Gulf students caught up in Istanbul university row

The university is struggling to pay academics’ monthly salaries or even electricity bills. (Shutterstock)
Updated 22 November 2019

Gulf students caught up in Istanbul university row

  • Istanbul Sehir University recently had its assets frozen

ISTANBUL: A private university in Istanbul with more than 7,000 students, including many from Saudi Arabia and the Gulf region, has become the latest arena for a bitter quarrel between Turkey’s ruling party and a breakaway political faction.

Istanbul Sehir University recently had its assets frozen by a court after state-run Halkbank claimed it was unable to repay more than 400 million Turkish lira ($70 million) in credit provided by the bank.

But many observers believe the real reason behind the move is not commercial, but something much deeper. They claim it is the result of a dispute between the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) and the founder of the university, former Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu, an ex-ally of President Recep Tayyip Erdogan who recently left the AKP to establish a new party with promises to campaign against Turkey’s drift to authoritarianism.

Now left without access to funds, the university is struggling to pay academics’ monthly salaries or even electricity bills.

And the bitter power struggle does not end here.

Valuable land on which the university’s facilities are established is another source of dispute between the government and university management. Although the land was granted to the university with an administrative decision, some believe a legal interpretation could lead to confiscation of the facility.

Last week, the Council of State, the country’s highest administrative court, ruled that it should be returned to the government as the land was improperly given to the university at the time.

Davutoglu, who resigned as prime minister in 2016, broke his silence in April this year after the local election setback for the AKP with a text criticizing the “wrongdoings” of the government. He resigned from the AKP in September along with several with other parliamentarians who served in high-ranking positions within the party. 

Earlier this month, Davutoglu said on social media that the government was engaged in “deliberate political acts” against the university.

In a series of speeches, the former prime minister has repeatedly voiced discontent over the erosion of the party’s core values of justice and freedom.

Davutoglu, widely regarded as the chief architect of the AKP’s foreign policy, was ranked seventh in a list of “100 global thinkers” by Foreign Policy magazine in 2010.

Mehmet Fatih Uslu, a Turkish literature specialist from Istanbul Sehir University, said the legal battle began after disagreements surfaced between Davutoglu and the government.

“This is not only a punishment directed at the university because Davutoglu is among its founders, but also a stick to be used against any new political establishment that breaks away from the government,” he told Arab News.

Uslu said that the university has always encouraged a “pluralist academic environment” despite the current polarized political atmosphere in the country. “However, the response from the academic circle has been too weak, which allows the authorities to abuse rights,” he said.

Three journalists who interviewed Davutoglu in a YouTube program in August later had their shows dropped by the Russian-backed Sputnik news platform.

With Davutoglu rumored to be setting up his new political outfit in less than a month, the university may become a bargaining chip following Erdogan’s previous warning against splits within the party. “Those who take part in this kind of betrayal will pay a heavy price,” he said.

Muzaffer Senel, a political scientist from Istanbul Sehir University, said: “Academics and administrative staff cannot get their salaries, and it harms families because they cannot pay their rent. If no immediate solution is found, electricity, water and gas will have to be cut, and students’ education could be interrupted.”

While the dispute continues, the future of foreign students at the university, including those from the Gulf region, remains uncertain.


Iran nuclear deal parties meet as accord nears collapse

Updated 15 min 29 sec ago

Iran nuclear deal parties meet as accord nears collapse

  • Envoys from Britain, France, Germany, China, Russia and Iran will take part in the meeting
  • Iran insists that under the agreement it has the right to take measures in retaliation for the US’s withdrawal from the deal

VIENNA: The remaining signatories to the faltering 2015 Iran nuclear deal will meet in Vienna on Friday with the survival of the landmark agreement at stake after Tehran vowed to continue to breach the deal’s limits on its nuclear program.
Envoys from Britain, France, Germany, China, Russia and Iran will take part in the meeting, which is the first time the six parties will have gathered in this format since July.
Since May, Iran has taken a series of measures, including stepping up uranium enrichment, in breach of the 2015 deal, with another such move likely in early January.
Iran insists that under the agreement it has the right to take these measures in retaliation for the US’s withdrawal from the deal in 2018 and reimposition of crippling sanctions.
Since last month, European members have in turn begun raising the possibility of triggering the so-called “dispute resolution mechanism” foreseen in the accord, which could lead to the resumption of UN sanctions on Iran.
On the eve of what was already likely to be a strained meeting, Britain, France and Germany accused Iran of developing nuclear-capable ballistic missiles, in a letter to the UN on Thursday.
Iranian Foreign Minister Javad Zarif dismissed the allegation as “desperate falsehood.”
However, despite the mounting tension observers say Britain, France and Germany are unlikely to trigger the dispute resolution mechanism on Friday when their diplomats attend the joint commission meeting chaired by senior EU official Helga-Maria Schmid.
Analysts say if UN sanctions are re-imposed and the deal falls apart, Iran could also withdraw from the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons (NPT).
“It’s not clear whether that’s worth the benefit,” Ali Vaez from the International Crisis Group told AFP.
But he warned the risk of the deal collapsing was increasing as Iran was “running out of measures that are easy to reverse and non-controversial.”
“Both sides are locked into an escalatory cycle that is just very hard to imagine that they would step away from,” he said.
Francois Nicoullaud, former French ambassador to Iran, also says tensions were expected to continue to rise.
“Maybe it won’t be this time, but (the deal falling apart) will certainly be in the background of the discussions,” Nicoullaud told AFP.


Iranian parliament speaker Ali Larijani warned Sunday that if European partners triggered the dispute mechanism, Tehran may “seriously reconsider” its commitments to the UN nuclear watchdog, the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), which monitors the deal’s implementation.
European efforts to shield Iran from the effects of US sanctions by creating a mechanism to carry on legitimate trade with the Islamic republic have borne little fruit, much to Tehran’s frustration.
The EU is growing increasingly concerned by Tehran rowing back from its commitments.
The dispute resolution mechanism in the deal has numerous stages, but it can eventually culminate in the UN Security Council voting on whether Iran should still have relief from sanctions lifted under the deal.
In such a scenario, says Vaez, “we will have a major non-proliferation crisis on our hands in the sense that the Russians and the Chinese have already declared they would not recognize the return of (sanctions).”
Vaez said in the end the path to a diplomatic solution would depend on Washington’s next moves and whether it would at least be willing to relax its attempts to prevent sales of Iranian oil, a vital source of income for the country.
“The remaining parties to the deal have proved incapable of providing Iran with any kind of breathing space,” Vaez said.
Iranian President Hassan Rouhani said Wednesday that Tehran is willing to return to the negotiating table if the United States first drops sanctions.