University falls victim to Erdogan’s battle with ex-prime minister

University falls victim to Erdogan’s battle with ex-prime minister
Sehir University’s founding motive was to consolidate and strengthen the growing conservative intelligentsia in Turkey and abroad. (Sehir website)
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Updated 01 July 2020

University falls victim to Erdogan’s battle with ex-prime minister

University falls victim to Erdogan’s battle with ex-prime minister
  • The overnight move highlights rising tensions between the Turkish government and leaders of breakaway parties

ANKARA: Istanbul’s Sehir University, founded by Ahmet Davutoglu, the former prime minister and ex-ally of Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, was shut down on Monday after an overnight presidential decree.

“With this signature, President Erdogan has gone down in history as a politician who shut down a university,” Davutoglu said during a press conference on Tuesday.

The move had been expected following the government seizure of the BISAV (Foundation for Sciences and Arts) organization behind the university earlier this year over a failure to pay back loans. The university failed to pay staff salaries and utility bills.

The overnight move highlights rising tensions between the Turkish government and leaders of breakaway parties.

Erdogan delivered the inaugural speech at the opening of the university 10 years ago.

The university’s assets and bank accounts were frozen by a Turkish court shortly after Davutoglu launched the new Future Party, which aims to attract conservative and religious voters.

Despite the crackdown on the university he founded, the former premier continued his criticism of the ruling government.

“They can walk around with arrogance after having shown how much they are capable of, but they will pay the price of this crime in the public consciousness and in the scales of justice,” he said on Tuesday.

Davutoglu also received support from the leader of another breakaway party, DEVA (Remedy Party), recently founded by ex-economy chief Ali Babacan.

“This process is completely unlawful and is the result of the ruling government’s hostile stance,” Babacan tweeted on Tuesday.

Muzaffer Senel, a professor of international relations at Sehir University, is searching for an academic post after the university he contributed to for many years was shut down. “The university has been turned into a target because everybody enjoyed academic freedom there for a decade,” he told Arab News.

“The university was always distanced from the ruling government. Its management and academics didn’t take any political positions. They only opted for a moral and ethical stance,” he added.

Sehir University hosted hundreds of foreign and Turkish academics with a wide range of political tendencies, including both right and left, and nationalist and socialist points of view. More than 7,000 students graduated from the university, including many from the Gulf region.

“We left behind a shiny reference point about how the university should look like, based on universal values, and we are proud of it,” Senel said.

Berk Esen, a political analyst from Bilkent University in Ankara, said: “The government’s decision to shut down the university is clearly a vindictive move to punish Erdogan’s opponents, particularly Davutoglu.”

He added: “As a result of the autocratization process in Turkey, the cost of toleration for dissent has gone up substantially. The president is sending a clear message that any support given for splinter parties in the conservative camp will be punished severely.”

Sehir University’s founding motive was to consolidate and strengthen the growing conservative intelligentsia in Turkey and abroad.

“Although Sehir University hired good scholars over the years, that conservative agenda permeated throughout the institution and has lately begun to clash with the Erdogan administration. This is a fight to influence the hearts and minds of educated conservative students in contemporary Turkey,” Esen said.

“The fact that the government went to such lengths to abolish Sehir University is highly significant, as this would undermine any long-term influence Islamists may have played in the higher education system,” he added.

The fate of hundreds of students waiting for graduation this year is still unknown.

“There is no bottom point for a government that closes the university because of its political grudge and conducts operations to the future of the youth,” Galip Dalay, a visiting scholar at the University of Oxford, tweeted.


Baghdad suicide blasts expose gaps in Iraq’s strained military

Baghdad suicide blasts expose gaps in Iraq’s strained military
An Iraqi security force member checks a man near the damage site in the aftermath of a twin suicide bombing attack in a central market, in Baghdad, Iraq January 22, 2021. (REUTERS)
Updated 23 January 2021

Baghdad suicide blasts expose gaps in Iraq’s strained military

Baghdad suicide blasts expose gaps in Iraq’s strained military
  • PM’s security overhaul sees new federal police commander and chief of elite Falcons Unit

BAGHDAD: Twin suicide blasts in Baghdad claimed by the Daesh group have exposed gaps within Iraq’s security forces, weakened by the COVID-19 pandemic, rival armed groups and political tensions.

At least 32 people were killed and more than 100 wounded in the double-tap suicide attack that targeted a commercial district in Baghdad on Thursday.
Following the US-led invasion in 2003, Iraq’s security forces had to be effectively rebuilt from the ground up, relying heavily on training by foreign armies. The pandemic put an abrupt halt to that.
Living together at bases with little social distancing, Iraqi troops were some of the country’s first coronavirus victims.
In March 2020, the US-led coalition announced it was pulling out foreign trainers to stem the pandemic’s spread.
“The decreased training over the past year because of COVID-19 created a gap there,” a top US official in Baghdad told AFP last month.
It also meant Iraq’s security services had decreased access to the coalition’s communications surveillance — “an early warning system” that was crucial to nipping Daesh attacks in the bud, said Watling.
Many of those withdrawals became permanent.
The US-led coalition announced last year that Iraq’s army was capable of fighting Daesh remnants on its own and pulled out of eight bases across the country.

HIGHLIGHT

In March 2020, the US-led coalition announced it was pulling out foreign trainers to stem the pandemic’s spread. The decreased training over the past year because of COVID-19 created a gap there.

At the same time, citing the improving security situation, Baghdad’s authorities lifted the concrete blast walls and checkpoints that had congested the city for years.
Battle-hardened units were moved out of cities to chase down Daesh sleeper cells in rural areas, with less-experienced units taking over urban security.
Security analyst Alex Mello said those rotations combined with less-reliable intelligence may have eventually granted Daesh “a gap to exploit.”
Iraq’s security forces include army troops, militarized police units and the Hashd Al-Shaabi, a network of armed forces incorporated into the state after 2014.
Many were backed by Iran, which generated a mutual distrust with some forces trained by its arch enemy, the United States.
Tensions spiked following the US drone strike last year that killed top Iranian general Qassem Soleimani and Hashd deputy chief, Iraqi commander Abu Mahdi Al-Muhandis. “The real strain has been political,” said Watling.
“During the fight against Daesh, there was a lot of informal information sharing between the Hashd, the coalition and others. That’s just not there anymore, which reduces situational awareness,” he said.
Navigating those tensions has been a major challenge for Prime Minister Mustafa Al-Kadhemi, seen as US-friendly.
Following Thursday’s attack, Kadhemi announced an overhaul of Iraq’s security leadership, including a new federal police commander and chief of the elite Falcons Unit. Kadhemi is hoping those changes will not only plug holes that Thursday’s attackers exploited, but could also resolve the deeper issues of trust and coordination.