Connect with us

Middle East

The new great Middle East game between Russia and Turkey

Published

on

With the very recent meeting held in St. Petersburg on August 8 last between Vladimir Putin and Recep Tayyip Erdogan – the only high-level meeting after the attempted coup in Turkey and the attempted murder of the Turkish leader, a coup which Russia first reported to Turkey and then strongly condemned – a new phase of post-Soviet geopolitics has begun.

A new phase has begun also for Turkey, which is ever less visibly linked to NATO, of which it has been a member since 1952, but ever more neo-Ottoman and anti-American, considering that initially the United States have probably supported the coup and still host Fethullah Gulen, the Sunni Imam accused by President Erdogan of having organized the military insurgency.

Nevertheless, nothing is yet certain in the rapprochement between Turkey and the Russian Federation. Certainly the Russian statements are possibilistic and basically deprived of long-term strategic guidelines and indications, but the results reached by Russia are already greatly significant: the weakening of the Southern and Eastern Flank of the Atlantic Alliance and the probable redesign and splitting up of Syria in agreement with Turkey.

In President Erdogan’s mind, this is the right time to define his traditional Panturanic plan, which does not coincide with the Russian plan, but which has certainly nothing to do with the Atlantic Alliance’s prospects in Central Asia.

Shortly before becoming Turkish Minister of Foreign Affairs in 2009, Ahmet Davutoglu had explicitly stated: “We are the new Ottomans. We will reconquer what we lost in 1911 and in 1923 and we will find again our brothers between 2011 and 2023”.

Aleppo and Mosul, the Uygurs of Xingkiang to be “moved” to Syria, the Asian Turkmens and part of Iraq are all the pieces of the dominoes that President Erdogan’s AKP wants to build to become a great Turkish, Sunni and neo-Ottoman empire between Anatolia and Central Asia.

Aleppo, Latakia and Idlib will be the 82nd province of Turkey, but this is obviously not convergent with the interest of Russia which, however, accepts the de facto breaking off between Turkey, the United States and NATO, while President Erdogan urges the Americans to choose between him and Fethullah Gulen.

Paradoxically, however, President Erdogan’s neo-Ottoman approach has still much to do with the arch-enemy Fethullah Gulen.

They both want to restore the traditional links between the Turkish populations, the use of the Turkish language, the Sunni Islam and the Ottoman Caliphate.

Indeed, this would also explain the ambiguous attitude shown so far by Turkey vis-à-vis the pan-Sunni, though not Turkish, Caliphate of Daesh/Isis.

For many years Gulen and his cemaat (community) of about 3 million members have been an apparently secular missionary movement which, however, wants to re-establish Islam throughout the pan-Turkish region having Sufi roots, as has often happened in Turkish nationalism. It also wants to ultimately superpose the plan of a new Sunni Caliphate on the plan for an expansion of the Turkish national power.

On the contrary, President Erdogan comes from the National Outlook Movement, which is part of the Turkish Muslim Brotherhood, from which he departed after the military coup of 1997 in order to found the AKP with Gulen’s militants.

In essence, President Erdogan wants to recreate a great Panturanic umma from China (the Turkish leader defined China’s behaviour in Xingkiang as a “sort of genocide”) up to Eastern Europe.

Nevertheless President Erdogan mainly wants to “Turkify” the Muslim Brotherhood, which is still one of his tools, and not the quietist mystic Islam of Gulen’s movement, which also fanned the flames of the Ghezi Park rebellion and supported the allegations of corruption regarding the AKP regime.

Turkey spent much to support the folly of the “Arab Springs” and President Erdogan spent very much to keep the Brotherhood in power both in Egypt and the Maghreb region.

Everything becomes clear if we think about the way in which President Erdogan is operating in Syria: using those that the silly West calls “moderates” in public, while de facto supporting the jihadists, who are the current extreme fruit of the Muslim Brotherhood.

This is President Putin’s bet: if Russia proposes an agreement on Syria, will President Erdogan temporarily stop implementing his neo-Ottoman project, thus putting aside his Wahhabi soldiers of the jihad?

Hence if Turkey has a new system available to be connected with its Panturanic world, surrounded by Russia and China, will it cease to invoke the imperial myth, put in place by the bloody ranks of the jihad? No one can yet say so.

Russia (and China), however, have the power to manage and greatly influence this new great game, while certainly the United States, NATO and the now useless European Union have not this power.

It is worth noting that another player of the new link between Turkey and Russia is Iran.

If, in exchange for peace with Russia, Turkey leaves the Sunni jihadist factions to their fate, Iran will tacitly support the Turkish ambitions in Iraq and Syria, through the Russian Federation’s protection.

Peace with Russia and the agreement with Iran mean Turkey’s future participation in the recent “triple alliance” reached in Baku on August 8 last between Iran, Russia and Azerbaijan for the new economic corridor between India and Russia.

And this is promised to Turkey in addition to the opening of the Turkish Stream gas pipeline, having a capacity of 30 million cubic meters, and the building of the nuclear power station in Akkuyu, Turkey, with Russian technology.

Russia must absolutely have an energy line avoiding transiting through Ukraine. Turkey cannot survive without Russian gas, which accounts for 50% of its consumption. Furthermore the issue of migrants, with whom President Erdogan blackmails the naïve EU, is now in the hands of Russia, which can provide alternative areas and ways.

President Erdogan also needs a new area of economic, geopolitical (and identity) expansion in Central Asia, provided that it does not officially annex the Turkmen communities that are numerous, but very divided in that region.

In addition, President Putin can cool down and ease the tensions between Armenia and Azerbaijan over Nagorno-Karabakh, an Azerbaijani area with an Armenian majority.

Certainly Armenians do not talk with Turkey. Armenia has also called for Russia’s protection to recognize its independence internationally, but Turkey has not yet many relations with the pro-Turkish Azerbaijan.

Russia does not want to unleash the struggle between the Azeri-Turkish and Armenian peoples, which would probably trigger off a new destabilizing jihad in the Caucasus, while Turkey equally needs to quell tensions but has no relations with Armenia.

Once again, in this case, both the United States and the EU play the second fiddle.

As is well-known, in Syria Russia supports Bashar al-Assad’s Alawites, but Russia will not be in a position to afford the material and political costs of this commitment much longer.

The Russian commitment in Syria costs at least 3-4 million dollars a day, which we have to multiply by all the days from September 30, 2015 – when the Russian air raids started – to date.

Russia, which has a military budget of 50 billion dollars a year, can certainly afford it, but not with the prospect of low oil prices and the danger of a new hotbed of tensions in addition to the Syrian one.

Furthermore if Russia does not reduce military spending by 5% – as President Putin has decided to do for 2016 – the prospects for Russian economic growth become grimmer.

Moreover, since the beginning of the Inherent Resolve operation in August 2015, the United States have spent in Syria 11.5 millions per day.

Obviously Russia cannot afford this cost for a long period of time, considering that the real strategic gain is only the protection of Latakia and the other Russian bases in the Mediterranean.

Furthermore Turkey, which is de facto allied with Daesh/Isis and the other groups of the Syrian jihad, does not succeed in annexing Aleppo and the other Turkmen areas in the South, which is the real target of the Syrian war for Turkey.

On top of it, President Erdogan can do nothing against the Kurds, who are supported by the United States.

And the Turkish leader can swallow the bitter pill of a Kurdish quasi-State only if there is the annexation of the Syrian Turkmen territories and the creation of a strategic buffer between Turkey and the new Kurdistan, which President Putin might possibly guarantee to him.

In the meeting held on August 9 with the Turkish leader, President Putting hinted at the fact that he wanted Assad to quickly take Aleppo by storm so as to unilaterally declare a cease-fire and call a conference to define the new borders and the new areas of influence in Syria.

Today no one wages and fights the war in Syria thinking about a united country, not even Bashar al-Assad’s Alawites.

The old plan of the Franciscan tertiary and Shiite mystic Louis Massignon, after the Sykes-Picot Agreement of 1916, is really over. That plan envisaged to hold Syria together by ceding it to the small coastal Alawite sect so as to avoid the Sunni dominance which, sooner or later, was bound to incorporate the “French” Syria into the British system (Iraq) or into Saudi Arabia’s Wahhabi system.

It is also worth recalling that Turkey wants the Turkmen area around Idlib, Latakia and Aleppo so that it can act as a counterbalance to the Kurdish area.

On the other hand, also in view of its internal peace, Turkey must also recover the level of trade with Russia which, after the sanctions imposed as a result of the shooting down of the Sukhoi24M aircraft in November 2015, fell to 6 million US dollars between January and May 2016, while the flow of Russian tourists in Turkey has plunged by as much as 93%.

Therefore the agreement between Russia and Turkey is designed to a division of the Middle East and Central Asia.

Turkey will have the opportunity of managing the new relations with the various Turkmen and Ottoman communities, while Russia (and Iran) will have the possibility of creating a large Asian economic community, which is designed to replace the symbiotic relationship between Europe and the United States.

Furthermore, in Syria, the United States and Europe will be completely wiped out by this new agreement, which envisages that the design of this new “Eurasian entente” be started right from the Syrian territory.

In the meeting held with President Putin in St. Petersburg, following up an idea already proposed in 2013, President Erdogan reiterated that Turkey could be ready to drop its request to join the EU if he were given the opportunity to adhere to the Eurasian institutions and the Shanghai Cooperation Organization, in particular.

Nothing, however, prevents Turkey from also walking out of NATO in the future, if the appeal of the Eurasian system were to become irresistible.

We must not even forget, however, that currently 44% of Turkish exports is still to the EU – a ridiculous strategic dwarf – and that, also as a result of sanctions, a mere 4% is to Russia.

Moreover, it is not even likely for Turkey to have access to the most advanced technologies through Russia, apart from the military ones, or that opening to Russia may be the only means for Turkey to access world markets.

Nevertheless we cannot rule out that the establishment of a real, solid Eurasian unity may definitely attract Turkey to the Russian and Chinese project of the economic and strategic autonomy of a new and united Central Asia. And in this case Turkey would be very useful, because it would provide the necessary connection with the Mediterranean.

As already noted, Russia mainly wants to destabilize NATO eastwards and certainly the rift between Turkey and the Atlantic Alliance is certainly an opportunity not to be missed.

Furthermore Turkey does no longer trust the United States which host and help Fethullah Gulen. It wants to create its specific, neo-Ottoman and nationalistic political Islam, thus closing the door both to the EU, which has not yet realized it, and to NATO itself, which is now a useless alliance for the Turkish Panturanic and Eurasian project.

NATO, however, is still necessary to maintain the geoeconomic relationship with the EU and the United States, which is valid as long as Turkey does not replace it with the one with Russia, China and Central Asia.

Hence if Donald Trump wins the US presidential elections, the Russian project of Turkish integration into its geopolitical system will continue, while if the winner is Hillary Clinton, who is obsessed by the future US contrast with Russia, NATO will resume its action in the Middle East. This is the reason why it is extremely useful for President Putin to allure Turkey.

At geoeconomic level, Russia can no longer afford a system of low oil prices – and, in the future, levelling off at around 40 US dollars per barrel – unless a major increase is recorded at the end of 2016, as some analysts predict.

This is the reason why it wants to sell a lot of gas to Europe through Turkey and it is opposed to the military and jihadist designs of Saudi Arabia and its allies, including the United States.

Hence currently the jihad is a substitute for the oil economic war which can be no longer waged and fought.

In fact, the energy world has changed: the United States are no longer the largest oil importer; the euro price of the oil barrel is higher than the one denominated in US dollars and the 40 US dollars per barrel are the tentative scenario for the Russian decision-makers.

Hence, Russia shall come to terms with this tight budget in the Middle East and Syria.

Moreover the cheap oil of the new Iranian exports – all directed to the East, would favour the Russian aims and designs in Central Asia also at geopolitical level.

And it would also favour its potential for selling the Turkish Stream gas in Europe.

Hence, if the Russian Federation opens to Turkey, it will be in a position to reach both the goal of the expansion of its oil market in the West and the goal of the maximum separation of Turkey from NATO.

It is a “win-win” game for Russia, which could ultimately quell tensions in Syria, which also block Turkey’s plans.

Therefore it is a “win-win” game also for Turkey.

For Israel, which has recently renewed its relations with Turkey and can no longer fully trust Russia, which must support Iran and the Hezb’ollah in Syria and the Lebanon, the new Putin’s and Erdogan’s Syrian plan can be useful to mitigate tensions on the Golan Heights and use the Turkish Panturanism for the anti-jihadist stabilization of the Middle East.

But even this is a project to be checked and verified in the future.

Advisory Board Co-chair Honoris Causa Professor Giancarlo Elia Valori is an eminent Italian economist and businessman. He holds prestigious academic distinctions and national orders. Mr. Valori has lectured on international affairs and economics at the world’s leading universities such as Peking University, the Hebrew University of Jerusalem and the Yeshiva University in New York. He currently chairs “International World Group”, he is also the honorary president of Huawei Italy, economic adviser to the Chinese giant HNA Group. In 1992 he was appointed Officier de la Légion d’Honneur de la République Francaise, with this motivation: “A man who can see across borders to understand the world” and in 2002 he received the title “Honorable” of the Académie des Sciences de l’Institut de France. “

Continue Reading
Comments

Middle East

Elections in Syria: Forgetting Old Resentments?

Published

on

In the presidential elections on May 26, Bashar al-Assad won more than 95% of the votes. According to the current constitution, this term will be the last for the president. But in the next seven years of Bashar al-Assad’s rule, the constitution may change, and it is far from certain that this will happen as a result of the work of the Syrian Constitutional Committee, with UN mediation. The victory of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad was accompanied by congratulations from allies and a lack of recognition of the election results by Western countries. In any event, what is the attitude towards this war-torn country and its ruling elites in the Arab world? Will Bashar al-Assad be able to rebuild the country and deliver it from chaos?

Forgetting old resentments. From balance of power to balance of interests

Through regional recognition lies the path to global recognition. It is necessary in some form for the reconstruction of Syria, the cost of which is estimated at more than $250 billion. Syria’s allies do not have such funds, and the West links the provision of funds for the country’s reconstruction with conditions for a political settlement of the conflict, which the current authorities will not agree to. In the absence of economic reconstruction, however, there is a threat of the re-activation of the defeated terrorists. In this context, the role of the rich oil monarchies of the Persian Gulf—the most promising source of money—becomes especially significant.

Syria is traditionally called the “heart” of the Arab world. This, nevertheless, did not prevent other Arab countries from responding to the unfolding violence in Syria by freezing its membership in an important regional structure, the Arab League, in 2011. Speaking about the return of Syria to the Arab League, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said: “Arab diplomacy is very, very famous for its effectiveness, so it seems to me that here we can expect that the issue will be resolved, and, I hope, quite quickly.” However, there are a number of factors that can support this process, and constraints that can hinder it.

The conversation about the return of Syria to the Arab League has been going on for several years—since it became clear that Bashar al-Assad will be able to keep power in his hands. This became obvious to regional and global players with the defeat of terrorists and opposition, with the active support of the Syrian leadership from Iran and Russia. In addition, compared to 2011, the situation has changed in the Arab League itself. In Egypt, the largest country in the Arab world, the secular regime of Abdel Fattah al-Sisi (who has roots in the military), is now in power, and not the anti-Assad-minded Islamists from the Muslim Brotherhood (banned in the Russian Federation). A number of Arab League member states like Algeria, Iraq and Lebanon have never been against Syria, and now actively advocate its return to the organisation. The Gulf monarchies have gone through a decade of reassessing challenges and threats.

Conflicts in Iraq, Syria and Yemen have led to the strengthening of the regional rivals of the Arab states of the Gulf—Turkey and Iran. The expansion of these major regional powers is forcing the UAE, Saudi Arabia and other Arab countries to seek new approaches. In the context of Syria, this means the Arab rejection of the Turkish occupation of Syrian (and, therefore, Arab) land in northern Syria. At the same time, the rulers of the Arabian Peninsula are thinking about whether it is worth it to push Syria into the hands of Iran, if they can try to return it to the “Arab homeland” and balance the Iranian influence on Damascus. The UAE, Bahrain and Oman have already reopened their embassies in Damascus, but so far Saudi Arabia and Qatar, the two key countries that oppose Syria in the Arab League, are in no hurry to do the same. In any event, the Saudis are increasingly inclined towards a partial return of relations. It is clear from some of their actions. For example, we are talking about the restoration of ties between Bahrain and Damascus, since the policy of Bahrain is a litmus test of Riyadh’s aspirations. In early May, there were reports about the visit of the head of the general intelligence service of Saudi Arabia, Khalid bin Ali al-Humaidan, to Damascus. In late May, for the first time in 10 years, a Syrian delegation led by Minister of Tourism Mohammad Rami Martini made an official visit to Riyadh to participate in the work of the World Tourism Organisation Committee for the Middle East.

The results of the presidential elections in Syria once again remind the Arab states that they will have to work with Bashar al-Assad and his government.

Obviously, Damascus is ready to forget old grievances. Among other things, Arab nationalist rhetoric is extremely important for the ruling Baath Party. On the eve of the elections, Assad’s adviser Busseina Shaaban said: “Efforts are being made to improve relations between Damascus and Riyadh, and in the coming days we can witness results in this matter.” If Riyadh changes its position on the return of Syria to the Arab League, there will be only one Arab country opposing this—Qatar. Qatar’s non-Arab ally in the recently weakened regional confrontation is Turkey, which will also hinder this and continues to declare the need of a political settlement of the Syrian conflict. True, this is less and less possible, although the opinion of Turkey, which has more than 3.5 million registered Syrian refugees, is something to be reckoned with.

Veni, vidi, vici?

At the global level, Russia and the United States have different positions. Russia’s foreign policy advocates sovereignty, the return of Syria to the Arab League and its early restoration. But even if Syria returns to the League, it will not solve the economic problems of the country, where corruption is rampant, the currency continues to depreciate, there is barely enough electricity and fuel for the population to survive, and 80% of citizens remain below the poverty line. In addition, the Syrian economy will not receive serious injections, even from the Gulf countries, due to the policies and sanctions of the United States, which remains the hegemon in the region. However, it is precisely the regional recognition of Damascus that is extremely useful and can be considered as a step towards further stabilisation.

Even before the elections in Syria, the Americans, together with Britain, France, Germany and Italy, issued a joint statement about their illegitimacy. The sanctions adopted by the US Congress against Syria under the name “Caesar Act” are “secondary” in nature, which means that any third country doing business with the Syrian government is included in the US sanctions list. Companies from the UAE have already faced this problem, and potentially sanctions deprive Syria of any major projects with the Gulf States in the future. This issue is unsolvable at the regional level. Much depends on how the Americans are committed to the implementation of the sanctions regime.

An excessive US appetite for sanctions may hurt the interests of its regional allies, which will displease the latter (and not always tacitly).

At the moment, however, to quote the journalists of Asharq Al-Awsat newspaper, we observe “the absence of American leadership”: the United States is not engaged in promoting any active campaign to counter the normalisation of relations between Syria and other members of the international community. The previous pattern with regard to Syria remains—with the illegal presence of the American military in the east of the country, support for Kurdish groups, and the illegal use of Syrian resources.

The administration of US President Joe Biden has not yet formed a new course towards Syria, since this issue is not a priority for it. In these conditions, regional and interested global players have the opportunity to correct their positions, build up links with previously inaccessible actors, and make attempts to go beyond the existing restrictions.

Bashar al-Assad sent a message to the whole world that he is ready for a new stage. The world is no longer what it was a decade ago. At the regional level, the Arabs are thinking about accepting the existing reality, but at the global level, the Syria issue is not a priority. In his victory speech, al-Assad noted that the Syrian people “returned to the true meaning of the revolution” after it was “blotted by mercenaries”. It is obvious that Damascus persistently and patiently stands on its ground. Arabs say that patience is the key to joy. The only question is whose joy it is.

From our partner RIAC

Continue Reading

Middle East

The syndrome of neglect: After years of hyperactivity, Erdogan is completely isolated

Published

on

erdogan turkey

At the NATO Summit held in Brussels on June 14, strategically important issues were discussed, such as the relations of the Alliance’s Member States with China and their attitude towards President Putin’s Russia. The Member States’ positions on these issues did not appear unambiguous and diplomats had to struggle to find the right wording to draft the final communiqué. What was evident, however, was an only apparently marginal fact: the total “physical” as well as political isolation of Turkish President Recep Tayip Erdogan.

After being defined by Prime Minister Draghi as a “dictator and autocrat”, the Turkish President also had to endure the harsh reprimands of the US State Department which, at the end of the “eleven-day war” between Israel and Hamas, did not hesitate to condemn – in unusually harsh language – some of his public statements made in the first days of the war when, in order to underline his thoughts towards the Israeli leadership, he called Benjamin Netanyahu “the Jewish Prime Minister”.

The derogatory use of the word “Jewish’ instead of “Israeli” triggered a reaction from President Biden’s Administration. The State Department spokesman, Ned Price, was instructed to express “the strong and unequivocal condemnation of the Turkish President’s anti-Semitic comments’, and called on him to refrain from “incendiary remarks, which could incite further violence … not least because anti-Semitism is reprehensible and should have no place on the world stage”.

After struggling for years to become a true regional power, President Erdogan’s Turkey is now on the sidelines of the political scene and the Turkish leader’s bewildered expression emerging from the photographs of the NATO Summit of June 14 – which show him physically isolated from the other Heads of State and government – appears as an iconic testimony to the irrelevance to which Turkey has been condemned, owing to the adventurism of its President, after a decade of reckless and counterproductive political and military moves.

As early as in the spring of 2010, in view of showing he was at the forefront in supporting the Palestinian cause, President Erdogan authorised the establishment of the “Freedom Flotilla”, a naval convoy capable of challenging – under the Turkish flag – the Israeli naval blockade of the Gaza Strip.

On May 31, 2020, Israeli commandos intercepted the Mavi Marmara ship carrying not only humanitarian aid, but also Hamas militants attempting to enter again the Gaza Strip illegally.

As soon as Israeli soldiers stepped onto the deck of the Turkish ship, they were confronted by Palestinians and crew members armed with axes, knives and iron bars. Ten Palestinians and Turkish sailors died in the ensuing clashes, but the most severe wound was inflicted on Turkish-Israeli relations.

Turkey broke off diplomatic relations with Israel – long-standing relations dating back to 1949 when Turkey was the first, and for many years the only, Muslim country to recognise the State of Israel, thus also interrupting important economic and military relations that represented for the entire Middle East the example of how it was possible to follow paths of integration and pacification between Muslims and Jews.

Since 2011, with the outbreak of the so-called “Arab Springs”, President Erdogan has tried in every way to take a leading role in a flow of events which – rather than exporting liberal democracies in the region – aimed to underline and validate the victory of the “Muslim Brotherhood” and of the most backward and fundamentalist Islam.

While thinking he could easily solve his competition with Assad’ Syria and at the same time dismiss the problem of Turkish and Syrian Kurdish irredentism, President Erdogan intervened heavily in the Syrian civil war by providing military aid and logistical support not only to the militias of the “Syria Liberation Army”, but also to the Salafist formations of Jabhat Al Nusra and even ISIS.

We all know what has happened: after a decade of civil war, Syria is in ruins but Bashar al-Assad is still in power; the rebels are now closed in small pockets of resistance and Russia, which intervened siding with Damascus, thus overturning the outcome of the conflict, is firmly established in the country while Turkey is not only excluded from the promising business of Syria’s reconstruction, but finds itself managing a massive refugee emergency.

In President Erdogan’ sometimes ill-considered quest to make his country take on the role of the leading regional power, his activism led him to intervene in the Nagorno-Karabakh crisis in support of the Azerbaijani Turkmen against the Christian Armenians, with the result that, after the last crisis in the autumn of 2020, Turkey had to step aside to leave Russia the role of interposition and peacekeeping force.

In Libya, too – after sending arms and mercenaries to support al-Sarraj’s Government of National Accord (GNA) – after its resignation last January, the Turkish role became less influential than the Turkish leader’s aspirations.

In 2017, in a vain attempt to send a signal to NATO and US allies, President Erdogan bought S-400 surface-to-air missile systems from Russia, worth 2.5 million dollars.

The move did not please the then US President, Donald Trump, who immediately imposed economic and military sanctions on Turkey, thus contributing to the decline of its economy and to its progressive international isolation.

It has recently been reported that, in an attempt to bring Turkey closer to the new Biden Administration, President Erdogan has decided to send back home the Russian technicians who were in charge of S-400 maintenance at the Incirlick base – which is also a NATO base – with the result of infuriating Vladimir Putin who obviously does not like the idea of seeing highly sophisticated equipment in the hands of the Americans.

The end result of all these unhinged moves is that the US sanctions remain in place while the Russians can only regret having trusted an unreliable leader.

On the domestic front, too, despite the repression that followed the failed coup d’état of 2016, things are not going well.

The deep economic crisis, resulting from excessive military spending, poor administrative capacity and rampant corruption, as well as the repercussions of the Covid-19 pandemic, makes the situation even more difficult for the Turkish President and his party, the AKP (Justice and Development Party), which have ruled the country continuously since 2002.

The recent local elections, in which the AKP was defeated, and the election polls indicate that, despite the tactical alliance between President Erdogan’s party and the ultra-nationalist National Movement, a success for the President and his party in the 2023 general and Presidential elections seems far from certain.

What makes President Erdogan’s sleep even more restless is certainly the ‘Peker scandal’ that has been hitting the headlines of all Turkish newspapers and social media over the last few days.

Sedat Peker, a businessman formerly affiliated with the extreme right-wing organisation of the “Grey Wolves” (the same one to which Ali Agca, known for the attempted assassination of Pope John Paul II, belonged) has long been a supporter of Tayyp Recep Erdogan and is known to have been one of the main suppliers of weapons to jihadist groups involved in the Syrian civil war.

Last April, after being accused of corruption and criminal conspiracy, he went into self-exile, first in Montenegro and then in the United Arab Emirates, from where he has been conducting a relentless campaign against President Erdogan and his party on charges of corruption and other crimes and offences.

Under the interested supervision of Mohamed Dalhan, the former Head of the Palestinian intelligence service in the Gaza strip, exiled to the Emirates after the break with Hamas, Sedat Peker daily floods social media with accusations against the Turkish President’s “magic circle”, starting with Interior Minister Suleyman Soylu and his ally Mehemet Agar, former Police Chief, who in Peker’s opinion are responsible not only for corruption, but also for extortion, drug trafficking and murder.

Despite government-imposed censorship, these sensational accusations dominate the political debate in Turkey.

Mohammed Dalhan, the Palestinian secret agent, helps Sedat Peker both out of a spirit of revenge against Hamas and, hence, against its Turkish supporter, and because the Abu Dhabi government, for which he now works, has not favourably viewed Turkey’s attempts to sabotage the “Abraham Accords” between Israel and moderate Arab countries and the explicit support offered by President Erdogan to Hamas during the recent “eleven-day war”. Moreover, the latter ended thanks to Egypt’s mediation – a diplomatic success for the moderate Arab front that pushes Turkey and its leader ever further to the sidelines, as they – observant Sunnis – are now forced to move closer to the heretical Shiites of Iran, the only ones who now seem to give credit to President Erdogan, who is now like a bad student relegated to a corner of the classroom, from which he will find it difficult to escape without a clear change of course towards a more moderate approach in domestic policy and a rapprochement to the West in foreign policy.

Continue Reading

Middle East

Iranian Election Portends Increased Human Rights Abuses, Demands Western Response

Published

on

When the Iranian regime holds its presidential election this Friday, it is likely to experience the lowest level of voter turnout in its 42-year history. This has been acknowledged by certain Iranian officials and state media outlets. There are a number of reasons for this, which include the lingering effects of three anti-regime uprisings, public resentment over authorities’ crackdowns on those uprisings, a lack of serious competition among the candidates, and the brutal legacy of the clear frontrunner.

All but the last of these factors were already apparent in February of last year, when Iranian regime held elections for various governors and members of parliament. Those elections are the ones to beat if the country is to set a new record for low turnout this week. Moreover, if persistently anti-democratic conditions aren’t enough to yield that outcome on their own, public antipathy toward Ebrahim Raisi might just be the thing that pushes the electoral boycott over the top.

For months now, Raisi has been recognized as a person favored by the regime’s Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei as the next President. But that preference specifically stems from Raisi’s unwavering loyalty to the supreme leader and his willingness to flout the security and wellbeing of ordinary Iranians in order to safeguard the future of the theocratic dictatorship. In 2019, Raisi was appointed to head the nation’s judiciary, and his penchant for political violence was put to the test by the outbreak of a nationwide uprising in November 2019 – a follow-up to similar protests in January 2018.

The regime’s response to the latter uprising constituted one of the worst singular crackdowns on dissent since the early years of the Iranian regime. As head of the judiciary, Raisi played a leading role in that crackdown, particularly the systematic torture of political prisoners that was detailed in a September 2020 report by Amnesty International. That report was closely accompanied by the emergence of new evidence supporting the tally of protest-related killings provided by the People’s Mojahedin Organisation of Iran (PMOI/MEK).

The MEK, which has long been recognized as the leading voice for Iranian democracy, quickly determined that security forces and the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps had killed 1,500 people in mass shooting incidents over just several days coinciding with the November 2019 uprising. Over time, the MEK has also released the names of more than half of the victims, naturally starting with those who were members of the organisation or were otherwise closely connected to it.

Details of the crackdown serve to underscore the notion that it was largely an attack on the MEK, which Khamenei had acknowledged as a driving force behind the initial uprising in early 2018. The supreme leader referenced months of planning by dissidents in order to explain the popular embrace of slogans calling for “death to the dictator” and condemning both the “hardline” and “reformist” factions of mainstream politics inside the regime. This messaging was tantamount to a call for regime change – the expressed platform of the MEK and its parent coalition, the National Council of Resistance of Iran.

In recent weeks, MEK-affiliated activist collectives known as “Resistance Units” have been using precisely this platform to promote the concept of an all-encompassing electoral boycott. In April alone, those activists erected posters, painted graffiti, and held demonstrations in more than 250 localities across the Islamic Republic, urging citizens to “vote for regime change” by avoiding the polls and denying any semblance of legitimacy to the ruling system. Since then, the call to action has been echoed by various other groups, including pensioners and blue-collar workers whose frustration with the regime has greatly intensified in the midst of an economic crisis exacerbated by self-serving government policies and blatant corruption.

Protests by these and other demographics have lately come to feature slogans like, “We have seen no justice; we will not vote anymore.” The implication is that Iranians from all walks of life are not only rejecting the current election but also the entire underlying system, in favour of a platform akin to that which is being promoted by the MEK and the NCRI. The details of that platform are clarified for an international audience each year at a rally of Iranian expatriates and political supporters which invariably features eager endorsement of the “10-point plan” for a democratic Iranian republic that was authored roughly 15 years ago by NCRI President-elect Mrs. Maryam Rajavi.

The plan calls for free and fair elections as well as secular pluralism, and it expresses a commitment to international laws and principles of human rights. By contrast, the existing regime has repeatedly rejected those laws and principles through such recurring actions as its execution of juvenile offenders, its routine usage of torture and forced confessions, and its explicit insistence upon exception from human rights standards that are deemed to conflict with the regime’s fundamentalist interpretation of Shiite Islam.

Despite all of these, Tehran’s contempt for human rights has arguably never been more blatant than is now, in the run-up to Raisi’s appointment as the regime’s next president. His role in the crackdowns following the November 2019 are certainly one reason for this, but the main source of Raisi’s infamy remains his participation in the 1988 massacre of political prisoners. Those killings arguably constitute the late 20th century’s single worst crime against humanity, and as one of four figures in Tehran’s “death commission” at the time, Raisi bears as much responsibility as anybody for the roughly 30,000 hangings that were carried out over just several months.

In commenting on the election, the NCRI has made it clear that Raisi was chosen to run a more-or-less uncontested campaign precisely because of this legacy. Specifically, the NCRI argues that Khamenei witnessed the Resistance movement gaining momentum and resolved to consolidate power in the hands of those most comfortable with political violence. But in so doing, the supreme leader gave Iranians even more incentive to protest the political process than they had had in February 2020. Thus, when Raisi takes office, he will immediately be faced with the challenge of compensating for an electoral boycott that effectively deprive the regime of any claim to political legitimacy.

The consequences of that challenge will surely depend, in part, on the role that the international community chooses to take on in the midst of forthcoming conflicts between the Iranian regime and a population that is showing ever-greater support for an organised resistance. If major world powers elect to stand on the sidelines, it could give the Raisi administration license to assume office and then immediately initiate human rights abuses rivaling those of November 2019, or possibly approaching those of summer 1988. However, if those powers recognize this danger and instead elect to intervene on the Iranian people’s behalf, then they may find they have ample opportunities to do so.

Relevant strategies will be presented by NCRI officials and the political supporters, including European and American lawmakers and academics with diverse party affiliations, when they take part in the coalition’s World Summit on a Free Iran between July 10 and 12.

Continue Reading

Publications

Latest

Russia50 mins ago

Biden-Putin Geneva Summit: Even A Little More Than Nothing Means A Lot

Was the, with little expectations, but a lot of combinations and nervousness, awaited summit of the Presidents of America and...

Defense2 hours ago

What position would Russia take in case of an armed conflict between China and US?

China and Russia have seen increasing interactions and closer bonds as they face amid US pressure. The trilateral relations of...

Defense5 hours ago

“African Lion 2021”: More than military Show between the US and Morocco

On June 7th, 2021, Morocco, the US, and NATO began joint African Lion maritime drills in the Atlantic Ocean south...

Europe6 hours ago

American diplomacy’s comeback and Bulgaria’s institutional trench war

Even though many mainstream media outlets have not noticed it, US diplomacy has staged a gran comeback in the Balkans....

Economy12 hours ago

How Bangladesh became Standout Star in South Asia Amidst Covid-19

Bangladesh, the shining model of development in South Asia, becomes everyone’s economic darling amidst Covid-19. The per capita income of...

Middle East15 hours ago

Elections in Syria: Forgetting Old Resentments?

In the presidential elections on May 26, Bashar al-Assad won more than 95% of the votes. According to the current...

Joe Biden Joe Biden
Americas17 hours ago

Biden: No More “Favourite Dictators”

 Former US President Donald Trump shared a strong personal rapport with Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, Saudi Crown Prince, Mohammed...

Trending