Dire Prospects for Turkey at Christmas

22 12 2013

Category; Middle East, Politics

PM Erdogan

It’s not just the birds that should be wary this Christmas; all hell is about break loose in Turkey. That may sound overdramatic, but it’s really how things look.

For a while Turkey was the good news story of the Islamic world; prosperous, democratic and a showcase for the incorporation of Islam into political life. But no more.

The government of Prime Minister Erdogan, usually referred to as ‘mildly islamist’ looks set to come crashing down. It appears the only way he can avoid that fate is through repression. For theatre directors and dramaturges looking to put Shakespearean tragedy in contemporary context, look no further than Turkey.

In truth, Turkey was never like the societies that were encouraged to emulate it. It’s starting point was a fiercely secular society with strong democratic institutions but a powerful army ready to overturn democracy at any point. Erdogan stood up to the army, defanging it (click here for more on that), and bringing in an Islamic tinge to politics.

He set himself up as the inheritor of the Ottoman mantle and sought to play a key role in regional politics. The Turkish economy boomed. He even managed to get to the brink of an historic peace agreement with the Kurds.

Things started to go wrong in May of this year when massive demonstrations challenged his increasingly autocratic manner. His response gave a clue to his thinking to those less familiar with Turkish politics. The demonstrations were the result, he said, of dark plots hatched by international finance. As the Economist reported (click here):

“In his mind ‘exaggerated’ reports of the events in Taksim Square are part of a global conspiracy by foreign powers who are stirring up trouble to drive up Turkey’s borrowing costs. This will supposedly bring down the economy, and with it Mr Erdogan. Pro-government titles are awash with stories of the roles played by Israel and the Jews. The problem, says an AK insider, ‘is that the prime minister believes this stuff.’

Those protests were stilled, but not resolved. And in the past few days they have been added to by a series of events in the corridors of power that threaten to bring the whole edifice toppling.

Having dealt with the threat of the army, and ridden the wave of popular protest, Erdogan is now fighting another front. He is in open political warfare with a former ally whose influence stretches to the heart of government.

Fethullah Gülen is the founder and leader of a different mildly islamist Turkish political movement (click here). He guides it from a base in Pennsylvania and he has, with Erdogan’s support, guided it to the highest reaches of the police and judiciary in Turkey. And now they have fallen out.

A wide-ranging corruption probe threatens the legitimacy of the government – (click here). Dozens have been arrested, including the sons of several cabinet members.

Erdogan has, apparently, seen it as an attack on the government itself and has started purging the senior ranks of the police (click here) and told prosecutors that decisions must be referred (click here). Meanwhile a senior member of the Organised Crime Unit in Istanbul is found dead, apparently suicide (click here). And in another apparently unconnected statement, journalists are banned from police stations (click here).

The opposition has said it considers the government has lost it’s legitimacy (click here) and a protest about urban planning has turned into a demonstration against corruption (click here).

Erdaogan is blaming foreign plots, foreign agents and traitors and has threatened that he will “break their hands” (click here). His key adviser has, in the past, said that outside forces were using telekinesis to try and kill the Prime Minister and has announced that he is prepared to die for him (click here).

Whatever happens, the people of Turkey, and the region, are facing a difficult and troubled new year.



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