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Foreign Policy

Cracks are rising within the Erdogan regime

Anyone who has been to Washington knows that briefings with policy makers and their staff start and end with the question, “Is? [name of country] The problem is that the answer to this question is seldom easy. Answering “yes” or “no” means inviting guidelines based on false assumptions. It happened in late 2010, when Middle East experts and other observers US officials said the rule of Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak was permanent and that his son Gamal or Omar Suleiman – the chief of intelligence – would likely succeed him. Of course, none of these assumptions turned out to be true.

Rather than looking at countries in terms of stability versus instability, it is more analytically useful (and interesting) to approach the problem in terms of assessing a country’s relative instability. And in this regard, Turkey stands out in the Middle East.

Anyone who has been to Washington knows that briefings with policy makers and their staff start and end with the question, “Is? [name of country] The problem is that the answer to this question is seldom easy. Answering “yes” or “no” means inviting guidelines based on false assumptions. It happened in late 2010, when Middle East experts and other observers US officials said the rule of Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak was permanent and that his son Gamal or Omar Suleiman – the chief of intelligence – would likely succeed him. Of course, none of these assumptions turned out to be true.

Rather than looking at countries in terms of stability versus instability, it is more analytically useful (and interesting) to approach the problem in terms of assessing a country’s relative instability. And in this regard, Turkey stands out in the Middle East.

In several dimensions, Turkish politics is more unstable today than it has been in recent years. This does not mean that there will be another uprising like the one that began over Gezi Park in the summer of 2013, or that President Recep Tayyip Erdogan is threatened with toppling. But Erdogan’s ability to establish and maintain control across the country seems jeopardized, increasing the prospects for large-scale protests, increased violence and political fighting at the state summit.

I am old enough to remember when Erdogan, former President Abdullah Gul, and several others among the Islamist reformers of the time founded the Justice and Development Party (AKP) in the summer of 2001, the New Party offered a positive vision for the future Piety, broader political participation, prosperity, and national power that resonated with an increasingly larger and more diverse electorate than their previous parties with Islamist heritage. It helped that the government, which was replaced by the AKP in 2002, had implemented important economic reforms that spurred economic growth for much of the first decade of this century. The party also benefited from the fact that the Turkish AKP’s electoral system, although it never received more than 49.5 percent of the vote, gained a parliamentary majority and thus did not require the formation of a government with other parties. As a result, the country experienced a period of political and social stability.

Of course there were problems. The AKP and its partners, the Gülenists, insulted the traditional secular nationalist elite. Erdogan and other party leaders like Gul described themselves and the party they led as the Muslim equivalent of the Christian Democrats, but turned out to be far less democratic than they would have the world believe. The same goes for Fethullah Gülen – the Turkish clergyman and former ally of Erdogan – whose supporters helped the government arrest critics with falsified evidence. And Europeans missed an opportunity to help Turkey consolidate the political and social reforms of the AKP government in the early years when they froze EU accession negotiations shortly after they began.

A lot has happened since then. The military tried to prevent Gul from becoming president, prosecutors tried to shut down the AKP, officials exposed a conspiracy to incite violence and orchestrate a coup to overthrow Erdogan, and a counter-conspiracy, all of which helped what analysts often call Erdogansdog “authoritarian turn” sometime around 2008. Erdogan’s authoritarianism in itself did not make Turkey unstable. He was and is not Tunisia’s Zine el-Abidine Ben Ali. The Turkish head of state has a strong social base that has contributed to Turkey’s stability.

So when did Turkey become unstable? It’s hard to identify a single moment. After all, instability is a continuum. Even so, it seems that the Gezi protests of 2013 are a good start, followed by a Gülenist-fueled corruption scandal at the end of the year that resulted in a massive cleansing of the cleric’s supporters from the government, media and academia in 2014. The war with the Kurdistan Workers’ Party broke out again in 2015, together with the reversal of the election result in the same year. Then there was the attempted coup in 2016, a sustained slump in Turkey’s economic situation in 2018 and 2019, and finally the coronavirus pandemic in 2020.

One could draw a straight line from one of these events to the other and together they could break the AKP’s vision. They reflect the party’s failure to expand political participation, create a more prosperous society, recognize Turkey’s potential as a great power, and institutionalize religious values ​​that would enable good governance and help bridge the social divide. For at least the last half decade, the press – which the AKP has turned into little more than a mixture of government talks, excessive Erdogan flattery, and nationalist paranoia – could be relied on to convince the Turks that regardless of the gap between previous promises and the current reality was the fault of others: international bankers, the CIA, Zionists, Gülen, Emiratis, Professor Henri J. Barkey, and a host of other alleged troublemakers.

Not everyone believed it, of course, but speaking out against the AKP carries great risks. There has never been an impartial investigation – because it is impossible in the current circumstances – and so many questions remain about the failed coup in July 2016. Anyone who dares to question the official narrative about the guilt of the Gülenists can do so expect to face the full weight of the Turkish government, resulting in prison, dispossession of property, family breakdown and, for those lucky enough to escape, constant fear of rendition or violent retaliation by Turkish intelligence agents and related thugs.

That fear may evaporate, albeit in a way that only exacerbates Turkey’s growing instability. In the past few months, a man named Sedat Peker has shed light on the country with a series of YouTube videos containing spectacular allegations linking high-ranking government officials, including the Home Secretary, to drug trafficking, murder and corruption. Peker – who is a figure in the Turkish mafia – did not directly finger Erdogan, but he strongly suggested that the Turkish leader was involved. Beijing’s allegations, largely unfounded, have riveted the country. Turkish journalists working in exile in Europe have taken up these allegations and reinforced them with their own persistent investigative work – often at great risk to themselves. Cevheri Guven, a journalist who fled Turkey for the relative security of Germany, is also closed has become a YouTube phenomenon that exposes the gap between what the AKP is saying and objective reality.

Let’s take a step back for a moment. A mafia don and exiled Turkish journalists like Guven have become more trustworthy news sources than the government or the press. This is a big deal.

What does this have to do with stability? Well a lot. A positive vision for the future, as represented by the Justice and Development Party, is an important part of gaining loyalty and thus social control. When life followed the party’s vision in the early years of AKP rule, Turkey was less unstable. Years later, fewer and fewer Turks experience their reality as the AKP claims, which is why Peker and exiled journalists like Guven have breathtaking YouTube views in the millions and Turkey is more unstable. As the AKP’s vision is in jeopardy, Erdogan has to rely more and more on patronage and coercion to keep control. But both are expensive and finite.

Such a political environment invites rivals. Some are puny, like former Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu and the once respected Minister of Economic Affairs Ali Babacan. They may have the ability to pull some votes from the Justice and Development Party, but far more serious are the maneuvers of officials like Defense Minister Hulusi Akar; his rival in the Turkish secret service Hakan Fidan; and the commander of the land forces, General Umit Dundar. These are, of course, Erdogan’s people. But what if the president, deprived of a vision that elicits loyalty from the people, jeopardizes social cohesion? Can you rely on Erdogan and the AKP to use more and more violence to secure the dominance of Erdogan and the AKP? This type of uncertainty creates opportunities for powerful and ambitious people.

Turkey’s political path is not at all clear. Despite all the challenges, the Justice and Development Party remains the country’s most popular individual political organization and Erdogan the most powerful person. The economy could rebound and Erdogan could very easily win another election. That is why I often say “yes and no” when people ask me whether Turkey is stable.

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