Turkey's Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan has declared victory for his Justice and Development Party (AKP) in local elections. Preliminary results Monday showed the AKP receiving about 45.6 percent of the vote while the main opposition Republican People's Party (CHP) held around 28 percent. Facing a graft scandal and criticism for bans on social media, the election was projected as a referendum on Erdogan's 11-year rule. The strong showing of support for his ruling party could embolden Erdogan to act against his opponents, whom he labeled "terrorists" from the campaign trail. Addressing supporters at the AKP headquarters, Erdogan said of his enemies, "They will pay the price, they will be brought to account. How can you threaten national security?" An AKP win may prompt the prime minister to run for the presidency in August, the first time voters in Turkey will directly elect the president.
Two Spanish journalists have arrived in Madrid after being held for over six months in Syria by militants from the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL). Javier Espinosa, Middle East correspondent for El Mundo, and photojournalist Ricardo García Vilanova, were kidnapped in September when they were trying to cross into Turkey after a two-week reporting mission in Syria. They were reportedly released and handed over to Turkish soldiers on Sunday. Meanwhile, Syrian Information Minister Omran al-Zoubi has accused Turkey of sending foreign fighters across the border to fight government troops in Latakia province, traditionally a regime stronghold.
- An Israeli court convicted former Prime Minister Ehud Olmert of bribery on charges related to a property deal while he was mayor of Jerusalem.
- Egypt's presidential elections have been set for the end of May as a hashtag mocking Field Marshal Abdel Fattah al-Sisi translated as "vote for the pimp" is sweeping Twitter.
- U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry is returning to the Middle East in efforts to salvage Israeli-Palestinian peace talks as Israel delays the release of a final group of Palestinian prisoners.
- Thirteen Bahrainis have been sentenced to life in prison, and another man to a10-year jail term, after being convicted of trying to kill two policemen during a March 2012 protest.
- A suicide car bomber Saturday killed three soldiers and wounded four others at a Lebanese army checkpoint close to the town of Arsal near the Syrian border.
Arguments and Analysis
'Sisi's presidential bid doesn't unravel the mystery' (H.A. Hellyer, Al Arabiya)
"Some may implore Sisi, once he becomes president, to take a more inclusive and rights-based approach. But given the record of the past nine months, where more civilians have died at the hands of state forces than any other time in Egyptian history, with little accountability imposed by the authorities, and a crackdown against dissent from various quarters, there are few who appear optimistic at present. His opponents are unlikely to view him as legitimate - for the long-term - and his speech will not have swayed them in that regard.
But that does not mean Sisi's speech was not a success last week. He wouldn't have drawn new support from his critics - but then, it is hard to see what he could possibly do in order to get that after so much blood has been split. On the other hand, his supporters would have been deeply satisfied by the speech, as well as that small section of the population still sitting on the fence about a presidential run by the military officer. The speech delivery was effective - on a superficial level; it was humble, if determined, particularly against "foreign interference." The tone was soft, but it left no room for doubt in that Sisi would continue to "confront terrorism" - including, somewhat disconcertingly, beyond Egypt in the region.
If one examines the substantial components of the speech, there are a few key points to be extracted. The first is that Sisi seems to have sent a message to the sprawling bureaucracy - an establishment infested with corruption, composed of bodies that have become more akin to cliquey silos than actual state institutions."
'Turkish "prohibition" culture explained' (Pinar Tremblay, Al-Monitor)
"Indeed, Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan has achieved world notoriety by first banning Twitter, then YouTube. (Oddly, even some of his party members defy the ban.) This is just the latest in Erdogan's long list of "prohibited" acts. From alcohol sales to cesarean operations to co-ed housing for college students, Erdogan has been awfully eager to generate bans. More perplexing to many Turks - especially the younger generation - is how he gets away with arbitrary legislation. There are several interrelated factors that adequately answer this question, but a partial reason is Turkish political culture. This, of course, predates the Justice and Development Party (AKP) administration of the last decade.
Consecutive Turkish governments have ruled with "bans" of one sort or another. When an administration fails to provide solutions to collective problems, its propensity to introduce "new and improved" prohibitions increases. The struggles of nascent Turkish democracy can be told as a history of complicated bans, whether economic, social, cultural or political. What cannot be controlled smoothly has been banned legally. Yet, bans have rarely helped resolve collective dilemmas."
-- Mary Casey
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