Worldbeaters: Recep Tayyip Erdogan
Job: President of Turkey
Reputation: Ambitious autocrat in pious clothes
Recep Tayyip Erdoğan isn’t afraid of making enemies. These days he is at war on almost every conceivable front. He first rose to national prominence in 2002 when his Justice and Development Party (AKP) won a majority in parliament and he became Prime Minister. The party has its roots in the Turkish tradition of political Islam (opposed to the strong Turkish secular traditions dating back to Atatürk). During a brief stint as mayor of Istanbul, Erdoğan earned a reputation as a mild reformer on issues such as traffic and pollution and there were brief hopes that he could be the face of a more tolerant and democratic political Islam. These soon crashed in flames as his tendency to regard politics as a form of death match became all too apparent.
Today, the range of Erdoğan’s enemies is truly impressive: secular civil society, the Turkish Left, the Kurds, Shi’a Muslims, the young environmentalists of Gezi Park, Armenians and other minority groups in Turkey, and, following the shooting down of a Russian fighter plane by Turkish forces in November, Russian boss Vladimir Putin. One might be forgiven for thinking that Putin and Erdoğan might have found some common ground as two of the more humourless and intolerant specimens the global political class has on offer. But no.
The pious Erdogan is proving a keen micro-manager of Turkish behaviour, with schemes to criminalize adultery and create ‘alcohol-free’ zones. An old-school kind of guy, Erdoğan is not fond of social media either, threatening to outlaw Twitter and arresting teenagers who don’t show him enough respect in their Facebook posts. He does, however, believe in the proper trappings of pomp in government, overseeing a new 1,100-room presidential complex costing a cool $615 million.
Syria is the thorn in the side of Erdog˘an’s geopolitical ambitions. With Syrian President ‘Basher’ Assad, a Shi’a ally of Iran, in well-deserved trouble, Erdog˘an joined hands with Saudi Arabia’s House of Saud to see if together they could move the failed democratic experiment of the Damascus Spring in the direction of Sunni fundamentalism. They succeeded, probably beyond their expectations, with the emergence of the barbaric ISIS or Daesh. But despite ISIS’s infamy, the Erdoğan regime has continued to support it covertly, allowing the purchase of its black-market oil and permitting the flow of arms and recruits across the Syrian frontier. Daesh sympathizers in Turkey have shown their gratitude by murdering hundreds of Erdog˘an’s leftist opponents through terrorist bombings of their political rallies.
Erdoğan surprised many observers when he ran to become president (at that time a largely symbolic position) in 2014. Though he succeeded, the AKP lost its majority and the pro-democratic HDP party entered parliament for the first time. This frustrated his plans for a beefed-up presidency. Using the excuse of Daesh’s terrorist outrages, Erdoğan then launched a ‘war of tension’, declaring martial law and blowing up the fragile peace accord worked out with Kurdish nationalists. Playing the anti-Kurdish card plays the same role as the anti-Armenian campaigns did for an earlier generation of chauvinistic Turkish politicians. In this atmosphere of crisis, the democratic space contracted dramatically, with the arrest and even assassination of ‘treasonous’ journalists and activists, and a full-scale military assault on the Kurdish regions of the country. Fortunately for Erdoğan (though perhaps not for Turkey), his artificially created state of crisis allowed the AKP to regain its majority position in the 2015 elections.
Sources: The Guardian; BBC; Wikipedia; Al Jazeera; Times of India; opendemocracy.net; anonhq.com; rt.com; Middle East Report.
This article is from
the March 2016 issue
of New Internationalist.
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