Why are polling booths a threat to western city streets?

Ken Macdonald writes

Of all the things the government might wish to encourage around the world, now more than ever, democracy and its accompanying dignities should be high on the list. And certainly there was praise in Downing Street when four years ago, amid jubilation and a stunningly high turnout, the Arab spring brought free and fair elections to Egypt. This was a distant cry from the present-day horrors of Islamic State and its visitations of violence across borders: surely the polling booths were no threat to western city streets.

The Muslim Brotherhood-inspired government that followed this festival of voting showed its inexperience and did too little to build broader support, particularly with liberals. Yet it easily avoided the criminal abuses of power and violence that have characterised military dictatorship in Egypt since Gamal Abdel Nasser – and it had the considerable merit of being elected, in a region where that was a remarkable distinction. So it was no surprise that senior members of the ruling Freedom and Justice party were lauded guests in London, even visiting Chequers to break bread with David Cameron in his country home.
UAE told UK: crack down on Muslim Brotherhood or lose arms deals
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It wasn’t to last. The silence characterising London’s and Washington’s response to the military destruction of Egypt’s democracy in 2013 may have smelt more of complicity than disapproval, but worse was to follow. The prime minister was not only disinclined to speak up for his former dinner guests in their time of need; he was about to turn on them himself.

Any examination of the thuggish new military government could wait. Executions, mass shootings and show trials were put to one side as Cameron ordered a hostile UK government review into the Muslim Brotherhood’s activities in Britain, just months after tanks had forced its elected government from office. Egyptian generals, saved only by state immunity from being prosecuted for crimes against humanity, might be honoured guests in London, but the deposed ministers of an overthrown democracy were not.

British policymakers, it seems, were not in the mood to indulge these inexperienced, even inept, new democrats. And we may be sure that other, less tenderly minded players in the region noticed.

Any lingering puzzlement at the prime minister’s behaviour was emphatically dispelled when the Guardian recently revealed documents exposing the price tag likely to have attached to any alternative British policy that stood for democracy or failed to demonise victims of the military violence that destroyed it.

These documents made clear that suggestions from its detractors that the Muslim Brotherhood review was just a cynical device to ingratiate Downing Street with nervous allies in the Gulf weren’t just paranoia, as the government repeatedly claimed. In fact, the truth was cruder: principles, the sheikhs had made clear, would cost money.

Senior UAE figures explicitly threatened that, unless the British turned decisively against the Muslim Brotherhood during its period in government billions of pounds worth of arms deals would be lost. And, as Paddy Ashdown told the BBC yesterday, it took just a phone call from the Saudis to persuade the prime minister to launch his review “almost off the top of his head”.

It would be naive to dispute that an argument exists for Britain’s arms industry, as an export asset, to be protected and sustained. Morality and international comity are not always easy companions and our alliances in the Gulf have real strategic value. But in allowing himself to be bundled into quite such an ugly corner Cameron may have confused the wider national interest with the passing satisfaction of bank transfers. He may have passed too much control over our Middle East policy to despots addicted to cruelty.

Certainly, in the light of the unspeakable horrors in Paris, for Britain to have selected for special treatment and condemnation the only mass political movement in the Arab world to have sought legitimacy through suffrage seems a singularly tragic error.
PM should order inquiry into funding of jihadism, Paddy Ashdown says
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In making it, the prime minister may have rubbed up against parts of the British state possessed of much finer instincts than his own. Sir John Jenkins, the former UK ambassador to Saudi Arabia, who led the review, is not so supine in the face of oil-rich tantrums. He has reportedly declined to find that the Muslim Brotherhood represents a serious security threat in the UK at least – and he will not be bullied into tempering his view.

Most probably it is this unwelcome conclusion that has caused repeated postponements to a prime ministerial announcement railing against Islamists in our midst, so keenly anticipated by securocrats, to follow hard on the review. Instead, having foolishly agreed to humour Britain’s friends in the Gulf by traducing participants in a democratic experiment that the oil kingdoms were certainly right to fear, Cameron may now be reluctant to announce substantial measures against the Muslim Brotherhood for fear of provoking their lawyers into bringing a judicial review to force the publication of a report whose unhelpful conclusions he would prefer to keep hidden.

It would be damning irony indeed if the prime minister’s sole achievement in this demeaning affair was to give Whitehall a lesson in the emptiness of appeasement





Syria: Where reason is crushed in the rush to war

David Hearst writes

The First World War started over less. Jets from Turkey, a member of NATO, shot down a Sukhoi 24 fighter from Russia, a state with around 7,700 nuclear warheads, over Turkey’s border with Syria.

The circumstances and location of the shooting are, of course, in dispute. The Turks say it was over their air space, that they warned the Russian pilot 10 times in five minutes, and that they downed the plane “under rules of engagement”.

The Russians say their plane was in Syrian air space and the country’s president, Vladimir Putin, called its destruction “a stab in the back from the accomplices of terror” – meaning Turkey.

Needless to say, this did not come out of the blue. The territory where the Su-24 and its two pilots came down was in a border area controlled by Turkmens who are fighting for the overthrow of the Russian-backed Bashar al-Assad. Only last Friday the Turkish government summoned the Russian ambassador Andrey Karlov to protest at the “intense” Russian bombing of Turkmen villages close to the border.

The Turkish Prime Minister, Ahmet Davutoglu, issued a detailed statement warning that the continued bombing of Turkmen villages could have serious consequences. He said: “Nobody can legitimise attacks targeting our Turkmen, Arab and Kurdish siblings there via claiming to have been fighting against terror.”

Thousands of Turkmen have fled the bombing, and Turkey has been pressing for a meeting of the UN Security Council to protect the minority.

The insanity of intervention

This is only the latest chapter of insanity that is now foreign intervention in Syria. The club of interveners grows by the week. Last week it was France seeking revenge for the attacks on Paris. This week parliament in Britain may overturn its well-rehearsed objections to a bombing campaign in Syria.

What’s going on in Syria is collective, multilateral madness. The Russian, Iranians and Hezbollah are fighting all opposition forces to shore up Assad. Shia fighters in Iraq are welcoming the Russian bombing campaign, having been bombed, they claimed, by the US near Ramadi. The US are providing air cover and special forces units on the ground to back the advance of Peshmerga and Syrian Kurdish groups, but they will not advance further than their own territory.

The $500mn US “train and equip” programme collapsed after many of their Syrian fighters called Division 30 were captured by Jabhat al Nusra, al-Qaeda’s affiliate in Syria.

The Jordanians have withdrawn support for the Free Syrian Army (FSA) brigades including the Southern Front group, which launched a series of offensives in June on the Syrian government’s positions in Daraa. The Military Operations Centre (MOC) in Amman said the attacks were chaotic and ineffective, but says it reached an agreement with Russia not to bomb the Southern Front.

Turkey is fighting the PKK-aligned PYD in northern Syria, while joining Saudi Arabia in backing Jaish al-Fatah, “the Army of Conquest”, which includes in its command structure Jabhat al-Nusra.

What a perfect time for Britain to join the throng. Defying all evidence on the ground, David Cameron claimed in Paris on Monday that “the world was coming together” in its fight against the Islamic State. It was his firm conviction that the UK should join the airstrikes in Syria, and even before a vote in parliament, he revealed that Britain had offered France the use of the RAF base in Akrotiri in Cyprus.

Like Putin whose support for dictatorship in the Middle East is unwavering, Francois Hollande has made France a fully paid-up member of neo-conservative interventionism. He is talking and behaving exactly as George W Bush did in the aftermath of the 9/11 bombings. In fact Hollande is the new Bush. He is even going as far as establishing a French version of the US Patriot Act.

Before even the facts and the numbers of those who planned the raids in Paris on 13 November are known, the French Prime Minister Manuel Valls said on France Inter: “We must fight against Islamism which is a pathology of Islam.”

French fighters could be searching for a wide range of targets in Syria since Islamists – Salafi or Muslim Brotherhood – constitute the biggest single electoral bloc in most Arab countries. A Washington Institute poll found support for the Brotherhood running at about 30 per cent in the very Gulf states which have been doing their utmost to suppress it – the Emirates, Kuwait and Saudi Arabia.

A new cycle of madness

In the aftermath of the Paris attacks, the bitter memory of 14 years of catastrophically misjudged warfare in the Middle East have been jettisoned: the body counts; the civilian casualties from NATO airstrikes; the resurgence of the Sunni-Shia divide; the fracturing of Iraq, Syria, Libya and Yemen; the interventions that Bush and Blair could start but never manage to finish; the inability to build a new state in the ruins of the old.

When Bush declared his “war on terror”, the foreign (mainly Arab) militants fighting alongside the Taliban in Afghanistan numbered 800. A young Jordanian from al-Zarqaa called Ahmad Fadhil al-Khalayleh had just 80 followers at a camp in Herat. In time he became known as Abu Musab al-Zarqawi and – like the Americans – moved his war to Iraq.

In 2015, and eight years after his death, there are between 20,000-30,000 fighters following Zarqawi’s Takfiri sect in Iraq and Syria. Their reach on social media is much wider.

Stanley McChrystal, the one time US counter-insurgency star in Afghanistan who infamously boasted that he could “unpack democracy from the back of a Chinook”, claimed that IS reaches a daily audience of 100 million on social media.

The voices of reason are being drowned out in the call to arms. A sensible and well researched report by the Foreign Affairs Committee arguing why bombing Syria would be a disaster is being ignored, while its chairman Crispin Blunt has sadly switched sides in the debate.

It said there should be no extension of British military action into Syria unless there was a coherent international strategy that has a realistic chance of defeating ISIS and of ending the civil war in Syria: ”In the absence of such a strategy, taking action to meet the desire to do something is still incoherent.”

It considered that the focus on the extension of air strikes against IS in Syria was “a distraction from the much bigger and more important task of finding a resolution to the conflict in Syria and thereby removing one of the main facilitators of ISIS’s rise.

“We are not persuaded that talks involving all parties would be any more of an incentive for people to join ISIS than allowing the continuation of the chaos and conflict.” These conclusions are more valid after the Paris attack than they were before it.

Jeremy Corbyn, Labour’s leader who is pilloried and disparaged every working day, has been the subject of opprobrium – not least from his own party – for saying the obvious. Namely that Britain must not be “drawn into a response that feeds a cycle of violence and hate” following the Paris attacks.

Corbyn said: “The dreadful Paris attacks make the case for a far more urgent effort to reach a negotiated settlement of the civil war in Syria and the end to the threat from Isis. It is the conflict in Syria and the consequences of the Iraq war which have created the conditions for Isis to thrive and spread its murderous rule,” he added.

“For the past 14 years, Britain has been at the centre of a succession of disastrous wars that have brought devastation to large parts of the wider Middle East. They have increased, not diminished, the threats to our own national security in the process.”

No one is listening to him. History, recent history, tells us the West’s response to terrorist attacks in New York, Madrid, Casablanca, London, and now Paris have a been an endlessly self-repeating disaster, spreading the flames, collapsing states, supporting dictators whose only mission in life is self-preservation, crushing any form of democratic expression, making war on moderates and extremists alike, and enlarging the ISIS fan club.

And the news is, we are just about to relive the whole cycle of the last 14 years – anger, revenge, mindless air strikes, civilian deaths and ultimately defeat and withdrawal all over again. Corbyn was right on Iraq in 2003 and he is right on Syria now.





Beware of Trade Deals

File photo taken in 2008 shows farmed bluefin tuna off the coast of Kushimoto in Wakayama Prefecture, western Japan. Around 11,000 of them died after a powerful typhoon struck the region in July 2015. The tuna are believed to have died after crashing into nets or each other amid high waves. (Kyodo) ==Kyodo

International trade deals like the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) need to be carefully examined piece by piece because they can take precedence over a country’s own laws.

Case in point: the World Trade Organization (WTO) on Friday ruled that dolphin-safe tuna labeling rules — required by U.S. law, in an effort to protect intelligent mammals from slaughter — violate the rights of Mexican fishers.

As a result, the U.S. will have to either alter the law or face sanctions from Mexico.




The intensification of the war against ISIS may be inevitable, but it is still a mistake

Paul Rogers writes

The United Nations Security Council voted in favour of Resolution 2249 on 20 November. The France-sponsored document calls all nations to act to prevent and suppress violent actions of the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS). It does not authorise the use of force, nor does it invoke the right to self-defence enshrined in Article 7. But it provides a strong argument for those supporting a far more intense war against ISIS.

The UN news centre reports:

“The [UNSC] this evening called on all countries that can do so to take the war on terrorism to Islamic State-controlled territory in Syria and Iraq and destroy its safe haven, warning that the group intends to mount further terror attacks like those that devastated Paris and Beirut last week.”

Russia backed the resolution in part because its military actions in Syria have propelled the country to a more central international position. If its intervention expresses Vladimir Putin’s aim to restore Russia’s status as a great power, support for the resolution also reflects awareness of the Islamist challenge in Russia itself. The Chinese signed up out of concern over instability in the Gulf, the source of so much of their oil and gas, but also with their own Uyghur challenge in mind.

The practical outcome will be a concentration of the air war and wider use of special forces.  Russia has substantially expanded its air forces in Syria, France is once again deploying its aircraft-carrier to the region, and Britain’s prime minister David Cameron may now get his parliamentary vote to bomb Syria.

But as the war escalates, three ominous elements present a cause for real concern.

The first is that the war against ISIS in Iraq and especially Syria is becoming ever more a western war, with Russia included in what can relentlessly be publicised by ISIS to great effect as a “crusader onslaught” on Islam (see “The Paris atrocity and after“, 14 November 2015. All four Middle East states previously involved in airstrikes in Syria – Jordan, Beirut, Saudi Arabia and the UAE – have withdrawn. Even if they can be persuaded to mount renewed attacks, these will be little more than symbolic. In any case, the view from ISIS is that such states are the willing lackeys of the crusaders.

The second is whether the heightening of military operations against ISIS, now clearly aimed at its complete physical destruction, can be remotely successful. The experience of the fifteenth-month air war is a caution here. As of 13 November, the United States-led Operation Inherent Resolve had seen attacks on 16,075 targets including 4,517 buildings and 4,942 fighting positions. Pentagon figures report that the strikes have killed 20,000 ISIS supporters, up from the 15,000 reported in July. On this basis, the 20,000-30,000 ISIS fighters that were reportedly facing the coalition a year ago should have been torn apart, yet that figure remains unchanged.

Perhaps most notable of all, the estimate of a year ago of 15,000 people going to join ISIS from eighty other countries has now been increased to 30,000 from 100 countries. In short, the persistent refrain from ISIS of being the defender against the crusaders is proving uncomfortably effective (see “Syria, another ‘all-American’ war“, 12 November 2015).

Moreover, destroying ISIS in Syria and Iraq will not be possible without ground troops, which is just what ISIS wants. And even if such destruction were possible, what would come next?  Would it involve long-term western occupation of Iraq and Syria, and what effect would that produce? Would the war then extend to air and ground operations against ISIS in Libya and Yemen, and far more troops going back to Afghanistan?  What about the al-Qaida groups across the Sahel, including those responsible for the attack on 20 November in Mali’s capital, Bamako?

The third element is the need for a more far-sighted view. This series of columns started immediately after 9/11 and has now run for over fourteen years, with most of the emphasis on trying to analyse the unfolding “war on terror”.  If there has been one underlying concern, expressed as each of the major confrontations has evolved, it has been the persistent and dangerous reliance on the “control paradigm” and its consequences (see “The global paradigm: seeing it whole“, 1 May 2014).

The attack on Afghanistan three months after 9/11 dispersed al-Qaida and led to the Taliban melting away. The prospect for the country looked superficially bright, yet fourteen years later the war there is once again intensifying. The rapid military success against the Saddam Hussein regime in Iraq was celebrated by George W Bush’s “mission accomplished” speech on 1 May 2003, yet US troops stayed another eight years  before leaving behind a rapidly evolving ISIS (see “Iraq war and ISIS; the connection“, 29 October 2015). The intervention in Libya in 2011, which had a semblance of UN approval, saw Gaddafi’s lynching and the regime’s overthrow, yet four years later Libya is a collapsed state. The cascading of arms and ideas down across the Sahel has resulted in yet more conflict, as exemplified by the Bamako operation.

An enhanced war against ISIS may be the inevitable, and indeed fully understandable, response to the appalling events in Paris a week ago. Sadly, though, that does not make it any less of a mistake. That is especially so when other paths could be taken that will do much more to prevent ISIS gaining further strength and may even end up undermining it.



Sweden tells it as it is

Margot Wallström

When Margot Wallström, Sweden’s minister for foreign affairs, was asked: “How worried are you about the radicalization of young people in Sweden who fight for IS?”

Wallström replied:

“Yes, of course we have reason to worry, not just in Sweden, but around the world about the fact that so many are being radicalized. And here, again, you come back to situations like the one in the Middle East where not least the Palestinians feel like there is no future them. They feel like they either have to accept a desperate situation or resort to violence.”

Of course this created a diplomatic crisis with Israel, but who cares. Wallström tells it as it is – the occupation of Palestine is the root cause of world instability today. Several other politicians in the past have been brave enough to say the same thing, only to be whipped into line by someone or other. Because of this nothing changes… yet.

Sisi must go before it is too late for both and Egypt and Europe

David Hearst at Middle East Eye summarises the situation in Egypt very well:

With each planeload evacuating Russian and British tourists, Sharm el-Sheikh can feel its life blood ebbing.

Arthur, on a fixed salary of $255 ($63 more than Egypt’s minimum wage) says: “I don’t know what happened on that plane. I have a feeling we are being manipulated and I prefer not to think about it. I think the West is trying to force Egypt to do the things it wants and this accident is a perfect opportunity for it to force us to, force us in a financial way.”

Ahmed, a diving instructor turned taxi driver, agrees: “They want to kill us. I don’t see any other explanation. Here, there are only Russian and English tourists left, and those are the ones who are going home.”

The Western plot to kill Sharm el-Sheikh is richly orchestrated by the linguistic creativity of the pro-government media. When a stranded British tourist harangued the British Ambassador John Casson, she was reported by pro-government Al Ahram as saying: “We want to continue our holiday and we do not want to leave now.”

What she actually said (documented in a YouTube clip) was: “What is the problem? What is the real problem? Why are we here? …There was a security problem this morning and you are now here to resolve it. Why are we here then, while the rest of the people have gone home?”

Foreign hands are also, apparently, at work in Alexandria. When storms and heavy rain caused widespread flooding in Egypt’s second largest city, killing 17 and injuring 28 – which happens regularly because the city’s drainage system cannot cope – the government’s response was to arrest 17 members of the Muslim Brotherhood, who are accused of blocking sewage pipes, damaging electricity transformers and rubbish containers.

There are other scapegoats for state failure. On Wednesday, the prosecution in Giza released one of Egypt’s most powerful businessmen and his son, Salah and Tawfik Diab, on $6,385 bail, after three nights in detention. Earlier, a criminal court cancelled a decision to freeze the financial assets of Diab, Mahmoud El-Gammal and 16 others. Only assets related to the New Giza housing compound project are still frozen, with Diab accused of illegally acquiring state-owned land. These are Egypt’s richest men and former backers of the coup in 2013. Diab is co-founder of Al-Masry Al-Youm, one of Egypt’s largest privately-owned daily newspapers. His co-founder, Hisham Kassem, says he believes Diab’s arrest may have been a result of the paper’s coverage.

The arrest of the 16 Mubarak-era businessmen was a message from the government. Wael al-Ibrashi, the pro-Sisi TV anchor in Dream TV, spelt it out. He quoted a “sovereign source” meaning a top government or security official who told him that there are suspicious actions by a number of businessmen to cause chaos and economic crisis in the country by transferring their money outside the country. They were convinced by enemy sources that there will be a major event happening in Egypt soon.

The financial markets are unimpressed by these pyrotechnics, although they agree that the state’s finances are going south. The Egyptian Pound is on its fastest decline since the reign of King Farouk. Changing the governor of the central bank, which is now trying to support the pound by getting interest rates to rise and injecting dollars into the banks, is not going to stop a further devaluation which analysts say is inevitable. Already that pound has lost 14 percent of its value in just ten months.

Mohammad Ayesh, writing in Al-Quds Al-Arabi, gives three reasons for the decline and fall of the currency: the cost of keeping the army on the streets; the collapse of tourism which accounts for up to 11 percent of GDP and generates a fifth of the country’s foreign exchange earnings; and lastly corruption. Giving money to an Egypt, where up to 40 percent of the economy is controlled by the army, is literally pouring money into a black hole. As a consequence, the foreign currency in the central bank is currently dropping by $1bn each month.

Egypt’s currency crisis must be regarded as unique in the annals of financial mismanagement. Just over two years ago, Abdel Fattah al-Sisi took over, his wallet stuffed with cash: he had the backing of two of the Gulf’s richest states, the US, EU and oil and gas multinationals. By one measure alone, the leaked and authenticated tapes of conversations Sisi had with his closest advisers, Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates and Kuwait gave Egypt $39.5bn in cash, loans and oil derivatives between July 2013, the date of the coup, and sometime between January and February of 2014. Since then, some calculate the sum is closer to $50bn. Where has all this money gone? One thing is for sure: Egypt is not going to get another Gulf handout.

Wherever you look in the chaos of Egypt today, the finger points at one man – Sisi – and at one institution – the Egyptian army. It is he and it, not “foreign hands” which are at the epicentre of the country’s instability.

Dictators can do bloodshed. Neither youth gunned down in their prime, nor the grief of their parents, make them hesitate. Comparisons between Raba’a and other massacres like Tiananmen, or Andijan mean little to them. Nor does the small library of human rights reports and witness statements which now exists to catalogue their crimes – death in detention, torture in custody, kangaroo courts, mass death sentences. All this Sisi has absorbed.

But rottweilers have to provide protection. They have to do their job. Sisi does not. He is now weaker as an absolute ruler than at any time since he took over. He faces the real and imminent prospect of losing control – over the economy, politics, and security. The state itself is failing.

Curiously that visit to London, in which he had vested so many hopes and so much effort, might yet prove to be the turning point in his presidency. And even more curiously, it was his host, David Cameron, a prime minister who has subverted a foreign policy ostensibly based on promoting democracy to a frantic search for trade and arms deals, who turned out to be his chief executioner.

Sisi spent the week saying he had Sinai and the Islamic State (IS) militant group under control. A Russian airliner downed by a bomb placed in the luggage compartment? That was nothing more than “propaganda”. His twin aims were to position himself as the guard dog in the war against IS and to increase trade links. Both were shattered by Cameron’s decision to suspend flights to Sharm el-Sheikh, a decision followed by Dutch, German, Irish carriers and by Russia itself.

Sisi found himself cut out of the intelligence loop he had fought so hard to be at the centre of, not only for Sinai, but Libya and Syria, too. The Americans, British and Russians were sharing intelligence with each other, not him. A visit arranged to increase British-Egyptian security co-operation, a visit designed to cement trade ties with one of Egypt’s largest foreign direct investors turned into an intelligence disaster and a wake for Egypt’s tourist industry.

Sisi is losing battles on multiple fronts. The physical one in Sinai first and foremost: the IS insurgents known as ‘Wilayat Sinai’ – or Sinai Province (SP) – are growing in strength. It and its predecessor conducted more than 400 attacks between 2012 and 2015, killing more than 700 military officers and soldiers, nearly twice the number of military casualties in one province of Egypt than the insurgency that took place in the whole of the country from 1992 to 1997. The SP’s most daring attack took place in July this year when it targeted 15 military and security posts and destroyed two. Over 300 men took part. They used anti-aircraft Igla missiles to force the Egyptian army’s US-supplied Apaches away. They mined their retreat. The operation lasted for 20 hours.

The insurgency in Sinai preceded the military coup. But the coup changed its character and its quality. Figures provided by the Tahrir Institute for Middle East Policy show that in the 23 months before June 2013, there were 78 attacks, an average of 3.4 attacks per month. In the same period after the coup, there were 1,223 attacks, or 53.2 attacks per months. That is a 1,464 percent increase.

Sisi has thrown everything at the population of North Sinai: extrajudicial killings of 1,347 people, the detention of 11,906, the deportation of 22,992, the destruction of at least 3,255 buildings. As his Israeli backers are now admitting, Sisi is making every mistake in the counter-insurgency rule book. He has indeed turned Sinai into South Sudan, which he himself warned army officers not to do when he worked for Morsi.

Even more important than the physical battle is the political one. Sisi has been as careless with his supporters as he has been with Egypt in general. Sisi has emptied the polling booths, with dramatically low turnouts for elections. The turnout for the recent parliamentary was so low  – under three percent on the first day – that the Abdullah Fathi, the head of the Egyptian Club for Judges said: “There were no wrong doings, no irregularities, no exchange shouting, and even no voters . . . ” And then he laughed.

The supporters of the 3 July military coup have each been on a slow but brutal journey of discovery. They have been slow to admit it. None more so than the Soueif family.

Laila Soueif and her son the blogger and hero of the secular left, Alaa Abd El-Fattah, both encouraged the army to clear Raba’a and al-Nadha sit-ins. Laila said: “This protest in al-Nahda, in particular, must be dispersed immediately by the police. We see them every day in Giza shooting at the sky, then they hold banners saying peaceful protests, peaceful what? Every day they kill people and say they (killers) were baltagia (thugs paid by the Ministry of Interior). I didn’t see any baltagia.”

While Alaa said: “This is an armed protest and, for over a day now, there have been clashes. They have fought in four residential areas. There is no political solution to this, this needs a security solution. At least contain them, my mother and I were attacked as we were walking through. I’m not saying hurt them. I’m saying contain them.”

Today Alaa is in jail, one of 41,000 political prisoners and Laila has been on hunger strike. Laila says: “Sisi is the head of the most oppressive and criminal regime Egypt has seen during my lifetime, and I am almost 60.”

She is right, belatedly. Sisi is the head of the most oppressive and criminal regime Egypt has seen in its modern history and he has to go. If he does not, Egypt is set on a path of disaster, a disaster that could end in the disintegration of the state and mass emigration to Europe. Before that happens, someone else must step in, even if, as seems increasingly likely, that someone else is another army officer.



Consensus politics after the elections

Ibrahim Kalin writes:

After four elections in 18 months, Turkey needs to leave behind partisan politics and focus on the country’s larger strategic issues. This is needed for Turkey’s internal peace and stability as well as to address such urgent issues as terrorism, refugees and revitalizing the economy. Consensus politics can help a great deal to overcome unnecessary tensions and polarization.

The sharp contrast between the results of the June 7 and Nov. 1 elections presents a number of lessons for political stability and social peace. One key outcome is that differences on political and economic issues should not weaken but rather strengthen the significance of pluralistic politics. With differences acknowledged and respected, a strong and stable government is needed to address Turkey’s current challenges and regional problems. The responsibility to make this happen falls not only on the shoulders of the Justice and Development Party (AK Party), but all political parties. Without a sense of togetherness, no civic politics is possible.

The word consensus is derived from the Latin verb “consentire,” which means to feel together, agree. Both meanings are related and important as agreement entails feeling together, i.e., having the same feeling for a common goal as individuals and as society. Working toward a common agenda does not expunge differences. The differences, if managed rationally and ethically, can enrich politics and society. Furthermore, unity is not uniformity. Seeking common ground and nourishing a shared feeling does not necessarily lead to a group of stereotypic individuals and a monolithic society. Managing differences through a civic code of ethics is key to ensuring consensus politics for all citizens. Turkey’s social and political assets, which cannot be reduced to one set of issues, call for a perspective of unity in diversity.Translating this principle into practice, though not easy, is the primary goal of the art of politics. Turkey’s diverse social tapestry includes various identities and groups. Turkish, Kurdish, Arab, Circassian, Albanian, Roma and other groups make up Turkey’s social-ethnic map. Religious minorities include Orthodox Christians, Catholics, Assyrians and Jews. Then we have ideological groups ranging from the devoutly religious and nationalist to liberal, leftist and secular. Each perspective can contribute to the common good of the people and the country but it requires a certain sense of responsibility. There are also differences among these groups as neither secularists nor nationalists, for instance, make up a monolithic group. These differences should be embraced and celebrated as a source of strength rather than division and polarization.

What cuts across these diverse perspectives is a shared history and cultural rootedness on the one hand, and democracy, freedom, stability and prosperity, on the other. A rational political order is one in which diverse points of view are respected and represented within the framework of the rule of law and equality for all. A strong, peaceful and stable Turkey is in everybody’s interests. It is also in the interest of regional and global players that need Turkey as a strong and stable partner in an increasingly chaotic region and polarized world.

In his victory speech on Nov.1, Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu said that the new government, which should be formed within the next two weeks, will work to ensure the equal representation of all citizens and take into account all opinions that are constructive. President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan echoed this call when he said on Nov. 4 that it is time to embrace each other regardless of our differences. He also called on political leaders to start working for a new constitution – a key social and political duty that will ensure the advancement of fundamental rights and give Turkish society and economy a new boost. The opposition parties that suffered significant losses in the Nov. 1 elections acknowledged the will of the people as was manifested at the ballot box. Instead of blaming each other or the people for their choices, all parties should draw lessons from the two elections in the last five months.

Those who rely on elitist fantasies and consistently err in reading Turkey’s social and political dynamics should listen to the ordinary people more attentively. Hopefully, these results will also give them an occasion to reconsider their failed strategy to present Erdoğan-bashing as politics or journalism.

As I had said on the 91st anniversary of the founding of the Republic of Turkey, “the old homogenous and static definition of the nation and the political order is replaced by a dynamic, multicultural and multi-religious notion of the nation that is in peace with the historical experience of the citizens of the Turkish Republic on the one hand, and open to the world on the other. Striking a proper balance between historical rootedness and openness to the world is what will ensure the strength and continuity of the Republic

Consensus politics can go a long way in nourishing an ethics of coexistence for all citizens of Turkey – a common civic task that will lower tensions and overcome polarization.

originally published on: http://www.dailysabah.com/columns/ibrahim-kalin/2015/11/07/consensus-politics-after-the-elections