An end to Er­do­gan’s hubris?

Daily Trust - - SPORT - with Mo­hammed Haruna nda­jika@ya­ 08059100107 (SMS only)

Ev­ery cloud, they say, has its own sil­ver lin­ing. This may yet prove true of the June 28 mas­sive at­tack on Turkey’s Atar­tuk’s In­ter­na­tional Air­port in Is­tan­bul, the na­tion’s com­mer­cial cap­i­tal, by armed el­e­ments sus­pected to have been ISIS mem­bers. In what was prob­a­bly the worst such in­ci­dent in the coun­try in re­cent times, the at­tack­ers killed 41 pas­sen­gers and in­jured over 200 be­fore blow­ing them­selves up in the po­lice coun­ter­at­tack.

Since that at­tack, Re­cep Tayyip Er­do­gan, the coun­try’s os­ten­si­bly cer­e­mo­nial pres­i­dent but ef­fec­tively its dic­ta­tor, seems to be hav­ing a re­think of his ap­par­ent neo-Ot­toman im­pe­rial am­bi­tions, a hubris which has been the main cause of Turkey’s re­cent eco­nomic and po­lit­i­cal woes.

In a dra­matic ges­ture last Sun­day dur­ing if­tar din­ner at the end of the day’s Ra­madan fast, he an­nounced the restora­tion of nor­mal re­la­tions with Is­rael and Rus­sia, two neigh­bours he had fallen out with, ten years ago in the case of Is­rael and only this year in Rus­sia’s case.

That an­nounce­ment seems to sig­nal the be­gin­ning of the trans­for­ma­tion of a bel­li­cose Er­do­gan into a dovish one, at least on the in­ter­na­tional scene. If the do­mes­tic front wit­nesses a sim­i­lar trans­for­ma­tion, the ter­ri­ble June 28 at­tack on Is­tan­bul air­port may yet prove the point of Turkey’s re­turn to its pros­per­ity of re­cent years.

The reg­u­lar reader of this col­umn may have noted that I have writ­ten about Turkey on these pages thrice since May last year. The lat­est was when Er­do­gan came vis­it­ing us in March in the course of his four-na­tion tour of Africa which started with Cote d’Ivoire through Ghana and ended with Guinea.

My in­ter­est in Turkey, as I’ve pointed out, is sim­ple; it ex­em­pli­fies my be­lief that Is­lam, my faith and the faith of at least 80% of that coun­try’s 79 mil­lion peo­ple, is com­pat­i­ble with democ­racy and moder­nity. Be­sides, Turkey has es­tab­lished con­sid­er­able pres­ence in Nige­ria’s sec­tors of ed­u­ca­tion, medicine, re­li­gion, com­merce and in­dus­try.

Bar prob­a­bly Mustapha Ke­mal, the sol­dier-states­man who founded mod­ern Turkey in 1923 out of the ashes of an Ot­toman Em­pire van­quished by the West in WWII, no Turk­ish politi­cian has done as much as Er­do­gan to de­moc­ra­tize, mod­ern­ize and de­velop the coun­try. The big dif­fer­ence be­tween the two has been Er­do­gan’s drive to re­store to pub­lic life core Is­lamic val­ues and sym­bol­isms like the wear­ing of hi­jab and beards and the ban on al­co­hol which Ke­mal had banned in his ap­par­ently wish­ful think­ing that that was the only way to be ac­cepted by his beloved West.

Er­do­gan owed much of his po­lit­i­cal suc­cess first, to his trans­for­ma­tion of Is­tan­bul, as its mayor be­tween 1994 to 1998, from a bank­rupt and de­crepit city into a pros­per­ous cos­mopoli­tan metropole, and sec­ond, to the decade of eco­nomic sta­bil­ity he brought to his coun­try as its prime min­is­ter be­tween 2003 and 2014. Dur­ing that decade, Turkey chalked up an av­er­age an­nual growth of 4.5% and de­vel­oped into a man­u­fac­tur­ing and ex­port pow­er­house in Eura­sia.

Among his other great achieve­ments was his neu­tral­iza­tion of the mil­i­tary as the coun­try’s most pow­er­ful power block which con­stantly in­ter­fered with the coun­try’s pol­i­tics un­der the guise of be­ing its con­science.

And even as he rein­tro­duced Is­lamic val­ues and sym­bol­isms into pub­lic life, he ac­knowl­edged the plu­ral­ity of his coun­try by ne­go­ti­at­ing for peace with the Kur­dish mi­nori­ties who had fought for their own in­de­pen­dence for decades. As part of the ne­go­ti­a­tions his gov­ern­ment lifted the ban on Kur­dish lan­guage in the broad­cast me­dia and po­lit­i­cal cam­paigns and re­stored the Kur­dish names to cities and town that had been given Turk­ish names un­der Ke­mal.

His gov­ern­ment also in­tro­duced le­gal re­forms that al­lowed prop­er­ties worth at least a cou­ple of bil­lion dol­lars be­long­ing to Chris­tian and Jewish mi­nori­ties that had been seized in the thir­ties to be re­turned to them.

All this he was able to achieve with more than a lit­tle help from the Hizmet move­ment led by the Mus­lim cleric, Fethul­lah Gulen, who has lived in self-ex­ile in the US for many years. For over a decade af­ter the “mildly Is­lamist” Jus­tice and De­vel­op­ment Party (AKP) Er­do­gan co-founded in 2001 with Ab­dul­lah Gul, an­other fore­most Turk­ish politi­cian, first won elec­tions in 2002, the Hizmet move­ment un­der­pinned AKP’s ef­forts to keep the politi­cised mil­i­tary at bay and deepen democ­racy at home. It also helped to strengthen the coun­try’s ties abroad, es­pe­cially in Africa, the Mid­dle East and Asia.

Sadly things be­gan to fall apart be­tween the two al­lies from 2013 when Er­do­gan started ex­hibit­ing streaks of au­thor­i­tar­i­an­ism in­duced prob­a­bly by his great suc­cess. As prime min­is­ter, Er­do­gan re­sponded to the first pub­lic protest that year against early signs of his au­thor­i­tar­i­an­ism by send­ing in the po­lice and AKP thugs. The crack­down led to 22 deaths and hun­dreds in­jured.

His in­tol­er­ance got even worse when some of his min­is­ters and close as­so­ci­ates were ar­rested and he him­self and some of his re­la­tions were in­crim­i­nated in a $100 bil­lion cor­rup­tion scan­dal which he ap­par­ently be­lieved was or­ches­trated by mem­bers of the His­met move­ment in the po­lice, pros­e­cu­tion and ju­di­ciary.

In 2014, he stepped down af­ter three terms as prime min­is­ter and be­came the coun­try’s first di­rectly elected pres­i­dent. He was suc­ceeded by Ah­met Davu­to­glu, a long time loyal side­kick.

As pres­i­dent, his con­sti­tu­tional role was cer­e­mo­nial. It soon turned out, how­ever, that he had a to­tally dif­fer­ent de­sign for the of­fice; that de­sign was to make it an ex­ec­u­tive pres­i­dency with him, of course, as the first im­pe­rial oc­cu­pant.

His first op­por­tu­nity came dur­ing the June 2015 gen­eral elec­tions. He took it with both hands when, in fla­grant vi­o­la­tion of his con­sti­tu­tional im­per­a­tive to stay neu­tral, he vig­or­ously cam­paigned for his AKP to win the two-thirds ma­jor­ity it needed to amend the con­sti­tu­tion into an ex­ec­u­tive pres­i­dency. His cam­paign failed. Worse, his party even lost its ma­jor­ity for the first time since 2002, even though it re­mained the sin­gle big­gest party in par­lia­ment.

As pres­i­dent, he had the op­tion of stitch­ing up a coali­tion gov­ern­ment or gam­bling for bet­ter luck next time by sched­ul­ing an­other quick elec­tion. Pre­dictably, he chose the lat­ter and fixed Novem­ber for the E-Day. This time he suc­ceeded but only up to a limit; AKP re­gained its ma­jor­ity but still not the two-thirds it re­quired for amend­ing the con­sti­tu­tion.

Since then the man seems to have be­come more and more iras­ci­ble and dic­ta­to­rial. At home he has jailed op­po­nents, re­versed him­self on his peace ne­go­ti­a­tions with the Kurds and cracked down hard on the me­dia es­pe­cially. Abroad he has shot down a Rus­sian fighter jet and ini­tially sided with the ISIS in its com­pli­cated bloody-minded at­tempt to curve out a caliphate out of Syria and Iraq. His change of sides in al­low­ing the Amer­i­cans the use of their air­base in Turkey to bom­bard ISIS troops may have been re­spon­si­ble for the dev­as­tat­ing June 28 at­tack on the Is­tan­bul air­port al­legedly by ISIS.

Among the big­gest vic­tims of his crack­down at home has been the His­met move­ment. Among other things he has purged the po­lice and the ju­di­ciary of sus­pected mem­bers of the move­ment and seized its busi­nesses and me­dia, no­tably Za­man, the big­gest news­pa­per in the coun­try. In­deed, he has since de­clared the move­ment a ter­ror­ist or­ga­ni­za­tion and has spared no ef­fort to have its leader de­ported back to Turkey to face a charge of lead­ing a “crim­i­nal” or­ga­ni­za­tion.

For Er­do­gan it seems loy­alty is ab­so­lutely in­di­vis­i­ble. Last May his loyal prime min­is­ter, Davo­toglu, stepped aside, ap­par­ently pushed out be­cause of his half­hearted sup­port for the amend­ment of the con­sti­tu­tion. A few weeks later he was re­placed by the Trans­port min­is­ter, Bi­nali Yildrim, who promptly an­nounced his un­qual­i­fied sup­port for the amend­ment; ev­i­dently the pres­i­dent couldn’t have picked a more loyal yes-man.

This was the state of play when Ataturk air­port was at­tacked a few days ago. Er­do­gan’s re­sponse seems to have been a mel­low­ing down of his bel­li­cos­ity, at least against his per­ceived en­e­mies abroad. Thus his rap­proche­ment with Is­rael and Rus­sia.

“We will,” he said in an Eid el-Fitri mes­sage on Mon­day, “make it through this process of global trans­for­ma­tion and end up much stronger. We are im­prov­ing our re­la­tions with Is­rael and Rus­sia … We are mend­ing the strained re­la­tions again and over­com­ing crises trig­gered by the Syr­ian is­sue, ter­ror and ar­ti­fi­cial ten­sions.”

One can only hope that the same June 28 bomb­ing will touch his heart and trig­ger a change in his mind about his im­pe­rial am­bi­tion which has brought so much mis­ery in re­cent years to a coun­try he has laboured more than vir­tu­ally any Turk­ish politi­cian, dead or alive, to de­moc­ra­tize, mod­ern­ize and de­velop.

Swal­low­ing his hubris can, of course, only be the be­gin­ning of his coun­try’s re­turn to its re­cent peace and pros­per­ity. With­out it, how­ever, things can only get worse.

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