Saturday,25 November, 2017
Current issue | Issue 1288, (24 - 30 March 2016)
Saturday,25 November, 2017
Issue 1288, (24 - 30 March 2016)

Ahram Weekly

Trading in refugees

Mixed fortunes characterised developments in Turkey this week, with Ahmet Davutoglu claiming as historic a deal struck with Europe in the context of the refugee crisis, contrasted with Saturday’s bombing in Istanbul that put again in question the capacity of the government to safeguard the country, writes Sayed Abdel-Meguid

Al-Ahram Weekly

Evidently, Ahmet Davutoglu is destined to be the man who makes history as he claims to have done again with the deal he struck with the EU this month. Although what actually took place was a few exchanges of pledges and a kind of retreat on the part of those wavering Europeans, the Turkish premier returned to Ankara with a triumphant swagger and boasted that he had just scored nothing less than a historical breakthrough and that with those record breaking numbers of illegal immigrants, Europe can’t do without Turkey. It is kismet.

The subtext was unmistakable. Get over your European chauvinism and anti-Turk racism, admit that you desperately need the country you once called the “Sick man of Europe”, and tell your politicians to get a move on with including Anatolia as an integral part of your civilisation.

Naturally, Turkey’s unparalleled free media were jubilant in an exuberant chorus, hailing the “unprecedented” and “historic” achievements their premier accomplished in Brussels. But unless that media and its leaders have a clearer vision into the future than us ordinary mortals, a certain fog of uncertainty hovers over those accomplishments, which are two:

1. The dropping of visa requirement for Turks wishing to enter the EU as of June;

2. A three billion Euro grant to Turkey to help it improve conditions for the approximately 2.7 million and climbing Syrian refugees in Turkey.

With regard to the first, as Davutoglu himself mentioned, 72 conditions have to be met for visa-free entry into the Schengen community. So far, Turkey met 37, leaving 35 more to go by the end of next month (April) in order for the agreement to go into effect. Curiously, many Turks are convinced that the Europeans will not fulfill their end of the bargain and that they will try to find a way to wriggle out of that part of the deal. After all, these people argue, the Europeans have made so many unfulfilled promises before, and today will say anything in order to get rid of those floods of immigrants that have suddenly appeared on their thresholds.

Davutoglu also appears to have forgotten the problem of those 35 hurdles Turkey has yet to surpass in order to open a new page in the complex and floundering accession negotiations. Above all, as German Chancellor Angela Merkel pointed out, the question of membership is not even being discussed at the moment. Then there is that problem of Cyprus which has threatened to undermine the agreement. No “new chapter” is going to open with Turkey as long as the four decade long Cyprus crisis remains unresolved, the Cypriot president vowed, referring to the Turkish invasion of the northern part of the island in 1974.

As for the three billion Euro grant, Ankara needs to fulfill a number of pledges here too. Moreover, this part of the landmark deal has been described by some in Turkey as very degrading. “Why don’t we offer to pay six million Euro to send the Syrian, Afghan and Pakistani refugees to Europe and see whether they’d agree!” protested Republican People’s Party (CHP) head Kemal Kilicdaroglu.

Other political figures concur and describe the deal that Davutoglu unveiled to the Turkish people as a sham a mirage behind which lies a dangerous trap that would ensnare their country. At the same time many could not help but to wonder whom in Turkey really stood to gain from the deal. Is it intended to further Erdogan’s design to transform the system of government into a “Turkish-style” presidential system that would officially consolidate his authoritarian powers? Certainly developments in Turkey are bringing that scheme closer to fruition faster than expected in light of demographic upheavals in the southeast where many families have been forced to flee incessant fighting that has lasted for seven months. Such shifts would definitely affect voting patterns if a referendum were to be held on a constitutional amendment soon.

So, too, would the new constituents that appear to be joining the Turkish electorate in increasing numbers. Would it not be an irony if Erdogan’s dream came true thanks to grateful votes from people who had been Syrian until recently?

In the midst of the pessimism one hears a kind of graveside humour. For example, some have likened Davutoglu to the wily merchant haggling with customers in the bazaar, only on this occasion the customer hoodwinked the merchant and the real loser is the Turkish people. This is only the tip of the criticism levelled against the “deal” in the supposed few remaining independent newspapers such as Cumhuriyet, Sözcü, Maydan and Aydinlik, which object to Turkey volunteering to serve as Europe’s border police. Some have also pointed out that the agreement violates the EU Charter of Human Rights and that it is inconsistent with European humanitarian values.

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