Asmaa and Berkin
It was a fine August day last year when a pre-recorded Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan appeared on TV, in an unusually soft voice and reading a letter written by the Muslim Brotherhood’s Mohamed al-Beltagy to his daughter, Asmaa, a 17-year-old girl who had been killed in Cairo when security forces stormed two protest camps occupied by supporters of the deposed president, Mohamed Morsi. Poor Asmaa had been shot in the back and chest.
“I believe you have been loyal to your commitment to God, and He has been to you,” the father wrote in the letter. “Otherwise, He would not have called you to His presence before me.” Mr. Erdoğan’s tears were visible.
Probably millions of viewers wept that evening. Later, Asmaa became another symbol of Turkish Islamists; and Mr. Erdoğan cheered party fans with the four-finger “Rabaa sign” in reference to his solidarity with the brotherhood, and as a sign of his endearment for the unfortunate girl. Even on the pitch, a few footballers made the same sign after scoring.
On the same evening when the Turks watched Mr. Erdoğan in tears, Berkin Elvan was 14 years old, alive but in a coma for the past 66 days. He had been struck in the head by a gas canister during a police crackdown on Gezi protesters as he went to buy a loaf of bread. When Berkin died on March 11 after 269 days in coma, he was 15 and weighed 16 kilos.
Unsurprisingly, like in most other cases of deaths during Gezi protests, Berkin’s death has left behind no suspect. Judging from the material that caused his death, the killer should be one of the police officers memorably praised by Mr. Erdoğan “for their heroic action” during the protests. A hero, in other words. Not like the cowardly Egyptian policemen who killed Asmaa. A true hero, now in hiding.
But what must have made, for the Turkish prime minister, the death of an Egyptian girl immeasurably more tragic than the death of a Turkish boy, both victims of police brutality? Could it be just because Asmaa’s father had written a letter deeply touching Mr. Erdoğan’s Muslim heart? But then Berkin, too, was Muslim.
It is too obvious that Mr. Erdoğan feels a much stronger bond with an Egyptian family than a Turkish one over the loss of their children simply because the Egyptian family is from the Muslim Brotherhood, the Egyptian next of kin for Mr. Erdoğan and his fellow Islamists. Asmaa had lost her live for the “cause,” i.e., Islamism. Berkin had not. Asmaa’s killers are Mr. Erdoğan’s enemies across the Mediterranean Sea. Berkin’s killers are Mr. Erdoğan’s heros.
This columnist does not recall how many times Mr. Erdoğan must have repeated that Israelis are the killers of “innocent people and children.” Children like Berkin? Children like most of the 34 people Turkish jets bombarded and killed in Uludere, mistaking them for terrorists? Children whose killers have not even stood trial?
Asmaa’s mourners were, naturally, heroes. But according to former EU Minister and serious fraud suspect Egemen Bağış, Berkin’s mourners were “necrophiliacs.” Mr. Bağış does not understand. Leave aside insults, Berkin’s mourners will one day dutifully respect EVEN Mr Bağış’s mourners.
Mr. Erdoğan is weary. He is in a weird mood that he could even claim that Berkin died before the elections, and not after, in order to topple his government undemocratically. But he may get wearier in the near future as the country he aims to make “more devout” is in a downward spiral and getting out of control.
And his election campaign is getting more and more boring with the usual “Rabaa sign.” That one has been repeated too often and, perhaps, needs to be replaced by new, more dynamic signs.
I, in my capacity, could propose the “Quenelle,” which is made by touching the shoulder of an outstretched arm with the palm of the other hand. The “Roman salute” may not be a bad idea as small groups of Mr. Erdoğan’s fans can always hold their arms outward with finger tips touching.
Or ask Mr. Bağış. If you pay him well, he can always invent a sign for the national league of anti-necrophiliacs.