Middle East

Where The Fuck Is Turkey Going?

With a seemingly endless war going on in Syria, Arab states slowly coming apart, terrorist cells continuously operating and economic as well as military interests from countries like Russia and America, the Middle East has become a complicated and turbulent region.

While the role of the world’s greatest hegemonies inside the Middle East seems clear, there are regional powers whose presence is often underestimated or forgotten.

So, with a strained relationship with the Unites States and failed negotiations to form part of the European Union, what is Turkey’s international and regional role?

“Every decision Turkey makes, even the ones that affect the international sphere, are related to their domestic policies.” Agustín Berea a Middle East specialist said in an interview with RISE NEWS. “Everything Tayyip Erdoğan does is for his public and his public is the Turkish people.”

In a developing country where the society is divided between those in favor of business and liberalism and those who are much more conservative and traditionalist, Tayyip Erdoğan came in as a reformist, progressist and with strong ties with the conservative sectors of the Turkish society.

In the beginning of Erdoğan’s mandate, talks about joining the European Union were strong.


READ MORE: Why Turkey Should Be Removed From NATO

However, such discourses have gradually faded over time.

Historical issues, such as the occupation of Cyprus, and the recent violation of human rights, as well as the authoritarian government, have been enough to declare that Turkey does not reach the standards to form part of the union.

Although the Republic of Turkey was founded with the objective of having a legitimacy based on secularity and laicism, the Turkish society remains strongly attached to its religious basis.

“Demographically, there’s a lot more people who identify themselves with the East than with the West. Geographically, the part of Turkey located in Europe and the Mediterranean, although highly populated, represents a minority,” Berea said.

Not only that, but the agenda of Turkish president Tayyip Erdoğan does not tie with the agenda of other international actors such as Russia and the United States.

A market in Istanbul. Photo Credit: Pedro Szekely/ Flickr (CC By 2.0)

“His main goal is to solve internal conflicts,” Berea said.

The inability to tie Turkish interests with those of other countries has resulted in strained relationships with the American president Donald Trump and the Russian president Vladimir Putin.

Moreover, it has also resulted in the breaking of diplomatic relations with the Iranian president Hasán Rouhani.

While Erdoğan’s ability to project his influence at an international level is questionable, with one of the world’s largest and most powerful armies, Turkey’s regional power is undeniable.

“Turkey cannot reach just any part of the world. However, its mobility and ability to effectively achieve its goals within the Middle East are higher than the one of countries like Russia or even the United States,” Berea said.

These goals include neutralizing the threat of ISIS within Turkish borders, the liberation of the city of Raqqa, and toppling the Assad regime. However, this would require more time, planning, and manpower than the one Turkey currently has in Syria.

This year, as early as February, former prohibitions considered to be secularization measures, such as the banning of the of Islamic veil and religious demonstrations, have been lifted. This has led many to believe that Turkey is no longer the champion of secularism.

“Muslim sectors are much closer to the government and it would seem like Turkey’s regional allies are projects that align with the agenda of political Islam,” Berea said.

Turkey is not the only nation of the Middle East that seems to be going back to projects and governments based on the Muslim religion.

READ MORE: Kicking Turkey Out Of NATO Would Be A Massive Mistake

“Countries in the Middle East have experienced with secular governance models and it is the opinion of many that such projects have not worked so far,” Berea explained.

Iran, Syria and Egypt are some of the countries that have experienced with these secular governance models.

Recep Tayyip Erdoğan.

The idea of going back to a caliphate comes from these failed projects of democratic nations and the people in the Middle East want to go back to a moment in which society and political structures worked better.

Could we expect Tayyip Erdoğan’s government to fail or to be toppled by a revolution in Turkey?

“The only way that there could be a successful coup against Erdoğan is if he openly spoke about religious structures within the state. This is unthinkable for the Turkish army,” Berea said.

Although political leaders have known how to handle their differences and act with moderation, the future of the Middle East is now more uncertain than ever.

With so many international actors involved in a small region, the situation seems to be bound to escalate to major proportions.

“My fear about Trump is that he may not know how to handle himself in moments of tension,” Berea said.

While conflict is possible, it doesn’t seem likely yet.

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RISE NEWS is a grassroots journalism news organization that is working to change the way young people become informed and engaged in the world. You can write for us.

Cover Photo Credit: Charles Dunst/ RISE NEWS


Should We Let The Nation-State Die In The Middle East?

When you look at a map of the Middle East today, what you are seeing is something artificial.

The borders that define these states were not drawn up by local or regional leaders, but instead by Britain and France following World War One.

In an agreement known as the Sykes-Picot System, these borders, often made with little regard for ethno-religious differences, forced the creation of internally fragmented states with groups often in opposition to one another forced to live side by side.

Many have argued that these artificial boundaries and the European imposed version of the nation-state have been flashpoints of conflict within the region for decades, most recently embodied by the Syrian Civil War.

What would happen then if we allowed some of these artificially constructed states to simply dissolve and be replaced by smaller versions formed along ethnic lines?

Is that something that should be done, and could it usher in the peace and stability that so many long for?

Reality meets the map

There are currently several ethnically charged independence movements at play in the Middle East, the most widely known is that of the Kurds.

The Kurds are the third largest ethnic group in the world without a state and are split up among Turkey, Syria, Iran, and Iraq where they maintain a high degree of autonomy, even issuing their own visas for example.

Other groups fighting for greater autonomy and self-governance include the Balochs in Pakistan, the Berbers in Northern Africa, and the Palestinians along the West Bank, who have yet to be official recognized as a state by the UN.

Aside from independence movements, ethnic conflict within the Middle East also takes the form of internal power struggles.

This is the case in Syria where the conflict is sectarian in nature, but doesn’t resemble a genuine effort toward greater autonomy or self-governance among the individual groups fighting.

A map of the Middle East from 1925. Photo Credit: Gabriel/ Flickr (CC By 2.0)

Instead, it’s multiple groups vying for power over one another within a defined system; the Alawite minority led by Syrian dictator Bashar al-Assad fighting Sunni factions and the western backed Free Syrian Army for control of the country.

Given the widespread nature of these conflicts, it seems that the idea of a secular European style nation-state being able to keep the peace among various groups has failed to achieve any sort of meaningful stability.

It may be the case that this system simply does not work when applied outside of Europe.

With the last hundred years dominated by civil wars from Lebanon, to Syria, to Yemen, and Iraq, and with insurgencies in Palestine, Turkey, and Afghanistan, the nation-state system is one that lends itself to either outright failure or harsh authoritarianism to maintain order.

States in the Middle East can now be classified into two groups, those that have through strong authoritarianism been able adapt to the artificial structure, and those that have descended into sectarian violence.

The nations of Egypt, Iran, Saudi Arabia, and Jordan represent Middle Eastern nations that have, though a dense power structure, incorporated elements of the local culture and religion to build up a sense of national identity that transcends tribal relations.

This was made easy in these regions by the fact that the ethnic division were far less apparent than what we see in Syria or Iraq.

In Egypt and Iran for example, both regions have a strong majority ethnic group, Egyptian and Persian, with a rich history to build off.

In Syria and Iraq, the opposite is true.

The countries could be split almost evenly.

Here, there is no dominate group that embodies the region, and thus, attempts to mimic the authoritarianism that has seen some success elsewhere, has only divulged into a near continual cycle of violence.

British Red Arrows fly over Kuwait City in 2013. Photo Credit: Defence Images/ Flickr (CC By 2.0)

In these instances, if we want to see an end to conflict, the old borders must be done away with.

We must abandon the old notion of the nation-state as we know it in the Middle East as it has caused widespread death and destruction.

Instead, we should allow smaller states along ethnic lines to spring up and establish a form of governance that fits with their culture.

Until this is achieved, we will continue to see civil wars and insurgencies throughout the region.

The Syrian Civil War has dragged on now for six years, but the Kurds have been in conflict with Turkey for 38 years, and Boloch nationalists in Pakistan have been fighting for independence now since the 1940s!

Conflicts like these won’t end until these ethnic groups are granted their own states.

It is imperative that the West support efforts to see these false states properly re-envisioned and cease polices of reluctance.

In order for such a transition to what many have called “The New Middle East” to take place, there must be a paradigm shift, both in the Middle East and the West.

The idea of the Kurds being granted independence or the resolution of the ISIS problem are both major events that could trigger such a rethinking of the current structure.

If these events were to happen, and we began to see more efforts to divide the old Middle Eastern States into new smaller ones, what then would be the consequences?

The transition would likely follow a similar progression to what we’ve seen in Europe.

Present day Europe with NATO and the EU is all buddy-buddy now, but it didn’t happen overnight or without conflict.

The Netherlands had to fight Spain, Ireland fought Britain, Greece broke off from the Ottomans, Austria-Hungary split up, the Soviet Union collapsed, and Yugoslavia became seven different states.

Oh and there were scores of conflicts that spanned the continent and the centuries.

The lasting peace that Europe has been able to achieve following the resolution of these ethnically based conflicts has not come without a price and the Middle East will likely follow a similar progression should the map be redrawn.

The old order won’t simply give up power, and the prospect of new states raises question for existing ones.

Hundreds of thousands of people have been killed in the Syrian Civil War because of Assad’s refusal to give up power. Photo Credit: Beshr Abdulhadi/ Flickr (CC By 2.0)

The formation of Kurdistan, which is looking increasingly possible given the support they’ve received in the fight against ISIS and the weakened state of Iraq, will certainly make Turkey nervous.

Will the 15 million ethnic Kurds living in Eastern Anatolia simply pack up their bags and leave their homes for the new nation, or will they be inspired to redouble efforts at independence within Turkey?

These are questions the Turkish government must ask itself and construct policy around.

This is the area where the West can take on a crucial role in the transition.

Western nations can help aid the development of a new Middle East by working to reduce the severity of conflicts that may arise, providing diplomatic support to the new nations, applying pressure to old ones, curbing human rights abuses, and respecting the right of self-determination.

As a leading cause of the current situation, Western nations maintain an obligation to aid the region in such ways.

Currently, major Western powers, such as the U.S., France, and Great Britain, remain reluctant to see the Middle East broken up, instead continuing to support failing governments and interfering with local politics.

Given the amount of influence they maintain in the region, this must change to make the possibility of new states surviving on their own a reality.

The damage of imperialism has definitely been done, and it will take a long time to reverse it.

What is certain though is that the Middle East must change.

It is time for the old structure to be cast off and re-envisioned in a way that takes into account the sheer diversity of the region and addresses the causes of sectarian violence.

Cover Photo Credit: NASA Goddard Space Flight Center/ Flickr (CC By 2.0)

Is The Sun Setting On The Egyptian-American Alliance?

Since the Camp David Accords of 1979, Egypt has been the second largest recipient of US foreign aid contributions, and became one of the first Major Non NATO Allies (MNNA) of the United States in 1989.

However, events including but not limited to: the Arab Spring, increasing economic and military cooperation with Russia, and two years of withheld aid to Egypt, have caused some to question the relationship between Cairo and Washington.

Following the ousting of Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak in 2011, things changed dramatically in the country.

Following the ousting of Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak in 2011, things changed dramatically in the country.

Instability was the on rise and several incidents finally culminated on September 11th 2012, when a large group of men illegally entered and vandalized the American Embassy in Cairo.

Two days later, President Obama claimed that he did not consider Egypt an ally.

Relations between the two countries reached their lowest since 1973 when the United States suspended some of its aid to Egypt in 2013.

This was due to the removal of President Mohammed Morsi and his Muslim Brotherhood led government in a military coup that was sanctioned by now President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi.


Egyptian President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi at the Paris Climate Conference in late 2015. Photo Credit: UNclimatechange/ Flickr (CC By 2.0)

The withheld aid, the biggest ticket item being the final few parts of a delivery of 20 F-16s, was eventually released in 2015. However, military deliveries to Egypt merely slowed in the two years of frosty relations, and included MIM-72C Chaparral Surface to Air Missiles (SAMs), and M-88 Armored Recovery Vehicles (ARVs), according to SIPRI data sets. Other non military aid also continued.

Despite the relative brevity of this souring of relations between Egypt and the United States, Moscow has made moves to capitalize. Several agreements between Egypt and Russia regarding development of an industrial zone in the Suez, coordination of financial sectors, and tourism were agreed upon on February 3.

In 2015, Russian and Egyptian naval units conducted their first joint training exercises, and joint exercises between the Russian VDV and their Egyptian counterparts are expected to occur later this year. It is not clear whether Egypt’s 46 shiny new KA-52s will be taking part in any of these exercises.

Despite these data points that may alarm casual US planners, a few exercises and weapon sales do not make a trend.

Despite these data points that may alarm casual US planners, a few exercises and weapon sales do not make a trend.

The 1973 Yom Kippur War marked the end of Soviet influence in the Middle East, and the United States has been solidifying its influence in the region since the Carter Administration.

Certain geopolitical realities have developed, and become ingrained in the region that make breaking the alliance between Egypt and the United States difficult.

The first is the Egypt-Israel Peace forged in the Camp David Accords in 1978.

The Suez canal as it looked in 1980, a year after the signing of the Camp David Accords. The canal is an important economic driver for Egypt and was at the center of a recently signed agreement between Egypt and Russia. Photo Credit: NeilHotson/ Flickr (CC By 2.0)

The Suez canal as it looked in 1980, a year after the signing of the Camp David Accords. The canal is an important economic driver for Egypt and was at the center of a recently signed agreement between Egypt and Russia. Photo Credit: NeilHotson/ Flickr (CC By 2.0)

Relations between the two countries are fairly strong, to the point that Israel okayed a large scale Egyptian army deployment to the Sinai peninsula, which requires the approval of the Israeli government as per the Camp David Accords.

As Egypt and Israel are the two largest recipients of American aid, they are predisposed to cooperate with each other and the Americans.

Another strike against the doomsayers, is the existing world order is not conducive to abandoning the West and embracing the Russians as an alternative, unless forced to do so.

If the Soviet Union at the height of its power in the 1970s and 1980s could not dislodge American influence, then the best an economically strained Russia can hope for is to be the proverbial “me too” for Cairo.

This is particularly true since it is not in the interests of the United States to be at odds with one of the most strategically and economically critical nations on Earth.

Maintaining open access to the Suez Canal is Egypt’s trump card over any American planners who might wish to divert their interest from Egypt for one reason or another.

As such, it seems unlikely that the already repairing rift between Washington and Egypt will spiral out of control.

RISE NEWS is a grassroots journalism news organization that is working to change the way young people become informed and engaged in public affairs. Anyone can write for you us as long as you are fiercely interested in making the world a better place. 

Cover Photo Credit: Prince Roy/Flickr (CC by 2.0)

Tunisia: Once The Hope Of Arab Democracy, Is Facing Tough Problems

On Monday morning, the Tunisian government shortened the curfew imposed last Tuesday, saying the security situation had stabilised. The North African state has witnessed a tumultuous 10 days. On January 14, Ridha Yahyaoui, a young man from Kasserine, a small town in the country’s interior, committed suicide – by electrocuting himself – in desperation over his… Read More

Could Gay Rights Rip Apart Netanyahu’s Conservative Government?

On Dec. 28th, 2015, the first openly gay member of the ruling Likud party, and the third ever in Israel, was sworn into the Knesset (Israeli Parliament).

Amir Ohana took office, following former Member of Knesset (MK) Silvan Shalom’s resignation after Shalom, the then Interior Minister faced a barrage of sexual harassment complaints.

Ohana will take over as Interior Minister, replacing Shalom.

Noticeably absent from the 120 member parliament were 13 members of Israel’s right wing coalition, of which Likud chairs. All of the absentees were from the Shas and the United Torah Judaism (UTJ) parties.

UTJ admits that Ohana’s potential advocacy for the LGBT community led to their boycott of his swearing in, while Shas claimed ignorance of the event altogether.

Regardless of whether Shas is feigning ignorance to save face, this demonstrates one of the peculiar cleavages in the Likud led Israeli coalition.

Regardless of whether Shas is feigning ignorance to save face, this demonstrates one of the peculiar cleavages in the Likud led Israeli coalition.

Both Shas and UTJ are Orthodox Jewish parties, and thus inclined to hold more socially conservative positions than the secular Likud party.

Navigating between the secular and religious movements in the Israeli Right presents a strong problem for the coalition.

One such instance includes UTJ leaving the 1999 coalition  due to a turbine delivery on the Sabbath.

Israeli Knesset Building. Photo Credit: Chris Yunker/ Flickr (CC By 2.0)

Israeli Knesset Building. Photo Credit: Chris Yunker/ Flickr (CC By 2.0)

These cleavages further present themselves in discussion of the Palestinian residents of Israel, and Palestinian Administered regions.

While UTJ trends against expansion of the Israeli state to encompass the West Bank and Gaza, Naftali Bennett of the Jewish Home Party (another right wing partner in Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s coalition government) and the current minister of Education and Diaspora Affairs has inserted himself in several controversies related to the Palestinian question, including claiming there is “no problem” with killing Arabs, and banning a book from school curriculums about a pair of lovers separated by the Israel Palestine conflict.

This new exposure brought about by the swearing in of Ohana of these cleavages only reveal longstanding issues between various religious and Zionist flavors in the conservative coalition.

While this show of disrespect to the Likud party may be an isolated incident, Netanyahu ought to take care not to allow these instances, or growing instability in the PA, to break up his narrow majority in Knesset.

RISE NEWS is a grassroots journalism news organization that is working to change the way young people become informed and engaged in public affairs. Anyone can write for you us as long as you are fiercely interested in making the world a better place. 

Cover Photo Credit: Nadav Shushu Siman Tov‎/Facebook

Israeli Soldier Kills Palestinian Woman In West Bank

A 19 year old Palestinian woman was shot and killed by a Israeli solider on the eve of Rosh Hashanah in Hebron, a city in the West Bank.

The Israeli Defense Force announced the shooting via Twitter.

According to multiple media reports, Hadeel al-Hashlamun was a student but it is unclear what exactly led to the shooting- although Israeli officials say that al-Hashlamun was trying to stab a soldier.

The shooting comes on the heels of a failed terrorist attack a few hours earlier in Hebron.

From Reuters:

“A Palestinian militant died when a bomb he was trying to throw at Israeli forces blew up near the West Bank city of Hebron overnight, officials from both sides said on Tuesday, as tension mounted on the eve of the Jewish Yom Kippur fast day.”

Watch: A video showing the aftermath of the shooting of Hadeel al-Hashlamun.

This is a developing story. 

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Cover Photo Credit: Youth Against Settlements/ Facebook

White House Promises Increased Support In Europe Refugee Crisis

By Zoe Fowler

President Obama and his administration announced on Thursday that the U.S. will be accepting at least 10,000 Syrian refugees seeking asylum over the course of the next year.

Josh Earnest, The White House Press Secretary, said the U.S. gave $4 billion to humanitarian aid organizations to support efforts of the refugee crisis in Europe but “Obama has decided that admitting more Syrian refugees would help boost the US response,” according to The Guardian.

Secretary of State John Kerry said at a closed-door meeting on Capitol Hill that the total of Syrian refugees admitted could increase from 70,000 to more than 100,000, according to The New York Times. However, officials said not all of 30,000 of refugees would include Syrians.

The resettlement of Syrian refugees in the U.S. won’t be immediate. The State Department said in a statement last week that the process could take up to 18 to 24 months for the Department of Homeland Security to decide if a refugee is eligible to resettle in the U.S.

The reaction to the U.S. accepting Syrian refugees has been mixed. GOP presidential candidate Marco Rubio said he doesn’t oppose the U.S. welcoming refugees, but caution needs to be taken into effect.

“We’d always be concerned that within the overwhelming number of the people seeking refugee, someone with a terrorist background could also sneak in,” Rubio said at a town hall meeting last week in Charleston.

Republican presidential contender Donald Trump who has advocated for tougher immigration laws said the refugee crisis is a humanitarian issue that needs to be dealt with.

“It’s a serious problem,” Trump told FOX News. “We haven’t seen anything like it since the second world war, and it’s getting worse and worse.”

Meanwhile today, British Prime Minister David Cameron was in Lebanon and Jordan where he toured camps built for displaced Syrian refugees.

Like this piece? Rise News just launched a few weeks ago and is only getting started. Follow us on Facebook and Twitter to stay up to date with global news.

Photo Credit: Freedom House/Flickr (CC By 2.0)

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