If you believe the polls, we could be witnessing the beginning of the end of Islamist dominance in Egypt. Two new surveys suggest Egyptians are losing patience with the Muslim Brotherhood and President Mohamed Morsy.
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Way back during Iran's 2009 presidential election, Twitter was a tool wielded by the guerrilla protest movement. Supporters of the Green Movement used the micro-blogging site to overcome hostility from official media, organize protests against what they saw as a rigged vote, and rally international and domestic support for their cause.
But as Iranians go to the polls today, Twitter has gone mainstream. Accounts trumpet the views of even the most conservative presidential hopefuls -- though it is not clear if they are run by campaign staffers or the candidates' supporters. Whatever the case, it's clear no part of the Iranian political spectrum denies the organizational power of social media.
@DrSaeedJalili touts the views of the Iranian nuclear negotiator who is believed to be one of the candidates closest to Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei. But despite Jalili's reputation as the establishment's man, the account isn't shy about picking fights with Iranian government institutions. "#Iran state TV is apparently taking political side while getting funds from public treasury," it tweeted yesterday.
The dark horse candidate in this election is Hassan Rouhani, a cleric who appears to have won the support of Green Movement activists. According to at least one poll conducted recently, he even enjoys a double-digit lead over the nearest contender. @HassanRouhani, meanwhile, has touted his surging popularity in recent days, trying to drum up support from voters who may otherwise stay home. The account has taken to pulling positive quotes about the candidate from international media, including this one from the Guardian: "Wherever Rouhani speaks there's a frenzy."
But the most powerful Iranian tweep isn't one of the candidates -- it's Ayatollah Ali Khamenei. From @khamenei_ir, the supreme leader has listed the qualities that he's looking for in Iran's next president. Iran's next president must be as concerned with remote villages as the capital, must "fight against corruption and poverty," and "shouldn't be willing to acquire an international position [by] flattering the West."
Who knows what technology will work its way into Iran by the 2017 presidential campaign. We may even see activists spreading news using Google Glass -- sanctions permitting, of course.
Old friends make the worst enemies. As Turkish security forces used tear gas and water cannons in an attempt to clear Istanbul's Taksim Square of protesters last night, Syria's state media reacted with a tone approaching glee.
The official Syrian Arab News Agency (SANA) argued that Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan was enlisting the help of his Islamist allies to withstand the country's wave of demonstrations. "Being his Muslim Brotherhood partner, [Qatar-based cleric Yusuf] al-Qaradawi issued a fatwa prohibiting protests against Erdogan to protect the latter from the wrath on the Turkish streets," SANA reported. "Like al-Qaradawi and his devilish fatwas against the Syrian people, Erdogan is involved in the bloodshed in Syria."
Since the beginning of the protests, the Syrian government and state media have had some fun with their denunciations of Erdogan, a previously close ally of President Bashar al-Assad. The Syrian Foreign Ministry issued a travel warning for Turkey, cautioning that "the violence practiced by Erdogan's government against peaceful protesters" could put Syrians at risk. And SANA reported that the Syrian information minister had called on the Turkish prime minister to "respect the will of his people and leave for Doha."
These condemnations of Erdogan may seem like pure schadenfreude -- a way to tweak Ankara for its long support of the Syrian revolt. But there also seems to be a deeper purpose at work here: The coverage marks an attempt to blur the distinction between the events in Turkey, where three people have died, and those in Syria, where more than 80,000 people have been killed since the beginning of the uprising.
Both the Syrian regime's travel warning and suggestion that Erdogan leave for Qatar mimic previous statements that the Turkish government has directed at Damascus. But the Syrian state media's descriptions of Erdogan's statements also bear a striking resemblance to how Assad has described the unrest in Syria. The Turkish prime minister is quoted as saying he will not let a "minority" impose conditions on the "majority," and will "defend the public areas and institutions." Meanwhile, SANA notes that Erdogan described the protests as stemming from "an internal and external conspiracy" -- the same language that Assad uses to explain the instability in his country.
The Syrian state media's purpose here is not to justify Erdogan's actions -- on the contrary, it editorialized that the premier's description of a conspiracy "showed hypocrisy and double standard." Rather, it is to create an equivalence between the events in Syria and Turkey, thereby minimizing Assad's brutality and exaggerating Erdogan's excesses.
As SANA wrote on June 9, while reporting on a solidarity protest organized by Syrians in France for the Turkish opposition, the protesters "expressed rejection of the ... double-standard policy of the Turkish Justice and Development Party which brags about supporting democracy and freedom of the peoples while the recent events in Turkey exposed the falsity of its allegations."
Events in Turkey are bad. Happily, however, they are not as bad as Damascus would have you believe.
OZAN KOSE/AFP/Getty Images
Recep Tayyip Erdogan has declared war on Twitter. The Turkish premier has laid blame for the protests currently rocking his country at the feet of the popular microblogging site, referring to it as a "menace" and a "scourge" that has spread lies about events in his country. And the Turkish police have followed his lead: Authorities have arrested dozens of social media users for spreading "false information" about the demonstrations, while the police are reportedly scrutinizing 200,000 "fake" Twitter accounts.
A crackdown on media is nothing new in Erdogan's Turkey (or under previous Turkish governments, for that matter). Turkey is currently the world's leading jailer of journalists, beating out such strong competition as Iran and China. Perhaps even more pernicious is the media's financial dependence on political patrons: For example, the pro-government newspaper Sabah, which is owned by a holding company run by Erdogan's son-in-law, ran a front page praising the prime minister for his anti-smoking campaign on the first, tumultuous day of protests.
An enterprising group of young university students have stepped in to fill this information gap -- and disprove Erdogan's dark warnings about social media. Under the moniker 140journos (for the number of characters in a tweet), they have long undermined the state's tight grip on information -- reporting on everything from Kurdish activism to gay rights issues. Since the beginning of the protests, the team told FP that they have been working 20 hours a day, creating a streaming timeline of the most important events in the country.
"Credible or not, social media has been the only [news] source until now," 140journos told FP. "Interaction has been immense.... One of the good aspects of the protests is that the news delivered on social media has been legitimized for many people. A lot of people have created Twitter accounts to get notified right away."
The team acknowledged that social media had been far from perfect. Twitter users, trying to incite outrage at the Turkish government response, have spread rumors that authorities were using the infamous Vietnam War-era herbicide Agent Orange on protesters, and passed off videos of police brutality elsewhere as occurring in Turkey. 140journos sees its job as cutting through the disinformation, using a network of trusted volunteers on the ground to verify the information that comes their way.
The mainstream media's failure has helped fuel the growth of Turkish citizen journalism. The 140journos team castigated the media's "shameful silence" on the protests, saying that its corporate owners were skewing the coverage for political purposes. Twitter and Facebook have also proved more adept at capturing the spirit of the protests: "Social platforms carried the mutual sense of humor of the protesters," the team explained. "Humor has been a motivational reinforcement in spite of [protesters'] nervousness of the state and police."
In line with that spirit, 140journos' most popular tweet since the beginning of the protests doesn't show a massive protest or police brutality. Rather, the team said it was a viewpoint even less likely to appear in mainstream Turkish media: The image shows a television smashed on the street of the Istanbul neighborhood of Besiktas, which had been thrown by a Turkish man who shouted, "I'm sick of the lies of this!"
Read a transcript of the interview with the 140journos team after the break. It has been condensed and edited.
When Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan gave a speech in Washington two weeks ago, he didn't dwell on the crisis in Syria or the Middle East peace process. Instead, he wanted to talk about a construction project: His government had recently inked a $29 billion deal to build Istanbul's third airport. It would be able to handle 100 million passengers a year, he boasted, potentially making it the largest in the world.
"Turkey's not talking about the world now," Erdogan told the Brookings Institution, while an entourage of businessmen who made the trip with him to Washington looked on. "The world is talking about Turkey."
Listening to the Turkish premier, you never would have guessed that environmentalists had long bemoaned the ecological costs of the project, while urban planners worried that it could make the city's already severe traffic problem even worse.
Turkey's runaway economic growth, while undeniably impressive, also helps explain why citizens erupted in protest throughout the country this weekend. The spark for the demonstrations, which police tried to put down with massive tear gas use, was the local government's decision to turn Gezi Park -- a rare oasis of green in the center of Istanbul -- into a replica of an Ottoman-era barracks and a shopping mall. The Taksim Platform, a group of local citizens, had long called for revisions to the project to accommodate residents. But until the demonstrations on Friday, officials in Erdogan's party had pushed forward the project by decree, with little public discussion of their plans.
It's an old story in Turkey. A five-minute walk from Gezi Park lies Tarlabasi, a working class neighborhood that has long been home to those who live on the city's margins - a century ago, it was Greek, Jewish, and Armenian craftsmen; today, it is members of the Kurdish minority who migrated there to escape the bloody insurgency in Turkey's southeast. True to form, Erdogan's government soon stepped in to build a better Tarlabasi: As Piotr Zalewski wrote for FP, it used an eminent domain law to lay claim to much of the area, empowering a private development company to transform it into an upscale neighborhood of luxury apartment buildings and shopping malls. While Tarlabasi was declared an "urban renewal area" in 2006, residents did not learn about the planned demolition of their houses until 2008.
For Istanbulites opposed to Erdogan, the prime minister is not only remaking their city without consulting them -- he is empowering a new clique of businessmen beholden to him. The company that won the contract to rebuild Tarlabasi is owned by Calik Holding, whose CEO is Erdogan's son-in-law. The symbiotic relationship between businessmen and politicians appears alive and well in Erdogan's Turkey.
A half hour's drive north of Gezi Park lies the foundation for the Yavuz Sultan Selim bridge, connecting the European and Asian sides of Istanbul. While Erdogan once referred to a previous government's plans to build a third bridge as "a murder," complaining that it would amount to "massacring the remaining green areas" of the city, he has since adopted the massive infrastructure project as his own. Environmentalists worried that the bridge's construction would require cutting down 2.5 million trees and planners suggested it would generate urban sprawl -- but Turkey's Parliament nonetheless passed a bill authorizing the project to move forward without the approval of planning authorities. Even the bridge's name has provoked controversy: While many Sunni Turks honor Yavuz Sultan Selim as a conquering Ottoman Sultan, Alevis remember him as a leader who massacred members of their minority community.
Such controversial infrastructure projects are not confined to Istanbul. Writing in FP last year, Anna Louie Sussman described how Erdogan's government was using "urban renewal" efforts to implement its conservative social agenda in the capital of Ankara. Specifically, it has targeted the city's sex trade, which has long been regulated by the state -- directing the police to go after prostitutes on spurious charges, and tearing down brothels to construct upscale new neighborhoods.
To be sure, Turkey's eye-popping economic growth is a source of strength for Erdogan -- the prime minister never misses an opportunity to mention that GDP has more than tripled on his watch. And the protesters' complaints are not limited to urban development gone wrong: Many took to the streets to voice their discontent with what they view as the prime minister's imperious style, his slow-motion Islamization of the country, and the brutality of the police force. What Turkey has witnessed this weekend is the convergence of all these grievances in Gezi Park.
Dan Drezner, call your office. A new Israeli horror film, Cannon Fodder, depicts the tribulations of an IDF commando team that enters south Lebanon -- only to discover their problem isn't Hezbollah, but marauding zombie hordes.
To make a not particularly long but certainly confusing story short, the Israeli commandos and the Lebanese paramilitary organization join forces in order to combat the zombie menace. Along the way, there are people beheading zombies with swords, a man on fire, and no shortage of puns about the real-life Mideast conflict. As the preview intones: "In a region infected by war ... where bad blood consumes all hopes for peace ... the fight for borders has lost its meaning."
There is a long history of Israeli filmmakers using Lebanon as a backdrop for self-criticism: Lebanon, Beaufort, and Waltz With Bashir all grappled with the moral and political consequences of Israel's long occupation of the country. Cannon Fodder, it seems, uses Israel's northern neighbor to ask a slightly less relevant question: Could a zombie invasion bring peace to the Middle East? Sure, why not.
(hat tip to Tablet Magazine for bringing Cannon Fodder to our attention)
Yesterday, pictures began to emerge (warning: graphic) on pro-Assad sites allegedly showing an American woman killed in Syria. They also showed what appeared to be the woman's driver's license, identifying her as Nicole Lynn Mansfield from Flint, Michigan.
Members of Mansfield's family confirmed her death last night, saying FBI agents had visited to inquire about her. Her aunt told the Detroit Free Press that Mansfield, who was born a Baptist, had married an Arab immigrant to the United States several years ago, and subsequently converted to Islam. The couple eventually divorced, but Mansfield remained a Muslim and, at one point, concerned her family by setting off for Dubai. "She had a heart of gold, but she was weak-minded," her grandmother said. "I think she could have been brainwashed."
Up until 10 weeks ago, a user named Nicole Mansfield -- who gave her hometown as Flint, Michigan, and described herself as a Muslim -- was active on Pinterest. Of her 13 followers, several of them are converts to Islam from Michigan. The description the account user offers for herself reads: "Self determined, yet confused o_O"
There is not a hint of Islamist extremism in the Pinterest account -- many of the pictures are simply cute images of puppies staring at fish, seahorses, and sleeping kittens. One of the images jokingly appropriates a quote from the horror film The Exorcist -- "the power of Christ compels you!" -- to which the account user added "lool."
The pictures under the tag "Islam" are mostly stock images showing the holy city of Mecca; a crowd of worshipers gathered around the Kaaba, one of the holiest sites in Islam; and Istanbul's famed Hagia Sophia. Another image simply carries the message: "Keep smiling, it's Sunnah [good Islamic practice]."
Other pictures represent an homage to Flint, Michigan. One image celebrates the "Coney dog" -- a Michigan variation of the chili dog -- available at the Flint restaurant of Angelo's. Another shows a hot dog, with the caveat "ewww pork!" In recognition of Michigan's battered economy, one image shows graffiti that reads: "God help save us Flint."
The Pinterest account may be an interesting visual account of Mansfield's interests, but it cannot answer the central question being asked about her today: Why would she suddenly leave the United States to join the Syrian revolt? To solve that mystery, we're going to need more than a scattered set of photographs.
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