The Middle East Channel

Turkish Trade Unions Strike Over Soma Mine Disaster

Trade unions in Turkey are holding a one-day strike after an estimated 282 people have been killed and over a hundred remain missing after an explosion and fire at the Soma coal mine. Protesters assembled in Turkey's cities furious over what they say has been an extreme deterioration in working conditions since formerly state-run mines, including the one near Soma, were leased to private firms. In Izmir, the closest large city to Soma, Turkish police fired tear gas and water cannon to break up demonstrations of around 20,000 protesters. In Soma, Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan was forced to take refuge in a supermarket when confronted by an angry crowd calling for his resignation. Erdogan has been expected to announce his candidacy for the presidential election in August. However, such a disaster hitting the working class, which makes up a significant portion of his support base, could pose another hurdle to the prime minister whose ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) has faced mass protests and a corruption scandal over the past year.

Syria

Two London Times reporters covering the Syrian conflict have crossed over the border to Turkey after being abducted by a "rebel gang" near the northern Syrian town of Tall Rifat. While held by the group, reporter Anthony Loyd was shot twice in the leg and photographer Jack Hill was severely beaten. The journalists were released after local commanders from the Islamic Front intervened. Meanwhile, foreign ministers from 11 Western and Arab countries have gathered for the Friends of Syria meeting in London Thursday to discuss new ways to support the Syrian opposition as well as how to deal with the humanitarian crisis. On Wednesday, the United States conducted joint military exercises with Jordan and the U.S. Treasury Department designated two leaders of al Qaeda-linked militant groups as "global terrorists."

Headlines

  • U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry met with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas in London reiterating support for the Palestinian people and mentioning the door remains open for the peace process.
  • Qatar has announced reforms to its labor laws however did not set a deadline for implementation and failed to ease concerns over conditions for the country's 1.39 million foreign workers.
  • Lebanon's parliament has failed for the fourth time to hold a vote to elect a new president, adjourning to May 22, just three days ahead of the expiration of President Suleiman's term.
  • In an interview with Reuters, former Egyptian General Abdel Fattah al-Sisi called for the resumption of U.S. military aid and requested "American support to fight terrorism."

Arguments and Analysis

'Why Syria Matters' (Nader Hashemi, The Cairo Review)

"Hoping that the conflict in Syria will simply go away seems to have been the unstated policy of the Obama administration for much of the last three years. This view is widely shared by the American public. Tired of a decade of war in Iraq and Afghanistan, this sentiment is certainly understandable. The United States has effectively lost these wars and the cost to America's self-image and its economy has been enormous. Yet the conflict nonetheless continues to haunt our collective consciousness and to hold our attention. For three distinct but interrelated reasons-rooted in basic ethics, global security and normative political values-the conflict in Syria profoundly matters for our world today. In the absence of global leadership that prioritizes this crisis, the conflict will continue to destabilize the broader Middle East and its ramifications will be felt far and wide for years to come."

'The untold story of Yemen' (Ramzy Baroud, Al Arabiya)

"But why are we too hesitant to tell the Yemeni story as it is, with all of its complexities and details? Are we intimidated by the sheer intricacy of the story? Or is it because we remember Yemen whenever it is convenient to do so?

Western media knows Yemen whenever al-Qaeda threatens western interests, or when angry tribesmen blow up an oil pipeline.

Throughout much of 2011, Arab media covered Yemen around the clock promoting an indiscriminate "Arab Spring" narrative, with little regard to the distinctiveness of the Yemeni story. When the spring didn't deliver what it promised, Yemen was disowned and forgotten."

'Onward, Christian Soldiers' (Jonathan Cook, MERIP)

The group of Palestinian Christians led by Nadaf has established a Forum for Christian Recruitment, which is advising the government on how to advance enlistment. Nadaf articulates their thinking: "We have broken through the barrier of fear. The time has come to prove our loyalty, pay our dues and demand our rights. Because the State of Israel is our heart, Israel is a holy state, a strong state, and its people, Jews and Christians alike, are united under one covenant."

The overwhelming majority of Christians appear unpersuaded by such appeals and oppose military service, voluntary or otherwise. But Israeli officials employ a combination of pressures -- arrests, threats of prosecution for incitement and civil suits for financial damages -- to intimidate the scheme's critics."

-- Mary Casey

ADEM ALTAN/AFP/Getty Images

The Middle East Channel

Death Toll Climbs After Turkish Mine Explosion

At least 232 miners have been killed and hundreds of others are still trapped after an explosion and a fire Tuesday at a coal mine in Turkey's western district of Soma. The mine's owners estimated 787 people were in the mine at the time of the explosion, which was reportedly sparked by an electrical fault. An estimated 93 people have been rescued. Turkey's energy minister, Taner Yildiz told reporters it is likely to be the deadliest accident in Turkey's history and Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan declared three days of national mourning. The disaster is renewing debate over safety standards at state-run mines and comes just two weeks after a parliamentary motion filed by Turkey's main opposition party to launch an inquiry into work-related accidents at the Soma mine was rejected.

Syria

The United Nations and Arab League special envoy to Syria, Lakhdar Brahimi, has announced his resignation having failed to achieve a peace settlement through political negotiations and frustrated by President Bashar al-Assad's running for a third term in office. Brahimi succeeded former U.N. Secretary General Kofi Annan in the position, who stepped down in 2012 also due to frustrations over lack of progress in the peace process. Brahimi's term will end on May 31, and it is unclear who might replace him. Meanwhile, French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius, during a visit to Washington, said he has credible evidence that the Syrian government used chemical weapons, including chlorine gas, at least 14 times since signing a treaty in September 2013 banning them. Fabius additionally expressed regret over the failure of the United States, France, and Britain to conduct a military intervention in Syria last summer.

Headlines

Arguments and Analysis

'Syria's dirty secret is that Assad could win in a fair election' (Faisal Al Yafai, The National)

"But there is a serious reason to understand why Mr Al Assad is seen by many within and without Syria as a credible candidate. Because many will vote for him.

Certainly, that is because there is no real alternative, because the only places in which voting will take place are under government control, because 40 years of propaganda have removed any alternative - and because the Assad regime has spent three years demonstrating what it means by the slogan "Assad or we burn the country".

But the dirty secret in Syria today is that, if the presidential election were free and fair, Bashar Al Assad would still win.

However unpalatable it is, the man who has overseen the systematic destruction of the country, who has made more refugees than anyone else in the Middle East this century, is still popular. We ought to ask why."

'In Hassan Rouhani's Iran, an Indie Rock Band Can Play Once But Not Twice' (Sune Engel Rasmussen, New Republic)

"Your judgment of President Hassan Rouhani depends on which Evin you focus on. Rouhani's election promise to restart nuclear negotiations and warm up international relations is off to a hopeful start. His second promise, to grant more freedom to civil society, is not.

Since the election last year, observers have eyed Rouhani with apprehension. Will he open his country's gates for more Western-inspired culture, as the New York Times suggested last month? Or is he just another ‘security apparatchik,' personally responsible for prison beatings and public executions, as the Wall Street Journal claimed?

It is tempting to see every twist and turn in Iran's human rights record as a result of directions from the presidential palace. It is also grossly simplified. But no matter which way you look at it, small rips have begun to appear in the cloak of censorship."

-- Mary Casey

Ozgu Ozdemir/Getty Images