot choose their leadership.  Combining these factors together, it should come as no surprise if plummeting government revenues and soaring food prices prompt wide scale unrest.

     

    Looking for dignity elsewhere: Tunisian youth fleeing the birthplace of the Arab spring

    By Meriem Dhaouadi

    The influx of Tunisian illegal immigrants to Lampedusa in Italy about 80 miles (120km) from Tunisia still increases a year and a half after the toppling of the Ben Ali regime. The death toll from one hazardous night venture recently has hardly discouraged around 100 people from embarking on the journey since then. In the early hours of Friday, several dozens of people went missing when a fishing boat loaded with illegal immigrants sank off the tiny island of Lampedusa. One of the immigrants lost his life.

    In 2011, around 50,000 North Africans and sub-Saharan Africans made it to South Italy. People smugglers have profited from the lucrative business especially at the peak of the turmoil and lack of security that accompanied revolutions in Tunisia and Libya.

    The Arab Spring seems to push people further away from their homelands. Tunisia is one of the relatively stable countries that made a smooth transition towards electing a new government, yet many people are disenchanted with the bitter reality: no jobs, no freedom, no dignity and a no nearer hope on the horizon.

    Frustration in Tunisia is growing especially among the youth who remain marginalized even though they were the ones who ignited change. The situation is even worse in the interior regions with a poor infrastructure and lack of basic services and facilities. Says Sofiane as he prepares to make his sixth attempt to date to leave Tunisian shores, “Being food for the fishes is much better than living a hellish life of poverty. They promised us more jobs, a bright future, and prosperity during the elections but now they have proved they are no better than the former regime of Ben Ali and his mafia».

    “I feel ashamed when I ask my mother for a hand-out. She gets into trouble with my father who blames her for helping me out. You know in our culture manhood is intricately related to making money. My father says all the time that I bring shame to the family. “He is not a man” - I have heard this phrase several times. I want to prove him wrong. I want to settle down in Italy, get a job and get back to Tunis every year with a car and a lot of presents for my family and my friends”, says Karim, a young man with a university degree who has been unemployed for almost four years.

    Europe plagued by high levels of unemployment and a hostile attitude towards illegal immigrants is still full of allure for many Tunisians driven by a dream of Europe as a paradise.  The lowly life that quite good number of Tunisians lead in Europe, where climbing the social ladder Is likely to be tougher than in the USA for instance, and backbreaking jobs are the norm for Africans, is even worse for the recently migrating job seeker.

    The government should take responsibility in fulfilling their promises of development and defend Tunisian human dignity which is one of the pillars of human rights. The Tunisian people have had enough of the dark ages under dictatorship and now will not tolerate being manipulated and belittled after they have changed the course of history. Dignity and equality are two fundamental stepping stones that should be guaranteed in Tunisia so Tunisians can restore their faith in their country.

    Plus ça change: Egypt

    By Refaat Mohamed

    A lot of people have been criticizing the newly elected president Mr. Mohamed Morsi and his administration even before they won the presidential elections,  even before his political party ( Freedom and Justice) won the majority in the parliament elections. The Freedom and Justice political party, closely affiliated with the Muslim Brotherhood, has been accused of many things, including profiteering off the Egyptian youth revolution, betraying the people of the Egyptian revolution, and having secret agreements with the former regime and the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (SCAF).

    These accusations might not be very fair towards the Muslim Brotherhood in general, as they have been the unofficial opposition to the regime for almost 80 years, but I can accuse them with a good conscience of lacking a huge amount of imagination – imagination which is quite essential for the change and reform that Egypt needs. Their definition of the revolution and its desirable outcomes are simply too far removed from the ideas everybody else holds dear.

    It is natural for people to have very different hopes and dreams of the revolution. For instance a Salafi would not share the same dreams as a socialist or a liberal, and there is nothing wrong with that. What would be wrong would be for me to exclude everyone else, and go on pursuing my own dreams, and aspirations, regardless of the hopes and demands of the other parties, which I have been observing closely from the moment that the Muslim Brotherhood, and the Salafi Party attained their majority in the parliament. It is all too obvious what they want when you look at their choices for who should be on the committee forming the constitution, for example.

    At the beginning of the revolution, I saw for the first time the prospect of a secular, peaceful, embracing, well-developed country in the making, which will have ripe fruits of development, civility, and prosperity in the next 20-30 years. This is no longer the case. The Muslim Brotherhood have their eyes on a different goal. In the beginning I thought they had their eyes on a target that lay somewhere between the Iranian and the Turkish model of a nation, strictly abiding to the teachings of Islam, but of such power that they no longer needed to compromise with the west or any other external forces. But time has kind of proved me wrong. The way they have reacted on several issues gives me the impression that what they are working to achieve, is a pre-revolution Egypt, except for Mubarak’s NDP, replaced with a new Islamic NDP.

    Take transparency for instance. We still don’t know what actually happened with the head of Sand the minister of defence, Mohamed Tantawi, and Sami Anan. Was it a soft coup, or was it an agreement for a safe exit? Is Morsi planning on punishing, or at least making them accountable for all the political shortcomings including massacres, that they did during the transitional period?

    Another thing that needs to be clear for the masses: we need to know the criteria for picking government officials, for we are seeing random people with random qualities being appointed to random positions and posts.

    We haven’t witnessed any change regarding the attitude towards the youth, whether if it is represented in the lack of empowerment and delegation, or the way youth groups like the football ultras, and the university student unions, are handled.

    There was a recent incident that showed that the Muslim Brotherhood have no intention on changing the way the government or the state views art. What happened was that there was a crackdown on the “elsawy cultural centre” which is one of the most popular culture centres, famous for its probity regarding performers and performances.  A lawyer appointed by the Muslim Brother hood filed a report against the culture centre, its performers and its audience, accusing them of worshipping Satin, an accusation which had happened once before -  in the Mubarak era in the late 90s.

    I was kind of relieved when I heard Khairat al-Shater, considered second in command in the Muslim Brotherhood , saying that there is no solid plan for their campaign; because I know for sure that the Egyptian people won’t tolerate much more chaos, or any more of the messed up ways that were our lot before the revolution, ways that to date, we are still witnessing now.

    Palestinian protesters: is it only an economic crisis?

    By Sameeha Elwan

    There was an air of cynicism around Abbas’ speech in the aftermath of the rising protests sweeping the streets of the West Bank, complaining about the rising cost of living, the Palestinian Authority (PA) inability to guarantee employees’ salaries, and the rising rate of unemployment. Abbas could not have been more contradictory.  “As long as those protests stay peaceful”, he declared, the PA would not suppress protesters either against the occupation or the PA. Last July, the PA security forces cracked down upon protesters who went out to register their strong objection both to the visit from Israeli former Prime Minister Mofaz, and the PA’s brutal suppression of peaceful protests. 

    Abbas, claiming that he understood the protests, started the video conference asserting his intention to go to the UN General Assembly on September 27 to pursue his UN statehood initiative. Abbas is still unable to admit the failure of the Palestinian Authority in securing not only political stability, but anything that might look like an economic security or growth in the past twenty years.  

    Still seeking UN membership, Abbas chooses to ignore the elephant in the room. The PA has not functioned as a state and cannot economically act as one. The protests going around the West Bank are bearing witness to this fact.  

    Serving as a subcontractor for the Israeli occupation, by policing people under the illusion of a state with an economy, the PA has been a major recipient of the international aid upon which most of its economy is dependent. Israel has meanwhile maintained its full occupation over the territories.

    Hence the stalemate. Much of the anger now rising in the streets is directed towards the persona of the PA Prime Minister, Salam Fayyad, calling on him to resign but not actually demanding that the PA is dissolved – an entity that as a whole has lost its legitimacy and its ability to fulfil any national aspirations a long time ago. There’s a sense that those protests are intentionally being directed to Fayyad to divert protesters’ attention and to render the problem entirely economic, blame it on Israel, or even on Hamas. 

    So, is Hamas actually doing better in avoiding similar protests that might start up as a result of the economic crisis? People in Gaza have started to respond to the miserable economic conditions and the stifling political paralysis mostly affecting those living under siege. People are setting fire to themselves, due to the miserable conditions caused by years of a failure to sustain any economic growth. The situation in the Gaza Strip is of almost no difference. The government in Gaza is no better at avoiding an economic crisis. Yet, the same protests are not taking place. Neither the resignation of Salam Fayyad nor the formation of a new government are what we need. We need an end to the years of being managed under conditions of Occupation.

    Turkey and Kurdish mirror images

    By Ali Gokpinar

    Last month I wrote that violence has become an everyday phenomenon. It has spread to major cities and ordinary civilians are between two fires.  My criticism of the AKP government’s ‘foreign powers’ discourse is still valid, but the outlawed Kurdistan Worker’s Party’s (PKK) increasing violent operations on civilians and military bases compels me to argue that there is no more to be said. The PKK has started to use violence indiscriminately, indelibly associating the Kurdish cause with blood. The PKK seems to have aimed at organizing a Kurdish uprising, inspired by the Syrian Kurds’ recent experience, in the Hakkari and Şırnak provinces of Turkey. But do the Kurdish people support such an uprising: that is the question?

    PKK insurgents killed more than 30 Turkish soldiers this week both in attacks against military bases and public buildings including the residence of the district governor of Beytüşşebap.  The purpose of the attacks was to defeat the Turkish security forces, and force them to leave the province to trigger an uprising. However, Kurdish people showed little sympathy towards such operations, not because they do not have grievances or loyalty to the Kurdish cause, but because they are smart enough to see how summary PKK authoritarianism is, not hesitating to use violent measures to establish rebel governance.

    First, the Kurdish people want to maintain their non-violent methods and achieve some of their goals through the new constitution that is being prepared. Second, many of the people and local businessmen who support the Kurdish cause, are forced by the PKK to pay taxes to the organization in addition to the taxes they pay to the state. They are asked to use unofficial  PKK courts to solve their judicial problems, and to close their shops as a form of civil disobedience after certain incidents. To prevent the disobedience of local people, punishment has been meted out in different forms including violence that is not much different from the Turkish state’s practices in the early 1990s. Therefore, for many, there is a new oppressor: the PKK. How can we hope for a peaceful resolution of the Kurdish question given all of these circumstances? Given the AKP government’s reluctance to promote democratization, how can we set about  reconstructing harmony between the social classes in Turkey, especially after the impact of the Syrian crisis that has made our divisions in Turkish society so clear?

    Turkey cannot stay indifferent to the developments in the region. But Turkey is neither Syria nor Iraq when it comes to controlling its territories, the strength of its security forces or its perspective on the Kurdish issue. Turkish Kurds live in Turkey, despite their close relationship with their Iraqi and Syrian fellows. The militarist, authoritarian and violent approaches of both sides can only cause devastation but not coexistence, leaving civilians between the two fires and ready to demolish each other.

    A new bearded face to the Egyptian police?

    By Dina El Sharnouby

    On Wednesday, September 5, the request some police officers lodged to be allowed to grow a beard, was rejected.  One of the main arguments for these police officers is that since President Mohamed Morsi of Egypt wears such a beard, they too should be allowed to follow the Islamic Sunna and Prophet Mohammed's way of living as closely as possible. This ambiguity around who in public office is allowed to show their religious orientations is not a priority at present in Egyptian public discourse. Of more concern for many is the "Islamacization" of Egypt, or what some like to call the fear of "Brotherhoodization". They fear the influence of Islamic groups over the rule of law and the public space in Egypt.

    This is a concern, and a reason for vigilance, but  what is more important is the role public policing is playing in Egypt nowadays.

    Even before the January 25 Revolution, the relationship between the police and the Egyptian population could have been described as rather violent, and based on mistrust. With the clashes between the police force and the protestors during the first couple of days of the uprising, this was greatly intensified; so much so that the police ‘feared’ resuming their posts after the fall of Mubarak, there were so many cases of civilians hitting police on the streets, spitting at them, and in some cases even killing them in acts of rage.

    After the revolution various campaigns were started to try and ‘rebuild’ trust between the population and the police. The main idea was to get the police force onto the streets to protect civilians. Yet over the years, minorities, protestors, and many poor people had to endure police harassment at so many different levels of verbal, physical, or emotional violence – it is the last thing in their minds for most people to consider calling the police when crimes take place, whether we are talking about stealing or sexual harassment. Changing this relationship will require much research, many policy suggestions, and much more open discussion in the public sphere.

    The first challenge is how the police are represented on the streets. They must appear altogether more humane. A ‘bearded’ police force defending the rule of law may easily have the opposite effect, frightening the population off. So the court has rejected the appeal, yet this is a debate to which we will have to return if we are to arrive at a better and more efficient system. 

    Stop the secrecy: Publish the NHS COVID data deals


    To: Matt Hancock, Secretary of State for Health and Social Care

    We’re calling on you to immediately release details of the secret NHS data deals struck with private companies, to deliver the NHS COVID-19 datastore.

    We, the public, deserve to know exactly how our personal information has been traded in this ‘unprecedented’ deal with US tech giants like Google, and firms linked to Donald Trump (Palantir) and Vote Leave (Faculty AI).

    The COVID-19 datastore will hold private, personal information about every single one of us who relies on the NHS. We don’t want our personal data falling into the wrong hands.

    And we don’t want private companies – many with poor reputations for protecting privacy – using it for their own commercial purposes, or to undermine the NHS.

    The datastore could be an important tool in tackling the pandemic. But for it to be a success, the public has to be able to trust it.

    Today, we urgently call on you to publish all the data-sharing agreements, data-impact assessments, and details of how the private companies stand to profit from their involvement.

    The NHS is a precious public institution. Any involvement from private companies should be open to public scrutiny and debate. We need more transparency during this pandemic – not less.


    By adding my name to this campaign, I authorise openDemocracy and Foxglove to keep me updated about their important work.

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