Turkey free speech advocates pin hope on new app

Turkey free speech advocates pin hope on new app
Protesters take photos as Turkish police officers detain demonstrators during a rally in support of Bogazici University students in Istanbul, 4 February, 2021. (AFP)
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Updated 16 February 2021

Turkey free speech advocates pin hope on new app

Turkey free speech advocates pin hope on new app
  • Clubhouse is a San Francisco-based app that was launched last year – Turkish citizens, in particular, have been drawn to the medium for political expression
  • Clubhouse started to gain popularity when countrywide protests broke out after a new rector, Melih Bulu, was appointed at the country’s prestigious Bogazici University

ANKARA: A growing number of people in Turkey are turning to a new audio-only application for free speech and using it as a source of direct information.

Clubhouse is a San Francisco-based app that was launched last year and requires newcomers to be invited by existing users before they can join. It offers a selection of audio chat rooms that are divided by topic. Turkish citizens, in particular, have been drawn to the medium for political expression. 

“Political discussions generally receive the best ratings among all Turkish prime-time TV shows,” political strategist Fatih Guner said. “What we see on Turkish Clubhouse is no different. The most popular rooms are about politics.” 

About 125,000 people in Turkey have downloaded the app, according to Istanbul’s Kadir Has University. It is currently available in 154 countries and is No. 1 most-downloaded app in Germany, Japan, Slovakia, and Turkey.

The app has also attracted the interest of some of the world’s most powerful people. Elon Musk, the co-founder and CEO of Tesla, reportedly sent an invitation for Russian President Vladimir Putin to join him for a chat on the social networking platform.

“It would be a great honor to speak with you,” Musk, the world’s richest man, tweeted in Russian.

Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov told reporters on a conference call: “In general, this is of course a very interesting proposal, but we need to understand what is meant, what is being proposed. First we need to check, then we will react.”

In Turkey, Clubhouse started to gain popularity last month when countrywide protests broke out after a new rector, Melih Bulu, was appointed at the country’s most prestigious Bogazici University. 

Thousands of people in Turkey turned to Clubhouse chat rooms for accurate and real-time information that they were unable to find in the mainstream media. Some rooms quickly reached the 5,000-person limit.

Rooms consisted of students, alumni, journalists, lawyers, academics and politicians seeking their right to free speech and discussion. Ahmet Davutoglu, Turkey’s former prime minister and the founder of the breakaway Future Party, which is critical of the ruling government, was the first Turkish politician to speak on Clubhouse.

Several lawyers shared spontaneous information about the detained students during the protests to prevent disinformation. Meanwhile, several moderators in a Clubhouse room were detained for a couple of hours for hosting a discussion on the students’ protest. 

The lack of a visual component on the app gives people more freedom to interact with each other and focus on the content of the discussion. This new social media tool is also likely to trigger a new wave of citizen journalism and turn into a center of attraction for activism despite strict censorship in the country. 

Experts note that the accelerated polarization in Turkey — where journalists and politicians have been jailed for criticizing the government — as well as the lack of independent and objective mainstream media channels have contributed to the app’s new popularity in the country.

About 90 percent of Turkey’s traditional and politically “captured” media environment belongs to pro-government conglomerates. 

Guner is cautious about the immediate impact of Turkish Clubhouse.  

“The entry barrier is the first challenge,” he told Arab News. “Early adopters who have newer iPhone models, which are unreasonably high-priced because of extravagant taxes, seem to have moderate opinions on democratization and other matters about society.” 

Because of this entry barrier, not all political views have been expressed within the platform yet, Guner said.

“When Clubhouse becomes an Android-friendly platform, we can surely say that the deep polarization of the country will reach Turkish Clubhouse as well,” he said. 

The other challenge, for Guner, is the creator-consumer relationship. When rooms are created in Clubhouse, as many as 5,000 people can listen to the panels and the discussion, which could be about sensitive topics. But he said only 60-70 people will raise their hands to contribute to the discussion.

“Contrary to popular belief, not everyone wants to speak whatever comes to their mind,” Guner said. 

For Dr. Sarphan Uzunoglu, a digital communications expert from Bilgi University, an application that is only open to the iOS ecosystem is unlikely to be a solution for the country’s freedom of expression problem. 

“However, it does not mean that the rapid spread of this practice is coincidental,” he told Arab News. “In this narrow ecosystem, it is possible to say that there are creative and comfortable conversations in certain echo chambers for now. This also attracts people.” 

But Uzunoglu thinks that over time, as the number of users increases, people will lose their “speaking privilege.” He predicts this will lead to people being forced to listen to different voices, which most people avoid and then the medium will lose its momentum.


Iran plays hardball at Vienna meeting

Deputy Secretary General of the European External Action Service (EEAS) Enrique Mora speaks to journalists in front of the Coburg palace after a meeting of the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) in Vienna. (AFP)
Deputy Secretary General of the European External Action Service (EEAS) Enrique Mora speaks to journalists in front of the Coburg palace after a meeting of the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) in Vienna. (AFP)
Updated 30 November 2021

Iran plays hardball at Vienna meeting

Deputy Secretary General of the European External Action Service (EEAS) Enrique Mora speaks to journalists in front of the Coburg palace after a meeting of the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) in Vienna. (AFP)
  • Tehran ‘deserves no sanctions  relief in return for its brutality’

VIENNA: Iran and world powers resumed talks on Monday after a five-month hiatus to try to salvage their 2015 nuclear deal, but with Tehran sticking to its tough stance and Western powers warning that it will not work, hopes of a breakthrough appeared slim.

Diplomats say time is running out to resurrect the pact, which then-US President Donald Trump abandoned in 2018, angering Iran and dismaying the other powers involved — Britain, China, France, Germany, and Russia.

Six rounds of indirect talks were held between April and June.

The new round formally began with a meeting of the remaining parties to the deal, without the US, shortly after 2 p.m. GMT.

Enrique Mora, the EU official chairing the talks, said Tehran stuck to its demand that all sanctions be lifted.

But he added that he was positive after the first discussions in Vienna with the new Iranian negotiators, who, Mora said, had shown a desire to engage seriously.

Israeli Prime Minister Naftali Bennett, in a video address delivered to nations negotiating in Vienna, warned that he saw Iran trying to “end sanctions in exchange for almost nothing.”

In the video that he later posted to Twitter, Bennett said: “Iran deserves no rewards, no bargain deals and no sanctions relief in return for their brutality.”

He added: “I call upon our allies around the world: Do not give in to Iran’s nuclear blackmail.”

British Foreign Secretary Liz Truss called the meeting “the last opportunity for the Iranians to come to the table” after a meeting with Israeli Foreign Minister Yair Lapid.

“We want those talks to work,” Truss said. “But if they don’t work, all options are on the table.”

In an interview with NPR broadcast on Friday, US negotiator Robert Malley said signs from Iran “are not particularly encouraging.”

Russian envoy Mikhail Ulyanov said there was pressure to get the process moving after “a very protracted pause.”

“The talks can’t last forever,” he tweeted.

“There is the obvious need to speed up the process.”

Monday’s meeting in Vienna ended an extended break triggered by the election of Ebrahim Raisi in June as Iran’s president.

The talks are effectively indirect negotiations between Tehran and Washington since Iran refuses to meet face-to-face with US envoys. Other officials shuttle between them.

Tehran’s negotiating team has set out demands that US and European diplomats consider unrealistic, Western diplomats say.

Iran has adopted an uncompromising position by demanding removal of all US and EU sanctions imposed since 2017, including those unrelated to its nuclear program, in a verifiable process.


Arab coalition targets Iran Revolutionary Guard experts in Sanaa

Arab coalition targets Iran Revolutionary Guard experts in Sanaa
Updated 43 min 13 sec ago

Arab coalition targets Iran Revolutionary Guard experts in Sanaa

Arab coalition targets Iran Revolutionary Guard experts in Sanaa
  • Coalition asked civilians in Sanaa not to gather near the targeted sites

RIYADH: The Arab coalition struck Iranian Revolutionary Guard experts in Yemen’s capital, the Saudi Press Agency reported.

The coalition asked civilians in Sanaa not to gather near the targeted sites.

The operation complies with international humanitarian law and its customary rules, the coalition said.

The coalition has hit a number of sites in the capital in the past few weeks in an effort to deteriorate the capabilities of the Iran-backed Houthi militia.

Previous attacks have targeted drone warehouses and experts belonging to Lebanon’s Hezbollah and Iran’s Revolutionary Guard.

The Houthis repeatedly target the Kingdom with bomb-laden drones, mostly without causing much damage because of Saudi air defenses.

Houthi attempts to target civilians has been labeled as war crimes by the Kingdom.

The Arab coalition has been supporting the internationally recognized Yemeni government regain full control of the country after the Houthis seized the capital, Sanaa, in 2014.

Saudi Arabia has previously said that a political solution is the only way to permanent peace in Yemen. Launched in March, the Riyadh Initiative aimed to do just that. The plan includes a nationwide ceasefire and as well as of peace talks. However, the Houthi leadership has rejected the plan.

The war, which has now lasted for seven years, has cost thousands of Yemenis their lives and has forced many more to depend on humanitarian assistance.


Those guilty of chemical attacks must be held accountable, says UN Chief

UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres said perpetrators of chemical-weapon attacks must be identified and held accountable. (Reuters)
UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres said perpetrators of chemical-weapon attacks must be identified and held accountable. (Reuters)
Updated 30 November 2021

Those guilty of chemical attacks must be held accountable, says UN Chief

UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres said perpetrators of chemical-weapon attacks must be identified and held accountable. (Reuters)
  • At start of conference devoted to a nuclear-free Middle East, Secretary-General Antonio Guterres also called on all parties to work to salvage the 2015 Iran nuclear deal
  • Expansion of existing nuclear-free zones around the world would lead to more robust disarmament and non-proliferation norms, he added

NEW YORK: The perpetrators of chemical-weapon attacks must be identified and held accountable for their actions, UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres said on Monday.

His comments came as he opened the second session of the Conference on the Establishment of a Middle East Zone Free of Nuclear Weapons and Other Weapons of Mass Destruction.

Currently, 60 percent of UN member states are covered by five nuclear weapon-free zones in Latin America and the Caribbean; the South Pacific; Southeast Asia; Africa; and Central Asia. Guterres said that expanding these zones would lead to more robust disarmament and non-proliferation norms.

“That is particularly the case in the Middle East, where concerns over nuclear programs persist, and where conflicts and civil wars are causing widespread civilian casualties and suffering, undermining stability and disrupting social and economic development,” the UN chief said as he again called on all in the region to exercise restraint and avoid the escalation of conflicts.

The second session of the annual conference, which was delayed by a year because of the COVID-19 pandemic, was presided over by Mansour Al-Otaibi, the permanent representative to the UN for Kuwait, which was chosen to inherit the presidency from Jordan after the first session in 2019.

In line with a General Assembly decision, the goal of the conference is to “elaborate a legally binding treaty” to establish a Middle East zone free of nuclear weapons and other weapons of mass destruction, on the basis of “arrangements freely arrived at by the states of the region.”

Guterres praised Kuwait for “actively engaging participants during the intersessional period to learn from the other nuclear weapon-free zones and continue moving the process forward.”

He said the conference represents a chance to produce tangible results for the Middle East and to reinstate dialogue on the “full and effective” implementation of the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, also known as the Iran nuclear deal.

He urged “all parties” to work to salvage the agreement, signed in 2015 by world powers and Iran, under which Tehran pledged to halt its efforts to develop a nuclear weapon in return for the lifting of international sanctions.

Former President Donald Trump withdrew the US from the deal in 2018. A sixth round of negotiations to revive the JCPOA began on Monday in Vienna.

“Your strong political will, together with the international community’s support, can transform the vision of a Middle East free of nuclear weapons and other weapons of mass destruction into a reality,” Guterres told the participants.


Lebanese protesters block roads over economic meltdown

A Lebanese youth stands by burning tyres blocking a road during a protest in the capital Beirut on November 29, 2021, as the country struggles with a deep economic crisis. (AFP)
A Lebanese youth stands by burning tyres blocking a road during a protest in the capital Beirut on November 29, 2021, as the country struggles with a deep economic crisis. (AFP)
Updated 30 November 2021

Lebanese protesters block roads over economic meltdown

A Lebanese youth stands by burning tyres blocking a road during a protest in the capital Beirut on November 29, 2021, as the country struggles with a deep economic crisis. (AFP)
  • After Doha talks, Aoun stresses need to overcome defects in Lebanon-Arab relations
  • Maronite Patriarch Al-Rahi decries Hezbollah influence after Nasrallah remarks against judiciary 

BEIRUT: Demonstrators blocked roads across parts of Lebanon on Monday in protest at the country’s economic meltdown, days after its currency sank to new lows.

There has been little progress since Prime Minister Najib Mikati’s government was appointed in September after more than a year of political deadlock.

Roads were blocked by piles of burning tires in central Beirut, Tripoli in northern Lebanon and the southern city of Sidon.

Schools were forced to close in Beirut after the protests made them inaccessible to students. Protesters in the city’s southern suburbs, meanwhile, blocked the road to the airport in front of Al-Aytam station.

Less than 24 hours before the Beirut protests, residents of Ali Al-Nahri, in the Bekaa Valley, launched their own protests, shouting “we are cold and hungry.”

A spokesperson for the protesters said: “We will take to the streets more frequently in the coming days unless the governing authority put a stop to the deteriorating living conditions the Lebanese are facing.”

He added: “The people of Beirut are noble. They are fighting extremely hard for their city and their livelihood.

“They are not thieves, and today’s move does not have any political, electoral, parliamentary or ministerial dimension. Its sole purpose is the livelihood of citizens after a large number of students now go to school without any food.”

In a UNICEF report published last week, the agency said: “More than 30 percent of families have at least one child in Lebanon who skipped a meal, while 77 percent of families say they lack sufficient food and 60 percent of them buy food by accumulating unpaid bills or borrowing money.”

The protests coincided with President Michel Aoun’s visit to Qatar to attend the opening of the FIFA Arab Cup and inaugurate the new Olympic Stadium.

The president discussed Lebanon’s economic meltdown and unprecedented diplomatic crisis with Gulf states during his talks with Qatar’s Emir Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Al-Thani.

Al-Thani reiterated Qatar’s readiness to help in all areas needed for the rise of Lebanon from the “difficult circumstances it is going through.”

He announced that Qatar’s Foreign Minister Sheikh Mohammed bin Abdulrahman bin Jassim Al-Thani will visit Beirut in the coming period, to follow up on the developments and provide the country with necessary assistance.

He hoped for “a resolution for the crisis between Lebanon and a number of Gulf states in the near future, especially as Lebanon has always stood by all the Arab and Gulf states.”

Aoun welcomed any “investment from Qatar to implement developmental projects in Lebanon in the area of energy, electricity and banking, where there are many opportunities.”

Qatar will continue to stand by the Lebanese people and to do anything in its power to alleviate their suffering, said the president.

“There was a consensus that this phase needs the brotherly Arab states, especially the Gulf states, to stand by Lebanon,” said Aoun.

He pointed out that the Lebanese-Gulf relations “always were, and must remain, based on mutual fraternity.”

Aoun stressed the need to overcome any defects in these ties, notably because Lebanon desires to the best relations with brotherly states.

“My presence in Doha today only confirms our commitment to those relations and our genuine desire to cooperate on keeping them serene and restoring them to a normal state, thus serving Lebanon and the brotherly Gulf states,” he said.

Aoun’s remarks came as Maronite Patriarch Mar Bechara Boutros Al-Rahi took a firm position against “attempts to change Lebanon in order to impose a new governing formula by force or persuasion.”

In a televised speech broadcast on Monday, Al-Rahi touched on the secretary-general of Hezbollah, Hassan Nasrallah, reprimanding judicial authorities, asking: “Is he above the judicial authority?”

Al-Rahi said the country “is highly influenced by Hezbollah.”

He asked: “In contrast, where is the state and where is the president of the republic? Why are they submissive if someone is intimidating us?”

He noted that “the one disrupting the government is practically disrupting the life of the homeland and causing the hunger of citizens.”


Egypt and Saudi Arabia hold talks on possible exchange of military experience, technology

The two met on the sidelines of the Saudi delegation's visit to Egypt to participate in the Second International Defense Expo, which is being held in Cairo until Dec. 2. (SPA)
The two met on the sidelines of the Saudi delegation's visit to Egypt to participate in the Second International Defense Expo, which is being held in Cairo until Dec. 2. (SPA)
Updated 29 November 2021

Egypt and Saudi Arabia hold talks on possible exchange of military experience, technology

The two met on the sidelines of the Saudi delegation's visit to Egypt to participate in the Second International Defense Expo, which is being held in Cairo until Dec. 2. (SPA)

CAIRO: Egyptian Minister of Military Production Mohamed Ahmed Morsi and the president of the Saudi General Organization for Military Industries Mohammed bin Hamad Al-Mady held talks on the possibility of exchanging experiences and manufacturing technology.

They met on the sidelines of the Saudi delegation's visit to Egypt to participate in the Second International Defense Expo, which is being held in Cairo until Dec. 2.

Morsi said there was a need for integration between Arab countries in the defense industries field, especially between Egypt and Saudi Arabia.

The minister said Egypt was witnessing a state of stability as a result of the efforts made by the state to enhance the security situation and economic reform measures to attract more foreign investment.

Al-Mady praised the minister’s role in meeting the needs of the Egyptian armed forces. 

He said the Saudi General Organization for Military Industries took part in the first EDEX, in 2018, and was keen to participate in this year's event as the exhibition represented a distinguished international gathering of major authorities and companies.

Al-Mady called for Egypt to participate in the first World Defense Show in Riyadh, to be held next March, which will provide a unified platform for stakeholders in the military and security industries sector.

He said Saudi Arabia was following up on the latest technology in all military fields to keep pace with developments in the sector in order to confront the threats facing the Kingdom and enhance its capabilities to deter any attempt to interfere in its internal affairs.