x Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 22 January 2018

Turkey's leader learns a lesson in democracy

There is no reason to believe that the protests in Turkey are the latest round in the Arab Spring, says an Arabic-language writert. Other topics: Syrian lie, Palestinian PM.

The protests that took the Turkish authorities by a storm last week are teaching Turkey's prime minister, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, "a democratic lesson the hard way", Ibrahim Ghanem wrote yesterday in a column in the Egyptian newspaper Al Ahram.

The protests, which are ongoing and have left hundreds of people injured, erupted in Istanbul and spread to Ankara and Izmir, following a heavy-handed response by the municipal authorities to quell demonstrations against plans to develop a popular park near Taksim Square in downtown Istanbul.

Some reports said the development involved cutting trees to make way for a shopping centre; other said the plan was to build a luxury hotel, in addition to the reconstruction of an Ottoman-era army barracks that had been turned by Republicans in the 1940s into a public park with free parking space, Ghanem said.

The lesson that Turkey's moderate Islamist rulers must have learnt by now is this: "The one-way, top-down exercise of power … creates a distance between you and the grassroots who voted for you. That eventually numbs you to the pulse of ordinary people," the writer noted.

Surely, these protests are not just a "transient fit of anger" at a municipal decision. In fact, the decision caused such a stir because it fit into a growing public perception that Prime Minister Erdogan's Justice and Development Party (AKP) has been drifting away from community-focused projects and closing towards "capitalist projects of provocative scale", the author noted.

The municipal decision's main error has to do with a misjudgement of the local community's sensitivities to a project of that sort, he wrote. "Some Turkish analysts say the decision is a manifestation of 'mismanagement' and poor communication between officials and the public, which is the main stakeholder."

While this might cost the AKP valuable grassroots support, it will not spell doom for the party.

Since the issue is not structural or festering, the development project at the centre of the issue is fixable - at minimum political and social costs - like other potentially flawed public initiatives that routinely pique segments of the community into action.

Indeed, all talk about the "beginning of the Turkish Spring" - suggesting fundamental changes that the Arab Spring has brought to several Arab regimes - is misplaced and poorly substantiated.

"These protests do not yet qualify as the beginning of the Turkish Spring, simply because they did not erupt as a backlash to an ignorance to demands for democracy, freedom, social equality or fighting corruption," Ghanem observed. "These protests are a function of the ideological rift between hardline secularists/ Kemalists and the followers of an Islamist democratic/reformist movement."

Syria unrest exposes 'rejectionalism' lie

Aside from exposing the sectarianism and brutality of President Bashar Al Assad's regime, the Syrian revolution has also laid bare a big lie that was tossed around for so long that countless Arabs bought into it, according to the Emirati journalist Ahmed Al Mansouri, who writes for the Abu Dhabi-based newspaper Al Ittihad.

That lie is called "rejectionism", the writer said.

Similar to the notion of "resistance", which is used just as often in more feisty discourses of Syrian and Hizbollah leaders, "rejectionism" is a term that the Syrian regime has used for decades to describe the Syrian attitude to American and Israeli influence in the region.

"For decades, the trumpeters of these slogans have vowed to destroy the Zionist enemy, promising the Arab world a triumphant victory," the author said. "Now the Syrian revolution has shown how phoney those slogans were, and how they were used for cheap propaganda."

When the Syrian uprising started over two years ago, President Al Assad's generals were quick to train their arsenal on the protesters, but they never dared to fire one bullet at Israel, which has indeed violated Syrian territorial sovereignty on several occasions, hitting targets in and around Damascus.

It is a wonder that some Arabs still believe that lie, the writer said in conclusion.


Hands are tied for new Palestinian PM

Mahmoud Abbas, the president of the Palestinian Authority, has assigned the academic Rami Hamdallah to form a new cabinet following the resignation of the former prime minister, Salam Fayyad, in April.

It is not clear what Mr Hamdallah can achieve, given that there is a set date - August 14 - for the formation of a national unity government between the two main Palestinian factions, Fatah and Hamas, the Dubai-based newspaper Al Bayan noted in an editorial yesterday.

Sure, no one can guarantee that the deadline will be honoured, since both parties have backed away from their commitments on several occasions in the past. But the fact remains that Mr Hamdallah will have to lead a new government for at least two months, without any clear agenda.

"Surely, this government will not go into the whole business of delivering a programme, on the grounds that it is merely a caretaker government - one that is provisional anyway, pending the formation of a national unity government," the newspaper said.

But two months is enough time to get into trouble as a political leader in the West Bank, the paper said.

* Digest compiled by Achraf El Bahi