Middle East round-up: Turkey’s opposition makes presidential pick
Here’s a round-up of Al Jazeera’s Middle East coverage this week.
Turkey’s opposition picks the man it thinks can beat President Erdogan, Israel kills six Palestinians in a Jenin raid, and it’s been a month since the earthquakes that devastated Turkey and Syria. Here’s your round up of our coverage, written by Abubakr Al-Shamahi, Al Jazeera Digital’s Middle East and North Africa editor.
Many observers think that the political opposition in Turkey has its best chance yet of unseating the long-time leader, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, in May’s presidential election. The economy used to be one of Erdogan’s main selling points, but it’s struggled for years now, and inflation just keeps going up. The opposition – in all its many different forms, including defectors from among Erdogan’s closest allies – has come together in the past few years, and scored some notable victories, such as in the 2019 mayoral races in Istanbul and Ankara. And last month’s devastating earthquakes, which killed more than 45,000 people in Turkey, have led to questions over the government’s response, and the seemingly lax enforcement of housing regulations that are believed to have led to the collapse of so many buildings.
And yet, the events of the past week may help explain some of the reasons why the opposition has landed so few serious blows against Erdogan and his AK Party in two decades of parliamentary and presidential elections. At first it seemed that six opposition parties were in agreement over their candidate for president, namely the head of the CHP, Kemal Kilicdaroglu. Sure, the 74-year-old economist isn’t exactly the most charismatic guy, and he’s overseen the party’s electoral losses in the last decade. And yes, as a member of the Alevi religious minority, he probably won’t appeal to many Turkish nationalists. Still, a unified opposition ought to give him at least a fighting chance of getting over the line.
But then Meral Aksener, leader of the opposition’s main nationalist bloc (there’s a pro-government nationalist bloc, too, stay with me) decided that, well actually, Kilicdaroglu wasn’t up to the job, and publicly announced that the mayors of Istanbul and Ankara would be better choices. Cue a weekend of emergency opposition talks, a return to the table for Aksener and – crisis averted – the opposition united behind Kilicdaroglu – again.
Has Aksener’s play weakened Kilicdaroglu? Or has the eventual demonstration of public unity strengthened the opposition? Depends who you ask. But one thing is for sure – don’t write off Erdogan just yet.
Israeli Raid in Jenin Kills Six
Israeli forces killed six Palestinians in Jenin this week, in the latest armed raid in the occupied West Bank. Among the dead was Abdelfattah Kharousheh, a Palestinian fighter who Israel had accused of being behind a shooting that killed two Israeli settlers last week.
Israeli soldiers were filmed dancing and singing with settlers in the occupied West Bank town of Huwara, where attacks on the Jewish holiday of Purim left five Palestinians injured ⤵️ pic.twitter.com/mA5FIjQLR9
— Al Jazeera English (@AJEnglish) March 7, 2023
Kharousheh’s funeral further exposed the growing divide between many Palestinian fighters in the West Bank and the Palestinian Authority. The PA partially governs areas of the territory, and its forces fired tear gas at mourners during the funeral. The confrontation appears to have been rooted in the prominent placement of a Hamas flag on Kharousheh’s body. Hamas is the Palestinian group that Kharousheh belonged to, but the PA is controlled by Fatah – Hamas’ rival.
There are divisions on the Israeli side, too. Over the weekend, opponents of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu demonstrated against his plan to weaken the independence of the judiciary for the ninth week running. They received welcomed support when dozens of air force reservists said they would not attend a training day this week in protest against the government, leading to an angry response from Netanyahu and his supporters.
[READ: Israeli settler attacks against Palestinians, by the numbers]
Earthquakes, One Month On
A month ago, people went to sleep in their homes, not knowing the destruction that a magnitude 7.8 earthquake was about to bring to southeastern Turkey and northwestern Syria. More than 52,000 people were killed, and for hundreds of kilometres, cities, towns and villages have been devastated. Our attention has turned to the survivors, and their attempts to resurrect their lives and rebuild their homes. They could possibly use the recovery plan from the 1999 Marmara earthquake, in northwestern Turkey, as a template for the rebuild, but at the same time, people in Antakya – historic Antioch – are worried that a rush to rebuild ancient sites will threaten the city’s identity and heritage.
And then there’s all the care still needed for people with something called crush syndrome, a debilitating condition that can affect people who spend hours under the weight of rubble. A two-year-old by the name of Nour has already lost one leg to the condition, and is at risk of losing the other.
[READ: Young Syrian refugees in Turkey worry about their post-earthquake future]
I also really recommend taking the time to read this personal account by Al Jazeera reporter Resul Serdar, who has been covering the aftermath of the earthquakes. He describes the horrible despair he has witnessed in the past month, including in his own home city, Adıyaman, where he was able to reunite with his family.
And Now for Something Different
In the Zagros Mountains of Iraq, skiing is growing ever more popular. One tourism company, VIKurdistan, decided to sponsor a visit by a group of refugees, who got to ski for the first time. As you can imagine, they loved it.
US faces calls to deny entry to Bezalel Smotrich, Israel’s far-right finance minister | US secretary of defence pays surprise trip to Iraq | Israeli forces kill 15-year-old Palestinian after “shooting him in the back” | Qatar appoints Sheikh Mohammed bin Abdulrahman Al Thani as prime minister | Israeli attack puts Syria’s Aleppo International Airport out of service | International parliamentarians urged to raise Bahrain human rights at assembly | Online scam swindles Egyptians out of close to half a million dollars | Iran supreme leader promises punishment for schoolgirl poisonings | Syria condemns US general’s visit to territory held by Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces | Tunisia’s opposition defies protest ban with rally | Iran pledges to cooperate on nuclear matters with IAEA | People in northwest Syria fear cholera epidemic | Libya approves constitutional changes in step towards elections |
Quote of the Week
“The attack took place a few days after the Tunisian president spoke. His speech was inciteful against us, and its results have begun to appear.” | Nikki Yanga, a refugee from the Democratic Republic of Congo trying to leave Tunisia, after President Kais Saied said migration from sub-Saharan Africa threatens to change his country’s identity. The African Union has postponed an upcoming conference scheduled for Tunisia, after previously criticising Saied’s comments.