To be fair, international media didn’t seem to pay much attention to it. Even the German press seemed to have more important things on its collective mind – which may be understandable given that the role of President is largely ceremonial there, as it is in Turkey.
|German President speaking at METU -|
a diplomatic faux-pas?
Nevertheless, the visit of German Federal President Joachim Gauck generated some heat in our local media. Normally you would expect such a visit to focus largely on PR activities and photo ops. You’d dine with your Turkish counterpart, open a bi-national university (which, to be fair, he did), utter warm fuzzy words in public about long-standing friendship and hopes for positive cooperation in the future – and save any criticism for meetings behind closed doors.
But no. Apparently Mr Gauck had his agenda mapped out (as you would expect) before touching down in Ankara. English language news outlets in Germany say that, ‘according to the German president's office the rule of law and fundamental rights will be at the heart of the four-day trip . . . Gauck intends to talk about freedom of the press and freedom of expression.’
Well, given that Germany and France are the two main opponents of Turkey’s admission to the European Union, it’s probably to be expected that the German President would raise those issues. And so he did. In a joint press conference with Turkey’s President Abdullah Gül on April 28, Gauck posed questions about the Turkish government’s intervention in the judicial process and the blocking of access to Twitter and YouTube. Not surprisingly, he didn’t receive anything resembling an explanatory answer. Gül’s response was to mention attacks by ultra-nationalist groups on Turkish residents in Germany, to imply that all countries have issues with democracy, and to suggest that the important thing was for governments to address these issues in a positive way.
That might have been the end of the matter, except that the German President subsequently made a speech at Ankara’s Middle East Technical University, scene of ongoing anti-government protests over the past year. In what some might see as an unnecessarily inflammatory address, Glauck spoke of ‘voices of disappointment, bitterness and outrage at a style of leadership which many see as a risk to democracy.’ He went on to say that ‘he was shocked by the government's attempts to stamp out street protests and clamp down on the media.’ I don’t know what word Mr Gauck used in German (I assume he was speaking German), but one English language Turkish daily reported that he had said ‘these developments terrify me.’
Turkey’s Prime Minister was characteristically less tactful than his presidential colleague. He was quoted as saying that Mr Gauck should probably keep his opinions on such matters to himself, and that he took a dim view of outsiders interfering in his country’s domestic affairs. In typically abrasive fashion, Mr Erdoğan implied that the former Lutheran pastor was perhaps more accustomed to preaching, and could be having trouble adjusting to his new role as a statesman. You might indeed wonder how US politicians would have viewed the matter if a visiting dignitary from Turkey had made a speech expressing solidarity with ‘Occupy Wall St’ protesters in Zuccotti Park, or how UK parliamentarians would have reacted had Mr Gül sided with rioters in London in late 2011. It’s just not the done thing, as my Grandma Jessie used to say.
Mr Erdoğan went on to question the commitment of Western leaders to democracy when they seemed to be maintaining a determined silence over actions of the military government in Egypt, and I have to say, I’m curious about that too.
News media and politicians in the West were ecstatic when, towards the end of 2010, apparently spontaneous popular movements broke out across the Arab world leading to the overthrow of several manifestly dictatorial regimes. Eighteen days of mass protests in Egypt led to the resignation of President Hosni Mubarak after a 29-year rule under state of emergency regulations. In what was generally accepted as a democratic election, Mohammed Morsi’s Freedom and Justice Party emerged victorious and he became the new president. Morsi, however, only managed one year in office before being deposed by military intervention in June 2013.
Since then, repression of Morsi’s supporters has become increasingly harsh. The so-called Muslim Brotherhood has been declared a terrorist organization, and, in two separate trials, more than 1,200 alleged members have been sentenced to death.
|Families of condemned protesters weep in Egypt|
In recent weeks, residents of Istanbul have seen US warships steaming through the Bosporus Straits on their way to rattle sabres in the Black Sea in response to the Russian government’s activities in Ukraine. In contrast, the US government and its European allies have been twisting their vocal chords in gymnastic contortions trying to call the military coup in Egypt anything but what it actually was – and maintained a commendably non-interventionist position as the regime killed 1,400 protesting citizens and now condemns a similar number to death with barely a nod in the direction of judicial process.
The CIA website informs me that Egypt has an estimated population of 86,895,099, of whom 90% are Muslims. The country’s ‘constitution’, however, forbids religious involvement in politics – and this seems to be the main justification for the military crackdown. At the same time, Germany lays claim to the democratic high ground while having a President who is a former Lutheran minister, despite nearly 40% of their people not being Christian. I’m not even going to mention the ‘United’ Kingdom of Great Britain, whose Head of State is also head of the state religion – because they’re Christian and so it’s ok. As for born-again George Dubya and his Roman Catholic convert poodle Tony Blah . . .
What the CIA website does not say (but Wikipedia does) is that Egypt has one of the largest armed forces in the world. It has a major arms industry manufacturing equipment under licence from the USA, France and Britain. It has its own spy satellite and the largest navy in Africa, the Middle East and the Arab World. Most of this has been financed by aid from the United States of America, which has reputedly contributed on average $2 billion per year since 1979.
Egypt was one of the early opponents of the new state of Israel when it was founded in 1948. Egypt’s government and people were bitterly opposed to the establishment of Israel, and fought several unsuccessful wars against it. Since 1979, however, successive Egyptian governments, probably against the wishes of most of their people, have adopted a more peaceful stance, established diplomatic relations and even performed a mediating role in Israeli-Palestinian negotiations. Any connection with the provision of that American aid, I wonder?
Most of that period passed under the rule of President Mubarak who came to power in 1981 after the assassination of Anwar Sadat. Mubarak was apparently wounded in the hand during the assassination, though none of my sources made it clear that the wound was sustained in self-sacrificing defence of his president. Sadat’s nephew Talaat spent a year in prison for suggesting that his uncle’s killing had been the result of an international conspiracy involving the United States, Israel and the Egyptian military. Mubarak was ‘elected’ and ‘re-elected’ four times by ‘referendum’, in three of which there was no alternative candidate.
In spite of widespread poverty and serious wealth disparities, and major concerns expressed by Amnesty International and other human rights groups about political censorship, police brutality, arbitrary detention, torture and restrictions on freedom of speech and assembly, Egypt’s GDP increased significantly during the Mubarak years. Apart from the military aid, it seems that the US and its European allies made other financial contributions as well. Gratitude for Egypt’s participation in Bush the Father’s 1991 Gulf War apparently took the form of major assistance, reputed to have been around $500,000 per soldier provided. In addition, it is said that America, the Arab States of the Persian Gulf, and Europe, forgave Egypt around $14 billion of debt.
What happened after Mubarak resigned, and Mohammed Morsi was elected in the first democratic elections since . . . ever? The economy suffered a major reverse, ‘popular’ unrest manifested itself in political demonstrations, and the army stepped in to ‘restore order’. The subsequent unrest has been portrayed as Islamic fundamentalism and terrorism, and viciously suppressed. I would like to be persuaded that I am being overly cynical here, but I have a bad feeling our Western leaders are less interested in the spread of democracy than they would have us believe.
|German police dealing with Blockupy demonstrators |
I freely confess I am annoyed about the continued inaccessibility of You Tube in Turkey – and I feel government taxes on petrol and alcohol could be a little less swingeing. At the same time, I have to say I am not unhappy to see a political leader of a major European state taken to task for hypocrisy. If you’re going to dish it out, you’d better be prepared to take it. Joachim Gauck’s freedom-fighting credentials apparently trace back to younger days in East Germany before reunification. Two points need to be made here. The first is that no reasonable comparison can be made between the Soviet era German Democratic Republic and the modern Republic of Turkey. Does Mr Gauck imagine he would have been allowed to deliver such an address on a radicalised university campus in such a state? The second is that police in Germany have shown themselves in recent years just as capable as their Turkish counterparts of suppressing the right to assembly with water cannons, gas and physical violence.
Signs of Germany’s unsavoury history of racist violence still lurk not far beneath the surface. Anti-Turk and anti-Islamic violence, right-wing demonstrations against immigrant communities, and aspiring politicians using nationalist rhetoric to advance their careers seem a recurring feature of the political landscape. One such politician is Thilo Sarrazin, a former banker with well-publicised negative views on Muslim communities in Germany. Our Joachim Gauck is apparently on record as having expressed admiration for Herr Sarrazin’s outspoken opinions. Both gentlemen espouse free-market views on finance and economics, and had little sympathy for German supporters of the ‘Occupy’ movement two years ago.
On another related issue, I was somewhat amused to see that PM Erdoğan is asking the United States to extradite ex-patriate Turkish Muslim cleric Fethullah Gülen to answer charges of conspiring to bring down the government. I have no idea whether those charges have any foundation or not, but I’m as close to stone-cold certain as I can be that we will not be seeing Mr Gülen in Turkey any time soon. The US is very keen to get hold of Julian Assange and Edward Snowden for very similar reasons, and they are not at all happy that the governments of Ecuador and Russia are obstructing them – but I can’t see them sending the Pennsylvania Hodja back to Turkey. The New Zealand government would have been only to happy to hand over Kim Dotcom to US legal processes, but the guy is rich enough and smart enough to have kept himself out of harm’s way so far. Interestingly, two of those three are not even US citizens – which doesn’t seem to worry the Americans much in their pursuit of ‘justice’.