University falls victim to Erdogan’s battle with ex-prime minister

Sehir University’s founding motive was to consolidate and strengthen the growing conservative intelligentsia in Turkey and abroad. (Sehir website)
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Updated 01 July 2020

University falls victim to Erdogan’s battle with ex-prime minister

  • The overnight move highlights rising tensions between the Turkish government and leaders of breakaway parties

ANKARA: Istanbul’s Sehir University, founded by Ahmet Davutoglu, the former prime minister and ex-ally of Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, was shut down on Monday after an overnight presidential decree.

“With this signature, President Erdogan has gone down in history as a politician who shut down a university,” Davutoglu said during a press conference on Tuesday.

The move had been expected following the government seizure of the BISAV (Foundation for Sciences and Arts) organization behind the university earlier this year over a failure to pay back loans. The university failed to pay staff salaries and utility bills.

The overnight move highlights rising tensions between the Turkish government and leaders of breakaway parties.

Erdogan delivered the inaugural speech at the opening of the university 10 years ago.

The university’s assets and bank accounts were frozen by a Turkish court shortly after Davutoglu launched the new Future Party, which aims to attract conservative and religious voters.

Despite the crackdown on the university he founded, the former premier continued his criticism of the ruling government.

“They can walk around with arrogance after having shown how much they are capable of, but they will pay the price of this crime in the public consciousness and in the scales of justice,” he said on Tuesday.

Davutoglu also received support from the leader of another breakaway party, DEVA (Remedy Party), recently founded by ex-economy chief Ali Babacan.

“This process is completely unlawful and is the result of the ruling government’s hostile stance,” Babacan tweeted on Tuesday.

Muzaffer Senel, a professor of international relations at Sehir University, is searching for an academic post after the university he contributed to for many years was shut down. “The university has been turned into a target because everybody enjoyed academic freedom there for a decade,” he told Arab News.

“The university was always distanced from the ruling government. Its management and academics didn’t take any political positions. They only opted for a moral and ethical stance,” he added.

Sehir University hosted hundreds of foreign and Turkish academics with a wide range of political tendencies, including both right and left, and nationalist and socialist points of view. More than 7,000 students graduated from the university, including many from the Gulf region.

“We left behind a shiny reference point about how the university should look like, based on universal values, and we are proud of it,” Senel said.

Berk Esen, a political analyst from Bilkent University in Ankara, said: “The government’s decision to shut down the university is clearly a vindictive move to punish Erdogan’s opponents, particularly Davutoglu.”

He added: “As a result of the autocratization process in Turkey, the cost of toleration for dissent has gone up substantially. The president is sending a clear message that any support given for splinter parties in the conservative camp will be punished severely.”

Sehir University’s founding motive was to consolidate and strengthen the growing conservative intelligentsia in Turkey and abroad.

“Although Sehir University hired good scholars over the years, that conservative agenda permeated throughout the institution and has lately begun to clash with the Erdogan administration. This is a fight to influence the hearts and minds of educated conservative students in contemporary Turkey,” Esen said.

“The fact that the government went to such lengths to abolish Sehir University is highly significant, as this would undermine any long-term influence Islamists may have played in the higher education system,” he added.

The fate of hundreds of students waiting for graduation this year is still unknown.

“There is no bottom point for a government that closes the university because of its political grudge and conducts operations to the future of the youth,” Galip Dalay, a visiting scholar at the University of Oxford, tweeted.


Yemen faces costly bill as evacuation nears end

Updated 23 min 5 sec ago

Yemen faces costly bill as evacuation nears end

  • The country’s flagship carrier, Yemenia, has returned all stranded Yemenis in Jordan

AL-MUKALLA: Repatriation of Yemenis stranded abroad by the coronavirus pandemic is almost complete, the government’s emergency committee said.

Yemen’s government faces a bill running into millions of dollars after evacuating thousands of people from India, Egypt, Jordan and other countries.

At a virtual meeting headed by Yemeni Prime Minister Maeen Abdulmalik Saeed, the committee thanked Yemeni embassies abroad and governments that helped with repatriation planning.

The committee said that the process is “coming to a close” since most of those stranded have been brought home.

In May, the internationally recognized government of Yemen began arranging repatriation flights for thousands of Yemenis stranded abroad because of global travel bans.

A senior government official with knowledge of the process told Arab News on Thursday that the country’s flagship carrier, Yemenia, has returned all stranded Yemenis in Jordan, and is now repatriating those still stranded people in Egypt and India.

“All of the stranded Yemenis in Djibouti and Saudi Arabia were brought back home by sea and land. More than 3,400 Yemenis out of 7,000 have been evacuated from Egypt,” the government official said.

Yemenia has arranged direct flights to Indian cities with large numbers of stranded Yemenis, he added.

People seeking repatriation have been asked to supply a negative PCR test before returning to Yemen. Those who test positive for the virus are banned from boarding and must isolate themselves for 14 days before booking a flight.

“There are 211 people in Egypt who could not fly back home because they tested positive for the virus,” the official said.

Stranded Yemenis in India say they were disappointed when Yemenia rejected their tickets after they tested positive for the virus.

A Yemeni woman who has been in India since February told Arab News that her whole family was forced to stay put after she tested positive.

“I was happy when I saw my name and my family’s among the evacuees. But I was surprised when the result of the test showed that I alone tested positive,” she said.

Yemenia will continue flights to India and other destinations after the repatriation process ends, the government official said.

The Yemeni government grounded all flights into and out of airports under its control in May to prevent the virus from spreading in the war-torn country.

Yemen recorded its first case of coronavirus on April 10 in the southern port city of Sheher. The total number of infections in government-controlled areas is 1,190, including 318 fatalities and 504 recoveries, the Aden-based supreme national emergency committee said on Wednesday.

Yemen’s cash-strapped government has paid millions of dollars for aircraft fuel, empty seats and virus tests for stranded people, the government official said.

“We compensated Yemenia with $1.15 million for flying to five Indian cities to bring back stranded Yemenis,” the official said. On Tuesday, three flights touched down at Aden and Seiyun airports with 530 stranded nationals aboard.