A s the euphoric predictions of a brave new Middle East give way to more tempered expectations, Turkey is increasingly seen as a possible model for the fledgling Arab governments to emulate.
According to a recent YouGov survey, 72 percent of Arabs identified Turkey as a “good model” with this figure higher (75 percent) among North African respondents and lower (65 percent) among Syrians and Lebanese.
The three main reasons for this choice were Turkey’s affinity with the Arab states in terms of culture, religion, and traditions (57 percent); Ankara’s perceived prestige “in the eyes of the world” (56 percent); and the influence of Islam in Turkish politics (49 percent).
Interestingly enough, the only Turkish experience that seems to be worthy of emulation is that of the ruling Justice and Development Party (Adalet ve Kalkınma Partisi, AKP), ignoring the “original” Turkish model—secular modernism—and the role it played in post-colonial Middle Eastern history. Yet it was precisely this secular-democratic system that eventually—albeit unintentionally—led to the emergence and triumph of the Islamist AKP, which built much of its legitimacy on the critique of the very system from which it emerged. By contrast, the similarly secularist Arab regimes were ruthless dictatorships that held their subjects in an iron grip until a number of them were swept from power by the recent uprisings. An exploration of the original Turkish model, its strengths and weaknesses, might thus help inform and guide the future.
Colonialism and the Appeal of Secular-modernization
The prevailing narrative of the “Great Arab Revolt” of World War I presents it as the culmination of deep-rooted resentment against four centuries of Ottoman control, ending once and for all any political unity between the Turks and the Arabs. What is less acknowledged, however, is that the Hashemite dependence on Britain, both during the war and throughout the attendant peace talks, can be retrospectively seen as a major mistake, creating a long-term dependency on the great powers and laying the foundations for the Middle East’s chronic legitimacy crisis and anti-Western bent.
The ambitious anticolonial independence movements launched after the war were thus suppressed or co-opted by the colonial tutelage system. Even more problematic perhaps is that, with the exception of Algeria (and non-Arab Israel), the Arab states gained their independence not through struggle but by the consent of their post-World War II colonial administrators. It was only after (and because of) the latter’s imperial decline that they offered independence, leaving behind illegitimate, hastily built governments that were expected to protect the interests of their colonizers without colonial troops.
The Turkish republican leadership’s obsession with independence and sovereignty, which rejected all forms of mandate, supervision, and foreign “assistance,” stood in stark contrast to the Hashemites’ acquiescence in joint state-building with the Allied powers as it was the Turkish war of independence (1919-23) that paved the road for modern Turkey to emerge as a fully sovereign and independent state from the ashes of the Ottoman Empire.
Turkish independence is almost intrinsically tied to what can be termed the Kemalist project, after Mustafa Kemal (Atatürk), the republic’s founding father, with its combination of republicanism, nationalism, and secular modernization. It was first copied by a non-Arab ruler—Reza Shah Pahlavi of Iran (r. 1925-41), who embarked on an ambitious reform program along Turkish lines, which later slowed down because of mounting resistance from the Shiite clergy and finally collapsed altogether after his removal from power by the Anglo-Soviet invasion of 1941. In the 1940s, Syrian Arab intellectuals Michel Aflaq, Salah al-Din al-Bitar, and Zaki al-Arsuzi pioneered the pan-Arab Baath party whose motto, “unity, liberty, socialism,” mirrored that of the late Ottoman-era Committee of Union and Progress (with the addition of socialism). And while Egyptian-based Nasserism and Syrian and Iraqi Baathism initially mirrored early Turkish secular nationalism with its emphases on unity, independence, corporatism, and foreign policy neutrality, these movements coincided with the early phases of the Cold War, prompting Arab leaders to abandon neutrality and embrace the Soviet bloc.
The anti-Israel agenda of Arab socialism soon echoed the familiar discourse of communism versus colonialism, but it was the Arabs’ obsession with Israel that ultimately led to their departure from one of the absolute fundamentals of the initial Turkish model: rejection of all patronage and tutelage relations with outside powers. Just as the Arabs had replaced Ottoman colonialism with British imperialism, they now replaced the latter with Soviet military guardianship for the sake of destroying Israel, which they viewed both as deeply illegitimate and an outgrowth of Western imperialism.
At the same time, the Arab secularists suffered from the same problem that dashed the Iranian attempt to emulate the Kemalist model: no decisive victory against foreign control. Reza Shah had no such success and his son, Mohammed Reza, was first crowned by the Anglo-Soviet invaders, then reinstated (in August 1953) in a coup orchestrated by the U.S. and U.K intelligence agenices, the CIA and MI5. And while Nasser’s position was boosted by Egypt’s resistance to the combined forces of Britain, France, and Israel in the Suez crisis of 1956, this relative success was a direct result of Washington’s intervention. By June 1967, Nasser’s prestige had all but disappeared as Egypt’s crushing defeat in the Six-Day War dealt a mortal blow to his pan-Arab pretensions and deepened his already heavy dependence on Moscow. Nasserism, thus, can be hardly considered a historically sustainable model of sovereignty and independence.
Perhaps most importantly, the 1967 Arab defeat was a milestone in the transformation of the projects of Arab unity and socialism. Nasserists and Baathists attempted to counter their loss of legitimacy following the war by redefining the role of their militaries as domestic tools of repression rather than defense organizations against foreign threats. The clearest manifestation of this process was the rise of the dreaded mukhabarat security-intelligence branch, which dealt with domestic dissent and challenges to state legitimacy as a direct result of the states’ inability to deal with the Israeli military or U.S. involvement in the Middle East. The era of Middle Eastern military dictatorships, effectively marking the Cold War and post-Cold War history of the Middle East, is in many ways the history of this militarization of Arab socialism. From a unity, liberty, and corporatism-based doctrine, it assumed a repressive-militarist character.
The “Original” Turkish Model: Limitations and Lessons
In contrast to the Arabic-speaking countries, Turkey went through its quasi-dictatorial Kemalist period much earlier (1925-47), overlapping with a similar pattern of post-imperial dictatorships in Europe. European, as well as Kemalist, authoritarian periods began with the collapse of empires at the end of World War I and ended after World War II. Turkey switched to a multiparty democracy in 1947, following which the founding Republican People’s Party (CHP) was democratically forced into opposition in the 1950 elections. Despite constant military tutelage over politics (a pattern that could be observed during the Cold War period in a number of Western countries, notably Spain and Portugal) and three military coups, Turkey’s relationship to democracy was much different from that of the Arab states, which lived under the sustained and permanent yoke of dictators and whose behavior mirrored that of their former colonial administrators. While it is sometimes argued that Kemalism is a dictatorial ideology in and of itself, placed in its proper context against the backdrop of contemporary European and Middle Eastern experiences, the system reveals its instrumental versus permanent nature. Notwithstanding brief similarities, Kemalism and Arab nationalism went in two separate ways, manifested in two very different modes of governance.
While publicly subscribing to his predecessor’s legacy, Atatürk’s foremost chieftain and successor, Ismet Inönü, was very much his own man. Struggling to surmount the uncertainty attending the death of Turkey’s founder, Inönü faced a legitimacy crisis domestically as well as the formidable military challenge of keeping Turkey out of World War II by deterring a massive Red Army in the Caucasus and a Nazi army in Thrace; this period is generally regarded as a dictatorial episode. This undemocratic interlude notwithstanding, it was Inönü who in 1947 inaugurated the multiparty era by enabling the establishment of opposition parties—a process culminating in the defeat of his own party in the 1950 elections. And while Inönü might have made this transition out of external necessity (joining the North Atlantic Treaty Organization [NATO] and the U.N.) rather than true conviction, his political behavior as leader of the opposition in 1950-72 indicates the extent to which he had internalized and believed in the principles of multiparty democracy—a behavioral pattern entirely absent in the perpetually authoritarian Muslim Middle East.
The original Turkish model has been criticized because of the four military coups (1960, 1970, 1980, 1997), alongside the generals’ influence on “high politics” though it was probably no more flawed, at least until 1980, than Franco’s Spain, Salazar’s Portugal, the Greek military junta period, or even the De Gaulle era in France. Actually, the foremost problem of post-Atatürk Kemalism was its inability to articulate a peacetime identity for itself and the country, requiring a constant narrative of domestic and foreign “foes” to be able to sustain its relevance in politics. At the same time, these limitations were challenged by a number of successful political parties such as Adnan Menderes’ Democrat Party or Turgut Özal’s Motherland Party. Perhaps the most ambitious attempt to define a peacetime ideology for Turkey was that of the AKP, which accomplished more than its predecessors in terms of trying to establish a more flexible, accommodating Turkish political identity—at least during the first years of its tenure.
Thus the “old” Turkish model—early secular-modernism—could and still does offer a model for the Arab states by producing governing classes that have upheld the sovereignty and independence of the Turkish state—within an imperfect democratic system, but one that is far more representative than the failed Arab authoritarianism. This is because the model always saw its authoritarianism as a temporary condition that prevailed only in crisis situations and returned willingly to full democracy once the crisis situation had been resolved.
It is important to note that the flagship party of Kemalism, the CHP, has remained in the opposition since the first multiparty elections of 1950 and never assumed a militarist character to take back power. While the prevalent Islamist critique would disagree with this statement, it must be remembered that Inönü’s CHP had a problematic relationship with the military and its coup attempts during the multiparty period and that the party was shut down following the 1980 coup. The Arab states, by contrast, have been marked by a constant inability to establish true sovereignty and independence. When finally attained, governments lacked legitimacy, which in turn created perpetual dictatorships and sustained militarization of the ruling elite.
The “Old” Turkish Model and the Arab Upheavals
These facts have potential implications for the future trajectory of the Arabic-speaking countries. Arab societies have, at long last, successfully launched revolts against their long reigning dictatorial and authoritarian regimes, banishing the ghosts of the Hashemite World War I revolt with its colonial and post-colonial consequences. Soon after the removal of their dictators, many of the Islamist movements that came to prominence, such as Egypt’s Muslim Brotherhood and Tunisia’s Ennahda movement, officially stated that they were looking at Turkey’s AKP as a role model or inspiration. Morocco’s post-revolutionary government party even named itself the Justice and Development Party.
While the AKP is seen by Arab revolutionaries as a successful Islamist party, party leaders have repeatedly denied this label insisting instead on their definition as “Muslim conservatives; not Islamists.” While leading AKP figures have criticized the shortcomings of Kemalism, they have also not shied away from passing judgment on the “extremes” of the Islamist Welfare Party tradition (1983-98) and its leader, Necmettin Erbakan. During his September 2011 visit to Egypt, Turkish prime minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan went so far as to call on Egyptians “not to be afraid of secularism,” drawing criticism from the Muslim Brotherhood there. It would seem then that notwithstanding its Islamist nature, much of the AKP’s appeal stems from its pragmatic adaptation to the political rules of the game.
Moreover, two of the most attractive aspects of the “AKP model” in Arab perception—Turkey’s apparent economic success and growing international prestige—owe much of their success to contributions of the secular elite. Turkey’s economic “miracle,” for example, is based upon the 2001-05 stabilization program whose foundations were laid by a secular high-level World Bank technocrat, Kemal Derviş (currently the U.N. Development Program administrator). Many Islamists play down the importance of Derviş’s economic model and argue that his one-year ministership (2001-02) cannot possibly define the AKP’s ten-year success, perhaps forgetting how John Maynard Keynes’ 1936 theory set the tone of global economy for the next forty years. Likewise, the AKP’s soft power activism rests upon a network of deterrence antecedents established by its predecessors in the late-1990s; and while the AKP’s “zero-problems” policy vis-à-vis neighbors such as Greece, Syria, Iran, and Iraq may be seen as a critique of Turkey’s deterrence policies of the 1990s, the policy, nonetheless, was only able to function as a result of the strategic-military achievements of these years.
Two foreign policy successes attributed to the AKP—improvement of relations with Greece and Syria—were in fact initiated during the tenure of another secular technocrat, Ismail Cem, diplomat and minister of foreign affairs in 1997-2002. Turkish-Greek rapprochement was a product of Cem’s hard work with his Greek counterpart, George Papandreou while Syria’s more cooperative attitude toward Turkey was a direct result of Ankara’s threat of invasion in November 1998 in response to Hafez Assad’s harboring Abdullah Öcalan, the leader of the Kurdish nationalist organization, the PKK (Kurdistan Workers’ Party—Partiya Karkerên Kurdistan).
Now that this policy has been totally discredited—with the honeymoon with Damascus (and its Iranian ally) souring over the Syrian civil war and relations with Greece in tatters following Ankara’s threats to Cyprus over the gas finds in the eastern Mediterranean—it seems that the AKP’s “zero problems” policy has been based on a flawed grasp of the strategic and political foundations inherited from their secular predecessors. Likewise, given the growing signs of an economic slowdown, if not imminent collapse, the AKP’s economic acumen seems less impressive.
Without properly contextualizing the AKP’s success, one can expect more existential frustrations for the nascent Arab governments. While the AKP has successfully transcended its original Islamist constituency to establish itself as a party of the masses, it is not a model that post-revolutionary governments can emulate precisely because it has not disavowed its Islamist precepts. In the apt words of academic Sebnem Gumuscu: “There is no ‘Turkish model’ of an Islamist democracy.”
The AKP model can primarily be replicated by countries that have already switched to a functioning and legitimate democratic system, its success being paradoxically rooted in a strong, independent, and legitimate secular-democratic system and its simultaneous critique of and outgrowth from it.
The new Arab rulers, on the other hand, have succeeded in eliminating regimes with contested legitimacy through revolution and pushed their countries into a state of uncertainty, soul searching, and identity crisis—all normal and temporary aspects of post-revolutionary societies. They do not, however, enjoy the AKP’s advantage of functioning as a democratically legitimate government within a fully independent and sovereign state system. Quite the opposite, these movements have gone “back to the future” and operate in a state of similar uncertainty as their predecessors faced during and after World War I. Perhaps they do not confront the same kind of spatial and geographic uncertainty, but in terms of regime type, institutions, and reorganization of capital relations, the Arab upheavals have created circumstances identical to the legitimacy and sovereignty questions raised by the “great Arab revolt,” none of which resemble the AKP experience.
At this critical juncture in their history, Arabs can perhaps learn from the original Turkish experience. Rather than the peacetime environment giving rise to the AKP, the Kemalist model of state legitimacy and identity-building in times of crisis and uncertainty suits the immediate needs of post-revolutionary Arab societies. Aptly recognizing the nature of external and domestic challenges confronting Turkey, Atatürk skillfully redefined the nature of Turkish nationhood and laid the foundations of early twentieth-century secular-modernization, something that could serve as a model for the Arabic-speaking countries.
It also bears noting that while Atatürk’s rejection of foreign involvement and his armed struggle against the Allies led to the emergence of modern Turkey as a pro-Western country, the Hashemite decision to outsource the cause of pan-Arabism to outside powers laid the foundations of modern anti-Westernism in the Middle East. This reality has important implications for Western policy toward the post-revolutionary Arab societies.
For one thing, history tells us that the concept of Western-friendly regimes is a mirage and that short-term independence from foreign control produces more sovereign and cooperative administrations over the longer term. For another, those Arab intellectuals emphasizing the indispensability of U.S. financial support for establishing the legitimacy of the post-revolutionary governments are effectively repeating the Hashemite historic blunder of outsourcing the cause of a revolutionary movement to the goodwill of foreign powers, something that is liable to exacerbate local dependence and anti-Western sentiments.
The Arab revolutions can only succeed if they produce unique and case-specific models rather than emulating other historical experiences, let alone outsourcing their state building to external factors. But if they, nevertheless, find the Turkish model so appealing as to merit a serious debate, it should begin with Kemalism—not the AKP.
H. Akın Ünver is a faculty fellow in the Department of International Relations, Kadir Has University, Istanbul, and the winner of the Middle East Studies Association’s 2010 Social Sciences Dissertation Award. This article was written during his Ertegün Lectureship at Princeton University’s Near Eastern Studies Department. The author wished to thank Andrew Arsan for his valuable suggestions on this article.
 “Should Arabs follow the Turkish political model?” YouGov Doha Debates, Feb. 9, 2012.
 Touraj Atabaki and Erik Jan Zurcher, Men of Order: Authoritarian Modernization under Ataturk and Reza Shah (London: I.B. Tauris, 2004), pp. 44-65.
 L. Carl Brown. Imperial Legacy: The Ottoman Imprint on the Balkans and the Middle East (New York: Columbia University Press, 1996), pp. 139-48.
 Avraham Sela, “Abd al-Nasser’s Regional Politics: A Reassessment,” in Elie Podeh and Onn Winckler, eds., Rethinking Nasserism: Revolution and Historical Memory in Modern Egypt (Gainesville: University of Florida Press, 2004), pp. 179-205.
 Milton Viorst, Sandcastles: The Arabs in Search of the Modern World (Syracuse: Syracuse University Press, 1995), pp. 141-9.
 Jason Brownlee. Authoritarianism in an Age of Democratization (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2007), pp. 18-21.
 Taha Parla and Andrew Davison, Corporatist Ideology in Kemalist Turkey: Progress or Order? (Syracuse: Syracuse University Press, 2004), pp. 143-209.
 John M. VanderLippe, The Politics of Turkish Democracy: Ismet Inonu and the Formation of the Multi-Party System, 1938-50 (Albany: State University of New York Press, 2005), pp. 21-6.
 Ergun Özbudun, Perspectives on Democracy in Turkey (Ankara: Turkish Political Science Association, 1988), pp. 11-8.
 Southeast European Times Türkiye (U.S. European Command), Nov. 22, 2011.
 BBC News Africa, Nov. 27, 2011.
 See, for example, State Minister Egemen Bagis’s statement, “İslamcı olmadığımızı kanıtlamak için illa haç mı çıkarmamız lazım?” Zaman Online (Istanbul), Jan. 12, 2008.
 See for example, State Minister Bülent Arınç’s statements, “Resmi Yenilikçiden Erbakan Eleştirisi,” NTV Online (Istanbul), July 8, 2011.
 The Wall Street Journal, Sept. 15, 2011.
 Erinc Yeldan and Umit Cizre, “The Turkish encounter with neo-liberalism: Economics and politics in the 2000/2001 crises,” Review of International Political Economy, Aug. 2005, pp. 387-408.
 Svante E. Cornell, “What Drives Turkish Foreign Policy?” Middle East Quarterly, Winter 2012, pp. 13-24; Damla Aras, “Turkish-Syrian Relations Go Downhill,” Middle East Quarterly, Spring 2012, pp. 41-50.
 David P. Goldman, “Ankara’s ‘Economic Miracle’ Collapses,” Middle East Quarterly, Winter 2012, pp. 25-30.
 Sebnem Gumuscu, “Egypt Can’t Replicate the Turkish Model: But It Can Learn from It,” Sada, Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, Jan. 12, 2012.
 See, for example, Sabina Dewan “Helping Complete the Arab Spring,” Center for American Progress, Washington, D.C., Jan. 3, 2012.
War of rumors and Al Jazeera
Authors: Mohamed Maher and Irina Tsukerman
The media plays an important role in educating the public, revealing facts and monitoring the various authorities in normal peace times, but it also plays a dangerous role in times of crises, wars, and epidemics, as it is incumbent on them to educate the public about the upcoming danger and how to prevent it.
It is assumed that the media’s loyalty to the truth, and the truth only, as it is supposed to have a moral and humanitarian responsibility towards peoples and societies in the first place.
However, Al Jazeera, the Qatari channel linked to the Doha government chose for it another path, and despite the depth of the current global crisis towards confronting the Coronavirus, this did not deter the Qatari channel from continuing its process of fabricating news and publishing false news for purely political purposes, to provoke the few and crises.
And just over the past few days, Al-Jazeera has published widely, an inaccurate and weak Canadian study indicating that the numbers of the cases in Egypt include 19,000, which is a very exaggerated number if we consider that the official figures at that time, when the study was published, did not was no more than 200, which prompted the Egyptian government to refute such allegations, also withdrew the accreditation of the British Guardian reporter, and issued a warning to the New York Times correspondent in Cairo, which made him latter apologize for his previous tweets on Twitter about the numbers of the cases in Egypt.
The British daily reported that its correspondent, Ruth Michaelson, left Egypt last week after Western diplomats informed her that Egyptian security services wanted her to leave “immediately”, the daily said.
Michaelson reported on unpublished research by Canadian infectious disease specialists estimating an outbreak size of more than 19,000 cases in Egypt. The scientists used data from early March when Egypt officially had only three confirmed cases, according to Michaelson’s report published on March 15.
The following day, Michaelson, along with a New York Times reporter who tweeted her story, was summoned by Egyptian officials and told they were accused of misreporting and spreading panic, The Guardian said.
A day later, Egypt’s State Information Services, the government-body overseeing foreign correspondents, SIS demanded an apology from the Guardian for publishing the report that cited a Canadian medical doctor’s study claiming that infected people in the country may amount to more than 19,000. The official number stands at 196, with six deaths and 26 recovered cases at the time of writing. revoked Michaelson’s press credentials and released a statement accusing her of citing a “misleading” study based on “false conclusions” and “speculation”.
Several days later, the French ambassador in Cairo publish a video message to the French community in Egypt, inviting them to sit in their homes in Egypt until the end of the crisis, but Al-Jazeera and a several of other channels close to the terrorist Muslim Brotherhood received the message to turn it into a warning to the French people in Egypt, before you difficult days, even though the ambassador spoke in general, which made the French embassy in Cairo issued an official statement indicating that the translation from French to Arabic was not accurate for some channels, and some of them distorted the ambassador’s statements in a manner inconsistent with the intended goal of the message in reference to translation.
The history of Al Jazeera
Al Jazeera’s role as instigator, obfuscator, and distorter of news long precedes the instant COVID19 pandemic crisis.
The recent four hour coverage dedicated to the largely debunked claims by Amazon’s Jeff Bezos regarding his phone. allegedly hacked by the Saudi Crown Prince from his personal Whatsapp account, is just one example of Al Jazeera seizing any manufactured scandal, and amplifying even issues of narrow interests until they appear larger than life. This episode, however, is only a minor illustration of the way Al Jazeera either fuels or takes advantage of existing social or political crises. Manufacturing an appearance of crisis when the issues is relatively minor is also part of the media conglomerate arsenal. Not so long ago, Al Jazeera and affiliate channels, and various European and Arabic-language outlets funded by Al Jazeera or Qatar have pushed the story of immense anti-government demonstrations allegedly taking place in Egypt. These stations have gone as far as to interview alleged participants and witnesses to these supposedly mass gatherings. Meanwhile, 24-hour cameras that were set up to transmit the developments in the hotspots in questions showed empty streets, occasionally interrupted by small crowds. Eventually, Al Jazeera’s narrative made it out into major Western networks and newspapers.
The Independent covered these protests as almost revolutionary in nature. Ultimately, Reuters revealed, that in reality, the gatherings were rather small, and no military force was used. The Sissi government was not particularly flummoxed either by the protests, or by the concerted attempt to make them appear like the second coming of the Arab Spring. This attempt to manufacture an appearance of crisis served two purposes: the first was to inspire a more massive revolt among those who found Al Jazeera more credible and “free” than Egyptian media or who simply did not like President Sissi.
The second was to send a propaganda message to the West, in the hopes that the mainstream press will rely on Western-style networks, often without verifying through independent coverage or through associations with local reporters. The idea is that American or British journalists will consider local Egyptian press “biased” in favor of the government and automatically disregard those perspectives. Indeed, Al Jazeera partially succeeded having captured headlines in a number of Western national publications that played into the narrative of mass opposition to the Sissi government..
Neither of these modes of action have much to do with journalism, in the conventional understanding of the term. Instead, Al Jazeera strives to be the newsmaker and the narrative make at the same time, rather than merely breaking or analyzing the news based on best available evidence. Al Jazeera has a long history of jumping on board with various uprisings and revolutionary movements and picking and choosing “winners” that receive disproportionate coverage, and thus, an inherent advantage of free media publicity. The 2019 Cairo protests followed Al Jazeera’s much more successful involvement in the Arab Spring in Egypt and other countries, where Al Jazeera’s coverage buoyed Morsi to victory even as the channel essentially ignored more secular-minded candidates and their supporters.
Similarly, in Sudan, Al Jazeera gave space to young protesters to air grievances while shaping a version of the events which placed blame on the anti-protester violence on Saudi Arabia, UAE, and Egypti. The conglomerate’s presence in Libya has played a very similar role, and has likewise played up the violent anti-government riots popping up in Malawi following the disputed elections in 2019. The coverage of all these conflicts and crises is narrative driven, and often inaccurate, if not outright fabricated. The same trend can be observed in the coverage of the Khashoggi affair, where Al Jazeera aired the most preposterous claims without ever fully retracting any of them.
Far from being an objective observer of the investigation, Al Jazeera frequently allowed deeply personal and sensationalist attacks on Mohammed bin Salman, who was at the very start portrayed to be a cartoonish villain. And long before Khasoggi was ever on the radar of most of the Western public, Al Jazeera was on the ground in Afghanistan, apparently facilitatingTaliban and giving a welcoming space to Al Qaeda on air as well as via logistical support. Rather than merely covering the conflict, the media conglomerate was at the center of it and taking active part in calling shots through coordinating with the preferred parties. Likewise, in the United States and the United Kingdom, Al Jazeera worked to help shape public perception of Jewish organization and acceptance of old school anti-Semitic conspiracy theories through spy operations that were later turned into documentary narratives and leaked to left wing outlets.
What do all of these incidents of political meddling, dispensation with journalistic objectivity, and outright fabrications have in common? Al Jazeera was engaged in these narrrative-building exercises as a media and psychological warfare outfit for Qatar’s foreign policy. While many analysts have referred to Al Jazeera as a “mouthpiece” for Qatari agenda, that is not quite the right term, as in addition to airing preferred Qatar regime perspective, Al Jazeera specifically has been used to influence foreign policy as a lobbyist, propagandist, and employer of active measures. Despite Congressional push to designate the media conglomerate under Foreign Agents Registration Act (FARA), Al Jazeera has been able to avoid scrutiny both throughlegal charades and by touting a strong relationship with the White House, with Jared Kushner making occasional appearances on the channel and welcoming it as a partner and an “important actor in the region” to the White House. The converse to this observation is Al Jazeera’s relative silence or positive coverage with regards to Qatar’s allies, such as various militias funded by the government in Libya and Syria, or for that matter, internal Qatari matters, such as the disputes within the al-Thani family or human rights abuses. To figure out how and why Al Jazeera chooses to focus on certain matters, one should only look for Qatar’s interests in the issue. Antagonizing the members of the Anti Terrorism Quartet (KSA, UAE, Egypt, and Bahrain) is always on the agenda. Wreaking havoc and undermining criticism of Qatar’s geopolitical agenda in Western countries is another. For that reason, it should come as no surprise, that despite Qatar’s attempts to cover up the rapid spread of the pandemic inside its own borders, rather than criticizing the policy shortcomings, such as open ended travel to Iran and Oman, Al Jazeera focused on searching for and creating problems externally, in part to divert attention from the problems in Qatar, and in part because any crisis can be exploited to sow the seeds of Qatar’s longer-term interests in exerting influence, preferably at the expense of others.
The views expressed within Modern Diplomacy are solely those of the authors in their private capacity and do not in any way represent or reflect the views of the Modern Diplomacy, its Advisory and Editorial Boards, Sponsors, Partners, or Affiliates.
Turkey in Idlib
What is the real strategic sense of Turkey’s very recent military operation in the Idlib region of North-Western Syria?
We will analyse here, above all, the main strategic effects and the consequences within the entire Middle East region, as well as the counterpressures within the global geopolitical framework.
The word Idlib comes from the Aramaic “Adad” (God) and “Lib” (centre).
A very important geographical and military factor is that, to the West, Idlib is very close to Latakia, where the Russian base of Khmeimimim is located, with more than 1,000 stable operatives, who are now part of the Russian defence apparatus, together with those of the Tartus naval base, where – at the air base near Latakia – also an important unit of the Sixth Directorate of the Russian Military Secret Service (GRU) operates.
As early as 2015, i.e. the outbreak of war in Syria, Idlib has been, at first, the centre of protests against Bashar al Assad by the Syrian Muslim Brotherhood and other Sunni groups. Later Idlib was taken as a safe base by the various jihadist groups, including the remaining elements of the “Islamic State” of Raqqa that have now largely fled to the North-Western Syrian city, in close contact with the Turkish territories.
Not to mention the over 100,000 ones, previously held by the Kurds, who are relatives, collaborators and mere militants of the so-called “Caliphate” that Turkey has no interest in keeping detained and is slowly releasing.
Currently Idlib is not controlled by any majority jihadist group, but by an often vague balance among the many groups of the “holy war”, i.e. the Middle East and the other proxy wars, usually mediated by the Turkish Intelligence Services.
Besides autonomous groups of jihadists coming from the Chinese Turkestan-Xinjiang, often weakened with lightning operations by the operatives of the Chinese Armed Forces, in the region. There are also Hayat Tahrir al-Sham, the Al Qa’eda faction that has been operating for many years in Syria and partly in Iraq, and the National Liberation Front, founded in May 2018 and openly supported by Turkey.
It currently includes as many as 11 jihadist factions, but also nationalistic and mainly anti-Assad groups.
These groups often emerge from the Syrian Sunni majority, largely present in the North of the country.
In agreement with Russia, however, as early as 2019 the Syrian government led by Assad has stated that “Syria’s first goal is to free Idlib”.
A very harsh signal for Turkey which, just in that phase, was beginning to have as many as 1,300 soldiers around Idlib to monitor the ceasefire.
In that case, Turkey’s primary goal was to avoid adding a further and probably incalculable mass of other migrants to the 3 million Syrians already present in the Turkish territory on the border with Syria – with EU money – but assigned by Germany alone to Turkey.
That situation made the U.N. Special Envoy for Syria, Staffan de Mistura, do his utmost to prevent a new offensive against Idlib from the South and from the East.
Hence, Staffan de Mistura’s proposals were the usual talks to avoid military pressure and, above all, create a humanitarian corridor, mainly with a view to avoiding the rush of crowds of Syrian migrants to Idlib and, from there, to the “Balkan route”.
European countries are full of migrants but, when thinking about geopolitics, they focus only on humanitarian aspects and, precisely, on how to avoid the arrival of other migrants.
Cannot we call it a failure?
In October 2018, in Sochi, the contacts between Putin and Erdogan led to an agreement.
A “de-escalation zone” was created in Syria – just to use the terminology of the Astana talks, the real ones, not the semi-deserted talks in Geneva – and it was in that area that Turkey took up the role of maintaining public order.
Shortly after the Sochi agreement, in an interview on the Russian TV, Bashar al Assad stated: “The Syrian military confrontation with Turkey is illogical”.
The document signed in Sochi between the two leaders stated that: a) there was a commitment of both countries for Syria’s territorial integrity; b) there was a common commitment to the fight against “all terrorists”, as well as the beginning of a ceasefire regime in Idlib as from March 6, and the establishment of a ‘security corridor’ along the Syrian M-4 motorway, six kilometres to the right and six kilometres to the left of the road axis; c) finally, there was the introduction of joint Turkish-Russian patrols, again along the M-4 motorway, in Idlib, in the direction controlling the Latakia-Aleppo axis.
Regardless of what happens to the Sochi agreement, the clash between Turkey and Russia is therefore very unlikely.
Neither Turkey nor, even less, Russia want to open a Syrian front where they would inevitably enter de facto marginalized from Syria.
A new war for hegemony in North-Western Syria between Russia and Turkey would be a very hard blow for both economies, which are now increasingly interconnected. By clashing with Turkey, the Russian Federation could lose an easy access to the Dardanelles and its own Syrian bases, as well as to the Bosphorus.
Moreover, Russia does not want to upset a NATO country like Turkey, which is now a maverick in the Atlantic region. An incalculable advantage position for Russia.
On its part, however, Turkey cannot do without specific support also from the United States, especially if obtained outside the North Atlantic Treaty region.
This means Turkey’s future concessions to the United States in the Eastern Mediterranean region and Turkey’s involuntary delicate hand against the PKK and other Turkish organizations (all offspring of the PKK, however) that are still essential on the ground for the United States (and Israel).
Currently, however, many executives of CIA, the Pentagon and the vast U.S. intelligence community do not even hide the desire to put an end to Erdogan’s regime.
Certainly the new Turkish Sultan is “scarcely democratic”, but if the United States were to test the approach of all its Middle East traditional allies in this regard, obviously the only democratic country would be Israel.
It will not be easy for the United States to define its future regional alliances, but the situation of relations between Turkey and the United States is today increasingly ambiguous and, in any case, very tense.
Only the most brilliant people within CIA are worried about not exasperating tempers, so as to avoid Turkey agreeing definitively with Russia irremediably against the United States.
The idea of some North American intelligence executives is also to push Turkey into reckless military adventures in Syria and, possibly, also in Libya – a distant area, but very much correlated with Syria – to eventually create a Turkish Vietnam and then leave Erdogan’s regime in the hands of the increasingly angry and impoverished Turkish crowds. A hope more than a strategic idea.
A vast program- as De Gaulle would have said – but anything is possible, even the U.S. planners’ dreams, if you are in the Middle East.
At this juncture, there is a key question. Can Assad alone control the stability of his Syria, after a victory which means, above all, the persistence of Russian protection over the old Ba’ath regime and also the inevitable support of the covert or non-covert military structures of Iran, which wants, above all, to create a stable terrestrial continuity towards the Lebanon and border with Israel, with its military and signal intelligence (SIGINT) stations?
Currently – after having changed and made the strategic framework much more insecure, with an ineffective stability of the U.S. positions in Syria and Turkey’s definition of the agreement with Russia, as well as the strong permanence of the ever stabler Assad’s regime, in the rest of Syria – the Turkish forces have approximately 20,000 soldiers in the Idlib area.
The deployment of Erdogan’s forces in Idlib includes his five special forces, which depend only on the Chief of Staff and not on the classic territorial chain of command of the Turkish Armed Forces. It also includes some armoured units, light infantry units, i.e. real commandos, and the 5th Brigade, specialized in paramilitary operations and mountain warfare.
Hence nothing to do with a Military Police that deals with an agreement on the M-4 motorway line.
The dozens of thousands Syrian or para-Syrian migrants, who want to push towards Europe, in the direction of Greece and then the “Balkan route”, are always supported by the Turkish Armed Forces themselves, who do not want civilians standing in the way between them, Assad’ Syria, Russia and the other players in the Syrian war, especially Iran.
Clearly Turkey does not want even the United States. If anything, Erdogan wants the financial support of the E.U., which, as usual, is terrorized of the obvious result of a war it has recklessly supported.
Hence, currently, the feeble agreement that Turkey and Russia reached in Sochi – which, indeed, served their most basic strategic interests – no longer holds, except for the wise malice of both statesmen.
It has even been said that recently Russia has sought the support of the Emirates and of Saudi Arabia (currently it is more difficult, after the fall of OPEC+) so as to break the stalemate with Turkey, while it is known that none of the powerful countries of Jazeera, namely the Arabian Peninsula, likes the Turkish strategic behaviour.
Syria, Saudi Arabia and the Emirates have begun to support, with money and weapons – the weapons that the new E.U. IRINI mission naively seeks at sea – the Libyan “rebels” of Cyrenaica, against the pro-Turk Tripolitanians, supported by the naivest part of the international community and, above all, by the Muslim Brotherhood that, instead, is not naive at all.
Obviously, however, Syria’s final victory at Idlib would never be accepted by Turkey, which would probably react with a limited but very harsh counteroffensive, capable of turning the Idlib area not into a Turkish enclave, to be used as a bargaining chip with Syria, but into a real Turkish area.
Furthermore, the Syrian economic crisis has not permitted an acceptable reconstruction in the areas of the Idlib region brought back to the Syrian regime or to Russia. This has also led to further revolts and provided induced support to the old jihadist networks that are fierce and still rich in liquidity.
It is also possible that the great push of Syrian and para-Syrian migrants – of various ethnic origin and political nature – is not viewed too negatively by Russia, which could thus favour those ethnicist and right-wing forces which now permanently support Russian strategic goals in the now brain-dead Europe.
Hence what should we do? Should we support the Idlib Strip as an area of permanence and support – with E.U. money – of the over three million additional migrants – something that is now physically impossible?
Where could the E.U. money be found, in the midst of a COVID-19 financial emergency?
Meanwhile, until the Idlib issue is solved, Assad’ Syrian regime is not stable and hence not capable of facing the great business of the country’s reconstruction, without the others’ strategic “teeth”.
Certainly – for what foreign policy agreements are worth – the Adana Agreement of 1998 still applies between Syria and Turkey. It dealt with the Province of Hatay, as well as the issue of water, essential for both countries, not to mention the Syrian recognition of the PKK as a “terrorist organization” and, therefore, the subsequent and immediate expulsion of the PKK leaders, especially Abdullah Ŏcalan, from Syria.
This is something we Italians remember fairly well. Therefore, between 2004 and 2010, the relations between Turkey and Syria were excellent.
The two countries also signed the beginning of a High Level Strategic Cooperation Council in September 2009, with an immediately subsequent free trade agreement between them.
That agreement was immediately extended to the Lebanon and Jordan, besides the two first signatories – hence the old Levant Quartet. When the war, which had begun as the Syrian “Arab Spring”, became radicalized, and both global and regional elements entered Syria, Turkey changed its observation point, mainly with reference to the strong presence of Iranian and, in any case, Shi’ite forces organized by Iran.
This was also connected to the proven substantial U.S. lack of interest in Syria, and above all its sole support for the various Kurdish political-military organizations – which, indeed, has never been the only one for the Kurds.
Since the beginning of tensions in Syria in 2014 – especially thanks to the local organizations of the Muslim Brotherhood, often connected at the time to the U.S. networks, as in Egypt – Turkey had clear and very simple goals in mind: the management of the inevitable humanitarian crisis, in which it was directly and inevitably interested; the fall of Assad’s regime; a proxy war against Iran; the elimination of Daesh, competing with the Turkey-manipulated jihadist organizations on the ground, and the final marginalization of the entire Kurdish area.
Currently there are approximately 4 million Syrian refugees in Turkey. Therefore, Turkey’s goals are currently to stop further migrant flows, as well as to support those already there, and finally keep its very safe borders with Syria in view of avoiding further migrant flows.
At that juncture, once the clash in Syria had started, Turkey saw both the Kurds and Daesh arrive at its borders.
Later, in 2011, when the “Arab spring” broke out in Syria, Turkey explicitly advised Assad to start a radical reform of the Ba’athist regime in view of maintaining internal stability.
Certainly, today, with the penetration of Russian and Iranian security apparata into Assad’s regime, the fall of Ba’ath and the Assad dynasty – a desire never hidden by Turkey – is much more difficult to achieve. Furthermore, Russia has an economic and oil agreement with Turkey that is worth the entire survival of the Turkish AKP regime.
One of Turkey’s primary plan to topple Assad, and hence free Syria from Russia and Iran and turn it into a dépendance of Turkish geopolitics, was to try to unite all the forces opposing Assad into a single “front”.
The Turkish support also applied to the Astana talks, where Turkey supported the opposition against Assad, including jihadists, and, above all, sought peace in Syria with a view to sending its 4 million migrants back to their Syrian homes and in the rest of the world.
From this viewpoint, we can better understand the Turkish operations Euphrates Shield in 2016 and Olive Branch in 2018, both designed to avoid the Daesh penetration into Turkey and the Kurds’ arrival in Ayn-el-Arab and Afrin.
As already seen, however, the real punctum dolens of Turkey’s regional geopolitics is the possible “Shiazation” of Syria, while Turkey would like to have the entire Syria or, at least, its Sunni-majority parts, hegemonized by Turkish interests.
The Turkish Forces’ and Intelligence Services’ penetration into Idlib has also this meaning: at first, we take our area of influence, then we will decide to negotiate with Bashar al Assad, but from a position of strength.
It should be recalled that the first aspect of the 1979 revolution in Iran was the expansion of Islamic radicalism, which immediately spread to both Sunni and Shi’ite countries.
The second strategy, which is currently still pursued by Iran, was instead pan-Shi’ism.
After the predictably unfortunate “Arab Springs” that the United States invented to defuse the sword jihad by reactivating the militancy, including the religious one, with a bottom-up and rank-and-file approach, with the results we could well imagine even before, Iran no longer uses pan-Islamism, but only pan-Shi’ism.
Since 1980, however, Turkey has carved out its geo-informative role of defender of the West against pan-Islamism and, above all, against the great Shi’ite insurgency organized by Iran, which has also strengthened the never well clarified relations between the AKP, Erdogan’s party, and the Muslim Brotherhood which, at the beginning of the “Arab Springs”, was also the primary instrument of the U.S. operations in the framework of the great change regime planned by Langley in the Arab-Islamic world.
Certainly Iran has its very strong Shi’ite identity, which mobilizes and strongly motivates all its proxies, in Syria as in the rest of the world. Also Turkey, however – especially after Operation Olive Branch, has created its myth: a “democratic and pluralistic” Syria, i.e. without the Assad dynasty in power, but still maintaining the political and territorial unity of the Syrian Republic.
In other words, Turkey still envisages the silent division into zones of influence, possibly favouring Russia, which maintains the TurkStream project, the bilateral gas pipeline leaving from Anapa, in the Russian region of Krasnodar, crossing the Black Sea and arriving at the Turkish station of Kiyikoi.
A clearly strategic pipeline since it strengthens Russian-Turkish ties and hence favours Turkey’s substantial moving away from NATO. It also avoids Russia’s transit through the dangerous and unstable Ukraine, which will hence become more a problem for the West, which has opposed Russian operations in the region, than for Russia.
Let us, however, analyse the current Turkish military operations in Syria. The Turkish military action began on October 9, 2019, with attacks on the Kurdish area of Tall Abyad and Sere Kaniye, which were carried out also thanks to the help of some jihadist groups connected with the MIT, the Turkish secret service.
Still today, it is an area of Turkish hegemony, obtained in a territory previously controlled by the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), led by the Kurdish initiative and involving Christian (Assyrian) and Arab (Sunni) troops.
Well before the SDF, however, much of the territory occupied by Turkey was previously held by the so-called Caliphate of Raqqa.
Another Turkish goal was to militarily separate the Syrian Kurds – who are often mostly on the Syrian-Turkish North-Western border – from their fellow countrymen in Iraq and, all the more so, in Turkey.
In addition, Erdogan’s Turkey plans to relocate at least 2-3 million Syrian refugees or refugees coming from Syria (who are the largest share) already present in Turkey.
A solution that has already caused two problems. All migrants come from North-Western Syria and, hence, they are not homogeneous with the Turkish stability projects in the region. There is also the danger of giving room and bases for action to Turkey’s traditional enemies: the Syrian Democratic Forces; some remnants of the “Caliphate”, that, especially in its last phases, had close relations with the Turkish Intelligence Services; some Kurdish areas well armed from their supply lines, which go mainly from South-Eastern Syria to the whole Northern border.
Just think that, in 2013, there were also confidential talks between the Chief of MIT and the Turkish Foreign Ministry and the leaders of all the Kurdish forces, in view of reaching a stable agreement. Those negotiations, however, were harshly disrupted by Turkey.
In the meantime, the E.U. is obtusely undertaking to paying Turkey to stop migrants at the beginning of the “Balkan route”, which is, however, largely used both by Syrian migrants and by the majority migrant flows passing through Syria.
Indeed, the E.U. support for all the U.S. and Franco-British democratist follies, aimed at bringing free elections and secular democratic systems throughout the Middle East, has been a unique case of strategic masochism, i.e. paying the same Turks who destabilize North-Western Syria and then asking Europe to pay the bill for what they have done precisely to the designated victims, namely the powerless Europeans.
Resisting Lockdowns: Bringing Ultra-conservatives into the fold
The Coronavirus pandemic points a finger not only at the colossal global collapse of responsible public health policy but also the importance of balancing exclusionary religious practices and social cohesion.
While government negligence allowed an Evangelist prayer meeting to drive the spread of the virus in France, lagging social cohesion coupled with politicians’ politicking put ultra-conservative communities in Israel and Pakistan in the disease’s driver’s seat.
The resistance to public health policies of ultra-conservatives, who pay the price with high infection rates, takes debate about social cohesion beyond European efforts over the past two decades to restrict ultra-conservative Muslim and, to a lesser degree, Jewish practices in a bid to prevent the fringes of society turning into breeding grounds for militancy and political violence.
Various European governments have sought to impose social cohesion by banning women’s face covers, forcing people to shake the hand of someone of a different gender, restricting foreign funding for religious institutions and calls for outlawing Muslim and Jewish rituals for the slaughter of animals.
Post-Kemalist Turkey under the leadership of President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, the only democracy to move in the opposite direction, was the exception that confirmed the rule.
While European nations banned hijabs and niqabs, Mr. Erdogan, as part of his effort to Islamicize society, lifted the ban in universities and government offices, demolishing a pillar of French laicist-inspired Kemalism.
The issues of social cohesion and political violence took centre stage in February in a Dutch parliamentary inquiry that investigated “unwanted influence of unfree countries.”
The parliamentary group grilled a controversial Salafi imam with questions that implied that the cleric was undermining social cohesion and enabling militancy with advice to his community to avoid intermingling with non-Muslim Dutchmen and to look the other way when walking past a church.
Critics charged that the inquiry by focussing exclusively on ultra-conservative Muslims and Turkish nationalist moves to control Dutch Turkish mosques was putting the Muslim community, that accounts for five percent of the Dutch population, on the defensive.
Israeli efforts to combat the coronavirus have highlighted similar social cohesion issues with ultra-orthodox Jewish communities in Jerusalem and Bnei Brak, a city near Tel Aviv, that are among the Jewish state’s foremost virus clusters. Authorities put Bnei Brak this week in lockdown.
Initial government reluctance to enforce the closure of schools and synagogues as well as social distancing among the ultra-orthodox, who account for 12 percent of Israel’s population of 8.6 million, was seemingly motivated by Prime Minister Benyamin Netanyahu’s fear that he would alienate religious parties that support his effort to form a new post-election government.
Mr. Netanyahu has recently been twice in quarantine, once after having been in face-to-face contact with his ultra-orthodox advisor, Rivka Paluch, who tested positive, and a second time after his health minister, Yaakov Litzman, a prominent member of the ultra-orthodox community, contracted the disease.
It took the disease to persuade Mr. Litzman that harsher measures were needed.
Mr. Litzman, discussing the virus. insisted last month that “we are praying and hoping that Messiah will come by Passover, it’s the time of redemption. I am sure that the Messiah will come just like he took us out of Egypt.”
Mr. Litzman and Ms. Paluch’s initial resistance to tough public health measures suggests that ultra-orthodox assertions that lack of information explained ultra-orthodox resistance was not the only reason for the failure of to comply with government policy.
To be sure, ultra-orthodox Jews frequently live in a world of their own that centres on prayer and religious learning. Many do not have television, access to the internet or listen to mainstream radio broadcasts. They rely on community news sheets.
Add to that the fact that proposed public health measures disrupt ultra-orthodox life.
Like Muslims, ultra-orthodox Jews congregate several times a day for prayers. Unlike Muslims, Jews require for certain prayers a quorum of at least ten adult men. The government’s closure of rituals baths, moreover, means that couples are banned from intimacy or sleeping in one bed.
Furthermore, ultra-orthodox interactions with more secular Jewish society are few and far between. Members of the community often speak Yiddish, rather than Hebrew, a language that in their view is reserved for prayer in the absence of the arrival of the Messiah.
Like recent ultra-orthodox funerals, recent mass gatherings in Pakistan, Malaysia and India of Tablighi Jamaat, a transnational ultra-conservative Muslim movement, have turned into hubs from which the coronavirus has spread.
Former Israeli justice and religious affairs minister Yossi Beilin could have been speaking about the Tablighi when he summed up the ultra-orthodox Jewish view as ‘keep praying together. Whatever you try doing will not change anything, because the disaster is a God-given phenomenon, and only begging God may change things for the better.’’’
An Evangelist pastor in Florida, Reverend Rodney Howard-Browne, who was arrested for organizing Sunday church services in defiance of emergency orders, echoed Mr. Beilin’s rendition of attitudes among some ultra-conservatives.
“We are demonized because we believe that God heals, that the Lord sets people free, and they make us out to be some kook,” Mr. Howard-Browne said.
With governments across the globe having failed to prepare for or counter the coronavirus from day one, Israel and Pakistan are in good company So is France, where a week-long Evangelist gathering in the city of Mulhouse kickstarted the virus’ spread in the country.
Members of the congregation said they knew nothing about the virus’ threat. Indeed, the French government had at that point failed to issue proper warnings and take the kind of measures that potentially could have blunted the virus’ devastating impact.
The upshot of Israel’s travails, the Dutch inquiry that at times resembled an inquisition, Pakistani hesitancy to impose public health measures on an influential religious group, and French negligence constitute in essence government failures on two counts: The failure to read the writing on the wall with regard to the virus and the failure to work with ultra-conservatives to bring them into the fold.
Talking about the ultra-orthodox, Gilad Malach of the Israel Democracy Institute appeared to put the onus on ultra-conservatives. “The main question towards the future is whether within the community there will be voices…that will say: ‘We want to protect our community, but we also belong to the state,’” Mr. Malach said.
If the emergence of ultra-conservative communities as virus clusters says anything, it is that waiting for ultra-conservatives to raise their voice isn’t good enough. The coronavirus demonstrates the price of not reaching out to ultra-conservative communities and establishing two-way channels of communication.
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