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)
Short Url
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.


Egypt announces first fully vaccinated governorate

Egypt announces first fully vaccinated governorate
Updated 59 min 44 sec ago

Egypt announces first fully vaccinated governorate

Egypt announces first fully vaccinated governorate
  • South Sinai is the governorate with the fewest COVID-19 cases and deaths, as well as the highest recovery and vaccination rate among people aged 18 and over
  • South Sinai, where the town of Sharm El-Sheikh is located, is one of the most famous tourist governorates in Egypt

CAIRO: Officials in South Sinai have announced that it has become the first governorate in Egypt whose eligible population is fully vaccinated against COVID-19. 

According to health sources, it is the governorate with the fewest COVID-19 cases and deaths, as well as the highest recovery and vaccination rate among people aged 18 and over — the allowed age for inoculation. 

South Sinai, where the town of Sharm El-Sheikh is located, is one of the most famous tourist governorates in Egypt. It also includes famous religious sites such as Mount El-Tur and St. Catherine’s Monastery.

Maj. Gen. Khaled Fouda, governor of South Sinai, said there have only been 81 deaths from COVID-19 there since the start of the pandemic — the lowest rate among Egypt’s governorates. 

He added that South Sinai recorded only one case on Sunday night after recording no cases for two weeks in a row, bringing the total number of cases to 1,371 since the start of the pandemic, with only 29 hospitalizations. 


10,000 children killed or maimed in Yemen since 2015: UNICEF

10,000 children killed or maimed in Yemen since 2015: UNICEF
Updated 19 October 2021

10,000 children killed or maimed in Yemen since 2015: UNICEF

10,000 children killed or maimed in Yemen since 2015: UNICEF
  • Four out of every five children need humanitarian assistance in Yemen

GENEVA: Ten thousand Yemeni children have been killed after the Iran-aligned Houthi group ousted the government in 2015, the United Nations children’s agency UNICEF said on Tuesday.
“The Yemen conflict has just hit another shameful milestone. We now have 10,000 children who have been killed or maimed since ... March 2015,” UNICEF spokesperson James Elder told a UN briefing in Geneva after returning from a visit to Yemen.
“That is the equivalent of four children every single day,” Elder said, adding that many more child deaths or injuries went unreported.
Four out of every five children — a total of 11 million — need humanitarian assistance in Yemen, while 400,000 are suffering from acute malnutrition and more than 2 million are out of school, Elder said.
UN-led efforts to engineer a nationwide cease-fire have stalled as the Houthis resist compromise to end more than six years of a war that has caused what the UN calls the world’s largest humanitarian crisis.
Hundreds of Yemenis are trapped by fierce fighting between government and Houthi forces in the northern Marib governorate, residents and a local official said last week, after battles for control of the gas-rich region displaced some 10,000 people.


Qatar forms climate change ministry, appoints finance minister

Qatar forms climate change ministry, appoints finance minister
Updated 19 October 2021

Qatar forms climate change ministry, appoints finance minister

Qatar forms climate change ministry, appoints finance minister

DUBAI: Qatari Emir Tamim bin Hamad al-Thani has appointed Ali Bin Ahmad Al-Kuwari as finance minister in a government reshuffle, according to a statement issued by the emiri court on Tuesday.

Al-Kuwari had been serving as commerce and industry minister and as acting finance minister before the reshuffle.

Qatar's emir created an environment and climate change ministry on Tuesday, naming Faleh bin Nasser al-Thani as its minister. 

Two women were handed cabinet posts for education and social development. They join Health Minister Hanan Mohamed Al Kuwari, who had been the only woman in the cabinet.

 

(with Reuters)


Egypt aviation sector sees jump in flights, passengers, cargo

Egypt aviation sector sees jump in flights, passengers, cargo
Updated 19 October 2021

Egypt aviation sector sees jump in flights, passengers, cargo

Egypt aviation sector sees jump in flights, passengers, cargo
  • There were 2.1 million aircraft passengers in July

CAIRO: There were 18,500 flights into and out of Egypt in July compared to 6,500 in the same month last year, an increase of 185 percent, according to the country’s Central Agency for Public Mobilization and Statistics.

In June there were some 14,000 flights, compared to 500 in the same month last year.

There were 2.1 million aircraft passengers in July, more than quadruple the 500,000 passengers in the same month last year.

In June there were 1.6 million passengers, compared to 300,000 in the same month last year.

There were 19,200 tons of cargo transported by plane in July compared to 16,700 in the same month last year, an increase of 13 percent.

In June 21,300 tons were transported compared to 16,100 in the same month last year, an increase of 32 percent.


Lebanese parliament confirms March polls amid efforts to secure IMF rescue

Lebanese parliament confirms March polls amid efforts to secure IMF rescue
Updated 19 October 2021

Lebanese parliament confirms March polls amid efforts to secure IMF rescue

Lebanese parliament confirms March polls amid efforts to secure IMF rescue

CAIRO: Lebanon's parliament voted on Tuesday to hold legislative elections on March 27, parliamentary sources said, giving Prime Minister Najib Mikati's government only a few months to try to secure an IMF recovery plan amid a deepening economic meltdown.
Lebanon's financial crisis, labelled by the World Bank as one of the deepest depressions of modern history, had been compounded by political deadlock for over a year before Mikati put together a cabinet alongside President Michel Aoun.
The currency has lost 90% of its value and three quarters of the population have been propelled into poverty. Shortages of basic goods such as fuel and medicines have made daily life a struggle.
Mikati, whose cabinet is focused on reviving talks with the International Monetary Fund, had vowed to make sure elections are held with no delay and Western governments urged the same.
But a row over the probe into last year's Beirut port blast that killed over 200 people and destroyed large swathes of the capital is threatening to veer his cabinet off course.
Some ministers, aligned with politicians that lead investigator Judge Tarek Bitar is seeking to question over the explosion, last week demanded that the judge be removed from the probe.
Mikati has since said the cabinet will not convene another meeting until an agreement is reached on how to deal with the matter.
On Thursday, Beirut witnessed the worst street violence in over a decade with seven people killed in gunfire when protesters from the Hezbollah and Amal Shi'ite movements made their way to demonstrate against Judge Bitar.
The bloodshed, which stirred memories of the 1975-1990 civil war, added to fears for the stability of a country that is awash with weapons.
The early election date - elections were originally expected to be held in May - was chosen in order not to clash with the holy Islamic fasting month of Ramadan.
Once a new parliament is elected, the Mikati cabinet will only act in a caretaker role until a new prime minister is given a vote of confidence and tasked with forming a new government.