French schools in Turkey on shaky ground

French schools in Turkey on shaky ground
Youths take their seats during an exam in Istanbul. (Reuters/File)
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Updated 05 September 2020

French schools in Turkey on shaky ground

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.


Lebanon indicts 8 retired military figures over alleged graft

Updated 17 min 12 sec ago

Lebanon indicts 8 retired military figures over alleged graft

Lebanon indicts 8 retired military figures over alleged graft
  • Those accused of graft include former army chief Jean Kahwaji, who held the post from 2008 to 2017, and several former military intelligence chiefs
  • The under-fire ruling class has repeatedly pledged to root out graft, and this year the parliament passed a new law to combat ‘illicit enrichment’

BEIRUT: A Lebanese prosecutor Wednesday indicted eight retired military figures including a former army chief over “illicit enrichment,” a judicial source said, in a first under a new anti-graft law.
Popular anger has grown in the past year over alleged corruption among the political elite in Lebanon, where a dire economic crisis has pushed the poverty rate up to more than half the population.
Since mass protests erupted in October 2019, the under-fire ruling class has repeatedly pledged to root out graft, and this year the parliament passed a new law to combat illicit enrichment.
But critics have expressed little trust in a system they say is riddled with nepotism.
Those accused of graft on Wednesday included former army chief Jean Kahwaji, who held the post from 2008 to 2017, and several former military intelligence chiefs, the judicial source said.
The Beirut state prosecutor launched proceedings over their alleged “illicit enrichment, and using their official positions to reap vast wealth,” the source said.
A preliminary investigation showed a lack of correlation between their wealth and their income, the source said, adding that they would be questioned on December 10.
The official National News Agency said it was the first time such indictments were made since the law was passed.
It also made mention of a bank that several years ago had allegedly allowed Kahwaji and members of his family to deposit sums of up to $1.2 million in their accounts, without justification as to the origin of the funds.