Ms. Erdogan, please stay home
Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni merited a special honor during her visit to Turkey: Foreign Minister Abdullah Gul received her as the first visitor to his newly refurbished office. In general, it seems the Turks made a special effort to make the stay by Livni a pleasant one, despite the fact that they were not exactly excited about her remarks about Hamas.
Her visit was so nice that she probably did not notice the protest that began a week before her arrival. The protest was actually against Emine Erdogan, the wife of Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan.
Emine angers secular Turks because she appears in public with her head covered, not just in Turkey but during official visits abroad with her husband. Her head scarf was last seen during the official visit to Sharm el-Sheikh for the International Economic Conference in late May. Muslim Turkey, which was educated to be a secular state, still has trouble digesting the reign of a religious party. It cannot comprehend why it must tolerate the prime minister's wife appearing in public in traditional Muslim garb.
A sharp expression of these sentiments was voiced last week by journalist Nursun Erel in a strongly-worded article that appeared in the English-language Turkish paper, The New Anatolian. Erel quoted at length from an open letter to Emine Erdogan written by a female parliamentary deputy of the Republican People's Party (CHP), Canan Aritman.
"Don't forget that your visits to foreign countries are not only a part of your private life," Aritman wrote to Emine, "you make those visits as the prime minister's wife. So you are representing Turkish women, and all your expenses are paid for by the Turkish people. That is why you can't take into consideration only your personal choices during these visits. Over the years thousands of Turkish women who have studied, worked and represented Turkey in foreign countries have put forth great efforts. Since our country and our way of life are not well known to foreigners, people often react by saying, 'You aren't covered, and you dress like us!' We have to talk with them at great length to convince them that Turkey is not such a primitive country and that Turkish women dress in the modern way.
"Through your actions, the struggles of thousands of Turkish women are made to amount to nothing - with this way of dressing you create an image that Turkey is behind even most other Islamic countries. Dear lady, even though we have respect for your personal choices, we have to emphasize once again that Turkish women can't be represented by you in this way and we kindly ask you not to go to foreign countries."
Then the journalist learned that the leader of the opposition Republican People's Party (CHP), Deniz Baykal, had asked his deputy Aritman not to get involved with the first lady's dress.
Aritman exploded. "Sometimes I wonder if Ataturk, as the founder of the modern Turkish Republic and the founder of the CHP, could have imagined the days we're living in. Would he regret carrying through all his revolutionary reforms?" she wrote.
Two days later I received an e-mail from a Turkish friend. "I'm planning to leave the country," he wrote, "it's impossible to live here with this suffocation. When I see the prime minister's wife, I feel as if they put that hijab on me."
Real estate? Try Damascus
When a war is underway, there is profit to be made. That is nothing new. The Iraq war is no different in this respect from any other war, and the Jordanians and the Syrians are learning this. Thousands of Iraqis who fled during the Saddam Hussein era - and smuggled out large amounts of money - have invested some of it in purchasing real estate in Jordan.
That was the second wave of economic growth in Jordan to which Iraq contributed. The first time was during the first Gulf War, when thousands of Jordanians were expelled from Gulf States due to Jordan's support of Saddam Hussein. They returned with lots of money that they immediately invested in building luxurious homes and hotels, which in a few years became desolate. The great economic boom shattered, and the homes had no buyers.
Then came Iraq's second contribution to Jordan. Saddam Hussein fell from power, Iraqi businessmen living in Jordan thought things were safe and started returning to Baghdad. But when they saw that their reception back home consisted of car bombs and that their children could not go to school, they hurried back to Jordan. Real estate deals again thrived, particularly because diplomatic representations were also relocating from Baghdad to Amman and foreign corporations realized that it is safer to conduct their affairs from Amman. Jordan rejoiced, but not for long.
The terrorist attacks and terror cells uncovered in Jordan made it clear to the Jordanian authorities that the too-open border with Iraq is a source of danger. With Jordanian efficiency, the borders were sealed and the crossings became a nightmare for merchants. Iraqi trucks were not permitted to cross into Jordan, and Iraqi merchants spent hours at the border crossings waiting for goods to be released or to load Jordanian trucks. Jordan started becoming a "tough" country" when it comes to businesspeople and they began looking for another outlet.
They found one - in Damascus of all places. Syria, which has a convenient border with Iraq and where real estate prices are relatively low, became a new attraction competing with Amman. Iraqi businesspeople started selling their assets in Jordan and replaced them with larger and less expensive properties in Damascus. According to reports published this week in Jordan, it turns out that Iraqis living in Jordan sold assets worth more than $40 million to non-Jordanian citizens. In addition, it is estimated that assets worth a similar amount were sold to Jordanians.
The price of an apartment in Jordan is double what it is in Syria. The cost of living in Jordan is about 30-40 percent higher than it is in Damascus, and most importantly, the border crossing between Syria and Iraq is much easier to get through than those into Jordan.