Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Turkey's Local Elections: A Preview

In about a month’s time, on 29 March, local elections will be held throughout Turkey. Let me give you a brief preview: the ruling Justice and Development Party, or AKP, will win and win handily.

Even was this not shown by every major public opinion poll, there are three good reasons to believe this will be the case. First, despite the sharp costs of the global economic downturn for Turkey, the AKP’s record for effective governance remains largely intact. Second, Tayyip Erdogan’s recent performance at the Davos World Economic Forum, in which he sharply criticized Israeli President Shimon Peres before walking of the stage in a huff, won him accolades across the political spectrum in Turkey. Turks, after all, were appalled by the carnage of the Israeli incursion into Gaza, and, in any case, have a taste for tough, “larger-than-life” political leadership. Erdogan’s actions at Davos allowed him to stand tall on the world stage in a way that few Turkish leaders have been able to. This is important in Turkey, which has long seen itself as deserving a greater role in world affairs. Third, and perhaps most importantly, the main political opposition parties are absurdly weak, bereft of ideas and out of energy.

The opposition looks hopeless. The party founded by Mustafa Kemal Atatürk, the Republican People’s Party, or CHP, is now led by the charismaless Deniz Baykal and flays about with a mixture of economic nationalism and Republican nostalgia which seems out of touch with the dynamism of contemporary Turkey. That the CHP remains an important party at all can be attributed to residual loyalty to the party of Ataturk and the feeling among many secular voters that, for all its flaws, the CHP remains the best vanguard against creeping religiosity in public life. The other major opposition party, the quasi-fascist Nationalist Movement Party (MHP) has diminished as well, particularly as the AKP adopted a more nationalist tone and cut into the MHP’s base. Quite simply, even if the economic downturn has made support for the AKP softer, the political opposition is too weak to constitute a real threat.

The real questions for the local elections will be in the details. Will the AKP’s victory be more or less definitive than the 46.6% of the vote that it won in the 2007 General Elections (current poll data suggests that it will do somewhat better)? If the AKP does, in fact, do better, despite the economic downturn, it will have won a significant mandate for further reform and a powerful mandate that will give opposition in both the Parliament and the military pause. If, on the other hand, its cannot match this level of support, the door will be opened for more aggressive resistance to AKP reform efforts in the Parliament and, more importantly, within the bureaucracy, courts, and military.

Finally there is the question of the Kurds. One of the strengths of the AKP has been its ability to win Kurdish votes in the Southeast. It has done so both by its sympathy for religious observance in the public sphere and by its relatively greater comfort with Kurdish cultural expression. However, this policy has been followed fitfully as the AKP has attempted to simultaneously reach an accord with a restive military establishment. Its success in balancing a more nuanced approach to the Kurds with its relations with the generals will be tested in these elections.

The AKP is going to win the upcoming elections. What is less clear is how strong its mandate is going to be. Even more important, is the question of whether, in the long term, Turkish democracy can survive without a vibrant and viable political opposition.

Howard Eissenstat is a post-doctoral fellow at the Crown Center for Middle East Studies at Brandeis University.

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Saturday, February 21, 2009

Reading Swat

Increasingly, I am convinced that the discourse on Pakistan within the United States needs some major intervention. My fear, or maybe paranoia, is that Pakistan is en-route to be declared "mentally incapacitated" by United States aka "failed state". The impact of such a declaration (whether stated or not) would be that US will need to put a "care-taker" in charge of the mess. The rising frequency of the drone attacks, the extension of missile strikes, the troop "surge" in Afghanistan read as concrete steps towards a radically intrusive strategy towards Pakistan. I will have more to say on this. But I wanted, for the moment to simply bring to your attention some recent writings on Swat.

1. Jackie Northam, "Pakistan Deal With Taliban Draws Criticis", All Things Considered, Feb 17, 2009.
Perhaps the worst of all recent pieces - NPR could only find 1. CIA Station Chief, 1. State Department Official and 1. NSC Official to declare that the Swat deal basically meant that Afghanistani Taliban have basically invaded and taken over Swat and that this means the Pakistani army is ridiculously weak. Between the lines, you should understand that the nukes are about to fall into the Taliban hands. Also al-Qaeda. Thank you, NPR.

2. The New York Times managed to get their reporters to Pakistan. Their write up, Pakistan Makes a Taliban Truce, Creating a Haven at least took the time to point out:
Many of the poor who have stayed in Swat, which until the late 1960s was ruled by a prince, were calling for the Shariah courts as a way of achieving quick justice and dispensing with the long delays and corruption of the civil courts. The authorities in the North-West Frontier Province, which includes Swat, argued that the Shariah courts were not the same as strict Islamic law. The new laws, for instance, would not ban education of females or impose other strict tenets espoused by the Taliban in Pakistan and Afghanistan.

Leaving aside what "strict Islamic law" even means (and how it compares to the California "Three Strikes" law), I was relieved that Jane Perlez sought to give some sense of the history of the region. Though this whole "prince" bit could have been used to provide a quick word on Swat's constitutional relationship to Pakistan. The nice thing about the piece was that it actually quoted experts in Pakistan (such as Shuja Nawaz) even though the generic spin remained the same ("Theeeeere Here!")
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Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Erdogan and Davos

Howard Eissenstat writes:

Turkish Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan's outburst at The World Economic Forum meeting in Davos, in which he called Israeli President Shimon Peres a baby killer and much besides before stomping off the stage in a huff has served as a sort of Rorschach inkblot test for many observers, with supporters of Israel being roundly critical of the Turkish Prime Minister and critics of Israel being broadly supportive of his actions.

Perhaps more interesting has been the various ways in which Erdogan's Davos theatrics have served as a prism for understanding both transformations in Turkey under the AKP and their repercussions for both Turkish Jewry and for Turkey's relations with Israel.

The first thing to note regarding Erdogan's outburst is that it is very much in keeping with his public persona. Erdogan's famous temper is both a remarkable tool for cowing political opponents and journalists and a fundamental aspect of his charisma, which borrows much from his urban, working class roots. Regardless of whether his outburst was planned or not, it played extremely well in Turkey, where support for Palestinian rights runs across the political spectrum and where public outrage at the violence in Gaza was universal. A public defense of both Palestinian rights and Turkish honor could only serve Erdogan well in the upcoming local elections on March 29.

Many observers have seen in the Davos spat, signs of a larger shift in Turkish – Israeli relations and, indeed, continued public sniping in the wake of the Davos conference points to outstanding tensions. Nonetheless, it needs to be underlined that the Turkish – Israeli alliance is, from the Turkish perspective at least, very much a marriage of convenience and not of love. Thus it has been since its inception and thus it will be for the foreseeable future. It is, however, also true that successive Turkish governments have had to negotiate this relationship under greater public scrutiny. While there was always a certain sympathy for the Palestinian cause, Turkish public interest and concern for the issue of Palestinian rights has grown dramatically since the first Intifada. It was after all, the intensely secular Bulent Ecevit (then Prime Minister) who, in 2002, described Israeli actions in Jenin as "a genocide." While it is certainly true that Islamists have tried to make political hay out of the Israeli – Turkish alliance, they have done so precisely because the alliance is unpopular. That being said, the marriage has proven remarkably durable and the AKP has, for all of its efforts to expand relations with its Arab neighbors and Iran, not taken any significant steps to diminish its economic and security ties with Israel. Under the AKP, trade and tourism have both increased and Turkish – Israeli military relations remain, despite recent grousing over Gaza, remarkably strong. If the AKP has been publicly critical of Israel, it has been so without taking any concrete actions to change the status quo. And in this, at least, it is maintaining a longstanding aspect of Turkish – Israeli relations.

For some observers, the AKP's increased ties with Iran and its Arab neighbors are part of a zero-sum game that means Turkey's alliance with Israel is crumbling and, more broadly, that it is pulling away from its western allies. There is, I think, something particularly weird and perhaps a little disingenuous about this portrayal, which attempts to frame the AKP as "anti-Western" in character. The AKP has shown a remarkable willingness to overturn long-held foreign policy taboos and has gone further than any previous Turkish government in addressing the outstanding problems of Cyprus and relations with the Republic of Armenia. For all the many failings of its political liberalization efforts, the AKP has moved further towards meeting EU criteria than any previous government and has done so under withering criticism from both the political opposition and the Turkish military. To be sure, the AKP has also been aggressive in building its ties with the wider Middle East and taken an increasingly active role in the region. For some this, in and of itself, is suspect. But if the AKP has been aggressive in reaching out to its neighbors, it is also continuing a process that began more than a decade ago and, from my perspective, stems from the collapse of the Cold War system in the Middle East. I have seen many op-eds arguing that this is "scary." I do not believe I have yet to read one that has argued it is disadvantageous to Turkey's security or economic interests.

Finally, I think it worth while to consider the question of what Erdogan's outburst at Davos says about anti-Semitism in Turkey. A number of writers have argued that the AKP has nurtured anti-Semitism in Turkey. While Erdogan has made public statements against anti-Semitism in the past, calling it a "crime against humanity," his own words at Davos, in which he quoted the sixth commandment and Gilad Atzmon (identified, not as an Israeli, but as "a Jew"), demonstrate a not particularly unusual conflation of Jewish and Israeli identity. If this conflation is hardly limited to anti-Semites, it is also one that gives the Jewish community of Turkey little reason for comfort. There is no question that the recent crisis in Gaza has left Turkey's twenty-thousand or so Jewish citizens feeling even more targeted than normal.

That being said, the trope of "Turkish tolerance" is more myth than historical reality and the question of anti-Semitism is not limited to the religious right. Research by Corry Guttstadt has largely deflated the image of Turkey protecting European Jews during the Holocaust, while work by Rifat Bali and others have shown the extent to which Jews were actively pushed out of public life. European anti-Semitism was already part and parcel of Turkish nationalism at the founding of the Republic and – more importantly - was woven into the fabric of a nationalism that defined Muslim identity as a prerequisite to membership in the nation even as it rejected outward religiosity. In this sense, the key issue for Turkey domestically is less anti-Semitism per se, than a general sense that non-Muslims are "native foreigners."

This has, I think, become more pronounced in recent years but the blame lies as much with militant secularists as it does with Islamists. Militant Kemalists, particularly, have used denial of the Armenian genocide as a means of demonstrating that they are better defenders of the national honor than the AKP. Accusations that political opponents are "secret Jews or Armenians," long a staple of the Islamist fringe are now used against AKP politicians as well. Observers who point to a growing culture of intolerance in Turkey are certainly correct. Suggesting that this is simply the outcome of a secret Islamist agenda on the part of the AKP is, however, deeply misleading.

Howard Eissenstat is currently a post-doctoral fellow at the Crown Center for Middle East Studies at Brandies University.

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Monday, February 16, 2009

Swat, Now

Yesterday's announcement that Zardari has made a deal with the TNSM and installed "Islamic government" in Swat is all over the news. I talked, briefly, with Jerome McDonald of Worldview today. My main point was that there exists a history - 1994, 1999, 2007 - of efforts to install a Shari-Nizam-e-Adl (Islamic Order of Justice) in Swat region. You can check my previous post on Swat to get a sense of this history, Akond of Swat.

More importantly, an absolutely must-read is historian Sultan-i-Rome's paper, Swat: A Critical Analysis [pdf], IPCS Research Paper, January 2009. The paper provides a succinct historical and political overview and also introduces some of the key players. Must read.

Sultan-i-Rome is one of the major, if not the, historian of Swat valley. His monograph, Swat State, 1915-1969: From Genesis to Merger: An Analysis of Political, Administrative, Socio-Political, and Economic Development is key to building a historical overview of the crisis facing the state of Pakistan. I had thought of writing a proper review of the latter, but time slipped away. I will try and do it.

[x-posted from CM] Read more on this article...

Wednesday, February 4, 2009

Nudging towards Peace

by Ian S. Lustick and Gershon Shafir

In the early 1990s, the United States carefully nudged Israel toward appreciating the long-term costs of continued occupation and settlement of the West Bank. It did so before the Israeli elections. New elections will take place in about a week Israel. What would be an equally effective American approach to prod forward the moribund peace process?

At the beginning of 1992, Yitzhak Shamir, the Israeli Prime Minister from the Likud, made it plain that he would divert the growing wave of Soviet Jewish immigration to the West Bank. He intended to finance the project with a $10 billion American loan guarantee. But President George H. W. Bush threatened to veto any loan guarantees that did not include a freeze on all new settlements. The hard-line Shamir demurred and expressed his willingness to forgo the guarantees, but the American move had its effect nonetheless. One result of American policy was the shift of a few tens of thousands of votes in the 1992 Israeli elections in favor of "changing Israel’s priorities," thereby contributing decisively to the victory of Yitzhak Rabin. Under his premiership, Israel engaged in secret talks with the PLO, and on September 13, 1993 signed the Oslo accord with the PLO in President Clinton’s eighth month in office.

The Oslo process ultimately failed, for multiple reasons of omission and commission on all sides. But that is not surprising. It was the first time core issues of the conflict were put on the table. The real lesson of Oslo, and of the tantalizingly successful negotiations at Taba that followed on the failure at Camp David, is that another try is not only the only possible path to peace, but actually might have a chance to succeed. It is therefore worth considering closely just how little the U.S. had to do to trigger robust Israeli moves toward peace and yet how crucial its actions were.

Of great significance is that the Bush administration did not directly pressure Israel. Oslo was not a process imposed on Israelis. Of equal significance is the proof offered by this episode of —just how closely Israelis attend to U.S. words and deeds. The dramatic reversal of Israeli government policy on the key issue of settlements and negotiations with the PLO also show that Israel’s commitment to settlements and continued rule of the West Bank is relatively weak. Deep down Israelis know their governments have been over-reaching in efforts to absorb the Palestinian territories. But it is only when the smothering blanket of assured U.S. support on every issue is removed, that Israeli democracy has a chance to display its fundamental wisdom.

To be sure, after the signing of the Oslo accord, U.S. vigilance faltered and Rabin allowed the resumption of settlements in the West Bank, a fatal thorn in the side of the Oslo accord. As the recent war in Gaza demonstrated, the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is entering a new and dangerous phase, in which neither side imagines violence as an unpleasant but necessary route to peace, but only as a desperate and furious reaction to the perceived evil of the other. If this pattern is to end, and only an end to this pattern can save both the Jewish state and the Palestinians, the Obama administration will have to act with at least the tact, subtlety and effectiveness of the Bush-Baker team.

One advantage the Obama-Clinton-Mitchell team have, that Bush and Baker did not, is the Arab League Peace Plan. In return for full Israeli withdrawal and a "just solution" to the Palestinian refugee problem it offers to "establish normal relations with Israel in the context of [a] comprehensive peace" and "consider the Arab-Israeli conflict ended." In the past year Arab leaders have urged a revival of the plan and Israeli cabinet members have spoken of it approvingly. Both Hamas and Fatah have considered adopting a version of it. The terms of the accord will need to be negotiated, but the involvement of the moderate Arab states in resolving the conflict would add the regional dimension that has been missing since the Madrid talks in the early 1990's. If an accord is reached on this basis, it would be difficult for Hamas to resume rocketing Israel and it would find itself, within the context of a Palestinian plebiscite, under great pressure to find a way to sign up to the agreement and adopt the profile of a "loyal Islamic opposition" in a real and thriving Palestinian state.

To enable this vision to be achieved, unprecedented steps on settlements, prisoners, uses of violence, and rhetorical indulgences, will be needed, not to build confidence, but to drain cynicism. Past experience shows that Israeli settlements can either expand or shrink; they never remain frozen. Consequently, one important measure would have to be the removal of all "illegal" settlements, a promise repeatedly given and invariably violated by Israeli governments. A key Israeli step will be the freeing of Marwan Barghuti. Barghuti, a leader of Fatah's young guard, justifies resistance to occupation but condemns attacks on Israeli civilians, thus clearly distinguishing himself from Hamas. He is the fresh and popular face Fatah is lacking. His release would also demonstrate an Israeli future willingness to reconsider the fate of Palestinian prisoners, a particularly painful dimension of the conflict. Once the reality of this opportunity is established, Palestinian public pressure on Hamas and other extremists to end rocket attacks on Israel will become as strong as they can ever be. Then, finally, and perhaps for the last possible time, a serious and comprehensive effort to scale the mountain of peace can be well and truly launched.

To open this opportunity, President Obama needs to nudge the Israeli electorate. He should make U.S. support in the Security Council contingent on Israeli government negotiations based on the Arab League Plan for a real two state solution. Alternatively, the next Israeli government will face an international community, joined by the United States, determined to break the siege of Gaza and build a framework of negotiations, including Hamas if it agrees to the terms of the same Arab League Plan.

Ian S. Lustick is the Bess W. Heyman Professor of Political Science at the University of Pennsylvania and Gershon Shafir is Professor of Sociology at the University of California, San Diego.

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