Garvan Walshe: Elections produce a faint glimpse of hope after Lebanon’s lost decade

26 May

Garvan Walshe is a former National and International Security Policy Adviser to the Conservative party

Two stories emerged from Lebanon’s election (held on May 15th): the loss of a pro-Hezbollah majority in parliament, and the emergence of a new group of younger politicians who want to shake up Lebanon’s post-civil war politics – an activity so badly organised that ‘dysfunction’ no longer serves to describe the inability of the state to maintain the country’s security, enforce the law, provide basic services, or even accountability for major disasters such as the port explosion of 2020.

Dating from the ‘National Pact’ of 1943, Lebanon’s was one of the earliest attempts to reconcile the majoritarian spirit of democracy with a religiously divided public, and a politics that channels religious identity into sectarian competition.

The country’s three main sects are Maronite Christians, Sunni Muslims and Shia Muslims; the President must be Christian, the Prime Minister Sunni and the Speaker of Parliament Shia. Though this reflected the distribution of population and power in the 1940s, by the 1970s Shias had became more numerous and were demanding a greater share of power.

This set off the civil war of the late 1970s and 80s in which Israel and Syria intervened, with Iran-backed (Shia) Hezbollah eventually fighting an insurgency that forced the Israelis out in 2000.  Syrian garrisons stayed for five more years, until revulsion at the assassination of Rafiq Hariri, the Prime Minister, made their continued presence untenable, in a peaceful uprising dubbed the ‘Cedar Revolution.’

Hariri was a property developer who made his fortune in Saudi Arabia and secured huge Saudi financing for Lebanon’s reconstruction after the Taif Accord ended the civil war in 1989.

Taif required all militias to give up their weapons. All except Hezbollah mostly complied – with Hezbollah keeping its arsenal in theory to fight Israel but, in reality, to project Iranian power and support Assad’s embattled regime.  Israel, for its part, continues to strike Hezbollah targets in Iran and Syria, though both Israel and Hezbollah try to avoid matters tipping over into a repeat of their inconclusive 2006 war. 

Ever since Hariri’s assassination, Lebanese politics has divided on pro- and anti-Hezbollah lines, with different Sunni and Christian factions jockeying for position, and neither side enjoying a decisive victory.

Most recently, Hezbollah, with its allies in Michel Aoun’s Christian ‘Free Patriotic Movement’, was able to command a parliamentary majority but couldn’t run the country’s institutions. Buffeted by the fall-out from Syria’s civil war (up to a fifth of the population are Syrian refugees), the pandemic, and unable to address these problems because of political gridlock, Lebanon’s economy is a shadow of its former self.

In 2020 a huge, though accidental, explosion of ammonium nitrate (a fertiliser notorious for use as an explosive) laid waste to Beirut’s port, killing 232 people and causing billions of pounds of damage.  Though no culprit has been officially identified, one does not need to be conspiracy theorist to draw inferences from the facts that Aoun blocked attempts to set up an international investigation, and Hezbollah supporters undertook violent protests against the local investigation in 2021.

This was the background against which this year’s parliamentary elections took place, the first test of public opinion since what is sometimes called Lebanon’s ‘October Revolution’ – the public protests against both pro- and anti-Hezbollah sides of the political establishments, which took place in 2019 but had the wind taken out of its sails by the pandemic. 

Many of the protest movement organisers set up new parties to contest this year’s poll, under an electoral system unfriendly to new formations. It aims for religious balance by assigning seats in each multi-member district to specific sects, so new parties need to field not only the right people, but the right people with the right religion in the right places. The established parties operate deep clientelist patronage networks, and vote buying is rife, further limiting breakthroughs.

Nevertheless, these new independents won 13 out of 128 seats. Though hardly enough to hold the balance of power, and likely to be excluded from coalition negotiations, their election at least gives hope that after the chaos and corruption of the last decade, some limited change and political accountability might at last be possible in Lebanon.

Fiona Bruce: Let’s make freedom of belief for life – not just for Christmas

23 Dec

Fiona Bruce MP is the Prime Minister’s Special Envoy for Freedom of Religion or Belief, and is MP for Congleton.

I have been the Prime Minister’s Special Envoy for Freedom of Religion or Belief (FoRB) for a year now now – so a lot of reports about violations of FoRB have reached me. Accounts of people losing their homes, jobs, livelihoods, freedom, even their lives, simply on account of what they believe. So, you would think that I might be inured to accounts of suffering.

However, I can say without hesitation that the report last month from Aid to the Church in Need, Hear Her Cries, moved me more than any other I have read.

After I had finished reading it, I just sat and cried, reading accounts from brave women of their kidnapping, forced conversion, sexual victimisation and unimaginable suffering.

Like little Farah aged just 12, a Christian girl from Faisalabad, who was abducted by men who forced their way into her grandfather’s home and took her.

During five months of sexual enslavement, she was shackled and forced to work long hours cleaning animal dung in her abductor’s yard.

Farah said: “I was chained most of the time… It was terrible. They put chains on my ankles and tied me with a rope. I tried to cut the rope and get the chains off but I couldn’t manage it. I prayed every night, saying: ‘God, please help me.’ ”

Her ankles were wounded where she was shackled. The court ruled the marriage unlawful, but no action was taken against Farah’s abductor. However, this report has to do more than just move us to tears: it has to move us to action.

As Liz Truss, said recently, announcing a major Ministerial conference on Freedom of Religion or Belief to be hosted by the UK next year in London: “There are still too many places around the world where practising one’s religion, or having no religion, can cost you your freedom or even your life. The challenges to these freedoms continue to grow in different shapes and forms around the world. So we must act.”

We must act to fight for change so that the hundreds, indeed thousands of women and girls who have suffered and indeed continue to suffer like this have hope for change.

We must ensure there is much wider help in terms of humanitarian assistance for such women, and more extensive training in specialised trauma counselling. We need to call out when authorities in countries turn a blind eye or, tragically, even condone at times such action where the legal system fails them. We must ensure that steps are taken against the perpetrators to hold them to account. We must better learn how to identify early warning signs to avert atrocities, and work with others in the international community to better do so together. We must better understand the double jeopardy of women who are members of religious minorities – often also amongst the poorest and most vulnerable in their societies.

Many will have seen on the news the dreadful plight of Afghans, now at the mercy of the Taliban, attempting to escape. I have spoken directly to members of several religious communities, including Christians, Sikhs, Muslims and Hazaras, and the non-governmental organisations supporting them.

Those who do not submit to the beliefs of the Taliban are frequently at risk of losing their life, and some have lost their lives. We heard of some thousand Hazaras who had been thrown out of their homes and were wandering the countryside, with a dozen or so found by others beheaded at the roadside.

As I told the Prime Minister in the penultimate PMQs before Christmas, there are individuals who have targets on their head just because of their belief now waiting on the UK and other countries to give them the promised gift of refuge before the end of Christmas

One of my Christmas wishes is for the planned Afghan Citizens Resettlement Scheme (ACRS) to include some people from such religious minority groups. The U.K. can be proud of its efforts to evacuate 18,000 people from Afghanistan to the U.K. since 15th August.  More recently, specific vulnerable groups like women judges, footballers and LGBT members have been given protection.

However, as efforts shift to progressing the ACRS it is important that some of the first tranche include religious minorities because of their acute vulnerability.

So as we approach Christmas this year with concerns about restrictions on our ability to see family to see family and friends, spare a thought or a prayer for those in countries like Afghanistan, Nigeria and Pakistan who wake up each year on Christmas Day worrying for their own survival as a result of their religion or belief.

This matters for us all. As the Prime Minister said at this time a year ago, “We all know that wherever freedom of belief is under attack, other human rights are under attack as well”.

We all need to work together – Government, Parliament and civil society – and we need to ensure that this fundamental human right is upheld for generations to come.

That’s why I have launched a nationwide campaign with my newly appointed Deputy Special Envoy, David Burrowes, to ‘EndThePersecution’ with a particular focus on young people, creating Young Ambassadors for FoRB so that they can continue to champion this cause.So let’s be resolved in 2022 to make freedom of religion or belief for life not just for Christmas.

Kate Ferguson: The Government must act – as the threat of ethnic cleansing haunts Bosnia once again

2 Dec

Kate Ferguson is Chair of Policy at the European Centre for the Responsibility to Protect, and is Fouding Director of Protection Approaches, which has convened The UK Atrocity Prevention Working Group since 2017.

Most people think that mass atrocity crimes are rare, exceptional aberrations, but they are actually fairly common. Where there are means of criminal enterprise, motivation of populist bigotry or manipulation of identity politics, and opportunity of unchecked power violence against groups becomes likely. All are present and worsening in the Bosnian-Serb majority entity within Bosnia-Herzegovina (BiH), Republika Srpska.

Thirty years ago these same propellants were left unchecked, and succeeded in driving a political campaign that saw the deliberate, systematic violent targeting and forced expulsion of Muslims and Croats by a coordinated coalition of Bosnian-Serb and Serbian state and non-state armed formations.

Ethnic cleansing, crimes against humanity and genocide are never inevitable, but they are predictable. The escalating risks in Bosnia today are familiar – and must – be confronted before the already precarious situation worsens.

Boris Johnson, in the outcomes of his Integrated Review of international policy, rightly made atrocity prevention a new strategic priority of British foreign policy: Bosnia is now the test case for this commitment.

This December marks the 26th anniversary of the signing of the Dayton Peace Agreement, which established the two-entity make-up of the country – an agreement that froze rather than resolved the violence, and which preserved the single state by establishing a complicated system of power-sharing governance that includes a tri-partite presidency, with a rotating chairmanship.

Uneasy peace has held, but not taken root. Recent months have seen escalation of inflammatory actions and rhetoric by the Bosnian Serb member of the BiH Presidency, Milorad Dodik. Dodik has announced his intention to withdraw Republika Srpska from many state institutions, including the border police, judicial institutions and the armed force of Bosnia and Herzegovina.

In 1991 as now, the Bosnian Serb leadership is testing the attention and resolve of the international community as it escalates the political crisis and heats up its incendiary rhetoric. Dodik and his coterie – as Radovan Karadžić and all violent populists before him– know that these misdeeds help to gauge international appetite for censure, while also serving to incite local level identity-based violence. If Dodik is allowed to continue, we will see an uptick in violence.

Such incidents are already not uncommon in Republika Srpska, where Bosniaks who were ethnically cleansed in the 1990s have returned to their homes are now often targeted, threatened and assaulted.

This violence is not new. The hurling of stones at the Serbian Prime Minister in 2015 during the twentieth commemoration of the Srebrenica genocide drew international attention, but only because it occurred in front of the world’s media.

Three days later, a returnee to RS was attacked by masked men who carved the four Serbian Cs in a cross on his stomach, but this was not reported in English language press. But tensions are now mounting, and returnees fear history is repeating itself.

While the current crisis is not a new one it is, in part, a consequence of BiH’s allies failing to adequately respond to the pernicious and persistent denial of the genocide of Bosnia’s Muslims, and to the ongoing incidents of the enduring identity-based violence that rarely draw headlines outside of the region.

Late in the day it may be, but friends of Bosnia must now step up fully, and emphatically communicate that the errors of the mid-1990s will not be repeated and that red lines, if crossed, will result in coordinated response.

So far, the UK is emerging a potential leader on the international stage – a stark contrast to Britain’s Bosnia policy of the 1990s. Being outside of the European Union but working with European partners places the UK in a unique and strategically useful position.

The British Embassy in Sarajevo, led by Matthew Field, the Ambassador, is very well respected. Here, Parliament has already held a number of debates – another later today brought by Alicia Kearns, Sarah Champion and Stewart McDonald – which communicates solidarity and cross-party political will. (Hansard’s records for December 1991 contain not a single reference to Bosnia).

But how the commitments of the Integrated Review are reflected in Britain’s Bosnia policy are not yet clear. The Government continues to reject cross-party calls for a comprehensive, cross-departmental strategy of atrocity prevention, arguing its narrow approach to conflict is sufficient.

During the 1990s, the then Conservative government failed to identify the campaigns of identity-based violence and atrocity for what they were and tried – and failed – to apply a framework of conflict resolution: at its heart, the violence between 1992-95 wasn’t a conflict, but a coordinated assault on populations, with the clear-eyed intention of removing or destroying them, in whole or in part.

The same mistake cannot be made again by the UK. Britain’s Bosnia policy needs to specifically recognise and respond to the rising risks of identity-based violence and atrocity.

BiH is the latest in a line of current and emerging crises where this policy gap can be seen to restrict the UK’s capacity to respond –the absence of central thinking strategically about preventing identity-based violence leaves even the most proactive country teams and embassies with their hands tied; they have to follow policy.

If the UK wants to stand with Bosnia, the Government needs to follow through on the promise of the Integrated Review. The IR claimed new emphasis on confronting grievances, criminal economies, political marginalisation as drivers of violence: this is what Bosnia needs.

Prevention policy requires a different way of doing things – it requires strategy, analysis, consultation, and coordination. But it doesn’t necessarily require big resources – in fact, effective prevention always saves both lives and money.

Since Dayton, Bosnia has been a frozen crisis. If Dodik is allowed to continue raising the temperature we will quickly reach the point there the thaw cannot be prevented. The goal for the UK and all allies of Bosnia mustn’t be to simply keep the uneasy peace, but instead to comprehensively support Bosnians who are working towards a safe, inclusive and resilient society.

 

Orban says he’s defending Christian civilisation. His opponents say he’s subverting Hungary’s democracy.

24 Sep

Will the European Union hold together? Or is Western Europe going one way and Central Europe another?

Viktor Orban, Prime Minister of Hungary, is perhaps the most eloquent exponent of, as he put it in a recent lecture, “a Central European cultural, intellectual and political entity that is growing more and more different from Western Europe”.

Orban has many critics, but his lecture was directed against one in particular, Timothy Garton Ash, Professor of European Studies at Oxford.

There was a time when they were on the same side, for as Orban says:

“The professor has an excellent knowledge of Central Europe and used to inspire many of us during our years of resistance against communism and the Soviet occupation, in the late 1980s.

“What’s more, members of the current Hungarian political leadership had the chance to personally attend his lectures, which took a stance for freedom, at the University of Oxford.”

Orban, born in 1963, sprang to fame in Hungary in June 1989 by giving a speech demanding the withdrawal of Soviet troops and the holding of free elections, after which he studied for a few months at Pembroke College, Oxford, on a scholarship awarded by the Soros Foundation.

He returned home in January 1990, was elected to the National Assembly, became the leader of Fidesz, which he led in a national conservative direction, and served as Prime Minister from 1998-2002 and again since 2010.

Garton Ash has become, as in this interview with Euronews on 8th September, an unsparing critic of Orban:

“we do have European Union values which are being massively violated in countries like Hungary and Poland, and I think we need to stand up for those values…

“Viktor Orban is having his cake and eating it. He’s winning elections by saying ‘Stop Brussels’, campaigning against the European Union, but taking billions of European taxpayers’ money.

“Therefore the key to an effective response is to establish a linkage between the Europe of values and the Europe of money. And that’s what the European Union has so far failed to do…

“It is absolutely outrageous that you have a member state of the European Union which in my view is no longer a democracy, which has destroyed media freedom, which doesn’t have fair elections, free but not fair elections, which has kicked out the best university in central Europe, which has indulged in outrageously xenophobic propaganda, the treatment of migrants and so on, which is still receiving billions of euros in the EU funds, that is an outrageous state of affairs.”

When asked whether Orban’s illiberalism is a real threat to the EU, Garton Ash replied:

“Without question… One has to go back a long way to find a period when a Hungarian leader was so important in European history…

“And that is because he has become the symbolic leader of the other Europe, the conservative, anti-liberal, ethnic nationalist, Christian, socially conservative Europe.

“And Matteo Salvini, Marine Le Pen, Nigel Farage, Geert Wilders, are all with him.

“So he represents not just one medium-sized member state of the European Union, he represents a very important tendency in the entire European Union.”

Orban maintains that on the contrary, his conservatism is “a blessing for the European Union and even Western Europe”, because the West, he contends in his lecture, has lost the convictions which lay behind its success:

“I understood that beyond and behind all the technical equipment, novel institutions and scientific discoveries, there was also the West’s sense of its exceptionalism and mission, which gave it inspiration and confidence. The conviction that Western man has a mission in the world and with the world, and must act in order to accomplish that mission.

“Naturally, we do know that the Western mission has intellectual and spiritual foundations that should be sought in Christianity. ‘Go, and make disciples of all nations’, Matthew says. This mentality, even if in a changed form, survived in the West also during the Enlightenment, the periods of the humanist ideal of man, human rights and the discoveries of modern science.

“During a period of unquestionable development and brilliant success – despite evident mistakes, blunders and grave shortcomings – the conviction that the overall balance of the mission of Western civilisation and the West was fundamentally positive held for a long time.

“However, something had changed by the beginning of the 21st century. And this happened just at a time when the West, led by America and Britain, had scored its most brilliant victory, having won the Cold War…

“It no longer seeks meaning in its own history; instead, it keeps saying that it will end soon. It re-interprets or deletes entire chapters of its history, finding them shameful and so to be cancelled, and in the meantime, it is unable to replace them with anything else. And those who are not paralysed, but in fact very much active, are such deconstructive, negative forces that they would be better off paralysed…

“the concept of open society has deprived the West of its faith in its own values and historical mission, and with this now – at the time of the Muslim flood and the rise of Asia – it is preventing the West from setting its own mission against the rising intellectual and political power centres…”

Orban contends that in Brussels, and the West generally, “a sense of mission shared by a political community, a nation is now unacceptable, even suspicious.” Hungary, on the other hand, still has that sense of mission: hence Budapest’s disputes with Brussels.

To Garton Ash, speaking on Tuesday to ConHome, Orban’s essay amounts to “a brilliant exercise in ideological distraction”: Orban says “let’s have a really interesting intellectual conversation about the future of western civilisation”, and the disreputable methods by which Orban stays in power are forgotten.

ConHome suggested two questions arise: one is whether Orban himself is a reputable person, the other is whether it is permissible for anyone, no matter how reputable, to hold Orban’s views.

Garton Ash replied:

“You can be a Conservative nationalist party continuing to govern in a country which is still an excellent liberal democracy – we live in one.”

Orban, he went on, has instead subverted liberal democracy, by gerrymandering, by pay-offs to friendly oligarchs, by getting the media under control: “That’s the problem, that’s why I’m so angry.”

And Orban then distracts attention from his destruction of liberal democracy by reframing the whole battle as an ideological clash, so that people say “maybe I agree with him about immigration” or “maybe I agree with him about Islam”.

Garton Ash went on to say that “characterising Muslims as invaders” (as Orban has done) “is in my view beyond the pale”, and that “some of the election propaganda against Soros is borderline anti-semitic”.

He urged British Conservatives to be cautious about embracing Orban: “It’s the difference between Farage and Johnson.”

And he pointed out that while Orban attacks Brussels, he also accepts very large sums from Brussels: “Viktor Orban is a master of cakeism.”

For a long time Orban managed to keep Hungarian MEPs in the European People’s Party in Brussels, before at length they were eased out of it.

David Cameron, one may note, promised that British MEPs would leave the EPP, and at length kept that promise. British Euroscepticism, leading to Brexit, is in some ways more straightforward than Hungarian and Polish Euroscepticism.

In Hungary and Poland, with their recent history of Soviet occupation, there are still large majorities in favour of EU membership.

Orban wins elections by playing the nationalist card, but one should not imagine that this card does not exist in Western Europe. The EU is paralysed by the fear that taking the great leap to becoming a federal state comparable to the USA  would provoke a nationalist backlash in most if not all of the member states, including Germany and France.

The German Constitutional Court stands as the most reputable though so far reticent opponent of a federal Europe. Alternative for Germany, founded in 2013 by learned men opposed to the policies required to prop up the euro but soon degenerating into a xenophobic movement, is one of the least reputable opponents.

It is now 21 years since Larry Siedentop pointed out, in Democracy in Europe, that no Madison, Hamilton and Jay have stepped forward to compose Europe’s version of The Federalist Papers.

The euro remains a currency unbacked by a government. Perhaps under the pressure of some great crisis, surmounted by leaders who rise to the occasion, that government will be conjured into existence.

But in the meantime, one cannot help being struck by the persistence of the nation state as the fundamental political reality. Nations may be good or bad, reputable or disreputable, democratic or authoritarian.

Perhaps the ultimate function of the EU, towards which Garton Ash points the way, will be to keep its members democratic. But what an opportunity that offers to demagogues to blame the nation’s woes on Brussels.

Rehman Chisti: How mainstream Islamic teaching can help to hold the Taliban to account

19 Sep

Rehman Chishti is MP for Gillingham and Rainham, and previously served as the Prime Minister’s Special Envoy for Freedom of Religion or Belief (2019-20).

The fall of Afghanistan to the Taliban has raised serious questions about the rights of religious minorities, women, and others under its rule in Afghanistan – and its interpretation of Islam. As the Prime Minister has stated, we have to judge the Taliban by their actions, not their words.

As someone from a Muslim background, whose father, uncles, and grandfathers were Imams, religion and faith are a central part of my life. This was reflected during my service as the UK Prime Minister’s Special Envoy for Freedom of Religion or Belief, when I worked with colleagues to challenge the persecution of individuals based on their faith around the world.

In fact, faith is an integral part of many people’s lives across the globe, especially in the Middle East and Central and South Asia region. According to a Pew Research Center report, 84 per cent of the world’s population claim to identify themselves with a religion. In my view, if we don’t understand religion, including the abuse of religion, it will be even harder for us to understand the world.

Having had the honour of working as an adviser to Benazir Bhutto, the first female Prime Minister of the Islamic Republic of Pakistan and first female head of state in the Islamic world, from 1999 to 2007, I know full well the strong and inspiring leadership role that women can play in Islamic nations. Islam has a rich tradition of inclusivity and respect which we must put forward and be proud of. In fact, we can see examples of strong female leadership in Islam throughout history, both in the distant and near past.

Muslim women have always played a crucial part in society as rulers, jurists, businesswomen, scholars, and benefactresses. Khadija, the Prophet Muhammad’s wife, was not just his companion, but a businesswoman in her own right; Aisha bint Abu Bakr, another of the Prophet’s wives, became a brilliant scholar and tutored many men.

We can also see this in Shifa Abdullah, one of Prophet Muhammad’s companions, who held a leadership role in supervising transactions in the marketplace of the Islamic empire’s first capital, Medina. Or with Rabi’ah Bint Mu’awwad, an eminent scholar and jurist of Islamic law in Medina who taught famous male scholars. And with Fatima al Fihri, a Muslim woman who founded, in 859, what is today the oldest continuously operating university in the world, al-Qarawiyyin University in Fez.

In more recent times, we can look of course to Benazir Bhutto in Pakistan, but also to Bangladesh: this country, which has the world’s fourth-largest Muslim population, has had a female prime minister for nearly 28 of the past 30 years.

Khaleda Zia, the country’s first female Prime Minister, and Sheikh Hasina, the incumbent, have been two of the country’s pre-eminent political leaders, and have overwhelmingly held the office of Prime Minister since 1991.

In Europe, Atifete Jahjaga served as the first female President of Muslim-majority Kosovo, from 2011 to 2016. During her time in office, she fought against extremism and radicalisation, fostered reconciliation between religious and ethnic groups in the country, and hosted a key International Women’s Summit.

Of course, there are divergences on theology in Islam as there are in every faith. But as set out above, Islam’s past and present has at its heart the values of all other faiths: respect, inclusivity, and tolerance. It is this version of Islam that we must champion.

As I set out to the Prime Minister last week in the House of Commons, he should call on the 57-member state Organisation of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) to ask Al-Azhar, a widely respected and leading institutional authority on moderate Islamic thought, to issue a statement confirming the rights of religious minorities and women in Islam.

The Taliban in Afghanistan claim that they will rule within the confines of Islam. A statement from an institution such as Al-Azhar will let the world judge whether the Taliban’s actions are indeed in line with the teachings of Islam.

In my recent meeting with the Kuwait Ambassador, Al-Duwaisan, the Dean of the Diplomatic Corps in London, who has served in his role for nearly 30 years, he was very supportive of calling on the OIC to ask Al-Azhar to set out the inclusive approach to the rights of women and religious minorities in Islam.

On this occasion therefore, when we have the support of Muslim-majority countries, I would urge the Government to move forward urgently with this proposal. Al-Azhar is a hugely well-respected institution across the globe, founded over 1000 years ago. Recently in 2019, the Grand Imam of al-Azhar jointly signed with Pope Francis a Document on Human Fraternity for World Peace and Living Together, and when the UN Security Council held a session to discuss anti-terrorism, al-Azhar was the only Islamic institution invited to take part.

If we are to build an inclusive society and world, we must all play our part and that means setting out the true virtues and values of our faiths.

Profile: George Galloway, who “is going to vote for Beelzebub, I’m going to vote for a Scottish Tory”

4 Mar

Welcome aboard, George. The Conservatives have gained a new and at first sight unlikely supporter in the Holyrood elections.

George Galloway is a ferocious orator, who rejoiced Unionist hearts during the 2014 Scottish referendum campaign by carrying the fight to the Nationalists with a brio unmatched by any other speaker.

He has now announced, in the course of his talk show on Russia Today (at 59 minutes and 30 seconds on this recording), in answer to a call from David in Glasgow:

“Here’s a declaration, David, you never expected to hear from me. I’ll be voting Conservative in the elections in May, on my constituency vote, for the first time in my life, because my local MSP is a Conservative and the challenger to him is the SNP.

So my view is that everyone should vote for the best placed candidate standing against the SNP. Because this is a one-off election. It’s a referendum on a referendum. It’s an attempt to stop the neverendum. It’s an attempt to get Scotland off the hamster wheel of endless constitutional peregrinations.

It’s an attempt to get the country back from the brink. And therefore it qualifies as an existential threat not just to Scotland but to Britain as a whole.

So frankly, I’d vote for Beelzebub himself [David starts to chuckle] rather than the SNP, and I’m going to vote for Beelzebub, I’m going to vote for a Scottish Tory.”

Galloway, a left-wing socialist, is in normal times a sworn enemy of the Tories, and has also shown a marked ability to fall out with people on his own side.

A Tory who has often crossed swords with Galloway in the past, and takes a low view of him, responded with Churchill’s remark:

“If Hitler invaded hell I would make at least a favourable reference to the devil in the House of Commons.”

For just as the EU referendum of 2016 trumped existing party loyalties and forced people into strange alliances, so the future of the Union with Scotland is a great constitutional question which stirs such deep feelings that it cuts through everything else.

For Galloway, the crisis is also an opportunity. Last summer, he set up Alliance4Unity, which is now seeking to maximise the number of anti-Nationalist MSPs by urging Scots to  cast their first, constituency, vote, for whichever Unionist candidate – Conservative, Labour or Liberal Democrat – has the best chance of beating the SNP in that particular seat, and then cast their second vote for Alliance4Unity, which will field an eclectic list of candidates, united only in their determination to oppose independence.

Even some readers of ConservativeHome might be hard pressed to explain, in a few sentences, the Scottish Parliament’s electoral system, combining as it does, by use of the d’Hondt method, first-past-the-post voting in individual constituencies with a second, top-up vote for each party’s regional list, making the final result more proportional.

So here is a fact sheet produced by the Scottish Parliament which renders the whole thing crystal clear, and which states that an independent candidate needs to get between six and seven per cent of the regional, top-up vote to gain election.

Margo MacDonald secured election by this route after falling out with the SNP, and Galloway, who was thrown out of the Labour Party in 2003, evidently hopes he can repeat her success.

His chances are at this stage unpredictable. We do not know what will happen in Scotland, and Galloway’s own career is rich in electoral triumph and disaster. Sometimes he unexpectedly comes out on top, as in the acrimonious Bradford West by-election of March 2012, where he stood as the Respect candidate and courted the Muslim vote, after which Andy McSmith observed, in a profile of Galloway for The Independent:

“When he announced that he was running in Bradford West, it appeared to be a desperate attempt by a half-forgotten man to draw attention to himself. Almost the only people to spot what was actually happening were punters who bet so heavily on a Galloway victory that the bookies are saying the result is costing them £100,000. George Galloway is back on the scene.”

Sometimes he fails just as definitively, as in the 2019 general election, when he came sixth in West Bromwich East with 489 votes.

In the nine weeks between now and polling day, the pandemic may prevent him from playing his natural game, which would be to hold a series of public meetings at which he would draw in the crowds by giving brilliantly entertaining speeches.

Here he is speaking during the 2014 referendum campaign:

“I have been divorced more than once. Trust me it is never ever amicable, whatever anybody tells you. But you can make a deal. You can give the partner who is walking out on you all the CDs the DVDs, the dog, the car – you can give them everything, but the one thing you will never ever give them is the right to continue to use the joint credit card.

And that is what their plan A – and they have no plan B – amounts to.

They want to use a currency issued by the Bank of England – the clue being in the name; they want to continue to use it and they imagine that the people that issue it will allow them to do so; to use the joint credit card, even though and as they are walking out the door.

So this is the first time ever that people in a small country, where everyone speaks the same language, are being asked to break up and break up on the basis that they don’t have a currency to use.

There will be no pound. Trust me on that. I came yesterday from Parliament (where) the leaders of the mainstream parties have not changed their minds. An independent Scotland will not have the pound.

What will it have instead? The euro – how’s that going? Anybody fancy that or are we going to bring back the groat?

I see one or two pensioners here, or people close to pensionable age. How do you fancy your pension in groats? How do you fancy a pension that is based entirely on the absolutely unstable price of a commodity that will be finished in 2050?

And in my lifetime oil has been as low as $9 a barrel and as high as $156 a barrel. Who wants to mortgage their children and their children’s future on a finite resource that will soon be finished and the price of which is simply un-calculable? Un-calculable.”

This kind of rhetoric reaches voters, and indeed non-voters, who are repelled by the platitudes of the professional political careerists.

Galloway will be dismissed, by prosy commentators – and especially by prosy commentators of Nationalist sympathies – as a disreputable loner, an egotist, an opportunist and troublemaker who must be kept out of the mainstream media and left to address a few cranks on stations like Russia Today to which no decent person listens.

But he has a lot of followers on social media, and he may have spotted a gap in the market. Just as there are some socialists who want a more socialist Labour Party, so there are some Unionists who want a more uncompromising unionism, articulated by an insurrectionist who take on the whole Holyrood Establishment, a Dundonian boot boy who can reach the Scottish working class and treats politics as a blood sport.

In the 2010 general election, I toured the East End of London with Galloway:

“As we approached the headquarters of Respect, the party he created when he fell out with Labour, we warned ourselves not to be seduced by the oratory of the MP for Bethnal Green and Bow, who is this time standing in the adjacent east London seat of Limehouse and Poplar.

But gleaming in the sun outside his office stood a beautiful, red, open-topped Routemaster bus. Like Boris Johnson, Mr Galloway knows that few things raise the spirits so much as the chance to go for a ride on the top deck of the finest bus ever to lumber through the streets of London…

Mr Galloway arrived. He wore a natty pin-striped suit and was smoking a cigar. According to Mr Galloway, he has been wearing suits since the age of 15. We asked where this one came from and he said it was from a shop called Retro.

So we were in the presence of a Retro politician: a man able to make an unscrupulous appeal to our preference for old-fashioned clothes and old-fashioned language.

To see whether Mr Galloway could also manage old-fashioned niceness, we put it to him that Jim Fitzpatrick, the Labour MP whom he is hoping to defeat, is “a decent fellow”.

‘Yes,’ Mr Galloway replied, ‘apart from the fact that he voted for a war that killed a million people. It kind of invalidates any other qualities.’ Mr Galloway went on: ‘I want to punish the people who voted for the war, one by one if necessary.'”

The vindictive Galloway only managed to come third in Limehouse and Poplar, but the point stands that this old-style orator and strict teetotaller in his natty suits is more of a small-c conservative than his critics are willing to admit.

They denounce him for making common cause with Muslims who have old-fashioned views about, for example, the role of women, without pausing to consider that many Christians until recently held much the same views about women, and that Galloway, born in 1954 in Dundee into a working-class Roman Catholic household, may have learned in his youth to regard such views as normal.

He showed precocious ability as a Labour campaigner, also developed an early and unwavering allegiance to the Palestinian cause, arranged for Dundee to be twinned with Nablus in the West Bank, affronted some Dundonians by hoisting the Palestinian flag above the Council Chambers, and at the age of 26 became the youngest ever Chairman of the Scottish Labour Party.

In 1987, Galloway regained Glasgow Hillhead for Labour, defeating Roy Jenkins, one of the founders of the SDP. Galloway had already demonstrated a gift for stirring up controversy, and for discomforting his opponents, while running the charity War on Want, and he proceeded to become an unruly MP.

He was attacked for telling Saddam Hussein, at a meeting in 1994:  “Sir, I salute your courage, your strength, your indefatigability.” Galloway was thrown out of the Labour Party in 2003 for going too far in his opposition to the Iraq War – he had suggested British troops “refuse to obey illegal orders”.

But he remained in the House as an Independent MP until 2005, when he captured Bethnal Green and Bow for his new party, Respect, after a rough battle for Muslim votes with the Labour candidate, Oona King.

Galloway is a provocateur who often so infuriates his opponents that they overstate the case against him, whereupon he turns the tables on them. In 2005 he went to Washington and denounced some American senators who had supposed he was a discredited figure who would would defer to them.

He also demonstrated his gifts as a controversialist by debating in New York against Christopher Hitchens, whom he had attacked as “a drink soaked former Trotskyist popinjay”. The recording of this affair serves as a good example of each man’s style.

Frank Johnson, doyen of Westminster sketchwriters, recognised Galloway as “a tremendous parliamentarian”. Journalists who value entertainment, and the upsetting of apple carts, above the steadier virtues, will be yearning for Galloway to gain election to the Scottish Parliament.

Alliance4Unity has recruited a number of other candidates, including Jamie Blackett, a farmer, writer and former soldier, who accepted the post of Deputy Leader, and Alan Sked, founder of UKIP.

Galloway has his vehicle. By the end of the first week in May we shall know whether it has taken him and some of his companions to Holyrood.

Rehman Chishti and Knox Thames: Freedom of religion is under threat. Trans-Atlantic efforts can combat that.

12 Oct

Rehman Chishti is an MP and the former UK Prime Minister’s Special Envoy on FoRB. Knox Thames served as the US Special Advisor on Religious Minorities at the State Department for both the Obama and Trump administrations.  

The United States and the United Kingdom have worked closely on joint efforts to promote freedom of religion or belief (FoRB) worldwide. It’s a reflection of our shared values, and the partnership presents a unique opportunity for joint action. And the time to act is now.

Religious repression is at all-time highs, with the Pew Forum reporting 84 per cent of the global community lives in countries with high or very high restrictions on faith practices. That’s not to say everyone is persecuted, but that the space for freedom of conscience is shrinking. People of all faiths and worldviews are affected by these trends, which have implications beyond human rights, including international security and the growth of violent religious extremism.

Solving a problem this large requires diverse coalitions. Through our work, we recognised the substantial advantages of partnerships with like-minded governments. Thankfully, there is unprecedented interest in a new trans-Atlantic effort to promote this fundamental freedom.

In the UK, the Truro report, launched the day after Christmas in 2018 by Jeremy Hunt, the then UK Foreign Secretary, specifically examined persecuted Christians. The report found troubling examples of Christian persecution, but noted that other communities also suffer, and recommended Her Majesty’s government do more to assist all persons persecuted for their beliefs. I (Chishti) was tasked with setting the 22 recommendations into policy, getting 17 into place before leaving office.

In the US, the International Religious Freedom Act of 1998 created a special ambassador at large on the issue and office, as well as required the annual reporting on religious freedom conditions worldwide. During the Trump administration, the State Department convened two ministerial-level summits that elevated the issue and launched a new Alliance to bring together the most committed countries on advancing religious freedom for all.

We both believe that holistically advocating for everyone’s right, as opposed to singularly focused on just one community, is the best approach. We grounded our activities in Article 18 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which protects freedom of conscience, the right to change faith or have no faith, meet alone or with others for worship, and share one’s religious views. While, of course, we should speak out when individual groups face persecution, we must do so in the context of advocating for the right of religious freedom for all. A balanced approach focused on the right will ensure space for all beliefs.

Why? We’ve seen that it’s the most durable path to guaranteeing the right over the long haul. Environments where every individual is free to seek truth as their conscience leads is one where every community can thrive. In contrast, narrowly focused efforts, such as Christian persecution by Hungary or the Organization of Islamic Cooperation’s concentration on Muslim persecution, will most likely fall short of their long-term goals. It’s not that Christian and Muslim persecution isn’t happening – it most definitely is, and we must speak out.

But an environment providing freedom of conscience for all will ensure that individual communities can survive in the future. Otherwise, we risk creating religious Bantustans of special exemptions or carve-outs benefiting specific groups.

Working closely with Sam Brownback, the Ambassador at Large for International Religious Freedom, we instilled this approach into the new International Religious Freedom or Belief Alliance and its founding charter. Alongside our Dutch and Brazilian counterparts, the UN Special Rapporteur Ahmed Shaheed, and key civil society experts, we helped build an organisation of 30+ nations from different regional, political, and religious backgrounds. Of course, none of these countries are perfect, but they all agreed to uphold their Article 18 commitments at home and abroad, including contentious issues like conversion and free speech.

Working together with those committed to the same principles can meet the challenges of today. For instance, the Alliance devised new strategies to advocate for all, such as a statement on Covid to ensure that the pandemic doesn’t become a pretext to limit religious freedom. Another vital network we participated in with Canada – the International Contact Group for FoRB – was also grounded in this religious-freedom-for-all approach.

In the face of new challenges and opportunities, progress will depend on North American and European leadership. The challenges facing religious freedom are beyond the capabilities or influence of any one government or organisation. Fortunately, our common understanding creates a platform for coordinated and elevated activity. Now, in addition to the US and UK envoys, others exist in several countries and organisations: Canada, Czechia, Denmark, Estonia, EU, the Netherlands, Norway, OSCE, Poland, Romania, Sweden, and the United Nations.

The time is right for a more assertive trans-Atlantic approach, but parliamentarians and governments must demonstrate a lasting commitment to the right. Freedom of thought, conscience, and belief isn’t a conservative or liberal value or some sideshow to other issues, but a fundamental human right relevant to people of all faiths and none worldwide. It deserves the full attention of the international community.

Pressing repressive governments toward reform will not be easy or costless. China is playing hardball, with its persecution of UighursTibetansChristians, and the pressuring of countries daring to speak out. Pakistan’s abusive blasphemy law is in overdrive, while India is taking a wrong turn against minorities. Burma’s genocide against the Rohingya grinds on, while Christians in Nigeria suffer from Boko Haram.

In response, networking efforts among like-minded allies can share the burden and multiply the effectiveness of bilateral engagements. For instance, sanctions and other corrective measures like the Magnitsky act, which our countries have implemented, can create political leverage to encourage change. Hopefully, others in Europe will follow. Speaking out on specific cases is another example, such as on Yemen or blasphemy laws. To further elevate, our countries can use our UN Security Council seats to press for reforms. We can share data and train diplomats. All European and North American countries can immediately response to atrocity crimes, including genocide, or establish early warning systems.

More action is desperately needed. Governments must take this human right seriously and incorporate concerns across their policies. People of faith must speak up for persecuted believers (and non-believers) from other communities, to stand in solidarity with the repressed. Religious leaders should tackle this issue head-on, using their pulpits to advocate for soul freedom of all.

Everyone speaking up for everyone, even outside their belief system, is most impactful for the global effort. By working together, as rights-respecting communities on each side of the Atlantic, we can make a difference.

Jason Reed: History will judge us for our response to the Uyghur genocide

23 Aug

Jason Reed is Deputy Editor of 1828 and digital director at the British Conservation Alliance.

Hollow declarations of socio-political high-mindedness are all the rage in political discourse these days, especially on the Left. People love to talk about how righteous they are and how evil everyone else is. One of the virtue signallers’ favourite talking points as of late is that, had they been alive two hundred years ago, they would have publicly opposed slavery.

Slavery was the accepted norm of the time. But many on the Left love to talk about how they would have gone against the grain, selflessly sacrificing any public standing in order to become revolutionaries and voice their disgust at the unspeakable horror of slavery, even if nothing came of them doing the right thing. They insist that they would always stand up for the basic human rights to life, dignity and freedom, no matter the difficulty of the circumstances.

While we can’t put that claim to the test directly, we can achieve a close approximation by observing how those same people on the Left react to the genocide that is taking place in front of us today. Unsurprisingly, it’s not looking good.

The Chinese Communist Party is shamelessly massacring Uyghur Muslims in Xinjiang. The proof that has emerged of the horrors taking place within the Chinese borders is overwhelming. No matter how much you might want to twist the truth, it is now impossible to repudiate what is happening in China. A genocide is taking place. Not only can it no longer be denied – it can no longer be ignored.

This ongoing ethnic cleansing represents all the very worst of humanity. Blinded by religious prejudice and racial hatred, energised by an uncompromising desire for ethnic purity, and driven by an impulsive need for total control over its people, the Chinese government is committing the single most heinous act of which mankind is capable.

Every day, new irrefutable evidence surfaces. Each batch of new information is more heart-wrenching than the last. It is now over a month since the Andrew Marr Show broadcast appalling drone footage of Uyghur Muslims being blindfolded, lined up and packed onto a train to be carted off to remote government facilities. The Chinese Government, via its ambassador in London, responded by denying flat-out on live television that which has already been proven beyond any doubt.

The Russian government also denies acts of aggression even when the world knows it is guilty, such as after the poisoning of Sergei and Yulia Skripal in Salisbury. But it does so with a knowing smirk. Vladimir Putin likes to see how far he can push Western governments before they lose patience. He knows full well that we don’t believe a word of what he says, and he doesn’t care. One gets the impression that he even finds it funny.

But China is different. When Liu Xiaoming, Beijing’s UK ambassador, was asked by Marr to explain the footage, he seemed almost offended. How dare we interfere in China’s domestic affairs? The CCP embodies a coldness. It lacks humanity. It believes that it is perfectly within its rights to do what it is doing, and it is taken aback that we Westerners should dare to object to it.

The Chinese response to the drone footage was not a one-off. There is a clear pattern forming in the way the CCP intends to deal with these kinds of accusations. Earlier this month, a new piece of evidence emerged. A Uyghur fashion model by the name of Merdan Ghappar filmed himself handcuffed to a bed and described in detail the 18 days he had spent chained up and hooded with dozens of others in one of the government’s “centres”.

Once again, in their official response to the surfacing of damning new evidence, the Chinese authorities habitually tell total mistruths. They have no substantive counter-argument to offer, so they lie. They insist, for example, that highly secure “re-education camps” are entirely voluntary schools for anti-extremism training.

Rather than calling this behaviour out for what it is, rather than pointing to the reams of evidence incriminating the Chinese government, the left somehow chooses to equivocate. Perhaps they are motivated by the word “communist” in the CCP’s name. Or maybe they are merely keen to maintain their record of siding with all the worst regimes in the world. Either way, leftists doge the issue and engage in what effectively amounts to CCP apologism.

As a result, China thinks it can get away with anything. The Chinese government feels no shame for what it is doing. It denies completely that anything out of the ordinary is happening in Xinjiang, let alone that people are being systematically incarcerated, torn from their loved ones, sterilised and murdered because of their race and religion. It does not show a flicker of remorse as it issues its blanket denials of any wrongdoing.

That’s because the Chinese government believes the West is weak. They stare us in the face and deny what is plain to see. They look us in the eye and tell us that the sky is green, and expect us to back down. They poke and prod us relentlessly, expecting no retaliation. They think they can get away with doing whatever they want and never be held accountable or face the consequences of their actions. Why do they think that? Because of useful idiots on the Left in the West who will defend them to the death.

So, perhaps, if those on the British Hard Left truly do support human rights above all else no matter how inconvenient it might be to say so, and they really would have openly opposed slavery 200 years ago, they should prove it now by standing up for the group which is on the receiving end of the most awful violence and oppression imaginable.

If we have any conscience at all, as a nation and as a society, we simply cannot allow what is happening in China to continue. We are at a crossroads in our global political journey. As the UK leaves the European Union, the world watches on to see which direction Britain will choose. On the one hand, we could give in to the leftist, isolationist Little England vision of a reclusive UK which has no major role to play on the world stage.

Alternatively, we could make that post-Brexit Global Britain we have heard so much about into a reality. Surely, opposing genocide is one issue on which we should be able to achieve a universal consensus. A crime against humanity is taking place and history will judge us for how we respond to it. Uyghur Muslims desperately need our help. Let’s not waver or quibble. Let’s answer their call.

The case for a new treason offence

27 Jul

The Government is preparing to overhaul Britain’s security laws, utilising work done on them by Sajid Javid when he was Home Secretary, which in turn drew on research by Policy Exchange.

We wait to see what the legislation contains, but the plans seem to fall into three parts.  First, an overhaul of the Official Secrets Act.  Second, an updating of the espionage laws, which will be carried out largely with state actors, such as China and Russia, in mind.  Third, a new treason offence.

Its origins lie in the return to Britain of Islamist terrorists who fought abroad with ISIS.  Ministers believe that the present legal framework isn’t fit for purpose if prosecutions are to be successful.  The recent Court of Appeal judgement on Shamima Begum’s case doubtless explains why we are reading about revised laws now.

At any rate, the original Policy Exchange proposal was supported by a former Home Secretary, Amber Rudd; a former head of MI5, Lord Evans; a former Lord Chief Justice of England and Wales, Lord Judge, and former head of counter-terrorism at Scotland Yard, Richard Walton.

Tom Tugendhat, one of the authors of that report, Aiding the Enemy, was out and about in the Sunday Times yesterday, concentrating largely on espionage – and writing as he did so “pinstriped fixers, lawyers and silver-tongued svengalis are pocketing money” are doing the bidding of hostile foreign governments.

Meanwhile, Javid was busy in the Mail on Sunday, covering the same themes, and arguing that we need to repurpose “our ancient treason laws to cover Britons who operate on behalf of a hostile nation or go abroad to fight alongside terrorist groups”.

That would cover Hezbollah and Hamas, as well as ISIS and Al Qaeda.  It will doubtless be argued that Britain shouldn’t be in the business of legislating for loyalty oaths, or giving terror groups the same status as foreign governments.

But if you think about it, the loyalty oath claim is a red herring, since what would be required is not a pledge of allegiance to Britain, but the shunning of terror aimed at our troops or civilians.  (The form of words that Javid used would appear to cover fighting alongside terror groups, period – whether against British citizens or not.)

We expect that it will also be claimed that a new treason offence will be “bad for community relations” – i.e: that British Muslims will be opposed to it, though it will certainly go down well among others in Blue Wall seats, as we must now call them, and elsewhere.

A modernised treason offence would certainly be to the point.  Islamist extremism has no room within it for attachment to nation states – what matters is the worldwide community of Muslims, led from its present ignorance, as the extremists see it, to the politicised and ideological version of Islam which they themselves propagate.

(This use of religion rather than nationality as a catch-all definer explains why they identify Jews with Israel, by the way – despite the fact that not all Jews live there and many aren’t Zionists at all.  Hence the Hypercacher kosher supermarket siege in Paris in 2015, and the 2008 massacre at a Jewish outreach centre in Mumbai.)

We anticipate, too, that forcing lobbyists who work for foreign governments to register; toughening up rules on registering interests in the Lords or work undertaken by former Ministers, and slowing, say, the flow of Chinese money into our universities and civil society will also be resisted.  A sign of how much new measures are needed.

Garvan Walshe: Erdogan has failed his country – and turning the Hagia Sophia into a mosque won’t put food back on Turkey’s tables

16 Jul

Garvan Walshe is a former National and International Security Policy Adviser to the Conservative Party. He runs TRD Policy

Built by the Roman emperor Justinian as a church, the Hagia Sophia, like the Catsel Sant’Angelo in Rome, is a sort of architectural missing link. Larger than classical structures, and enclosed, the visitor’s first impression is of the sheer quantity of stone, its bulk needed to support what was then the largest dome in Christendom. The graceful minarets are, of course, a later Ottoman addition.

When the Sultan Mehmed II conquered Constantinople for the Ottomans he had it turned into a mosque, and Attaturk later made it a secular museum. But if Justinian built it at the Byzantine empire’s height, five years after Mohammed fled from Mecca to Medina, and Attaturk as his secular regime established himself, Erdogan has reestablished it as a mosque as his regime begins to decline.

Erdogan is no stranger to culture war. He built his power on a rising class of conservative Muslims who felt ill-served by the secular governing classes of Attaturk’s republic. They moved to Turkey’s cities as the economy modernised during the 1980s and 90s, and gave him his first taste of national office in Istanbul, where he was mayor between 1994 and 1998, Attaturk’s secularised Hagia Sofia looming over his city.

Battles over women being allowed to cover their heads on public property, alcohol taxes, and against an “interest rate lobby” blamed for repeated falls in the value of the Turkish Lira, have characterised his time in office, despite it also featuring major terrorist campaigns, a bloody war in Syria, the hosting of two million refugees who escaped it, large-scale counter-insurgency against Kurdish rebels and an almost successful military coup against him.

His governing style has evolved since he first became Prime Minister in 2003, and not only because he’s become an executive president. His first battles were with the military, when he pretended to be a democrat and gave his supporters pride in having their voice heard, and in economic progress.

But he turned on his former allies on anti-militarist left and in the Gülen movement, and constructed a far more grandiose and personal presidency. He built an enormous palace to live in, dressed up his bodyguards like Ottoman janissaries and radically changed foreign policy.

He abandoned Turkey’s historic friendship with Israel, opting instead to support Hamas, and the short-lived Muslim Brotherhood government in Egypt. He financed Islamist rebels in Syria, and invaded the Kurdish areas of the country after, apparently, convincing Donald Trump to withdraw US protection for them.

He has even chosen to intervene in the Libyan civil war against the Russia and Egypt-backed General Haftar. He seems to see no contradiction between this anti-Russian intervention and ordering an S-400 air defence system from Moscow, or at least no greater contradiction than exists between that order and Turkey’s continued membership of NATO.

Domestically, he has been seduced by huge public works, from a new airport in Istanbul, to his now-presidential palace, the attempted paving over of Gezi Park (which provoked serious protests in 2013) and the enormous GAP dam project in southeastern Anatolia.

All these, and corruption allegations that swirl around them have begun to damage his reputation and, together with his increasing authoritarian style, cost his AK Party the mayoralties of Ankara and Istanbul. Voters weren’t impressed by his leaning on the Supreme Electoral Commission to rerun the Istanbul race after a narrow loss, and returned opposition candidate Ekrem Imamoglu decisively when the vote was held a second time.

More serious is the emergence of two new parties led by Erdogan’s former Prime Minister and Deputy Prime Minister, respectively. Erdogan has managed only narrow victories in recent years, and relies on the ultra-nationalist MHP for its majority in parliament. A referendum confirming the switch to presidential rule was only narrowly carried.

Turkey’s government has come under criticism for mismanaging the economic fallout of the Covid-19 epidemic. The weak currency, a victim of Erdogan’s crusade against that “interest rate lobby” has been unable to support the huge borrowing to which other governments have resorted, with private initiatives organised by opposition mayors of Ankara and Istanbul taking much of the strain.

Reconsecrating the Hagia Sophia may give some cheer to his more committed supporters, but won’t put food on increasingly bare Turkish tables. A more humble man would treat it as part of his legacy and begin looking for a successor.