x Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 23 January 2018

Protests offer opportunity to EU leaders to cast doubts on Turkey's eligibility to join their club

Despite criticism, the protests and Erdogan's stand on it are unlikely to have a negative impact on Turkey's candidature for EU, an Arab newspaper says. Other Digest topics: Jerusalem, Syria.

Demonstrations are going on in several Turkish cities as protesters call for the resignation of the prime minister, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, who is seen by the opposition as keeping too much power in his hands, the pan-Arab newspaper Al Quds Al Arabi said in an editorial at the weekend.

Mr Erdogan has shunned the "callous tone" he used when the protests first erupted 10 days ago against a government plan to develop a popular park near Taksim Square, in the heart of Istanbul, into a shopping centre, the newspaper said.

After branding the protests as "undemocratic", Mr Erdogan expressed his administration's readiness to hold a dialogue with protest leaders. But the damage has already been done, the paper noted.

The European Union seized on the occasion to launch a "scathing criticism" of Mr Erdogan, expressing doubts over his government's commitment to democracy and the country's eligibility to become a member of the European club.

This led the Turkish premier to accuse the EU of hypocrisy and a double standard, as he reminded the West of the "Occupy Wall Street" protests, during the global financial crisis, which had to be dispersed by force.

"But Mr Erdogan's counterattack on the Europeans might only draw sharper criticisms," the paper said.

This is "because there are parties that would like to use these protests, and the way they were repressed by the Turkish police, as a pretext to impede Turkey's membership in the EU, giving substance to the position of the French-led camp that stands against the Turkish bid."

For his part, Stefan Fule, the European Commissioner in charge of the enlargement of the EU and European neighbourhood policy, said in Istanbul that the excessive use of force "has no place in democracies".

He added, however, that the protests will not affect Turkey's application to join the EU, according to Al Quds Al Arabi.

Mr Erdogan's track record in boosting the Turkish economy is remarkable. "He moved his country from near bankruptcy and heavy debt to the 17th strongest economy in the world," the newspaper said.

But, the fact that he has been in power for more than 11 years is naturally making the opposition nervous, especially because some of the constitutional amendments he had pushed for are meant to turn Turkey into a presidential system that will allow him to stay in power even after he leaves the premiership.

"Seasoned politician that he is, Mr Erdogan must understand that obduracy might yield only negative results - and a shrewd politician knows to hunker down and let it blow over when the gust is too strong. By doing so, he will not give his opponents inside and outside Turkey a chink to undermine his rule."

Rallies are not enough to liberate Jerusalem

Thousands of people in more than 40 countries joined a large number of Palestinians, Arabs and Muslims in marches of solidarity as they commemorated Naksa (setback) Day. It was on this day on June 5, 1967 that Jerusalem fell in the hands of Israeli occupiers.

But do these marches achieve anything concrete?

In an editorial yesterday the Egyptian newspaper Al Ahram said that the slogans chanted during those marches - reminding Israelis that Jerusalem will never be ceded without a fight and encouraging Palestinians to stay strong - are good, but are not enough effort to change the situation on the ground.

"Concrete support for Jerusalem requires more than just a march, or even several marches, whose effect ends as soon as the crowds break up and people go their own way," the newspaper said.

Israeli occupation is wasting no time Judaising the holy city and erasing its Arab-Muslim character to completely alter its identity and demographic structure, the editorial added.

"An integrated pan-Arab strategy that binds all of us to the defence of Jerusalem and the support of its people is a prerequisite," the paper observed.

Action at the international level is also essential to put into effect dormant UN resolutions that favour the Palestinian side in the conflict but are neutralised by Israeli lobbies.

The world has 'never seen' a war like Syria

"The world has never experienced a war like the Syrian war," columnist Mazen Hammad wrote yesterday in an article for the Qatari daily newspaper Al Watan.

"The Lebanese civil war lasted 15 years and did not result in as much human and material loss as the frenzied Syrian infighting has produced in two years," he said.

"Even Israel's two wars against Arabs in 1948 and 1967 did not result in losses and atrocities of the scope that we are seeing in Syria. Similarly, a little over two years of death and destruction in Syria equals, if not surpasses, what Iraq has been through in 10 years of war and occupation," he added.

The number of deaths in the Syrian civil war is estimated at more than 90,000, with about a third of Syria's population of 25 million having either been displaced or turned into refugees.

Take also Afghanistan, which fought a war against the Soviets and, a few years later, had to fight another one against the Americans. Even in Afghanistan, "the death machine did not work at the speed that it did in Syria".

The attrition that Syria is going through is perhaps comparable to Somalia's descent into a failed state, a stage that the African nation reached only after 25 years of chaos.

* Digest complied by Achraf El Bahi