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Great Purges Of Tyrants

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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.

Zakir Gul, Ph.D., is an associate professor in criminal justice at State University of New York (SUNY) in Plattsburgh, where he teaches courses such as terrorism, cyber-terrorism, homeland security and intelligence, transnational crime, and policing and society. Previously, he founded a graduate program on international security and served as the founding director. He also worked in several research centers on terrorism and intelligence, and served as the deputy editor-in-chief of a peer-reviewed journal on policing.

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Middle East

Why is Melih Bulu Seen as a Pro-AKP “Trustee” Rector?

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Photo: Youth Committees / Twitter

The new year started under the shadow of social tensions triggered by Melih Bulu’s appointment to the rectorate of Bosphorus University by President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan. Professor Melih Bulu had founded the Sarıyer district organization of the incumbent AK Party in 2002. Bulu who in 2015 became a candidate for being a deputy from AK Party could not gain nomination to run in the elections. Bulu also worked as a rector in two private universities before: İstinye University and Haliç University.

On December 31 2020, Bulu was the rectorate of Haliç University. The abrupt appointment of Bulu as the rector to Turkey’s most prestigious university prompted a major outrage since the move was regarded as a direct interruption of academic freedom.

Melih Bulu’s appointment to the rectorate of Bosphorus University caused a large unrest among Bosphorus students, graduates and scholars. In addition, people coming from different sectors of society who are critical of Erdoğan administration have also joined the “anti-Bulu” protest campaign on social media. After Bulu’s appointment, Bosphorus University students protested the appointment on social media by using the hashtag #KayyumRektörİstemiyoruz (“We don’t want a trustee rector”). For a couple of days, students of Bosphorus University have been making protests calling Bulu to resign. However Bulu posted an announcement on his Twitter account saying that he will embrace everyone and he is very excited and happy for his new duty.

After Bulu’s appointment, not just his political identity affiliated with AK Party was put under debate but also his academic background was put under scrutiny as well. Allegations of plagiarism against him broke out especially on Twitter. Bulu defined these allegations as “slander” and argued that this was the literature survey part of his PhD thesis and said, “I did not write some parts between quotation marks. We did not have something written available. There were different citation rules but I put it in the bibliography section.”

According to the Global Academic Freedom Index Turkey has only 9.7 points out of 100 and it is in the rank of 135 out of 144 countries. Turkey is in the similar level with Syria and Turkmenistan.

In previous weeks, journalist Cüneyt Özdemir hosted Bulu in his live Youtube programme and in live broadcast, Bulu saluted the students from the window of his office at rectorate building while the students yelled asking for his resign and this act of Bulu caused surprises and ironies on social media. Amid this environment, on January 5, a group of Bosphorus University academics staged a peaceful protest by standing with their backs to the rectorate building during the handover ceremony for Bulu. The academics of Bosphorus University  made a public statement underlining that this appointment is a practice introduced for the first time after the 1980s military tutelage.

Their full statement is as follows:

“’We don’t accept, we don’t give up!’

On January 1, 2021 at midnight, an academic outside Bogazici University community was appointed as rector, which is a practice introduced for the first time after the 1980s military tutelage.

This is yet another case of many ongoing anti-democratic practices since 2016, aiming at abolishing rectorial elections. We do not accept it as it clearly violates academic freedom and scientific autonomy as well as the democratic values of our university. We refuse to compromise the principles the University Senate officially stated in 2012:

1. To enhance scientific research and social development, it is indispensable that universities be free from any pressure or influence from a person or an institution and not be used as a political tool.

2. For academic freedom, it is imperative that decision-making processes be delegated to democratically elected academic administrators and boards. All academic administrators including the Rector, Deans, Directors of Institute, Directors of Schools and Department Heads can be appointed only after being elected by the university community.

3. As universities are autonomous constitutional establishments, it is vital that university instructors and/or university boards decide on academic programs and research policies, which is an essential prerequisite for scientific freedom and creativity.

We strictly adhere to the principles above and we pledge to follow them up with all the other members of our university community.”

On the other hand, police forces detained more than 20 university students in home raids after the protests against the appointment of Bulu. In the mainstream pro-government media actors’ coverage of these events, it is argued that the detained people are not students, but they are members of illegal organizations whereas Canan Kaftancıoğlu, the Republican People’s Party’s current provincial president in Istanbul rejected this and argued that they are students.

According to Althusser (1971), the modern state keeps the authority and control through two main systems: Repressive State Apparatuses & Ideological State Apparatuses. One of  areas concerning the ideological state apparatuses is known as education. In this regard, Erdoğan’s appointment of Bulu can be seen as a step of using ideological state apparatuses.

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Middle East

Morocco Increases Pressure on Hezbollah by Arresting One of its Alleged Financiers

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At a time when global attention is focused on the fight against the pandemic and the global effort to vaccinate populations, terrorist organizations and organized crime are trying to take advantage of the situation to carry out operations to finance their operations. In this context, Morocco’s announcement of the arrest of an alleged international con man linked to Hezbollah is considered a success for the Moroccan security services.

According to an official statement relayed by the Moroccan Official Agency, a suspect was arrested last Wednesday by the National Brigade of the Judicial Police (BNPJ). The 57-year-old Lebanese national is linked to the Hezbollah movement, an organization supported by Iran and considered as a terrorist group by the United States, the Netherlands and the United Kingdom. During the search conducted by the Moroccan police force, following intelligence and investigative work carried out by the Directorate General of Territorial Surveillance (DGST), investigators found European passports – French and Italian – as well as identity documents listed in the Interpol database as stolen. The suspect was taken into custody and brought before the King’s Prosecutor in order to continue the investigation, in partnership with Interpol and the countries involved in the alleged identity document thefts.

U.S. Recognition of Moroccan Sovereignty over Western Sahara

Moroccan authorities believed the suspect used these false identities to present himself as holding important roles in multinational corporations to defraud victims with promises of juicy deals and quick profit. While it is unclear at this stage of the investigation whether the international swindler intended to raise funds for Hezbollah, the arrest comes at a particularly crucial time for Morocco, following the recognition by the United States of America of Moroccan sovereignty over the disputed territory of Western Sahara on December the 10th, and the resumption of diplomatic relations with Israël. After this recognition, The US announced a 3 billion dollars investment plan to help Morocco boost its economy and development, as well as the opening of a regional office of its “Prosper Africa” initiative. Moreover, this Sunday, the Assistant Secretary of State for Near Eastern Affairs David Schenker came to Western Sahara on the 9th of January to inaugurate a U.S. consulate in the coastal city of Dakhla, alongside the Moroccan minister for foreign affairs, Nasser Bourita.

Morocco Broke off diplomatic relations with Iran in 2018

Since 2018, Morocco has vigorously denounced Hezbollah’s alleged links with the Polisario Front separatist movement, and broke diplomatic relations with Tehran in the process, as explained by the Think-Tank Atlantic Council . Although both Iran and Hezbollah immediately refuted Morocco’s accusations regarding the organization’s alleged links with the Polisario Front, Rabat continued to increase its pressure and has since taken substantive action to curb the actions of the organization’s agents. In March 2017,  Kingdom arrested at the Casablanca airport Kassem Tajjedine, described by the Americans as the main financier of the organization. The latter was wanted for fraud, money laundering, and financing of terrorist activity, according to Reuters. Tajjedine was extradited to the US where he was sentenced to five years in Prison, and was released on July 2020 as part of a secret US-Iran deal.

Morocco is considered a stable country in North Africa, both on the political and economic level, as well as an important Hub for doing business in Africa and Europe. Over the last twenty years, the Kingdom had a steady growth rate of its GDP at around 4% and built top-class infrastructures, including the largest African port in Tangiers, 2000 Miles of Highway, a High-Speed train between Tangiers and Rabat, and the largest solar station of Africa in the south of the country.

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Middle East

Egypt’s search for a fig leaf: It’s not the Handball World Championship

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Photo: Flickr/Ninian Reid

Hosting major sports tournaments can confer prestige on a country, but in the case of Egypt, the 2021 Handball World Championship will do little to repair its relations with the US, Italy and states in the Gulf, argues James M. Dorsey in this analysis.

***

Egyptian general-turned president Abdel Fattah Al-Sisi sees the 2021 men’s handball world championship in Cairo and Alexandria as an opportunity to put his best foot forward at a time when Egypt’s relations with its closest regional and global partners are encountering substantial headwinds.

Successful hosting of the championship, the first to involve 32 rather than 24 competing teams, would also serve to  counter criticism of the government’s handling of the coronavirus pandemic. Egyptian health minister Hala Zayed recently admitted that many more Egyptians contracted the virus than the government has so far reported. A successful hosting would further put a crown in the feather of Egyptian-born International Handball Federation (IHF) president Hassan Moustafa.

Egypt has put strict pandemic-related precautionary heath measures in place for the tournament from the moment teams, officials, and journalists arrive at Cairo International Airport. The measures apply to training, lodging and media arrangements as well as the transport to and from hotels and the championship’s four designated match venues. Egypt is determined to ensure that the championship does not turn into a spreader of Covid-19.

That concern prompted the IHF and Egyptian authorities at the last minute to shelve a plan to allow fans into the four venues that include the Cairo Stadium Sports Hall, the New Capital Sports Hall in Egypt’s newly built desert capital east of Cairo, the Dr Hassan Moustafa Sports Hall in Giza, and the Borg Al Arab Sports Hall in Alexandria.

The IHF said the decision was taken “considering the current COVID-19 situation as well as concerns that have been raised, amongst others by the players themselves.”

Critics charge that Egypt is hosting the tournament even though it seems unable to meet the basic requirements of medical personnel who are on the frontline of the fight against the pandemic.

Doctors and nurses have protested against the high number of infections in their ranks because  they lack access to sufficient personnel protection equipment and are threatened with imprisonment if they fail to report to work despite the risk to their lives.

Symptomatic for Mr. Al-Sisi’s brutal crackdown on any kind of criticism, several doctors have been arrested on terrorism charges for voicing their grievances.

Putting aside the fact that the impact of a handball tournament pales when compared to the prestige of hosting a mega-event like the World Cup or the Olympic Games, the handball tournament is unlikely to provide much of a fig leaf for Mr. Al-Sisi’s hardhanded repression of anyone voicing an opinion but his sycophantic supporters.

That is particularly true for the incoming administration of US President-elect Joe Biden that has not only promised to emphasize human rights in its foreign policy but also needs to do so in its bid to repair America’s image and restore its credibility, severely damaged by four years of Donald J. Trump, widely viewed as an authoritarian who undermined foundations of democracy.

Similarly, the tournament will not change perceptions in Italy and much of Europe that hold Mr. Al-Sisi’s intelligence service and law enforcement responsible for the kidnapping, torture and killing of Giulio Regeni.

A 28-year-old postgraduate student at Cambridge University, Mr. Regeni had been researching Egypt’s independent unions before he went missing in late January 2016. His body was found in a ditch so badly mutilated that his mother could only identify her son by the tip of his nose. He reportedly had sustained a broken neck, wrist, toes, fingers, and teeth before his death, while initials were carved into his severely burned and bruised skin.

Relations between Egypt and Italy last month deteriorated further when Egypt’s public prosecution closed its investigation into Mr. Regeni’s murder, rejecting Italian prosecutors’ findings that accused four Egyptian security officials of responsibility for his death.

Mr. Al-Sisi’s abominable human rights record may not be of concern to the United Arab Emirates and Saudi Arabia but equally the tournament will do little to repair cracks in his relationship with the two Gulf states, his main financial backers.

In a move that will not have gone unnoticed in Gulf capitals, Egypt anointed the newly opened, Qatari-owned St. Regis hotel on the banks of the Nile River in Cairo as one of the tournament’s key logistics nodes, including its media center.

Qatari Finance Minister Ali Sharif al-Emadi landed in Cairo last week to inaugurate the hotel hours after a Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) summit lifted a 3.5-year long Saudi-UAE led economic and diplomatic boycott of Qatar, in which Egypt as well as Bahrain participated. Mr. Al-Emadi was the first Qatari Cabinet official to visit Egypt since the boycott was imposed in 2017.

Showcasing the hotel was meant to counter-intuitively signal to Saudi Arabia and the UAE Egypt’s concern that reconciliation with Qatar involved far too many concessions, including dropping demands for the closure of Qatar’s state-funded, freewheeling Al Jazeera television network and a halt to support of political groups like the Muslim Brotherhood.

Egypt was forced to reluctantly agree to lifting the boycott even though it accepted continued Qatari investment and Qatari gas supplies over the last 3.5 years.

Egypt also felt sidelined by the UAE and Bahrain’s establishment of diplomatic relations with Israel. The move deprived Egypt of its role as Israel’s primary official diplomatic conduit to the Arab world at a moment that the Al-Sisi regime is seeking to put its best foot forward in anticipation of Mr. Biden taking office.

Mr. Al-Sisi’s concerns are compounded by Emirati support for Ethiopia with which he is at odds over the construction of a dam on the Nile that threatens Egypt’s water supply; the UAE’s growing influence in neighboring Sudan; plans to link the UAE and Israel through a pipeline that would compete with Egypt in selling gas to Europe; and Emirati interest in the port of Haifa that could create an alternative to the Suez Canal.

All of this could undermine Egypt’s position as a key pillar of US Middle East policy and persuade the US to further shift the focal point of its broader Middle East and North Africa policy to the Gulf.

Mr. Al-Sisi has sought to pre-empt an incoming Biden administration by releasing prisoners, highlighting his good relations with Egyptian Christians, and hiring US lobbying firms to plead his case to the Biden camp as well as Capitol Hill.

Hosting a handball world championship is a minor maneuver in the mountain that Mr. Al-Sisi is trying to move, particularly one that Mr. Trump tarnished by describing the Egyptian leader as “my favorite dictator.” That is a label a handball tournament is unlikely to alter.

Author’s note: This article first appeared on Play the Game

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