Neo-con-spiracy: Egypt, Turkey and the spirit of true democracy

‘Egypt’s February 28’ran the headline in our local newspaper. If you don’t live in Turkey, or you are not a student of the country’s affairs, that date won’t mean much to you – so I’d better tell you that it was the day in 1997 when senior military commanders had a quiet word in the ear of Turkey’s Prime Minister, Necmettin Erbakan, resulting in that gentleman’s resignation from office. It has become known as Turkey’s ‘post-modern coup’, to distinguish it from the three military coups that had taken place between 1960 and 1980 and were more orthodox in terms of martial law, executions, torture and civilian disappearances.

Older Turks, then, are familiar with the pattern, and some, including the current Turkish government, raised their voices in protest when, on July 3, Egypt’s military ousted elected President Mohammed Morsi and installed an ’interim’ replacement more supportive of their aims and objectives.

Now I do not know, and I certainly cannot prove that the United States Government or its operatives abroad had any involvement in last Wednesday’s events in Egypt. What I can say with some certainty, however, is that successive US administrations were strong supporters of Hosni Mubarak, unseated in 2011 by Egypt’s Arab Spring uprising after a 29 year military dictatorship– to the extent that they had provided him with sufficient weaponry to make Egypt the world’s 10th largest military machine. I can also say that, under Mubarak’s tutelage, Egypt had become a friendly supporter of Israel – somewhat surprisingly given that from its beginning in 1948, they had fought several wars with their emergent Middle Eastern neighbour, again in 1956, 1967, 1969, 1970, and 1974, and had consistently refused to recognise its right to exist.

Whatever the truth of the matter, it is evident that Western ‘democracies’ are not unhappy with the current military ‘intervention’ in Egypt. US and European spokespersons are tying their tongues in knots trying to avoid labelling it a military coup, since doing so would require them to cut off financial aid to the illegal regime. It also seems clear that Egypt’s economic problems under the Morsi administration were, at least in part, caused by reluctance on the part of Western countries to lend their support to the democratically elected president.

Still, it’s also interesting to note that Egypt’s Middle Eastern Arab neighbours (Saudi Arabia, Qatar, Jordan, the United Arab Emirates), whom you might have expected to approve of the Morsi government, seem also to be supportive of the military takeover. Clearly their own vested interests and their dislike of democracy per se override what sympathy they may have felt for a Muslim brother.

Well, enough of Egypt. My wife and I just returned from a visit to the USA. We had a great time. My stepdaughter got married in a delightful celebration, and I caught up with a couple of old friends in New York City from way back when. As you may imagine, I didn’t do a lot of reading, but I did glance at a newspaper occasionally. My Turkish friends and readers will be proud to know that their country is in the news over there. No publicity is bad publicity, goes the saying – though they might be a little concerned at the nature of the exposure Turkey is getting in some sections of the US media.

My attention was drawn to an opinion piece in the New York Post by one Amir Taheri. OK, the Post is probably not a shining example of journalistic objectivity and integrity, but people over there read it, and their world view may well be influenced by what they see in its pages. Just a quick sample selection from Mr Taheri’s piece:

When Ottoman Sultans failed on the battlefield they sought glory in building a mosque – and now Sultan Tayyip Erdoğan is doing the same. Taheri claims that the government plans to build, on thirty square miles of prime urban land in the Taksim area, a mosque whose minaret will be the world’s highest man-made structure. Prime Minister Erdoğan, he asserts, is turning Istanbul into the largest building site in the world, giving contracts to supporters and making the AKP administration the most corrupt since the fall of the caliphate. One of his projects is a canal to be named after Sultan Selim, known in English as ‘the Bloodsucker’.

Erdoğan united twenty different Islamic groups and got himself elected by a majority of Turks while sneakily making no mention of Islam. The policies of his AK Party government are an ideological hodgepodge.

Hard to know where to start demolishing such a breath-taking collection of misrepresentations, distortions and downright untruths, but let’s start with the minaret. Currently the world’s tallest minaret is in Casablanca, Morocco, and stands 210 metres (689 feet) tall. By contrast, the world’s tallest man-made structure is the Burj Khalifa, a non-religious edifice in Dubai. It will take a miraculous feat of engineering and architecture to construct a minaret able to exceed that building’s 830 metres (2,722 feet). As for the building site in ‘downtown’ Istanbul, one square mile is equal to 640 acres, or 2.6 km2. Thirty square miles means an area not quite as large as the entire island of Manhattan, but almost! I can’t imagine the most absolute of military dictators managing to demolish that much of the city.

Undoubtedly there is a major construction boom taking place in Turkey at present, and not only in Istanbul. I don’t know how it would compare to the activity that transformed New York City in the first half of the 20thcentury – but few Americans would argue that that was a bad thing. Certainly there is a plan to build a canal allowing foreign shipping to bypass the urban centre of Turkey’s largest city – but it will not be named after Sultan Selim (whose name is mooted for a third bridge being built across the Bosporus Strait– not river, Mr Taheri).

The principal architectural feature of old Istanbul is its domed and minaretted skyline, its monumental mosques built by extremely successful conquering sultans in the glory days of the Ottoman Empire. One of these was Selim (reigned 1512-1520) known to Turks as Yavuz(the Tough, or Ferocious) and in English usually as Selim the Grim. I hadn’t come across the Bloodsucker nickname before, but very likely some of those his armies conquered would have been less than overjoyed and may have attached less flattering names to him. Erdoğan’s AK Party Government, however, has indeed managed to win and retain the support of a majority of Turks, largely as a result of policies with a broad appeal to a cross-section of the voting public – so the term hodgepodge may be a trifle unfair. Would Mr Taheri have preferred a more overt Islamic agenda?

Anyway, after reading his piece on Turkey, I felt I had to check out Amir Taheri’s credentials as a journalist, and let me share with you some of my findings. Wikipedia informs us that he is Iranian by birth, and was quite a high-profile chap in the last years of the Shah’s regime, filling, among other roles, the position of executive editor-in-chief of the pro-Shah propagandist daily, ‘Kayhan’. Needless to say, his services were no longer required after the Iranian Revolution of 1979 and he sought refuge in the United States who had installed the Shah in the first place.

Since taking up residence in the USA, Taheri has authored a number of books and written columns for many prestigious newspapers, where his ‘Bomb Iran’ and general anti-Islamic opinions have made him a popular commentator in certain circles – a popularity seemingly undiminished by his reputation for fabricating false stories, distorting facts and citing nonexistent sources. One reviewer of his 1988 book ‘A Nest of Spies’ wrote that it is ‘the sort of book that gives contemporary history a bad name.’ Jonathan Schwarz, writing for Mother Jones, called Taheri ‘one of the strangest ingredients in America’s media soup.’ He went on to say, ‘There may not be anyone else who simply makes things up as regularly as he does with so few consequences.’

Just why the guy gets away with the nonsense he writes may be explained by his primary audience and his connections. According to Wikipedia, Taheri has a PR agent by the name of Eliana Benador whose company, now apparently defunct, was particularly active publishing the writings of leading neo-conservatives during the George W Bush presidency. According to Source Watch, Ms Benador hails from Peru, but lives in the United States and acts as a ‘sort of theatrical agent for experts on the Middle East and terrorism’. Many of her clients, it seems, are associated with the American Enterprise Institute for Public Policy Research (AEI), ‘an extremely influential, pro-business, conservative think tank which promotes the advancement of free enterprise capitalism, and succeeds in placing its people in influential governmental positions. It is the center base for many neo-conservatives’. Taheri himself has been associated with two Islamophobic organisations, the Gatestone Institute and the Hudson Institute, founded and funded by Sears Roebuck heiress Nina Rosenwald, a lady labelled the ‘Sugar Mama of Anti-Muslim Hate’ by journalist Max Blumenthal.

Well, on the subject of guys who have made themselves unpopular with their own governments seeking refuge elsewhere, it seems the United States operates a double standard. Probably, like me, you have been following the case of Edward Snowden, former contractor to the National Security Agency and CIA employee who made a name for himself by leaking details of top-secret US and British mass surveillance programmes to the press.

Most of the current media attention seems to be focused on US attempts to get Snowden back from Moscow where he has apparently been holed up in the airport for a couple of weeks. The guy has been applying to a number of countries for political asylum, but his task has been complicated by the fact that the US Government has revoked his passport, and used its diplomatic muscle to dissuade others from sheltering him. Bolivian President, Evo Morales was evidently suspected of sneaking Snowden out of Moscow on his private plane – which was forced to land in Vienna and be searched by authorities. France, Spain, Portugal and Austria denied bowing to US pressure in refusing passage through their airspace – but you’d have to wonder if they had their fingers crossed behind their backs.

Anyway, as of today, it seems that Venezuela and Nicaragua have offered asylum to the American whistle-blower, perhaps adding a third party to that interesting duo of Julian Assange and Kim Dotcom. Evidently the spirit of Hugo Chavez lives on in Venezuela – and clearly some states in South America continue to have misgivings about their large northern neighbour.

In the midst of all the excitement about whether US law enforcement agencies will be able to snatch Snowden or not, it is easy to lose sight of what all the fuss is actually about. Last month the Guardian and Washington Post newspapers published a series of articles containing revelations that the United States and UK governments were using high tech surveillance systems to spy or eavesdrop on supposedly friendly allies like France, Italy, Japan and South Korea. As a result, Germany’s Andrea Merkel and Turkey’s Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu have been seeking clarification from high-ups in the United States about the true nature of their friendship. I wish them luck. A White House spokesman announced that ‘The president assured the chancellor that the United States takes seriously the concerns of our European allies and partners’ – politician-speak for ‘Calm down, Angie baby, and don’t get your knickers in a twist!’

I hear what you’re saying, Angie
President Obama himself offered more honesty, if little consolation, ‘Every intelligence service, not just ours . . . is going to be trying to understand the world better and what’s going on in world capitals around the world from sources that aren’t available through the New York Times or NBC News’– president-speak for ‘Calm down, Angie baby, and don’t get your knickers in a twist!’
Well, when all’s said and done, we kind of knew that, didn’t we? That’s what spying’s all about, isn’t it? It has recently emerged that some delegates to the G20 conference in London in 2009, including Turkey’s Finance Minister Ahmet Şimşek and his delegation, had their phone calls and emails monitored by UK authorities. So far there has been no response from the British Government to official Turkish demands for an explanation.
In the end, as President Obama implied in his response to Chancellor Merkel, everybody’s doing it, and sometimes they get caught. There will be a bit of a fuss, some red faces, and then it’ll be back to business as usual. Nevertheless, there are two serious moral dilemmas that emerge. The first is the responsibility of an employee who learns that his or her employer is up to some skullduggery. The Nuremburg Trials after the Second World War established the principle that following orders is not a defense for crimes against humanity. So what should a guy like Snowden do when he sees his employer (the United States Government) carrying out actions that would outrage the international community?
The second is on a much larger scale and with far more serious implications. To what extent is a government justified in involving itself in the internal affairs of another sovereign state when it considers its own interests are threatened? When Iranian Prime Minister Mossadegh planned to nationalize his country’s oil industry in 1953, Britain persuaded the US to overthrow his government and reinstall the Shah. When Egypt nationalized the Suez Canal in 1956, Britain felt justified in sending troops – though this time the Americans didn’t play along.
For the United States, there are two crucial issues in the Middle East – oil supplies and the existence of Israel. Anything that threatens US interests here will provoke a strong response. In terms of preserving the status quo, in spite of all the rhetoric about democracy, it is much easier to deal with autocratic governments than with administrations answerable to the changeable will of the local people. We must hope that recent events in Turkey and Egypt are, in fact, expressions of popular sentiment in those countries, and not a result of cynical outside interference. In the final analysis, however, it may be merely a matter of how big you are and what you believe you can get away with.


7 thoughts on “Neo-con-spiracy: Egypt, Turkey and the spirit of true democracy

  1. Thanks, Alan. Well-written and insightful, as always. In spite of all that was going on in the world in the third week in June, we certainly were able to carve out a little space for celebrating and we are so grateful to all be able to be together. It was delightful for us as well. Ah, yes, the New York Post. Hardly in most of our minds a credible source for anything but as you say people do read it and believe it, just as they would think that what we read and listen to would not be credible to them. The distortions and untruths are so disturbing, as any distortions and untruths are, and there are plenty enough to go around. This is very reminiscent of the language used in the so-called “Ground Zero Mosque” brouhaha, which was peaking when we first met you in New York City. I have no good solutions to offer, just my own efforts to educate people when and where I can and to encourage people to educate themselves. I was pleasantly surprised that after the wedding one of our friends chose to listen to an audiobook so that she could learn more about Islam. I see that as the kind of positive step that people are encouraged to take when they have experiences meeting new people from different backgrounds. It's hard to get this to translate up into policy, however. As to Nina Rosenwald, I'll need to pay some attention to her and her activities. Interestingly, the original Rosenwald Foundation, founded by her grandfather or greatgrandfather, was one of the most progressive in terms of providing support for African American causes and was founded 'for the well-being of mankind.'
    I wonder what her ancestor would think of the work that she is doing now and how she is spending his money.
    Extremists of all kinds make it very difficult for the rest of us.

    Be well!

  2. The message in the end:
    1) Dont wear dirty knickers! Everyone will see them!
    2) Dont write anything in top secret memo that you wouldn't want your mother to read!
    3) It doesn't take being an investigative journalist to be an investigative journalist in 2013! Character assassination can only go so far when there is wikipedia available to oust ones dubious credentials.

    A great dissection of contemporary history. For the win!

  3. Hi Alan…thanks for the read. I'm going to let it rumble around in my head for a bit before I respond but you have given me many ideas I had not thought of. I really enjoy your writing. ~ Emily

  4. I do want to say though, that while there may be outside interference, I do not agree that the events which are happening in both Turkey and Egypt right now are a result of outside interference. I get the feeling here from people I talk to that the whole movement towards democracy is something they have embraced in a very 'Turkish' way and that many people are willing to accept and nurture it with all its complications and hypocricies. ~Emily

  5. Thanks for your comments, Margie. The best thing – maybe the only thing – is to let our little lights shine in our own little corners of the universe. Maybe some people will be prompted, as you say, so make their own researches rather than simply accepting the line fed to them by whoever is controlling the popular mass media.

  6. Thanks for the feedback. For sure, I love the WIKI WORLD we live in. It would have been pretty difficult to check these people out and expose their hidden agendas in earlier, pre-internet days!

  7. THanks, Emily, for taking the time to read the post and make a thoughtful reply. Certainly it's impossible to make accurate generalisations about Turks – and that goes too for the composition of the demonstrators in those protests in Taksim and elsewhere.

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