French schools in Turkey on shaky ground

Youths take their seats during an exam in Istanbul. (Reuters/File)
Short Url
Updated 05 September 2020

French schools in Turkey on shaky ground

  • Last year, France insisted on training “local” imams to preach to its Muslim communities rather than letting Turkey send imams as a way to increase its soft power in the interests of Ankara

ANKARA: Amid a diplomatic escalation of tension between Turkey and France over the East Mediterranean, the closure of French schools both in Ankara and Istanbul ranks high on the agenda of the Turkish government.
On Thursday, Turkey’s pro-government press Yeni Safak called for the closure of French schools Lycée Pierre Loti and Lycée Charles de Gaulle, in Istanbul and Ankara, respectively, claiming that the schools were “illegally” founded and unlawfully operating on Turkish territories. A significant part of the Turkish business elite, as well as many journalists and members of academia, are graduates from French schools in Turkey, the roots of which stretch back to Ottoman times.
For the past few years, Ankara has been exploring ways to open Turkish state-controlled schools in French territories based on the reciprocity principle.
However, in the context of the longstanding quarrel between French and Turkish leaders, education in a secular country like France remains a controversial and highly sensitive subject.
Last year, France insisted on training “local” imams to preach to its Muslim communities rather than letting Turkey send imams as a way to increase its soft power in the interests of Ankara.
“Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s legacy is almost destroying Turkey’s secular education system,” Soner Cagaptay, director of the Turkish Research Program at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, told Arab News.
According to Cagaptay, there are very few schools left that are sheltered from Erdogan’s ideological re-crafting of Turkey’s educational system.
“And these French schools are part of this minority. It is an unfortunate move. Even religious parents are avoiding sending their children to religious schools because at the end of the day, the issue is whether Turkey’s education system is preparing its citizens to be competitive in a 21st century economy,” he said.
Erdi Ozturk, a lecturer in International Relations and Politics at London Metropolitan University, said Turkey has lost its credibility to a significant extent due to its recent domestic and international moves.
“It still has some friends, but several European countries have turned their backs to Turkey, including France. From 2015-2019, there were many debates about spying activities and the influence of Turkey’s state apparatus over its nationals living in France. Imams and teachers who were appointed by Turkey have been allegedly used as a polarization tool over the Turkish diaspora,” he told Arab News.
Ozturk describes this as “transnational authoritarianism.”
“It is completely reasonable that countries go beyond their national boundaries to exert influence. But I think Turkey implemented this strategy in an unprofessional manner, thus triggering a reaction from France. Now with Macron loudly voicing his anti-Turkey discourse, the Erdogan regime has taken this opportunity to use counter-tools because the ruling government rejects multi-culturalism in its regime based on ethno-nationalism,” he said.
Experts think the recent re-conversion of the Hagia Sophia museum into a mosque marks a turning point and shows how capable the Turkish government is of turning its rhetoric into practice.
“After the controversial Hagia Sophia move, there is nothing that Erdogan can’t do. If the Erdogan regime proceeds with the closure of French schools, it will be not only a tool to consolidate its state identity, but it will further undermine Franco-Turkish relations,” Ozturk said.


Hospital: Palestinian official Erekat in critical condition

Updated 19 October 2020

Hospital: Palestinian official Erekat in critical condition

  • Erekat on Monday was in critical condition and breathing with a ventilator after his coronavirus infection worsened
  • Erekat has been one of the Palestinians’ most recognizable faces over the past 30 years

JERUSALEM: Senior Palestinian official Saeb Erekat on Monday was in critical condition and breathing with a ventilator after his coronavirus infection worsened overnight, said the Israeli hospital treating him.
Hadassah Medical Center described Erekat’s case as extremely challenging given his history of health problems, including a lung transplant performed in the United States three years ago. It said he suffered from a weak immune system and a bacterial infection in addition to COVID-19.
It said Erekat, 65, was sedated and that its most senior doctors were consulting with international experts on how best to manage such a complicated case.
Erekat has been one of the Palestinians’ most recognizable faces over the past 30 years, serving as their senior negotiator during on-again off-again peace talks. He also was a top aide to the late Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat and the current Palestinian president, Mahmoud Abbas. A fluent English speaker, the Western-educated Erekat also makes frequent appearances in the media.
Erekat was transferred to Hadassah on Sunday at the request of the Palestinian Authority, despite the Palestinians’ decision this year to sever ties with Israel. The Palestinians cut off ties to protest Israel’s pledge to begin annexing occupied West Bank land as part of President Donald Trump’s Mideast plan.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has since frozen the annexation plan.