Cameron vies to keep the Gulf onside

Updated 11 December 2012
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Cameron vies to keep the Gulf onside

British Prime Minister David Cameron’s recent trip to Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates was replete with the traditional photo opportunities and mutual defense and security proclamations, but it was far more than a courtesy call on Britain’s long-time Gulf allies. Cameron was clear in the runup to his Gulf trip that he had come to tout for investment in British-made fighter jets, saying openly that security for both Saudi Arabia and the UAE was “important for our security” while potential deals involving dozens of BAE System’s Typhoon fighter jets was “vital for British jobs.”
But a month on, with no high-profile announcements on actual deals forthcoming, the question remains of how Cameron’s second trip to the Gulf as prime minister should be seen in the paradigm of the new Middle East. Moreover, what role the UK sees Saudi Arabia and the UAE playing in its economic and political future.
“The UK has seen the Gulf region as a long-term strategic ally for decades, but the recent Conservative government appears to have grasped the importance of the Gulf more than its predecessors,” said David Jones, head of RUSI Qatar. “There has been a discernible escalation of British interest in and support of Gulf states since William Hague became Foreign Secretary. (Cameron’s) trip is the latest manifestation of this increased support.” The increased support on a diplomatic levels has not been matched in the public perception in the UK, where the Arab Spring has prompted a new awareness of the region and more searching questions about Britain’s relationship with the GCC states.
The UAE was particularly upset after the Guardian published a critical editorial written by a former director of the country’s Al Islah movement, while Riyadh has been angered by a British parliamentary committee inquiry into the UK’s relationship with Saudi Arabia. Cameron is well aware that such spats have the potential to cost the UK dearly. British exports to the GCC were worth an estimated £17 billion in 2011 — with arms deals a major component. “The UK’s calls for reform in support of the Arab Spring, while modulated to avoid a clash with its conservative Gulf partners, have nevertheless created tensions,” said Christopher S. Chivvis, senior political scientist at RAND.
“For economic and security reasons, however, the UK cannot afford an open break with its Gulf partners ... It needs to ensure it has access to oil development opportunities and defense markets.
Cameron also wants the Gulf’s support over Syria, Chivvis said, where the British leader is hoping that the international community can play a bigger role. On the way back from the Gulf, Cameron stopped off at refugee camps on the Jordanian border, seeking to make more public his backing for an end to the civil war and the replacement of Bashar Assad.
“It does appear that Britain and other NATO allies are moving closer to supporting some form of military intervention in Syria, so it is almost certain that coordinating the regional and international approaches to the Syrian crisis was one objective of the trip,” Chivvis said.
RUSI’s Jones added that “part of the rationale for the trip was doubtless to discuss Syria,” although he is more skeptical as to whether Britain or its allies will act there: “While the international community is eager to do something actually doing something is very different,” he said. It remains true that over the last four weeks there has been little action either on business or political fronts. Syria’s war continues with no new initiatives or action proposed by Britain or anybody else. Jones urges patience.
“As a direct result of the latest trip we are yet to see any significant deals made. However, things do not necessarily happen that quickly. It is a part of a longer-term policy of boosting UK support in the region. I am sure that we will see some output in the coming months from the visit particularly in Oman, the UAE, and KSA,” he said.


Turkey’s ruling party taunts opposition over early election

Updated 21 April 2018
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Turkey’s ruling party taunts opposition over early election

  • By bringing the vote forward by more than a year, Erdogan hopes to capitalize on nationalist support for the military advances by Turkish troops in north Syria
  • Since AK Party first won a parliamentary election in November 2002, Erdogan has dominated Turkish politics, first as prime minister and then as president

ANKARA: Turkey’s ruling AK Party taunted the main opposition party on Thursday to name a candidate to challenge Recep Tayyip Erdogan for June elections which are expected to tighten the president’s 15-year hold on power.

Government spokesman Bekir Bozdag said the secularist opposition People’s Republican Party (CHP) was reluctant to put its leader, Kemal Kilicdaroglu, forward for the June 24 vote “because they do not believe he can compete with our president.”

Erdogan called the snap election on Wednesday, bringing the vote forward by more than a year so that Turkey can switch to the powerful new executive presidency that was narrowly approved in a divisive referendum last year.

While many people expected the presidential and parliamentary elections to be held early, the new date leaves barely two months for campaigning and may have wrong-footed Erdogan’s opponents.

“Our chief has donned his wrestling outfit, so if Mr.Kilicdaroglu says ‘I’m a soldier,’ then he should put on his wrestler’s tights and come out,” Bozdag said. The CHP says it will decide on a candidate in the next 10 days, and the pro-Kurdish HDP said it would convene on Sunday to discuss its plans. The nationalist MHP party has said it is backing Erdogan.

Only former Interior Minister Meral Aksener, who broke away from the MHP last year to form the Good Party, has announced her plans to stand for the presidency.

“A politician does not run from elections,” Bozdag said, adding he believed Erdogan would win in the first round. “We as the AK Party are ready for elections.”

Since AK Party first won a parliamentary election in November 2002, Erdogan has dominated Turkish politics, first as prime minister and then as president, transforming his poor, sprawling country on the eastern fringes of Europe into a major emerging market.

But Turkey’s rapid growth has been accompanied by increased authoritarianism, which critics at home and in Europe say has left the country lurching toward one-man rule.

Since an abortive military coup in July 2016, authorities have detained more than 160,000 people, the UN says. Nearly two years after the coup attempt Turkey is still ruled under a state of emergency, and the crackdown continues.

The US voiced concern on Thursday about the timing. “During a state of emergency, it would be difficult to hold a completely free, fair and transparent election in a manner that is consistent with ... Turkish law,” State Department spokeswoman Heather Nauert told a briefing.

Defense Minister Nurettin Canikli said on Wednesday authorities had identified 3,000 armed forces personnel believed to be linked to the US-based cleric Ankara blames for the failed coup. He said they would be dismissed in the coming days.

Media outlets have also been shut down and scores of journalists have been jailed.

 

Early advantage

By calling the vote nearly a year and half early, Erdogan can capitalize on nationalist support for the military advances by Turkish troops in north Syria, where they drove out Kurdish YPG forces, said Goldman Sachs senior economist Erik Meyersson.

The tight schedule “also gives less time for the opposition to organize and choose presidential candidates,” Meyersson wrote in a research note.

The head of a Turkish polling company seen as close to the AK Party said a poll conducted this week had put the AKP on 41.5 percent, with 6 percent for its ally, the MHP.

Mehmet Ali Kulat, chairman of MAK Danismanlik, said that in a presidential election support for Erdogan could outstrip support for his party.

Erdogan’s announcement helped the lira, which has plumbed record lows this month on widening concern about double-digit inflation and the outlook for monetary policy. The currency surged 2.2 percent on Wednesday, its biggest one-day advance in a year. Turkish stocks also rose more than 2 percent.

Economists said the lira rally reflected a belief that the quick timeline for the election reduced the prospect of extra stimulus to maintain economic growth ahead of the vote.

The economy expanded 7.4 percent last year, fueled by stimulus measures including tax changes and an increase in government credit support for small businesses. The government forecasts 5.5 percent growth in 2018 though economists polled by Reuters expect more modest growth of 4.1 percent.