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Turkey

Why The Stakes Are So High For Erdogan In Istanbul

Turkey's president first burst on the scene in 1994 when he was elected mayor of Istanbul. Now, his party tries to hold the city.

Ballot boxes in Istanbul on March 31
Ballot boxes in Istanbul on March 31
Baris Doster

ISTANBUL — It has been 10 days since the municipal elections. There are still many objections to the vote counts nationwide from the ruling coalition of the Justice and Development Party (AKP) and their ally, the Nationalist Movement Party (MHP). The battle for the city of Istanbul being the biggest point of content, the vote of March 31 may turn into a point of contention for our nation's politics, sociology and history.

Procedures and institutions exist with the authority to deal with election results, questionable ballots, mistakes in records and objections from candidates. Yet, the prolonged waiting and debate on conventional and social media is increasing the tension. It appears clear that the objections of the government bloc are more likely to be accepted by the authorities than those of opposition parties. The uneven and unfair conditions we witnessed during the campaign continue after it's over.

Yet the true importance of this election goes beyond who will run the cities. This election showed that the opposition can defeat the government if they work hard and protect the ballots during counting. Ankara and Istanbul, the two largest cities of Turkey, have changed hands after 25 years, since the Felicity Party (or RP, of which the AKP splintered from) won in both cities in 1994.

AKP founders called themselves "a municipality movement."

Let us also not forget that the government itself has set the mood for the municipal election, saying they were as important as general elections. AKP has presented the election as a matter of survival for the country. They used all the unfair advantages of holding power and did everything possible to ensure victory. Naturally, a defeat under these conditions is far more troubling and demoralizing than losing a regular municipal election — and reactions from the government front show that. Likewise, the opposition has seen a huge boost in morale. If the AKP had not made this municipal elections a kind of nationwide referendum, the blowback of the results would not have arrived.

Erdogan election poster in Istanbul — Photo: Tanya Talaga/ZUMA

It is not the close margin between the mayoral candidates that puts Istanbul in the center of the post-election disputes. Beyond the historical, political and cultural importance, beyond its huge share of the Turkish economy, industrial production and tourism, Istanbul is strategically crucial for the political future of President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan and his party.

Turkey was introduced to Erdoğan when he has won the mayorship of Istanbul as the RP candidate in 1994. Many of the people with whom he founded the AKP in 2001 are his colleagues from the Istanbul municipality era. It was no coincidence that many AKP founders back then called themselves "a municipality movement," and this helps explain why they are objecting to the election results with such vigor, even calling for the city of Istanbul to be required to hold a re-vote.

The current post-election experience in Turkey is a reminder both of how important elections are for a democracy, but also how insufficient they become without justice, equality and rule of law.

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Geopolitics

Patronage Or Politics? What's Driving Qatar And Egypt Grand Rapprochement

For Cairo, Qatar had been part of an “axis of evil,” with anger directed at Al Jazeera, the main Qatari outlet, and others critical of Egypt after the Muslim Brotherhood ouster. But the vitriol is now gone, with the first ever visit by Egyptian President al-Sisi to Doha.

Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi met with the Emir of Qatar in June 2022 in Cairo

Beesan Kassab, Daniel O'Connell, Ehsan Salah, Hazem Tharwat and Najih Dawoud

For the first time since coming to power in 2014, President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi traveled to Doha last month on an official visit, a capstone in a steadily building rapprochement between the two countries in the last year.

Not long ago, however, the photo-op capturing the two heads of state smiling at one another in Doha would have seemed impossible. In the wake of the Armed Forces’ ouster of the Muslim Brotherhood government in 2013, Qatar and Egypt traded barbs.

In the lexicon of the intelligence-controlled Egyptian press landscape, Qatar had been part of an “axis of evil” working to undermine Egypt’s stability. Al Jazeera, the main Qatari outlet, was banned from Egypt, but, from its social media accounts and television broadcast, it regularly published salacious and insulting details about the Egyptian administration.

But all of that vitriol is now gone.

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