Authors: Zakir Gul, Ph.D. & Dr. Kadir Akyuz*
The pages of history are littered with oppressors, dictators, and tyrants from countries large and small across the globe who share a common trait: paranoia that leads to zero tolerance for criticism, disobedience, alternative ideas,competition and any kind of perceived disrespect from supporters and foes alike. A contemporary example is the president of Turkey, who appears to be following in the footsteps of tyrants who came before him.Stalin, for example, applied the Great Purge not only to wealthy peasants and people who had opposed him in the past but also to comrades and friends, Communist leaders, party members and bureaucrats.In the end, millions of friends and enemies alike were executed or died in labor camps. The motivation for Stalin’s actions, as it often is for tyrants, was a perceived threat to his political power and beliefs. Anyone who challenged him had to be dealt with by any means available.
One such enemy in the mind of Stalin was Leon Trotsky, an ardent proponent of the universality of the struggle for rights through the adoption of Communism on an international scale. Stalin, on the other hand, believed that Communist goals were based on a cult of personality and was not particularly supportive of the international struggle for Communism to the degree that many of the original revolutionaries had idealized as a worldwide revolution. The two men’s philosophical differences mattered less to Stalin than what Stalin believed to be Trotsky’s threat to his power. Stalin could not allow Trotsky, the brilliant architect of the strategies that led to the victories in the Soviet civil war, to live. Trotsky had to flee the Soviet Union to escape Stalin’s wrath and attempts to purge a perceived enemy. Trotsky fled to Mexico, where he was welcomed. Stalin, however, was not satisfied with simply having Trotsky out of the Soviet Union; he had to be eliminated. Stalin did not want a man of such stature and brilliance to be in a position—anywhere in the world—to write and speak about the failures of Stalin and the betrayal of the revolution by Stalin and his associates. At the behest of Stalin, an undercover agent for the Soviet Union’s secret police was sent to Mexico to kill Trotsky. The attempt on Trotsky’s life was successful.
Stalin, however, targeted more than high-profile individuals and forced the internal expulsion of various ethnic groups within the borders of the Soviet Union. Entire populations were subjected to harsh conditions, and large numbers perished on their forced journeys. Opponents were either killed abroad or kidnapped and brought back and executed, while others were placed in the Gulags. One example of Stalin’s attempts to stifle opposition is the well-documented case of a man-made famine intended to subdue Ukraine. The Ukrainians tried to hold onto their religion, their private-property ethos and their identity. Millions died in the famine in Ukraine. To control the Ukrainian population, Stalin used terror strategies such as arrests in the middle of the night, secret sentences, executions and punitive sentences in the Gulags. Tens of millions of Ukrainians perished under Stalin—including not only his opponents but also people who fully supported Stalin and the Communist revolution. No one was safe from Stalin’s state terror.
The military also was not exempt. Large numbers of high-ranking officers were arrested tried and convicted and then shot or, in some cases, sent to the Gulags to die. By the time World War II erupted, Stalin had killed so many high-ranking offices that the ability of the Soviet military to operate effectively had been compromised. This situation worked to the advantage of the Germans, who were able to make incredible progress with their invasion of the Soviet Union. The weakened Soviet army could do little to stop the German army’s initial advances.
Much the same has been happening in Turkey since the failure of a military coup on July 15, 2016, which was unlike previous coups the country has experienced. The July coup attempt left many people wondering how it had happened. The Turkish media, now largely under the control of the Erdogan government, have published numerous controversial claims about the origins of the coup attempt. One of the claims by a pro-government newspaper was that the coup has been orchestrated by the U.S. Central Intelligence Agency.Mustafa Akaydin, a member of parliament from Antalya,questioned the coup and likened it to a theatrical play. Erdogan, on the other hand, called the coup a “gift from God.” and made his reasoning clear.
Erdogan’s response to the failed coup spoke volumes about why he considered the coup to be a gift from God. In the immediate aftermath of the coup, for example,the president declared a state of emergency and announced decrees that started the Great Purge of Turkey. Since the coup attempt, 151,967people were dismissed from their jobs; 133,257people were detained; 64,998 people were arrested; 5,822 academicians lost their jobs; 4,463 judges and prosecutors were dismissed; 189 media outlets were shut down; 319 journalists were arrested; and even human rights defenders, including the director of Amnesty International Turkey. Erdogan’s antidemocratic tactics were not limited to Turkish citizens. For example, Andrew Brunson, an American priest, also was targeted. Constitutional human rights were banned, which allowed for the illegal, illegitimate and inhuman application of laws by the Erdogan government.
The West, however, did not find to be credible Erdogan’s argument that his actions were the will of God and were needed to save the country. Most likely, Erdogan was not pleased with the West’s disbelief—despite a concerted effort to prove his predetermined political claims.Not willing to concede defeat, Erdogan responded with increased anger toward the disbelievers.Now a troubling question remains:What is Erdogan’s next course of action when the results of the first plan were not as expected?
One can look to history for some insights. Because tyrants think only of themselves and will do anything to remain in power, they will not hesitate to kill millions of people if doing so will safeguard their hold on power. Leaders who followed this path include Mao Zdong (or Tse-tung), a tyrant responsible for killing 45 million people in just four years. Stalin is believed to have been responsible for killing 40 million (some sources say as many as 60 million) people. Hitler is another example of a leader who showed no remorse for the mass killing of millions of Jews and others. A tyrant’s paranoia mindset makes everyone an enemy except for the tyrant himself. Even the tyrant’s most loyal supporters will, sooner or later, be the victims of the paranoid leader’s ruthless ambition.
Based on history, the prospects for Turkey look grim. Erdogan’s purge of Turkish citizens may ensnare even more people through massive killings and massacres of his own people if the president continues to be motivated by an obsession with power and a fear of losing that power. Will civilian groups be enlisted to carry out the killings? Is the public speech of well-known mafia leader Sedat Peker, who pledges allegiance to the supreme ruler of Turkey, be the harbinger of such a plan?An excerpt from Peker’s speech is telling: “We will hang them [the others] to the nearest flagstaffs, we will hang them to the nearest trees…I swear…We will continue to hang them in the prisons, as well…We will apply such things [tortures] that were not even seen on the horror movies.”
Peker’s incendiary words and Erdogan’s quest to retain power at all costs—even the lives of his countrymen—need to be met with equal outrage by people who support democracy and human rights and the rule of law. They must not turn a blind eye to what is unfolding in Turkey or believe that the same could never happen to them. Martin Niemöller, a Lutheran ministerwho lived in concentration camps for seven years during Nazi rule, saw firsthand the folly of not speaking up in face of injustice when the injustice is happening to someone else. When the Nazis came for the Socialists, the Trade Unionists and the Jews, Niemöller recalled in the early post-war years, he did not speak out. The consequences of his inaction became clear when the Nazis came for Niemöller. His words were stark: “… —and there was no one left to speak for me.” Remaining silent is not the answer to the deeds of power-hungry tyrants.Today the “someone else” is the Turkish people, tomorrow another someone else, until a tomorrow comes and no one is left to speak.
*Dr. Kadir Akyuz is an assistant professor at University of Bridgeport.
War in Libya: A rare instance of US-Russian cooperation
There is little that Russia and the United States agree on these days. Renegade Libyan Field Marshal Khalifa Belqasim Haftar may be a rare exception.
As Mr. Haftar’s mortars rained on the southern suburbs of the Libyan capital Tripoli and fighting between his Libyan National Army (LNA) and the United Nations-recognized government expanded to the south of the country, both Russia and the United States stopped a call for a ceasefire from being formally tabled in the UN Security Council.
Russia, which has joined US allies that include the United Arab Emirates, Saudi Arabia, Egypt and France, in supporting Mr. Haftar because of his grip on Libya’s oil resources and assertions that Islamists dominate the Tripoli government, objected to the British draft resolution because it blamed the rebel officer for the fighting.
The United States gave no reason for its objection. Yet, it shares Russia’s aversion to Islamists and clearly did not want to break ranks with some of its closest Middle Eastern allies, certainly not at a time that the UN was investigating allegations that the UAE had shipped weapons to Mr. Haftar in violation of an international arms embargo.
The significance of US-Russian agreement on Mr. Haftar’s geopolitical value goes far beyond Libya. It reveals much of how presidents Donald J. Trump and Vladimir Putin see the crafting of a new world order. It also says a great deal about Russian objectives in the Middle East and North Africa.
Messrs. Trump and Putin’s preference for a man with a questionable human rights record who, if successful, would likely rule Libya as an autocrat, reflects the two leaders’ belief that stability in the Middle East and North Africa is best guaranteed by autocratic rule or some democratic façade behind which men with military backgrounds control the levers of power.
It is a vision of the region promoted by representatives of UAE crown prince Mohammed bin Zayed who sees authoritarian stability as the best anti-dote to popular Arab revolts that swept the region in 2011 and more recently in Algeria and Sudan are proving to have a second lease on life.
Underlying the Trump-Putin understanding is a tacit agreement among the world’s illiberal, authoritarian and autocratic leaders on the values that would underwrite a new world order. It is an agreement that in cases like Libya reduces rivalry among world powers to a fight about the divvying up of the pie rather than the concepts such as human and minority rights that should undergird the new order.
Moscow’s support for Mr. Haftar serves Russia’s broader vision of the Middle East and North Africa as an arena in which Russia can successfully challenge the United States even if Messrs. Trump and Putin agree on what side to support in a Libyan civil war that is aggravated by the interference of foreign powers.
Russia national security scholar Stephen Blank argues that Mr. Putin’s strategy is rooted in the thinking of Yevgeny Primakov, a Russian Middle East expert, linguist and former spymaster, foreign minister and deputy prime minister.
Mr. Primakov saw the Middle East as a key arena for countering the United States that would enable Russia, weakened by the demise of the Soviet Union and economic problems, to regain its status as a global and regional power and ensure that it would be one pole in a multi-polar world.
“In order to reassert Russia’s greatness, Primakov and Putin aimed ultimately at strategic denial, denying Washington sole possession of a dominant role in the Middle East from where US influence could expand to the Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS)” established in the wake of the demise of the Soviet Union to group post-Soviet states, Mr. Blank said.
Messrs. Primakov and Putin believed that if Russia succeeded it would force the United States to concede multi-polarity and grant Russia the recognition it deserves. That, in turn, would allow Mr. Putin to demonstrate to the Russian elite his ability to restore great power status.
Syria offered Russia the opportunity to display its military prowess without the United States challenging the move. At the same time, Russia leveraged its political and economic clout to forge an alliance with Turkey and partner with Iran. The approach served to defang Turkish and Iranian influence in the Caucasus and Central Asia, Mr. Blank argued.
Similarly, Russia after brutally repressing religiously inspired Chechen rebels in the 1990s and despite the lingering memory of the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan, has in line with UAE precepts, proven to be far defter than either China or the United States at promoting politically pacifist or apolitical loyalist Islam in a complex game of playing both sides against the middle.
Russian engagement runs the gamut from engaging with militants to cooperating with Muslim autocrats to encouraging condemnation of activist strands of ultra-conservative Islam to hedging its bets by keeping its lines open to the Tripoli-based Government of National Accord (GNA).
Even if Russia may be walking a tightrope in balancing its relationships with Mr. Haftar and GNA Prime Minister Fayez al-Sarraj, like in Syria, it is positioning itself with the backing of the UAE, Saudi Arabia and Egypt as the potential mediator that maintains ties to both sides of the divide.
Said Russian foreign minister Sergei Lavrov: “We believe that Libya’s future must be determined by the Libyans themselves. We are convinced that there is no alternative to an inclusive intra-Libyan dialogue… Our work on this track proceeds in this spirit and the belief that there is no alternative to preserving the sovereignty and territorial integrity of Libya.”
Battling for the Future: Arab Protests 2.0
Momentous developments across Arab North and East Africa suggest the long-drawn-out process of political transition in the region as well as the greater Middle East is still in its infancy.
So does popular discontent in Syria despite eight years of devastating civil war and Egypt notwithstanding a 2013 military coup that rolled back the advances of protests in 2011 that toppled Hosni Mubarak and brought one of the country’s most repressive regimes to power.
What developments across northern Africa and the Middle East demonstrate is that the drivers of the 2011 popular revolts that swept the region and forced the leaders of Egypt, Tunisia, Libya and Yemen to resign not only still exist but constitute black swans that can upset the apple cart at any moment.
The developments also suggest that the regional struggle between forces of change and ancien regimes and militaries backed by the United Arab Emirates and Saudi Arabia is far from decided.
If anything, protesters in Algeria and Sudan have learnt at least one lesson from the failed 2011 results: don’t trust militaries even if they seemingly align themselves with demonstrators and don’t surrender the street until protesters’ demands have been fully met.
Distrust of the military has prompted an increasing number of Sudanese protesters to question whether chanting “the people and the army are one” is still appropriate. Slogans such as “freedom, freedom” and “revolution, revolution” alongside calls on the military to protect the protesters have become more frequent.
The protests in Algeria and Sudan have entered a critical phase in which protesters and militaries worried that they could be held accountable for decades of economic mismanagement, corruption and repression are tapping in the dark.
With protesters emboldened by their initial successes in forcing leaders to resign, both the demonstrators and the militaries, including officers with close ties to Saudi Arabia and the UAE, are internally divided about how to proceed.
Moreover, neither side has any real experience in managing the crossroads at which they find themselves while it is dawning on the militaries that their tired playbooks are not producing results.
In a telling sign, Sudan’s interim leader Abdel Fattah Abdelrahman Burhan praised his country’s “special relationship” with Saudi Arabia and the UAE as he met this week with a Saudi-Emirati delegation at the military compound in Khartoum, a focal point of the protests.
Saudi Arabia has expressed support for the protests in what many suspect is part of an effort to ensure that Sudan does not become a symbol of the power of popular sovereignty and its ability to defeat autocracy.
The ultimate outcome of the dramatic developments in Algeria and Sudan and how the parties manoeuvre is likely to have far-reaching consequences in a region pockmarked by powder kegs ready to explode.
Mounting anger as fuel shortages caused by Western sanctions against Syria and Iran bring life to a halt in major Syrian cities have sparked rare and widespread public criticism of president Bashar al-Assad’s government.
The anger is fuelled by reports that government officials cut in line at petrol stations to fill up their tanks and buy rationed cooking gas and take more than is allowed.
Syria is Here, an anonymous Facebook page that reports on economics in government-controlled areas took officials to task after state-run television showed oil minister Suleiman al-Abbas touring petrol stations that showed no signs of shortage.
“Is it so difficult to be transparent and forward? Would that undermine anyone’s prestige? We are a country facing sanctions and boycotted. The public knows and is aware,” the Facebook page charged.
The manager of Hashtag Syria, another Facebook page, was arrested when the site demanded that the oil ministry respond to reports of anticipated price hikes with comments rather than threats. The site charged that the ministry was punishing the manager “instead of dealing with the real problem.”
Said Syrian journalist Danny Makki: “It (Syria) is a pressure cooker.”
Similarly, authorities in Egypt, despite blocking its website, have been unable to stop an online petition against proposed constitutional amendments that could extend the rule of President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi until 2034 from attracting more than 320,000 signatures as of this writing.
The petition, entitled Batel or Void, is, according to Netblocks, a group that maps web freedom, one of an estimated 34,000 websites blocked by Egyptian internet service providers in a bid to stymie opposition to the amendments.
Mr. El-Sisi is a reminder of how far Arab militaries and their Gulf backers are potentially willing to go in defense of their vested interests and willingness to oppose popular sovereignty.
Libyan renegade Field Marshall Khalifa Belqasim Haftar is another, Mr. Haftar’s Libyan National Army (LNA) is attacking the capital Tripoli, the seat of the United Nations recognized Libyan government that he and his Emirati, Saudi, and Egyptian backers accuse of being dominated by Islamist terrorists.
The three Arab states’ military and financial support of Mr. Haftar is but the tip of the iceberg. Mr. Haftar has modelled his control of much of Libya on Mr. El-Sisi’s example of a military that not only dominates politics but also the economy.
As a result, the LNA is engaged in businesses ranging from waste management, metal scrap and waste export, and agricultural mega projects to the registration of migrant labour workers and control of ports, airports and other infrastructure. The LNA is also eyeing a role in the reconstruction of Benghazi and other war-devastated or underdeveloped regions.
What for now makes 2019 different from 2011 is that both sides of the divide realize that success depends on commitment to be in it for the long haul. Protesters, moreover, understand that trust in military assertions of support for the people can be self-defeating. They further grasp that they are up against a regional counterrevolution that has no scruples.
All of that gives today’s protesters a leg up on their 2011 counterparts. The jury is out on whether that will prove sufficient to succeed where protesters eight years ago failed.
As Marsha Lazareva languishes in jail, foreign businesses will “think twice” before investing in Kuwait
IF THERE IS one thing to glean from the case of Marsha Lazareva, it’s that foreign businesses must now think very carefully before investing in Kuwait.
For more than a year, Lazareva, who has a five-year-old son and is one of Russia’s most successful female investors in the Gulf, has been held in the Soulabaiya prison by Kuwaiti authorities. Those authorities claim she ‘stole’ half a billion dollars, a claim she strenuously denies.
Human rights groups and prominent officials, including the former FBI director, Louis Freeh, and Jim Nicholson, former Chairman of the Republican Party and former US Ambassador to the Vatican, have called for her release and expressed concerns about the apparent absence of due process in a country where Lazareva has worked for over 13 years. Both Freeh and Nicholson visited Kuwait in recent weeks with Neil Bush, son of the late President George H. W. Bush. Bush has said Lazareva’s incarceration ‘threatens to darken relations between the U.S. and Kuwait, two countries that have enjoyed a long and prosperous relationship.’
Russian officials have been equally concerned. Vladimir Platonov, the President of the Moscow Chamber of Commerce and Industry, confirmed that a single witness gave testimony in Kuwaiti court, and only for the prosecution. ‘I myself worked in prosecution for more than eight years, and I cannot imagine any judge signing off on an indictment like this,’ he said. ‘One fact of particular note is that Maria was given 1,800 pages of untranslated documents in Arabic.’
Serious questions surrounding the safety and future viability of investing in Kuwait are now being raised. Through The Port Fund, a private investment company managed by KGL Investment, Lazareva has contributed hundreds of millions of dollars to local infrastructure and economic development projects during her time in the country. Until 2017, when a Dubai bank froze $496 million without cause, she had worked largely unobstructed.
But as things stand, more foreign investment is unlikely to be forthcoming. Jim Nicholson has said that the ‘imprisonment and harassment’ of Lazareva ‘threatens’ U.S. support. adding that the ‘willingness of the U.S. to do business with Kuwait’ is based on ‘its record as a nation that respects human rights and the rule of law’. Mark Williams, the investment director of The Port Fund and a colleague of Lazareva’s, has called on international investors to ‘think twice before doing business in this country’.
These comments will surely concern the Kuwaiti government, who said last year that FDI was ‘very crucial’ to the success of its Kuwait Vision 2035 road map. In September 2018, the FTreported that the government planned to reverse its traditional position as an investor in order to diversify its economy, carrying out a series of reforms designed to facilitate foreign investment and assist investors.
But despite these changes, which have propelled Kuwait to 96th—higher than the Middle East average—in the World Bank’s ‘Ease of Doing Business’ report, investors may be unwilling to take the risk so long as Lazareva remains in jail. Lazareva’s lawyers have accused Kuwait of violating international law by breaching a long-standing bilateral investment treaty with Russia. Lord Carlile of Berriew, QC has brought the case to the attention of the British public and the EU, writing in The Times that ‘there is no evidential basis to justify any claim of dishonesty, corruption or any other criminal wrong’. He added: ’Anyone thinking of doing business in Kuwait should read on with mounting concern.’
What’s worth remembering is that Kuwait is an important, long-standing ally of the UK, and a country generally seen as stable and fair. It is equally a major non-NATO ally of the United States, where there are more than 5,000 international students of Kuwaiti origin in higher education. But these relationships, and the investment to which they have historically led, have been cast into doubt. And it now seems certain that relations will continue to sour so long as Marsha Lazareva languishes in Soulabaiya.
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