The hotel, which managed to win the admiration of the delegation for providing high quality service that was beyond compare to the Esteghlal Grand Hotel, where we stayed last time we visited Iran, even provided everyone with a password to use wireless Internet. The Internet connection was very fast. We could check our e-mails, connect with our mobile phones via Wi-Fi and keep track of everything happening in Turkey and around the world.
Before I started writing my article I wanted to quickly check the Internet, but I could not. My cell phone wasn’t working and I couldn’t even send out a text message. A few minutes later Cengiz Çandar, who was staying in the next room, knocked on my door. Apparently he could not access the Internet either. He was wondering if he was the only one having Internet connection problems. I said, “No, I can’t access it either.” After some time, we called the front desk and asked if there was a problem with the Internet connection. The receptionist said, “Unfortunately there is.” When I asked if the problem was caused by something in the hotel and when it would get fixed, the receptionist said: “No, the problem was not caused by you. There is no Internet in the city.” There was no Internet in a giant metropolis with a population of 10 million.
It finally started sinking in. Ever since we arrived, there had been talks that Iranian opponents, whose leader has been under house arrest for a long time because of the events that happened after the 2009 elections, would organize a demonstration like that in Egypt. It was obvious that the security forces were taking measures against this demonstration. But it was interesting that all of this coincided with the Turkish president’s official visit. In the morning after talks between Gül and Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, a joint press conference and lunch at the Turkish Embassy in Tehran, I came back to the hotel to write my article. This time the Internet was working. But then I experienced something I had never seen before. I could visit some websites but not others. Among the website I could not open was the BBC, which I visit frequently to keep up with developments in the world. When I tried to go to this website, I received a warning that read L1-7.
I then clicked on one of the most visited news sites, that of The Guardian, but in vain. This time I saw a warning with an L1-2 code. I wanted to try the Twitter’s services, which the protesters used very efficiently to communicate with each other and report what was happening to the world outside. I entered the word “Twitter” into Google’s search box and clicked on the search button, and I encountered the L1-1 warning. Finally, I tried Facebook. Entering “Facebook” into Google’s search box and clicking on the search button, I was presented with the search results page. But it produced no result. However, if I searched for, say, “apple,” Google would list everything about apple. Apparently, the Internet was being controlled.
It was interesting to face such a situation in the heart of the Middle East, particularly in the face of the winds of freedom in Tunisia and Egypt. How long could it be maintained in our era of communication? Coincidentally, we had discussed these matters with President Gül during our travel. When we asked him about the effect of the developments on the Middle East, he had said the Middle East is going through a radical, albeit delayed, process of change and that every country in the region would have its share in the developments. Certainly, this applied not only to Turkey, but also to Iran. For Gül, the reforms that were not being carried out by the leaders were being performed by the public. He underlined the same point during our conversation in the evening of the previous day: “Today, everyone is monitoring each other. No leader should bury his head in the sand. They should instead lead reforms. Once upon a time, satellite dishes were banned. Today, one can have wireless access to the Internet. Whoever understands the age better will take the lead.”
Gül also spoke of reform during a press conference broadcast live in Iran and Turkey. An Iranian journalist asked how he saw the developments in the Middle East. Gül, who was sitting next to Ahmadinejad, quoted from the speech he delivered at the Tehran meeting of the Organization of the Islamic Conference (OIC) in 2003: “In our age, when everyone is aware of each other, it is essential that we take into consideration the public’s demands and undertake necessary political and economic reforms. What administrations failed to do is today being imposed on us by the public. We must put our home in order without any discrimination.”
Previously, Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu had said Turkey was assuming the role of a fireman in the region. Gül’s remarks indicate that Turkey is playing the role of a “naked premonitory” in the region. I hope everyone heeds these warnings made in a friendly manner, not as a superior.