Here, There and Everywhere

Posts tagged ‘Arab’

Turkey’s Turn-around

From Nation of Change
by Mohammed Ayoob
9 January 2012

Turkey’s Balancing Act

Turkey has over the past few weeks become the spearhead of a joint Western-Arab-Turkish policy aimed at forcing President Bashar al-Assad to cede power in Syria. This is quite a turnaround in Turkish policy, because over the past two years the government of Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan had gone out of its way to cultivate good relations with neighboring Syria, with whom it shares a long land border.

This change of course on Syria has also cost Turkey a great deal in terms of its relations with Iran, the principal supporter of Assad’s regime, which Turkey had also cultivated as part of Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu’s “zero problems with neighbors” policy.

Given these new strains, it is worth recalling that a only few months ago many American leaders were livid at what they perceived to be Turkey’s betrayal. In their view, Turkey had re-oriented its foreign policy toward the Muslim Middle East and away from the West – a shift supposedly reflected in the country’s deteriorating relations with Israel and improving ties with Iran and Syria.

Many American policymakers and publicists, unable or unwilling to distinguish Turkish-Israeli relations from Turkish-American relations, interpreted Erdoğan’s condemnation of Israel’s blockade of Gaza as a bid to cozy up to his Arab neighbors at the expense of Turkey’s relations with not only Israel but with the West in general. Turkey’s attempt to mediate between the major Western powers and Iran concerning the Islamic Republic’s uranium stockpile went unappreciated in the West; indeed, the United States scuttled the effort just as it seemed to be bearing fruit. And Turkey’s subsequent vote in the United Nations Security Council against imposing additional sanctions on Iran seemed to offer further proof that Turkey had adopted an “Islamic” foreign policy.

America’s anxiety assumed that it is a contradiction for Turkey to seek good relations with both the West and the Muslim Middle East, and that Ankara’s decision to improve its relations with its Muslim neighbors was motivated primarily by religious and ideological concerns considered important by the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP). Turkey’s recent tense relations with Iran demonstrate this assumption’s basic fallacy, and point to a non-ideological foreign policy that caters to Turkish national interests as defined by the country’s political elite – including the post-Islamists in power today.

Disagreement between Turkey and Iran initially centered on their conflicting approaches to the internal rebellion against Assad’s dictatorship. Iran has been heavily invested in the Assad regime, its lone Arab ally and the main conduit for delivering material support to Hezbollah in Lebanon. Turkey, on the other hand, after some initial hesitation, has thrown its weight fully behind Assad’s opponents, including by providing refuge to them, as well as to defectors from Syria’s army. Indeed, Turkey has gone further by helping the divided Syrian opposition to come together on its territory to establish a joint front against the Assad regime and provide a credible alternative to it.

Read entire column at Nation of Change.

Sparking the Arab Spring

From Read My Lips in The Globalist
28 December, 2011

Throughout 2011, protests in rich and poor countries alike have dominated the headlines — and shaped the political landscape. In this Read My Lips, we present economist Hernando de Soto’s recounting of the fate of Mohamed Bouazizi, the humble Tunisian fruit vendor who unleashed a tide of protest throughout the Arab world.

1. How did the revolution begin?

“It began when the 26-year-old Tarek Mohamed Bouazizi immolated himself in front of the governor’s offices in the Tunisian town of Sidi Bouzid last December, after his merchandise was confiscated.”

2. What exactly happened?

“Bouazizi flicked his lighter on at 11:30am on December 17, 2010, one hour after a policewoman, backed by two municipal officers, had expropriated his two crates of pears ($15), a crate of bananas ($9), three crates of apples ($22) and an electronic weight scale ($179, second hand).”

3. Why did Bouazizi respond by immolating himself?

“While a total of $225 might not appear to justify suicide, the fact is that, as a businessman, Bouazizi had been summarily wiped out.”

4. How so?

“Without those goods, Bouazizi would not be able to feed his family for more than the next month. Since his merchandise had been bought on credit and he couldn’t sell it to pay his creditors back, he was now bankrupt. Because his working tools were confiscated, he had lost his capital.”

5. What happened next?

“Before a few weeks passed, many of the 180 million Arabs who work in and around the informal markets in the Middle East and North Africa were identifying with his disempowerment and sending their shouts to heaven.”

6. Why did his story resonate?

“Like 50% of all working Arabs, he was an entrepreneur, albeit on the margins of the law. He died trying to gain the right to hold property and do business without being hassled by corrupt authorities.”

7. In other words, what really triggered the Arab Spring?

“Not enough credit has been given to the mighty consensus that triggered the uprising — the desire of a vast underclass of people to work in a legal market economy.”

8. What lesson does Bouazizi’s story hold?

“The powerless can crystallize into a revolutionary class when they become conscious that they share a common suffering — and especially when a martyr embodies that suffering.”

9. What lesson should the region’s political leaders take to heart?

“Political leaders must realize that, since Bouazizi went up in flames and his peers rose in protest, poor Arabs are no longer outside but inside, in the market, right next to them.”

10. And finally, what happens if reforms fail?

“If the agenda does not include tackling the nitty-gritty institutional deficiencies that make most Arabs poor, they will eventually open the doors to the anti-democrats and enemies of modernity who fight democracy and modernity in their name.”

Editor’s Note: The quotes in this Read My Lips are drawn from Mr. de Soto’s November 8, 2011 op-ed in the Financial Times.

Read more at The Globalist.

Begging in Tel Aviv

Years ago, I went to Israel to interview Leah Rabin, wife of the assassinated Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin, for my book Don’t Just Sit There, Do Something! Grief’s Wake Up Call. The following events took place after I’d been thoroughly searched by Ms. Rabin’s security guards, completed our conversation and had some free time before going back to the funky one-light hotel room I was staying in until the morning flight home.

In the middle of modern, bustling, downtown Tel Aviv, a man in worn clothes meanders along on the back of a long, horse-drawn cart, yelling out in broken Arabic German, “Old stuff. Anybody got old stuff?” Behind his tall dark body, with the stubble face, is a pile of books that look as if they’ve been in someone’s basement since Moses parted the Red Sea.

The gentlemen sitting next to me at the sidewalk cafe, in his meticulous three piece suit and tie, explains, “He’ll get whatever used stuff he can find and sell it at the flea market in Jaffa.” He takes a breath, lifts his nose and chin skyward and says, “Scavengers. Human scavengers.”

It seems as if every third person walking by has a cell phone stuck to their ear in some private, yet public, conversation with a friend, business partner, alien or God. Who knows what lurks on the infinite satellite waves pouring into their heads?

Four out of every five women seem to have gone to identical fashion and fitness training with shapely bodies, tight black pants, one inch high heels, dark black hair and eyes to match. The other most popular outfit is army fatigues, with coordinating boots, cap and automatic weapon.

Across the street, under the Hebrew letters for The Grand Hotel, a life-size wooden cutout of Barney, yes THAT Barney, leans happily against the wall, waving merrily with his outstretched purple clubbed hand, inviting all within sight to enter the small boutique at the corner of Ben Yehuda and Fischman.

A tall, vacant-eyed man, approaches three smartly dressed elderly women sitting on the other side of me and asks them for change. I’ve never heard someone beg in Hebrew before. One of the women scrounges in her purse as the others look away and hands him some Shekels. Without a word he walks on. The women move closer and whisper with raised eyebrows as he moves down the street, shuffling from one person to the next.

I get up quickly, follow him down a side street and hand him the equivalent of about ten US dollars and say “Shalom”. His eyes come to life and a smile adorns his face from ear to ear.

He tries to hand the money back and says, “Too much. Too much.” but I insist and tell him to keep it. As I’m trying to figure out if he’s Arab, Jewish or some other nationality, he says, “Come. Come with me.” I hesitate, then follow him around the corner.

As we turn the bend a woman in a long robe and a child meet him. He says something in Arabic and turns my way. “This is my wife, Jehan and my son Ahmad.” He rubs the boys head lovingly. “Come,” he says, motioning for me to follow. “Come to our home for dinner.”

“No,” I say, sure they have little for themselves as is. “I couldn’t impose, but thank you.”

I turned and started to walk away, but he grabbed me gently by the arm and turned me around.

“It will be our blessing to have you as our guest.” He bowed slightly. “Please.”

I could have stayed put at the sidewalk cafe, ordered a big meal and sat around to enjoy the rest of the evening, but then I would never have met Omar and his family. Meeting them was by far a vast improvement to staring at women in black pants, soldiers with guns and people talking grimly into their cell phones.

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