Erdogan goes Ottoman in reforming Turkey’s Byzantine Constitution

Historical soap operas like Muhteşem Yüzyıl (Magnificent Century) are making the "sick man of Europe" popular again across former Ottoman territories -- in Greece,  usually hostile to all things Turkish, episodes of Muhteşem Yüzyıl are aired daily.
Historical soap operas like Muhteşem Yüzyıl (Magnificent Century) are making the “sick man of Europe” popular again across former Ottoman territories — in Greece, usually hostile to all things Turkish, episodes of Muhteşem Yüzyıl are aired daily.

Today Ankara, and the rest of Turkey, nervously anticipates the long-awaited and much disputed AKP democratization package, a series of constitutional reforms addressing longstanding democratic issues with the existing draft.

Created in the wake of Kemal Ataturk’s republican revolution and amended following a military coup in the 1980s, the current constitution is rife with articles restricting freedom of the press, religious freedom, and political plurality. Just how much of that the AKP wants to change is an open question.

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Occupy Istanbul: The Watch goes to Turkey

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Occupy Istanbul: The Watch goes to Turkey

Over a long summer break waiting for a visa to return to Turkey, I wrote this piece for the University of King’s College’s Watch Magazine. I hope to be back with more posts shortly — although perhaps less regularly as my time is divided between Byzantine bureaucracy, German romantics, and the Imperial Circumcision Festival of 1582 (it’s a thing).

Gezi Park Undone While Conflict Breaks Out in Turkey’s East

A Syrian rebel fighter in the northeastern Syrian border town of Ras al-Ayn on Nov. 11. Source: Murad Seezer/Reuters/Landov. via NPR.

It’s been a while since I’ve posted and yet so many newsworthy things are happening in Turkey right now.

The first is the slow but near-complete reversal of any changes, minor though they were, to result from the Gezi Park protests.

This began when the police officer charged with killing a protester avoided prosecution because the public prosecutor did not ask permission of the police to try him.

There was also the earlier release of a machete-wielding shopkeeper, who fled to Morocco (allegedly to return) and subsequent imitation attacks on demonstrators.

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Muslims Go Hungry While Army Men Go Rambo, and other news

Families break the fast in Taksim Square as protesters crowd the steps of Gezi Park.
Families break the fast in Taksim Square as protesters crowd the steps of Gezi Park.

It’s been considerably quieter in the Middle East lately — not necessarily a reflection of any particular quiet, more likely that a series of disasters at home and a complicated and multifaceted situation in Egypt has kept the media occupied.

It’s also the holy month of Ramadan, meaning that many in this part of the world are too exhausted with daytime fasting to be kicking up a fuss.

That said, protests and forums in the aftermath of the long-awaited reopening of Gezi Park, the heart of this summer’s anti-government protests, have demonstrated that the communal evening iftar, or breaking of the fast, is a powerful opportunity for organizing.

In one instance, as a response to the municipality’s decision to accommodate the daily meal in Taksim Square instead of Gezi Park as in previous years, the Anti-Capitalist Muslims, a faction within Taksim Platform, set up their own tables running the length of Istiklal Avenue.

The meals were followed by large marches up Istiklal into Gezi, which, although not occupied on a permanent basis, remains a hotbed of protest against the government’s handling of inquiries into the police violence that claimed five lives and injured thousands.

At least for now, it seems the police are hesitant to clash with protesters who demonstrate peacefully across from religiously observant families eating together during this spiritually important time.

Visitors light candles in Gezi Park for the five killed in clashes with police.
Visitors light candles in Gezi Park for the five killed in clashes with police.

The same can not be said of supporters of the governing  Freedom and Development (AK) party. A disturbing rise in the frequency of supporter violence has followed the release of two men seen in news video stalking the streets with machetes and assaulting protesters.

One of the men, who was a shop owner allegedly suffering crippling losses as a result of the unrest cause by protests, might even be compensated for his losses on the grounds that he is a “terror victim.”

Though the courts eventually issued a warrant out for his arrest, the man in question fled to Morocco, escaping persecution.

And in days following, imitation attacks took place in Ankara against Gezi sympathy protests. Footage has also emerged showing pro-AK party demonstrators attacking protesters with batons, and commemorative gatherings and forums run by Taksim Platform have also come under assault by assailants with knives and sticks, leaving several injured.

Journalists have also become the target of angry shop owners in Istanbul’s Beyoglu neighbourhood.

It is hard not to see this new brazenness as the result of the minimal response given to blatant instances of assault on demonstrators. Police and the courts seem reluctant to charge or investigate these acts of violence, and members of the AK party and pro-government media attempt to cast the assailants in a sympathetic light.

Inside Gezi Park, nightly marches still end in protests.
Inside Gezi Park, nightly marches still end in protests.

Still, it has nothing on Egypt, which this week has seen tensions rise considerably following the killing of 51 pro-Brotherhood demonstrators by the Egyptian Army. The new powers that be have also closed Islamist media outlets and arrested leading figures of the Muslim Brotherhood, while the once-independent media appears set to portray the army in the most positive possible light.

The “soft” coup against Egyptian President Mohammed Mursi drew some interesting replies from the Turkish government. Unsurprisingly, the initial response of Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan was one of unequivocal condemnation.

Rumours circulated almost immediately following his ouster that Mursi would be given asylum in Turkey, and though he remains under arrest, it is not entirely unlikely that a released Mursi would find his way to Turkey.

Turkey enjoyed renewed relations with Egypt following Mursi’s election as Erdogan’s AK party and the Muslim Brotherhood found themselves with the same strategic and social objectives.

Both governments depended on a wave of rural conservative discontent, and both increasingly relied on sectarian politics during times of crisis. Erdogan appealed continually to his Muslim base during Gezi, painting protesters as secularists, and Mursi relied all-to-heavily on sometimes hardline Islamist parties for his power.

This similarity shows in their rhetoric, and not just that directed against an allegedly purely secular opposition. Both appealed to “ballot box” democracy when their legitimacy as majoritarians was questioned.

Indeed, Erdogan even implied that the Gezi protests could have laid the groundwork for a Turkish coup, “like in Egypt,” suggesting modern coups are produced by squares full of protesters and that old menace, Twitter.

Following Mursi’s fall, Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu pressured the European Union and longtime Brotherhood ally Qatar to intervene and condemn the coup, accusing them of hypocrisy in not intervening (though he accused them of the same when they tried to intervene to apply pressure on Erdogan during Gezi).

As for the new Egpytian govenrment, it looks as though relations with Turkey may be permanently marred, as the government continues to call for the release of Mursi and the reinstatement of his government. One spokesperson for the AK party accused Egypt of “backwardness” in ousting a democratic government, and suggested, as always, that foreign powers were responsible.

There are interesting parallels between modern Turkey and the Brotherhood in their mutual fear of an independent armed forces with the power to intervene on behalf of the often ambiguous “will of the people.”

In the shadow of Egypt’s coup, Turkey’s parliament just yesterday amended the constitution to specify the army as a defense against foreign aggressors, rather than as the much more loosely defined “safeguard [of] the Turkish Republic as stipulated by the Constitution”.

It was this article that enabled the army to overthrow and threaten previous governments, including the AK party during their appointment of Islamist president Abdullah Gul.

Though this constitutional change is widely supported in Turkey and indicates that, for Turks, the age of coups truly is over, Mursi’s attempt to assert the same merely resulted in his arrest and deposition.

It is no surprise that a fellow Islamist government with a recent memory of coups finds the overthrow and potential suppression of the Muslim Brotherhood so shocking.

But though Erdogan need not fear a coup anymore, he could learn something from the stunted regime of the Brotherhood about majoritarian governance. Some greater tact may be needed from a governing Islamist party than would be required from any other, especially when dealing with the voice of minorities and the opposition.

The protesters can learn something too. There were times during the Gezi protests where it seemed that if the people dared ask for a coup, the army would have given them one.

With the constitutional changes in effect, they will have to be much more intelligent about their opposition should they want a change in powers. The army can no longer provide the national unity in discontent that the opposition parties fail to provide.

Istiklal erupts in clashes as protesters move to retake Gezi

An updated (and more coherent) version of this article has been published on Your Middle East. You can read it here.

map-taksimclashes-july6

Above: A map showing the sites of clashes as of midnight, June 6. See the full map here.

All of Istanbul’s central Beyoglu district is in chaos again, after protesters attempting to march on Taksim Square were met with heavy police intervention.

If there is a new policy against indiscriminate tear gassing, it certainly isn’t in effect. Police wage minor street battles with protesters in side streets, firing countless rounds of tear gas as hardcore demonstrators respond with bottles and rocks.

Today’s demonstrations were an attempt by Taksim Platform, the organization to emerge from last month’s Gezi Park protests, to push police out of the park, which was the centre of anti-government protests for over 20 days.

The park remains occupied by police more than a month after a court decision rejecting government proposals to construct a shopping mall and historic barracks over one of Istanbul’s last green spaces.

A brutal police clearance that saw hundreds injured and medical staff, children, and elderly gassed and detained ended an Occupy-style protest in the park. Sympathy protests against the increasingly authoritarian regime of Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan and his Justice and Development Party (AKP) continue across the country, often being met with the same indiscriminate police violence.

Protesters attempting to erect barricades on Istiklal Avenue, the central shopping avenue of the Old City, have been beaten back by blasts of water from TOMA crowd control tanks and tear gas.

The Interior Minister has called the interventions “normal”, but Istiklal, normally the scene of wild parties and late-night shopping on Saturday nights, is filled with fearful bystanders jumping at the sound of exploding tear canisters.

From Taksim Square, which is completely cut off from the public by riot police, to Galatasary Tower, at the end of Istiklal Avenue, is being patrolled by small groups of police firing gas into side streets.

The operation, despite pushing protesters further and further off of the main avenue, will eventually have to end in indiscriminate police violence if it is to have any effect. Istanbul’s Beyoglu neighbourhood is a network of densely packed winding streets which provide perfect escape routes for protesters.

Businesses and local residents, ostensibly with their doors and windows shuttered, are sheltering protesters fleeing gas. The Istanbul Bar Association’s Beyoglu office is providing medical aid, and countless heavy iron gates from Ottoman days guard escapees from the riot tanks that race down Istiklal, firing gas down the avenue.

Next to the Pera Muzesi, where a small covered souk connects Istaklal Avenue to the adjacent Tarlabasi road, a fierce battle is being waged between stone throwers and police, filling the mall with clouds of gas.

Protesters driven from the side streets by gas are for the moment congregating near the Marmara Hotel, though there is constant movement to and from Istiklal.

Traffic continues to move on many of Istiklal’s non-pedestrianized side streets, and cars and cabs are being caught up in clouds of gas.

Two streets over from one of upper Istiklal’s most fierce battles, bars overflow with patrons enjoying beer on a street just recently subjected to the attentions of a TOMA tank.

Journalists with press cards were kettled behind riot police in Taksim Square, while unaccredited photographers roamed Istiklal, dodging tear gas canisters as they kicked up sparks on Istiklal’s cobbles.

Frightening video has emerged of indiscriminate machete attacks on fleeing bystanders and protesters earlier in the day. They have allegedly been detained by police.

Today was supposed to be a quiet night of jazz in Beyoglu, as the Istanbul Jazz Festival staged its “festival within a festival”, the Tunel Concerts. I was trying to get to Sisane, near Galatasaray Tunel, when the closure of Taksim Square’s metro station told me something was up.

Protesters had warned they would occupy the park by Sunday, when the interior minister said it would be reopened to the public, regardless of the police presence.

And of course I forgot my camera…

Egypt Invites the Army In, Turkey Blames the Jews, plus many links

Egypt looks increasingly like a clusterfuck and to hordes of internet commentators it is no surprise, though many seem to be big fans of the word “foreboding.”

As it stands today, the clock is ticking on a 48-hour ultimatum from the Egyptian Army to address “the will of the people.” President Mohammed Morsi has “rebuffed” the army, arguing that the ultimatum sets the stage for an unconstitutional coup.

Of course, that constitution he’s citing was the one he rushed through with Islamist support, largely ignoring the will of the opposition parties that constitute the bulk of those protesting.

After the 48 hours is up, which conveniently coincides with a deadline imposed by the protesters, the army will impose a “road map” to conciliation, though they’ve stressed they want no political role beyond possibly installing a technocratic government to rewrite the constitution and supervise presidential elections.

This itself is an interesting move given the Egyptian Army’s historical role as a political player since the coup that brought former President Gamal Abdel Nasser to power in 1952. It’s more than possible the army is taking this stance because of the threat that cutting the Islamist parties and the Brotherhood out of the conciliatory process would pose to Egypt’s security, the self-declared interest of the army.

Brotherhood supporters, which include a large number of Salafi extremists, are likely to view any move to oust Morsi as “a coup against not just the president but against Islam as they perceive it,” says Khalil al-Anani, an academic at Durham University, in the Guardian.

The implication here is that if you piss off a secular opposition, it’s street protests and urban chaos — but if you piss off an Islamists, especially by deriving them of power, there’s the possibility of this being rephrased in jihadi terms. The risk there is that the Salafis who provided so much support to Morsi, and who have received inordinate sway over Egyptian politics in return, may simply forgo democratic processes altogether, viewing them as corrupted by the opposition.

Attacks against the opposition by Salafi preachers already reached fever-pitch and suggested jihadi street politics before the opposition began calling explicitly for a coup. Any attempt to cut them out of the political process would not only be undemocratic, given their widespread support within Egypt, but also dangerous for the integrity of the Egyptian state. As one blogger put it, it would no longer be citizen against state, “it will be citizen against citizen.

Of course, the question remains whether the Egyptian state has any integrity left at all. Vigilante justice, like that suggested by supporters of Morsi donning homemade helmets and riot shields to “defend” Brotherhood headquarters, is no new feature, nor is it unique to Morsi’s loyalists.

The near-complete unraveling of the security state, so strong under former President Hosni Mubarak’s authoritarian regime, has created an entire generation of revolutionaries conditioned to street violence and able to purchase any manner of weapons on Egypt’s expanding black market. The police are powerless to stop this, both because of inadequacy in administration and their own unwillingness, many of them the same people who broke skulls and tortured prisoners under Mubarak.

There is also no guarantee any successor would be able to deal with the problems that have faced Egypt since well before the revolution, of food shortages, economic unsteadiness, sectarian violence, and unraveling security.

Nonetheless, as Nathan Brown in the Financial Post points out, protesters are prematurely jubilant as they were on the eve of the revolution that ousted Mubarak in favour of Morsi and the Brotherhood. This revolution has become a personal one, Brown writes, more to do with the deposition of Morsi and the perceived empowerment of secular opposition than it is about any systemic change.

One skeptical protester blogging Revolution 2.0 is right to point out that many who took to the streets to end the army’s repressive rule are now the ones clamouring for a coup. “It is either we have become the counter-revolutionaries or the revolution has become the counter-revolution,” she writes.

It is certainly becoming harder to imagine Morsi’s Brotherhood as the torchbearers of the revolution. If it is a counter-revolution, one can only hope that the whiff of power a coup will give to the military will not encourage them to seize the reigns and end Egypt’s “experiment with democracy.”

Meanwhile, in Turkey…

I can’t help looking at Morsi and seeing some interesting parallels to Erdogan during the Gezi Protests. Though they were in no way on the same scale as the June 30 protests, Erdogan’s approach during Gezi, and Morsi’s approach during these protests, seem to me to identify a type.

It’s the self-appointed democrat/authoritarian, the man in power who panders to his base, which may indeed constitute a thin majority, while taking an authoritarian stance to opposition.

A few comparisons. Both have employed pretty much identical rhetoric in the face of mass opposition. They began by delegitimizing protests as the work of foreigners, terrorists, and traitors, though this is nothing new.

They also both reigned in national media, instructing them to focus on their base, which they simultaneously galvanized to action with counter-protests and mass rallies. The both rose to power with the aid of “clan-based practices,” with electoral platforms promising wide-reaching reforms but, when in power, appealing to specific religious or ethnic bases.

Both have also been told off by President Obama using pretty much the same language — “Democracy is about more than elections.”

Perhaps where Morsi failed, and Erdogan succeeded, is in neutering the army. In both states, the army stood as the “powers that be”, the hand of the state that acts out of the reach of squabbling politicians but is given the power to remove them from office, at the whim of “the people”.

Even though Morsi used Erdogan’s exact words, saying “the age of military coups is over,” and even though the Egyptian Army argues they want no political role after the exhaustion of their post-Mubarak junta, the widespread support of the opposition in Egypt for a military coup, something abhorred by Turkey’s fledgling opposition, indicates that the age of military coups is anything but over.

In other news, one deputy prime minister, Bulent Arinc, said marriages at “early ages” is a “very rewarding thing”, while the other, Besir Atalay, said the “Jewish Diaspora” was behind the Gezi protests. Where else but Turkey?

The Confederation Cup Was Awesome But Everything Else Is Depressing, and similar news

I was going to post something yesterday, but instead I got pissed in my kitchen and watched the Confederations Cup semifinal between Italy and Spain. While anti-government protests continued to rage outside the stadium, some of the best players in the world played some of the hardest football of their lives in the muggy Brazillian weather.

The result, a win on penalties to Spain, followed 120 minutes of unbelievable play between an underdog Italian side that looked ready to win after the first half and the defending champions who endured their way to a final match against their hosts.

Half a world away, in Egypt, football fans are more likely to be organizing with their Ultras than following the Cup as they approach June 30, the day chosen by opposition groups for a mass march against the regime of President Mohammed Morsi.

In Syria and neighbouring Lebanon, clashes continue to escalate as sectarian tensions, heightened by the increased pressure on rebels from Shia Hezbollah and Alawite Assad, threaten the delicate balance of Lebanese society.

And meanwhile, here in Turkey, the conservative government of Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan continues to make frightening noises at Kurds and opposition forces even as Gezi Park, the heart of ongoing anti-government protests, prepares to reopen to the public.

Here’s the news:

Turkey

First the good news.

Police will end a nearly two week-long occupation of Gezi Park “in the next few days” and reopen Istanbul’s green heart to the public, according to controversial Governor Huseyin Avni Mutlu.

It’s still unclear whether construction will go ahead in the park. The court order suspending construction remains in place as organizers for Taksim Platform, the appointed voice of the opposition, appeals to have the Gezi Park Master Plan annulled.

The plan, controversial from the onset, included the construction of an Ottoman-style historical barracks and museum/shopping centre in Gezi Park. A refusal to consult with the local population, which Taksim Platform will argue was against municipal guidelines, is what sparked the protests.

Even if the annulment appeal fails, Erdogan has said he will put the matter to a referendum, though protesters are skeptical of his intentions.

The police are also making some conciliatory motions, with the Interior Ministry releasing a new series of guidelines that require police to attempt to detain protesters using water cannons and armoured cars before they use tear gas. It’s a start.

Now the bad.

In the case of Ethem Sarisuluk, a protester who was killed by a police officer at the beginning of the Gezi Park protests, it looks ever more like the officer in question, Ahmet S., will escape conviction.

The court has already released him pending trial on the grounds of self-defense, and pro-government media outlets are erroneously trying to paint Sarisuluk as a terrorist to justify his death. Witnesses to the incident have been arrested and detained, ostensibly in preparation for a trial, though to my knowledge the trial is not set to start for some time.

Disturbing reports of police violence continue to emerge, including one man who was tortured on the street by two police officers while returning home from work. The two officers in question have been arrested and charged, but to date no police have been convicted.

Erdogan also seems to be setting the ground for a possible reopening of the conflict with the Kurdish Workers’ Party (PKK).

The PKK is a militant group that waged an insurgency against the Turkish Army in Kurdistan throughout the ’90s and 2000s. A settlement between the PKK, the pro-Kurdish Peace and Democracy Party (BDP), and the AKP government resulted in a peace accord and a negotiated withdrawal to Iraq.

Erdogan argued recently that only a fraction — “10 to 15 percent” — of PKK militants have actually withdrawn, amid skirmishes in the east between remaining militants and the army.

It’s not yet clear if these incidents will affect the ceasefire, though Iraq is taking an increasingly hostile tone to the PKK and the Kurdish Regional Government (KRG), which recently asserted its sovereignty in Iraq’s north by encouraging thousands of Iraqi Kurdish soldiers to desert and join local peshmerga forces.

If Iraq denies the Kurds a place to withdraw to, either Syria could see an increased concentration of Kurdish forces in the northern region or, more likely, the PKK will be encouraged to stay in Turkey. Unless they disarmed, this would endanger peace efforts for the east.

Egypt

Egypt continues its preparations for a possible second round of revolutions on June 30, when groups opposed to Morsi — including thousands of police, journalists, and even certain Islamist groups — plan to hold  mass march on the presidential palace.

Petitions circulated by the opposition demanding Morsi’s ouster have obtained over 13 million signatures, not coincidentally the number of votes that put Morsi into power.

Islamist groups that held rallies earlier this week in support of the president are now intending to form vigilante “defense” groups which will try to stop protesters from occupying government ministries or destroying offices of the Freedom and Justice Party or the Muslim Brotherhood.

Thousands have already been involved in clashes between supporters and opposition members across the country, and the revolution hasn’t even started yet.

The rhetoric of the opposition seems to suggest this is a full-on revolution in planning, and many of Egypt’s commentators are suggesting it is more than likely that violent clashes will occur.

The police and army have both washed their hands of Morsi’s regime, saying they will only defend vital state institutions. The Guardian cites an army source saying that if things go as far south as they did in 2011, when former President Hosni Mubarak was ousted, they will “regard the protests as a more legitimate representation of the people’s will than the elections that brought Morsi to office a year ago.”

It can’t be forgotten that in Egypt, the army is a political player much like the courts, the parliament, and the presidency, and some within its ranks are probably licking their lips at the opportunity to “facilitate a transition of power to a technocratic caretaker government.”

The Arabist, one of my favourite Egyptian commentators, has a good piece on how Morsi fucked up his first year in power so badly.

Politics are a delicate balancing act in Egypt, between salafists and seculars, Mubarak-era officials and post-revolutionaries, and a bloated bureaucracy and a public desiring accountability.

In this mix, Morsi has been anything but delicate, trying to place himself above legal criticism, fast tracking a constitution in spite of secular opposition, and routinely granting nepotistic appointments to his hardline Islamic supporters.

Egypt is also facing a severe economic and social crisis, with food and power shortages fomenting unrest. This is unlikely to be solved anytime soon, especially if another revolution reshuffles the bureaucracy.

Syria/Lebanon

Syria’s civil war is spilling over into Lebanon with alarming consequences and increasing intensity.

The Shia militia Hezbollah, which is known within Lebanon both for its control over large urban territory and its defense against Israel during the Israeli occupation of South Lebanon, has supported the government of Alawite (a sect of Shia Islam) Basar al-Assad to great effect.

Commentators generally credit the support of Shia Iran and Hezbollah (though also Russia) for the regime’s recent successes in the civil war, including an ongoing battle for rebel-held Aleppo that seems to be going in the government’s favour.

To Lebanon’s Sunni population, Assad and Hezbollah represent foreign “heathen” forces bent on establishing a Shia or, in this case, Alawite state, and ethnically cleansing Sunnis, and thus of course must be ethnically cleansed themselves (in the logic of the Middle East).

Robert F. Worth in the New York Times Magazine has an excellent longform piece telling the story of Assad’s supporters, who view the increasingly religious and sectarian tone of the opposition with fear.

It’s certainly visible in Lebanon that the opposition is becoming distinctively jihadi in character, and abandoning many of the principles of the original revolution.

In the Lebanese city of Sidon, supporters of Sheikh Ahmad Assir, a Salafi (Sunni) jihadi preacher, occupied large swaths of the town, resulting in 59 dead and over 200 injured. The army eventually cleared out his supporters, but the whereabouts of Assir are unknown.

Today, supporters took to the streets in Tripoli, though there was no violence. A roadside bomb also targeted an alleged Hezbollah convoy.

Meanwhile, in Damascus, four were killed in a suicide bombing at a Maronite Christan Church. Christians are pressed by both sides in the conflict, routinely accused of supporting the regime by rebels while subject to the same abuses by government troops and police.

In other news

McDonald’s is boycotting Israeli settlements in the West Bank in what may be the first moral decision ever made by that company.

And everyone’s favourite football nation Qatar has a new sheikh, which some people are saying will mean a more democratic government, probably because they’ve been reading too much al-Jazeera.

Never mind the fact that Qataris already live like pharaohs, on government stipends financed by the backbreaking labour of thousands of imported Bangladeshi quasi-slaves who are denied citizenship and rare trips to visit their families even after 20 years of residency — but like many emirates, democracy may be the last thing the United States (and the overly starry-eyed writer at the New York Times) would want in Qatar.

Like Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, and the U.A.E., Qatar has a stark divide between a western-facing, modernizing royal family and a fundamentalist Salafi population.

The U.S. finances Arabian regimes via its continuing military presence and foreign investment and development, and the sheiks make themselves a little friendlier to the armies of expats they employ by easing up on religious policing, or building a new hotel (bar).

But this irks many of the natives, who routinely express their angst by financing jihadi groups linked to al-Qaeda, like those in Syria.

So maybe, for America, democracy’s not such a great call in Qatar.

More than anything, though, I’m curious what will happen to preparations for the 2024 World Cup, the insane pet project of the last sheikh, and the Qatari royal family’s steady accumulation of soft power, as in the international growth of al-Jazeera, the acquisition of PSG, and the sponsorship of FC Barcelona.