Tag Archives: kemalist

Why Erdoğan is not — and will never be — Putin

Russian president Vladimir Putin and Turkish president Reccep Tayip Erdoğan met at the G-20 summit, which took place in Turkey, last November. (Facebook)
Russian president Vladimir Putin and Turkish president Reccep Tayip Erdoğan met at the G-20 summit, which took place in Turkey, last November. (Facebook)

It’s clear that things are looking up for the bilateral relationship between Russia and Turkey.Russia Flag IconTurkey

At the beginning of last December, the two countries locked into a troubling standoff after Turkey shot down a Russian airplane that had repeatedly crossed into Turkish airspace. The diplomatic standoff came at a time when Russian president Vladimir Putin was using Russian military force to boost the efforts of Syrian president Bashar al-Assad to push back Sunni rebel forces. In response, Putin slammed trade restrictions against Turkey.

A lot can happen, however, in nine months, and yesterday, Turkish president Recep Tayyip Erdoğan traveled to Moscow to mend somewhat broken relations with Putin, who announced that the country would slowly lift economic sanctions against Turkey on the path to restoring normalized relations.

Erdoğan, last month survived a coup attempt from within elements of the Turkish military that, for a few hours at least, seemed like it had some chances of success. The first world leader to call Erdoğan to pledge his support?

Putin.

With Erdoğan placing blame for the coup on the shoulders of Fethullah Gülen (who lives in exile in Pennsylvania) and his Gulenist followers in Turkey, the crackdown has been swift and deep. In the past four weeks, Erdoğan has purged many Turkish institutions of tens of thousands of officials suspected of having any ties to Gulenism. That includes the military and the police forces, but also over 20,000 private school teachers, 10,000 education officials and agents within other government ministries. Erdoğan has also ordered the shutdown of around 100 media outlets, which echoes a decision earlier in March to seize Zaman, one of Turkey’s most popular independent newspapers.

Last May, prime minister Ahmet Davutoğlu resigned after a series of files (the so-called ‘Pelican Files’) were released to the public and that showed the former foreign minister, who led the governing Adalet ve Kalkınma Partisi (AKP, the Justice and Development Party) to a minority victory in June 2015 and a majority victory in November 2015, was increasingly uncomfortable with Erdoğan. His misgivings included both the push to concentrate power within the Turkish presidency (following Erdoğan’s shift from prime minister to president in 2014) and with the increasingly militant approach to Turkey’s Kurdish population — after over a decade of progress for Kurdish minority rights and a detente with the PKK, a militant, communist Kurdish militia.

Binali Yıldırım, the new prime minister, formerly a transport, maritime and communications minister and a loyal Erdoğan supporter, has been far more willing to countenance the shift from a powerful parliamentary government to a presidential one.

It has been clear since the late 2000s that Erdoğan was not the pure democrat that his supporters (and many sympathizers in the United States and Europe) once believed, and it’s been clear since the Gezi Park protests in 2013 that Erdoğan has no respect for the kind of liberal freedoms — expression, assembly, press, speech and otherwise — that are so important to a functioning democracy. In the wake of the July coup attempt, Erdoğan’s instinct towards the authoritarian has only sharpened. (Though, to be fair, imagine the kind of response that would follow from an American president if a military coup managed to shut down New York’s major airports, take control of public television and bomb the US Capitol).

That his first post-coup visit abroad was to Russia to visit Putin will, of course, be a source of increasing anxiety among US and European officials, who need Erdoğan’s assistance on at least two fronts: first, stemming the flow of migrants from Syria that cross through Turkey en route to Europe and, second, facilitating US, European and NATO efforts to weaken and ultimately displace ISIS from their territorial berth in eastern Syria and western Iraq. Continue reading Why Erdoğan is not — and will never be — Putin

What we learned about Turkey from Saturday’s coup attempt

Turkish soldiers stand guard in Taksim Square Saturday night. (Sedat Suna / EPA)
Turkish soldiers stand guard in Taksim Square Saturday night. (Sedat Suna / EPA)

Something like tense calm seems to be settling on the streets of Istanbul and Ankara after an attempted military coup in Turkey early Saturday morning. Turkey

But the reverberations of the failed ouster will be felt for months and possibly years to come. Though the coup didn’t enjoy the full support of the Turkish military, it was something of a shock — and a throwback — to see tanks rolling through major Turkish cities. Amid the chaos, there’s still much that we don’t and, perhaps, cannot know about the fallout of the July 16 coup.

In other ways, the failed coup gave us quite a glimpse — in at least four ways — into the state of Turkish politics, culture and democracy.  Continue reading What we learned about Turkey from Saturday’s coup attempt

Turkish election a referendum on Erdoğan-style presidentialism

erdogan

You will not find the name of Turkey’s president, Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, on any ballot during the June 7 Turkish general election.Turkey

Make no mistake, however — Sunday’s vote is nothing short of a referendum on Erdoğan’s 12-year rule, creeping authoritarianism, mild (and sometimes not-so-mild) Islamism and, above all, his plans to change the Turkish constitution to redistribute more power to the presidency and away from the legislature.

* * * * *

RELATED: How Turkey’s Kurds became a key constituency in election

RELATED: Erdoğan  wins first-round presidential victory

* * * * *

Barring a surprise, however, Erdoğan and the ruling Adalet ve Kalkınma Partisi (AKP, the Justice and Development Party) will almost certainly fail to win the two-thirds majority of seats in the 550-member Türkiye Büyük Millet Meclisi (Grand National Assembly) to impose constitutional reforms. So long as the AKP controls the Turkish parliament, however, Erdoğan will almost certainly dominate national policymaking. Prime minister Ahmet Davutoğlu, who previously served as foreign minister, is a loyal Erdoğan ally, and Erdoğan has started culling other senior members of the party, leaving a chiefly pliant set of AKP officials who owe their political careers to Erdoğan.

There are three key numbers to watch:

  • 330 is the number of seats Erdoğan and Davutoğlu need to push through unilateral constitutional change.
  • 311 is the number of seats the AKP currently holds.
  • 276 is the number of seats that constitutes a majority.

If the AKP wins 330 or more seats, it will be a surprising and astounding victory, despite a slowing economy and growing disenchantment with Erdoğan’s rule, as Constanze Letsch writes for Politico EU:

Firat Inci, a 32-year-old restaurant owner from the southeastern city of Siirt, has supported the AKP for years. This time, he intends to vote for the opposition. “The name of our ruling party is Justice and Development, isn’t it?” says Inci. “But they haven’t been able to deliver justice, and the development we have seen under this government has been nothing if not unjust.”

Over the years, the AKP has come to resemble the corrupt, authoritarian Kemalist regime it once unlodged — by the end of the last decade, prudent caution slipped into outright paranoia. Erdoğan and his allies began using the levers of government, through the Ergenekon trials, to prosecute opposition and military leaders, before turning on one-time allies, including secular allies, Islamic ‘Gulenists,’ and even top AKP figures like former president Abdullah Gül.

Despite glowing reviews for the Turkish economy, which liberalized and modernized under the AKP’s first two terms in power, corruption and rising debt have magnified the fact that Turkey’s galloping economic growth slowed to 4.1% in 2013 and to merely 2.9% in 2014.

If the AKP wins less than 276 seats, there’s a chance that Turkey’s opposition parties can form a coalition — or that the AKP will be forced to find a governing partner, the first time that Turkey will face a hung parliament since the 1999 elections.

The problem is that though Turks may be souring on Erdoğan, they are none too enamored of the other choices, either. Continue reading Turkish election a referendum on Erdoğan-style presidentialism

How Turkey’s Kurds become a key constituency in election

kurdish

After a century of being treated like second-class citizens in their own country, Turkish Kurds must wonder with astonishment how they have become increasingly in the span of less than a decade one of the most important swing groups in Turkish politics.Turkey

When prime minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan won Turkey’s first direct presidential election last week, he undoubtedly did so with the support of a significant portion of Turkey’s Kurdish population, which amounts to something between 15% and 25% of Turkey’s 76 million people. Continue reading How Turkey’s Kurds become a key constituency in election

Erdogan wins first-round presidential victory

erdogan wins

Ultimately, neither Gulenists nor Kemalists nor anyone else could stand in the way of Turkish prime minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan in his quest to become Turkey’s first directly elected president. Turkey

But his victory in yesterday’s presidential election wasn’t exactly surprising — the only question was whether Erdoğan (pictured above) would win the presidency outright on August 10 or whether he would advance to a potential August 24 runoff against the second-place challenger, former diplomat Ekmeleddin İhsanoğlu.

As it turns out, Erdoğan narrowly won in the first round with around 51.79% of the vote:

turkey14

Though the election’s outcome wasn’t really in doubt, Erdoğan’s future and the direction of Turkey’s political structure remain much cloudier. Vowing a ‘new era’ in his victory speech, Erdoğan’s  ambition to remain the most powerful figure in Turkish politics is hardly a secret, even though the presidency has been a ceremonial office since the 1961 constitution. That means his presidential victory now presents at least three difficult questions for which we won’t have answers anytime soon.

* * * * *

RELATED: Can Erdoğan be stopped in
first direct Turkish presidential election?

* * * * *

In light of Turkey’s role as a key fulcrum in international affairs, straddling the European Union to the west, with which it shares a custom union, and increasingly exerting its influence in the Middle East to the east, with mixed effect in Iraq, Syria and Iraqi Kurdistan.  Continue reading Erdogan wins first-round presidential victory

Can Erdogan be stopped in first direct Turkish presidential election?

erdoganfutbol

You’ve probably never seen Turkish prime minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan like this before. Turkey

In his bid to win Turkey’s first-ever direct presidential election, he donned bright orange athletic gear (pictured above) and took to the football field at a new stadium in Istanbul earlier this week, scoring a hat trick against token opposition.

Though that may replicate Erdoğan’s seemingly unstoppable rise, leading his governing Adalet ve Kalkınma Partisi (AKP, the Justice and Development Party) to victory three consecutive times — in  2002, 2007 and 2011 — his latest electoral quest may prove more difficult.

Turkish voters will elect a president in voting scheduled for August 10 among Erdoğan and two challengers, Ekmeleddin İhsanoğlu and Selahattin Demirtaş. If none of the candidates win more than 50% of the vote, the top two candidate will advance to an August 24 runoff.

Ekmeleddin İhsanoğlu

The Cairo-born İhsanoğlu (pictured above), who served as the secretary-general of the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation between 2004 and January 2014, is an academic with a background in, of all things, the history of science.

An independent by party and a conservative by temperament, İhsanoğlu was nominated for the presidency by an alliance of two very different opposition groups pushed together by a mutual opposition to Erdoğan: the center-left Cumhuriyet Halk Partisi (CHP, the Republican People’s Party), most associated with Kemalism in the pre-Erdoğan era, and the ultranationalist, conservative Milliyetçi Hareket Partisi (MHP, Nationalist Movement Party).

Demirtaş

Demirtaş (pictured above), a 41-year old rising star popular among Turkish leftists, is the candidate of the Kurdish-interest Barış ve Demokrasi Partisi (BDP, Peace and Democracy Party), though he hopes to win support from among the CHP’s more liberal supporters.

Defying decades of repressive precedent, Erdoğan has tried to pacify relations between the central government and Turkey’s Kurdish minority, and he’s increasingly made Turkey an improbable ally of the de facto independent Iraqi Kurdistan. That’s won Erdoğan genuine respect among Kurdish voters, though many will undoubtedly support Demirtaş in the election’s first round. It will nonetheless be something of a curiosity if Erdoğan is forced into a runoff, but makes it over the top on the basis of Kurdish votes.

Today, most observers give Erdoğan the edge, but the prime minister has become such a polarizing figure, and his project to place the Turkish power firmly in the presidency such a controversial idea, that it could be much closer than anticipated. If Erdoğan fails to clear 50% and thereupon faces a direct challenge from İhsanoğlu later in August, the runoff will become a referendum on whether  Turkey will essentially become not an Islamist or democratic or Kemalist state, but an ‘Erdoğan state.’

If İhsanoğlu wins, he will become, like many of his predecessors, a figurehead with ceremonial powers and little else.

If Erdoğan wins, in either round, he will almost certainly transform the Turkish presidency into a much more powerful office. Formerly, the president was appointed to a single, seven-year term by the Turkish parliament. Under the new system, the president is elected to a five-year term with possible reelection.  Continue reading Can Erdogan be stopped in first direct Turkish presidential election?

The fight for Turkey is between Erodganists and Gulenists

fotograflarbasbakan-erdogan-oy-kullandi_9584_dhaphoto5(1)

At first glance, Turkey’s local elections on Sunday seem like a huge victory for prime minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan (pictured above).Turkey

His party, the Adalet ve Kalkınma Partisi (AKP, the Justice and Development Party), which has governed Turkey since 2002, had an impressive day, notwithstanding the protests last summer that seemed to weaken Erdoğan’s grip on power, and corruption scandals that led to the resignation of four ministers in Erdoğan’s government late last year.

With nearly all of the votes counted, the AKP  won 44.18% of the nationwide vote — that’s even more than the 39% it won in the most recent 2009 local elections. Far behind in second place was the center-left, ‘Kemalist’ Cumhuriyet Halk Partisi (CHP, the Republican People’s Party), with just 26.15%.

turkeylocal

Notably, the conservative, Turkish nationalist Milliyetçi Hareket Partisi (MHP, Nationalist Movement Party) won more support, in percentage terms, that during any election since Erdoğan came to power. The leftist, Kurdish nationalist Barış ve Demokrasi Partisi (BDP, Peace and Democracy Party) won nearly 4% of the vote, picking up several municipalities in the most Kurdish areas in Turkey’s southeast. The map below from Hürriyet that shows the winners throughout the nation:

Screen Shot 2014-03-31 at 6.00.28 PM

Though the CHP (light red) is still a strong force in Turkey’s major cities and along its western coast, and although the BDP (blue) thrives in Kurdish-majority areas, the wide swath of yellow demonstrates that Turkey is still AKP country.

Even more impressively, the AKP appears to have won the mayoral contests in both Istanbul, Turkey’s largest city, and Ankara, its capital. Kadir Topbaş, who has served as Istanbul’s mayor since 2004, narrowly won a third term against CHP challenger Mustafa Sarıgül, the longtime mayor of Istabul’s Şişli district, by a margin of 47.85% to 39.93%. Though there are reports of electricity blackouts during the vote-counting and other minor irregularities, Sarıgül has conceded defeat.

In Ankara, however, the race is still too close to call. The AKP’s Melih Gökçek, who has been Ankara’s mayor since 1994, officially won 44.64%, while CHP challenger Mansur Yavaş won 43.92%. Both candidates have declared victory, and Yavaş has alleged ballot fraud. The CHP will appeal the result in what could be a protracted fight over control of the Turkish capital.

But the real fight was never between the AKP and the CHP, and though Erdoğan defiantly claimed victory in a balcony rant Sunday night, threatening vengeance on his enemies, other forces within his coalition will determine whether Erdoğan will be a candidate in Turkey’s first direct presidential election in August, and whether Erdoğan (or another AKP leader) will lead the party into its bid for a fourth consecutive term in government in parliamentary elections that must be held before June 2015.

gulen

That’s because Erdoğan’s most serious challengers are the followers of Fethullah Gülen (pictured above in a rare BBC interview earlier this year), a Turkish cleric based in Pennsylvania since his self-exile from Turkey in 1999. Continue reading The fight for Turkey is between Erodganists and Gulenists

14 in 2014: Turkey presidential election

gulin14

10. Turkey presidential election, expected in July.Turkey

Turkey will choose its first directly elected president in summer 2014, and it’s long been assumed that the country’s controversial prime minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan and the leader of the ruling Adalet ve Kalkınma Partisi (AKP, Justice and Development Party), wants the position.

With a record of strong economic growth over the past decade, the presidency just a few months ago seemed like it was Erdoğan’s for the asking.  Having vanquished the old Kemalist order — wherein the Turkish military ‘guaranteed’ Turkish democracy by overthrowing Islamists that it didn’t like — Erdoğan showed promise in his early years as prime minister as a leader with the ability to revitalize Turkish political life and to transform Turkey into a truly representative democracy.

But 2013 may become the year in which Erdoğan lost the magic touch with respect to ruling Turkey — the year in which the world finally took notice that he crossed the line from populist democracy into soft authoritarianism, though the signs were always there for anyone to see in the way that his government slowly squeezed out political rivals (most notably through the series of politically motivated ‘Ergenekon’ trials).  His heavy-handed response to the Gezi Park demonstrations in May/June 2013 and the use of force to disperse protestors near Taksim Square showed that Erdoğan’s real weakness wasn’t creeping Islamism within Turkey so much as his disdain for liberal democracy.

Though the Turkish presidency is largely a ceremonial position, with a handful of constitutional duties and other roles in representing Turkey to the rest of the world, Erdoğan hasn’t been shy about indicating his interest in holding the same office that the founder of the modern Turkish state, Mustafa Kemal Atatürk, also once held.  He hasn’t also been shy about his interest in amending Turkey’s constitution to transform it into a more powerful US-style presidency.

As the leading figure within Turkey’s ruling party, Erdoğan would have become a president with extraordinary powers, appointing in his place a pliant prime minister — not unlike the relationship that the Russian or French president has with their respect prime ministers when the presidential party holds a parliamentary majority as well.

But within the past couple of weeks, Erdoğan has faced a new internal threat in the form of a corruption crisis that’s already led to the resignation of three members of his cabinet, causing an internal rift within Turkey’s Islamist camp between Erdoğan loyalists and a cabal of Gulenists, the followers of Fethullah Gülen, a Turkish cleric who lives in Pennsylvania in self-exile.  He leads the Hizmet movement, which boasts the support of around 1 million Turks, including many members of the Turkish bureaucracy, security forces and judiciary.

Turkey’s main opposition party, the Cumhuriyet Halk Partisi (CHP, the Republican People’s Party), is in no shape to win the presidency — even if the AKP hadn’t tilted the political playing field so much in its own favor, the CHP would already have been hampered by weak leadership and its image as the remnants of the old Kemalist order.

So what is Erdoğan to do?  If he survives the latest crisis, he may still be able to claim the presidency, but he’ll need to make amends with the Gulenists and with other top members of his own party, who may believe it’s time for Erdoğan to move along quietly.  It’s possible that Abdullah Gül (pictured above), Turkey’s president since 2007, a former foreign minister and also a member of the ruling Justice and Development Party, could run for a second term instead.  While it was once thought that Gül and Erdoğan might switch places, with Gül becoming prime minister under an Erdoğan presidency, it may well be that Erdoğan limps on as prime minister through the June 2015 parliamentary elections, when the AKP chooses a new figure to attempt to lead it into its second decade in power.

Next: Indonesia

ElBaradei set to become interim Egyptian prime minister in post-Morsi gamble for ‘reset’

elbaradei

UPDATE: Egyptian officials are now distancing themselves from earlier reports that Mohamed ElBaradei will be Egypt’s next prime minister — that doesn’t incredibly change the analysis, though.  ElBaradei’s ties to the West, not to mention the other drawbacks mentioned below, help us understand why Egypt’s new military-backed government may have had second thoughts about ElBaradei, especially if they are hoping to bring Salafist Al-Nour Party leaders into the fold.

* * * *

Mohamed ElBaradei is set to become Egypt’s interim prime minister just four days after Mohammed Morsi was deposed as from the Egyptian presidency by the country’s armed forces.

egypt_flag_new

ElBaradei, the former director general of the International Atomic Energy Agency, is a well-known figure whose international credibility runs far deeper than that of newly-installed interim president Adly Mansour, formerly the chief justice of the Egyptian constitutional court.  His selection as prime minister will bring instant gravitas to the emerging post-Morsi regime in Egypt, at least vis-à-vis the rest of the world.

But deploying ElBaradei into power is not risk-free — for either the new government or for ElBaradei’s reputation.

The danger is that his selection won’t be enough to ameliorate the governance crisis that has now accelerated with the Egyptian military’s decision to remove Morsi.  After all, though Morsi’s government had few allies after its troubled year in office, it’s hard to believe that the Muslim Brotherhood still doesn’t command the largest bloc of supporters within Egypt, and their wrath at the military’s turn against the Muslim Brotherhood may not be soothed by the appointment of any caretaker, no matter his seniority or even-handedness.  ElBaradei’s appointment comes just a day after pro-Morsi supporters of the Muslim Brotherhood staged a day of protest — the ‘Friday of rejection’ — demanding the return of Morsi to the presidency that met with tense, sometimes violent, resistance from the Egyptian military.  It’s too early to predict that Egypt is descending into a kind of civil war — despite a troubling lynching of four Shi’a Muslims last month, the largely Sunni Egypt doesn’t really feature strong Sunni-Shi’a schisms that have propelled sectarian violence more recently in countries like Iraq and Syria, and most Egyptians, even its more conservative Islamists, hold the military in high regard, for now at least.  But there’s no guarantee that ElBaradei can keep political violence from spiraling further out of control, propelling ever more turmoil to Egyptian industry, trade and tourism.

Even if no one will miss the ineptitude of the Morsi government, ElBaradei’s new power doesn’t come imbued with much of a mandate.  Though Egypt’s post-Mubarak transition was troubled from its inception, the successful conduct of free and fair presidential elections last summer was a key milestone on Egypt’s road toward a more democratic state.  While it’s true that the anti-Morsi protests had ballooned to a size even larger than those against Mubarak in February 2011, the more relevant factor is that Mubarak was never elected in a free election the way that Morsi was only a year ago.  So while political scientists debate whether last week’s events amounted to a coup (spoiler: yes, of course it was a coup, even if the U.S. administration doesn’t use the word ‘coup’), ElBaradei and his military supporters will come to power having undermined the most visible democratic credential that Egyptians could boast since the Arab Spring began.

By contrast, though French president François Hollande remains incredibly unpopular after just one year into a five-year term,  no one seriously thinks the French military is set to remove him from office to install a center-right president in France.  Moreover, ElBaradei will become Egypt’s new leader after having pulled out of last year’s presidential race, and it was not entirely clear that ElBaradei would have won in any event.  But it would have been better for the country today if ElBaradei had remained in the race to make a full-throated case for a secular, liberal democratic Egypt and to bring the fight to Morsi on the basis of the merits of his own ideas, not on the coattails of the military’s guns.

Unlike former foreign minister and Arab Council secretary-general Amr Moussa and former air force chief Ahmed Shafiq, ElBaradei is not tainted as felool — the ‘remnants’ of the government that Hosni Mubarak led from the 1980s until 2011.  But as the Tamarod (‘Rebellion’) movement has gathered steam in its efforts to oust Morsi, ElBaradei has managed to unite a disparate coalition of anti-Morsi interests, including Moussa, much of the former military establishment, elements of the so-called ‘deep state’ and supporters of former presidential candidate Hamdeen Sabahi, whose leftist, Nasser-style nationalism nearly vaulted him into last June’s presidential runoff.  If Monsour, ElBaradei and the new interim government succeed in organizing a new presidential election, Sabahi would certainly be the frontrunner to win it (unless ElBaradei himself runs, though he’s said he’s not interested in the presidency for himself).

As ElBaradei has noted in the days leading up to and following Morsi’s forced removal, the Morsi presidency was far from perfect — ElBaradei had routinely accused Morsi of becoming a ‘pharaoh’ in office, and he mocked Morsi’s Islamist agenda by noting acidly that ‘you can’t eat sharia.’  Though Morsi won only a narrow victory last June over Shafiq, he triumphed by assembling a broader coalition that transcended his own Muslim Brotherhood supporters, and, in recognition of that reality, Morsi initially called  for a broad inclusion of diverse views in formulating policies in office.  One of his first steps in August 2012, in firing longtime army chief and defense minister Field Marshal Hussein Tantawi, and replacing him with Abdel-Fattah El-Sisi, was an incredibly successful masterstroke, temporarily at least, in marrying the political interests of the Muslim Brotherhood and the Egyptian military.  Ironically, it was El-Sisi, who owed his position as commander-in-chief of the Egyptian armed forces to Morsi, who green-lighted the action that toppled Morsi.

But as Bassem Sabry explained in illuminating detail on Thursday in Al-Monitor, the clear point at which Morsi lost control over the country was his ill-fated decision last November to push through a vote on the country’s new constitution.   Continue reading ElBaradei set to become interim Egyptian prime minister in post-Morsi gamble for ‘reset’

Who is Bülent Arınç? And why is he the man of the hour in Turkey?

arinc

It’s Wednesday, and Turkey’s pulled back from the brink of political chaos that engulfed it over the weekend.
Turkey

That’s in large part to the efforts of Bülent Arınç (pictured above), Turkey’s deputy prime minister, whose attempts to bring the level of confrontation between Turkey’s government and protesters in Gezi Park near Istanbul’s Taksim Square and beyond have been successful where the Turkish prime minister, Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, has failed.

Erdoğan, who is out of the country this week, flew to Morocco on Monday and will be in Algeria and Tunisia until Thursday, may have been lucky in his timing, as Arınç has been acting prime minister this week.  His absence from the country has been fortuitous, given the fact that his statements in response to the weekend’s crescendo of protests has been defiant in virtually every respect after turning police onto protesters in Taksim Square with brute force and tear gas before ultimately pulling police back.  Whether it’s a concerted ‘good cop / bad cop’ venture or not, it’s a welcome breather in what had until Monday had been some of the most difficult moments of Erdoğan’s government since his first election in 2002.

Arınç, in contrast, has made all the right moves to protesters that Erdoğan could not last week and through the tumultuous weekend that saw two deaths and around 1,000 injuries in protests that expanded from Taksim Square to all of Turkey.  He’s apologized on behalf of his government for excessive police force, he’s admitted that the initial protests were ‘rightful and legitimate.’  Though DİSK (Confederation of Progressive Trade Unions of Turkey) and KESK (Confederation of Public Workers’ Unions), two of the four major labor unions in Turkey, will officially join the protests today with strikes, Arınç has for the time being successfully defused the political crisis.  The protests will continue, but by acknowledging the fundamental rights of Turkish protesters to gather, Arınç has averted Turkey from a wider confrontation — for now.

Arınç helped found the current governing party, the Adalet ve Kalkınma Partisi (AKP, the Justice and Development Party), an Islamist and socially conservative, albeit economically neoliberal, party.  He was the speaker of Turkey’s Türkiye Büyük Millet Meclisi (Grand National Parliament of Turkey) from 2002 to 2007, and since 2009, he’s been a member of Erdoğan’s cabinet as one of three deputy prime ministers and the minister in charge of Turkey’s state radio and television company.

The conciliatory steps came largely in concert with the statements of Turkey’s president, Abdullah Gül, himself a former foreign minister and top official in Erdoğan’s past governments.  In recent days, Gül has also taken a more conciliatory view of the protests, in contrast to Erdoğan, who hopes to succeed Gül next year in Turkey’s presidential election.  Though Gül cannot run for reelection, Erdoğan hopes to transition from leading the Turkish government to assuming a presidency with enhanced powers.  Though Gül, Erdoğan and Arınç are allies, Gül and Arınç have obviously chosen to respond to the protests in a manner quite differently than Erdoğan, and they are set to meet some of the protesters later this week while Erdoğan remains in North Africa.

Gül on Monday essentially praised the protesters for asserting their rights, and he noted that democracy means more than just the act of voting a government into power, adding that Turkey’s leaders had received the message.

Despite their statements, Erdoğan remains the prime minister, and others remains unconvinced, with good reason, of Arınç’s mea culpa, during which he noted that the Turkish government could have shut down Twitter (but judiciously chose not to), demonstrating that Arınç may not have quite fully taken on board the message of Turkey’s protesters.  Arınç is certainly no liberal, and he may well be taking his stance solely due to internal AKP politics — the events of the past week in Taksim Square and Erdoğan’s response have put a damper on his presidential plans.  The proof of the pudding is in the eating, and the next key moment is Friday, when Erdoğan returns to the country.  Even though the demonstrations and strikes will continue today and tomorrow at a relatively reduced tension, and Erdoğan’s opponents have truly substantive critiques about the level of freedom (especially with respect to political expression and a free press), it will be intriguing to see if Erdoğan responds with the same tone that Gül and Arınç have now adopted.

arincyou

Continue reading Who is Bülent Arınç? And why is he the man of the hour in Turkey?

Hand-wringing over Erdoğan is alarmist, but Turkey’s still trapped in a perilous standoff

danielettey

taksim

The images from Taksim Square over the past week, culminating in conflict between protesters and Turkish police authorities, have stunned a global community that’s used to thinking of Turkey — and, in particular, Istanbul — as a relatively tranquil secular meeting point of East and West.Turkey

Although I’ve not written much about Turkey through Suffragio, it’s a fascinating country that I was delighted to visit in 2010, at the height of the glory days of the government of its current (and now embattled) prime minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan.

Ultimately, there are two questions at issue here: how to evaluate Erdoğan’s performance prior to the recent protests, on the one hand, and how to evaluate Erdoğan’s performance during and in response to the protests, on the other hand.

Although Western commentators have increasingly argued of Erdoğan’s move toward increasing Islamization and authoritarianism, I worry that those calls misunderstand the depth of Erdoğan’s support and the nature of what modern Turkey (it is, after all, a country that’s over 98% Muslim) has become today.  But it is impossible to watch Erdoğan’s repression of basic political freedoms, such as his government’s recent moves to disrupt a planned May Day protest, and the ongoing brutal police response to the Taksim Square and increasingly, nationwide, protests without admitting that whatever legitimacy Erdoğan once enjoyed is rapidly dissipating, and Erdoğan, his government, Turkey’s president, Turkey’s military, and Turkey’s awakened — and rightfully angry — protest movement, are all trapped in a suddenly perilous standoff.

It’s all the more fragile given the ongoing civil war in Syria.  Not only has the Erdoğan government been unsuccessful in persuading one-time ally Bashar al-Assad to pursue a more moderate course, the growing number of refugees from Syria within Turkey’s borders means that Turkey risks being drawn into a wider regional conflict (though, in one of the few humorous asides to the ongoing protests, Syria has now issued a travel warning for Turkey).

Erdoğan’s initial position was legitimate and democratic

When Steven Cook wrote in The Atlantic earlier this month, that ‘while Turkey is perhaps more democratic than it was 20 years ago, it is less open than it was eight years ago,’ I had two initial reactions.  First and foremost, shouldn’t we care more, from a pure governance standard, that Turkey’s government is representative and responsive to its electorate than it hews to some Westernized standard of ‘openness’? What does ‘less open’ even mean? Secondly, when Cook laments Turkey’s ‘less open’ nature, he doesn’t equally lament that the European Union virtually slammed the door in the face of Turkey’s application to join the European Union in 2005, when despite the opening of negotiations for Turkish accession, it became clear any road for Turkey’s EU membership would be long and arduous.  It may be difficult to remember today, but it’s a push that Erdoğan’s government made even more passionately than the governments that preceded it.

Turkey, let’s be clear, didn’t leave Europe.  Europe left Turkey, which has focused on becoming a more important regional player in the Middle East in recent years.

More importantly, from a day-to-day perspective for most Turks, Erdoğan ushered Turkey into a new era of economic reform and modernity, partly due to his enthusiasm to enter the European Union in his first term.  But despite the futility of Erdoğan’s initial rationale, Turkey’s economic gains are real, the country certainly remains under much better economic stewardship than Greece or much of Europe:

Screen Shot 2013-06-03 at 1.16.01 AM

But Cook, and similar analysts, I fear, are not placing enough weight on the fact that Erdoğan has delivered Turkey’s most responsive and democratically accountable government since the foundation of the modern Republic of Turkey in 1923.  And when I read critiques of Erdoğan that cast him as a modern-day ‘sultan,’ I have to cringe because it’s intellectually lazy for opponents to slap Orientalist labels on Erdoğan simply because they disagree with his policy choices.

The Economist on Sunday trumpeted a foreign diplomat who argues that ‘this is not about secularists versus Islamists—it’s about pluralism versus authoritarianism,’ though the question remains — pluralism compared to what? The governments that came before Erdoğan?  Some Western fantasy of what Turkey’s government should be?

Erdoğan is neither a sultan nor a dictator, but the duly elected leader of Turkey’s government for over a decade, enjoying the repeated success of consecutive democratic victories in election after election.

Continue reading Hand-wringing over Erdoğan is alarmist, but Turkey’s still trapped in a perilous standoff