Why BORAT is a better fit than MIKTA

Why BORAT is a better fit than MIKTA

In the days of “precious loneliness,” Turkey never ceases to seek camps to join. The most recent initiative, proudly announced last month, is MIKTA: A gathering of Mexico, Indonesia, (South) Korea, Turkey and Australia. A more creative gathering could have been TNT (Turkey, North Korea and Timor-Leste). And a more entertaining one could have been BORAT (not to be confused with the vulgar comedy film that goes by the same name). This would be a gathering of Bahrain, Oman, Rwanda, Afghanistan and Turkey. Alternatively, North Korea, Uganda, Turkey, Turkmenistan and Yemen could make an impressively “nutty” grouping.

This week I was in the country that would lend its initial to the BORAT grouping. Reading the local (English language) newspapers I saw astonishing similarities between the “B” and “T” of BORAT. One front-page headline said in big bold letters, “Bahrain stronger,” then quoted His Royal Highness Prime Minister Prince Khalifa bin Salman al-Khalifa denying the existence of any sectarian tension in a country where the 75 percent Shia are ruled by a Sunni monarchy.

His Royal Highness described the civil unrest as “heinous terrorist attempts to destabilize the country, subvert peace and target security forces.” He said the unrest in Bahrain had nothing to do with health, education or housing demands. Sounds familiar? Very much indeed.

What about this line? “What is happening … is an attempt to drive the country into chaos and destruction.” A carbon copy of Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s remarks during the Gezi protests this summer. Could this be a pure coincidence? Yes. But there is more.

Another news story said that Khalil al-Marzooq, an opposition politician, is now facing charges that include inciting terrorism after he appeared to lend support to The Coalition of February 14 Youth during a public speech. Mr. al-Marzooq is accused of abusing his position at a political organization to deliver public speeches and taking part in symposiums that incite terrorism; as well as of advocating support for criminals and justifying their crimes.

His Royal Highness explained why the opposition politician was a terrorist: “They [the opposition groups] did not take a clear and firm stance regarding these acts of terror.” Enough to make one a terrorist. But my favorite remark from His Royal Highness was his description of Bahrain’s government as being “based on freedom, openness and respect for human rights.” Having read that line I felt an immediate and bitter urge to apologize to Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan.

Meanwhile, while Mr. al-Marzooq’s supporters say his arrest was politically motivated, the Justice, Islamic Affairs and Endowments Minister Shaikh Khalid bin Ali al-Khalifa has strongly denied those claims. Here, at least on two accounts, the “T” of BORAT positively differs from the “B”: Not all names of Cabinet ministers are “Erdoğan” - yet; and “justice” and “Islamic affairs” are not under the jurisdiction of one ministry - yet.

Shyly smiling at the similarities between the Turkish and Gulf governance mentalities while lunching on the 52nd floor of a fancy club building overlooking Manama, I made the mistake of mentioning the word “democracy” to a Bahraini sheikh with an important government portfolio.

“Democracy,” the sheikh lectured me confidently, “Should not and cannot be the goal. It is only an instrument to achieve prosperity. Prosperity is the goal, not democracy.”

That was precisely why Mr. Erdogan felt a genuine anger at the Gezi protesters: Our economy has grown remarkably, we have built new roads, hospitals; shopping malls, posh residences and housing projects have proliferated across the country; we have built dozens of new universities; and why are all these ungrateful youths uprising for? Since they cannot have a good reason to protest they must be terrorists manipulated by dark foreign powers.

This is the gist of the BORAT ideology: We have given you prosperity and you are a bunch of fools and terrorists protesting for democratic rights! What a lovely coincidence. In Bahrain and Turkey we have governments “based on freedom, openness and respect of human rights.” Just like in the “O,” “R” and “A” of the fabulous grouping.