20 March 2016

Where is Turkey Going?

The short answer is "to hell in a hand basket" especially after the most recent suicide bombing in Istanbul.

The long answer has the same destination but a more complicated path.

First, let me give you a snapshot of the current situation.

There is a civil war going on in its Southeast region where hundreds maybe thousands of Kurdish civilians were killed by government troops which have been acting like an invading army. Reportedly, they bomb civilian areas indiscriminately. They impose prolonged curfews and have snipers shoot those who venture out. They let the wounded die and the dead rot on the street.



Every time the curfew is lifted, thousands leave their town in search of a safe haven. Their eventual return is made very difficult by carpet bombing which destroy their homes and their belongings. In their new location they are left with nothing but bitterness and a deep hatred towards what they perceive as a callous Turkish state and a largely indifferent Turkish civil society.

The PKK, which helped Erdogan win a second snap election by inexplicably breaking its long held cease fire after a hung Parliament last June, continues its highly destructive campaign of terror. In the last two months, it (technically a splinter group called TAK) sent two suicide bombers to Ankara killing scores of people and wounding and traumatizing many more.

These tactics were so stupid and counter-productive from a Kurdish perspective that some commentators wondered whether PKK was a stooge of Turkish authorities.

Governance is also a serious problem. Ever since Erdogan became the first President elected by popular vote in 2014, the country has had two executive branches. After his victory, Erdogan announced that there was now a de facto presidential system. An executive presidency on top of a British style parliamentary system means that the President is now the leader of both the executive and legislative branches.

The current Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu tried to argue that he was the head of government and Erdogan was the head of state but Erdogan simply ignored him and continued to run the place as if a constitutional change had been enacted.

In fact, one could say that Erdogan has also become the head of the judiciary. Since December 2013, he removed all judges and prosecutors who were not in line with his various positions. We are not talking about a few appointments, it is a massive purge involving thousands of judges, prosecutors and police officers.

Almost weekly Erdogan directs prosecutors to charge specific journalists, academicians and dissenters. And almost always, they comply.

Moreover, recently, when the Supreme Court released two journalists who were charged with espionage (on the say so of Erdogan) for reporting on weapons the Turkish Intelligence Agency (MIT) sent to ISIS, the President said that he did not respect the decision and did not see the need to abide by it.

And for good measure, he threatened to abolish the Supreme Court.

I am sure both Victor "illiberal democracy" Orban and Jarosław Kaczyński are deeply envious.

Not surprisingly, there is no freedom of the press left. As soon as an important incident takes place and journalists begin reporting, the government issues a publication ban. If a scandal is uncovered, Twitter and Facebook are immediately blocked to prevent its dissemination.

Most papers are either openly pro-government and print outright falsehoods or they are very careful not to print anything that might offend Erdogan. The remaining few opposition outlets are raided routinely, accused of supporting terrorism and placed under the tutelage of pro-government trustees.

The latest practice is to refuse accreditation to foreign journalists. Besides Der Spiegel journalist (who had to be escorted to the airport by a German diplomat as he feared an attack), a total of eight foreign correspondents, including those working for Die Welt, Frankfurter Allgemeine and Norwegian Aftenposten have recently been forced to leave the country.

Turkish foreign policy is in shambles. Its cynical Syria policy of protecting Pipelineistan by protecting ISIS was blocked by Putin. Turkey has serious problems with every country in the region other than Qatar and perhaps Saudi Arabia (as they disagree on Egypt and Muslim Brotherhood).

Besides all its neighbors, the Turkish government has managed to simultaneously antagonize the US, European Union and Russia. Which is a remarkable feat in and of itself.

Finally, the economy is in a free fall. The Russian sanctions affected many sectors. The hardest hit was the tourism and hospitality industries. Anecdotal evidence suggests that most hotels in Antalya (a destination favored by Russians) are for sale. Bookings are significantly down in other cities following suicide bombings. Exports plunged to their lowest level in five years.

The question is why all of this happened.

Ostensibly, it was to accommodate the ambitions of one person, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, a modern day Nero figure fiddling with his mobile phone while Rome is burning.

Eastern Rome, that is.

But, as you can imagine, there is more to it than that.

Erdogan's Strategery

It is a truism that Erdogan wants to be President. And perhaps also Sultan and Caliph. But it is more than a personal ambition. He desperately needs to insulate himself and the immense wealth he accumulated from domestic and international prosecution.

Domestically, he is exceptionally well placed to achieve his goals.

His constituency is composed of a core group of pious Muslims, a fluid coalition of Small and Medium Enterprise (SME) owners and mid-level and senior corporate managers who are afraid of economic turmoil post-AKP period might entail, single issue ultra-nationalists who are convinced that Turkey would disintegrate if Kurdish threat was not addressed, urban poor whose status improved significantly under AKP rule and generally conservative people who are suspicious of change and of people who ask for it.

When prodded with fear-inducing rhetoric, like internal and external enemies lurking in the shadows, these groups coalesce and provide him with comfortable majorities.

The core Muslim group will back him up no matter what. It is not just because they adore him: they are too afraid of the backlash that will almost certainly be the hallmark of a post Erdogan period. They are petrified that they will lose everything they gained and then some.

The small business owners and corporate managers are convinced that none of the opposition parties can manage the economy. So, they see AKP as the only option for their economic prosperity.

The nationalists view Erdogan as the only leader who can put the Kurds in their place and destroy their demands for more rights and some form of autonomy.

On top of all that there is the fact that, the main opposition party, the CHP has a substantial nationalist fraction. While its members would not vote for Erdogan ordinarily, they might consider it if the so called "Kurdish threat" reached a certain level.

Like suicide bombings all over the place.

So Erdogan's demonizing "terrorists" discourse against Kurds and his harsh military tactics targeting civilians make a lot of political sense.

Besides garnering the support of these disparate groups, it also places the pro-Kurdish party HDP into a defensive posture. HDP cannot openly criticize PKK as this latter is viewed as the defender of Kurds by the majority of Kurdish people, which is also HDP's basic constituency. Consequently, to denounce them as terrorist sympathizers is a child's play for Erdogan.

In that vein, he has already directed the Parliament to lift the legislative immunity of some HDP MPs. When that happens, prosecutors appointed by Erdogan will charge them with aiding and abetting terrorism and put them in jail.

You can guess the rest of the scenario: with the current military campaign pushing Kurds out of the Southeast, the composition of the electorate is rapidly changing. To ensure an even better result, Erdogan is urging Syrian refugees to settle in predominantly Kurdish towns. And he began offering citizenship to some Syrians. Observers expect them to become a major political force in the next electoral cycle.

If HDP is removed from Parliament, Erdogan will be able to call early elections. It is almost certain that HDP would be unable to pass the 10 percent threshold this time and with "terrorists" battle cry unifying Sunni Turks against a common enemy, Erdogan might finally get the super majority he craves.

And that would give him the Presidency. And the Sultanate and the Caliphate.

That is his road map.

Can anyone stop him?

That is a question for my next post.

08 March 2016

Ray Tomlinson Was One of My Heroes

If you are not a geek, you probably said "Ray who"?

Ray Tomlinson, who passed away yesterday, was the inventor of the ubiquitous email.

He wrote its protocol (SMTP), developed the first email program (SNDMSG) and perhaps most importantly, grabbed the seldom used @ key to denote the address.

Although email is the most popular application of all time by a huge margin, Tomlinson never made a dime.

And that is why he was one of my heroes. Not because he didn't make money off of his invention but because he proved that the patent trolls' argument is rubbish.

You see, conservatives always maintain that Intellectual Property (IP) needs to be protected and very richly remunerated because otherwise nobody would bother with inventing things.

I always counter this with the argument that, well protected IP, far from being a motivator, is usually a hindrance to further progress.

Do you remember CompuServe or AOL? They were known as walled gardens. If Internet was not a public utility, we would still be in those gardens. And we would have a fraction of the current Internet content.

And we would be paying dearly for the privilege.

Bil Gates became a multibillionnaire by licensing to IBM a program developed by a guy named Tim Paterson and in the process his company Microsoft blocked most PC-related inventions for over a decade.

Ray Tomlinson invented a new method of communication and gave it to the world with a smile.

We need more Tomlinsons.