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The Takeaway: April 1, 2020

Four things on COVID-19:

I. Turkey: Can Erdogan be believed?

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said March 30 that “Turkey, in comparison to Europe and the US, is one of the countries that are closest to overcoming the spread of this disease,” while sending medical supplies to Spain and Italy. As of April 1, Turkey has 15,679 confirmed cases of coronavirus and 277 deaths.

No doubt Turkey is struggling, like all countries, to mitigate the effects of the outbreak, imposing tough restrictions on public gatherings and travel. Erdogan’s approach, however, also reflects a longstanding trend to control information and crack down on independent groups that challenge his messages and policies.

Here are four trends to watch in how Turkey is managing the crisis:

Mixed messaging. Kadri Gursel explains how despite the tough restrictions, the Turkish government has doubled down on opacity in its reporting on the outbreak, a trend not helped by Turkey’s lack of free and independent media. Read Gursel’s story here.

Crackdowns on medical groups and opposition. Diego Cupolo reports here on how independent medical groups and political opposition figures are being blocked by the government in conveying information about COVID-19.

Femicide on rise amid lockdown. Women’s and civic groups report that 18 women have been killed in Turkey since March 11, when Ankara confirmed its first COVID-19 case. The killers included spouses, partners, ex-husbands and ex-partners as well as male relatives of the victims. Sibel Hurtas has the story here.

Grave economic risk. The pandemic has caught Turkey “in a feeble financial state,” reports Mustafa Sonmez, “leaving millions at grave economic risk. While many governments have opted for direct cash payments to cushion the economic shock of the pandemic, Ankara has delivered little in this respect, having run out of financial resources since a currency crisis in 2018.”


II. Russia: COVID-19 aid should be channeled through Assad

Vassily Nebenzia, Russian ambassador to the UN, said this week that “only the Syrian government is capable to ensure the safety of humanitarian aid … the United Nations should engage with them in good faith.” As we wrote here last week, Russian President Vladimir Putin views the coronavirus crisis as an opportunity to facilitate engagement with Syrian President Bashar al-Assad. “Russia has called for the United States to lift sanctions on Iran in response to the pandemic,” we wrote, “expect Moscow soon to pick up the same charge for Syria.” The Russian Foreign Ministry this week backed a call by the UNHCR for an urgent review of “sectoral sanctions that affect health care and human rights” in Syria.

Read more: Daniel Hoffman explains here how Putin’s Syria COVID-19 strategy is part of a broader plan to counter US influence in the region.


III. Saudi leader of Muslim World League: ‘We are all in this together’

In an email interview with Al-Monitor, Mohammad bin Abdulkarim al-Issa, secretary-general of the Muslim World League, said interfaith partnerships are a “religious and moral duty,” and even more so because of the coronavirus pandemic.

Referring to his contacts with Muslim, Christian, Jewish and other religious leaders during the pandemic, Issa said, “Some of our collective plans are still in development. But what I can say is I am working every day with my fellow religious leaders on how to unite our efforts for the common good of all. This action represents our religious and moral duty, and none of us are resting at this time of so much need.”

Read the full interview here.

Two quick takes:

Israel: Gantz decision to form emergency government deflates Arab Joint List

The decision by Blue and White Leader (and now Knesset speaker) Benny Gantz to form a national emergency government with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has placed the Arab Joint List at a crossroads.

Gantz’s decision was a shocker: “After all,” writes Afif Abu Much, “the Joint List achieved a record voter turnout, winning 15 seats in the last election; it enjoyed an impressive voting rate among the Arab public, its highest in the past two decades at 64.8%. The Arab public hung great hopes on Gantz and on the opportunity to form a center-left government that would send Netanyahu home. Thus, the Joint List unanimously recommended to President Reuven Rivlin that Gantz be charged with forming a government.”

Crossroads: “The great challenge for anyone who seeks to court the Arab vote in the future,” continues Abu Much, “is how to convince the Arab public that its voice is meaningful and that it is part of the political game, even though since the second Yitzhak Rabin government Arab parties have not been an influential factor in shaping the leadership in Israel.”

Afif’s must-read article is here. And Mazal Mualem has the latest here on the stalled negotiations for a unity government.


Syria: Idlib’s tragedy continues

Sonia Ali, reporting from Idlib, writes about the indignities and hardships faced by the men, women and children who have fled to Idlib city (yes, to Idlib) after being displaced by fighting in their towns. “Most people suffer from poverty,” Ali writes, “while other families have lost their main providers. Numerous child beggars are seen in the streets and denied access to education and basic care, whether they live in the displaced camps or the cities and towns of northern Syria. Scores of women are seen lining the streets begging passengers and shop owners for money, which point to a wide-scale phenomenon that has turned into a profession.” Read the story here.

Read more: Shivan Ibrahim, reporting from northeast Syria, covers the lockdown in the areas administered by the Syrian Kurdish autonomous administration. Read his report here.

What we’re reading … and why:
The failure of Iraq’s sectarian model of governance

Iraq experts Toby Dodge and Renad Mansour write that pro-reform demonstrations in Iraq have “transformed Iraq’s political field, making the status quo dependent upon violence.” They conclude that “in spite of sectarianization’s failure, it remains the guiding logic for the ruling elite’s plans for survival.” Check it out here in The Review of Faith & International Affairs.



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