Emperor Erdogan / Why an increasingly authoritarian Turkey poses a danger to the region.
By STEVEN A. COOK –politico magazine – February 03, 2015 – Babacan is the exception that proves the rule that everyone in official Turkish circles is a yes man. There is no one in the AKP’s parliamentary delegation who does not owe his position to Erdogan. The same can be said of Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu and the ministers in his government. The price of opposing Erdogan is thus quite high. It is reasonable to believe that despite Erdogan’s best efforts to establish an AKP monolith, there are differences of opinion and factions within the party. There have been recent grumblings among AKP cadres about Davutoglu’s lack of leadership, for example. In addition, a surprising number of AKP deputies voted not to dismiss the corruption charges against a number of prominent former ministers in a secret ballot. This apparent unhappiness aside, no one inside the party is in a position to challenge Erdogan for fear that they might lose their parliamentary mandate (and immunity). That would be a steep price to pay in the environment of official vindictiveness that the president and his advisers have cultivated in recent years.
Erdogan’s network of support has become consistently more pious and concentrated. He also has the added advantage of an incompetent opposition that has no vision or ideas. Whereas he could previously count on large numbers of Turkish liberals for electoral support, their numbers have dwindled considerably since 2007. As one gets closer to the Great Leader, his circle of advisers has also grown smaller, less experienced and more afraid of Erdogan. In an indicator of the increasingly personalist nature of the president’s rule, members of the Erdogan family have become influential, especially his 30-year-old daughter Sumeyye and her brother-in-law, Berat Albayrak, who is the former CEO of Calik Holding, a conglomerate that has benefited mightily from government largesse.
Since becoming president last August, Erdogan has empowered the presidency in ways that are unprecedented. The Western media often portrays the Turkish presidency incorrectly as ceremonial. The post comes with important powers such as accepting or rejecting legislation, calling for new parliamentary elections, issuing decrees with the force of law, appointing the chief of the Armed Forces general staff and proclaiming states of emergency, to name just a few. At the same time, the incumbent is supposed to be above politics. Although Erdogan has resigned from the AKP, he has blown through every check, balance and traditional discretion and deference that comes with being the Turkish head of state. It hardly matters that there is a Turkish prime minister because it is clearly Erdogan who continues to set the priorities and execute the policies of the Turkish government. He may have moved to the Ak Saray, or White Palace, but Erdogan continues to lord over the prime ministry.These political changes probably will not alter the way the United States approaches Erdogan’s Turkey. Yet refining our understanding of the nature of Turkey’s authoritarianism provides a clearer picture of just how far the country has moved away from the Western values it purportedly shares. Ankara is likely to remain well-integrated with the West economically and through NATO, but the notion that Turkey’s government respects the same ideals and principles that form the bases of government in Europe and the United States is pure fiction.
More worrisome is what Erdogan’s drive for power means for Turkey’s stability. Political scientists have determined that patrimonial systems are more durable than military dictatorships, for example, but they tend to come to unhappier endings, often resulting in significant instability and bloodshed. It is hard to imagine something like that happening in Turkey, where there is no praetorian guard to fight it out on Erdogan’s behalf. The way in which Erdogan has purged the police of opponents—real and imagined—and made the National Intelligence Organization an instrument of his own power under one of his most loyal followers raises the prospect, however distant, of upheaval and violence. It is not as if there is no precedent in Turkey for this kind of strife. The late 1970s was a period of significant tumult, resulting in 4,500 deaths.
If Erdogan’s rule comes to some type of calamitous end (or if he dies in office), Turkey’s politics may not become so radicalized that violence breaks out. Yet his patrimonial rule will no doubt haunt the nation well into the future. Erdogan’s legacy would not be democracy or prosperity but, rather, political polarization, the undermining of checks and balances, religious and ethnic manipulation, and generalized uncertainty.
The future of Turkey now depends on Erdogan’s every whim, from pressuring the Central Bank for ill-advised interest rate cuts to accusing latter-day Lawrence of Arabias in the West of trying to interfere from outside and bring Turkey to its knees. For years some observers feared that Turkey under the AKP would become some sort of Anatolian Islamist theocracy.Those fears were misplaced. Rather, the country has become an insular, prickly, nationalist one-man show that is alienating Turkey from its traditional allies in the United States and Europe and making the country increasingly irrelevant in the Middle East. Or worse, dangerous.
Correction: An earlier version of this article referred to Berat Albayrak as the husband of Erdogan’s daughter Sumeyye. He is actually her brother-in-law. The earlier version also incorrectly identified Albayrak as the CEO of Calik Holding. He is in fact the former CEO.
Steven A. Cook is the Hasib J. Sabbagh senior fellow for Middle Eastern Studies at the Council on Foreign Relations.