BERLIN — They lined up in motorcades, honking horns, waving flags. It was as if Turkey had just won the World Cup, except that Turkey isn't even in the tournament this year. Instead, these enthusiastically noisy German-Turks were fans of Recep Tayyip Erdogan, the just re-elected Turkish president who earned a particularly clear victory in Germany. Indeed, two-thirds of the Turks who cast their ballot in Germany did so for the Erdogan era to continue. But why?
If you take part in a motorcade, you need to have at least a presentable car. So it was not economic dissatisfaction that drove these German-Turks out onto the streets on Sunday evening. It was about identity, rather. About demonstrating their affiliation, which was also the case for many people in Turkey.
To many voters, the hoped-for cultural self-assertion was apparently more important than the rising price of onions.
Voters gave a narrow majority (just shy of 53%) to a man who, for some time, has proved unable to improve the country's economic situation. Sure, the economy is growing. But the country is struggling, at the same time, with high unemployment, growing debt and inflation. And then there's terrorism, a smoldering civil war in the south-east and a war in a crumbling bordering state, Syria, in which Turkey is now taking part.
There were, therefore, good reasons to vote out the man who has headed this country for 15 years — first as prime minister and, since 2014, as president — and who often looked listless and tired during the election campaign. His challengers, in contrast, appeared powerful and optimistic. And yet, Erdogan was able to count once again on the loyalty of his supporters. It wasn't so much pragmatic interests that tipped the scales, it was about cultural affiliations, about identity, about that specter that's circulating across the whole of Europe.
For his Justice and Development party (AKP) but above all for Erdogan himself — who fared better, in the presidential election, than his party, in the concurrent parliamentary elections — many people made their choice based on reasons older than the AKP or its leader. Their votes reflected far-reaching social imprints that have led to a national-conservative and religious majority. Within that are historical humiliations, particularly those suffered by devout Muslims at the hands of the secular elites who set the tone for decades.
Ballots in Essen, Germany — Photo: Rolf Vennenbernd/DPA/ZUMA
Erdogan's aura as a man of the people who has fought his way up from a young sesame-donut seller to head of state may be tarnished, but it still works. To many voters, the hoped-for cultural self-assertion was apparently more important than the rising price of onions.
Turks living in Germany were recently surrounded by debates on identity: Is Islam part of Germany? Should dual citizenship be taken away from Turks who vote for AKP? In the midst of these heated debates, many chose defiance — "You say we are not one of you? Then we choose the leader you despise the most."
But it certainly would be equally defiant to now write off Turkey. These elections have indeed also shown that there's a viable opposition there, one that put up an amazing fight in this campaign despite the most difficult conditions. In a few places, at least, it managed to crack the AKP's superiority. Muharrem Ince, Erdogan's most important challenger, achieved a respectable result, even if it wasn't enough in the end.
The opposition now denounces the election campaign as unfair, and they're right. The AKP's predominance in the media alone was enormous. On the other hand, the voters knew exactly what the vote was all about — more years of Erdogan or change. Ultimately, there are simply too many people who remain loyal to Erdogan because they see him as one of their own.
With the introduction of the presidential system, the Turkish president will be more powerful than ever. There was a time when Erdogan wanted the country to join the EU. Now, the first heads of state to congratulate are like a "Who's Who" list of leading autocrats: Hungary's Orban, Russia's Putin, Iran's Rouhani.
You could say Turkey has joined their ranks, except it hasn't really. Sure, it's more authoritarian than European countries, even though Hungary and Poland are doing a lot of catching up. But the situation is different outside Europe. In Egypt or Russia, for example, the presidential elections were pure showmanship. Nobody in these countries is ever eagerly awaiting election night. But that's not true for Turkey.
Voters knew exactly what the vote was all about — more years of Erdogan or change.
Turkey has always had a system that mixes democratic and authoritarian elements. The scales sometimes tipped one way, sometimes the other. Under Erdogan's leadership, the development towards an autocratic regime will continue. But this election has shown that the country has an amazing democratic resistance. In the midst of a state of emergency, a large number of people have shown that they want another Turkey. The path for the next few years seems to be mapped out already. But it's not irreversible.
Welcome to Wednesday, where chaos hits Syria, Brazilian president Jair Bolsonaro is accused of crimes against humanity and a social media giant plans to rebrand itself. For Spanish daily La Razon, reporter Paco Rodríguez takes us to the devastated town of Belchite, where visitors are reporting paranormal phenomenons.
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• Syrian violence erupts: Army shelling on residential areas of the rebel-held region of northwestern Syria killed 13 people, with school children among the victims. The attack occurred shortly after a bombing killed at least 14 military personnel in Damascus. In central Syria, a blast inside an ammunition depot kills five soldiers.
• Renewed Ethiopia air raids on capital of embattled Tigray region: Ethiopian federal government forces have launched its second air strike this week on the capital of the northern Tigray. The air raids mark a sharp escalation in the near-year-old conflict between the government forces and the Tigrayan People's Liberation Front (TPLF) that killed thousands and displaced over 2 million people.
• Bolsonaro accused of crimes against humanity: A leaked draft government report concludes that Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro should be charged with crimes against humanity, forging documents and incitement to crime, following his handling of the country's COVID-19 pandemic. The report blames Bolsonaro's administration for more than half of Brazil's 600,000 coronavirus deaths.
• Kidnappers in Haiti demand $17 million to free a missionary group: A Haitian gang that kidnapped 17 members of a Christian aid group, including five children, demanded $1million ransom per person. Most of those being held are Americans; one is Canadian.
• Putin bows out of COP26 in Glasgow: Russian President Vladimir Putin will not fly to Glasgow to attend the COP26 climate summit. A setback for host Britain's hopes of getting support from major powers for a more radical plan to tackle climate change.
• Queen Elizabeth II cancels trip over health concerns: The 95-year-old British monarch has cancelled a visit to Northern Ireland after she was advised by her doctors to rest for the next few days. Buckingham Palace assured the queen, who attended public events yesterday, was "in good spirits."• A new name for Facebook? According to a report by The Verge website, Mark Zuckerberg's social media giant is planning on changing the company's name next week, to reflect its focus on building the "metaverse," a virtual reality version of the internet.
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"Oil price rise causes earthquake," titles Portuguese daily Jornal I as surging demand coupled with supply shortage have driven oil prices to seven-year highs at more than $80 per barrel.
#️⃣ BY THE NUMBERS
For the first time women judges have been appointed to Egypt's State Council, one of the country's main judicial bodies. The council's chief judge, Mohammed Hossam el-Din, welcomed the 98 new judges in a celebratory event in Cairo. Since its inception in 1946, the State Council has been exclusively male and until now actively rejected female applicants.
📰 STORY OF THE DAY
Spanish civil war town now a paranormal attraction
Ghosts from Spain's murderous 1930s civil war are said to roam the ruins of Belchite outside Zaragoza. Tourists are intrigued and can book a special visit to the town, reports Paco Rodríguez in Madrid-based daily La Razon.
🏚️ Between August 24 and September 6, 1937, during the Spanish Civil War, more than 5,000 people died in 14 days of intense fighting in Belchite in north-eastern Spain, and the town was flattened. The fighting began on the outskirts and ended in house-to-house fighting. Almost half the town's 3,100 residents died in the struggle. The war annihilated centuries of village history. The town was never rebuilt, though a Pueblo Nuevo (or new town) was built by the old one.
😱 Belchite became an open-air museum of the horror of the civil war of 1936-39, which left 300,000 dead and wounds that have yet to heal or, for some today, mustn't. For many locals, the battle of Belchite has yet to end, judging by reports of paranormal incidents. Some insist they have heard the screams of falling soldiers, while others say the Count of Belchite wanders the streets, unable to find a resting place after his corpse was exhumed.
🎟️ Ordinary visitors have encountered unusual situations. Currently, you can only visit Belchite at set times every day, with prior booking. More daring visitors can also visit at 10 p.m. on weekends. Your ticket does not include a guaranteed paranormal experience, but many visitors insist strange things have happened to them. These include sudden changes of temperature or the strange feeling of being observed from a street corner or a window. Furthermore, such phenomena increase as evening falls, as if night brought the devastated town to life.
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We still cling to the past because back then we had security, which is the main thing that's missing in Libya today.
— Fethi al-Ahmar, an engineer living in the Libyan desert town Bani Walid, told AFP, as the country today marks the 10-year anniversary of the death of dictator Muammar Gaddafi. The leader who had reigned for 42 years over Libya was toppled in a revolt inspired by the Arab Spring uprisings and later killed by rebels. Some hope the presidential elections set in December can help the country turn the page on a decade of chaos and instability.
🇮🇷🎓 IN OTHER NEWS
Iran to offer Master's and PhD in morality enforcement
Iran will create new "master's and doctorate" programs to train state morality agents checking on people's public conduct and attire, according to several Persian-language news sources.
Mehran Samadi, a senior official of the Headquarters to Enjoin Virtues and Proscribe Vices (Amr-e be ma'ruf va nahy az monkar) said "anyone who wants to enjoin virtues must have the knowledge," the London-based broadcaster Iran International reported, citing reports from Iran.
The morality patrols, in force since the 1979 revolution, tend to focus mostly on young people and women, particularly the public appearance for the latter. Loose headscarves will send women straight to a police station, often in humiliating conditions. Five years ago, the regime announced a new force of some 7,000 additional agents checking on women's hijabs and other standards of dress and behavior.
Last week, for example, Tehran police revealed that they had "disciplined" agents who had been filmed forcefully shoving a girl into a van. Such incidents may increase under the new, conservative president, Ibrahim Raisi.
Speaking about the new academic discipline, Samadi said morals go "much further than headscarves and modesty," and those earning graduate degrees would teach agents "what the priorities are."
Iran's Islamic regime, under the guidance of Shia jurists, continuously fine tunes notions of "proper" conduct — and calibrates its own, interventionist authority. More recently the traffic police chief said women were not allowed to ride motorbikes, and "would be stopped," Prague-based Radio Farda reported.Days before, a cleric in the holy city of Qom in central Iran insisted that people must be vaccinated by a medic of the same sex "as often as possible," and if not, there should be no pictures of mixed-sex vaccinations.
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