x Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 25 July 2017

Turkish protests are not just about Turkey

The Taksim Square protests have broader implications for the Arab world, Arab columnists say. Other topics: Egyptian culture and sectarianism.

Turkish protests are not just about Turkey, but embody regional and ideological conflicts

Are the events unfolding in Turkey the beginning of an Turkish Spring or is it all "a storm in a cup of Turkish coffee"? Can these events be read in isolation from the context of the Arab Spring, or are they part of a foreign conspiracy? These questions, among others, have been addressed by Arab columnists.

Abdulrahman Al Rashed wrote for Asharq Al Awsat that Turkey's "environmental uprising" has been seen differently. Iran and Syria saw it as divine intervention to save a crumbling neighbour; Israel, even after reconciliation with Turkey, believes prime minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan is a headache, as he might seek to regain popularity at their expense; and then there are Arab liberals who deem the protests to be against Islamists at large.

In fact, the naming of the third Bosphorus bridge after Sultan Selim II, a notorious Ottoman leader, encapsulates a wider conflict between secularists and Islamists, wrote Mohamed Salah in the London-based Al Hayat.

It also demonstrates a growing Turkish influence among Brotherhood-led Arab governments which look forward to a Turkish-style government.

Pro-Erdogan Arabs are concerned about Turkey, which under Mr Erdogan's party, the AKP, has seen an omnipotent army tamed, western support gained and economic progress achieved.

But Arab opponents of the AKP wish for an uprising in Turkey, as they fear Arab Islamists could - like the AKP - democratically stay in office for decades.

Ilyas Harfoush wrote that the Turkish unrest cannot be dissociated from the context of the Arab revolts that ousted some dictators.

Renovation plans for Taksim Square were the direct cause of the protests. Other causes had to do with Mr Erdogan's overall policies, billed as anti-secular.

But criticisms of "Islamisation" by the Turkish opposition are not new. They are as old as the AKP's decade in office. It would be naive then to disregard the foreign element that stoked such events at this point. Remember the Reyhanli bombings.

The unrest in Turkey is attributable to its support of Arab uprisings, namely Mr Erdogan's strong stand against his former ally, Syrian leader Bashar Al Assad, whose regime brazenly called on Mr Erdogan to step down for his brutality against the Turks. Mr Erdogan, however, made a bad mistake when he levelled accusations at protesters and the opposition.

According to Hussein Shobokshi, a columnist with Asharq Al Awsat, the Al Assad regime and Israel are the only winners from the unrest, if not accomplices in it.

Bater Wardam argued in Jordan's Addustour that Mr Erdogan is a charismatic leader, intelligent enough to learn his lesson on how to handle protests and make concessions to avoid any Turkish Spring. So it will soon be all "storm in a small cup of Turkish coffee", Wardam concluded.

Egyptian culture is hanging in balance

Egyptian culture is at a critical crossroad following the controversial appointment of Alaa Abdel Aziz as minister of culture, wrote Jamal Al Qassas for the London-based Asharq Al Awsat.

Egyptian intellectuals have opposed the appointment of Mr Abdel Aziz, saying in a statement signed by many, that it was in insult to them; they also announced the formation of a bloc of artists and intellectuals to protect Egyptian identity, the report said.

"There is an attack on Egyptian culture," said Press Syndicate member Jamal Fahmi during a recent conference titled "In defence of national identity". "It is not only about appointing someone nobody knows as minister of culture; it is about the attempt to control the Egyptian mind and dominate the entire state."

The statement, signed by participants in the conference, complained that a post-revolution minister of culture must be a high-profile intellectual figure able to restore Egypt's soft power and shield its political landscape from bigotry and assaults on freedom.

Mr Abdel Aziz outraged intellectuals when he spoke of "purging the ministry of corruption"; attempted to change the name of The Family's Library book series; and sacked Egyptian Book Authority head Ahmed Mujahid, Opera House head Ines Abdel Dayem, and Fine Arts Sector head Salah El Meligy.

Sectarianism rules the roost in the Arab world

Gone are the days when an Arab would say he was an Arab without his interlocutor asking him to specify his faith and sect, wrote Ghassan Charbel in London-based Al Hayat.

"I was not a fan of those who used pan-Arabism to ascend to power and strip people of freedom and dignity … nor was I a fan of those tyrants who capitalised on the Palestinian cause to open institutes for assassination, torture and manipulation," the writer said.

"But I would see pan-Arabism as a pillow against alternative nightmares and suicidal narrow identities," he continued. "I would bet on time to navigate us towards a cultural Arabism and spare us the lexicon of daggers, graves and darkness."

Arabs felt a thread connecting them to capitals across the nation; they felt that they could stay the night in Baghdad, Damascus, Cairo and elsewhere without asking about the faith of their neighbours at the hotel.

Now that bond is falling apart and portends the worst in the days to come. On streets, in articles and on TV channels, sectarianism rules the roost.

You cannot just say you are Iraqi; you have to clarify whether you are a Sunni, Shiite or Kurd. You cannot say you are Syrian, you must specify whether you are Alawite or Sunni. The list goes on.

* Digest compiled by Abdelhafid Ezzouitni