Turkey calls for boycott of French goods over Emmanuel Macron’s pledge on secularism. Jobs bill prompts mass protests in Indonesia. Amy Coney Barrett sworn in as US Supreme Court justice. By Jonathan Pearlman.

Payne awaits report on Qatar airport incident

Australian Foreign Minister Marise Payne addresses the press in Canberra on Monday.
Australian Foreign Minister Marise Payne addresses the press in Canberra on Monday.
Credit: AAP Image / Lukas Coch

Great power rivalry

France: Turkey’s president, Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, this week called for a boycott of French goods and accused his French counterpart, Emmanuel Macron, of being “anti-Islam” after Macron denounced radical Muslims and defended the publication of cartoons depicting the Prophet Muhammad.

Ties between the two countries deteriorated following an address by Macron about the brutal murder of French high-school teacher Samuel Paty, who had shown cartoons caricaturing the prophet to his students.

Macron pledged to defend French secularism against radical Islam – a commitment he first made before the murder – and said Paty was killed “because Islamists want our future”.

On Thursday, Macron made a similar declaration after a brutal attack in Nice in which a man carrying a knife and a Koran entered a church and killed two women and a man. The attacker is believed to be a 21-year-old Tunisian. The president visited the church, saying, “If we have been attacked once again, it is because of our values, our taste for freedom; the freedom to believe freely and not give in to any terror.”

Before the latest attack, Erdoğan last weekend suggested Macron had a “problem” with Islam and needed mental health treatment. France then recalled its ambassador to Turkey. On Monday, Erdoğan went further and endorsed calls in some Middle Eastern countries for consumer boycotts of French goods. He claimed Muslims in Europe were the victims of a “lynching campaign”, likening their treatment to that of the Jews before World War II.

France and Turkey have recently clashed over conflicts in Libya, Syria and Azerbaijan. But their most recent dispute has led to a broader rift between European nations and Muslim-majority nations. Anti-France protests and consumer boycotts have occurred in Libya, Syria, Kuwait and Qatar. But European nations such as Germany, Italy, Greece and the Netherlands this week backed Macron, as did the European Union.

Shortly before Paty’s murder, Macron promised to introduce a law to counter Islamist “separatism” by banning foreign financing of mosques and overseas training of imams, and requiring mosques that receive state benefits to sign a charter accepting French values. The draft legislation is due to be released on December 9.

The neighbourhood

Indonesia: Workers in Indonesia are planning to hold a series of mass rallies to protest against controversial legislation that threatens to weaken employment rights and environmental protections.

The government says the legislation is needed to encourage foreign investment and create jobs by removing regulations contained in about 70 existing laws. But the move has prompted criticism from unions, Islamic groups, students, human rights campaigners and environmental organisations, which say the law will affect worker entitlements such as paid leave and health benefits as well as removing measures to prevent deforestation.

The legislation was passed by Indonesia’s house of representatives on October 5 and is expected to be signed into law by the president, Joko Widodo. It has already prompted mass protests across the country attended by hundreds of thousands of people.

The Confederation of Indonesian Trade Unions said this week it will hold massive protests, starting from this weekend, if Widodo approves the legislation.

“It is the exploitation of labour that we’re against,” the confederation’s head, Said Iqbal, told reporters. “We are ready for dialogue, even ready for a debate if necessary in an open, public hearing.”

Indonesia is currently in the grip of a severe Covid-19 outbreak and faces its first recession since the Asian financial crisis of the late 1990s.

Democracy in retreat

Qatar: Australia raised concern with Qatar this week about an “abhorrent” incident in which women from 10 flights were subjected to physical examinations at Doha airport after a premature baby was found in a bathroom at the airport.

Passengers aboard a Qatar Airways flight notified Australian police and the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade about the examinations after the flight arrived in Sydney from Doha on October 3. The women were reportedly removed from the plane in Doha and examined in ambulances to determine if they had recently given birth. They were given no explanation for the procedure.

A Doha airport spokesperson told 7News that medical staff attended to the baby, which is well and remains unidentified, but had concerns about the health and welfare of the mother.

On Wednesday, Australia’s Foreign minister, Marise Payne, said at least 18 women on the flight were examined and that other women – believed to be of various nationalities – on other flights were also searched.

“The issues which have been discussed in relation to this matter are very concerning and very distressing,” she told a senate estimates hearing.

Payne said Australian officials in Qatar held meetings about the incident this week with representatives of the airport, Qatar Airways and the Qatari government. She spoke to Qatar’s ambassador in Australia after media reports about the incident but has not yet raised it with Qatar’s foreign minister, saying she was awaiting an official Qatari report.

A Human Rights Watch researcher, Rothna Begum, told ABC News that in Qatar, where pregnancy outside marriage is a crime, abandoning babies is “not uncommon”. Migrant workers are particularly vulnerable, she said.

“Women who are the most vulnerable are from countries like South Asia or the Philippines, who work in the service industry and are confined to their employer’s home or don’t have enough income to get themselves home,” Begum said.

Spotlight: Amy Coney Barrett

United States: On Tuesday, Amy Coney Barrett was sworn in as a Supreme Court justice after the Republicans rushed through the confirmation process to ensure she joined the bench before the presidential election.

Barrett, a 48-year-old academic and judge, is a staunch conservative who is expected to favour restrictions on voting rights, abortion rights, gun controls and public healthcare. She replaces Ruth Bader Ginsburg, a liberal justice and champion of women’s rights, who died in September.

The senate confirmed Barrett’s appointment on Monday in a 52-48 vote; a Republican, Susan Collins, opposed the confirmation, but the other 99 senators voted along party lines.

Barrett is Donald Trump’s third appointee to the court and delivers the conservatives a solid 6-3 majority.

The reshaping of the Supreme Court, and the appointment of hundreds of other judges to spots the Republicans refused to fill during Barack Obama’s presidency, is expected to be one of the most enduring legacies of Trump’s first – perhaps only – term. The Republicans refused to let Obama fill a Supreme Court vacancy that arose nine months before the 2016 election but confirmed Barrett eight days before next week’s poll – even though more than 60 million people had already voted.

During the debate on Barrett’s confirmation the senate majority leader, Mitch McConnell, told the chamber: “A lot of what we have done over the last four years will be undone sooner or later by the next election. They won’t be able to do much about this for
a long time to come.”

Barrett is due to hear a case on November 10 concerning Obama’s healthcare measures and could potentially rule in cases on ballot counting that determine the outcome of the election. When the court ruled on a contested election in 2000, it split 5-4, and all five justices who decided in favour of the Republican candidate, George W. Bush, were Republican appointees.

Trump has said he expects the election on Tuesday to be decided in the Supreme Court. 

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This article was first published in the print edition of The Saturday Paper on October 31, 2020 as "Payne awaits report on Qatar airport incident".

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Jonathan Pearlman is The Saturday Paper’s world editor and the editor of Australian Foreign Affairs.

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