The secret of Erdogan’s success?

turkey2The Turkish government’s ban on access to the Twitter social media site violates citizens’ right to free expression and access should be immediately restored, the country’s Constitutional Court ruled Wednesday, The LA Times reports.

The main opposition party is hopeful an internal recount of votes from Sunday’s local polls will help reverse a victory for the ruling party in the capital Ankara, but a final verdict from electoral authorities is likely to take weeks, according to Reuters (HT: FPI).

Recep Tayyip Erdogan has been very successful in associating his personal grievances with those of urban conservative groups with rural family backgrounds, says analyst Ozgur Unluhisarcikli:

In the past, these social strata were openly looked down upon by secular groups. When he came to power, Erdoğan chose to reinforce conservatives’ grievances rather than heal them, and used it to create a very strong bond between himself and his voters. He went one step further, and associated the past grievances of his core constituencies with those of Muslims internationally towards the West. For example he compared last summer’s Gezi Park protests with Egypt‘s Tamarod Movement, suggesting that the Turkey protests were similarly aimed at initiating a coup d’état and implying that both were conspired by some circles in the West.

But by associating his personal grievances with the past grievances of the religious conservative masses in Turkey, Erdoğan has also reinforced the cultural polarization between conservative and secular groups and between his voter base and other political parties, argues Unluhisarcikli, an expert with the German Marshall Fund:

The derogatory language used by some of Erdoğan’s opponents further contributes to Turkey’s cultural polarization, isolating the AKP voter base from outside influences. Thus, it has become very easy for Erdoğan to frame any discussion on his own terms, for consumption by his own constituency. What was a peaceful protest movement for secular Turks became a coup attempt and treason for AKP supporters. What was a graft probe for the opposition became another coup attempt, according to the AKP. What was censorship for secular Turks was, for the AKP and its supporters, an issue of protecting the nation from external enemies and their domestic collaborators.

“Erdoğan’s secret recipe for success, then, appears to be a combination of providing social services, identifying strongly with a voter base, and isolating them from other parties through polarization,” Unluhisarcikli notes. “This has helped him win six parliamentary and local elections and two referenda, and could help him win several more in the future.”


Secret ‘Cuban Twitter’ scheme aimed to advance democratic change

cuba - civil rightsThe U.S. Agency for International Development devised a secret social media project aimed at undermining Cuba’s communist regime, AP reports:

According to documents obtained by The Associated Press and multiple interviews with people involved in the project, the plan was to develop a bare-bones “Cuban Twitter,” using cellphone text messaging to evade Cuba’s strict control of information and its stranglehold restrictions over the Internet. In a play on Twitter, it was called ZunZuneo – slang for a Cuban hummingbird’s tweet.

Documents show the U.S. government planned to build a subscriber base through “non-controversial content”: news messages on soccer, music, and hurricane updates. Later when the network reached a critical mass of subscribers, perhaps hundreds of thousands, operators would introduce political content aimed at inspiring Cubans to organize “smart mobs” – mass gatherings called at a moment’s notice that might trigger a Cuban Spring, or, as one USAID document put it, “renegotiate the balance of power between the state and society.”

At its peak, the project drew in more than 40,000 Cubans to share news and exchange opinions. But its subscribers were never aware it was created by the U.S. government, or that American contractors were gathering their private data in the hope that it might be used for political purposes……

USAID documents say their strategic objective in Cuba was to “push it out of a stalemate through tactical and temporary initiatives, and get the transition process going again towards democratic change.”

HT: RealClearWorld

The most outrageous lie in Venezuelan President Maduro’s NYT op-ed

venezuela-bandera111In one respect, Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro’s op-ed in Wednesday’s New York Times is the same litany of worn-out propaganda, according to a prominent analyst.

“What’s new is the context. Venezuelans have grown used to the tsunami of spin, obfuscation, half-truths, and outright lies that dominate our large and growing state propaganda system, ” says Francisco Toro, co-author of Blogging the Revolution: Caracas Chronicles and the Hugo Chávez Era.

“Fact-checking the entire piece would be enough to cause an aneurysm,” he writes for The New Republic:

Instead, to give a sense of the depth of historical falsification involved, let’s focus on one particular line: Maduro claims that the Bolivarian revolution “created flagship universal health care and education programs, free to our citizens nationwide.” 

This is roughly equivalent to President Barack Obama claiming that he created Social Security. …Maduro’s op-ed is strewn with similar whoppers, like his commitment to labor organizing rights, U.S. involvement in the 2002 coup, the vitality of Venezuelan democracy, and a call for “peace and dialogue.” None of these lines are new, either. Time and again, chavismo doesn’t so much bend the historical record as simply ignore it, and government propaganda employs words to mean the diametrical opposite of what the dictionary says they mean. Big lies are used where small lies would have done the job just as well—and yet, somehow all of them slipped right by the Times‘ fact-checkers.

“Which helps explain why, to the Venezuelans protesting in the streets, Maduro’s talk of peace and dialogue is about as credible as his history of the free health and education systems,” Toro concludes.


Erdogan set to ‘assault’ Turkey’s civil society, opposition

erdoganPrime Minister Erdogan won the day in Turkey’s municipal elections, but his one-party rule will be even more hotly contested as the August presidential election approaches, analyst Henri J. Barkey writes for The American Interest.

There are four main conclusions that can be drawn from these elections, he argues:

First, Erdogan’s ruling Justice and Development Party, AKP, succeeded in defining the election as a referendum on the Prime Minister. The opposition, buoyed by the allegations, fell into this trap. ….

Second, the AKP also succeeded in making the political opposition seem subservient to the religious leader Fethullah Gülen……… Gülen and his numerous followers, who had been allied with the AKP until recently, had decided to take on Erdogan. The reasons are complex, but fundamentally they take issue with his growing dominance at the expense of all other societal and political forces, and also with the overt and unabashed corruption in his government. ….. The government rebranded itself as victim when all the while it was engaged in a bitter, scorched earth counterattack.

Third, this election undermined the one assurance that had hitherto prevailed in Turkey: that elections (with the exception of the Kurdish areas where the army constantly manipulated the votes in the past) were always fair and clean. … Unless the AKP allows the Supreme Electoral Council to respond in a constitutionally legitimate manner to the voting irregularities, the damage to the system will be enduring. Turkey lacks the wherewithal to deal with such massive challenges.

Finally and most importantly, these elections have polarized the country in an unprecedented manner. Whereas people who disliked Erdogan and his party had accepted his leadership precisely because he had emerged from fair elections, he is increasingly regarded as illegitimate. His authoritarian behavior has alienated many, but especially the urban and tech-savvy professionals. Erdogan and his supporters likewise dismiss their opponents as illegitimate; they are traitors, tools of foreign powers, and deserve prosecution. Turkey resembles Venezuela today.

Gulen’s spokesman, Alp Aslandogdu, said the AKP had shown “blatant disregard” for fair and free elections. “We are disturbed by the prime minister’s apparent pledge to ruthlessly crackdown on those he perceives as his political enemies,” he said. “While we are concerned about crackdowns on individuals, we remain committed to our democratic values.”

“Emerging strongly from the elections, Erdogan will likely run for president during the summer,” said Soner Cagaptay of the Washington Institute think-tank.

With memories fresh of last June’s violence — when eight people died, thousands were injured and clouds of tear gas wafted through Istanbul’s Gezi Park — many feared further dangerous tensions ahead.

“The government says it will launch a witch-hunt against the media (and) civil society,” said the head of the secular opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP), Kemal Kilicdaroglu.

His warnings were echoed by less partisan voices.

“We are about to witness a very broad assault,” said Atilla Yesilada, an Istanbul-based analyst at Global Source Partners, a political risk consultancy. “The key thing to look for would be a mass trial against the Gulen movement as a terror organization—just like they sponsored against the generals. Erdogan doesn’t have much time before the presidential elections so he will want to see quick results.”

Putin launches new war on ‘traitors’

russiancrimeThe annexation of Crimea—not the act itself as much as its reverberating effect on Russian politics and society—has consolidated the new operating model for Putin’s rule, which had already been taking shape, Joshua Yaffa writes in The New Yorker:

Ever since Putin returned to the Presidency, in 2012, he has searched for an ideological, even spiritual, underpinning for his grip on power. Disturbed by a protest movement that briefly seemed formidable and a slowing economy, Putin turned to a mishmash of nationalism, conservative values, Russian Orthodoxy, and a fear of the corrupting influence of the degenerate West. If his first decade in power had been justified by a growing economy and improved living standards, then his third term would be justified by the grandeur of historical destiny.

Crimea marks a capstone to this shift in orientation: a new and harder era, in which isolation and conflict with the West are virtues in and of themselves. Gone is the postmodern carnival defined by people like Vladislav Surkov, a showman and manipulator who helped Putin construct the political culture of the aughts.

“Putin is turning the country away from a time when citizens were expected to be passive and inert, and toward an era when they must be jumpy, mobilized, and ready to defend the state at any cost. The need for enemies is obvious: to rally the patriotic masses for the struggle that lies ahead,” Yaffa notes, highlighting the growing repression of political dissent and civil society:

For many years, Russia’s small number of liberals were regarded as essentially harmless; they could safely be mocked or ignored, left alone to their nice restaurants and online magazines. But now the stakes are higher: one widely read news portal,, just had its editor replaced by a Kremlin loyalist. Dozhd, an independent cable channel, has come under intense pressure and is in danger of needing to shut down. …

A new Web site called—the word means “traitor”—has recently launched, featuring a list of public figures that the site’s anonymous creators deem to have betrayed Russia, whether by criticizing the annexation of Crimea or by supporting Western sanctions. As the site’s short manifesto puts it, “We believe that Russian citizens who insult our soldiers and who cast doubt on the need to fight neo-Nazis are traitors, no matter whether they are talented.