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

  • 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.


Egyptian festival celebrates Aragouz traditions

Updated 25 November 2020

Egyptian festival celebrates Aragouz traditions

  • The festival this year sheds light on the creative icons that inspired the aragouz

CAIRO: The second Egyptian Aragouz Festival has opened on Nov. 24, at the ancient Bayt Al-Sinnari, in Cairo. The aragouz is a traditional puppet figure dressed in red invented by Egyptians to ridicule situations comically.

Khaled Bahgat, a professor of theater at Helwan University and the founder of the festival and the Wamda Troupe for Aragouz and Shadow Puppets, said the festival is part of the initiative to preserve the Egyptian aragouz, after it was recognized by UNESCO in 2018 as one of the most important Egyptian artistic elements. He said that he wants the Egyptian art of aragouz to reach the world because it is an ancient Egyptian art.

The festival this year sheds light on the creative icons that inspired the aragouz.

The festival opened with a tribute to the great Egyptian creator Abu Al-Saud Al-Abyari in a reading of his story “Aragouz, Author and Idea,” which he published in 1953. Al-Aragouz was an important source of creativity for Al-Abyari.

The reading was followed by entries exploring how the art of aragouz shaped Egyptian comedy in the twentieth century.

The day closed with puppet performances of “The social media aragouz,” which reflected the impact of social media, directed by Ali Abu Zeid, and “The aragouz in the city,” directed by Nabil Bahgat.

On the second day, Reem Heggab will honor her father the late Egyptian poet Said Heggab, reciting one of his poems on the aragouz. This will be followed by two aragouz shows, “The Take Away,” directed by Mahmoud Sayed Hanafi, and “Aragouz, the Land of Myths.”

On Thursday, the theater department of the University of Alexandria will celebrate the aragouz with a lecture by Hany Abou El-Hassan, the head of the department, a workshop and a performance titled “Lorca and the aragouz,” directed by Nabil Bahgat and presented by the Wamda Troupe.

The performance honors the creativity of the Spanish poet and innovator Federico García Lorca, and will be held in the presence of the Spanish cultural attache.

The fourth day of the festival will honor the poet Fouad Haddad, whose son Amin Haddad will recite several poems from his father’s book of poetry entitiled Al-Aragouz. The poetry reading will be followed by a discussion.

Then there will be performances of “Aragouz Al Sima,” directed by Mustafa Al-Sabbagh, and “Al-Aragouz in Danger,” which deals with the greatest challenges facing the art of aragouz.

On the last day, the Faculty of Arts at Helwan University and the Department of Theater Sciences’ troupe will hold an open seminar with the department’s students to discuss ways to preserve the Egyptian aragouz.