This is how many new Turkish millionaires there are since 2007

The troubling stats under the protests.

The world’s eyes are on Turkey this week. While we see images of tear gas drenched streets, armoured policemen, headscarfed protestors, charred vehicles, banners and flags and a humiliated president, the world thinks “Arab Spring”. Such are the parallels that President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan was forced to announce this morning that the protests that stopped Turkey over the weekend were "not Turkish Spring".

But comparing protest with protest is not really very helpful. Turkey’s Taksim Square, where protesters gathered last week, is not Tahrir in Egypt and neither is it Deraa in Syria (where the Syrian uprising began), Syntagma in Athens nor Wall Street, where Occupy emerged. These comparisons can be dismantled by their causes – Turkey is not a dictatorship, children were not imprisoned for anti-government graffiti, the country is not going bankrupt and nor is it symbolic of greed and capitalism.

Actually, it appears that one uniting current of all these protests is absent from Turkey’s – employment. Turkey’s protests are strange enough when you think that they arose out of an opposition to the development of Taksim Square into a shopping mall. But throw in a few stats about the Turkish economy and they seem even more incomprehensible: Since Erdoğan was elected ten years ago in 2003, per capita income and GDP have both at least doubled. Infrastructure, schools and healthcare have weaved their way out of Istanbul and Ankara and wealth has risen too – the number of millionaires in Turkey has risen by 7.4 per cent since 2007 and Istanbul is the world’s seventh most popular city for billionaires according to WealthInsight.  All this has been achieved despite problematic neighbours in Syria, Greece, Iraq, Georgia and Iran. 

You would think Erdoğan’s achievements deserve national applaud, but people abhor him instead. Progress, it seems, is not progress in everyone’s eyes and Istanbul’s controversial shopping centre is not the only symbol of this. Plans for a new airport, a new bridge spanning the Bosporus and an immense hilltop mosque to shadow Istanbul’s ancient minarets are other projects of hullabaloo. This is not to mention anger about new alcohol restrictions and associated Islamic laws.

So, although Turkey’s protests appear similar to the Arab Spring in image (nearly all modern protests seem visually unanimous), it appears to be oppositely motivated. Rather than protest against the incompetence of their leader, many in Turkey’s cities today are calling for an end to over competence. As David Gardener writes in today’s FT, “Mr Erdogan’s critics insistently accuse him of aspiring to become a neo-Ottoman sultan, but Pharaoh would be just as near the mark”.

Protesters in Turkey. Photograph: Getty Images

Oliver Williams is an analyst at WealthInsight and writes for VRL Financial News

Garry Knight via Creative Commons
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Why Barack Obama was right to release Chelsea Manning

A Presidential act of mercy is good for Manning, but also for the US.

In early 2010, a young US military intelligence analyst on an army base near Baghdad slipped a Lady Gaga CD into a computer and sang along to the music. In fact, the soldier's apparently upbeat mood hid two facts. 

First, the soldier later known as Chelsea Manning was completely alienated from army culture, and the callous way she believed it treated civilians in Iraq. And second, she was quietly erasing the music on her CDs and replacing it with files holding explosive military data, which she would release to the world via Wikileaks. 

To some, Manning is a free speech hero. To others, she is a traitor. President Barack Obama’s decision to commute her 35-year sentence before leaving office has been blasted as “outrageous” by leading Republican Paul Ryan. Other Republican critics argue Obama is rewarding an act that endangered the lives of soldiers and intelligence operatives while giving ammunition to Russia. 

They have a point. Liberals banging the drum against Russia’s leak offensive during the US election cannot simultaneously argue leaks are inherently good. 

But even if you think Manning was deeply misguided in her use of Lady Gaga CDs, there are strong reasons why we should celebrate her release. 

1. She was not judged on the public interest

Manning was motivated by what she believed to be human rights abuses in Iraq, but her public interest defence has never been tested. 

The leaks were undoubtedly of public interest. As Manning said in the podcast she recorded with Amnesty International: “When we made mistakes, planning operations, innocent people died.” 

Thanks to Manning’s leak, we also know about the Vatican hiding sex abuse scandals in Ireland, plus the UK promising to protect US interests during the Chilcot Inquiry. 

In countries such as Germany, Canada and Denmark, whistle blowers in sensitive areas can use a public interest defence. In the US, however, such a defence does not exist – meaning it is impossible for Manning to legally argue her actions were in the public good. 

2. She was deemed worse than rapists and murderers

Her sentence was out of proportion to her crime. Compare her 35-year sentence to that received by William Millay, a young police officer, also in 2013. Caught in the act of trying to sell classified documents to someone he believed was a Russian intelligence officer, he was given 16 years

According to Amnesty International: “Manning’s sentence was much longer than other members of the military convicted of charges such as murder, rape and war crimes, as well as any others who were convicted of leaking classified materials to the public.”

3. Her time in jail was particularly miserable 

Manning’s conditions in jail do nothing to dispel the idea she has been treated extraordinarily harshly. When initially placed in solitary confinement, she needed permission to do anything in her cell, even walking around to exercise. 

When she requested treatment for her gender dysphoria, the military prison’s initial response was a blanket refusal – despite the fact many civilian prisons accept the idea that trans inmates are entitled to hormones. Manning has attempted suicide several times. She finally received permission to receive gender transition surgery in 2016 after a hunger strike

4. Julian Assange can stop acting like a martyr

Internationally, Manning’s continued incarceration was likely to do more harm than good. She has said she is sorry “for hurting the US”. Her worldwide following has turned her into an icon of US hypocrisy on free speech.

Then there's the fact Wikileaks said its founder Julian Assange would agree to be extradited to the US if Manning was released. Now that Manning is months away from freedom, his excuses for staying in the Equadorian London Embassy to avoid Swedish rape allegations are somewhat feebler.  

As for the President - under whose watch Manning was prosecuted - he may be leaving his office with his legacy in peril, but with one stroke of his pen, he has changed a life. Manning, now 29, could have expected to leave prison in her late 50s. Instead, she'll be free before her 30th birthday. And perhaps the Equadorian ambassador will finally get his room back. 

 

Julia Rampen is the editor of The Staggers, The New Statesman's online rolling politics blog. She was previously deputy editor at Mirror Money Online and has worked as a financial journalist for several trade magazines.