AKP’s local election losses could mean foreign policy trouble for Erdogan

President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s ruling Justice and Development Party lost control over the capital Ankara and economic powerhouse Istanbul in Sunday’s vote. (Reuters)
Updated 03 April 2019

AKP’s local election losses could mean foreign policy trouble for Erdogan

  • Ankara, in the short term, is going to find itself in a huge dilemma, expert tells Arab News

ANKARA: There could be repercussions for Turkey’s foreign policy following losses for the president’s party in local elections, experts have told Arab News.
President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) lost control over the capital Ankara and economic powerhouse Istanbul in Sunday’s vote.
International challenges include a clash with the US over plans to buy an air defense system from Russia and a reduced US presence in northern Syria.
The US has halted delivery of equipment related to the F-35 fighter aircraft to Turkey.
US officials have told their Turkish counterparts they will not receive further shipments of F-35 related equipment needed to prepare for the arrival of the stealth fighter aircraft, sources have told Reuters.
Washington’s step to block delivery of the jet comes amid fears in the US and other NATO allies, that radar on the Russian S-400 missile system will learn how to spot and track the F-35, making it less able to evade Russian weapons.
Dimitris Tsarouhas, a visiting scholar at Georgetown University, said Ankara and Erdogan had invested in the partnership with Russia while distancing themselves from the US.
“In that context, relations with countries like Russia will continue to prosper in the coming period,” he told Arab News.
But there would be consequences in terms of the continuing rapprochement with Bashar Assad’s regime in Syria. Tensions with the US would continue and Washington’s recent refusal to ship training equipment for the fighter jet project was an early indication of the fallout, he added.
Erdogan insists the Adana Protocol gives his country the right to intervene militarily in neighboring Syria. Turkey and its Syrian opposition proxies control part of northern Syria, and Ankara has repeatedly threatened another military operation against Kurdish fighters on its southern border.
But the Foreign Ministry in Damascus has accused Ankara of breaching the Adana deal throughout Syria’s war. In addition, Moscow and Ankara are at odds over who would control a proposed “safe zone” along Turkey’s border with Syria.
Tsarouhas said relations with the EU would continue to be characterized by their transactional nature. Mutual interests would lead to policy cooperation in select areas, he said, but without leading to real convergence between the two sides.
Government officials on the campaign trail often blamed foreign powers for currency fluctuations, with the lira dropping almost 30 percent against the dollar in last year’s currency crisis.
Karol Wasilewski, an analyst at the Warsaw-based Polish Institute of International Affairs, said Erdogan and his party would have to deal with the effects of his “electoral foreign policy” and that tension with the US was just one example of that.
“The situation may induce Erdogan to lead a more pragmatic foreign policy and to reduce the traditional West-bashing,” he told Arab News.
He was not convinced by suggestions that Erdogan would change his tune and become “a perfect” Western ally. “It would be rather the form and not the essence that would change. While Turkey may be less confrontational toward the West, simply because Erdogan wouldn’t need his anti-Western discourse to mobilize his electorate, Turkey would continue to be self-confident and assertive international player concentrated on national interests.”
Dr. Kerim Has, a Moscow-based Russia analyst, said Ankara in the short-term was going to find itself in a huge dilemma and that zigzagging remained the key feature of Turkey’s foreign policy.
“Erdogan urgently needs money and financial support from the West to overcome the deepening economic crisis in Turkey, whereas he is obliged to coordinate its policy and activities with Moscow in order not to get into trouble in Syria,” he told Arab News. “A similar quandary is likely to become more prominent and collisional between the S-400 missiles versus the F-35 fighter jets.”
Ankara may be pushed to reluctantly keep the ball rolling for a little while longer with Moscow, at least until it comes up with a creative solution to its economic problems, according to Has.
“Turkish authorities will also likely soon facilitate the ‘job’ of its Russian partners with the Syrian regime for a military offensive in Idlib. At the same time, Erdogan will probably try to find a tangible compromise with the US on northeastern Syria and the Kurdish issue specifically.”
Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu is set to meet with his US counterpart Mike Pompeo and National Security Adviser John Bolton on the sidelines of a NATO meeting in Washington on Thursday.


’Sister protests’: Lebanon, Iraq look to each other

Updated 11 November 2019

’Sister protests’: Lebanon, Iraq look to each other

BEIRUT: A Lebanese flag flutters in the protest-hit Iraqi capital. More than 900 kilometers (500 miles) away, a revolutionary Iraqi chant rings out from a bustling protest square in Beirut.
“Don’t trust the rumors, they’re a group of thieves,” sings a group of Lebanese musicians in Iraqi dialect, referring to political leaders they deem incompetent and corrupt.
“The identity is Lebanese,” they continue, reworking the chant by Iraqi preacher Ali Yusef Al-Karbalai, made popular during the street movement there.
Such recent shows of solidarity have become a common feature of protest squares in the two countries, where corruption, unemployment and appalling public services have fueled unprecedented street movements demanding the ouster of an entire political class.
They serve to “shed light on similarities between the two movements and boost morale,” said Farah Qadour, a Lebanese oud musician.
“The two streets are observing and learning from each other,” said the 26-year-old who is part of the group that adopted Al-Karbalai’s chant.
In Lebanon’s southern city of Nabatiyeh, hundreds brandishing Lebanese flags chanted: “From Iraq to Beirut, one revolution that never dies.”
And in the northern city of Tripoli, dubbed the “bride” of Lebanon’s protest movement, a man standing on a podium waved a wooden pole bearing the flags of the two countries.
“From Lebanon to Iraq, our pain is one, our right is one, and victory is near,” read a sign raised during another protest, outside Beirut’s state-run electricity company.
In Tahrir Square, the beating heart of Baghdad’s month-old protest movement, demonstrators are selling Lebanese flags alongside Iraqi ones.
They have hung some on the abandoned Turkish restaurant, turned by Iraqi demonstrators into a protest control tower.
Banners reading “from Beirut to Baghdad, one revolution against the corrupt” could be seen throughout.
Lebanon and Iraq are ranked among the most corrupt countries in the region by anti-graft watchdog Transparency International, with Iraq listed as the 12th most corrupt in the world.
Public debt levels in both countries are relatively high, with the rate in Lebanon exceeding 150 percent of gross domestic product (GDP).
“What’s happening on the streets in Iraq and Lebanon, they’re sister protests,” said Samah, a 28-year-old Lebanese demonstrator.
“They’re the result of an accumulation” of years of problems.
One video that went viral on social media networks showed a masked Iraqi protester dressed in military fatigues demanding the resignation of Lebanese Foreign Minister Gebran Bassil, one of the main targets of protesters in the small Mediterranean country.
In a video released online, a group of young Iraqi men had filmed themselves singing, “Lebanon, we’re with you!“
The two movements also seem to be adopting similar protest strategies.
In both countries, rows of parked vehicles have blocked traffic along main thoroughfares in recent weeks.
University-aged demonstrators wearing medical masks or eye goggles have occupied bridges and flyovers, refusing to believe pledges of reform from both governments.
The big difference is that in Iraq, the demonstrations have turned deadly, with more than 300 people, mostly protesters but also including security forces, killed since the movement started October 1.
Lebanon’s street movement, which started on October 17, has been largely incident-free despite scuffles with security forces and counter-demonstrators rallying in support of established parties.
The two movements, however, are united in their anger about the kind of political system that prioritizes power-sharing between sects over good governance.
The consecutive governments born out of this system have been prone to deadlock and have failed to meet popular demands for better living conditions.
“We are united by a sense of patriotic duty in confronting this sectarian political system,” said Obeida, a 29-year-old protester from Tripoli.
He said he had high hopes for Iraqi protesters because the sectarian power-sharing system there is relatively new, having emerged after the fall of Saddam Hussein in 2003.
“In Lebanon, it’s more entrenched,” he said of the arrangement that ended the country’s 1975-1990 civil war.
On a Beirut waterfront, dotted with luxury restaurants and cafes, a 70-year-old Iraqi man who has been living in Lebanon for five years looked on as demonstrators laid out picnic blankets on the grass.
With a Lebanese flag wrapped around his neck, Fawzi said the protests looked different but reminded him of those back home.
“The goal is one,” he said.