Af­ter the coup, what kind of Tur­key does Er­do­gan want?

Kuwait Times - - INTERNATIONAL -

Look­ing across Is­tan­bul’s sky­line, it is im­pos­si­ble not to be struck by the ar­ray of red-and-white, star-and-cres­cent flags flut­ter­ing from build­ings, mon­u­ments, bridges and flag­poles. Pa­tri­o­tism in Tur­key has al­ways been strong, but in the wake of July’s failed coup by mem­bers of the mil­i­tary, Pres­i­dent Tayyip Er­do­gan has tapped freely into the pop­ulist, ban­ner­draped fer­vor to re­mold the na­tion in his im­age. The ques­tions are, what sort of Tur­key does Er­do­gan want, and what steps will this pow­er­ful and some­times un­pre­dictable leader take to achieve his vi­sion?

The an­swers could have far-reach­ing im­pli­ca­tions for the global role played by the Mus­lim-ma­jor­ity NATO mem­ber, whose as­sis­tance is seen in the West as vi­tal in the war against Is­lamic State and in tack­ling the mi­grant cri­sis. At one level, diplo­mats and an­a­lysts say, Er­do­gan has made his aims per­fectly clear. In the three months since the coup at­tempt, au­thor­i­ties have sus­pended or dis­missed 100,000 civil ser­vants, judges, lec­tur­ers, mil­i­tary per­son­nel and po­lice - purg­ing some of the most es­tab­lished pil­lars of so­ci­ety.

Any­one with sus­pected links to USbased cleric Fethul­lah Gulen, who Er­do­gan ac­cuses of mas­ter­mind­ing the putsch, is a pos­si­ble tar­get. Gulen has de­nied plot­ting against the state and any in­volve­ment in the coup. More than 30,000 peo­ple have been ar­rested. Five per­cent of the en­tire po­lice force has been re­moved from duty. Whole min­is­te­rial de­part­ments have been shut down. Some Western al­lies fear creep­ing au­thor­i­tar­i­an­ism and a shift to­wards a po­lit­i­cal model built around a strong leader and dom­i­nant sin­gle party but lack­ing checks and bal­ances in Tur­key, whose size, mil­i­tary power and lo­ca­tion be­tween Europe, the Mid­dle East and Asia give it sig­nif­i­cant strate­gic clout.

“He wants a Tur­key where he is the undis­puted, un­chal­lenged de­cider without the con­straints of a nor­mal demo­cratic sys­tem,” said James Jeffrey, a former U.S. am­bas­sador to Ankara and a se­nior fel­low at the Wash­ing­ton In­sti­tute. “He won’t over­turn the con­sti­tu­tion or get rid of democ­racy, but he wants to ren­der the op­po­si­tion in­ca­pable of chal­leng­ing him and to ex­er­cise clear power over them,” he told Reuters. By con­trast, Er­do­gan’s loyal sup­port­ers see him as the cham­pion of the pi­ous masses, forg­ing a proud and in­de­pen­dent na­tion that will not be dic­tated to by out­side pow­ers. The pres­i­dent and his aides bris­tle at the no­tion he is dic­ta­to­rial. They point to his suc­ces­sion of elec­tion vic­to­ries, first as leader of the rul­ing AK Party, and then in Tur­key’s first pop­u­lar pres­i­den­tial elec­tion in 2014.

But Er­do­gan’s am­bi­tions likely go fur­ther than tak­ing back con­trol and pro­ject­ing au­thor­ity. While the 62-year-old may have no de­sire to recre­ate the Ot­toman em­pire, po­lit­i­cal an­a­lysts and diplo­mats say he wants to draw on that sense of great­ness to craft a Tur­key that be­strides the world, re­spected and per­haps a lit­tle feared by neigh­bors and peers.

In speeches and com­ments be­fore and since the failed putsch, Er­do­gan has fre­quently ref­er­enced the Ot­toman pe­riod, when Tur­key’s fore­fa­thers held ter­ri­tory stretch­ing from south­east Europe to the Cau­ca­sus, North Africa and Iraq. He of­ten laments the con­ces­sions made by Turk­ish lead­ers af­ter World War One, with the sign­ing of the Treaty of Lau­sanne that brought mod­ern Tur­key into be­ing in 1923, as if to sug­gest only he can re­store the na­tion’s il­lus­tri­ous past.

“What you’re wit­ness­ing in Tur­key is tied up with an al­most con­stant de­sire to re­claim the her­itage of the Ot­toman em­pire, which was of course a poly­glot, multi-eth­nic en­tity,” said Bu­lent Al­i­riza, di­rec­tor of the Tur­key project at the Cen­ter for Strate­gic and In­ter­na­tional Stud­ies in Wash­ing­ton. “In al­most every one of Er­do­gan’s speeches there are these themes: You can be proud you are a Turk, proud that you are a Mus­lim, we have in­flu­ence in our re­gion and be­yond. The ex­pres­sion ‘Great Tur­key’ is used al­most all the time.”

In Au­gust, with great sym­bol­ism and fan­fare, Er­do­gan in­au­gu­rated a new bridge over the Bospho­rus be­tween Europe and Asia. The span, the third over the strait, was named af­ter a 16th-cen­tury Ot­toman ruler, Yavuz Sul­tan Se­lim. “Be proud of your power, Tur­key,” an­nounced ad­verts on tele­vi­sion.

At the UN General Assem­bly in Septem­ber, the most high-pro­file speech Er­do­gan has made abroad since the failed coup, he ex­panded on two of his favourite themes: how Tur­key helps the op­pressed and serves as a role model in the Mus­lim world, and how power at the United Na­tions is too nar­rowly held. “The world is greater than five,” he said, re­fer­ring to the five per­ma­nent mem­bers of the U.N. Se­cu­rity Coun­cil. “A Se­cu­rity Coun­cil that does not rep­re­sent the en­tire world can never serve to re-es­tab­lish peace and jus­tice around the world.”

‘Crit­i­cal junc­ture’

Since com­ing to power in 2003, first as prime min­is­ter and then as pres­i­dent, Er­do­gan has over­seen a pe­riod of rapid eco­nomic growth and in­creased re­gional in­flu­ence. While he may have no ter­ri­to­rial am­bi­tions, Tur­key does have troops in north­ern Syria, is train­ing mili­tias in Iraq to the growing con­cern of the govern­ment in Bagh­dad - and has hopes of turn­ing it­self into a re­gional en­ergy hub, a cross­roads be­tween Rus­sia, Iran and the East Mediter­ranean. “He’s try­ing to ex­er­cise in­flu­ence in the re­gion by dint of Tur­key’s large and pow­er­ful econ­omy and its claim to be an Is­lamic power,” said Jeffrey. “There is a bit of go­ing back to Ot­toman times and go­ing back to Turk­ish dom­i­nance of the re­gion - he wants a more Is­lamic al­ter­na­tive to the West.” It ap­pears a pop­u­lar for­mula. A poll in late July, two weeks af­ter the coup at­tempt, showed Er­do­gan with two-thirds ap­proval among Tur­key’s 78 mil­lion peo­ple, his high­est rat­ing ever. Yet in striv­ing for that more self-con­fi­dent and per­haps more feared Tur­key, Er­do­gan has at times walked a thin line, strain­ing ties with the Euro­pean Union and the wider West, which are wary of what they see as his creep­ing au­thor­i­tar­i­an­ism.— AFP

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