Loyalists dominate President Erdogan’s new Cabinet in Turkey

Turkey's President Recep Tayyip Erdogan (R) presents Turkey's new Vice President Fuat Oktay (L) during a news conference at the Presidential Palace in Ankara, on July 9, 2018. (AFP/ADEM ALTAN)
Updated 10 July 2018

Loyalists dominate President Erdogan’s new Cabinet in Turkey

  • The new Cabinet is made up of ultra-loyalists and close confidants of Erdogan
  • Mehmet Simsek, a former Merrill Lynch banker who was deputy prime minister in the previous government, was left out of the Cabinet’s economic management team

ANKARA: Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s new Cabinet will have wide-ranging powers in the country’s leadership, dubbed by some as the beginning of a “one-man rule.”
The new Cabinet is made up of ultra-loyalists and close confidants of Erdogan.
With the Turkish lira falling against other currencies and deepening concerns about the central bank’s independence, Berat Albayrak, Erdogan’s son-in-law, was named as treasury and finance minister.
Mehmet Simsek, a former Merrill Lynch banker who was deputy prime minister in the previous government, was left out of the Cabinet’s economic management team, although he was seen as the country’s main interlocutor with foreign investors.
The Cabinet line-up was not welcomed by foreign markets as Turkish lira continued its sharp plunge against the US dollar and euro.
Cem Baslevent, an economics professor at Istanbul’s Bilgi University, said foreign investors would need at least two months to rebuild trust in the Cabinet.
“Until then they will remain skeptical,” he told Arab News.
According to Ozgur Unluhisarcikli, Ankara office director of German Marshall Fund of the US, by choosing his son-in-law as finance minister, Erdogan has opted for change.
“It had become a tradition in Turkey to have an economy czar who would be perceived favorably by the international markets and appease them when necessary. But Albayrak shares Erdogan’s economic views, which create anxiety in the international markets,” he told Arab News.
Unluhisarcikli said that Albayrak viewed the Turkish lira’s fall as the result of a “foreign-origin plot” aimed at ousting the government.
Most experts say the appointment of such a loyal figure may hint at an expansionary fiscal policy, which is likely to create inflationary pressure.
Despite rumors that he would name his presidential spokesperson Ibrahim Kalin as foreign minister, Erdogan retained Mevlut Cavusoglu in the post, with Suleyman Soylu named as interior minister.
“By keeping Cavusoglu as foreign minister, Erdogan opted for continuity in foreign policy,” Unluhisarcikli said.
“By doing so, he has eliminated the risk of interrupting important processes such as negotiations with the US to break the deadlock in bilateral relations,” he said.
Erdogan will meet his US counterpart Donald Trump and other leaders at a NATO summit in Brussels this week.
The Turkish leader abolished the Ministry for EU Affairs, handing its responsibility to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, a radical shift of priorities in the country’s bid for EU membership.
In another surprising move, Turkish Chief of Staff Hulusi Akar was named minister of defense. Akar has built close links with Erdogan over Turkey’s military operations in Syria and Iraq.
Timur Akhmetov, a Turkey analyst and researcher at the Russian International Affairs Council, believes Akar’s appointment is a sign of the politicization of the country’s army.
Commander of Turkish Land Forces, Gen. Yasar Guler, was named Chief of General Staff with a new presidential decree.
Ruhsar Pekcan, from Turkey’s Union of Chambers and Commodity Exchanges of Turkey, is trade minister.
Erdogan appointed Fuat Oktay as his sole vice president. Oktay has experience in the US in companies such as Ford, General Motors and Chrysler. He is known as a good crisis handler, especially when he was in charge of emergency management during Turkey’s open-door policy for Syrians taking shelter in the country.

Egypt begins vote on extending Sissi’s rule

Updated 11 min 9 sec ago

Egypt begins vote on extending Sissi’s rule

  • El-Sisi cast his ballot at a polling station in the eastern suburb of Heliopolis in the Egyptian capital
  • Supporters argue that El-Sisi has stabilized Egypt and needs more time to complete crucial economic reforms.

CAIRO: Voting began on Saturday in Egypt in a referendum on proposed constitutional amendments that would extend President Abdel Fattah El-Sisi's rule.
El-Sisi cast his ballot at a polling station in the eastern suburb of Heliopolis in the Egyptian capital, state television showed.  

Supporters argue that El-Sisi has stabilized Egypt and needs more time to complete crucial economic reforms. Critics say they fear that the changes will further limit the space for dissent. 

An amendment to Article 140 of the constitution extends the presidential term to six years from four. An outright bar on any president serving more than two terms will change to a bar on serving more than two consecutive terms. An additional clause extends El-Sisi’s current term to six years from four currently since his election victory in 2018, and allows him to run for a third term in 2024. 

The amendments provide for the creation of a second parliamentary chamber known as the Council of Senators. It would have 180 members, two-thirds elected by the public and the rest appointed by the president. 

Article 200 of the constitution on the role of the military is expanded, giving the military a duty to protect “the constitution and democracy and the fundamental makeup of the country and its civil nature, the gains of the people and the rights and freedoms of individuals.” 

The amendments also create the post of vice president, allowing the president to appoint one or more deputies. 

They task the president with choosing head judges and the public prosecutor from a pool of senior candidates pre-selected by the judiciary. They further create a quota setting women’s representation in Parliament at a minimum of 25 percent. 

Who is behind the amendments? 

The amendments were initiated by the pro-government parliamentary bloc known as Support Egypt, and according to the Parliament’s legislative committee report, 155 members submitted the initial proposal. On Tuesday, 531 out of 596 members of Egypt’s overwhelmingly pro-El-Sisi Parliament voted in favor of the changes. Parliament speaker Ali Abdelaal has said that the amendments were a parliamentary initiative and that El-Sisi may not even choose to run again. 

“This suggestion came from the representatives of the people in gratitude for the historic role played by the president,” the legislative committee report said. 

Proponents of the changes have argued that El-Sisi, a former army chief, came to power with a huge mandate after mass protests in 2013 against President Mohamed Mursi’s one year in office. With macro economic indicators improving, they say El-Sisi deserves more time to build on reforms. The legislative committee report said religious, academic, political and civil society representatives expressed strong overall support for the changes during a consultation period ahead of the Parliament’s final vote. 

What do opponents say? 

The legislative committee acknowledged some opposition to the amendments from members of the judiciary and two non-governmental organizations. Just 22 members of Parliament voted against the amendments. They and other opposition figures say a central promise of the 2011 uprising that toppled then-President Hosni Mubarak is at risk: The principle of the peaceful transfer of power. They say the amendments were driven by El-Sisi and his close entourage, and by the powerful security and intelligence agencies. They also fear the changes thrust the armed forces into political life by formally assigning them a role in protecting democracy. 

“If you want your children and grandchildren to live in a modern democratic country with peaceful transition of power, I do not think this is the amendment we would want,” one of the opposition MPs, Haitham El-Hariri, told Parliament this week. 

While Abdelaal said a wide range of views were given a hearing during the consultation period, opposition figures and activists say genuine debate on the amendments was impossible due to a far-reaching crackdown on political dissent. 

Egyptian officials deny silencing dissent and say that Egyptians from all walks of life were given a chance to debate the amendments, adding that all views were factored into the final proposals. Abdelaal also denied that the amendments prescribe a new role for the military. 

He told Parliament that the armed forces are the backbone of the country and Egypt is “neither a military or a religious state,” state-run Al Ahram newspaper said. “This is part of (El-Sisi’s) consolidation of power,” said Steven Cook of the Council on Foreign Relations, an independent US-based think-tank. “From an institutional perspective, Egypt’s counter-revolution is largely complete.” 

What happens next?

Egyptians abroad start voting on Friday, while the vote inside Egypt begins on Saturday, meaning Egyptians have less than four days to read and discuss the changes following their approval by Parliament. Election commissioner Lasheen Ibrahim, who announced the dates of the referendum on Wednesday, did not say when the votes will be counted or the results announced. More than a week before Parliament’s final vote, posters and banners sprung up across the capital Cairo urging people to “do the right thing” and participate, some calling directly for a “yes” vote.