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Erdogan’s Turkish Delights

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There is only one president being capable to be at the same time offensive, out of line and arrogant, as well as needed and constantly courted. No, it is not Putin, as he has followers and admirers, but the Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan.

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Nationwide protests against his policies in May 2013, led to police crackdown resulting in 22 deaths and the stalling of EU membership negotiations. Following a split with long-time ally Fethullah Gulen, Erdogan tried to curb judicial power and started purges against Gulen’s sympathisers. His figure is subject of different views: a populist president, an Islamic reactionary trying to end secular power in Turkey, an opportunist and arrogant politician trying to exploit Islamic religion and conservatory policies to cover corruption, a future despot, etc.

In reality Erdogan is all and none of that, surely is a skilled and ruthless politician who exploit the confusion and lack of direction that Turkey, the EU, and the world face in these turbulent years. However, what strikes more is the ability to stay afloat and find renewed interest around his figure despite the continuous diplomatic faux-pas and international outcry. It is undeniable that Turkey under Erdogan acquired a new status and returned to the spotlight as a key player in the international scenario.

Hungarian Empire to annex the Balkans. The French were interested only in keeping the North African colonies and put a foot into Middle East, while the Prussians were becoming the latest power stepping into the colonial scenario, and saw in the Empire an ally to counterbalance Britain. The Italians took away Tripolitania and Cyrenaica (Libya).

WWI, the imperialist war, brought to an end the life of the “sick man”, relegating Turkey to the actual position in the Anatolian Peninsula. With Kemal Ataturk, Turkey became a republic, and started a growth that put the country back into international spotlight after WWII, when the Cold War inevitably saw Turkey being at the centre of the competition between East and West, and not only for its geographical position.

Nevertheless, 20th Century Turkey was different from the Ottoman Empire, it was not a “sick man”, instead becoming a strong military ally of the US, a member of NATO, a powerful republic dominated by an army ready to intervene to stop any sliding towards socialism. The US and the Soviet Union regarded Turkey as their border, and any action in Anatolia was to be counterbalance elsewhere.

Today’s Turkey is something similar to the 20th Century status, but with a striking difference: today can flirt with any power, break with them, harass and humiliating them, and still be considered important and crucial for the geopolitical equilibrium. In few words, Turkey is a country that every power would prefer to avoid dealing with, but have to in order to avoid that someone else will step in. A love-hate relationship where Ankara has only to gain rather to lose, if not partially.

Back to President Erdogan, he has the merit to fully understand this new position acquired by Turkey, and he is milking it with no shame nor politeness. Few years back, what the EU had with Turkey was just a dialogue on access to the Union, on which the EU felt always stronger thanks to two main arguments: the death penalty and Cyprus status. The first was the anti-thesis of the Union Treaty and the second a remnant of the past century to be solved, as it also involved a member. That strong position has now been lost and Erdogan has been the first and most skilled in exploit the new scenario, created by the reckless US policy in Middle East.

The Syrian conflict destabilized the Middle East in the last few years, put Turkey back in the map and among the key players. Erdogan put his tactics at work in wooing and blackmailing every single power. At first, he was a strong US ally, as per tradition, siding for a change of regime in Damascus, threatening military intervention to protect Turkmen, but in reality was looking at the opportunity to wipe out the PKK Kurdish rebellion. In this position, he even followed the Obama’s administration in a strong anti-Russian policy, despite Turkey had strong economic ties with Moscow.

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With the EU, he patiently used the open door policy on migration by letting millions of refugees into Europe through Greece and Bulgaria, and then blackmailing Bruxelles in renegotiating future access and obtaining financial support to face the humanitarian disaster. This first phase, however, was short lived, as Turkey committed a serious mistake: shot down a Russian MiG over the Syria-Turkey border. To the joy of the Americans (saw in it a point of no return in the relation between Ankara and Moscow), and to the embarrassment of Erdogan, Moscow adopted sanctions that hit Turkey very hard, as well as making clear remarks on avoiding future military actions by Ankara.

Nevertheless, when everyone was looking at a Turkey now in a straight and narrow, Erdogan restarted silently his contacts with Putin, started to adopt a low profile in the Syrian crisis, and especially mounted a strong campaign against EU. To this shift contributed the fact the Turkey suddenly found itself dragged into a spiral of violence, between the PKK and IS attacks, benefitting by EU open door policy to which Ankara at first agreed. The time for a new shift was coming, and was accelerated by the July 2016 coup. This military attempt resulted in an opportunity for Erdogan to change once again Turkey’s position on the international scenario. While Erdogan accused the US of supporting the coup by financing the Gulen Movement, considered a terrorist organization led by his former ally Fethullah Gulen, who lives now in Pennsylvania, United States, the EU and US accused Erdogan of staging a coup or using the coup to legitimate repression and extending his power. Whatever the reality, Erdogan used the coup to reset his international ties and officially opening his rapprochement with Putin. Turkey entered in Moscow sponsored peace talks, to which even the Iranian were invited and who never had idyllic relations with Ankara.

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Erdogan’s erratic policies this time led to a war of words with the US over the extradition of Gulen, by irritating Washington for holding military talks over Syria with Putin, and by starting a series of accusations to his old friend in the EU. He accused Germany to use “Nazi practices” and the Netherlands to be a “Nazi remnants”, leading to a serious diplomatic row.

However, regardless of how irritating or arrogant could be, Erdogan continue to be sought by every single power to change alliance, to join again the western friends, while Russia tries to keep on its side as no Syrian solution can be achieved without Turkey’s participation. Between US sponsored intervention or Russian sponsored neutrality, Erdogan is enjoying a wealth of opportunities to obtain the most from all: silence on Cyprus, access to the EU, economic ties with Russia, military support from the US. To obtain this he uses the migrants issue, the US sponsored coup, the Russian relation with Iran, strong words against some European countries where Turkish expats resides.

In this Erdogan achieved what the Ottoman Sultans never did: be a power not for spoliation but for building a new world order where Turkey is at the centre stage. Only gullible and short-sighted politicians could not see that without Turkey any plan to solve the Syrian conflict, whether American or Russian sponsored, will be ineffective. Unfortunately for them, Turkey’s price is high and the presidents and prime ministers of many countries will have to digest more Erdogan’s Turkish Delights, although very different for the famous ones, to achieve their dreams.

Written by Matteo Figus

14/04/2017 at 19:32

Here We Go Again: Syrian Deja Vu

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The recent escalation in Syria, with the US attacking for the first time directly the Syrian territory, has taken many by surprise and confusion. To some commentators, is the sign of the unpredictability of Donald Trump, for others the continuous with a policy always directed to the change of regimes, for others more is the sign of end of Assad regime.

What is more striking, however, is the parallelism with the Iraqi War and its build up, as well as the confirmation of the “emotional diplomacy”, which affects mainly the West and its allies. There are no easy responses, or solutions, although an objective analysis requires to try to see the events with all eyes and minds in Washington, Moscow, Damascus, London, Bruxelles, Tehran, Beijing and Pyongyang.

All started with an attack, still not proven or completely investigated, on which a likely chemical substance (or more than one) has been used against the rebel-held town of Khan Sheikhoun in north-western Syria. On one side, the US and its allies accused the Damascus regime, on the other, Moscow and its allies talked about “involuntary chemical use” or accuses rebel fighting groups.

The bottom line in this terrible story, where more than 80 people have been killed, is that no one has a shred of proof or started a formal investigation to establish the exact causes. On this it is like  going back to the initial stages on the Syrian war, when the western countries were taking every single excuse to put  foot on Syrian ground. At the same time it is a deja vu of the Iraqi WMD fiasco, when not only proof was nonexistent but even fabricated.

Nevertheless, we cannot deny that Syria is home to a huge chemical arsenal, that under the US-Russia agreement should have been secured and stocked for dismantling. This amount, not known, added to the security on the ground difficult to establish, surely jeopardized any attempt to clear the area: Damascus has still chemical weapons? Yes. Have the rebels access to weapons following occupation of some areas? Yes. Has ISIL access to chemical weapons? Yes.

Under these conditions, it could be true that Damascus used prohibited substances, as well as it is likely that rebels bombarded the wrong area or ISIL used them against civilians. International Law and diplomacy have for decades worked on the same assumption of civil and penal justice: innocence until proven in court. A golden rule, followed most of the time, to avoid bloodshed and major conflicts, a necessity to give peace and mediation a chance. However, history teaches us that “incidents” have been used to justify military actions, incidents that could be see and proven: Tonkin incident, the Afghan “communist” conversion to open soviet invasion, etc.

The problem is that in recent years too many “incidents” have been unproven action by belligerents, and used to justify quick military solutions that proved disastrous in their consequences. One of the main pillars has been the “emotional diplomacy”, where after a deplorable action by warring parts, another country acts moved by sentiments, by “humanitarian” scopes. Like a child with a tantrum, bombs dropped as apples from a tree shaken by a storm, causing more death, destruction, and especially no solution. Or at least not a lasting solution, but a piloted result to benefit the Samaritan intervening.

This is the calculation made in Washington, Moscow, Tehran, Damascus, Ankara when they continuously switch their policies and alliances, not in the interest of Syrian people, nor for global peace, but for geopolitical equilibrium (Moscow) and change of regime policy (US) to destabilize Russia, China, Iran.

Therefore, can we even try to make some sense in all this? The US accuses Assad of war crimes, probably true but still unproven, for a simple reason: change the regime. This was the pillar of American policy with Bush and with Obama found in the so-called Arab Spring the lever to tilt regimes in Middle East that were unfriendly, historically. They instigated revolution in Egypt for then backtracking and supporting General Al Sisi in the repressions and coup that ousted the Muslim Brotherhood from power. Democracy has its strange ways of work. In Libya they accomplished the ousting of Gaddafi (thanks to a Russian/Chinese diplomatic suicide at the UN), while in Iran failed from the start. Syria was to be their final step, but the Russian strong opposition and support denied the change. It is not surprising that any attack made by Syrian forces receives wider coverage on Western medias than the thousands of people killed by terrorist groups and rebels armed with American weapons in Syria and Iraq. Nor is news the silent and censored war in Yemen, where not only chemical weapons have been used and thousands have been killed by Saudi’s aerial bombardment on civilians. Skepticism is the least, then grows when you read that 59 tomahawk missiles have been fired against a military base and that just 2 days later was again ready to use! Either all those missile failed the objectives or they bomb the wrong place.

Russia is defending Assad and his regime, under a status quo paradigm: losing Syria, will wipe out Russian presence from eastern Mediterranean, closing the Black Sea Fleet in a prison with the key held by the erratic Turkish President Erdogan. Russia support Syria to strengthen border control against terrorism, as many foreign fighters are from the Caucasus, and Russia already experienced first hand the change of regime policy with the “coloured revolutions” that engulfed Eastern Europe. However, Russia is not the sparring partner anymore, Yeltsin’s years have been forgotten like a day after being drunk. Russia, regretted the Libyan error, and since then responded tit for tat: Ukraine and Crimea are just a warning. Russia accuses the US of fabricating news and arming rebel and terrorist groups (whether directly or not, it is still not proven), and closing an eye or two when they make their massacres. Russia accused the US of interfering in the peace process that Moscow was silently building with Turkey and Iran.

A key to understand the Syrian puzzle is Turkey, and the actions of the two powers is a reflection of Ankara unpredictable policies. Erdogan at first was a fierce critic of Assad, threatening invasion to support Turkmen (covertly to wipe out Kurds and PKK), and conducting a strong anti-Russian campaign. Unfortunately for the US, Turkey made a big mistake by shooting down a Russian fighter jet, plunging its economy into disaster and becoming soon a central stage for terror attacks: ISIS ones following the western sponsored policy of open frontiers, and PKK ones taking advantage of Turkish foolishness in lowering their security. Timely and precise came the attempted coup against Erdogan, again with multifaceted interpretations: a US sponsored coup (Gulen supporters) to block a Russian rapprochement or a backfired coup that was used by Erdogan to increase his control, cut the ties with the US and change the foreign policy into a Russian backed solution of the Syrian crisis? Now this chemical incident once again saw Turkey siding with the US, but on the other they still seat at the table with Russian and Iranians to try in solving the conflict.

Many say Trump could be too impetuous on decisions, or even dangerous for world peace, but looking closely he has just reconditioned a well used machine that in the last two decades has made of the Read the rest of this entry »

Written by Matteo Figus

10/04/2017 at 20:49

Coups and Military Rule: A Normal Nigerian Anomaly?

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Written by Matteo Figus

18/02/2017 at 18:02

Buhari’s Nigeria vs Boko Haram: the Bloodshed Continue Amid World Powers Indifference

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While the world is outraged by the Paris attacks, no one seems to remember that the IS threat is wider than our TV broadcasters says and Nigeria is the best example.

Boko Haram pledged allegiance to IS in March 2015 and vowed to continue its terror campaign against the Nigerian government. The group is responsible for over 20,000 death since 2009 and many analysts consider it the bloodiest of all terrorist organisations currently in operation.

President Muhammadu Buhari, sworn in May 2015, pledged to defeat the terrorist group by the end of December, as well as fighting corruption and mismanagement that crippled the Nigerian economy.

Buhari was elected amid a historic vote, where for the first time an actual political transition from the majority party PDP to the opposition APC was completed, and was elected by huge popular demand, surrounded by huge expectations. Buhari is remembered as an ex-ruthless military that in 1983 took power, by overthrowing the corrupted civilian government of Shehu Shagari, and tried to clean the incompetence and corruption although with a poor human right records. Thus, many acknowledged that in those years, no one was untouchable and for the first time politicians and even members of the powerful military élite were under serious scrutiny. His return to power after 30 years, after being ousted by Babangida’s 1985 coup, arrived after a slanderous campaign from majority party PDP and after Buhari had lost every single presidential campaign since the return to democracy in 1999.

Buhari, supported by this aura of hard men who takes no nonsense, has been especially looked upon by Nigerians to solve Boko Haram insurgency once and for all. His party, and people, accused the ex-President Jonathan Goodluck and the PDP to underestimate Boko Haram fighters, to have reduced military capability and diverted funds destined to procure equipment through corruption and bribery.

However, the first six months of cabinet have not been easy for Buhari, since his arrival attacks continued with the last in Kano on 18 November, killing 12 people and wounding several others. In the last, of a series of bloody attacks, the authorities said that two female suicide bombers detonated their vests at a cell phone market. Witnesses and Red Cross officials said that the death toll could be higher than the authorities claim, although the number could not be independently confirmed. In another attack, at least 32 people were killed by a suicide bomber on a vegetable market in the north-eastern city of Yola days before. Still the bombings have continued in regular patterns since Buhari was sworn in, involving especially civilians targets such markets, schools, shops and even spilling to areas of Niger, Cameroon and a village in Chad, prompting officials to call a state of emergency there.

In a statement, following Kano attack, President Muhammadu Buhari called for Nigerians to stay vigilant, saying that even his recently intensified military operation against Boko Haram could not prevent every attack. “President Buhari reassures Nigerians that his administration is very much determined to wipe out Boko Haram in Nigeria and bring all perpetrators of these heinous crimes against humanity to justice,” the government release said.

Nevertheless, some are now starting to doubt about the real possibility of the government to fight back, although President Buhari has announced recent victories against Boko Haram, including seizing bomb materials, destroying territorial bases, training camps and winning battles in the North-East where Boko Haram wish to establish a new state. Security experts, regional authorities and Western military officials have nevertheless credited Buhari for showing greater strength than the predecessors in fighting back, in giving troops higher morale and proceeding to undermine Boko Haram control over the territory.

However, the fight is not only a military matter, and president Buhari after six months of careful negotiations has finally unveiled his 36-members cabinet, tasked to make his programme a reality. Those who criticise Buhari for this long time taken, should also take into account that choosing a cabinet in Nigeria is a complicated task made even more difficult by the heterogeneity of the country under an ethnic/religious point of view, as well as require wise and skilful political balancing. Buhari had to take into account the need for professional leaders but also to repay political allies and supporters, reshuffle the security apparatus and avoid undermining the already fragile capacity to fight. Then there is the need to carefully maintain an ethnic and religious balance, and to make sure each of the 36 states that compose the federation are represented.

“Impatience is not a virtue. Careful and deliberate decisions after consultations get far better results” said the president to his critics, who thought that the long delay in naming a new government was a sign to bad things to come. Thus, on Wednesday (the same day of the attacks), Buhari unveiled the 36 ministers at a ceremony in the capital Abuja. To maintain and deliver his pledge of cutting the costs and a huge but inefficient political machine, he said that not all the thirty-six will get their own ministries, and in fact, he eliminated eight departments, meaning that eight members of the cabinet are deputy ministers. The most notable of the exclusions was the petroleum ministry, where Buhari himself has taken charge of the ministry, which for years has been associated with gross mismanagement and corruption on a grand scale. Nigeria, Africa’s largest oil producer, has been forced to import refined petroleum as a result of the failures of this ministry, while most part of the country suffers from chronic power shortages. However, it is the security situation that received utmost attention from Buhari.

He chose Dan Ali, a retired brigadier-general, as defence minister who shares with Buhari a total mistrust on the operate of the security forces under the previous government. Dan Ali earlier this year attacked Alex Badeh, the former army chief, by criticising his counter-terrorism measures and since then has been replaced, with the Nigerian army’s poor record against Boko Haram now recovering.

The other important appointment is Abdurrahman Dambazau as the new interior minister who is in charge of the police. As Nigeria’s Chief of Army Staff between 2008 and 2010, he led a successful campaign against Boko Haram. After his removal, seen by Buhari’s supporters as an example of the incompetence of PDP dealing with Boko Haram, the militants regrouped in 2011 and since then, thousands of people have been killed with the insurgency spreading to neighbouring countries.

Nevertheless, the best example on the determination of President Buhari to fight insurgency and corruption was given this week when he accused the previous administration’s national security adviser, Sambo Dasuki of embezzling public money destined for the army. Even before the election, Buhari vowed to investigate corruption in the previous government, in which Mr Dasuki served. Dasuki is accused of pocketing more than $2 billion that had been allocated for four fighter jets, twelve helicopters and ammunitions to fight Boko Haram, allegations that Dasuki has denied.

Soldiers have long complained that despite the military’s huge budget, they were ill-equipped to fight and Dasuki, who was already under house arrest, has been indicated by Buhari as the main culprit. He was under house arrest as part of an ongoing trial for allegedly possessing illegal firearms, and although the court for that trial allowed him to travel to the UK for treatment for suspected prostate cancer, the government has now refused to let him leave the country.

For many Nigerians this is the strength of Buhari in tackling issues without any concerns, but it will be enough? Soldiers have reported they are better equipped since President Buhari came into office, but the previous president’s supporters say this is because those weapons were ordered while Jonathan Goodluck was in power. Same apply for the recent military successes, for which ex government officials claim Buhari is just benefiting on the effects of legislations passed by the previous president. Nevertheless, for many Nigerians the debacle of the Chibok girls kidnapped and never found was more than enough to show the complete inefficiency and incompetence of the security forces, as well as the incredible loss of international credibility.

The bigger problem for Nigeria, and Buhari, is that Boko Haram cannot only be considered an internal insurgency but has a wider implication on the West African security system. In this will be decisive to bring into a full understanding the regional and world powers that currently have severely underestimated Boko Haram capability in attacking Nigeria’s institutions. Action across the borders to Chad and Cameroon show how the group has grown from just internal actions until 2009 to a more capable military machine able to seize territory and attack on a wider front on several countries.

Western powers have seriously not taken into account Boko Haram successes in destabilising Nigeria that, if not supported, can have serious repercussion on all other weaker governments of the area. A collapse of West Africa security defences, taking into account that Nigeria has always been considered paramount as a stabilisation force, could seriously affect the wider struggle against IS. Turmoil in Libya and the presence of various non-identified groups whose allegiance is not always clear pose a great threat to states economically fragile, and struggling to control their own porous borders.

While Muhammadu Buhari is trying to rebuild Nigerian capability in fighting Boko Haram, one of the weapons he needs to rely on is international recognition as a partner in a struggle against a common menace. Unfortunately, the distortion caused by our euro centrism and hypocrisy of the events on the ground are distracting us from taking notice of the bloodbath happening in Africa that soon or later will have an effect also in our own countries.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Written by Matteo Figus

19/11/2015 at 21:21

IS Strength is Proportional to our Weakness

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The recent Paris attacks have opened a series of questions on security and the real strength of IS. However, one clear fact is in front of our eyes: IS strength is proportional to our weakness.

World powers division over Syria has just highlighted how easy is for groups like IS to increase their force and exploit the void created by our indecisions. IS strength has been unequivocally supported by the fragility of political institutions in Middle East, and especially after the raging war in Syria. It cannot be denied that the so-called Islamic State is a collateral effect of the western disastrous policy of “change of regime” and at the same time a sub-product of the illusory Arab spring. The weakening of secular states, pursued by the US during the Al-Qaida years, although has led to the fall of repressive regimes, created a void thus replaced by the only real organised and opposition force: Islamists groups.

While the Arab spring worked in a way in Tunisia, Egypt is the best example of how the dangerous shift to Islamism was blocked in time by the only possible resource available: a military coup. When Mubarak was ousted, and the Muslim Brotherhood won, everyone just simply knew that it would be matter of time before Egypt would be engulfed in serious troubles. The army, conscious of the danger, used its force to avoid a Libyan scenario thus blocking the contagion from the IS fever. It is true nonetheless, that Egypt is still a terrain fertile for IS infiltration and the recent attack on a Russian airliner simply shows that.

Nevertheless, it is the total failure of western policies in Syria and Iraq, that ultimately led to the growth of IS and its apparently unstoppable force. Following the steps of Libya, Western powers have made a huge miscalculation in thinking to replace easily the Assad regime with a pro-western government. Arms sent to strengthen the illusory rebel army, instead favoured the growth of all Islamist groups and ultimately of IS. In Iraq, the total disregard and animosity towards the Shia government in power, united with their own mistakes in seeking revenge against the Sunnis, soon created the fertile terrain for Sunni resistance and ultimately IS growth.

However, how really strong is the Islamic State? Is terrorism a sign of power or weakness? IS in itself is full of contradictions: fights the West but many fighters are mercenaries from Europe where most of them enjoyed life of freedom; is against idolatry and western consumerism but uses all social media platforms; destroys cultural history, belonging even to their own past, but put forward slogans of brotherhood; it fights against other Muslims, mainly Shia, and does not concern itself with the Palestine problem.

It is quite remarkable for a group claiming to be ready to install a Caliphate to notice that in all their claims Israel and the Palestinian problem has been left out. Even when they slightly consider the issue, their targets are Hamas and the Palestinian Liberation Organisation, for who they fight for then?

Terrorism is never a viable political solution, inevitably leads only to two solutions: total annihilation of the group or negotiation. By the choices of targets and its political agenda, it is unlikely that IS can pursue or even is willing to negotiate. Exactly because has been born from western hypocrisy is in itself a hypocritical and cowardly group: attacks minority groups, enslave women, fight a terror war against civilians, is armed and financed by foreign donors (powers). Therefore, the question is, can be destroyed? Yes and easily.

Taking into account that its main base is in Syria and part of Iraq, and it is surrounded by major regional power, we have: Turkey in the North, the Kurds in Turkey and Iraq in the North, Lebanon backed by pro-Syrian groups and Hezbollah to the West, the sea to the West can be blocked (if wanted by any major power like the US), Israel and Egypt in South-West, Jordan in the South, Iraq Shia backed government to the East and obviously Iran that support Assad, Hezbollah and the Iraqi government.

At first looks like an impressive display of power but we need to consider the following issues affecting the real fight against IS:

  1. Turkey could block the borders better and support the Kurds, instead of fighting them for internal reasons;
  2. The western powers keep living the dream of the Free Syrian Army that in reality is just non existent as long as all weapons are used against the only other legitimate ground force to counter IS, which is the regular Syrian Army. Any future agreement on Syria should be postponed after the war. They face a common enemy.
  3. Western powers, namely US, against Russia: the Russian campaign in Syria was denigrated and attacked before the Paris attacks, while now Putin is seen as a messiah in the fight against terror;
  4. Russia is also not always clear on the real targets of its campaign in Syria: internal security, defence of strategic interests or to pin point US forces?
  5. Western powers refusal to acknowledge the importance of other actors in the scene: Iran and its allies.
  6. The hypocrisy and double play of some of the so-called “allies of the West”: Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Qatar, and UAE. Financing for IS comes mainly from “donors” in these countries.
  7. The refugee problem: open door policy or closed borders? EU has not a clear strategy and swing from an excess to the other in the assessment.
  8. Media propaganda and misinformation: once again serious anti-Islam slogans and total disregard for an unbiased assessment of the reality. The theory of the double standards still applies and only has as a result an increase in racism and xenophobic attacks in the western capitals.

Nevertheless, the Paris attacks and the Russian plane bombing are changing everything, as France is now ready to cooperate (at least in words) with Russia; Egypt will have to answer about its security standards as surely cannot allow tourism to disappear following the recent incidents. Calls are growing on US and the UK (the most recalcitrant in changing their views and policies towards Syria) for a coalition to destroy IS, but the risk of leaving main actors such the Kurds, the Iraqi government, and Iran out of the decisions can also expose further the West and Russia in a direct intervention that will play IS propaganda. On the other side, all powers must reconsider their circle of friends in Middle East and realise that a shift of policy towards Iran could benefit these powers in the long term better than the current dependence from questionable partners, Pakistan-US relations are a lesson.

Written by Matteo Figus

18/11/2015 at 14:32

Buhari’s Legacy: The difficult task of bringing a nation together

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Muhammadu Buhari has been sworn as President of the Federal Republic of Nigeria on 29 May 2015, after the historic victory over the People’s Democratic Party of rival and ex President Jonathan Goodluck._83263524_buhari3

The victory of Muhammadu Buhari has been hailed as a major turning point in Nigerian and African politics. For the first time Nigeria assisted to a democratic transition of power from the ruling party to the opposition candidate in an election praised for its order and clearness of results.

Buhari won at the head of the opposition coalition All Progressives Congress, an alliance of four opposition parties: the Action Congress of Nigeria, the Congress for Progressive Change, the All Nigeria Peoples Party, and the All Progressives Grand Alliance. Buhari obtained 53.96%, over 2.5  million votes separated him from Jonathan Goodluck and obtaining a landslide victory in the majority of states, except for the south, southeast and Niger Delta. The gap of votes was so wide that PDP and President Goodluck had to admit defeat, and even taking into account eventual irregularities, these could not have changed that outcome.

Nevertheless, Buhari is not new to Nigerian politics having first of all been one of the military rulers during the country’s long history of coups and juntas. He was Head of State between 1983 and 1985 and then candidate for four times against PDP leaders Obasanjo, Yar’Adua, and Goodluck since return to democracy in 1999._82047164_nigeria_election_results_declared_624

Nigerians became aware of Muhammadu Buhari on 31 December 1983, when the then Major General overthrew the elected government of Shehu Shagari, in power since 1979, in a bloodless military coup. The military seized power once again, primarily because there was virtually no confidence in the civilian regime. Indeed, conditions had deteriorated so much in the Second Republic that when the coup came, it was widely acclaimed. Buhari had been director of supply and services in the early 1970s, military governor of Northeast State at the time it was divided into three states, and Federal Commissioner for Petroleum and Mines (1976-78) during the height of the oil boom. At the time of the coup, he was commander of the Third Armored Division in Jos. The regime of Buhari became soon famous for its bold actions: for the first time a military in power shows a clear hostile face towards the civil society and fundamental rights, and for many he put the seed of authoritarianism that will flourish further in the next juntas of Ibrahim Babangida and Sani Abacha.

Buhari tried to restore public accountability and to re-establish a dynamic economy without altering the basic power structure of the country, but it was in politics that his action was ruthless. All political parties were banned and dissolved, the bank accounts were blocked temporarily to permit judicial enquiries on corruption. The main point of his policy was the war against corruption, with the hunt for those responsible, even abroad and culminated with the famous Dikko affair (an attempt to kidnap in UK, with the help of Israeli Mossad agent, an ex Shagari’s minister to face justice in Nigeria for corruption). In April 1984 were established special tribunals to find those responsible and be put under arrest and the ones that escaped abroad. No one was immune: a certain number of governors were arrested for corruption, important political figures of the previous government, included Shagari, were arrested while the Parliament and the Constitution were suspended. The government announced that there was no plan for a democratic transition and outlawed any political debate on the future of the federation. Constraints were placed on various groups and associations.

As a further attempt to mobilize the country, Buhari launched a War Against Indiscipline in spring 1984. This national campaign, which lasted fifteen months, preached the work ethic, emphasized patriotism, decried corruption, promoted environmental sanitation, fight disloyalty to national symbols such as the flag and the anthem. He specified acceptable forms of public behavior, such a requirement to form lines at bus stops or civil servants who were late at work had to perform humiliating frog jumps.

In economy was decided to use oil to buy food, abandoning any industrial project and accepting the Structural Adjustment as the only remedy for rapid recovery and self-reliance. It was given priority to the repayment of the external debts, leading to drastic reduction on wages, budgets cuts for ministers and state administrations, privatisation for public companies, new incentives for multinationals. The regime attempted to crackdown on criticism with journalists harassed and many critics were arrested. The National Security Organisation (NSO) became the principal instrument of repression. Buhari introduced the some infamous decrees: the number four forbade any journalist from reporting information considered embarrassing to any government official whilst The State Security (Detention of Persons) Decree Number Two gave the Chief of Staff at Supreme Headquarters the power to detain for up to six months without trial anyone considered a security risk. Special military tribunals increasingly replaced law courts and followed further restrictions: trade union ban, detention for trade union leaders, critics, students and journalists, any organisation or popular activities was harassed or repressed. Despite the increased efficiency with which Buhari and his associates tackled the national crisis, the regime’s inflexibility caused discontent, especially within the army apparatus and will materialise in a coup led by Major General Babangida and Brigadier Sani Abacha to oust Buhari and continuing the long history of military regimes until 1999.

Nevertheless, Buhari’s legacy of those years split Nigerians over the judgement of his figure: uncompromising, ruthless, incorruptible, disciplinarian, authoritarian, determined and a strong leader. Those who followed him as a politician appreciated his qualities above against the new corruptible system represented by the PDP. Those who dislike him accuse Buhari of poor human rights records, his questionable appetite for democracy, authoritarian tendencies and a divisive figure over ethnic and religious affairs. The election of 2015 proved stronger than all these objections.

If the above paradigm ensured PDP victories in series from 1999 to 2011, the tide started to change in the last presidency of Jonathan Goodluck. PDP was built as a formidable electoral machine, rich, powerful, backed by prominent businessmen and the always important lobby of retired generals who manipulated Nigeria’s politics in the past. PDP was so efficient and able to win easily every election that can be considered a sort of Nigerian version of the Mexican PRI, made to govern 70 years. But recent cases of corruption scandals, failing leadership after the stronger years of Olusegun Obasanjo, increasing security threats from Boko Haram and inability of the government to get hold of the interest of the federation, raised questions inside the PDP before the society. Obasanjo tearing apart his PDP card was more than a symbolic gesture, it was an actual end of a mighty machine, several governors changed attitude toward Buhari defecting and joining APC (those of Rivers, Adamawa, Kano, Jigawa and Kebbi), and the same Obasanjo said about Buhari “would not be a good economic manager but will be a strong, almost inflexible, and a courageous and firm leader”._82042630_82042629

Buhari in the past challenged lost election for frauds or recounts, but this time, when appeared that Buhari was actually on the verge of victory, the places changed. President Goodluck and PDP tried to stay in power launching a strong and powerful slander campaign against Buhari but at the same time this generated fears that an opposition victory would not be accepted by the ruling party, thus paving way for possible violence. Nevertheless, the Nigerian elections have been historical especially for overcoming these fears, the PDP party accepted defeat and President Goodluck acceptance was a duty from a Head of State to avoid disaster, or worst civil war, which gave huge credit to his figure. Nigeria showed great maturity and consolidation of its path to become a stronger and solid democracy.

However, is not all roses for Nigeria, as Buhari’s election also represents some limits of the current Nigerian political system where, for an example, an ex-military ruler is needed to change from the ruling PDP and open questions on the absence of new and younger political figures able to be identified as “national” by the population. Although Nigerians remember and are divided by the judgement over Buhari’s past, the overwhelming victory was a clear message for action, safeguard of the federation, end of the corruption cancer and especially to tackle Boko Haram in a more decisive manner than PDP has shown.

Nigerians cannot forget that, mainly in the past, several movements were often assisted or orchestrated by security forces to undermine civilian governments, able to create chaos but easy to bring back into order when needed. Boko Haram fell into this category at least until 2009 when a backlash from security forces lead to the murder of his leader Yusuf. Since then Boko Haram was lost of sight, let dangerously to reorganise underground and to become the movement that is today. Nigerians accused PDP and security forces of inertia and incapacity of dealing with the group, and the abduction of 200 schoolgirls in Chibok in 2014 was an international humiliation that could not save President Goodluck and the ruling party from failure.

Whether Buhari will be able to achieve all this, it will be a matter of time, but at least one element is sure: the time of inaction is finished and, as per his tradition, Buhari will certainly act swiftly on the main Nigerian issues. The only problem will be to see whether Buhari will distance himself from the past and will use his quality of a strong leader/action man within the federal and democracy framework. The real danger for Nigeria could be Buhari exceeding his powers with consequences far more dangerous than 20 years ago. Nigerians know that and his enemies know even better.

 

 

Written by Matteo Figus

01/06/2015 at 20:03

US-Cuba Thaw, 2nd Round: Formalising Intentions, Testing Obstacles Ahead

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The meeting between US President Barak Obama and the Cuban leader Raul Castro, held in Panama during the Summit of the Americas, was the first formal talks between the two countries in more than fifty years.

The talks follow up the historic thaw announced in December 2014 when both leaders agreed it was time to discuss their relationship and put behind years of tension defined as outdated.Obama Raul Castro

Cuba was participating at the summit for the first time, a move welcomed by all Latin American countries and judged a signal of the clear intentions to pursue the road of reconciliation.

Both leaders confirmed their intentions to reopen a channel for discussion and at the same time confirming the limits of it. President Obama described the meeting as candid and fruitful confirming that the two countries will obviously have differences and mutual interests, with the right of disagree. Cuban leader Raul Castro also repeated the same line quoting that “we are disposed to talk about everything, with patience. Some things we will agree with, and others we won’t”. He also defended the Cuban revolution and its political system but at the same time he described President Obama as an honest man who is not responsible for the past wrong doings.

The meeting, however, was not an official talk to take decisive steps towards the normalisation, and instead was for many the official declaration of intentions and a formal reintroduction of Cuba into the Summit of the Americas.

The fact that the road is going to be long and full of obstacles in not a heresy and on both parts there are suspicions and dangers ahead.

 

Still Ahead Between Cuban Justified Diffidence and US Certified Ambiguity

Cuba is open to a dialogue to restore full diplomatic relations and move away from hostility but is not ready to discuss any political change in the structure of power. For Cuba the immediate necessity is the end the embargo that is strangling the island and its people, a remnant of the Cold War which is not only outdated but inhumane and hypocrite.

Cuba’s cautious overture is also based on the fact that it still sees the US as a danger to its stability and independence, a common view shared with other Latin American countries. Cuba’s declaration of openness to discuss everything but with the right of disagree is a clear message that every meeting should be on the same level and that Havana will not accept diktats or attempts to limit its independence. This position has been especially reinforced by the Lider Maximo Fidel Castro who, breaking silence lasting months, expressed diffidence towards the US, declaring that he does not trust them. Nevertheless, he also supported his brother’s policy and the necessity to open a dialogue with the Washington.

Therefore for Cuba the positive conclusion of this process will rely especially on US shoulders and their willingness to lift the embargo, clear Cuba from the states sponsoring terrorism, the acceptance of Cuba’s political system.

On the other side the US are on the verge of an historical move, but it also expect from Cuba some concessions such addressing political structure, how to liberalise opposition to the government, cooperation in human rights investigations. For the first time in decades there is a clear sign in the US that the embargo may see its last days, as it cuts across the political spectrum although with different views and perspectives. Nevertheless, it is also true that US politics towards Latin America have not been all roses and ribbons, and Fidel Castro’s views are not unrealistic and found support across the continent. This is especially true when we take into account the relations with some of the governments in the region. From the reluctant acceptance of moderate leftist governments in Brazil, Uruguay and Chile, to the sometimes hostile approach to Peronist Argentina, to the open opposition to the socialist-radical block that put relations with Washington on a red line.

Presidents Evo Morales of Bolivia and Rafael Correa of Ecuador on several occasions accused the US of political interference and neo-colonial approach even with assassinations attempts, whilst ties between Venezuela and Washington remain fractious since the successful Bolivarian revolution of former president Hugo Chavez. Especially the relations with Socialist Venezuela and President Nicolas Maduro for many analysts resemble the old US tactic of political interference for a change of regime. The US imposed sanctions last month on a group of Venezuelan officials it accuses of human rights abuses. President Obama also issued an executive order declaring Venezuela a threat to US national security that Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro has described as “disproportionate”.

The summit also highlighted differences between President Rafael Correa of Ecuador and the US. The Ecuadorian president said the US had failed to live up to its ideals by declaring: “Let’s talk about human rights. In Ecuador we don’t have torture, the death penalty or extrajudicial renditions”. In response, President Obama said the US does not claim to be perfect and to be open for change.

However, and it may sound a paradox, it is not only the above international dimension or the US incoherent approach to Latin America that can harm this process, it is also the uncertainty surrounding next year US presidential elections that could postpone or even block the dialogue altogether.

 

Make it or Brake it: How US Elections Could Affect the Dialogue

Unlike Cuba, where the one party system will not create surprises at the leadership, in the US the next year presidential elections will see the end of Obama’s administration and a new chapter opening. The Democrats will have in Hillary Clinton their main candidate, but even her victory will not automatically pave the way for an acceleration of the process which will depend on how the Congress will shape and whether Democrats will regain the majority. Nevertheless, Hillary Clinton is the best chance for Cuba to continue the dialogue as she has been behind the thaw and long ago she advanced the necessity to end the embargo. Whether is a necessarily economic move, a change of regime in disguise or simply an electoral move to obtain the so called “Latino votes”, Obama’s thaw surely scored the first strike by dividing the Republican field and giving to Hillary Clinton an important gift. This is not anymore a monolithic block when discussing the Cuban issue and it may surprise that the two candidates Mr Rubio and Jeb Bush, by supporting hardliners, may find themselves reaching for full votes in Florida but losing the moderate and immigrants votes elsewhere. Inside the Republican Party there will be a struggle on how to balance carefully the choices and where to put its weight, especially after Obama attacked Israeli PM Netanyahu’s policy and the Jewish community vote is now more important than ever. By backing the status quo, that some republicans see as an outdated and counterproductive policy both economically and diplomatically, they may end up losing more than accepting a change which will open a wider support across the continent. The fact that many republicans are not concerned by Cuba is backed by rhetoric with which they attack Obama’s policy on the Iranian nuclear programme, its relations with Israel and especially what they consider a softer approach to Russia.

While a Republican victory is still considered for Cuba the worst case scenario, at the same time we will should probably not hurry in conclusions and not forget that history has many times put the historic changes in the unlikely hands of those “gifted with stubbornness” and Republicans may be on the verge of something similar.

President Obama will have a hard job ahead for the last year of his presidency to try and push further the dialogue and end the embargo which will be the start of an irreversible process. However, for President Obama, more than Cuba’s reluctance to open political dialogue or Fidel Castro’s heavy shadow, the main battle is at home, where the contenders for the presidency, and the factions inside the parties, will use this opportunity for increase or blow up their chances of becoming the first US president to visit Havana since the revolution.

 

Written by Matteo Figus

14/04/2015 at 18:00

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