The year 2014 is ending. Many events took place, but some of them were crucial for the global politics. UPA writer Hacı Mehmet BOYRAZ spoke to Michael Binyon, British journalist-writer and foreign correspondent of The Times.
Dear Binyon, we are thankful to you for accepting our request. First of all, how would you summarize the socio-political events of this ending year (2014)? How do you see the current issues in the Middle East especially related to ISIS, Syria and Iraq?
2014 was a difficult year, especially in the Middle East. The hopes of the Arab Spring were finally crushed, with the military coup in Egypt, the collapse of law and order in Libya and the continuing bloody civil war in Syria. The rise of ISIS was a threat to the entire region, and also to Western nations which were alarmed to see many young Muslims flocking to join the terrorist group. International efforts to combat terrorism were made more difficult by the breakdown in East-West relations, triggered by Russia’s annexation of Crimea and intervention in Ukraine, by continuing European weakness in the euro zone and by President Obama’s determination not to let the US get involved in foreign military actions. The bloody attack on the school in Pakistan at the end of the year showed that the phenomenon of Islamist extremism is likely to grow and destabilise more countries in the future.
Related to the previous question, there is a conspiracy theory about the ISIS. Before the 9/11 attack, there were Al-Qaeda and Saddam Hussein in the region. This forced USA to enter into the region. During his campaign, President Obama promised Americans to withdraw the American soldiers from the region. However, today when we look at the situation, some say that USA tries to come back to the region with the emergence of a new enemy called as the “ISIS”. What is your opinion about this conspiracy theory?
All conspiracy theories are exaggerated and generally absurd, and this particular theory is nonsense. There is no possible way that America would want ISIS as an “ally”. America is not looking for a way to get back into the Middle East. The opposite is true: President Obama is determined to stay out of the military conflicts in the region, and that is why he has been reluctant to intervene in Syria or elsewhere. America feels forced to help Iraq against ISIS, otherwise the Iraqi government will collapse. But Washington has no interest in remaining in the region and sees ISIS as a mortal threat to all Western interests. Conspiracy theories like this reflect a crude, naive and childish understanding of international politics.
A short time ago, you were in Turkey and you listened Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan. How do you see Turkey’s current political position, especially after the sanctions to Russia?
Turkey’s current political situation is difficult. Erdogan has become more and more authoritarian in his policies, and sees any opposition as an attack on his power and authority. His reactions to the accusations by Gulen supporters verge on the paranoid. His policies on Syria are out of step with many others in the region, and his support for the Muslim Brotherhood is unpopular at home and abroad. The Western sanctions against Russia have given him a chance, however, to strengthen links with Moscow at a time when many Western allies are criticising him over his Middle East policies and his clampdown on the free press in Turkey. Putin and Erdogan are increasingly similar authoritarian leaders, and despite differences on Syria are likely to strengthen their economic and political relations in the coming year.
You worked in Russia for many years, so you know the dynamics. What is your opinion about Russia’s current situation? Is Putin’s Russia going to be a new “USSR”?
Putin is an authoritarian leader who is determined to reassert Russian influence over the former Soviet republics. But his open interference in Ukraine and his annexation of Crimea have provoked a sharp reaction in the West, and the sanctions have had a very damaging effect on the Russian economy. The collapse of the rouble and the sanctions are making things very difficult for ordinary Russians, but their instinct is to rally behind Putin and blame the West. So, Western sanctions will not force Putin from office or lead to a change in policy in Ukraine. But behind the scenes, Putin is now desperately trying to negotiate a face-saving solution with Kiev that would stop Ukraine drawing closer to NATO while allowing Russia to claim that it had bolstered Ukraine’s unity and independence. There is no way, however, that Putin can recreate the USSR, as most former republics have no interest in this.
What is your opinion about situation in Egypt, especially after Hosni Mubarak’s “exculpation”?
Egypt is now suffering from an extremely repressive and harsh military government. Most Egyptians still support Sisi, however, and almost all are glad that Morsi’s government was removed from power. Despite the large number of arrests and the high number of people sentenced to death, Egyptians believe stability is more important than human rights, and support the crackdown on the Muslim Brotherhood. Many young people and liberals are deeply upset by the exculpation of Mubarak, but are now frightened to protest because of the dangers of arrest by the military government. The Islamists have been driven underground, but the threat of violence from extremists has now increased. Meanwhile Sisi has a huge challenge in trying to increase prosperity and jobs and offer Egypt a better future.
The last attacks of Israel towards Palestine have directed some states to recognize Palestine as an independent state. Israeli PM Benjamin Netanyahu is saying that there might be new attacks. Do you think Israel can do this despite the international society?
The Netanyahu government pays very little attention to any world opinion except the opinion of the US government. Netanyahu and Obama are on very bad terms, but Netanyahu has powerful allies in Congress and in the Republican Party, who will never criticise Israel no matter what the Israelis do in Gaza or to the Palestinians. The present election campaign shows that the next government is likely to be even more right-wing, so there is very little to stop Israel attacking Gaza again, and the new government will make no effort to resume peace talks. It sees Obama as now powerless, and is not afraid to take actions that the Administration opposes.
A short time ago, British PM David Cameron paid a visit to Turkey. How do you see the effects of this visit in the UK?
Cameron is eager to keep Turkey as a close ally, and to seek Turkish help in stopping young Muslims from Britain from joining ISIS. Britain still strongly supports Turkey’s application to the EU, but is increasingly alarmed at Erdogan’s authoritarian actions, his curbs on the press and his support for the Muslim Brotherhood. Cameron urged Erdogan to do more to oppose ISIS and to help the West allies in their fight against ISIS. Erdogan’s previous image in Britain of a very successful modern Islamist Prime Minister has become tarnished, though most Britons are ignorant of Turkish politics and think only of the country as a wonderful tourist destination.
Finally, since you are a British journalist, do you think that the UK will be out of the EU in the near future?
British politics are becoming rather unstable, and next year’s election is likely to give an uncertain result, with neither of the main parties having a majority. Cameron is likely to remain the Prime Minister, but may have to lead a minority government. He will nevertheless offer a referendum on EU membership, and will then campaign for Britain to stay in the EU. But more and more Britons now oppose EU membership, and despite the warnings of business and other leading economic interests, a referendum is likely to lead to a vote to leave the EU. This would anger Britain’s partners, who will offer no special concessions to keep Britain in the EU. With a weak government, Cameron would find it difficult to ignore this result, and so it is quite likely that Britain will leave the EU at some stage after 2017.
Dear Binyon, many thanks for your answers…
About Michael BINYON (Source: Innova BRICS & Beyond)
Michael Binyon has been a writer, columnist and foreign correspondent for The Times since 1971. For 15 years, he was based overseas, reporting for the paper from Moscow, Washington, Bonn and Brussels before returning to London to be Diplomatic Editor in 1991 and then becoming the chief diplomatic writer in 2000.
After graduating from Cambridge University with a degree in English and Arabic, he spent a year teaching English in the USSR in 1967. In 1968, he began as a reporter for The Times Educational Supplement, moving to the BBC Arabic Service in 1970 and then becoming a reporter for The Times Higher Education Supplement in 1971. He speaks French, German, Russian and some Arabic. He is a frequent broadcaster on BBC radio and television and appears regularly on French, German, Canadian, Swiss, Russian and Middle Eastern radio and television channels, as well as Al Jazeera and NBC.
A winner of two British journalism prizes, he wrote “Life in Russia” in 1983 and was awarded Britain’s OBE decoration in 2000. He was formally retired from The Times in November 2009, but has continued to write regularly for the journal and for some other publications.
Interview: Hacı Mehmet BOYRAZ