x Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 16 January 2018

Turkey has come a lot farther than Iran towards democracy

It is informative to compare progress towards freedom and then democracy in Iran and Turkey, a writer says. Other topics: US arms for Syrian rebels, and the Ethiopia-Egypt dispute.

Turkey has made a lot of progress towards real democracy, but Iran is still far from this ideal

Using Arab Spring terminology, it is safe to say that Turkey triumphantly accomplished its quest for "freedom" as far back as 2002, with the rise of the Justice and Development Party (AKP) to power, columnist Hazem Saghiya said in the pan-Arab daily Al Hayat.

Since then, Turkey has been trying to realise the long and arduous transition to democracy.

In that context, the uprising that has been shaking Turkish cities for over two weeks, led mostly by middle class youth, is a brave attempt to reduce the transition period and rectify its course.

The ruling Islamic AKP, which had successfully steered the movement to cast the military out of power, has not been as effective in the subsequent transition to democracy. Its leader Recep Tayyip Erdogan's conduct in authority is more reminiscent of a sultan than of a democratic leader.

"The AKP has been settled in power for too long. Rather than being conducive to democracy, it has become a burden and hindrance to democratisation," the writer said.

In Iran, on the other hand, the 1979 revolution served to entrench and bolster a dictatorship, though not the one the fallen shah had been practicing.

Iran even turned dictatorship into an ideology. In matters pertaining to citizenship, political community, women's rights, freedom of creed, creativity and agricultural reform, the ayatollahs' power widened the gap between Iran and freedom - and subsequently, democracy.

"In this context, the Iranian winds have blown over the Arab world carrying with them a substantial amount of dirt. With its awakening, the sectarian and psyche awakened too. The shift from social to religious took a huge step," the writer added. "And we, in the Arab world, received all that dirt thus whipped up, and with open arms."

The Turkish example, however, allows for some hope for Arabs. As the Turkish battle of transition from freedom to democracy expands, it offers an example for the Arab Spring to move up from the utter chaos and the religious tensions it has fallen into.

"If Turkey was able to transition from freedom to democracy, the Arabs too should be able, in principle, to do the same," the writer suggested.

Turkey's powerful prime minister, Mr Erdogan, was hailed as a progressive leader during the quest for freedom. But public opinion soon turned against him when the time came to demand democracy.

It is a transformation that should encourage Arab countries to deal with the negative outcomes of the Spring, and they are many, while awaiting an opportunity to overcome them.

Turkey's accession to a truly democratic system would undeniably have positive repercussions on the Arab world.


US arms for rebels will change tide of battle

The US president, Barack Obama, surprised the world with his change of heart regarding US intervention in the Syrian conflict, Saudi columnist Abdulrahman Al Rashed wrote in the London-based daily Asharq Al Awsat. His decision may have come late, as the Syrian opposition observed, but better late than never.

On Thursday evening it was announced that the US president had agreed for the first time to send small arms and ammunition to Syrian rebel forces, since his "red line" on chemical weapons had been crossed. This makes the situation closer to the one we saw in Libya.

"The objective in this phase would be toppling the regime through a blend of foreign intervention and support to the rebels on the field," the writer said.

The battle of Qusayr, and the rebels' defeat at the hands of the Syrian army and its Hizbollah allies last month, has indeed awakened all stakeholders.

Alarm bells were sounded in the Gulf, UK, France and Washington, signalling that Iranian domination of a country as regionally influential as Syria would change the equation in the entire region.

"The indications of change in Washington are significant, but it is too early to surmise that the battle is resolved," the writer said. "Nonetheless, the change represents substantial political and military progress, the effects of which will be felt in upcoming days," he added.

Diplomacy is vital in Egypt-Ethiopia dispute

The controversial Ethiopian project to build a dam on the Blue Nile may soon turn into a serious crisis with Egypt, said the Saudi daily Al WatanOnline in an editorial on Saturday.

The Great Renaissance Dam is to provide Ethiopia with large amounts of energy and raise its position on the Global Development Index.

But for Egypt the project's consequences would be dangerous, since the dam reduces the country's water supply and therefore its ability to generate power.

Ethiopia has no intention to negotiate. On Thursday, its parliament ratified an agreement that reduces the share of Nile water that Egypt has long enjoyed.

In response, Egyptian president Mohammed Morsi announced that "all options are open" to defend Egypt's rights.

But the paper said it is "unlikely that the military option would be open in this case, especially since the dam is geographically out of reach for Egyptian military aircraft.

"Ethiopia and Egypt have to reach a solution through diplomacy. Ethiopia's insistence that the dam won't cause problems to Egypt isn't an adequate response. At the same time, Egyptian threats are ineffective and will not stop the dam from being built," the paper concluded.


* Digest compiled by Racha Makarem