Istanbul’s mayor gets a big welcome in European capitals

Istanbul Mayor Ekrem Imamoglu stands with former German President Christian Wulff after being awarded with the German-Turkish Friendship Award 'Kybele 2019' in Berlin, Germany, on Nov. 8, 2019. (REUTERS/Fabrizio Bensch)
Updated 11 November 2019

Istanbul’s mayor gets a big welcome in European capitals

  • ‘Imamoglu making visits abroad for international prestige of this city’
  • Imamoglu won a significant victory on June 23 in the re-run of Istanbul’s mayoral election, with a lead of nearly 800,000 votes

ANKARA: The proliferation of the international engagements for Istanbul mayor and opposition challenger Ekrem Imamoglu raises the question: What can this international interest toward Imamoglu be attributed to? 

Imamoglu recently met German President Frank-Walter Steinmeier, Chancellor Angela Merkel and Bundestag President Wolfgang Schäuble during his trip to Berlin for the 30th anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall. He also received the Kybele Award from the Turkish-German Friendship Federation. 

In an interview Imamoglu cautioned against political polarization: “Walls do not always have to be physical,” he said. “They are not necessarily made out of concrete and iron bars. Sometimes, two people can stand side by side while an insurmountable wall exists between them.”

However, it was not Imamoglu’s first entry into the international sphere. 

In August, Gergely Karácsony, the Hungarian opposition candidate for Budapest mayor, visited the newly elected Imamoglu in his office in Istanbul, where he praised Imamoglu “as a source of hope for Budapest.” The Green opposition leader went on to win the Budapest mayoral election in October in a major blow to Victor Orbán’s nationalist government. 

Imamoglu visited Anne Hidalgo, the Mayor of Paris, in Paris on Oct. 2. The French mayor greeted his Turkish counterpart in Turkish with the words “Hoşgeldiniz Sayın Başkan” (Welcome, Mr. Mayor).

During the visit, Istanbul mayor said, “The success we have attained over the last local election is not only limited to Turkey, but has had echoes in other parts of the world. I feel it and I know it. I hope that I will be supported by fellow mayors who view the world in the same way as I do.” He also gave a speech in the European Parliament on Oct 30. 

Imamoglu won a significant victory on June 23 in the rerun of Istanbul’s mayoral election, with a lead of nearly 800,000 votes.

Ates Ilyas Bassoy, a political communication expert, devised Imamoglu’s strategy for the local elections based on a comprehensive field study throughout the country.

In an exclusive interview with Arab News, Bassoy said: “The brand value of Istanbul is even higher than that of Turkey.” He added: “Imamoglu is paying visits to foreign countries not for the politics, but for the much-needed international prestige of this city.” 

Bassoy thinks that Istanbul needs a synergy to enrich the city by encouraging investments in value-added sectors such as design, fashion and advanced engineering. 

According to Emre Erdogan, professor of political science in Istanbul Bilgi University, Imamoglu is becoming a popular political figure in the European capitals, which is not surprising. 

“For many, he is a hero fighting against the rising wave of populist politics based on exclusion, xenophobia and discrimination. As he positioned himself as a leader appealing to all constituencies and created a narrative of electoral victory in the ballots, he gave hope to other candidates competing against the hegemony of the populist leaders,” he said.

“His narrative has been put as an example of a good strategy and discourse to beat the domination of the strong leaders,” Erdogan said, adding that “for European leaders such as Merkel or Macron who are fed up with the hard negotiation style of Erdogan, Imamoglu is perceived as a potential president to replace him, and will provide avenues for more softened way of negotiations.”

Emre Erdogan says Istanbul’s new mayor presents himself as a good alternative for returning Turkey to the Western democratic, pluralistic and cosmopolitan way.

However, these foreign contacts stirred harsh criticism from the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP). Interior Minister Suleyman Soylu recently said that “Imamoglu would pay the price for complaining about Turkey at the European Parliament”. 

But for Professor Erdogan the constituency of Imamoglu welcomes all these activities. 

“For the majority of his constituency, “being a Westerner” is an ultimate value as the crystallization of the modernization desires of the founding fathers of the Republic. Though there is a strong nationalist tune within the coalition, a powerful leader having a good reputation in the eyes of the West is not an unfamiliar picture for them,” he said. 

From that perspective, the frequent foreign visits of Turkey’s “rising star” consolidates his support for the upcoming elections, Professor Erdogan noted. 

Imamoglu’s family members are also under the spotlight. Dilek Imamoglu, the mayor’s wife, was recently put on the cover of the French magazine Madame Figaro and was introduced with remarkable words: ‘First Lady of Istanbul.’


Missile attack on Yemen MP home kills two including child

Updated 14 min 32 sec ago

Missile attack on Yemen MP home kills two including child

  • The MPs daughter-in-law and granddaughter were killed
  • Griffiths condemned the attack and called for a halt to the recent military escalation

DUBAI: A rebel missile attack on the home of a Yemeni lawmaker killed two of his relatives, authorities said Thursday, drawing condemnation from the UN after a recent strike in the area left 116 dead.
Yemen’s internationally recognized government — backed by an Arab coalition — has been battling the Iran-allied rebels since 2014, when they overran the capital Sanaa.
The attack on Wednesday night targeted the home of parliamentarian Mossad Hussein Al-Sawadi in Marib province, east of the capital, killing his daughter-in-law and 16-year-old granddaughter, according to the official Saba news agency.
“Sawadi was seriously injured along with three other members (of his family),” said Hussein Al-Huleissi, director of the criminal investigation department in Marib.
“The strike destroyed the home completely and caused panic in the residential neighborhood.”
United Nations envoy to Yemen Martin Griffiths condemned the attack and called for a halt to the recent military escalation in Yemen, which comes after several months of relative peace.
“Targeting MPs and civilian areas is unacceptable and against international law,” he said in a tweet.
The attack came after a missile strike blamed on the Iran-backed Houthi militia killed 116 people including civilians at a mosque in a military camp in Marib on Saturday.
On Thursday, authorities in Marib said they dismantled two Houthi-linked “cells” that took part in planning the strike.
The attack on the mosque, one of the bloodiest single incidents since the war erupted, came a day after coalition-backed government forces launched a large-scale operation against the Houthis in the Nihm region, north of Sanaa.
Army spokesman Abdullah Al-Shandaki told AFP on Tuesday that 72 Houthis had been killed in the fighting.
Saba said the fighting had continued into Thursday, and medical sources reported dozens of dead and wounded on both sides.
Meanwhile, heavy fighting between coalition-backed government troops and the Houthis broke out in the northern province of Jawf on Thursday.
Since 2015, tens of thousands of people have been killed and millions displaced in what the United Nations has described as the world’s worst humanitarian crisis.