Whatever is the matter with Erdogan?

A revolutionary and popular Turkish leader who catapulted Turkey in the past decade by reforming its economy and significantly improving its democracy has become just another Middle Eastern despotic leader that relies on state resources to crush dissent.

A nation that many Arabs touted as a role model for their post-revolution countries is now being led by a paranoid leader who is staging ruthless assaults on his critics, burying rule of law to save his regime, and destroying democracy to establish tyranny of the majority.

He never misses a chance to condemn behaviors of his critics and uses every opportunity to exploit anything that could be wooed by his supporters, including those that are denied as false. Daily insults against large segments of society and hateful and polarizing rhetoric have become routine for Recep Tayyip Erdoğan. For him, rules of war don’t exist.

What happened?

Erdoğan is a former student of late Prime Minister Necmettin Erbakan, whose Islamist government was ousted by the military in 1997. Erbakan is the founder of the National View, a Muslim Brotherhood-like Islamist political movement. Erdoğan had to leave that movement for his future political ambitions.

Later, Erdoğan established his own party and met with influential Turkish cleric Fethullah Gülen to seek his support. He promised Gülen he has changed and that his political party will lobby for EU membership, less government and more democracy. Erdoğan got what he needed: the crucial backing by Gülen.

When Erdoğan came to power, the Gülen movement supported sweeping democratic reforms of the government both in politics and economy, particularly after 2007 when Abdullah Gül was blocked to be a president by pro-establishment main opposition party CHP, the military, judiciary and media. Erdoğan called for early elections in the summer of 2007, significantly increasing his party’s votes to 47 percent. It was an unprecedented success following a “dark decade” of coalition governments in 1990s.

Leader of all Muslims

On foreign policy front, Erdoğan had good ties with Israel’s Ehud Olmert, Tzvipi Livni and Ehud Barak, exchanging visits and even mediating talks between his former “good friend” Bashar al-Assad and Israel.

Then a ruthless Israeli military operation on Gaza and the infamous spat with Israeli President Shimon Peres in Davos changed everything. Erdoğan’s “One Minute” incident (Erdoğan later said he was reacting to moderator David Ignatius not Peres) in Davos made him a very popular leader among Arabs and Turkey. It was a golden opportunity to seize. He could be the leader of the entire Muslim world.

Erdoğan falsely believes that he can get away with all these corruption charges if his party comes out first in local polls on March 30. He is doing everything he can to contain the corruption scandal and prevent leaked voice recordings to damage his party’s reputation before the key elections, including massive censorship on media and tightening control over judiciary.

Mahir Zeynalov

In a matter of months he appointed Ahmet Davutoğlu as a foreign minister, an idealist academic who frequently spoke about lifting what he called “artificial boundaries” between the Muslim nations. Most of his projects, however, later failed miserably because he ignored many realities of the Middle East. Erdoğan himself very much liked the idea of being a Muslim leader who confronted Israel and being considered as a hero in Arab countries.

His supporters organized a flotilla in early 2010 to carry humanitarian aid to break the siege of Gaza. Israel intercepted the admiral ship and nine Turks were murdered by naval commandos. As Erdoğan yelled at Israel, demanding its apology, Arabs cheered him as a leader they expected for decades.

With the emergence of great Arab turmoil, Erdoğan’s government believed that there was a regional mass upheaval determined to oust their decrepit leaders and consider Turkey as a model and leader country.

Most of Turkey’s plans in this process failed as Erdoğan was only remembered as a leader who cannot walk his talk. Assad’s survival, the downfall of his ally in Egypt Mohammad Mursi, and bad ties with Gulf nations began to characterize his foreign policy.

Rampant corruption

At home, he was deeply plunged into the quagmire of widespread corruption. Most businessmen paid tens of millions of dollars in exchange for multi-billion dollar public tenders. He built personal ties with shady people, including Yasin al-Qadi, who was designated as a global terrorist by the United States.

People were unaware of this massive corruption until prosecutors ordered a 14-month secret investigation into a corruption ring that included sons of ministers, dozens of businessmen, chief of the state bank and even the son of Erdoğan.Before the Dec. 17 corruption raid that targeted dozens of homes and offices of suspects, Erdoğan was already plagued with three problems.

First, he had to counter the mass protests last summer linked to Gezi Park near Istanbul’s famed Taksim Square. On foreign policy, he lost Egypt and his rhetoric after the military coup alienated most Gulf countries. That was followed up with a row on prep school closure against his former ally, Gülen, and his followers, a relationship already strained from 2011. Gülen had clearly become opposed the way he was ruling the nation. For Erdoğan, there was only one option left: to fight.

Erdoğan falsely believes that he can get away with all these corruption charges if his party comes out first in local polls on March 30. He is doing everything he can to contain the corruption scandal and prevent leaked voice recordings to damage his party’s reputation before the key elections, including massive censorship on media and tightening control over judiciary.

He is desperately attacking every of his critics and describing them as “traitors.” With a victory on March 30, Erdoğan believes, all his critics will be muted.

His psychology is not healthy. He has no strategy and only behaves based on whims. His actions are not well thought out policies but sudden reflexes as a reaction to daily developments. He is currently running the country focused solely on saving his ailing regime.

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Mahir Zeynalov is an Istanbul-based journalist with English-language daily Today's Zaman. He is also the managing editor of the Caucasus International magazine. You can follow him on Twitter @MahirZeynalov

 

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Last Update: Wednesday, 20 May 2020 KSA 09:43 - GMT 06:43
Disclaimer: Views expressed by writers in this section are their own and do not reflect Al Arabiya English's point-of-view.
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