Chaos is Erdogan’s only hope to survive

There are only two weeks left until key local polls in Turkey and the country’s bellicose Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan is looking for votes

Mahir Zeynalov
Mahir Zeynalov
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There are only two weeks left until key local polls in Turkey and the country’s bellicose Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan is travelling across the nation to convince his dwindling supporters that everyone is a “traitor” except those who vote for him. Insults, threats and hateful rhetoric are abundant in his forceful speeches, and worst of all, they get a round of applause by the crowd.

For Erdogan, cheering up a square full of people has never been difficult. People are ready to applaud anything he says, no matter how abusive or outrageous. He has called his opponents leeches, worms, perverts, bloodsucking vampires, insidious viruses, parasites, atheists, terrorists, vandals, a handful of looters, worse than Shiites, tumors, criminal gangs, assassins (Hashhashins) and people whom only the Hell will purify.

This week, he linked Berkin Elvan, a 15-year-old boy who was hit with a tear gas canister during summer protests last year and who lost 269-day battle for his life on Tuesday, to terrorist groups. He publicly criticized Elvan’s parents, to a cheering crowd, and deliberately avoided expressing condolences.

The death of Elvan sparked protests and people staged demonstrations in more than 30 provinces and cities across Turkey. Most of these protests turned violent after police fired tear gas and water cannons to disperse the crowd. The protests were the biggest since summer, when more than 3.5 million people flocked to streets for weeks in 80 provinces to protest the way Erdogan was ruling the country. It was expected that the protests would swell by the weekend, but surprisingly, they have largely disappeared. The opposition understand that further street protests could only help Erdogan’s ruling party.

Erdogan is dangerously sowing the seeds of hatred and inciting animosity among the public

Mahir Zeynalov

Instead of calming down the situation and tensions that were running high, Erdogan preferred to use a language that would instead provoke people to continue with their protests. The protests claimed two lives, including a police officer. As chaos engulfed Turkey and there was no sign of the end, the Turkish public was united in urging the prime minister to exercise restraint. But Erdogan continues with his divisive and provocative rhetoric, calling his opponents traitors. In one outrageous example, he called on people to boycott the stores of businessman Cem Boyner as these stores stopped playing music in memory of Elvan. He also called on people to boycott opposition media and educational facilities run by the Gülen movement.

Fomenting chaos

Erdogan’s goal is to consolidate the support base of his ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP), now known as a web of corrupt officials, by fomenting chaos in the country. In his public rallies, he starts counting (starting from the 1940s) how “dark forces” made conservative people “victims” and states that his political movement deserves people’s backing as a bloc that stands up against such forces. Although there is no longer restriction for women to wear the Muslim headscarf, Erdogan is very skilled in exploiting people’s religious sensitivities in this regard. He even lied that a headscarved mother was attacked by dozens of masked men in broad daylight in Istanbul during the Gezi protests and he still is telling this lie to convince people that they will be under threat once he leaves. He frequently portrays his party as the only power that protects Muslims. His Islamist rhetoric has reached a dangerous level.

During protests this week, authorities ordered police to use heavy-handed methods to crush the protests. Having gained experience in the Gezi protests, they know that firing tear gas and water cannons won’t help reduce the tensions. Erdogan calculates that a group of protesters who burn and destroy public property during these demonstrations are key in strengthening his support base. As it was during the Gezi protests, similar demonstrations only help Erdogan attract swing voters and polarize the nation.

Silently destroying the opposition

In dictatorships, critical media, politicians, activists and businesses are silently destroyed. In Turkey, Erdogan is inciting his supporters to confront others through boycotting critical media and businesses or attacking critical public figures on TV and social media. He is dangerously sowing the seeds of hatred and inciting animosity among the public. He politicizes almost everything by employing his propaganda machine, a well-known characteristic of totalitarian regimes, from soap operas to primary schools, Erdogan is planning to extend his tyranny with an electoral win.

In Turkey, it would be wrong to talk about a “tyranny of majority” because recent polls (their reliability is also under question) show that the ruling party could hardly pass 30 percent in a nationwide approval rating.

No matter how many votes Erdogan’s corrupt ruling party receives on March 30, it is already obvious that he is no more a liberal democratic leader who will honor his promises of a Turkey where the rule of law is upheld and democracy is further consolidated. A leader that hopes to increase his support through chaos and anarchy is one who is doomed to fail.


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

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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