Istanbul’s mayor gets a big welcome in European capitals

Istanbul Mayor Ekrem Imamoglu stands with former German President Christian Wulff after being awarded with the German-Turkish Friendship Award 'Kybele 2019' in Berlin, Germany, on Nov. 8, 2019. (REUTERS/Fabrizio Bensch)
Updated 11 November 2019

Istanbul’s mayor gets a big welcome in European capitals

  • ‘Imamoglu making visits abroad for international prestige of this city’
  • Imamoglu won a significant victory on June 23 in the re-run of Istanbul’s mayoral election, with a lead of nearly 800,000 votes

ANKARA: The proliferation of the international engagements for Istanbul mayor and opposition challenger Ekrem Imamoglu raises the question: What can this international interest toward Imamoglu be attributed to? 

Imamoglu recently met German President Frank-Walter Steinmeier, Chancellor Angela Merkel and Bundestag President Wolfgang Schäuble during his trip to Berlin for the 30th anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall. He also received the Kybele Award from the Turkish-German Friendship Federation. 

In an interview Imamoglu cautioned against political polarization: “Walls do not always have to be physical,” he said. “They are not necessarily made out of concrete and iron bars. Sometimes, two people can stand side by side while an insurmountable wall exists between them.”

However, it was not Imamoglu’s first entry into the international sphere. 

In August, Gergely Karácsony, the Hungarian opposition candidate for Budapest mayor, visited the newly elected Imamoglu in his office in Istanbul, where he praised Imamoglu “as a source of hope for Budapest.” The Green opposition leader went on to win the Budapest mayoral election in October in a major blow to Victor Orbán’s nationalist government. 

Imamoglu visited Anne Hidalgo, the Mayor of Paris, in Paris on Oct. 2. The French mayor greeted his Turkish counterpart in Turkish with the words “Hoşgeldiniz Sayın Başkan” (Welcome, Mr. Mayor).

During the visit, Istanbul mayor said, “The success we have attained over the last local election is not only limited to Turkey, but has had echoes in other parts of the world. I feel it and I know it. I hope that I will be supported by fellow mayors who view the world in the same way as I do.” He also gave a speech in the European Parliament on Oct 30. 

Imamoglu won a significant victory on June 23 in the rerun of Istanbul’s mayoral election, with a lead of nearly 800,000 votes.

Ates Ilyas Bassoy, a political communication expert, devised Imamoglu’s strategy for the local elections based on a comprehensive field study throughout the country.

In an exclusive interview with Arab News, Bassoy said: “The brand value of Istanbul is even higher than that of Turkey.” He added: “Imamoglu is paying visits to foreign countries not for the politics, but for the much-needed international prestige of this city.” 

Bassoy thinks that Istanbul needs a synergy to enrich the city by encouraging investments in value-added sectors such as design, fashion and advanced engineering. 

According to Emre Erdogan, professor of political science in Istanbul Bilgi University, Imamoglu is becoming a popular political figure in the European capitals, which is not surprising. 

“For many, he is a hero fighting against the rising wave of populist politics based on exclusion, xenophobia and discrimination. As he positioned himself as a leader appealing to all constituencies and created a narrative of electoral victory in the ballots, he gave hope to other candidates competing against the hegemony of the populist leaders,” he said.

“His narrative has been put as an example of a good strategy and discourse to beat the domination of the strong leaders,” Erdogan said, adding that “for European leaders such as Merkel or Macron who are fed up with the hard negotiation style of Erdogan, Imamoglu is perceived as a potential president to replace him, and will provide avenues for more softened way of negotiations.”

Emre Erdogan says Istanbul’s new mayor presents himself as a good alternative for returning Turkey to the Western democratic, pluralistic and cosmopolitan way.

However, these foreign contacts stirred harsh criticism from the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP). Interior Minister Suleyman Soylu recently said that “Imamoglu would pay the price for complaining about Turkey at the European Parliament”. 

But for Professor Erdogan the constituency of Imamoglu welcomes all these activities. 

“For the majority of his constituency, “being a Westerner” is an ultimate value as the crystallization of the modernization desires of the founding fathers of the Republic. Though there is a strong nationalist tune within the coalition, a powerful leader having a good reputation in the eyes of the West is not an unfamiliar picture for them,” he said. 

From that perspective, the frequent foreign visits of Turkey’s “rising star” consolidates his support for the upcoming elections, Professor Erdogan noted. 

Imamoglu’s family members are also under the spotlight. Dilek Imamoglu, the mayor’s wife, was recently put on the cover of the French magazine Madame Figaro and was introduced with remarkable words: ‘First Lady of Istanbul.’


Hundreds protest police repression in Tunisia

Updated 23 January 2021

Hundreds protest police repression in Tunisia

  • Saturday’s protests come as the North African nation struggles to stem the novel coronavirus pandemic
  • The government on Saturday extended a night-time curfew from 8 p.m. (1900 GMT) to 5 a.m. and banned gatherings until February 14

TUNIS: Hundreds of demonstrators took to the streets of Tunisian cities on Saturday to protest police repression, corruption and poverty, following several nights of unrest marked by clashes and arrests.
Saturday’s protests come as the North African nation struggles to stem the novel coronavirus pandemic, which has crippled the economy and threatened to overwhelm hospitals.
Over 6,000 people have died from Covid-19 in Tunisia, with a record 103 deaths reported on Thursday.
The government on Saturday extended a night-time curfew from 8 p.m. (1900 GMT) to 5 a.m. and banned gatherings until February 14.
But protesters took to the streets in several parts of the country, including the capital Tunis and the marginalized interior region of Gafsa, to demand the release of hundreds of young people detained during several nights of unrest since January 14.
“Neither police nor Islamists, the people want revolution,” chanted demonstrators in a crowd of several hundred in Tunis, where one person was wounded in brief clashes amid a heavy police presence.
Protests were also held in the coastal city of Sfax on Friday.
Much of the unrest has been in working class neighborhoods, where anger is boiling over soaring unemployment and a political class accused of having failed to deliver good governance, a decade after the 2011 revolution that toppled long-time dictator Zine El Abidine Ben Ali.
Economic misery exacerbated by novel coronavirus restrictions in the tourism-reliant nation have pushed growing numbers of Tunisians to try to leave the country.
“The situation is catastrophic,” said Omar Jawadi, 33, a hotel sales manager, who has been paid only half his salary for months.
“The politicians are corrupt, we want to change the government and the system.”
The police have said more than 700 people were arrested over several nights of unrest earlier this week that saw young people hurl rocks and petrol bombs at security forces, who responded with tear gas and water cannon.
Human rights groups on Thursday said at least 1,000 people had been detained.
“Youth live from day to day, we no longer have hope, neither to work nor to study — and they call us troublemakers!” said call center worker Amine, who has a degree in aerospace engineering.
“We must listen to young people, not send police in by the thousands. The whole system is corrupt, a few families and their supporters control Tunisia’s wealth.”
Tunisia last week marked one decade since Ben Ali fled the country amid mass protests, ending 23 years in power.
Tunisia’s political leadership is divided, with Prime Minister Hichem Mechichi waiting for parliament to confirm a major cabinet reshuffle announced last Saturday.