One particularly troubling aspect of Turkey’s own “War on Terror” is the way that it has targeted a wide range of individuals with no record of violence. Virtually anyone critical of the government may be arrested.
A recent speech by Interior Minister, İdris Naim Şahin, made clear that terrorism includes “[writing] poems or short articles [which] demoralize the soldiers or police” and that terrorist cells can include “a university chair, an association, or a non-governmental organization” in “Istanbul, Izmir, Bursa, Germany, London, wherever…”
This rhetoric reflects an ugly reality: thousands of individuals have been arrested, with most held in lengthy pre-trial detentions. Most are not accused of violence and none have the right to challenge evidence in advance of their trial.
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One of the frustrations of talking about the Turkish Republic right now is that so much is going on, in so many different directions, that it can be hard to decide what issues to address. In particular, the tremendous gap between its increasingly important role in the world seems inconsistent with increased repression at home and has made it tough for journalists to address both simultaneously.
Much of the talk is about Turkey’s new “soft power.” Turkish culture is becoming more influential, with a booming economy and a dynamic film and television industry that has found a tremendous following among its neighbors in both the Balkans and the Middle East. In the past few years it has become an important regional player and is widely seen as a potential model for democratic movements in the wider Middle East.
The Turkish government was a vocal critic of repression in Libya and Egypt and has been at the forefront of efforts to curb the on-going repression in Syria. While its voice has been selective (Turkey supported Ahmadinejad during the Green Revolution in Iran in 2009 and has been notably reticent in its criticism of Bahrain this past year), it deserves credit for the support it has given to democratic forces this past year.
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How do you know when it’s election season in Egypt? The arrests mount up.
In what has become a regular pre-election ritual, Egyptian police and security officials have arrested more than 150 members of the Muslim Brotherhood since the group announced that it will participate in Nov. 29 parliamentary elections. More than 70 members were arrested just in the past few days.
It’s not just the Muslim Brothers feeling the crackdown. In the past few weeks, other political opponents have been detained, including Gamila Ismail, wife of Ayman Nour, a former leader of the El Ghad party who was convicted and sentenced to jail after being the first runner-up in the 2005 presidential campaign. Ismail was released after being detained.
The pre-election arrests follow the pattern established in previous parliamentary and presidential elections, with the Muslim Brothers often taking the greatest brunt of the crackdown. But if the arrests no longer surprise, the Egyptian government’s contempt for the basic premises of free and fair elections still brings outrage.
“If the forthcoming elections are to be fair and credible, the Egyptian government must ensure that they are conducted on a ‘level playing field’ and uphold the rights to freedom of association of all candidates and their supporters,” said Malcolm Smart, Amnesty International’s director for the Middle East and North Africa. (The complete Amnesty International statement can be found here.)
The arrests come at the same time that a ruling party official provided the strongest indication that Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak will run for re-election in presidential race scheduled for 2011. If the 82-year-old Mubarak runs again, the crackdown for this year’s parliamentary election has the potential to be a tune-up for a harsher effort next year.
What will the world’s response be? In past years, allied governments have looked the other way as the Mubarak government has crackdown on election opponents. These crackdowns make a mockery of the electoral process and the idea that the people should be free to elect their representatives. If the world continues to be a silent audience, and is a mere onlooker to the injustices being committed in Egypt it will have betrayed the values of human equality and dignity that are at the core of all human rights.