Wednesday, June 12, 2024

Erdoğan Reaches into Domestic Swedish Politics

NewsErdoğan Reaches into Domestic Swedish Politics

Sweden’s recent parliamentary elections saw Nyans, a fledgling Islamist party, win between a quarter and a third of the vote in parts of Swedish cities with large numbers of Muslim immigrants. The results reflect Sweden’s failure to integrate many of the immigrants who have flooded the country in recent years and are a harbinger of increased Muslim separatism in Swedish towns and cities. The Turkish government can be expected to use the party to further increase its influence over the Turkish diaspora in Sweden.

Nyans (Swedish for “nuance”) was established in August 2019 by Mikail Yüksel, a Swedish politician of Turkish origin, to become “the voice of Muslims” in Sweden. The party’s Muslim identitarian platform seeks to criminalize “Islamophobia,” prohibit bans on Islamic veils in schools and restrict freedom of expression to outlaw burning the Qur’an.

The party also seeks to prevent the Swedish social service from placing Muslim children with non-Muslim foster parents, require mandatory anti-racism training for police and amend the Swedish constitution to establish a special minority status for Muslims.

In foreign policy, Nyans seeks to increase Muslim immigration into the European Union (which it describes as a “Christian club”) and place financial sanctions on EU countries that refuse to accept more refugees. The party is emphatically anti-Israel and wants Sweden and the EU to impose “harsh sanctions” on the Jewish state to force it to hand over land to the Palestinians.

Nyans, which describes itself as Sweden’s only “Turkey-friendly” party, is believed to have close ties to the government of Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan. Indeed, Erdoğan and Nyans appear to be using each other to exert influence on the sizeable Turkish diaspora in Sweden. Erdoğan’s efforts to influence the Turkish diaspora for his own ends can be seen in Germany, the United States, Bulgaria and the Netherlands.

More than 100,000 people of Turkish origin reside in Sweden and approximately half of them come from Kulu, a town in Türkiye’s Central Anatolian province of Konya. Yüksel, who was born in Kulu, has sought votes from Turks in both Sweden and Türkiye. He has campaigned in Kulu to encourage Turks there who have Swedish passports to vote for him and other Turkish candidates in Swedish elections.

Yüksel, who created Nyans after he was expelled from Sweden’s Center Party for colluding with the Turkish nationalist Grey Wolves, has also served as Erdoğan’s mouthpiece in Sweden. He has, for instance, supported Erdoğan’s demand that Sweden extradite political opponents of the Turkish president before the country can become a member of NATO. Yüksel has refused to call the Armenian Genocide a genocide and has endorsed Türkiye’s support for Azerbaijan in the conflict in Nagorno-Karabakh. Swedish terrorism expert Magnus Ranstorp has suggested that Nyans could be receiving funding from “Turkish sources.” Presently, however, there is no proof that this is the case.

In the elections held on September 11, Nyans ran more than 60 candidates in 25 municipalities, three regions and for the national parliament. Nearly all the candidates were Muslims of Turkish, Arab, Balkan or Somali origin. Although the party failed to win a seat in the Swedish Parliament, it achieved notable successes at the local level, especially in parts of Stockholm, Gothenburg, and Malmö with large Muslim populations.

Nyans falsely claimed that Sweden’s establishment parties were planning to introduce a ban on Islamic veils in public spaces.

In Rinkeby, a district in Stockholm, Nyans won just under 25% of the vote. In Västra Hisingen, a borough of Gothenburg, Sweden’s second-largest city, the party won over 25% of the vote. In the Rosengård district of Malmö, the third-largest city in Sweden, Nyans won more than 30% of the vote. Overall, the party won 2.1% percent of the total vote in Malmö, below the 3% threshold for the municipal council. Nyans will be entering the municipal councils in Botkyrka and Landskrona, smaller towns where the threshold is only 2%.

Some analysts have downplayed the significance of the gains made by Nyans. Levent Kenez, a Turkish journalist living in exile in Sweden, argued that even if the party’s electoral results were high in percentage terms in some districts of big cities, the actual number of votes “don’t correspond to a large number of voters because these constituencies are not heavily populated.”

Others said the results achieved by Nyans are impressive for a new political party and predicted that it will enter the Riksdag, the Swedish parliament, in a future election. Nyans has already registered to participate in the 2024 elections for the European Parliament.

During the campaign, Nyans was accused of using “us versus them” disinformation to incite division and attract Muslim voters. The party, for instance, falsely claimed that Sweden’s establishment parties were planning to introduce a ban on Islamic veils in public spaces.

Nyans also allied with Shuoun Islamiya (Islamic Affairs), an Islamist website allegedly tied to the Muslim Brotherhood, to organize a controversial media campaign — using the hashtag “Sweden is a fascist state” — that accused Sweden’s child-protection authorities of systematically kidnapping Muslim children and placing them with non-Muslim foster homes where they are forced to eat pork and drink alcohol.

Swedish media reported that “foreign actors” in Türkiye interfered in the election by using social media platforms with large numbers of followers to encourage immigrants in Sweden to vote for Nyans. Messages were sent in Turkish and Arabic that incited Muslim immigrants against their host country. A video in Arabic allegedly showed Swedish police kidnapping a Muslim child.

At the same time, Nyans benefited from a campaign by right-wing provocateurs to burn copies of the Qur’an. In the run-up to the election, Danish-Swedish politician Rasmus Paludan, head of Stram Kurs (Hard Line), a far-right, anti-immigrant party, announced a Qur’an-burning “tour” of Swedish cities and towns with large Muslim populations. Paludan’s actions sparked riots across Sweden. Nyans said that burning the Qur’an is a hate crime but Sweden’s Social Democrat government stressed that freedom of expression is protected by the constitution.

In the end, many Muslim voters who supported the Social Democrats in the past appear to have given their votes to Nyans. Some analysts said that the magnitude of support for Nyans, magnified by Sweden’s fragmented multiparty system, cost the Social Democrats the election. In Sweden’s system of bloc politics, four center-right and conservative parties won 176 seats, while the center-left coalition that includes the ruling Social Democrats got 173 seats. Even if Nyans won seats in only two municipalities, it has had an outsized impact on Sweden’s future.

Soeren Kern is a contributor to Focus on Western Islamism.

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