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Eurasia Security Watch - No. 178
Edited by Jeff Smith
June 18, 2008
A CENTRAL ASIAN UNION IN THE WORKS?
The former Soviet states of Central Asia have been driven together in recent years by energy and politics. All five are carefully balancing a close relationship with Russia, China and the West, and each can look forward to a future either as a growing energy supplier, or a critical link in a blossoming energy transport corridor. Kazakhstan’s President, Nursultan Nazarbayev, has long favored institutionalizing those shared interests, and is now pushing for a Central Asian Union, showering his poorer eastern neighbors with some of Kazakhstan’s energy wealth. Amidst a flurry of economic agreements with the two countries, Nazarbayev secured backing for his plans from Kyrgyzstan in April, while the Tajik president, Imomali Rahmonov, warmed to the idea on a trip to Astana in May. However, Nazarbayev’s vision remains opposed by Uzbekistan, Kazakhstan’s chief rival for influence in the region, which appears content with both poor countries remaining dependent on Tashkent for energy. (Radio Free Europe, May 14, 2008)
TURKEY’S POLITICAL SCENE ERUPTS...
A fierce standoff between the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) and the country’s secular judicial and military establishments has brought Turkish politics to its most volatile point since the military’s “soft coup” in the year 2000. Turkey’s Supreme Court of Appeals fired the opening shots by agreeing to hear a case questioning the basic legality of the Islamist AKP in a country where secularism is enshrined in the constitution. With seventy-one of its leaders facing banishment from politics for five years, the AKP shot back, referring to the case as a “judicial coup” and declaring an Appeals Court statement as having “no democratic or legal legitimacy.”
The already-tense standoff reached new heights with a more recent 9-2 decision by the Supreme Court to overturn an AKP-backed law allowing women to wear the Islamic headscarf in public universities – legislation viewed by many as the spark for the broader Islamist-secularist showdown. In a case that reveals where the court is leaning on the AKP issue, the judges ruled that the law, in which parliament amended the constitution to lift the ban, was itself unconstitutional, as it infringed on Turkey’s secularist principles. (Istanbul Zaman, May 22, 2008; Times of London, June 6, 2008)
...BUT U.S. INTEL COURTSHIP CONTINUES
Turkey’s political deadlock, however, does not appear to have stalled a broader push by the Bush administration to deepen intelligence-sharing cooperation among the two NATO allies. On a visit to Ankara in May, Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff outlined to his Turkish counterpart details of an FBI-based database designed to monitor suspected terrorists by tracking flights, credit card usage, and phone calls. The program, already operational, has already been joined by other U.S. allies such as Britain and Italy. As of yet, Ankara has given no formal answer to the proposal, and many suspect the government there to be weighing the program’s value in the fight against its own principal terrorist foe: the Kurdish Workers Party. (Istanbul Zaman, May 29, 2008)
EGYPT’S PERPETUAL STATE OF EMERGENCY
The Egyptian government has yet again extended its nearly three-decade-old state of emergency for two more years. The measure easily sailed though a congress dominated by government loyalists. In effect since 1981, when President Anwar Sadat was assassinated by Islamist militants, the law authorizes police to “detain people indefinitely without charges, refer civilians to military courts, close dissident publications and thwart demonstrations.” Anti-terrorism legislation pending in parliament and backed by President Hosni Mubarak is expected to mimic the state of emergency and restrict “specific new forms of secular political opposition,” according to Eddin Hassan, the general director of the Cairo Institute for Human Rights Studies. (Los Angeles Times, May 26, 2008)
SYRIA TALKING... AND HEDGING
Despite the initiation of potentially groundbreaking back-channel peace talks between Syria and Israel, the former continues to supply the anti-Israeli Lebanese militant group Hezbollah with “large amounts of weapons, missile and rockets,” defense officials tell Israel’s Army Radio. Ehud Barak, Israel’s Defense Minister, has called the relationship between the two Iranian allies “intimate,” even as Israeli and Syrian officials continue to publicly parry each other’s statements on the secretive peace talks. Syrian president Bashar al-Assad, who is “waiting for an Israeli response” to his “vision for peace,” told newspaper editors in the United Arab Emirates that the talks would hinge on “how stable [Israel’s government] is” -- an apparent reference to Prime Minister Ehud Olmert’s tenuous hold on power following a string of corruption investigations. (Tel Aviv Ha’aretz, June 4, 2008)