The new protest movements are paying a high price for their anti-institutional ethos

Ivan Krastev writes: Shortly after Louis Napoleon’s 1851 coup in Paris, five of the greatest political minds in Europe hustled to their writing desks to capture the meaning of the events.

The five were very different people. Karl Marx was a Communist. Pierre Joseph Proudhon an anarchist. Victor Hugo, the most popular French poet of his time, a romantic. And Alexis de Tocqueville and Walter Bagehot were liberals. Their interpretations of the coup were as different as their philosophies. But in the manner of the man who mistook his wife for a hat, they all mistook the end of Europe’s three-year revolutionary wave for its beginning.

Has the Western media made the same mistake in recent years? Are its interpretations of the global wave of popular protests — spontaneous, leaderless, nonviolent, which Thomas Friedman memorably described as the rise of the “square people” — similarly off-base? It seems so: Just take the stunning and unexpected victory of the governing Justice and Development Party, or A.K.P., in Turkey’s parliamentary elections last week. [Continue reading…]


Why Aung San Suu Kyi’s ‘Mandela moment’ is a victory for Myanmar’s generals

Maung Zarni writes: Though in exile 6,000 miles away from Myanmar, I can almost taste the euphoria of my fellow dissidents. Aung San Suu Kyi’s wildly popular opposition – the National League for Democracy – has won a landslide in the multiparty elections, and 31 million voters, most apparently backing the NLD, are savouring a long-awaited moment of jubilation. The NLD leader, whom they call Amay or mother, appeared on TV, her eyes shining with tears of joy.

Even foreign journalists covering the country in the 25 years since Aung San Suu Kyi was placed under house arrest have scarcely been able to conceal their excitement at the prospect of a new era of freedom and democracy, ushered in through her non-violent, pragmatic leadership.

Myanmar’s Mandela moment has arrived. Or has it?

A sober analysis may be in order. Aside from the fact that Myanmar’s military leaders have, constitutionally, blocked any possibility of “the Woman” with her two “impure-blooded sons” and “foreign privileges” assuming the presidency, Aung San Suu Kyi’s party faces huge barriers to turn a resounding electoral mandate into a real step towards a genuinely representative government.

And this is not the first time the public has felt euphoric about the power of its votes. In May 1990 Aung San Suu Kyi and her then fledgling opposition party won a decisive mandate taking 82% of the parliamentary seats and 62% of the total votes. That landslide came despite the fact that the generals placed her and her senior colleagues under house arrest on the eve of the elections, in effect barring them from the electoral process. So the opposition knows how it feels to fail to convert this mandate a quarter-century ago into a real political gain or put the country on the path of democracy. [Continue reading…]


Aung San Suu Kyi victory will test commitment to human rights in Myanmar

By Andrew Fagan, University of Essex

Myanmar has taken a potentially momentous step away from dictatorship and towards democracy. More than 6,000 candidates from 91 political parties competed for the votes of 33m registered voters on November 8 in the country’s first credible elections since 1960.

The precise outcome won’t be known for days, but Aung San Suu Kyi’s National League for Democracy (NLD) is claiming to have gained at least 70% of the votes cast. Senior figures in the ruling party are conceding defeat.

No one should underestimate the significance of power changing hands in Myanmar via the ballot box. However, this will only finally occur in March 2016, when the newly-elected MPs vote for a new president and a new government will be formed.

[Read more…]


How the West’s unwillingness to support pro-democracy activists has empowered ISIS

Samira Shackle reports on Mohamed Soltan’s incarceration in Egypt and his ongoing struggle to promote democracy: Finally, in May this year, physically frail and psychologically pressured, Soltan was deported to the US. He had given up his Egyptian citizenship, making him eligible for a presidential decree that allows for the deportation of foreign prisoners. Before leaving prison, Soltan was not allowed to say goodbye to his father, who is on death row.

Since then, Soltan has dedicated himself to speaking out, meeting with US Secretary of State John Kerry and ambassador to the UN Samantha Power to argue that western security interests are at stake. “The Egyptian regime is not facing any real substantial consequences for escalating repression. The non-violent opposition is not rewarded for maintaining its non-violence. The longer we’re turning a blind eye and being silent about this, the more likely folks inside prison will adopt more extremist ideas.”

For a time during his incarceration, Soltan shared a cell with Isis and Al-Qaeda militants. “They walked around with a victorious air: ‘look, you idiots, your model doesn’t work’. There’s a growing disbelief in freedom and democracy amongst moderate Islamists. Literally daily, things are happening that is proving the very simple arguments the Isis guys were making. You are facing so much oppression and there’s no outlet for it, no dialogue, no space for political dissent. People feel continuingly abandoned by the international community, which is legitimising this coup and giving it everything it needs to thrive.” [Continue reading…]


Turkey’s slide into dictatorship is about to speed up

By Bahar Baser, Coventry University and Ahmet Erdi Öztürk, University of Ljubljana

Turkey’s president, Recep Tayip Erdoğan, appears to have strengthened his grip on the country after the Justice and Development Party (AKP) won an outright majority in a snap election just five months after an inconclusive poll. It is a result that will shock and frighten many in the country.

Unofficial preliminary results, appeared to give the AKP 49.3%, followed by the centre-left Republican People’s Party (CHP) on 25.7%, the far-right Nationalist Action Party (MHP) on 12.1% and the pro-Kurdish left-wing Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP) on 10.5%. The AKP is predicted to take 312 seats in the 550-seat parliament, the CHP 135 seats, the HDP 60 and the MHP 43.

This result is a big surprise, since pre-election polls forecast a result not much different from that of the June election – and it undoubtedly owes a lot to the toxic atmosphere in which the election was held.

As reported widely around the world, the campaign was anything but fair. The AKP not only controls the army, but also holds sway over the judiciary and much of the media. The party and President Erdoğan effectively dominated pre-election airtime on the country’s public broadcaster, the Turkish Radio and Television Corporation (TRT), which once again displayed blatant favouritism toward the government and Erdoğan.

More worryingly still, reports are circulating of vote-rigging. The news agencies announced the results very rapidly. The election was called for the AKP within only a few hours, despite the fact that many votes were not even delivered to the counting boots. Social media was abuzz with allegations of election fraud, as angry Turks documented their claims with photographs and videos.

[Read more…]


Turkey’s elections campaign unfair, say international monitors

The Guardian reports: International observers of Turkey’s parliamentary elections have criticised the climate of “violence and fear” that preceded the vote, saying the security environment, arrests of opposition activists and stifling of press freedoms combined to make the campaign “unfair”.

The Turkish president, Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, has said he deserved respect from the whole world following Sunday’s result. But the international election observation mission that monitored the polls expressed serious concerns at a press conference in Ankara on Monday.

“This campaign was unfair and characterised by too much violence and fear,” said Andreas Gross, the Swiss head of the mission representing the parliamentary assembly of the Council of Europe (Pace).

In a stunning victory that secured 317 seats, the Justice and Development party (AKP) which Erdoğan founded and which is led by the prime minister, Ahmet Davutoğlu, regained the outright majority it had lost in June’s inconclusive election. Saying the Turkish electorate had voted for stability, Erdoğan on Monday urged the international community to accept the election results. [Continue reading…]

The Wall Street Journal reports: Angry young Kurds clashed with police here in the de facto capital of the country’s Kurdish southeast as it became evident on Sunday that the party backing President Recep Tayyip Erdogan would regain its lock on power.

Young men set up barricades and fired bullets into the air, accusing the government of fraud. Police fired tear gas and water cannons to disburse the activists as Kurdish hopes of expanding their political clout suffered another setback.

“Now Turkey will become a one-man state,” said Elif, a university student in Diyarbakir, as she watched election results on television. “The peace process was also just to boost his own power. I don’t believe he will restart [peace talks].”

The unexpected triumph for Mr. Erdogan’s loyalists in Parliament undercut Kurdish politicians who have been trying to bring an end to a renewed conflict. [Continue reading…]


Turkey: When the state steals newspapers

Mustafa Akyol writes: What happened in Turkey on Oct. 28 is something that should enter the Guinness Book of World Records, if it ever includes a chapter on “authoritarianism.” Two newspapers and two news channels, all very critical of the government, were taken over by government-appointed “trustees.” In less polite terms, they were practically stolen by the state.

If you haven’t seen the news, here is a summary of what happened: The media in question – dailies Bugün and Millet and TV channels KanalTürk and BugünTV – are owned by Koza İpek Holding. It was no secret that the holding’s boss, Akın İpek, has been a follower of Fethullah Gülen and a financial supporter of the Gülen Movement. Since this movement turned from President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s best ally to worst enemy, every institution affiliated with it has been under legal scrutiny. Koza İpek Holding faced an investigation, too. But nothing yet has been found that is illicit.

Yet still, a famous judge (who had become famous last year by banning Twitter, at the behest of the government) took a fateful decision last Monday. He referred to an article in the penal code which says that a “trustee” can be appointed to a company if necessary to reveal any evidence, while the company goes through an investigation. He also noted Koza İpek Holding is a suspect of “terrorism.”

But were there any credible basis for this “terrorism” charge? Were there any guns or bombs involved? Not really. It is just that the president began calling the Gülen Movement a “terrorist organization” after a corruption investigation that targeted his government. It is not a legal definition, in other words, it is political rhetoric. [Continue reading…]


After hailing democracy in Tahrir Square in 2011, Cameron now welcomes the man who killed Egypt’s revolution

Jack Shenker writes: In footage recorded by news cameras, you can see David Cameron – flanked by a large security team – threading his way through the flag sellers and nut vendors and the amiable mayhem of Tahrir Square. It is February 2011, ten days after the overthrow of Egyptian dictator Hosni Mubarak. Locals drift over to see what the fuss is about, and many call out to welcome the British prime minister. At one point a boy, his face painted in revolutionary style with the colours of the Egyptian flag, runs up to Cameron and smiles. “Are you happy now?” Cameron asks, in English. The child looks blank. Cameron nods with satisfaction and holds out his hand. “Put it there,” he grins.

The imagery of Cameron traipsing around an urban landscape that still bore the scars of revolutionary struggle was designed to convey a particular message: after decades of providing steadfast support to one of the Middle East’s most entrenched autocrats, Britain was supposedly ready to embrace a new type of politics. “I’ve just been meeting with leaders of the democracy movement, really brave people who did extraordinary things in Tahrir Square,” Cameron told the BBC. “We want Egypt to have a strong and successful future, we want the aspirations of the Egyptian people – for democracy, for freedom, for openness, the things we take for granted – we want them to have those things.”

Almost half a decade later, Cameron is finally about to return Egypt’s hospitality, and once again news cameras will be on hand to capture the moment. This time round, though, the images will be very different.

Next week Egyptian president Abdel Fatah al-Sisi is scheduled to accept an invitation to Downing Street: red carpets will be unfurled, gifts exchanged and powerful hands shaken. His photoshoot with Cameron will be a celebration not of new politics, but of more conventional forms of power – the kinds that remain safely locked up inside the executive, the army and institutional elites. The buzzwords at the official banquet will be “stability” and “security”. Of freedom, or openness, or the Egyptian streets that Cameron was so keen to walk down – the streets in which power, not so long ago, came to reside – little mention will be made. [Continue reading…]


The battle for Turkey: Can Selahattin Demirtas pull the country back from the brink of civil war?

Christopher de Bellaigue writes: In the autumn of 1990, 16 years into the Kurdistan Workers party’s (PKK) insurgency against the Turkish state, a political activist named Vedat Aydin rose to his feet to address a human rights conference in the capital, Ankara. When Aydin began to speak, it was not in Turkish, the official language of the state, but Kurmanji, a Kurdish dialect that had for decades been effectively banned in public places. The result of this gesture was pandemonium. The moderator of the conference demanded that Aydin switch to Turkish; a fellow Kurd came mischievously onto the platform to translate. Around half those present walked out, and Aydin was detained by police and briefly jailed.

Eight months later Aydin was arrested again, back home in the city of Diyarbakir, in what is effectively the capital of Turkish Kurdistan. Two days after that, his mutilated body was discovered in the countryside outside the city.

Turkish security forces perpetrated thousands of extra-judicial executions of Kurdish activists in the 1990s – along with village clearances and torture on a massive scale – but few provoked the anger of ordinary Kurds more than the killing of the man who had achieved notoriety by standing up to the linguistic proscriptions of the state. On 5 July, 1991, the day of Aydin’s funeral, they came out in their tens of thousands in Diyarbakir.

Among the mourners that day was an 18-year-old local boy called Selahattin Demirtaş, the second son of a plumber and his wife who had given their seven children as stable an upbringing as they could manage in the dirt-poor regional capital.

To Tahir and Sadiye Demirtaş this had meant acquiescing to the official claim that all citizens of the country, bar a few tiny minorities, were Turks. It was only from school friends that Selahattin had learned of the existence of the Kurds, a people that had been living on the mountainous intersection of Mesopotamia and Asia Minor long before the first incursions by Turkish nomads in the 11th century. State propaganda and the collusion of his parents had left Demirtaş unsure as to whether he was a Turk or a Kurd. On 5 July all ambiguity was removed.

The first that Demirtaş saw of the violence that day was when he was swept up in a wave of youngsters being chased by plainclothes policemen wielding planks of wood. Later on, as he recalled in an interview last year with a Turkish newspaper, “they opened fire on the crowd from all sides … the wounded couldn’t be treated because if they went to hospital they would be arrested. And despite all this the newspapers depicted the people of Diyarbakir as responsible for what happened!”

According to the government, eight people were killed that day. Kurdish sources put the figure at more than 20. For Demirtaş, the Diyarbakir killings were an epiphany of the kind that hundreds of thousands of Kurds have experienced over the past 40 years – generally in response to a government atrocity. Such incidents have secured continuous support for the PKK’s war against the Turkish state. “That day,” Demirtaş has said, “I became a different person. My life’s course changed … although I didn’t fully understand the reason behind the events, now I knew: we were Kurds, and since this wasn’t an identity I would toss away, this was also my problem.”

A quarter of a century later, Demirtaş is the embodiment of the Kurds’ political aspirations in Turkey. He is also the exponent of an inclusive politics that is startlingly new, and that owes much to the liberal traditions of the west – so much, in fact, that an admiring ambassador in Ankara recently described him to me as “the only Turkish politician that would not be out of place in a European capital”. But Demirtaş is also the civilian adjunct of a brutal armed movement, caught between bomb and ballot box – a man in the middle. [Continue reading…]


The dangerous consequences of routinized venomousness in public life

Pankaj Mishra writes: In the guise of hyper-patriotism, trash talk has gone mainstream in the world’s two biggest democracies. Donald Trump, the leading candidate in Republican primaries, set a new low in public discourse by calling Mexican immigrants “rapists.” The Hindu nationalist chief minister of one of India’s richest states recently underscored the deterioration in India’s political culture by declaring Muslims could only live in the country if they stopped eating beef.

One hopes that a dignified retort of the kind that defused the menace of McCarthyism — “Have you no decency, sir?” — terminates this season of demagogues. But public support for them suggests that a disturbingly broad assault is underway on democratic values — indeed, on civility itself.

People foaming at the mouth with hate and malice have become a common sight on both traditional and social media. Mobs in India and mass shooters in America have thrived in this climate of irrationalism. Many people, it seems, can think only in the categories of friends and foes, group loyalty or treason; their preference for abuse kills all possibilities of reasoned debate. [Continue reading…]


Leftists who think politics is more important than people

In response to Jeremy Corbyn’s appointment of Seumas Milne as the UK Labour Party’s Executive Director of Strategy and Communications, Oliver Bullough writes: For Milne, geopolitics is more important than people. Whatever crisis strikes the world, the West’s to blame. Why did a group of psychopaths attack a magazine and a supermarket in Paris? “Without the war waged by western powers, including France, to bring to heel and reoccupy the Arab and Muslim world, last week’s attacks clearly couldn’t have taken place”.

Why did Anders Breivik slaughter 77 people? “What is most striking is how closely he mirrors the ideas and fixations of transatlantic conservatives.”

Why did two maniacs in London decapitate an off-duty soldier? “They are the predicted consequence of an avalanche of violence unleashed by the US, Britain and others.”

Milne’s geopolitics spared us having to read how the children of Beslan or the theatregoers of Moscow only had themselves to blame, but office workers in New York had no such luck. “Recognition of why people might have been driven to carry out such atrocities, sacrificing their own lives in the process – or why the United States is hated with such bitterness, not only in Arab and Muslim countries, but across the developing world – seems almost entirely absent.”

And this rampant victim blaming is not an approach confined to current affairs. His geopolitical preferences extend into history too, where he fiercely opposes any suggestion that Stalin’s Soviet Union was as bad as Hitler’s Germany. He has been caricatured as a Stalinist as a result, something that appears to irritate some of his once-and-future Guardian colleagues (he is on leave from the paper). I got into a Twitter debate with Zoe Williams yesterday, in which she pointed out: “he’s written reams about the crimes of Stalin”.

He has indeed, but he has written about them in the manner of a Brit acknowledging the Amritsar massacre, before pointing out how much worse off India would be without trains. [Continue reading…]


Egypt polling stations empty for no-contest vote

AFP reports: Like scores of polling stations across the Egyptian capital, a school in the Dokki neighbourhood stood empty Monday, with local residents showing scant interest in the country’s no-contest parliamentary election.

In the absence of any real opposition, the new parliament is expected to firmly back President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi’s iron-fisted regime that has crushed all forms of dissent.

Sisi, who enjoys cult-like status in Egypt after having ousted his Islamist predecessor Mohamed Morsi in 2013, will have a parliament to rubber-stamp his decisions, experts say. [Continue reading…]


Tweets on Justin Trudeau — elected Canadian prime minister


A peace prize for Tunisia and lessons for everyone else

Rami G Khouri writes: On Oct. 9, Tunisian National Dialogue Quartet was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize for shepherding the only successful transition to democracy in the Arab world since uprisings began in the region in 2010. The quartet’s importance goes far beyond its pivotal role in brokering a democratic transition in 2013 and 2014: It can provide important lessons for other Arab countries as well as foreign powers that remain perplexed about how to respond to continuing Arab struggles for freedom, dignity and democracy.

The quartet’s composition was the crucial starting point of its successes. It consisted of the country’s largest labor union (UGTT), its employers’ federation (UTICA), its lawyers’ association and the Tunisian Human Rights Association. The first two represented Tunisian workers and business owners, critical poles of the economy; the lawyers and human rights activists represented the rule of law, constitutionalism and citizen rights in the pluralistic democracy that would replace the old dictatorship.

These four organizations had the moral authority and political credibility required to achieve constitutional democracy, but they also took three practical steps to enable their success. They made regular compromises among those in authority, including rotating power and voluntarily relinquishing the premiership; ensured that major decisions reflected inclusive consultations among all political actors and the public; and patiently phased in all major steps toward their democracy. [Continue reading…]


The continuing struggle for democracy in South Africa

Kenan Malik writes: Most first-time visitors to Cape Town are mesmerized by the majesty of Table Mountain, and wowed by the vivacity of the Victorian-era waterfront. As a new visitor myself last month, I was captivated by both. But what has lodged most in my memory is something very different.

Driving from the international airport, I was struck by the sheer wretchedness of Cape Flats: the series of black townships, comprising mostly shacks with corrugated steel roofs, that stretch from the highway almost to the horizon. Few people — tourists or locals — want to talk about the Cape Flats. But there is no better starting point for a discussion of the state of contemporary South Africa.

I was shocked by the degree to which the predominant emotions, 21 years after the end of apartheid, are not of hope and expectation, but of fear and despair.

“It’s not rosy,” a leader of the United Front opposition political movement in the eastern Cape city of East London told me, “but it’s not yet totally bleak.” That was about the most optimistic view I heard. [Continue reading…]