As Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan visits Washington this week, he will prod the White House to increase its support for the Syrian opposition and will likely encourage President Barack Obama to consider enforcing a no-fly zone. The powerful prime minister has been a forceful advocate for multi-lateral intervention in Syria, arguing that the international community has a collective responsibility to help oust President Bashar al-Assad and bring the conflict to an end.
Erdogan's request will almost certainly take on a more urgent tone after tragic bombings in Reyhanli -- a refugee filled town on the Syrian border -- killed nearly 50 people. Despite Erdogan's close relationship with Obama, Turkey's requests are not likely to gain much traction with the White House. And, in fact, the meeting is likely to focus more on U.S. requests of Turkey, rather than the other way around.
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The recent eruption of violence in various Muslim capitals directed at the U.S. (and other Western) embassies, with tragic losses in life and property, is a predictable, if sad, consequence of globalization. The world is increasingly pulled together by the relentless push of modern technology and integrated economic systems on the one hand, and simmering conflicts periodically manifested on the cultural realm, on the other. The occasion for the latest uproar, the anti-Muslim "movie" denigrating the Prophet of Islam, is the latest chapter in an ongoing conflict that appears to become more aggravated over time, in no small measure due to growing Islamophobia in the West. The conflict is also helped now by the weakening security apparatus in the various Arab states experiencing mass uprisings, and the ability of various groups to exploit this vacuum to further their own political goals.
A few decades ago, this movie, or a preacher threatening to burn the Quran in Florida, or a cartoon published in a Danish newspaper would have passed, in all likelihood, unnoticed (at least by the offended parties), let alone cause major violent protests spanning continents. But in our globalized present, with the various tools of instant communication and social networking available to large swathes of humanity, what happens in a faraway place is immediately splashed everywhere, often with deadly results as we are witnessing today. Within this diverse yet networked humanity, where marginal figures are empowered, someone invariably takes offense at perceived insults emanating from distant lands. Despite all the energetic and well-meaning condemnations by sensible parties on both sides, it is unlikely that we will see an end to this cycle anytime soon.
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In recent weeks, the lines separating Egypt's legal and political realm have gone from blurry to invisible. Some of the fiercest battles seen over the course of the transition have been played out in courtrooms, raising the question: Have judges replaced politicians as Egypt's reigning power-brokers? Controversial verdicts in the trial of Hosni Mubarak and other former regime officials on June 2 brought protesters back to Tahrir Square by the thousands. Meanwhile, the Supreme Constitutional Court (SCC) is expected to issue two potentially game-changing decisions on June 14: One that could lead to the disqualification of presidential candidate Ahmed Shafiq just two days before the decisive run-off round, and another that may invalidate the results of the recent parliamentary elections. Either outcome would upend the current electoral process and call into question the legitimacy of the transitional roadmap. With the fate of parliament and the presidential election in the hands of the SCC, another influential judicial institution -- Egypt's powerful Judges Club -- has weighed in on the political turmoil with a scathing attack on the Islamist-led parliament, which some commentators have interpreted as a veiled endorsement of the military's preferred candidate, Ahmed Shafiq. This partisan power-play by a professional association representing 8,000 judges has called into question the neutrality of an institution that bears legal responsibility for administering a free and fair presidential election.
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For months, since the contents of the report prepared by a UN panel charged with reviewing the May 2010 Gaza flotilla incident (the Palmer Report) began to appear in news media coverage, it has been clear that the report would not provide a credible legal analysis of the issue that was the reason for the flotilla in the first place -- Israel's closure of Gaza. Instead, the Palmer Committee sought a political outcome -- to facilitate rehabilitation of Israeli-Turkish relations, strained by the killing of nine Turkish citizens by Israeli commandos who boarded their ship as they protested Israel's closure of Gaza. To that end, the Committee offered a compromise: it determined that Israel's naval blockade of Gaza was lawful and that Turkey should have done more to stop the flotilla, but it also found that Israel used excessive force aboard the ship. The proffered solution was an Israeli apology, a compensation fund and the resumption of full diplomatic relations between Israel and Turkey.
The diplomatic upheaval in the wake of yesterday's publication of the report by the New York Times -- a day before it was to be presented to the UN Secretary General -- put an end to hopes that the report would achieve its political goal. Any chance for reconciliation seems lost in the storm of Israel's refusal to apologize and Turkey's decision to downgrade relations with Israel and to pursue international legal action.
The swift collapse of the Libyan regime is unlikely to have a decisive impact on the Syrian conflict, but it provides a serious hint as to its ultimate outcome. Syrian protesters did not need to see the rebels overtake Tripoli to boost their confidence; for months they have shown extraordinary resolve in the face of escalating violence. They will not give up if only because they know that worse would be in store were the security services to reassert unchallenged control. Colonel Qaddafi's fall is relevant for a different reason: it provides evidence of the internal frailty of the patrimonial power structures that have plagued the region.
Such regimes ultimately rest on fear and opportunism far more than they do on institutions or a cause. They crumble the moment the army of zealots that form their ranks realize the battle is lost. One day, they appear strong. The next, they are gone. In 2003, when U.S. troops entered Baghdad, they revealed -- much to their own surprise -- that Sadddam's regime was hollow. Tunisian President Ben Ali's leviathan turned out to be a pygmy on rickety stilts. In Libya, loyalist forces had fought the rebels into a seemingly endless stalemate until they suddenly were swept away.
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