Turkey: strike down internet curbs, says rights group


Human Rights Watch

Human Rights Watch

New legal amendments giving the Turkish authorities broad powers to block websites and to amass users’ internet activity data should be overturned, Human Rights Watch said today.
The new measures deepen existing internet censorship in Turkey, increase surveillance of internet users, and violate privacy.

“After hosting the 2014 Internet Governance Forum, Prime Minister Davutoglu’s new government has adopted even more provisions to restrict free speech online and the privacy of internet users,” said Emma Sinclair-Webb, senior Turkey researcher at Human Rights Watch. “These measures would violate basic rights protected in the constitution and guaranteed under international law and should be struck down.”

A new law adopted by parliament on September 10, 2014, that would amend a range of other laws on a broad range of subjects introduces two new measures increasing the powers of the Telecom Directorate (TIB), a regulatory body whose head is appointed by the government. In July, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, then the prime minister, stated that the directorate should be run by the National Intelligence Agency (MİT). The current head is a former MİT operative….

In February and March the government adopted amendments to the existing internet law (no. 6551) giving the directorate the authority to block internet content deemed to violate privacy. The government’s changes were a response to the circulation of wiretapped telephone conversations of politicians, including the prime minister, via social media. …These two amendments were included (as articles 126 and 127) in the major reform bill that parliament approved on September 10. ….

“The latest steps are the latest blow to net freedom and privacy rights in a year in which Turkey unlawfully blocked both Twitter and YouTube,” Sinclair-Webb said. “They should be reversed now, before Turkey has to account for and redress these violations at regional and international levels.”


The new Thirty Years’ War?

middle_east-450x320Today’s Middle East risks incurring something akin to Europe’s seventeenth century Thirty Years’ War, the most violent and destructive episode in European history until the two world wars of the twentieth century, says a leading foreign policy expert.

Three and a half years after the dawn of the “Arab Spring,” there is a real possibility that we are witnessing the early phase of a prolonged, costly, and deadly struggle; as bad as things are, they could well become worse, says Richard N. Haass, President of the Council on Foreign Relations.

“The region is ripe for unrest. Most of its people are politically impotent and poor in terms of both wealth and prospects. Islam never experienced something akin to the Reformation in Europe; the lines between the sacred and the secular are unclear and contested,” he writes for Project Syndicate:

Moreover, national identities often compete with – and are increasingly overwhelmed by – those stemming from religion, sect, and tribe. Civil society is weak. In some countries, the presence of oil and gas discourages the emergence of a diversified economy and, with it, a middle class. Education emphasizes rote learning over critical thinking. In many cases, authoritarian rulers lack legitimacy.

Democracy promotion in Turkey and Egypt should focus on strengthening civil society and creating robust constitutions that diffuse power,” Haass suggests. But….

There is no room for illusions. Regime change is no panacea; it can be difficult to achieve and nearly impossible to consolidate. Negotiations cannot resolve all or even most conflicts….

Policymakers must recognize their limits. For now and for the foreseeable future – until a new local order emerges or exhaustion sets in – the Middle East will be less a problem to be solved than a condition to be managed.



The future of Turkish democracy – in Europe

CagaptayTurkeyBookCoverHiResIn the past decade, Turkey has outperformed its neighbors, rising as a stable and wealthy nation, says Soner Cagaptay, director of the Turkish Research Program at The Washington Institute for Near East Policy. While all of their neighbors experienced economic meltdown, political instability, and some even war, the Turks have enjoyed a decade of unprecedented growth. Turkey is now in a prime position to become an even more important ally to the United States given its robust economy.

As I describe in my recent monograph, “The Rise of Turkey” the country has now become a majority middle-class society. This has yielded impressive results: Turkey is on the cusp of becoming the first large Muslim-majority society to attain universal literacy. Economic development has connected the Turkish people to the rest of the world in ways that cannot be reversed.

For these key accomplishments, Turkey’s ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) and its prime minister, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, deserve credit.

However, there is also a less bright side to the AKP’s legacy. Under the party, Turkey has become more prosperous, but ironically, at the same time, also less free. When the party took power in 2002, Turkey’s record on liberties, as measured by international indices, improved along with the country’s ambitious work to qualify for European Union accession. Later under the AKP, Turkey’s record on liberties stagnated, subsequently taking a nose dive.

Despite being elected through a democratic process, the AKP has governed in an authoritarian manner. The party has made a habit of quashing any opposition, most prominently during the 2013 Gezi Park rallies, where police used tear gas and water cannons on protestors. The recent Twitter and YouTube ban is the latest example of the AKP’s propensity for curbing basic freedoms.

A second alarming issue concerning the United States has been Turkey’s pivot to the Middle East, which has met serious challenges. Before the AKP, the Turks thought of themselves as a European country situated next to the Middle East. Toward the end of the last decade, Ankara decided that the path to greater power and influence was through the Middle East rather than Europe.

This has turned out to be a miscalculation. With the exception of the Kurds, Turkey currently has no allies in the Middle East. What is more, the country is flanked by enemies, ranging from the Assad regime to the “Islamic State” (IS), as well as brutal competitors such as Iran and Saudi Arabia.

There are other reasons to be optimistic about Turkey’s future: the middle class, which has grown as a result of the AKP’s economic policies, is committed to individual freedoms and is now challenging the party’s style of governance.

The main opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP) is slowly but surely becoming a liberal movement. Recently, the State Department honored party deputy Safak Pavey with an International Women of Courage Award, recognizing the CHP’s commitment to gender equality and democratic values.

Turkey’s trajectory points toward democracy and makes its accession into the EU an attractive prospect. ..U.S. policy should encourage Turkish reorientation toward Europe. We stand at an opportune moment regarding such a pivot. The AKP’s drive to transform Turkey into a Middle Eastern power has failed, and the Turks feel burnt out from such efforts.

Failing to consolidate power in the Middle East, Ankara needs to re-embrace the EU and its democratic values. …………….Turkey is of vital interest to Europe, and in turn the United States. Its location and proclivity to capitalism and democracy make it an important ally. The developments facing Europe and the Middle East may have pushed Turkey from the forefront of the news, but it must not be forgotten. Washington and Ankara share interests, and Turkey’s path will have great strategic importance to the United States in situations ranging from Ukraine to Iraq and Syria for years to come.

Soner Cagaptay is the Beyer Family Fellow and director of the Turkish Research Program at The Washington Institute. This extract is taken from his testimony before the House Committee on Foreign Affairs, Subcommittee on Europe, Eurasia, and Emerging Threats.

Erdogan’s path of ‘illiberal democracy’


TURKEYmustafaakyolThe current question in Turkey is what kind of “regime” will emerge after Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s likely election as president, notes Mustafa Akyol, a columnist for Al-Monitor’Turkey Pulse and the author of Islam Without Extremes: A Muslim Case for Liberty.

Many of Erdogan’s die-hard opponents are already condemning him as a “dictator,” he writes for Al-Monitor. “It all sounds like nonsense, however, to Erdogan and his supporters, who emphasize that he is in power because he and his party have been winning free and fair elections. Erdogan himself has said on many occasions, “If I am a dictator, then come beat me at the elections,” Akyol notes:

erdogan-150x150In a recent interview with Al Jazeera Turk, political scientist and professor Mustafa Erdogan, a pillar of classical liberal thought in Turkey, stated: “What Erdogan has in mind is a Latin American style of governance where one single leader controls the totality of political power. Of course, this is a conceptualization that is impossible to be separated from his perception of himself. He seems to think that he has an almost divinely ordained mission for establishing such a leadership.”

The so-called Latin American style that Erdogan speaks of is also what political scientists refer to as illiberal democracy, a system where free and fair elections are held, but civil liberties — such as freedom of the press and assembly — are limited. Illiberal democracies can be ranked as “democratic” if one only considers holding free elections. They typically rank as only “partly free” when civil liberties are measured objectively, such as Freedom House does.

Not all Latin American countries are illiberal democracies, but. according to academics Peter H. Smith and Melissa R. Ziegler, this particular form of democracy was “the most common, pervasive, and visible form of political organization” in Latin America from the late 1970s into the 21st century. Typical examples include Venezuela under Hugo Chavez, Argentina under Carlos Menem and Bolivia under Evo Morales. Chavez’s populist democracy is particularly interesting, in the way he was associated with “the people” and the way his references to Christianity implied an almost messianic mission to “save” the people.


Erdogan presidency will bring ‘Putinistic polarization’ to Turkey

erdogan-150x150Turkey’s ruling AK Party said it’s nominating Recep Tayyip Erdogan to become the country’s next president, as he seeks to retain power after more than a decade-long rule as prime minister, Bloomberg reports:

Speaking in a televised address in Ankara after his nomination, Erdogan said he will unite the country under his presidency and seek a new constitution that may expand the powers of the largely ceremonial post. Erdogan has often expressed his desire to transform the parliamentary system to a more presidential one….Should Erdogan win, his party will need to reorganize itself after 12 years in power and select a new premier. Incumbent President Abdullah Gul has not ruled out a possible power swap with Erdogan.

An Erdogan victory is likely and may lead to concerns about Turkey’s direction, said Timothy Ash, chief economist for emerging markets at Standard Bank Group Ltd. in London.

Development model

“Over the longer term there will be concern at the over-centralization of power around Erdogan, and perhaps a perception that Turkey’s development model maybe changing,” and moving away from a European Union-oriented, democratic model said Ash.

Most analysts say that if Mr. Erdogan is president, it will matter little who is prime minister, Tim Arango and Ceylan Yeginsu report for the New York Times:

“It doesn’t really matter whether Erdogan is the prime minister or president,” said Svante E. Cornell, a Turkey analyst and research director at the Central Asia-Caucasus Institute, a research organization. “He has created an ‘Erdogan system,’ where power is personalized in his own hands, enabling him to tailor-make the composition of the government to ensure he has the exact kind of influence that he wants.”

Mr. Erdogan’s presidential ambitions, along with the criticism that he has become increasingly authoritarian by securing more control over the judiciary and the media, have evoked comparisons to President Vladimir V. Putin of Russia, the pre-eminent political figure in his country for nearly 15 years, switching back and forth between the posts of president and prime minister.

“Right now, Erdogan is going down a Putinistic route of polarization to consolidate the vote behind him,” said Sinan Ulgen, a Turkey expert at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace in Brussels.

Authoritarian way of public affairs

The race, to be held on two rounds, on August 10 and 24, will pit the 60-year-old Mr Erdogan against Ekmeleddin Ihsanoglu, former head of the Organisation of Islamic Co-operation and now joint candidate of the two biggest opposition parties, and Selahattin Demirtas, a pro-Kurdish politician, the FT adds:

Hakan Altinay, a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution think-tank in the US, said he would “not be surprised if Mr Ihsanoglu portrays himself as for the rule of law versus Erdogan’s hubris-laden authoritarian way of conducting public affairs”.

After his successes taming Turkey’s once-dominant military, reshaping the judiciary and subjugating the press, many see an Erdogan victory as inevitable, the Wall Street Journal’s Joe Parkinson reports:

Mr. Erdogan’s success in undercutting Turkey’s secular shibboleths is evident from the secular and nationalist opposition’s choice to oppose him: Ekmeleddin Ihsanoglu, a diplomat and academic who was at the helm of the Organization of Islamic Cooperation for nine years until 2014. Few analysts give either Mr. Ihsanoglu or Selahattin Demirtas, the candidate for the pro-Kurdish parties, a chance of beating Mr. Erdogan, who pollsters say has around 55% support nationwide, indicating he would capture the presidency in the first round of voting.

The prospect of moving from the prime ministry to the presidency while remaining paramount leader has evoked comparisons to Russia’s President Vladimir Putin, who has occupied both positions in the 15 years he has governed Russia.

Soli Ozel, a professor of international relations at Istanbul’s Kadir Hass University, said an Erdogan victory would likely herald “an imperious presidency” that would continue to regear Turkish institutions around the premier’s conservative religious vision.

“This pomp of the nomination speaks to how confident both Erdogan and his party are of victory,” Mr. Ozel said. “Erdogan has a transformative vision and if he wins he will try to change the republic in his image. The only question is whether he will succeed.”

Critics accuse Erdoğan of an increasingly authoritarian and polarising style, fearing that his election as president might result in a Putin-style manoeuvre to remain at the helm of Turkish politics, The Guardian adds.

Speaking at a party meeting on Tuesday , the leader of the main opposition Republican People’s party (CHP) Kemal Kiliçdaroğlu warned that Erdoğan should not stand as a candidate: “Someone who does not believe in the separation of powers cannot be president,” he said.