Middle East Regression

February 19, 2018

5 min read

Mordechai Kedar

The renaissance of an empire

A century after the Ottoman Empire’s demise, it has been reincarnated. Once again, Turkey is conquering parts of the Arab World, with Syria serving as its current goal. Using the “war on terror” as its lame excuse, Turkey has managed, in the last two weeks, to take over a strip of Syrian land along the border shared by the two countries, in order to prevent the Kurds from controlling a contiguous region.

Turkey intends to extend its “security belt” on Syrian soil to cover the entire length of its 500 mile-long border with Syria, and to widen that strip to a depth of 18 miles inside Syrian territory. If Turkey succeeds in doing this, that “security belt” will be larger than the State of Israel, and span over 9000 square miles. The Turks intend to turn the area into a no-mans land.

The only name that this plan can be given is “ethnic cleansing.” The tens of thousands of villagers and town-dwellers who have lived on this “belt” for hundreds and even thousands of years will have to uproot themselves and scatter in all direction, all because Erdogan does not want an independent or non-independent Kurdish entity south of the Turkish border.

Calling the Syrian Kurds “terrorists” who must be expelled from their historic living space is exactly the same as calling all the Arabs or all the Jews “terrorists” and treating them all as equally guilty. Erdogan’s racism is simply beyond the pale.

What is most shocking about Turkey’s behavior is the world’s total silence. The Security Council has not met to discuss the new takeover and has not uttered a single word of condemnation. There are no demonstrations and the streets of the Arab, European and North America are as silent as the tomb.

For those who have short memories, Turkey conquered 37% of the island of Cyprus in 1974 and established a state there that not one country recognized “de jure” – barring Turkey itself, of course. Its presence there is “occupation” any way you look at it, but who is aware of it?  Who condemns Turkey for occupying more than a third of Cyprus?  Has it crossed anyone’s mind to boycott, sanction or divest of investments in Turkey – BDS – because of its 44-year occupation of Cyprus?

Now it is the turn of the Turkish takeover of Kurdish Syria. Is the world going to wake up now and realize what Turkey is doing?  Will it demonstrate? Condemn? Boycott? Do anything at all?

It is not only the current occupation that presents a problem, it is Turkey’s problematic behavior way before 1974. Anyone with a conscience remembers what happened to the Christian Armenians in Turkey. They suffered mass genocide from 1894-1896 and another during WWI from1915-1918. Millions of Armenians and Christians were cruelly murdered by Muslim Turks and the world’s absolute silence is what led Hitler to believe, in 1941, that the world would do nothing if he did the same to the Jews.

The cynical world in which we live acts in accordance with its best interests and the West – read that the US and Europe – fears that angering  impulsive and hot-headed Erdogan may result in his forcing them out of Incherlake air force base, which is the foundation of every Western campaign plan in the Middle East and Central Asia, including Iran.

The big unknown is how the Kurds will react in response to the threats of ethnic cleansing Erdogan has in store for them: Will they sit quietly and wait for death to strike or will they put up a fight against the Turkish forces?  Another question lurking in the background is how the Kurds in Turkey will react to what may happen to their Syrian brothers. Reminder: Every  Turkish city includes a Kurdish neighborhood. If the Kurds wish to, they can sow destruction over all of Turkey. The price they will have to pay is steep, but they are well aware of that.

The question of Kurdish response is not without its own problems. We recently witnessed what occurred in the Kurdish region of Iraq, where the Kurds lacked solidarity, were split into warring factions, and at times, even fought one another. Erdogan may be counting on that divisiveness to allow him to continue the brutality he has shown against the Kurdish Syrians without having to worry about the Kurds in Turkey coming to the aid of their Syrian brethren.

Enter another factor, the volunteers pouring in to help the Kurds from all over the world. Some have arrived from France, others from the USA, the UK, Algeria, Japan and more. They are being drafted through social media in a way reminiscent of how ISIS  succeeded in getting volunteers. Some have adopted Kurdish names and learned the Kurdish language. If this phenomenon continues to grow and leads to foreign volunteers falling in battle, the Turks are going to find themselves lost in an international blizzard.

 Egyptian democracy

This March will be four years since Abed al Fatah al Sisi won the Egyptian presidential elections. Egypt will be holding elections for its next president and Sisi has announced his candidacy along with several others: Former Commander in Chief Sammy Anan, Attorney Khaled Ali, Suez Canal University academic Muna Albaranes, businessman Mahmoud Ramadan, space scientist Izzam Khagi and others.

The problem is that anyone declaring candidacy suddenly finds himself harassed by the police, arrested on some pretext or slandered all over so that there does not seem to be any serious competition preventing Sisi’s re-election. There are a good many voices calling to boycott the elections since their results have already been decided.

Analysts claim, correctly it seems, that the state of political freedom and civil rights in Egypt is worse than it was during Mubarak’s period and that the power of the police and the army has mushroomed in the four years of Sisi’s presidency.  The clear and obvious reason for this change is that the real war on terror is tough and sisyphic – and its end is nowhere in sight.

In addition to terror, Egypt faces a far larger threat in the possible significant drop in the amount of Nile waters flowing into Egypt from Sudan, due to the construction of Ethiopia’s “Grand  Renaissance Dam” near that country’s South Sudan border. Egypt relies on the Nile for drinking water, crop irrigation, and industry and needs ever-increasing amounts of water as its population, now close to 90 million, grows. Sisi’s efforts to convince Ethiopia to refrain from building the dam have not succeeded so far and the problem remains on the table.

Egypt worries about terror as well, because in addition to the loss of life, the injured and the destruction, terrorist incidents have greatly harmed Egyptian tourism. Foreign visitors come for vacations and pleasure, not to become victims of terrorists.

Deep-seated administrative corruption is endemic to Egypt and many of its citizens despair of ever finding a way out of the country’s problem-filled morass

In the current situation, Sisi’s re-election seems inevitable, and that is probably the best possible scenario. I do not support dictatorships, I am certainly opposed to trampling civil rights and political freedoms, but the alternative to Sisi is an even faster rate of deterioration in Egypt, as the country sinks deeper into the quagmire in which it is already mired.

There are difficult periods in the lives of nations and there are crises necessitating unusual measures. Choosing Sisi again may not be a good solution, but it prevents an even worse one.

I would like to use this platform to wish Sisi and Egypt much success in finding their way out of the morass of problems in which Egypt is sunk up to its neck.

Reprinted with author’s permission from Israel National News

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