Turkey in a twit over Twitter
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Turkey in a twit over Twitter

With press restrictions limiting local coverage of protests, Erdogan takes to pummeling social media

Turkish protesters clash with riot police near the former Ottoman palace, Dolmabahce, where Turkey's Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan maintains an office in Istanbul, Turkey, on June 1, 2013. (photo credit: AP)
Turkish protesters clash with riot police near the former Ottoman palace, Dolmabahce, where Turkey's Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan maintains an office in Istanbul, Turkey, on June 1, 2013. (photo credit: AP)

What began last Monday as a mild demonstration against the building of an Ottoman-style shopping center in Taksim Square’s Gezi park in Istanbul has transformed into an impassioned, bloody referendum on the Islamist direction in which Prime Minister Recep Tayyep Erdogan is leading Turkey, Arab media outlets report on Monday.

Since Friday, when Turkish police officers attempted to forcefully suppress the protests with excessive tear gas and water cannons, two people have been killed, 1,700 injured, and an additional 1,700 arrested across the country. Protests have so far flared up in at least 67 cities, and Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu’s is worried that ”these protests will badly damage Turkey’s international reputation,” as quoted in the London-based pan-Arab daily Al-Hayat.

In order to quell the strife, Erdogan admits that his security forces’ initial response against the protesters was “excessive,” but goes on to brand those opposed to his rule “as an extremist fringe of thieves” associated with the opposition Republican People’s party. He denies any accusation that he or his party’s rule are dictatorial in the least, and vows to continue with the planned development project that sparked the protests.

“We will not ask permission from the head of the Republican People’s party or a handful of terrorists,” Erdogan said. “Those who voted for us gave us the authority to do this.”

‘We will not ask permission from the head Republican People’s party or a handful of terrorists. Those who voted for us gave us the authority to do this’

Erdogan may have been elected to office through democratic elections, but he and his party are coming under fire for allegedly undemocratic policy prescriptions. Erdogan, who has served as prime minister for 11 years, does not hide his intention to create a more centralized government with himself at the heart and to continue to inject Islamic practice into the public sphere.

While international media outlets, including the Saudi-owned daily A-Sharq Al-Awsat, report live on the ground from Taksim Square, there is still a noticeable dearth of Turkish reporters.

Turkish media has deliberately avoided covering the protests, a sign that local political activists say demonstrates a clear lack of press freedom. Erdogan has frequently lambasted media outlets that criticize his political stances, and many journalists say that the ensuing government intimidation is suffocating.

However, as the Dubai-based Al-Arabiya reports, since Turkish media are keeping mum, Erdogan has only one platform to lash out against: social media.

“The main menace of these protests is called Twitter,” Erdogan said. “The best example of lies can be found there. To me, social media is the worst menace to society.”

Gazans banned from watching local ‘Arab Idol’

Palestinian singing sensation Mohammed Assaf may be firing up crowds and causing hearts to swoon on the television show “Arab Idol,” with his signature mix of impassioned renditions of classical Arab melodies and American pop hits, but in Gaza, his hometown, his live performances are being banned.

According to the London-based Al-Quds Al-Arabi, with the news that Assaf made the cut to compete for the Arab Idol title along with five other contestants, Gaza’s Islamic clerics are ordering residents to prevent their families from watching the final episodes.

“These performances are nothing but a distraction for our Muslim youth,” one Gaza preacher said. “This is an import from the West to keep Muslims from being pious. Assaf does not represent the Palestinian people in the least. We [Palestinians] maintain our ethics and pass down ethics to our children by preventing them from watching television from abroad.”

Assaf has come to be seen as a symbol of unity for the much-fractured Palestinian people and has received praise from former Palestinian prime minister Salam Fayyad and PA President Mahmoud Abbas. He has called for unity between Hamas and Fatah, the two estranged Palestinian factions, so they can work together.

Once the show, based in Beirut, wraps up its season, it is unclear where Assaf will go home to. Some Hamas politicians are calling to ban him from returning due to the “contemptible nature of his celebrity status.”

It should be noted that the Gaza’s Hamas-run government did not interfere in his application process to the show. However, it may come to pass that Assaf’s larger-than-life status and calls for re-unification with the Fatah-run West Bank may be too big a pill for the clerics to swallow.

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