Middle East round-up: Erdogan in pole position in Turkey

Here’s a round-up of Al Jazeera’s Middle East coverage this week.

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(Umit Bektas/Reuters)

Erdogan’s the man to beat in Turkey, Palestinians mark the Nakba’s 75th anniversary, and Sudan’s fighting continues. Here’s your round up of our coverage, written by Abubakr Al-Shamahi, Al Jazeera Digital’s Middle East and North Africa editor.

Never write off Recep Tayyip Erdogan. Now in his 20th year in power in Turkey, the president must have thought the recent elections had come around at the worst possible time, given the economic crisis, not one but two devastating earthquakes, frustration among the young, less-than-friendly relations with the West and a real desire for change on the part of millions of his fellow Turks.

And yet, despite most polls predicting that his rival, Kemal Kilicdaroglu would come out on top in last Sunday’s presidential election, it was Erdogan who beat his challenger by about four percentage points, narrowly missing out on the 50 percent plus one needed for a first round win. Erdogan’s electoral alliance, meanwhile, won another majority in parliament.

Turkey presidential election round 1 election map
(Al Jazeera)

While the race isn’t over – there will now be a presidential run-off between Erdogan and Kilicdaroglu on May 28 – the Turkish opposition has to be demoralised, and will have to recalibrate, fast. Kilicdaroglu had been marketed as the soft-spoken dede (Turkish for grandfather), a deliberate tactic to differentiate him from the tough-talking Erdogan. He was a liberal who would roll back what the opposition view as Turkey’s increasingly authoritarian turn, healing relationships both inside and outside Turkey.

But to catch up with Erdogan, Kilicdaroglu and the opposition have now decided on a different tack. Up for grabs are the supporters of Sinan Ogan, the nationalist who came in a distant third in the first round. Gone now are the sweet-talking and cutesy heart gestures that Kilicdaroglu has employed. Instead, he has released videos of him banging a table to presumably demonstrate his passion. He’s also played on the rising anti-refugee sentiment by accusing the government of letting in (an exaggerated) 10 million “irregular” migrants, and promising to send them home.

Despite Kilicdaroglu’s oratorical makeover, Erdogan is now the firm favourite. What’s more, Kilicdaroglu’s approach is further evidence of what I view as the main takeaway from the elections: the undeniable rise and staying power of nationalism in Turkey, and, as I explain in this analysis piece, the reality that Erdogan’s eventual replacement is most likely going to be a nationalist.

Conflict in Gaza, 75 Years after the Nakba

After four days of Israeli air attacks and rocket fire from the Gaza Strip killed at least 33 Palestinians and one Israeli, a truce was agreed between Israel and the Palestinian Islamic Jihad. The PIJ has lost several of its leaders, but the conflict did not draw in Hamas, the rulers of the blockaded territory. The Israeli government can point to the fighting as a success. Not only was there no prolonged conflict, but there was even a bump in the polls for Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

But, once again, it’s the civilians in Gaza who have suffered. For Toqa, a 10-year-old schoolgirl, that means the loss of her best friend, Mayar, who was killed on the first day of the Israeli bombing. “It is very difficult to see your child go through such a severe state of grief at this early age,” says Toqa’s mother, Alaa.

The truce in Gaza came just a couple of days before Palestinians marked the 75th anniversary of what they call the Nakba, the Catastrophe, on May 15. Why a catastrophe? Because it marks the foundation of the state of Israel, and for Palestinians, the mass displacement and occupation that has followed. While most Palestinians were forced to flee the lands that would later become Israel, some of the buildings they left behind have remained, seized by the authorities. In Haifa, some are being sold as luxury real estate, while in Bayt Nabala, only the school still stands, whereas much of the rest of the village and its lands, the story of which is recreated in this Long Read, are now part of Israel’s main airport, Ben Gurion International.

One month of fighting in Sudan

Shaden Gardood is one of the more than 600 civilians who have been killed in the last month of fighting in Sudan. A popular singer, she lived in Omdurman, next to the capital Khartoum, where she is believed to have been caught in the crossfire between the Sudanese Armed Forces and the paramilitary Rapid Support Forces.

The fighting itself shows few signs of slowing down, despite talks held in Saudi Arabia. There has been no ceasefire agreement at these talks, with both sides seemingly still believing that they can win.

So, civilians continue to suffer, in Khartoum and across the rest of the country, with little hope for a quick resolution.

And now for something different

A Hebrew Bible dating to about 900 AD has been sold for $38m, one of the highest sums ever paid for a manuscript at auction. The so-called Codex Sassoon is leather-bound and handwritten, made of about 400 parchment leaves. It will now travel from the United States to Israel, where it will join the collection at the Museum of the Jewish People in Tel Aviv.


France issues arrest warrant for Lebanon central bank chief | Libya parliament suspends rival eastern-based prime minister, Bashagha | Qatar, Bahrain to resume direct flights on May 25 | Iraq exhumes remains of 605 ISIL victims from mass graves | Egyptian government sells 9.5 percent of state-controlled Telecom Egypt | PUK returns to Kurdish Regional Government meetings after boycott | Iran summons Iraq envoy to protest against presence of “terrorist groups” | Syria extends permission on post-quake aid border crossings | US to bolster “defensive posture” in Gulf | Two French citizens leave Iran after release from prison | Turkey slams Charlie Hebdo’s cover of electrocuted Erdogan in bathtub |

Quote of the week

“Tunisian democrats have not remained silent. Dozens are in prison for bravely defending their hard won rights and freedoms, and faced trumped-up charges of ‘conspiring against the state’.”An open letter, signed by 150 academics and public figures, has called for the release of Tunisian politician Rached Ghannouchi, who was sentenced to a year in prison this week, having been arrested as part of a crackdown against the Tunisian opposition last month. Human Rights Watch said last week that 30 opposition figures critical of President Kais Saied had been arrested.

Source: Al Jazeera