Setback to Erdogan as ex-premier leaves party

Former Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu is the second key AKP figure to resign from the party after Ali Babacan — a former deputy prime minister and economy minister. (AFP)
Updated 14 September 2019

Setback to Erdogan as ex-premier leaves party

  • AKP began proceedings to expel Ahmet Davutoglu and three former legislators from the party for breach of discipline

ANKARA: The resignation of former Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu, as well as several former and current MPs, from the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) has shaken Turkish politics.

The AKP, “which is now under the control of a narrow cadre, no longer has the opportunity to be a cure for the country’s problems,” said Davutoglu, who had recently criticized the party’s policies.

“This administration … will be called to account before the nation. What they want to discharge is not people, but the collective conscience,” he added.

“From this day on, building a new political movement in light of our basic principles is required by our responsibility towards our nation.”

Last week, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said splinter movements from the AKP had been unsuccessful in the past. The country’s next elections are scheduled for 2023.

Davutoglu was mostly known for his policy of “zero problems with neighboring countries,” and for deepening Turkey’s regional engagement. His criticism of the AKP increased after its poor performance in local elections in March.

Splinter movements from the AKP have already emerged in recent months, accelerated by the party’s defeat in Istanbul’s mayoral elections in June.

Former Deputy Prime Minister Ali Babacan resigned from the AKP in July, and expressed his intention to lead a new political movement. 

Turkey’s former President Abdullah Gul is expected to support Babacan’s party without formally being part of it.

Increasingly critical over the erosion of the rule of law and economic recession in Turkey, Babacan said the new party will be formed before the end of the year.

According to a recent poll by Ankara-based research company ORC, in a general election 11.6 percent of respondents said they would vote for Babacan’s new party, while 8.5 percent said they would support Davutoglu.

Karol Wasilewski, an analyst at the Polish Institute of International Affairs, said neither Davutoglu nor Babacan present a strong challenge to Erdogan or the AKP.

“Yet they have a chance to be quite important spoilers due to the shape of Turkey’s current political system,” he told Arab News.

“What matters for the opposition bloc is to bring votes for the AKP and its ally the MHP (Nationalist Movement Party) down to 50 percent.”

He said Babacan’s standing in Turkish politics may rise due to the AKP’s economic mismanagement and the collapse of its Syria policy.

“When it comes to Davutoglu, I’m really skeptical as I can’t see any particular field in which he can present himself as a better choice than the AKP,” Wasilewski added.

“I think he’ll try to concentrate on economic, foreign policy and identity issues, but I doubt he’ll be successful. He’s seen by many Turkish voters as an architect of the current foreign policy, and thus its failures.”

Wasilewski said when it comes to the economy, Babacan is more appealing than Davutoglu. The former is known as the main actor behind Turkey’s economic boom for much of the 2000s.

The country currently faces high inflation, soaring unemployment, rising food prices and a recession.

Egypt’s options dwindle as Nile talks break down

Updated 5 min 5 sec ago

Egypt’s options dwindle as Nile talks break down

  • Talks collapsed earlier this month over the construction of the $5 billion Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam
  • El-Sisi said he would “never” allow Ethiopia to impose a “de facto situation” by filling the dam without an agreement

CAIRO: The latest breakdown in talks with Ethiopia over its construction of a massive upstream Nile dam has left Egypt with dwindling options as it seeks to protect the main source of freshwater for its large and growing population.

Talks collapsed earlier this month over the construction of the $5 billion Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam, which is 60 percent complete and promises to provide much-needed electricity to Ethiopia’s 100 million people.

But Egypt, with a population of around the same size, fears that the process of filling the reservoir behind the dam could slice into its share of the river, with catastrophic consequences. Pro-government media have cast it as a national security threat that could warrant military action.

Speaking at the UN last month, Egyptian President Abdel-Fattah El-Sisi said he would “never” allow Ethiopia to impose a “de facto situation” by filling the dam without an agreement.

“While we acknowledge Ethiopia’s right to development, the water of the Nile is a question of life, a matter of existence to Egypt,” he said.

Egypt has been holding talks for years with Ethiopia and Sudan, upstream countries that have long complained about Cairo’s overwhelming share of the river, which is enshrined in treaties dating back to the British colonial era. Those talks came to an acrimonious halt earlier this month, the third time they have broken down since 2014.

“We are fed up with Ethiopian procrastination. We will not spend our lifetime in useless talks,” an Egyptian official told The Associated Press. “All options are on the table, but we prefer dialogue and political means.”

Egypt has reached out to the United States, Russia, China and Europe, apparently hoping to reach a better deal through international mediation. The White House said earlier this month it supports talks to reach a sustainable agreement while “respecting each other’s Nile water equities.”

Mohamed el-Molla, an Egyptian Foreign Ministry official, said Cairo would take the dispute to the UN Security Council if the Ethiopians refuse international mediation.

That has angered Ethiopia, which wants to resolve the dispute through the tripartite talks.

An Ethiopian official said the packages offered by Cairo so far “were deliberately prepared to be unacceptable for Ethiopia.”

“Now they are saying Ethiopia has rejected the offer, and calling for a third-party intervention,” the official added. Both the Ethiopian and the Egyptian official spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to discuss the talks with the media.

The main dispute is centered on the filling of the dam’s 74-billion-cubic-meter reservoir. Ethiopia wants to fill it as soon as possible so it can generate over 6,400 Megawatts, a massive boost to the current production of 4,000 Megawatts. Ethiopia said earlier this year that the dam would start generating power by the end of 2020 and would operate at full capacity by 2022.

That has the potential to sharply reduce the flow of the Blue Nile, the main tributary to the river, which is fed by annual monsoon rains in the Ethiopian highlands. If the filling takes place during one of the region’s periodic droughts, its downstream impact could be even more severe.

Egypt has proposed no less than seven years for filling the reservoir, and for Ethiopia to adjust the pace according to rainfall, said an Egyptian Irrigation Ministry official who is a member of its negotiation team. The official also was not authorized to discuss the talks publicly and so spoke on condition of anonymity.

The Nile supplies more than 90 percent of Egypt’s freshwater. Egyptians already have one of the lowest per capita shares of water in the world, at around 570 cubic meters per year, compared to a global average of 1,000. Ethiopians however have an average of 125 cubic meters per year.

Egypt wants to guarantee a minimum annual release of 40 billion cubic meters of water from the Blue Nile. The irrigation official said anything less could affect Egypt’s own massive Aswan High Dam, with dire economic consequences.

“It could put millions of farmers out of work. We might lose more than one million jobs and $1.8 billion annually, as well as $300 million worth of electricity,” he said.

The official said Ethiopia has agreed to guarantee just 31 billion cubic meters.

El-Sisi is set to meet with Ethiopia’s Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed, winner of this year’s Nobel Peace Prize, on Wednesday in the Russian city of Sochi, on the sidelines of a Russia-Africa summit. They may be able to revive talks, but the stakes get higher as the dam nears completion.

The International Crisis Group, a Brussels-based think tank, warned earlier this year that the “risk of future clashes could be severe if the parties do not also reach agreement on a longer-term basin-wide river management framework.”

In recent weeks there have been calls by some commentators in Egypt’s pro-government media to resort to force.
Abdallah el-Senawy, a prominent columnist for the daily newspaper el-Shorouk, said the only alternatives were internationalizing the dispute or taking military action.

“Egypt is not a small county,” he wrote in a Sunday column. “If all diplomatic and legal options fail, a military intervention might be obligatory.”
Anwar el-Hawary, the former editor of the Al-Masry Al-Youm newspaper, compared the dispute to the 1973 war with Israel, in which Egypt launched a surprise attack into the Sinai Peninsula.

“If we fought to liberate Sinai, it is logical to fight to liberate the water,” he wrote on Facebook. “The danger is the same in the two cases. War is the last response.”