An Unusually Well-Informed Talking Head


Arabic: A language with too many armies and navies?

For those who revel in linguistic diversity, this is all good fun. For those who want languages in general to “behave”, and for those in particular who want Arabic to be a single, graspable thing, this is a mess. For the language learner, it’s a daunting task. To be competent in “Arabic” means to learn one language to read and write, and a related but rather different language (like Latin and then Italian) to be able to speak. On top of that, the poor foreigner will be limited to understanding only a fraction of the Arab world. Speaking of the decline of pan-Arabism, it’s likely that the inability of Arabs to move around the region, speak naturally and be easily understood is a big reason they do not always feel themselves to be one

The full article is here.

Liberating Social Media for the Oppressed Masses Vs. The Big Brother, Big Data Super-State

BBC Newsnight’s Paul Mason:

“But,” one politics professor told me, “most of the complaints were from people aged over 35. The youth don’t watch TV, and in any case they have never believed what’s on the news.”

Social media makes it possible to organise protests fast, to react to repression fast, and to wage a quite successful propaganda war that makes the mainstream media and the spin machines of governments look foolish.

At the same time, it encourages a relatively “horizontal” structure to the protests themselves. Taksim Square in Istanbul was rare for having a 60-strong organising group; the protests in Sao Paulo have followed the more general pattern of several organising groups and an amorphous network of people who simply choose themselves where to turn up, what to write on their banners, and what to do.

Vs. Daron Acemoğlu and James Robinson:

The recent revelations about the PRISM program of the National Security Agency, showing huge amounts of secret data collection from nine major Internet services and metadata from phone calls show an insatiable appetite for information from the US state and government agencies — ostensibly to stop terrorist attacks, but perhaps for much more.

Looked at from this perspective, another possibility also arises: if this nascent Big State will increasingly try to dominate and control information in the age of Big Data, then it will also tend to take a hard-line attitude against anybody challenging its ability to collect and control this information. If so, perhaps the shock-and-awe attacks by persecutors and agencies against whistle-blowers and rival peddlers of information, such as Julian Assange, Bradley Manning, Aaron Swartz and Edward Snowden, shouldn’t be a surprise.


What’s Eating Turkey?

To Kalnoky we owe a curious fact. The present crisis in Turkey really began a month ago, when the main square of a town called Reyhanli, on the Syrian border, was badly bombed — 50 killed. No one took responsibility. The Turkish government at once blamed the Syrian one, and arrested some dozen people without obvious evidence. It then laid down a ban on reporting, and to this day what happened is not clear. It is not obviously in the Syrian government’s interest to provoke further trouble with Turkey; on the other hand, it is indeed in the rebels’ interest, since they are now losing. As it happens, a left-wing organisation called Redhack was able to read the Turkish police records, and found that Turkish intelligence knew in advance of the bomb plot and warned the local authorities, to no effect. Everyone assumes that the Erdogan government banned news reports because it wanted to conceal this. Its involvement in the Syrian civil war is very widely condemned — I have not met a single defender of it — and it has obviously gone off the tracks. What is very odd about the present demonstrations in central Istanbul is that the names of the 50 dead at Reyhanli were pinned to separate trees in the little park where the demonstrations started. Erdogan gets the blame for that bombing because of his failed Syria policy.

The full article is here.

Just how ripe for revolution is Turkey?

Turkey’s diversified, innovative base of industry, construction, and services serves it well in a world in which market opportunities are shifting from the United States and Western Europe to Africa, Eastern Europe, the Middle East, and Asia. Turkey has been deft in seizing these new opportunities, with exports increasingly headed south and east to the emerging economies, rather than west to high-income markets. This trend will continue, as Africa and Asia become robust markets for Turkey’s construction firms, information technology, and green innovations.

So, how did Turkey do it? Most important, Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan and his economics team, led by Deputy Prime Minister Ali Babacan, have stuck to basics and looked to the long term. Erdoğan came to power in 2003, after years of short-term instability and banking crises. The International Monetary Fund had been called in for an emergency rescue. Step by step, the Erdoğan-Babacan strategy was to rebuild the banking sector, get the budget under control, and invest heavily and consistently where it counts: infrastructure, education, health, and technology.

Smart diplomacy has also helped. Turkey has remained a staunchly moderate voice in a region of extremes. It has kept an open door and balanced diplomacy (to the extent possible) with the major powers in its neighborhood. This has helped Turkey not only to maintain its own internal balance, but also to win markets and keep friends without the heavy baggage and risks of divisive geopolitics.

The full article is here.

This fits with what I saw in Turkey when I travelled through the country a couple of years ago, and with pretty much everything else I’ve heard and read about the place over the last decade. Then again, people were saying similar things about the miraculous Irish and Spanish economic models a few years ago, and most of that turned out to be very wrong indeed.

Pawel Morski: “Turkey: Some Stuff Isn’t Very Similar to Other Stuff”

For Once, really It’s Not That Simple. Trying to ram Turkish turbulence into the Arab Spring paradigm, or the “It’s All Kicking Off” paradigm, or Orange Revolution, or Sweden obscures more than it reveals. Even “more Moscow than Cairo” which makes a certain amount of sense to me needs to be qualified by the fact that I know sod all about what’s really motivating people in Istanbul and Ankara. As ever, people struggling for greater democracy would be wise not to rely on too much help from markets.

The full article is here.

The Arabist: It’s not the trees, or even the economy – it’s the AKP

Alternatively translated as “[w]e could drown you in a spoon of water, but luckily for you we believe in democracy.” But the award for the most tone-deaf, people-who-live-in-glass-houses-shouldn’t-throw-stones response to the protests, though, must go to the Syrian government minister who reportedly said that “we advise Erdogan to quit if he is unable to control the protest.”

The full article is here.