Turkey’s former deputy premier launches party to challenge Erdogan

Former Turkish Deputy Prime Minister Ali Babacan has warned about the dangers of ‘one-man rule’ in the country. (AN photo)
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Updated 12 March 2020

Turkey’s former deputy premier launches party to challenge Erdogan

  • Babacan promises to cure country’s political, economic deficiencies

ANKARA: Turkey’s former deputy prime minister, Ali Babacan, on Wednesday launched a new political party to challenge his ex-ally President Recep Tayyip Erdogan.

The 52-year-old former economy minister, who quit the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) in July last year over “deep disagreements” with Erdogan, officially applied to the Turkish Ministry of the Interior to register his party under the name Remedy (Deva).

Since his resignation, Babacan has claimed that Turkey was passing through a “dark tunnel” and has warned about the dangers of “one-man rule” in the country.

Turkey’s economic recession, high unemployment rates, and government loss of management over major cities such as Istanbul and Ankara in last year’s municipal elections, have sparked the formation of new breakaway parties from the AKP.

At the launch event in Ankara, Babacan called for wide-ranging reforms to strengthen the rule of law and democracy.

The mainly young and female profile of the Remedy party’s council not only includes ex-ministers from the AKP but also key names from the business sector, military, and civil society along with managers of multinational companies.

Having presided over Turkey’s economy from 2009 to 2015, Babacan blamed the country’s economic deterioration on its democratic deficit. He also repeated his opposition to the shift from a parliamentary to a presidential system in Turkey, criticized the crackdown on the media, and lamented the Central Bank’s lack of independence.

“Our citizens are worried about their future; human rights violations and curtailing of liberties are making it impossible for our society to breathe. Our women are concerned about living under constant threat. Turkey is such a great country that cannot be restricted to one wisdom and a narrow establishment,” he said.

Political analyst Nezih Onur Kuru, from Koc University in Istanbul, said the democratic, professional and technocrat image of the party’s founders’ council gave Babacan a political advantage.

“Babacan showed a positive performance toward economic development and democratization during his term under the AKP. Therefore, his past records and achievements are very valuable references,” he told Arab News.

In promising a cure for the country’s political and economic deficiencies via his new party, Kuru added that Babacan still had a high brand value at home and abroad. As a politician coming from a conservative and industrialist family, he also has ties with the Turkish business community.

However, Remedy’s success and that of another breakaway party, former Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu’s Future Party, will depend on their approach to Erdogan’s policy style and political alliances.

According to Kuru, the Remedy party will appeal not only to disillusioned AKP voters but also to center and right segments of society and those with no political allegiances.

Babacan’s party program also put emphasis on youth unemployment, which had reached 24 percent according to latest statistics.

Babacan gained a master’s degree from Northwestern University in Chicago between 1990 and 1992 with a Fulbright scholarship from the US. He has also worked as a financial consultant to top executives of major American banks.

To coincide with the launch of Babacan’s new party, Erdogan delivered a speech in which criticized the breakaway parties and said: “Every initiative that is put forward and branded as ‘new’ once again proves the need and demand for the AKP.”

High diabetes and obesity rates complicate GCC's coronavirus fight

Updated 52 min 45 sec ago

High diabetes and obesity rates complicate GCC's coronavirus fight

  • Study find people with Type 2 diabetes twice as likely to die from COVID-19 as those without it
  • Diabetic and obese people have an immune system malfunction that particularly endangers them

DUBAI: In the ongoing havoc the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) is wreaking, a double bind has the Gulf region’s health experts worried — the rising cases of diabetes and obesity and the increased risk of mortality this population faces due to the pandemic.

According to the International Diabetic Federation (IDF), more than 39 million adults aged 20 to 79 had diabetes in the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) region last year. The figure is estimated to increase to 108 million by 2045.

The IDF Atlas states that 15.4 percent of adults aged 20 to 79 in the UAE are diabetic, while in Bahrain the number is 19.6 percent. In Kuwait and Qatar, the figure jumps to 20 percent.

In Saudi Arabia, it is estimated that 15 percent of the adult population has diabetes, and many more are likely to be either undiagnosed or pre-diabetic, leaving them on the edge of the chronic disease.

These numbers are alarming by themselves, but what is more concerning is that amid the COVID-19 pandemic, some groups face a greater risk than others.

A study conducted by the Imperial College London found that people with Type 2 diabetes are twice as likely to die from COVID-19 as those without it.

The study also found that people with Type 1 diabetes were three and a half times more likely to die from a COVID-19 infection.

What causes such a lethal outcome? According to Dr. Nasr Al-Jafari of DNA Health Corporation, Dubai, the virus can be deadly because of its ability to stimulate a part of the immune system called the “inflammasome.”

“This can often cause an uncontrolled release of pro-inflammatory responses of the immune system, which leads to what has been described as a ‘cytokine storm’ (where the body starts to attack its own cells instead of fighting off the invading virus). The consequences are a potentially severe and irreversible damage to the heart and lungs,” Al-Jafari told Arab News.

“We also know that people suffering from both diabetes and obesity have a chronic activation of this same ‘inflammasome.’

“Therefore, these people are more at risk of developing the above-described inflammatory cascade of events, ultimately putting them at a higher risk of needing ventilatory support, and even a higher risk of death.”

Khadija Kapasi, a Kuwait-based clinical dietitian, says that the problem people with diabetes face is one of “worst outcomes.”

“People with co-morbidities like heart disease, diabetes and obesity have a higher chance of complications with COVID-19, and diabetics are particularly vulnerable because the virus can cause difficulties managing it,” she said.

Echoing the concerns of Al-Jafari and Kapasi, Dr. Asma Deeb, division chief of Pediatric Endocrinology at the Sheikh Shakhbout Medical City in Abu Dhabi, said that the risk of COVID-19 is expected to be high due to the wide prevalence of diabetes in the Gulf region.

“Diabetes can make COVID-19 symptoms more severe and can cause a greater likelihood of mortality,” she said, adding: “Obesity has also been identified as a risk factor.”

In addition to having diabetes, over half of diabetics in the region are reported as having at least one co-morbidity, said Kapasi. In Kuwait and Saudi Arabia, one in five are reported as having two or more co-morbidities.

“Saudi Arabia also ranks in the top 15 countries for obesity, which leads to diabetes and its complications,” Kapasi said. “The UAE, Bahrain, Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, and Qatar are listed in the top 15 nations for the highest rate of diabetes per capita.”

“Diabetes is a risk factor for hospitalization and mortality of the COVID-19 infection,” Bassam Bin Abbas, professor and pediatric consultant of endocrinology at the King Faisal Specialist Hospital and Research Center in Riyadh, told Arab News.

“More than a third of the Kingdom’s adult population is obese, and obesity is also a risk factor for severe infection and diabetic complications.”

What is causing this rise in numbers? According to research from New York University Abu Dhabi, Gulf citizens may have a genetic predisposition to diabetes. But that is not the only reason.

“Experts concerned about the rapid increase in lifestyle diseases in this region have looked to history and environmental factors to identify the cause,” said Kapasi.

And the cause, according to her, is clear: “Unhealthy lifestyles and urbanization. Bahrain, Kuwait, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, and the UAE are some of the wealthiest countries in the world today, and the lifestyle of the average citizen in these countries is dramatically different from that of the pre-oil era.”

Al-Jafari describes Type 2 diabetes, which accounts for over 90 per cent of the cases, as a “lifestyle disease.”

“The modernized lifestyle adopted by a large part of the population is a perfect storm for developing ‘insulin resistance’, which is at the root of this condition,” he said.

“There is an over-availability of, and dependency on, fast foods and processed foods. The lifestyle has largely become sedentary, particularly during the hotter months.”

According to all the specialists, the need of the hour is to raise awareness among people with diabetes and offer them more education and support to manage their condition during this difficult time.

Diabetics are advised to strictly monitor their blood glucose level at regular intervals to ensure that it is under control.

“They should check not only fasting but also post-meal glucose levels, which are more likely to be higher,” said Dr. Abdul Jabbar, consultant endocrinologist, Medcare Hospital, Al Safa, Dubai.

“They should strictly adhere to their medication schedule, including for control of blood pressure and lipids. Wherever possible, patients should tele-consult with doctors to reduce exposure to the virus,” he said.

Diabetes in COVID-19 patients can also be more difficult to treat due to the fluctuations of blood glucose, concomitant sepsis, and high risk of developing diabetic ketoacidosis and multi-organ failure, said Dr Vikram Hundia, consultant endocrinologist at Al-Zahra Hospital Dubai.

“Ensuring an adequate stock of regular medications, including insulin, is vital during these times when an overburdened healthcare system, shortages in supply of drugs and travel restrictions may pose a challenge,” he said.

“Employers may need to provide special working conditions to those suffering from diabetes to minimize their risk of exposure,” he told Arab News, adding that Gulf Cooperation Council states needed to put in place coordinated and effective measures for diabetic patients to prevent exposure to this infection.

“Working closely with the diabetes management team, optimizing diabetes control, practicing a healthy lifestyle, and staying safe and fit will not only protect patients with diabetes, it will also help them emerge from this pandemic stronger and healthier,” Hundia said.

Many regional governments have taken steps to combat the rise in the numbers of lifestyle diseases such as diabetes and obesity, including the Saudi government’s “Quality of Life Program,” one of the Vision Realization Programs of Saudi Arabia 2030.

“It aims to enhance the quality of life in the Kingdom through lifestyle improvement by increasing individuals’ participation in entertainment, sport and cultural activities,” Bin Abbas, of the King Faisal Specialist Hospital and Research Center, said.

“Other measures, including taxing sugary drinks, fitness initiatives and focusing on preventative care, have already been rolled out to address the rising epidemic.”

Twitter: @CalineMalek