Turkish Protests Show Signs of Calm

Posted: Jun 06, 2013 12:01 AM

Pakistan: President Zardari will administer the oath of office to Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif at 0800 EDT on Wednesday, 5 June.

At the Supreme Court. A three-member bench headed by Chief Justice Chaudhry and comprising Justice Ijaz Ahmed Chaudhry and Justice Gulzar Ahmed resumed hearing a petition filed by the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz which charged that the caretaker government was unlawfully transferring and posting senior civil servants to provincial civil service positions.

The Court issued an order that suspended such transfers and postings. It sent notices to the secretaries (the top civil servants) of the Establishment, Law and Health ministries and to the principal secretary to the prime minister, directing them to submit a complete list of such actions on the next hearing date, which is 6 June.

Comment: The outgoing caretaker prime minister, 84 year old Mir Hazar Khan Khoso, was the nominee of the former Pakistan People's Party government and is a retired Supreme Court Justice. He was selected by the Election Commission.

The responsibilities of the caretaker prime minister are limited to keeping the government functioning and conducting free and fair general elections. Khoso did a creditable job in overseeing the elections but took on the additional task of filling vacancies in the senior civil service - more than 100 of them -- and of letting new government contracts.

He appeared to be trying to break logjams left by the outgoing government, but his actions exceeded the authority of the caretaker prime minister. The new government has a simple majority and will govern without a coalition. It will have the ability to make appointments as it sees fit. Khoso has not explained why his appointments could not wait another few days for the new government to take charge.

The Court is enforcing the rule of law, just as Chief Justice Chaudhry promised.

Turkey: With Prime Minister Erdogan in North Africa, Deputy Prime Minister Bulent Arinc agreed to meet with the organizers of the protests in Gezi Park in Istanbul. Arinc apologized to protestors that were injured by the police crackdown against the initial demonstrations and said police have been ordered not to use tear gas except in self-defense.

Arinc called the initial protests against development in Gezi Park "legitimate and patriotic," but asked Turks to avoid letting "marginal and illegal groups" degrade the protestors' demands. Arinc thanked Turkey's opposition parties for their "calming attitudes" regarding the protests.

Comment: Arinc thanked the main opposition parties because their leaders yesterday and today called on the protestors to channel their demands through elections, instead of civil disorder.

The protests have not ended, but the Deputy Prime Minister's intervention succeeded in calming conditions. It was an appropriate reflexive reaction to the initial complaint. An appropriate reflexive reaction is one in which the response to a complaint addresses the substance of the complaint.

Egypt was a textbook example of what goes awry when response and complaint mismatch. In Egypt the initial complaints were about economic conditions -- high prices, shortages of food and gasoline, and joblessness. The Mubarak government chose to interpret economic protests as challenges to political authority. Many long time authoritarian leaders instinctively react in that fashion and it always results in a crackdown that escalates a protest to a crisis.

Mubarak ordered the notoriously brutal Egyptian police to crack down. The leaders in Tunis and in Tripoli, Libya, and in Yemen for a while, reacted the same way.

Erdogan was on that path for four days. The Turkish police crackdown on the environmentalists was incongruent and ineffective. It was an underreaction that was accelerating an escalatory spiral, manifest by the union strike announcement.

The spiral would have worsened but for the intervention of the Deputy Prime Minister whose approach was to refocus on the issue of the park, not the direction of the government. Arinc's statement on 4 June was smooth and conciliatory.

It is too soon to determine whether the calm will last, but Arinc's approach is the only way to get in front of the protests and defuse them. His approach restores the focus on the initial dispute; enables the government to test the depth and breadth of support for the initial complaint; buys time to craft interim and longer term solutions and enables it to identify ringers and agents provocateurs. It also keeps news services from exploring larger policy issues, such as police brutality, Erdogan's personality and authoritarian manner, and the Islamist drift of the government during the past ten years.

For Arinc's approach to have lasting effect, the government must be seen as making some genuine policy changes that match the grievances. For example, the government could make a statement that it will make no changes to the Park and will reconsider the development plan with a view to finding more environmentally friendly alternatives.

That would put the burden of making the next appropriate reflexive response on the protestors. If they chose to riot again, a crackdown then would be seen as justified by both the government party and the opposition, based on statements made by leaders today.

That might seem to some as making a concession to lawlessness, but keeping Gezi Park intact in Istanbul would be a small price to pay to stay in power. Erdogan made a misstep, but the Justice and Development Party seems to have the resources and acumen to recover. That is not good news for secularists.

Unions. Turkey's Confederation of Progressive Trade Unions will join an ongoing public sector labor strike on 5 June. Members of the union will stop working, gather at the union's building in Istanbul and move to Taksim Square, the site of ongoing anti-government demonstrations. Another labor union, the Confederation of Public Sector Trade Unions, went on strike at noon local time on 4 June.

Comment: Two of Turkey's four major unions are showing solidarity with the protestors. The unions are potential ringers in the scenario outlined above. Their grievances against the government are very serious and extend far beyond preserving a park. Their impact on the situation will depend on the turnout at Taksim Square and how the security forces handle themselves.

Syria: Update. More than 4,000 Hizballah members have entered the city of Aleppo, a spokesman for the rebel Free Syrian Army said on 4 June. The Hizballah fighters are stationed at a military academy and preparing to attack Aleppo, the spokesperson said.

Comment: The military school is on the outskirts of Aleppo and is located in a neighborhood that the government still controls. The three recent visitors to Aleppo - described as Middle East experts - said they were told by the rebels that the military academy would be one of the staging bases for forthcoming government operations in Aleppo.

Lebanon: Update. Six people were killed in Tripoli overnight 3 June in clashes between supporters of Syrian President Asad and fighters who support Syrian rebels.

Mali: Malian soldiers are en route to Kidal, in the north, an army spokesman said June 4, to establish a Malian military presence in the town. Touareg fighters, who worked with French forces to oust the jihadists two months ago, warned the Malians against trying to enter Kidal.

"If we are attacked, it will be the end of negotiations and we will fight to the end," said Mahamadou Djeri Maiga, vice president for the minority Touaregs' National Movement for the Liberation of Azawad (MNLA), which currently controls Kidal.

Meanwhile, a suicide bomber detonated himself in Kidal, but only managed to kill himself.

Comment: The MNLA Touaregs cooperated with the Islamist militants and jihadists in March as way of achieving their goal of secession or at least greater autonomy from Bamako. The jihadists had other plans and turned on the MNLA fighters.

The French enlisted the aid of the Touaregs because there were no other local forces for holding the territory French combat forces recovered. The French side-stepped the autonomy issue but left the Touaregs in charge in Kidal, rather than get caught in the middle of the longstanding north-south struggle.

The Touaregs are intolerant of southern Malians for many reasons, including differences in culture, life style and skin color. The Malian government has accused them of ethnic cleansing, forcibly expelling dozens of southern Malians from Kidal over the weekend. It insists that a Malian army presence is not negotiable.

Limited clashes are probably unavoidable, but the suicide bombing is a reminder that the jihadists pose the larger, persistent, long term threat.

End of NightWatch


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