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.


Egypt slams Turkish minister’s remarks after refusing dialogue with Ankara

Egypt's Minister of Foreign Affairs Sameh Shoukry. (AFP)
Updated 38 min 58 sec ago

Egypt slams Turkish minister’s remarks after refusing dialogue with Ankara

  • Egyptian Foreign Minister Sameh Shoukry had responded to previous calls from Ankara over the necessity of improved dialogue with Egypt, stressing that Egypt was monitoring Turkish actions and statements to assess the viability of discussions

CAIRO: The Egyptian Foreign Ministry has condemned derogatory remarks made by the Turkish foreign minister, days after a Turkish attempt to open a dialogue with Egypt was rejected by Cairo.

The spokesperson of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Ahmed Hafez, denounced the foreign minister’s comments made in a conversation with a local TV channel, and said talking about Egypt in such a tone showed a lack of sincerity in Ankara’s efforts to seeking to create relations based on respect.

These developments came hours after Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan told reporters in Istanbul “we have no objection to dialogue with Egypt” on Friday.

Sources revealed that Ankara had contacted Cairo several times requesting a meeting between the two countries’ security officials over events in the Mediterranean. Egypt, however, refused over Cairo’s reservations about Turkey’s incursion into Libya, as well as its links to the Muslim Brotherhood.

Egyptian Foreign Minister Sameh Shoukry had responded to previous calls from Ankara over the necessity of improved dialogue with Egypt, stressing that Egypt was monitoring Turkish actions and statements to assess the viability of discussions. For now, he suggested, such talks were impossible on account of Turkey’s foreign policies.

“The policies that we see from the military presence on Syrian, Iraqi and Libyan soil, and the existing tension in the eastern Mediterranean, all indicate destabilizing expansionist policies in the region, and therefore cannot lead to dialogue and the start of a new page.

“The matter is not (one for) what is declared (by Turkey) but by actions and policies that promote stability, and are consistent with the rules of international relations and international legitimacy, which are of interest to us at this stage,” Shoukry said.

A few days ago, Shoukry confirmed that Turkish activity in many Arab countries represented the most significant emerging threat to Arab national security, stressing that Egypt would not remain idle in the face of these challenges.

In a speech before the Arab Ministerial Committee on Turkish interventions within the framework of the League of Arab States Council’s 154th regular session, he added that Egypt opposed Turkish ambitions manifesting themselves in northern Iraq, Syria and Libya in particular.