Turkey’s Erdogan wrong-footed by events

President Erdogan

The meteoric rise of Mr Recep Tayyip Erdogan, the architect of the modern Turkish Renaissance, and his continuation at the helm without any competitors for more than ten years can be put down to three major indicators, writes Abdelbari Atwan.

First: economic growth, which saw Turkey ranked the 17th most powerful economies in the world.

Second: the hybrid political system pioneered by Erdogan which combines Islam with democracy has become a leading model emulated by many in the Third World; in addition it negates the false premise, promoted by the West, that democracy and Islam – just like oil and water – do not mix .

Third: Erdogan’s foreign policy of having “zero problems” with neighbors, including the historical enemies of Turkey, such as Iran, Armenia, Romania and Bulgaria.

These three factors are all in danger of collapse these days as is the political position of Recip Erdogan both nationally and as leader of the Justice and Development Party.

Twitter has been banned in Turkey
Twitter has been banned in Turkey

Erdogan used to adopt a cautious, “wait and think” attitude to events but his decision last Thursday to block Twitter in response to domestic unrest was a knee-jerk reaction which is unlikely to put the genie of public dissatisfaction with him back in the bottle.

There are many conspiracy theories about the difficulties Erdogan is currently facing.

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Some say that his outspoken critique of Israel – in particular after the Malvi Marmara massacre off the coast of Gaza – would have created some powerful enemies at home and abroad. But conspiracy theories are not always correct, and Erdogan himself has made some catastrophic mistakes: his strong stance against the Assad regime in Syria, for example, where his allies have melted away and the opposition is struggling to keep on its feet.

Nor can he wriggle away from corruption cases involving the sons of three ministers in his government, and alleged benefits accruing to members of own his family and relatives; blocking Twitter could be perceived as a petulant revenge on the networking service which is used by 10 million Turks and was where leaks about corruption were first disseminated.

The problem was not with Twitter but corruption, the former was only the vehicle, not the cause, the vehicle by which the goods were distributed, not the commodity itself.

It is ironic that non-democratic regimes like the Syrian regime, who Erdogan mocked and criticized and wanted to ouster and replace with his own Islamic democratic model, none of these regimes have blocked Twitter or prevented any social media platforms being active in their countries.

Erdogan was struck by a major earthquake recently when his most staunch and influential supporter, the US-based billionaire preacher, Fethullah Gulen, moved away from him. Another blow seems imminent, as the rift between him and his political partner, Abdullah Gul, the Turkish president, appears to be widening.

Gul was the first to vocally object to Erdogan’s decision to block Twitter – expressing his dissatisfaction on that platform. He has also been agitating for a change in Turkish policy towards Syria, fearing that a Turkish intervention could cause sectarian conflicts within Turkey itself, pitting powerful minorities, not only against each other, but against the ruling Justice and Development Party and its boss .

Erdogan bet on the Arab Spring revolutions overthrowing the dictators and replacing them with Islamist governments under the most politically active Islamist group, the Muslim Brotherhood. His bet seemed likely to be correct when the Brotherhood won the first elections in Tunisia and Egypt, but this success did not last more than one year.

The dreams of the revolutionaries have turned into nightmares and Erdogan’s religious-political model faces the same disastrous conclusion.

The Syrian regime would like to see Erdogan ousted and predicted that his days are numbered. Assad’s struggle for survival seems to be gradually emerging from the bottle-neck and actually making progress on more than one front, while Erdogan’s crisis only seems to be getting worse and worse.

Personally, I was, and still am, a fan of the Turkish Islamic-democratic model and feel it would be a shame if it is discredited because of a series of mistakes.

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