Opinion

David Rohde

The global middle class awakens

David Rohde
Jun 21, 2013 18:09 UTC

People stand during a silent protest at Taksim Square in Istanbul June 18, 2013.  REUTERS/Marko Djurica

Alper, a 26-year-old Turkish corporate lawyer, has benefited enormously from Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s rule. He is one of millions of young Turks who rode the country’s economic boom to a lifestyle his grandparents could scarcely imagine.

Yet he loathes Erdogan, participated in the Taksim Square demonstrations and is taking part in the new “standing man” protests in Istanbul.

“The prime minister is continuing to blatantly lie about the demonstrations,” said Alper, who asked that his last name not be used because he feared arrest. “People are actually scared that if they stop this momentum, then the government will feel free to exercise more force.”

From Turkey to Brazil to Iran the global middle class is awakening politically. The size, focus and scope of protests vary, but this is not unfolding chaos — it is nascent democracy. Citizens are demanding basic political rights, accountable governments and a fairer share of resources.

In Turkey, Erdogan disrespects dissent

David Rohde
Dec 14, 2012 13:14 UTC

Instead of leading the post-Arab Spring Middle East, Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan is setting a sad new standard for gratuitous intolerance. Three weeks ago, Turkey’s dominant political figure took time out of his busy schedule to threaten the makers of Turkey’s most popular soap opera.

The program ‑ “Magnificent Century” ‑ is a titillating weekly series that exaggerates the romance, intrigue and sex life of Suleiman the Magnificent, a revered 16th century Ottoman leader. Hugely popular in Turkey and the Middle East, the show is broadcast in 43 countries and watched by 200 million people.

This spring, I interviewed the directors and actors who create “Magnificent Century,” toured their lavish set and lauded the program and other Turkish soap operas for creating new roles, new heroes and new cultural norms in a rapidly changing region. Erdogan views the program as seditious.

Inside Islam’s culture war

David Rohde
Mar 8, 2012 22:38 UTC

ISTANBUL – In a state-of-the-art television studio here, the Islamic world’s version of America’s culture war is playing out in a lavishly re-created 16th century palace.

A dashing Turkish actor plays Suleiman the Magnificent, the Ottoman ruler who conquered vast swaths of the Middle East and Europe, granted basic rights to Christians and Jews, and promoted education, science and art.

To Turkish conservatives, the series maligns a revered ruler known as “the lawgiver” whose military prowess and legal reforms placed the Ottomans at the zenith of their power. Set in the palace harem, early episodes featured a young Suleiman cavorting with scantily clad women and drinking wine. The sex was frequent.

Talk for now in Syria, but prepare to arm

David Rohde
Feb 24, 2012 00:52 UTC

REYHANLI, Turkey – Here on the border between Turkey and Syria, evidence abounds that Bashir Al-Assad is winning.

Despite widespread rumors, no organized effort is under way to arm rebel fighters. The opposition “Free Syrian Army” remains a poorly equipped and loosely organized militia unable to stop a Syrian army still loyal to Assad. At the same time, a sectarian conflict between Assad’s ruling Allawite minority and Syria’s Sunni majority is intensifying.

In northern Syria, Sunni and Allawite villages have divided into pro- and anti-government enclaves, according to fleeing refugees. At checkpoints, government security forces order people to pray to the country’s Allawite leader. If they refuse, they are deemed Sunni subversives. And Sunni army defectors say Allawite officers threatened them with execution if they refused to fire on demonstrators.

Save lives in Turkey

David Rohde
Oct 23, 2011 16:08 UTC

A major earthquake in eastern Turkey Sunday morning killed up to 1,000 people and produced images of sweeping destruction and panicked pleas for help. Immediately dispatching search-and-rescue teams and humanitarian assistance is the right course of action for the United States and Europe.

There is a core humanitarian and moral duty to act now. Quick responses by American search-and-rescue teams saved earthquake victims in the past. Forty-three foreign teams – including six from the United States – pulled 123 Haitians from the rubble alive after last year’s devastating earthquake in Port-au-Prince. Cynics about foreign aid should remember that providing humanitarian assistance in response to national disasters is a central tool in maintaining goodwill toward the United States.

Unfortunately, there is a widespread perception in predominantly Muslim countries that Americans and Europeans care less about the death of Muslims than those of members of other faiths. Americans gave less aid to victims of Pakistan’s 2010 floods than they did to victims of Haiti’s 2010 earthquake. Haiti’s relative proximity to the United States could be one explanation, but suspicions that Pakistan’s military intelligence service, the ISI, sheltered Afghan Taliban fighters may be another.

Where Islam and democracy meet, uneasily

David Rohde
Oct 21, 2011 15:40 UTC

ISTANBUL — Last month, Davut Dogan, an amiable, 51-year-old businessman from Turkey’s Anatolian heartland, accompanied Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan on a historic trip to post-Mubarak Egypt. In a single day, Dogan and 259 other Turkish business leaders flush with cash announced $853 million in new contracts.

“We will go to Egypt next month to finalize the deal,” said Dogan, who is opening a $10 million furniture manufacturing plant there. “The factory will employ two hundred people.”

From the rapturous welcome Erdogan received to the economic power the Turkish businessmen displayed, the trip demonstrated Turkey’s potential to serve as a model for the Post-Arab spring Middle East. The violent death of Muammar Gaddafi Thursday in Libya and elections in Tunisia this weekend show the desperate need for an alternative to the region’s two failed models of government: American-backed dictatorships and authoritarian Islam.

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