Two views on Erdoğan's ordeal

Is Erdoğan in serious political trouble? Is it the end?

Here are the views of two keen observers of Turkey.

An excerpt from what Andrew Finkel writes in his blog for New York Times:

‘Absolute power corrupting absolutely tells only part of the Turkish story. Corruption and institutionalized greed can become a powerful engine pushing a government over the edge into absolutism. It’s happening to a government that came to power 11 years ago promising to be the new broom that would sweep Turkish politics clean.

Some analysts believe that Mr. Erdogan’s Justice and Development Party (known as the A.K.P.) will lose a few percentage points in nationwide local elections this March, but that its standing is so strong that it will cling to power.

Yet this assumes that the A.K.P. has managed to plug the dam. The government is used to taking its gloves off against the radical secularists. It isn’t used to dealing with waves of dissent from within its own camp. The brutal suppression of last summer’s protests in Istanbul’s Taksim Square had already tarnished Mr. Erdogan’s image. Blaming America and the rest of the world for his troubles will only isolate Turkey further.

It is a country that needs to borrow liberally from abroad to finance its public debt. This week the Turkish lira fell to a record low against the dollar. The prospect of more political instability will make investors even more nervous.

Many commentators have framed the raids as evidence of an escalating row between Mr. Erdogan and the religious preacher Fethullah Gulen, who controls an influential network of adherents from a self-imposed exile in Pennsylvania.

It’s true that the Gulenists were natural allies of the A.K.P. when it first came to power in 2002. Zekeriya Oz, the prosecutor who initiated last week’s investigation, is the same official who launched the Ergenekon trial — a successful criminal action against the top brass for plotting a military coup (he is believed to have Gulen connections). The speculation is that many of those police officers who lost their jobs in the last 10 days had Gulen affiliations. A recent brimstone sermon webcast by Mr. Gulen fueled speculation that new revelations about A.K.P. wrongdoing are in the pipeline.

But blaming the Gulen movement is a bit like blaming Zionists. It’s a sad commentary on contemporary Turkey that people have to reach for conspiracy theories to explain why public officials are doing their job to prosecute corruption. It doesn’t seem to have crossed people’s minds that disunity within the A.K.P. coalition has given wiggle room to those who actually believe in the rule of law and want to enforce it.

Until recently, the great cliché about Turkey was that its primary political fault line lay between secularists and the religious right. But the tremors that have shaken Mr. Erdogan’s government are emanating from a fault line within the religious right itself.

The government is treating the crisis as nothing short of a coup by those jealous of its success. This is nonsense.

The opposition it faces has emerged because of the A.K.P’s own lack of respect for the rule of law and a cynical disregard for public accountability. It can no longer hide behind conspiracy theories and bluster.

Henri Barkey uses the Icarus metaphor to describe the ordeal of Turkey’s prime minister, in his latest article for Foreign Policy:

‘Erdogan’s initial reaction to lock down the hatches by dismissing police chiefs and changing reporting regulations to prevent further investigations into his party and even his own family has struck a raw nerve. The public this time seems far more skeptical of the conspiracy theories. For one thing the images of the $4.5 million, money counting machines, and many safes — almost straight out of a Hollywood movie — are difficult to erase. Furthermore, the explanations have stretched credulity: They range from the foreign conspirators planting the money and equipment to monies collected to build a school somewhere in Turkey or to be donated to a Balkan university — take your pick.

Uncharacteristically, Erdogan this time yielded under pressure and reshuffled his cabinet. While he may recover, he is a much more diminished person at home and internationally. He will suffer losses in the municipal elections, but he has time to recover even if not completely before the presidential and general elections. Still, the Gezi protests have had a cumulative impact on his predicament. At home it is becoming more and more difficult for the public to buy into the fantastical conspiracy theories that target Turkey and Erdogan. Business confidence, a mainstay of the AKP’s rule, has been shaken to the core as its currency has plunged to new lows. 

Will Erdogan throw all caution to the wind in pursuit of short-term benefits and adopt a policy of confrontation with his real and imaginary enemies? This will further divide Turkey and, especially if the United States becomes a target, the costs, economic and political, in the long run could become prohibitive. The U.S.-Turkish relationship has been severely damaged as confidence in an ally leader who accuses Washington for fomenting a coup against him has been zeroed. The United States will continue working with Turkey; it has no other choice as everyday Turkish and U.S. officials engage in hundreds if not thousands of transactions. They range from exchanges within the NATO alliance to Afghanistan to trade and other economic relations to conversations over Syria and the rest of the Middle East. These are not about to disappear — but Erdogan’s hubris has already done real harm to a once close partnership.’

 

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