Protests against Turkish university hire go global

Protests against Turkish university hire go global
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Turkish police clash with hundreds of students in Istanbul protesting the appointment of a political person as rector of their Bogazici University. (AP)
Protests against Turkish university hire go global
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Students of Bogazici University demonstrate outside a court as they demand the release of their fellow college students who are on trial for protesting against President Tayyip Erdogan's appointment of a new rector in Istanbul, Turkey, January 7, 2021. (REUTERS)
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Updated 09 January 2021

Protests against Turkish university hire go global

Protests against Turkish university hire go global
  • New Rector Melih Bulu is a ruling party loyalist and was a candidate during the previous elections

ANKARA: A high-profile appointment at a Turkish university has triggered protests as far afield as Australia and Canada, amid growing anger over government attempts to infiltrate higher education institutions.

Melih Bulu was a candidate for the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) during the previous general and local elections, and his appointment as rector of the prestigious Bogazici University in Istanbul has led to clashes between students and police in the Turkish city and stoked fears that President Recep Tayyip Erdogan is tightening his control over campuses.

Bogazici graduates, students and lecturers living in Paris, Berlin, Sydney, Eindhoven and Toronto staged protests in response to the appointment of Bulu, who comes from outside the university’s community and was appointed by presidential decree.

Aybala Bulut, one of the protesters, said Erdogan’s actions “trespassed” on the university’s traditions.  

“What we are protesting is the appointment of a rector to our university by the president, a practice that trespasses the democratic principles highly valued and prioritized for more than 150 years,” she told Arab News.

Traditionally, the candidate with the highest share of votes in university elections became the rector of Bogazici University.

“Bogazici has such a democratic tradition when it comes to electing administrative staff,” she added. “The appointment of a rector from outside of the university without an election, a practice reminiscent of military rule in 1980s’ Turkey, by itself is unacceptable for us and enough reason to protest.”

Hundreds of professors joined the protests on campus, shouting: “We do not accept. We do not give up.”

They also released a joint declaration criticizing the appointment of someone outside the Bogazici community as rector.

“It is a must for the universities to take the decisions themselves through councils elected with democratic methods,” the declaration said.

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Bogazici University graduates, students and lecturers living in Paris, Berlin, Sydney, Eindhoven and Toronto staged protests.

At least 36 bar association heads also gave their support to the Jan. 7 protests, criticizing the “anti-democratic” ways for rector appointments and pointing to the gravity of police violence against the demonstrations.

Dozens of university students in Turkish cities were met with tear gas and plastic bullets. They were also taken into custody, although many of them were released. There have also been reports about students being strip searched and beaten, causing more anger.

On Friday Erdogan criticized the protests for the first time, saying that “terrorists” were involved. He also said that Bulu was the “most suitable” person for the job.

Bogazici University, which overlooks the Bosphorus, was founded in 1863. It was the first American higher education institution to be established outside the US. It has more than 15,000 students and six campuses on the European side of Istanbul.

“Bogazici academics object to this appointment first and foremost as a matter of principle, independent of the person who is appointed,” Dr. Mert Arslanalp, a political scientist from Bogazici University, told Arab News.

Arslanalp said that a centralized top-down appointment system was anti-democratic and undermined university autonomy.

“Bogazici University has a bottom-up governance model that spreads decision-making powers across a vast number of commissions, committees, and deliberative bodies, which ensures the free development of numerous disciplines, centers, and student clubs. We think that the democratic governance model is valuable because academic freedoms, critical thought, and pluralist campus life that are necessary for scientific, intellectual, and moral development of academics and students can only be preserved in the long-run under such a model. Otherwise, it depends on the goodwill of individuals. This governance model has also ensured that faculty appointments are made on the basis of merit, which is essential for reaching high quality research and education.”

He added that an externally appointed rector would not be accountable and may use the position’s extensive legal powers to undermine the democratic governance model.

“Appointing someone outside the university is also an insult to the entire faculty body of one of the best universities in Turkey. It implies that this university, which has educated some of the top leaders in many fields and has successfully governed itself for decades, now lacks the human capital to govern itself. I find such an insinuation extremely disrespectful and profoundly antidemocratic.”

There are other ethical concerns about the new rector, including allegations that his master’s thesis and doctoral dissertation involve plagiarism, and question marks over his academic prowess.

“Students doubt that he could even be a part-time professor at the university let alone being the rector of it,” Bulut said.

Erdogan has appointed 27 rectors over the past year.

 


Lebanese teacher swims 5.5 km to island off Tripoli coast to challenge obesity bullies

Lebanese teacher swims 5.5 km to island off Tripoli coast to challenge obesity bullies
Yahya Kabbara, a Lebanese math teacher, chose his own method to fight bullying by swimming 5.5 km to a rocky island off Lebanon’s coast to prove that “being overweight doesn’t impede oneself from notching achievements’. (Supplied/Yahya Nabil Kabbara)
Updated 25 September 2021

Lebanese teacher swims 5.5 km to island off Tripoli coast to challenge obesity bullies

Lebanese teacher swims 5.5 km to island off Tripoli coast to challenge obesity bullies
  • Double Ph.D., Yahya Kabbara, was bullied as a youth for being obese until he ‘notched a physical success’
  • “Classmates and friends never allowed me to play any sport with them because, according to them, my obesity always made them lose,” he told Arab News

DUBAI: Yahya Nabil Kabbara has always been perceived as academically distinguished, but not athletically, due to being subjected to nightmarish waves of bullying over his obesity since childhood.
A Lebanese math teacher, Kabbara chose his own method to fight bullying by swimming 5.5 km to a rocky island off Lebanon’s coast to prove that “being overweight doesn’t impede oneself from notching achievements.”
Since a teenager, friends and classmates never allowed Kabbara to play any sport with them because they said his “obesity makes them lose.”
“That left a scar in me and pushed me to set that personal challenge to swim to the furthest island off Tripoli’s seashore,” Kabbara told Arab News.
Born in the northern Lebanese city in 1987, the 34-year-old tutor currently teaches math for secondary classes at a public high school.
Commonly known as “Araneb Island” or “Rabbit’s Island,” his target is the biggest of three flat rocky islands that constitute the Palm Islands Nature Reserve. The three islands’ area is around 4.2 sq km.
On Sunday, Sept. 19, Kabbara put on a pair of paddles, jumped into the ocean and swam for nearly four-and-a-half hours until he reached Rabbit’s Island.
Having once weighed over 140kg, Kabbara has been training seriously by swimming, walking, hiking, mountain climbing and preparing himself mentally and physically to be able to fulfill what he describes as a “personal challenge and a message to all those who bullied him for being overweight.”
He added: “Classmates and friends never allowed me to play any sport with them because, according to them, my obesity always made them lose. That hurt me a lot … it left an aching scar in me that I always stayed alone. My family once thought I had autism,” he said.
Coming from a hardworking family, Kabbara started teaching at the age of 14 because he adores the profession and needed to earn pocket money to support his father.
Despite having two doctorates, he could not land a university job because, according to him, “you need a wasta (support from a politician or influential person), meanwhile I’ve never been affiliated to or supported any Lebanese politician.”
In 2015, Kabbara obtained a Ph.D. in applied Mathematics at the Lebanese University while also picking up a doctorate from Paris-Est Creteil University in France.  
The father of a nine-month-old daughter said the fact that he was constantly bullied at youth pushed him to work “seriously and really hard” on his fitness to prove to others that being overweight “should not cripple oneself from fulfilling their goals.”
“At a certain point of my life I realized that I have fulfilled a lot academically and that the time has come for me to accomplish something physical,” he said, reiterating that he set up his swimming challenge “to prove to himself and others that with perseverance any goal is attainable.”
Kabbara explained that the idea to swim to Rabbit’s Island was like a dream to him since childhood.
When the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) surfaced in early 2020, the 34-year-old had still been suffering from obesity and feared that lockdowns would force him to gain more weight and feel “desolate and depressed.”
“But I told myself ‘no.’ I walked as much as possible and swam a lot after borrowing my cousin’s paddles. I love swimming so I swam 300 meters, then 500. In November I swam to the nearest island, Al-Ballan. It took me an hour. Then I went to the second island of Al-Rmayleh,” said Kabbara.
“All I wanted to do is accomplish my goal and prove to myself and others that everything is possible,” concluded Kabbara, who said that he had dropped his weight to 109kg.


Sudan says countries must cooperate on vaccines

Sudan says countries must cooperate on vaccines
Updated 58 min 38 sec ago

Sudan says countries must cooperate on vaccines

Sudan says countries must cooperate on vaccines
  • Hamdok avoided any mention of a reported coup attempt that was stifled by military leaders
  • He urged Ethiopia and other downstream countries to come to a lasting agreement

UNITED NATIONS: The prime minister of Sudan’s transitional government urged world leaders on Saturday to work together to get developing countries more COVID-19 vaccines.
In a speech to the United Nation’s General Assembly, Prime Minister Abdalla Hamdok echoed similar statements from other speakers when he said that making sure countries like Sudan get enough shots is the only way to ensure the safety of the rest of the world.
Sudan has only received a fraction of the vaccines it needs, according to official figures. Since March, the Sudanese government has vaccinated approximately 830,000 people out of 45 million. So far, Sudan has recorded more than 37,500 cases and 2800 deaths from the coronavirus. The true numbers are believed to be far higher given the scarcity of testing.
Hamdok, a respected former official with the UN Economic Commission for Africa, also said his country had achieved much in its transition to democratic rule over the past two years. However, he avoided any mention of a reported coup attempt that was stifled by military leaders. Sudanese authorities reported Tuesday that a group of soldiers tried to take power, but said the attempt failed and the country’s ruling council and military remain in control.
The development underscored the fragility of Sudan’s path to democracy, more than two years after the military’s overthrow of longtime autocrat Omar Al-Bashir amid a public uprising against his three-decade rule.
Hamdok also spoke out about his concerns over Ethiopia’s massive Renaissance Dam, built on one of the Nile River’s main tributaries, and urged Ethiopia and other downstream countries to come to a lasting agreement. He said that his country had already experienced adverse effects of the dam’s partial filling, completed in phases this and last summer.


Ahead of Erdogan-Putin meeting, Idlib quagmire is a fresh test 

Ahead of Erdogan-Putin meeting, Idlib quagmire is a fresh test 
Updated 25 September 2021

Ahead of Erdogan-Putin meeting, Idlib quagmire is a fresh test 

Ahead of Erdogan-Putin meeting, Idlib quagmire is a fresh test 
  • Putin criticized the presence of foreign troops without a UN mandate last week during a meeting with Assad
  • Syrian Foreign Minister Faisal Mekdad has urged Turkey to withdraw its forces from Syrian soil immediately

ANKARA: Turkey has deployed more troops to northwestern Syria as a deterrent against any major offensive by Russian-backed Syrian forces, ahead of a meeting between the Turkish and Russian leaders next week.

Ankara is concerned that an escalation in Idlib, the last rebel stronghold in northwest Syria, would push a new wave of refugees toward Turkey, which has been hosting about 4 million Syrians since the start of the conflict a decade ago.

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan is expected to raise this issue during his meeting with his Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin on Sept. 29. To what extent Russia’s position will find a common ground with Ankara is still unclear.

Last week, during a meeting between Putin and Syrian President Bashar Assad, the Russian president criticized the presence of foreign troops without a UN mandate.

Three Turkish soldiers were killed on Sept. 11 in Idlib as the Syrian regime forces have intensified their attacks.

“Russia is frustrated with Turkey’s unwillingness to expel Hayat Tahrir Al-Sham from Idlib and is using its warplanes as well as Syrian ground forces to put pressure on Turkey,” Samuel Ramani, a tutor of politics and international relations at the University of Oxford, told Arab News.

Russia is holding Turkey to its 2018 commitment to separate radicals such as HTS, the dominant group in Idlib, from other rebels in Idlib. But Ankara rejects claims that it has failed to deliver on its promise.

HTS has been distancing itself from Al-Qaeda and rebranding itself as a moderate rebel group — an image makeover before the international community. But it is still designated by the US, the UN Security Council and Turkey as a terror group.

“Turkey does not view a limited escalation of this kind as a major cross-border threat but would certainly fear a refugee influx if Assad and Putin carry out a much larger assault on Idlib, which mirrored the events of late 2019 and early 2020,” Ramani said. “So Turkey’s troops are there to deter such a scenario from taking place and ensure that the status quo holds until the Putin-Erdogan meeting.”

However, Syrian Foreign Minister Faisal Mekdad has urged Turkey to withdraw its forces from Syrian soil immediately and said he considered Turkish presence an act of occupation.

Ramani said that in the past Putin-Erdogan meetings have often reduced the conflict in Syria, for example after the Operation Peace Spring in October 2019 and Operation Spring Shield in March 2020: “So the hope is that this will happen again.”

On Sept. 24, Erdogan said he expects Russia to change its approach toward Syria as the Syrian regime poses a threat to Turkey along the southern border.

At the UN General Assembly on Tuesday, Erdogan addressed the Syrian crisis, saying that “as a country that protected human dignity in the Syrian crisis, we no longer have the potential nor the tolerance to absorb new immigration waves.”

Oytun Orhan, coordinator of Syria studies at the Ankara think tank ORSAM, said Turkey attaches importance of retaining its place in Syrian game. 

“If it completely withdraws from the region, it will stay out of the endgame and will not have a say when a political process in Syria begins,” Orhan told Arab News.

According to Orhan, Turkey is also concerned about the presence of foreign fighters and radical elements in Idlib.

“If there were a regime offensive, they would be likely to flock toward the Turkish border and would pose a security threat not only to Turkey but to the global community,” he said.

Experts say that although it exposes the limits of their cooperation, Turkish-Russian relations will likely survive this latest round of escalation as both sides have too much to lose if their relationship is damaged.

Orhan says the deployment of Turkish troops ahead of Putin-Erdogan meeting is a symbolic move to gain leverage at the negotiation table.

“Although Russia supports the Assad regime, it also takes notice of Turkish presence in the region, as well as of cooperation in the fields of energy and defense industry. It doesn’t want to undermine them, yet tries to use Idlib card as a bargaining chip each time there is a crisis in bilateral ties,” he said.

Russia reportedly conducted about 200 aerial attacks against Idlib in September. Some of the attacks targeted zones close to Turkey’s military posts in the province. Turkey has about 80 military bases and observation posts in Idlib.

“Although Turkish and Syrian intelligence agencies have met in the past, Russia has been pushing Turkey for years to open a diplomatic communication channel with the Syrian regime. But Ankara is not willing to take this step. I expect that Erdogan-Putin meeting will de-escalate the tension in Idlib, but both leaders will test their determination before sitting at the negotiation table,” Orhan said.


Syrian refugee dies after swallowing gasoline 

Syrian refugee dies after swallowing gasoline 
Updated 25 September 2021

Syrian refugee dies after swallowing gasoline 

Syrian refugee dies after swallowing gasoline 
  • Queues outside gas stations persist, along with disputes that often descend into physical violence
  • Some people provide “waiting” services, staying in the car instead of the vehicle owner to fill the tank up and earning up to LBP100,000 for doing so

BEIRUT: A Syrian refugee in Minieh, north Lebanon, died on Saturday after accidentally swallowing a large quantity of gasoline while siphoning it from his car in a black market fuel operation. He was taken to hospital but could not be saved.

Abdulrahman Darwish, the representative for the Relief Associations’ Federation in Danniye, said the man used to make deals on the black market.

Lebanon has been suffering from an acute fuel crisis during the past few months.

“He went to gas stations every day, where he waited in the queue for hours to get 40 liters of gasoline to later withdraw this quantity from his car and sell it on the black market at a higher price to those who do not want to wait in queues,” he told Arab News. “The black market's activities have thrived during the crisis. The youth, Lebanese citizens and Syrian refugees have found themselves unemployed amid the harsh economic crisis of Lebanon. They are looking to earn money at all costs to secure food, medicines and milk for their families, and have found a golden opportunity on the black market.”

A security source told Arab News that authorities had observed a decline in the north’s robbery rate in the past few weeks, where “thugs had focused on the black market” instead of theft because it was very profitable.

“Every day, tens of them gather outside gas stations forming gangs to get gasoline and later sell it on the black market. The unemployed youth has found an opportunity to earn money by resorting to illegal means,” the source said.

According to the price list issued by the Economy Ministry on Wednesday, fuel will be sold according to the dollar exchange rate, with $1 worth LBP14,000.

Queues outside gas stations persist, along with disputes that often descend into physical violence and even shooting.

Some people had expected a decline in black market activities after the availability of fuel in the market and the gasoline price being liberalized.

However, job opportunities have emerged amid this mess. Some people provide “waiting” services, staying in the car instead of the vehicle owner to fill the tank up and earning up to LBP100,000 for doing so.

Some reserve a place outside gas stations during the night and sell the spot in the morning for those waiting at the back.

Fadi Abu Shakra, a representative of the Fuel Distributors’ Union, said the queues seemed shorter on Monday as fuel had become available and imports were ongoing.

“The activities of the black market traders who have exhausted us are likely to drop down,” he told Arab News.

The economic crisis in Lebanon that peaked in 2019 after the depletion of its financial resources has led to a complete economic collapse, where hundreds of businesses shut down and thousands of employees were laid off.

The latest report from the Central Administration of Statistics said the unemployment rate in 2020 increased to 55 percent for those in informal employment and 45 percent for workers in the formal economy.

The unemployment rate among college students reached 35.7 percent, and the highest rates of unemployment were noted in Akkar, Central Bekaa and Aley.

The International Labor Organization noted the extent of “informal employment and vulnerability among the most deprived Lebanese citizens, as well as Syrian refugees in 2021.”

According to Labor Ministry estimates, unemployment in 2020 increased to about 36 percent and is estimated to reach 41.4 percent by the end of 2021.

Statistics from the National Social Security Fund from the start of 2020 until Feb. 2021 indicated that 40,000 people who were registered with the fund had exited the labor market.

Darwish said: “Syrian refugees in Lebanon were severely affected by the economic crisis. Some refugees are selling their food rations to buy medicine or visit a doctor.”


Israeli move to grab Palestinian land re-energized

Israeli move to grab Palestinian land re-energized
Updated 25 September 2021

Israeli move to grab Palestinian land re-energized

Israeli move to grab Palestinian land re-energized
  • Former mayor of Bethlehem Vera Baboun told Arab News the move was aimed at separating Bethlehem governorate from Hebron governorate

AMMAN: A year before representatives of Israel and Palestine met at the White House on Sept. 13, 1993, and signed a framework for peace, Israeli authorities had confiscated 48 square kilometers of Palestinian land south of Bethlehem and converted it into a nature reserve.

The Israeli army has, 28 years later, renewed the confiscation order in a politicized decision carried out to block attempts to provide building permits to Palestinians who own private land in some of those areas.

Jad Isaac, director of the Applied Research Institute - Jerusalem, said a large part of those areas had been marked as Area C, meaning the Israelis had full control over who could build on them.

“Military order #51-21 of Nov. 18, 1992 has taken a large part of the areas east and south of Bethlehem, in the vicinity of the towns of Saer, Arab Al-Rashida and Shioukh,” he told Arab News.

Isaac said that Palestinians were not allowed to build on 29.7 square kilometers of the land despite them being listed as Area A, meaning local Palestinian municipalities had the right to make administrative decisions about them.

He said that 10.875 square kilometers of that land had been converted into nature reserves, blocking the rights of Palestinians in those areas.

Israeli authorities used the term nature reserve to block Palestinians from building on those areas so that, at an opportune time, they may be opened up for settlement expansion, he said.

Over the years the international community — especially the US — has been asking the Israelis to allow Palestinians to build in those areas.

Former mayor of Bethlehem Vera Baboun told Arab News the move was aimed at separating Bethlehem governorate from Hebron governorate.

The goal was to separate the populated Palestinian areas, as well as closing off areas to farming and grazing including blocking the ability of Palestinian farmers to reach their own land, while giving Jewish settlers the freedom to move around on Palestinian land, she added.

A Times of Israel report found that the Defense Ministry body responsible for authorizing construction in Area C had issued just a handful of building permits.

Plans for just 26 housing units were advanced in subcommittee meetings, with only six of those units — located in a single building — receiving actual building permits.

“Apparently, the security Cabinet’s decision that Netanyahu made sure to publicize as if Israel actually intended to approve any development for the millions of Palestinians in the occupied territories has turned out to be one big bluff, and even the few permits that were approved have not been issued,” Hagit Ofran, from the Peace Now settlement watchdog, told the newspaper.

Isaac said that, since 1967, Israel had used a variety of military orders to curtail Palestinian growth.

“They passed tens of laws that allow them to take away Palestinian land or prevent Palestinians from using it, while seeming to be doing all this under the pretext of democratic regulations.”

He said that, in addition to confiscating state land or land of absentee Palestinians, the favorite way of stunting Palestinian growth had been the conversion of large areas of Palestinian land into nature reserves.

“Using military order 363 of 1969, the Israeli civil administration can declare any land in the occupied West Bank a nature reserve where it is extremely difficult to get a building license.”

In Jan. 2020 then-Defense Minister Naftali Bennett, who is now prime minister, approved the declaration of seven reserves in an area of 112.5 square kilometers, in addition to the existing 12 nature reserves aimed at stopping any Palestinian building development in the Jordan Valley area.