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Archive for February, 2011

Turkey Loses its Islamist Figurehead: Erbakan has Died

The Turkish English-language daily Today’s Zaman reports that Turkey’s ‘[f]ormer Prime Minister Necmettin Erbakan, whose coalition government was forced to step down by the military on Feb. 28, 1997, died at the age of 85 from cardiac and respiratory failure on Sunday at an Ankara hospital, where he had been a patient since early January. The legendary leader of the National View (Milli Görüş) political movement, Erbakan was re-elected as the head of the Felicity Party (SP) after some troubles within the party last year. After the 1997 coup d’état, his ruling Welfare Party (RP) was banned by the courts and Erbakan was barred from active politics for a temporary period of time. The Feb. 28, 1997 event was the fourth military intervention in politics in Turkey, preceded by the coups of 1960, 1971 and 1980. Not only were fatal blows dealt many fundamental rights and freedoms after Feb. 29 but democracy and the rule of law were suspended. The coup introduced a series of harsh restrictions on religious freedoms, with an unofficial but widely practiced ban on the wearing of the Islamic headscarf. The military was purged of personnel with suspected ties to religious groups, a tradition that is still widely observed today. In addition, a number of newspapers were closed’.[1]  

(27 February 2011)

 

Necmettin Erbakan had been active on Turkey’s political scene for many decades – his followers enthusiastically referred to him as “Mücahid Erbakan”. And, as a political figure, he has been at the forefront of political Islam in Turkey. The press agency AFP gives this brief summary: ‘Born on October 29, 1926, Erbakan earned a degree in mechanical engineering in 1948 and pursued an academic career that took him to Germany, where he also worked on projects for the German army. He entered politics in 1969, creating a pro-Islamic party, which was banned in 1971 but quickly replaced with another. He served as deputy prime minister in three coalition governments in the 1970s, marked by Turkey’s occupation of northern Cyprus and deadly political unrest, which prompted a military coup in 1980. Coup leaders banned Erbakan, and many others, from politics, but he made a comeback after the ban was lifted in 1987’.[2]  His Refah Partisi [RP] determined the course of Turkish politics: ‘Erbakan became Turkey’s first Islamic prime minister in 1996 in a coalition with a centre-right partner [DYP or Doğru Yol Partisi] after his Welfare Party [Refah Partisi] won 21 per cent of the vote and became the largest parliamentary group. But Welfare moves to raise the profile of Islam in social life and seek closer ties with Islamic states such as Iran and Libya quickly irked the staunchly secularist and then-omnipotent military. A harsh army-led secularist campaign forced Erbakan to step down in 1997, after about a year in power. The following year, the constitutional court outlawed Welfare and banned Erbakan from politics for five years, which eventually led to a split in his movement as moderates, led by Erdogan, broke ranks with their mentor’.[3]  Recep Tayyip Erdoğan served as the RP Mayor of Istanbul, yet following the 1997 “coup” he set up the AKP (Adalet ve Kalkınma Partisi) that has now been ruling Turkey since 2002. The ’97 “coup” took place as follows: ‘In early 1997, the General Staff sought ways to get rid of the conservative government led by Erbakan [the so-called Refah-Yol Coallition]. The National Security Council (MGK) made several decisions during a meeting on Feb. 28 and presented them to Erbakan for approval. Erbakan was forced to sign the decisions, and he subsequently resigned’.[4] 

As a devout Muslim, Erbakan has performed the obligatory pilgrimage to Mecca a number of times. In November 2010, Erbakan made this statement disclosing his personal piety and devotion to Muslim cleanliness: “Humanity owes everything to Islam. Our civilization is superior to the West . . . They do not know how to wash their faces, they do not know running water and, excuse me, but they come out of the toilet without cleaning themselves”.[v]  The piece in Today’s Zaman continues that ‘Erbakan will be laid to rest on March 1 after funeral prayers at İstanbul’s Fatih Mosque. A statement from the SP [Saadet Partisi] read that the party is not planning a big ceremony for its leader. “Our leader did not want an official ceremony after his death,” the statement read . . . Erbakan’s death was met with sorrow by leading figures in Turkish politics, who released messages offering their condolences to the Erbakan family as well the entire Turkish nation. President Gül reportedly phoned Erbakan’s son, Fatih Erbakan, to extend his condolences. The president reportedly told Fatih Erbakan that he was very sad to learn that Turkey had lost one of its greatest politicians and man of science. Prime Minister Erdoğan expressed sadness over the death of Erbakan, and said God will reward the experienced politician for his service to Turkey. “Erbakan was a politician and man of science who gave much to Turkey and he had an esteemed place in the Turkish politics. He spent his entire life to learning and teaching. May God welcome him in heaven. May God rest his soul,” he noted. The prime minister has reportedly decided to cancel his plans to travel to Brussels so that he can attend Erbakan’s funeral’.[6] 


[1] “Number one victim of Feb. 28 dies on eve of coup anniversary” Today’s Zaman (28 February 2011). http://www.todayszaman.com/news-236851-number-one-victim-of-feb-28-dies-on-eve-of-coup-anniversary.html.

[2] “Turkey’s first Islamic leader Erbakan dies” AFP (28 February 2011). http://www.dawn.com/2011/02/27/turkeys-first-islamic-leader-erbakan-dies.html.

[3] “Turkey’s first Islamic leader Erbakan dies”.

[4] “Number one victim of Feb. 28 dies on eve of coup anniversary”.

[5] “Turkey’s first Islamic leader Erbakan dies”.

[6] “Turkey’s first Islamic leader Erbakan dies”.

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U.S. Defense Spending and Austerity Measures

Despite calls on Capitol Hill for major defense budget cuts, and as President Obama announces new austerity measures for the nation, the Pentagon is set to unveil the largest budget in its history — driven by an expanding list of what defines national security (20 February 2011).

 

But, as pointed out by the American Forces Press Secretary Jim Garamone, President Obama is actually asking for even more money: the “president is asking Congress for $671 billion for the Defense Department in fiscal 2012, which starts Oct. 1. The budget calls for $553 billion in the “base budget” and $117.8 billion for the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. By appropriation, military personnel accounts are $142.8 billion of the base budget. Operations and maintenance is $204.4 billion, procurement is $113 billion and research and development is $75.3 billion. The Army portion of the base budget is $144.9 billion, the Navy and Marine Corps portion is $161.4 billion, and the Air Force share is set at $150 billion. Defense Department spending is pegged at $96.8 billion”.[1]  Bloomberg’s Tony Capaccio and Gopal Ratnam point out that the “Pentagon today has roughly 97,000 troops in Afghanistan and 47,000 in Iraq. The 144,000 total is the lowest since July 2006, when the U.S. had about 148,100 deployed, according to military data compiled by the nonpartisan Congressional Research Servic”.[2] 

 

With regard to the austerity measures that are needed to limit the U.S. government debt and improve American competitiveness vis-à-vis China, as I pointed out some time ago: the “president would seek to reduce the Low Income Home Energy Heating Assistance Program from the current funding of $5.1 billion to $2.6 billion, the Associated Press said, citing a source familiar with the budget discussions”.[3]  I am not sure how this reduction of $2.5 billion relates to the figure of $671 billion . . .

 

 The propaganda broadcaster VOA relates that ‘U.S. President Barack Obama has unveiled a $3.7 trillion federal budget for next year that seeks to cut America’s mammoth deficit while retaining certain spending priorities to spur future economic expansion. Republicans, who control one house of Congress, are dismissing the president’s proposed budget as a costly burden to the economy that fails to address a fiscal crisis. As VOA’s Michael Bowman reports, the positions staked out constitute opening bids in what is expected to be a protracted battle over the government’s finances’ (14 February 2011). 

 

 


[1] Jim Garamone, “Obama Asks for $671 Billion Defense Budget in Fiscal 2012” U.S. Department of Defense (14 February 2011). http://www.defense.gov/news/newsarticle.aspx?id=62803.

[2] Tony Capaccio and Gopal Ratnam, “Republicans May Fight Obama’s $671 Billion 2012 Defense Budget in Congress” Bloomberg (February 2011). http://www.bloomberg.com/news/2011-02-15/republicans-may-fight-obama-s-671-billion-2012-defense-budget.html.

[3] “Poverty in the USA 2011”A Pseudo-Ottoman Blog (10 February 2011). https://sitanbul.wordpress.com/2011/02/10/poverty-in-the-usa-2011/.

The Arab World Convulsing, Iran Apprehensive & Saudi Reluctant???

‘Unconfirmed reports from Iran say senior opposition figures Mehdi Karoubi and Mir Hossein Mousavi have been moved to a secret location near Tehran. Supporters of the two leaders say they were recently placed under house arrest following renewed anti-government protests in Iran. Tehran has neither confirmed or denied the accusations. Former reformist president Mohammad Khatami has urged authorities to release them. The opposition has called for fresh demonstrations every Tuesday until they are freed’.

 

In neighbouring Bahrain, opposition and authorities appear to be moving closer yet staying firmly apart. An opposition leader has recently returned to Manama ending his self-imposed exile [Hassan Mushaima], while the universally hated Prime Minister remains in charge of the island. The U.S. propaganda broadcaster VOA reports that ‘Bahraini King Hamad bin Issa al-Khalifa has reshuffled his Cabinet in an apparent gesture to opposition activists holding daily protests demanding democratic reforms. King Hamad named on Saturday [, 26 February] new ministers of cabinet affairs, energy, health and housing. All had previously held senior government positions. Bahrain’s Prime Minister Sheikh Khalifa bin Salman al-Khalifa, the king’s uncle, also retained the post he has held for four decades. Bahrain’s Shi’ite-led opposition has been demanding the resignation of the whole government, which is dominated by the minority Sunni al-Khalifa family. Anti-government protesters who have occupied Manama’s Pearl Square for days also want the monarchy to transfer powers to an elected government that is representative of the Gulf state’s Shi’ite majority. Some protesters say the entire al-Khalifa dynasty must go. Thousands of protesters marched from Pearl Square to Manama’s government and commercial district Saturday, their first foray into the area since they began demonstrating earlier this month. Many waved Bahraini flags and chanted, “the people want the fall of the regime” as they walked past government buildings. Police did not intervene. The protesters later returned to Pearl Square to celebrate the return from exile of senior Shi’ite opposition figure Hassan Mushaima earlier in the day. He received a rapturous welcome accompanied by fireworks. Mushaima said a dialogue proposed by Bahrain’s Sunni rulers is not enough to resolve the crisis, and he accused them of repeatedly breaking their promises. Mushaima had been on trial in absentia for allegedly plotting against the monarchy since October, until King Hamad pardoned him and 24 co-defendants in the case last Tuesday [,22 February]. Mushaima agreed to return to Bahrain from exile in London after the pardon’.[1] 

 

In Libya, violence appears to continue while the Qaddafi clan clings to power. On the Bloomberg website, Bill Varner and Maram Mazen write that the “United Nations Security Council voted 15-0 to freeze the foreign assets of Libya’s Muammar Qaddafi and four aides and to bar them from traveling, in the broadest international effort to halt his regime’s attacks on protesters. The resolution also imposes an arms embargo on Libya and calls for an immediate end to violence that it says ‘may amount to crimes against humanity’. The measure sends the allegations to the International Criminal Court in The Hague for investigation and possible prosecution”.[2] 

 

German Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle pronounced on Sunday that “[r]eferring the case to the International Criminal Court shows that those who commit crimes against their own people will personally be held accountable”.[3]  It remains to be seen, however, whether Qaddafi will be impressed by those brave words. Bloomberg’s Juliann Neher adds that “[p]rotests urging the ouster of Muammar Qaddafi have been met with a crackdown. Qaddafi has bolstered defenses in the capital, Tripoli, and launched counter-strikes against opponents. United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said more than 1,000 people have died in the unrest, which has left protesters in control of much of the east of the country”.[4] 

 

Muammar Qaddafi’s son Saif has said that “nobody is leaving this country. We live here. We die here [adding that] a big gap between reality and the media reports. Show me a single attack, show me a single bomb. The Libyan air force destroyed just the ammunition sites . . . The whole south is calm. The west is calm. The middle is calm. Even part of the east”.[5] 

 

 

‘While communication lines in and out of Libya may still be unreliable there seems to be little confusion over the graphic and sometimes disturbing images that are continuing to emerge. In one of the latest amateur video clips made available via social networks, violence breaks out after Friday prayers when a group of suspected pro-government mercenaries appear to open fire on protesters in a Tripoli suburb’.

 

In the West, or should that be the U.S., talk is shifting to other, more important matters: oil and oil prices. As expressed on the Alyona Show: ‘As unrest in the Middle East and North Africa continues, panic is ensuing over rising oil prices. Libya, the 18th largest oil producer in the world is in chaos and reports say Libya has already shut down 25% of its production. Foreign Policy’s Steve LeVine discusses US reliance on foreign oil’.

 

LeVine writes that “We all know by now that oil prices have soared not specifically because of Libya, but because traders are worried about what happens next. In particular, they are worried about Saudi Arabia — whether it can truly step up to the plate with big volumes of oil to compensate for a shortfall elsewhere, even if it itself falls victim to the unrest roiling the Middle East. To be more precise, the question on many lips is: Will or will not the Saudis announce an increase in oil production in order to calm roiling global markets? . . . The answer is that they may already have quietly done so. The Oil Daily is reporting today that Saudi Arabia has lifted production to 9 million barrels a day, which if accurate would be about 4 percent, or 400,000 barrels a day, higher than its most recent reported volume. That’s a serious uptick in production — sufficient, one would think, to persuade traders that the kingdom in fact possesses the capacity and will to tamp down market volatility when it’s called for. It should be sufficient to lower prices well into the low $90-a-barrel range. It should be, that is, if the Saudis actually tell the market that it has done so. Instead, the Saudis are going around simply asserting that they will step in as soon as they are truly needed”.[6]  But . . . The Guardian’s environment correspondent John Vidal writes that the “US fears that Saudi Arabia, the world’s largest crude oil exporter, may not have enough reserves to prevent oil prices escalating, confidential cables from its embassy in Riyadh show. The cables, released by WikiLeaks, urge Washington to take seriously a warning from a senior Saudi government oil executive that the kingdom’s crude oil reserves may have been overstated by as much as 300bn barrels – nearly 40%. The revelation comes as the oil price has soared in recent weeks to more than $100 a barrel on global demand and tensions in the Middle East. Many analysts expect that the Saudis and their Opec cartel partners would pump more oil if rising prices threatened to choke off demand. However, Sadad al-Husseini, a geologist and former head of exploration at the Saudi oil monopoly Aramco, met the US consul general in Riyadh in November 2007 and told the US diplomat that Aramco’s 12.5m barrel-a-day capacity needed to keep a lid on prices could not be reached. According to the cables, which date between 2007-09, Husseini said Saudi Arabia might reach an output of 12m barrels a day in 10 years but before then – possibly as early as 2012 – global oil production would have hit its highest point. This crunch point is known as ‘peak oil’. Husseini said that at that point Aramco would not be able to stop the rise of global oil prices because the Saudi energy industry had overstated its recoverable reserves to spur foreign investment. He argued that Aramco had badly underestimated the time needed to bring new oil on tap”.[7]  Could Vidal’s assertion based on the WikiLeaks revelations be the real reason behind the Saudi reluctance to announce publicly that the Kingdom will pump more oil to control the price???

  


[1] “Bahrain’s King Reshuffles Cabinet as Opposition Protests Continue” VOA News (27February 2011). http://www.voanews.com/english/news/Bahrains-King-Reshuffles-Cabinet-as-Opposition-Protests-Continue-117006638.html.

[2] Bill Varner and Maram Mazen, “UN Security Council Imposes Sanctions Against Libya’s Qaddafi” Bloomberg Businesweeks (27 February 2011). http://www.businessweek.com/news/2011-02-27/un-security-council-imposes-sanctions-against-libya-s-qaddafi.html.

[3] Bill Varner and Maram Mazen, “UN Security Council Imposes Sanctions Against Libya’s Qaddafi”.

[4] Juliann Neher, “Nobody Is Leaving This Country,’ Qaddafi’s Son Says on ABC” Bloomberg (27 February 2011). http://www.bloomberg.com/news/2011-02-27/-nobody-is-leaving-this-country-qaddafi-s-son-says-on-abc-1-.html.

[5] Juliann Neher, “Nobody Is Leaving This Country”.

[6] Steve LeVine, “The Weekly Wrap: Feb. 25, 2011” Foreign Policy (25 February 2011). http://oilandglory.foreignpolicy.com/.

[7] John Vidal, “WikiLeaks cables: Saudi Arabia cannot pump enough oil to keep a lid on prices” The Guardian (08 February 2011). http://www.guardian.co.uk/business/2011/feb/08/saudi-oil-reserves-overstated-wikileaks.

An Evening with Karen Armstrong

One of the world’s leading commentators on religious affairs, Karen Armstrong discusses the intersection of religion and secularism in contemporary life. She explores the ideas that Islam, Judaism and Christianity have in common and their effect on world events. Series: Walter H. Capps Center Series [Humanities].

Listening post – Libya: Shining a light into a media black hole

The media’s role in the historic Arab uprisings has so far been celebrated and feared, with the collaboration between new media and satellite TV too powerful for dictators to withstand. But that has all changed in Libya. Muammar Gaddafi appears to have learnt some media lessons from the uprisings in Egypt and Tunisia and quickly responded to protests in his country by shutting out foreign journalists, jamming TV transmissions and cutting off the internet and phone networks. The absence of professional journalists has meant that the job has been left to citizen journalists and the world has been able to follow the story through the often horrific and violent videos that have been leaked out of the country. This week we look at new media’s role in shedding light on an otherwise information black hole.

WikiLeaks: Assange to be Extradited

Julian Assange will be extradited to Sweden to face charges of sexual assault. Sweden and the U.S. have cozy relations, and Sweden might therefore very well, in turn, extradite the Australian to the U.S. where he could face much more serious charges. For some perspective from the U.S., RT talks to Sara Flounders from the American activist group International Action Center. For those interested in the strange case of the Swedish rape allegations, do have a look at Girish Shahane’s version of events, as reproduced on my blog on 28 December last year.[1]  

 

On its website, RT further explains that a ‘London court has ruled that Julian Assange, founder of the controversial whistle-blowing website WikiLeaks, will be extradited to Sweden to face sexual assault charges. The judge said the allegations of rape and sexual molestation by two women are extraditable offences and the Swedish warrant was properly issued. Assange denies the allegations, saying they are part of a conspiracy to have him handed over to the US. He outraged Washington after his website published secret American war logs and diplomatic cables. Assange fears he will face a life sentence in the US in case of extradition. His defense team has a week to appeal the verdict, something they’ve already said they intend to do’.[2]  

Mark Stephens writes in The Guardian that “Julian Assange will, according to the judge’s finding of fact, be held in prison in solitary confinement when he is returned to Sweden and will then be interrogated, held without bail and later subjected to a secret trial on accusations that have been bruited around the world, not least by this newspaper. He has a complete answer to these charges, which he considers false and baseless. Even if acquitted, however, the mud will stick and, if convicted, the public will never be able to able to assess whether justice has miscarried. [The UK], which has given to the world the most basic principles of a fair trial – that justice must be seen to be done – denies that basic liberty for those that are extradited to Sweden”.[3] 

 


[1] “The Strange Case of Julian Assange” A Pseudo-Ottoman Blog (28 December 2011). https://sitanbul.wordpress.com/2010/12/28/the-strange-case-of-julian-assange/.

[2] “Assange will be extradited to Sweden” RT (24 February 2011). http://rt.com/news/court-assange-charges-sweden/.

[3] Mark Stephens, “Demand open justice for Julian Assange” The Guardian (25 February 2011). http://www.guardian.co.uk/commentisfree/2011/feb/25/europe-open-justice-sweden-assange.

Gaddafi Talks, Blames Al Qaeda

Muammar Gaddafi, the Libyan leader, has said in a speech on state television that al-Qaeda is responsible for the uprising in his country. Speaking on the phone from an undisclosed location, Gaddafi said the protesters were young people who were being manipulated by al-Qaeda, and that many were under the influence of drugs.