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The Briefing: Latest Middle East news, opinions and research from American Friends of Tel Aviv University

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Volume VI, Number 9:
April 15, 2019

Turkeyscope: Insights on Turkish Affairs

"Conspiracy Theory Culture in Turkey and the 'Crypto-Jews': Dönmes" by Türkay Salim Nefes
Turkish sociologist Şerif Mardin once remarked that conspiracy theories shape the historical perspective of the Turkish people. Indeed, conspiratorial accounts are ubiquitous in modern Turkish politics: The Turkish government explained that the Gezi Park protests in 2013 were a foreign conspiracy meant to undermine Turkish economic progress. Moreover, ever since the 1970s, various speakers in the Turkish parliament have claimed that there is a clandestine elite group determined to defend the Turkish state ideology by legal and extralegal means alike, and which is responsible for various conspiracies including, but not limited to, extrajudicial assassinations. In this political climate, conspiracy theories about Dönmes (Sabbateans), the followers of Sabbatai Sevi (Shabtai Tzvi), represent a major part of contemporary Turkish anti-Semitism.
Source: Turkeyscope: Insights on Turkish Affairs/The Moshe Dayan Center for Middle Eastern and African Studies, Tel Aviv University — April 8, 2019

Middle East News Brief

The Middle East News Brief is a selection of editorial commentary and analysis from the Middle East and Africa. The inclusion of any item does not mean that the MDC endorses the opinions or arguments expressed therein.

Ethiopia — Goitom Gebreluel: Should Ethiopia stick with ethnic federalism?
In early 2018, Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed launched a set of political reforms including political liberalization that were greeted with euphoric enthusiasm. But the country's second attempt at democratization has also been accompanied by a surge in political violence, often along ethnic lines. Many observers have concluded that the main culprit is Ethiopia's ethnonational federal arrangement, which grants larger ethnic groups self-governance rights within their respective states. Nevertheless, ethnic federalism in Ethiopia enjoys widespread support. We should therefore stop entertaining extreme, unrealistic and impractical scenarios about the undoing of the federation (by either a return to a territorial federation or a transition to a confederation). The only way out of the current situation of political violence in Ethiopia is to focus on implementing the constitution and dismantling the discriminatory and undemocratic structures and practices that nearly two decades of the Ethiopian People's Revolutionary Democratic Front had put in place.
Source: al-Jazeera (Doha) — April 5, 2019

Algeria — Dalia Ghanem: What's next for Algeria's protest movement?
Algerian President Abdelaziz Bouteflika's resignation followed the Algerian army chief's demand for his removal, and Bouteflika's departure led to celebrations in the streets. However, it may not be enough to ensure institutional change, and further challenges will emerge. Algerians should stick to their demands and continue to demand further changes in leadership and the political system. Moreover, protesters need to undermine their opponents' support by building positive relations with security forces, avoiding high-risk activism and continuing to disrupt the bureaucracy.
Source: Middle East Eye (Beirut) — April 5, 2019

Tunisia — Oussama Romdhani: Tunisians watchful of dramas unfolding next door
Tunisia's national security council agreed on the extension of the state of emergency on April 5 due to the upheaval unfolding next door in Algeria and Libya. Despite Tunisia's traditional focus on domestic concerns, the population has recently suffered from lost border-trade opportunities with Libya. On the western side, Algeria remains a powerful ally in maintaining control over the borders, which are occasionally threatened by a recurrent jihadi threat in the region. Consequently, Algeria's leadership transition following recent popular upheaval further contributes to the concerns of Tunisian authorities about the stability of its neighbors. Therefore, the high degree of interdependence among the three countries, partly due to Tunisia's limited natural resources and military capabilities, might generate unintended effects on the country's stability.
Source: The Arab Weekly (Tunis) — April 7, 2019

Tunisia — Sarah Souli: Gays in Tunisia still suffer under archaic laws
Despite Tunisia's progressive constitution and significant legal gains for freedom of speech, women's rights and political organization in recent years, LGBT Tunisians still suffer under antiquated sodomy laws. Homosexuality remains criminalized under the French penal code, which was introduced during French colonial rule to impose stricter social control and has no clear precedent in Tunisian law. Over the past several years, there has been a dramatic increase in arrests under Article 230. Furthermore, forced anal examinations are still commonplace in Tunisia — a degrading practice that the United Nations has designated as torture. Since 2011, there has been some positive political movement concerning queerness in Tunisian society, including the establishment of multiple LGBT organizations, but progress is slow. Meanwhile, Article 230 continues to destroy lives.
Source: al-Monitor (Athens) — April 5, 2019

Libya — Zaheena Rasheed: Haftar's "ultimate goal" and the fear of a full-blown war
Libyan Field Marshal Khalifa Haftar's self-proclaimed Libyan National Army (LNA) has begun to march on Tripoli. The Tripoli-allied militias have started to prepare a defense by deploying troops and moving weapons to the capital. Because the militias in and around Tripoli do not want to be governed by the authoritarian model Haftar might implement once in power, it is likely that they will resist, which might cause renewed conflict. The escalation threatens to undermine the efforts taken by the UN to finally bring stability to Libya. It must be assumed that Haftar wants to expand his power before the Libyan National Conference (LNC) on April 14-16. While foreign countries are concerned about Haftar's chances of successfully overtaking Tripoli, analysts have stressed the need for a response from the city of Misrata. Still, there now seems to be little room for de-escalation.
Source: al-Jazeera (Malé) — April 6, 2019

Region — Abdel Moneim Said: When impossible is a point of view
The 18th Arab Media Forum (AMF) that convened in Dubai on March 27-28 focused on the futures of Arab journalists and media professionals. This resulted in an intense confrontation of important concerns facing global media and produced a new concept of "pan-Arabism," with discussion about Arab media from the Gulf to the Atlantic. The forum's main subject was the rise of new media, represented by social media networks that boast hundreds of thousands of people engaged in debates, dialogues and commentaries. Conventional media needs to overcome the shock associated with confronting something new, and realize that "new media" is not a form of journalism but a process to express emotions and feelings. Success stories such as Dubai's are exceptional rarities on the backdrop of many Arab tragedies. Progress can be achieved only by addressing the hard questions with resolve and faith to find the answers, evident in Arab countries' initiatives and visions for reform and development that Dubai has set in motion.
Source: al-Ahram (Cairo) — April 4, 2019

Palestine — Ali Adam: Will Hamas be a partner to Trump's Mideast plan?
Many ordinary Palestinians and Palestinian political factions are suspicious that recent humanitarian gestures made by Israel toward Gaza are part of the Trump administration's soon-to-be-announced peace plan. The plan will likely involve the trading of humanitarian assistance for a deal that is unfair to Palestinians. Palestinians also fear that U.S. President Donald Trump, by working directly with Hamas after being rejected by the Palestinian Authority, will weaken the Palestinian people by further separating Gaza and the West Bank, and set the stage for a Palestinian state in Gaza while approving of Israeli sovereignty in the West Bank. Israel's recent humanitarian gestures included extending the permitted fishing zone off of Gaza's coast, reopening border crossings and renewing diesel supplies for Gaza's power plant. Israel is also expected to soon allow Gaza to increase its imports and exports, and to allow the initiation of major long-term economic projects in Gaza, mostly funded by Qatar.
Source: al-Monitor (Gaza City) — April 8, 2019

Iraq — Ali Mamouri: Iraq meeting between Lebanon's Berri, Sistani boosts moderate Shiism in region
During his visit to Iraq on April 1, Lebanese Parliamentary Speaker Nabih Berri met with Iraqi Grand Ayatollah Ali Sistani, known for being a moderate Shia voice in the Middle East. Sistani often meets with other moderate Shiite leaders in the region and refuses to meet with hard-liners such as Hezbollah's Hassan Nasrallah or Iran's former president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. In order to decrease tension in the region, Sistani often encourages peaceful coexistence in the region and advocates for the improvement of Iraq's relationship with Saudi Arabia and other Sunni powers. It is likely that Berri, the leader of the moderate Shia movement Amal, was seeking Sistani's support. Amal is a rival to the pro-Iranian Hezbollah, and Sistani's support could bolster Amal's position in Lebanon.
Source: al-Monitor (Baghdad) — April 4, 2019

Turkey — Mustafa Sonmez: The economic balance sheet of Turkey's local elections
Though reluctant to concede, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan and his Justice and Development Party (AKP) have lost major cities such as Istanbul, Ankara and Izmir to the opposition Republican People's Party (CHP) in the recent local elections. Generating the largest portion of Turkish GDP, these economic hubs have long been the patronage network and base of Erdoğan and the AKP. It is believed that the CHP's takeover of these cities will form the biggest setback for AKP since 2002. Contrary to common belief, this loss will have significant influence because it undermines the synergy between central government and local administrations, which have been the basis of Erdoğan's presidency. Erdoğan's threat that local administrations supporting CHP will be deprived of financial support seems to be futile. The outcome of this election indicates that the CHP is on the rise at the local level but faces a shrinking distribution of funds. It is therefore likely that the CHP will rally further support to challenge the AKP.
Source: al-Monitor (Istanbul) — April 5, 2019

Kurdistan Region — Nurcan Baysal: Kurds exists!
Despite Turkish hostility towards the Kurds, Kurdish voters recently demonstrated their important presence, regardless of the final electoral outcome. If the Turks claim that Kurds "don't exist," the Kurds can reply "we exist." Kurds celebrated with much anticipation while waiting for the results of the Istanbul mayoral elections. The jailed Selahattin Demirtaş, the former co-chair of the pro-Kurdish Peoples' Democratic Party (HDP), told the electorate to get out and vote with substantial success. Notwithstanding Kurdish roadblocks, the results were triumphant. After being put on a strict 24-hour curfew in 2016, the city of Şırnak lost 70% of its population. The city turned into a military zone, and there is much debate about who bears responsibility for the situation. Residents presume that Erdoğan and the AKP will now change their policies after witnessing a successful Kurdish campaign and hope that the destruction of Kurdish cities will lead to some self-reflection on Turkey's part. Meanwhile, Kurds hope the election will restore Turkish democracy and equality among Turkey's citizens.
Source: Ahval News (Diyarbakir) — April 6, 2019

 

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