Is Erdogan losing game and match within and without Turkey?

Embrace between Barack Obama, President of the United States, in the centre, and José Manuel Barroso, from behind, in the presence of Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, Turkish Prime Minister, 3rd from the right who is obviously looking the other way, and Julia Gillard, Australian Prime Minister, on the left, on the occasion of the G20 Summit in Cannes.

Embrace between Barack Obama, President of the United States, in the centre, and José Manuel Barroso, from behind, in the presence of Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, Turkish Prime Minister, 3rd from the right who is obviously looking the other way, and Julia Gillard, Australian Prime Minister, on the left, on the occasion of the G20 Summit in Cannes.

The Turkish candidacy for full EU membership, get caught in the Cypriot problem or at least this is what the average technocrat in every European Foreign ministry will tell you. But people, who are implicated in the whole affair, are insisting that this is what Ankara wants everybody else to believe. In reality however it seems that the Turkish charismatic leader Recep Tayyip Erdogan, is quite happy with the Cypriot stalemate.

He seems contented to have another side to blame, in not promoting more actively his country’s candidature for EU membership. In this way he avoids tackling burning internal issues, like freedom of speech and religion, human and minorities’ rights, position of women and public service, judiciary and police democratization. At the same time Erdogan is free to flatter his vanity, by playing the Ottoman Empire and the Muslim world leadership cards, for the entire Middle East, trying even to corner Israel.Facts however is the worst enemy for high-flying politicians like Erdogan. Reality brought under his nose the Syrian civil war, exposing his impotency to even control the border zone, in the Turkish side of course. But let’s follow the facts.

Erdogan’s Islamist Justice and Development Party (AKP) wan its first electoral victory in 2002. It was a landslide win, bringing to surface the inbuilt antithesis of this country, between the practicing Muslim population and the secular state elite. The secular establishment of the country, led by Army generals and high courts judges, reacted very strongly against the AKP victory. The Constitutional Court in 2008 narrowly overruled a request by the Prosecutor General to outlaw the AKP including President Abdullah Gul and Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan, for seeking to establish an Islamic State.

Erdogan reacted vehemently, seeking vengeance against the Army leadership. He accused hundreds of high-ranking army officers of treason. Even the ninety years old ex-chief of staff and ex-President of the Republic, general Kenan Evren, was obliged to follow his trial and conviction from his hospital bed, through a teleconference. No proofs were given however that the army was preparing a coup to overthrow Erdogan’s government, but still hundreds of officers were convicted, by the country’s politically influenced courts. In any case AKP came out of all that even more powerful and Erdogan was at the time seen in his country and elsewhere as an incontestable leader.

The EU candidacy

Initially, at the time of their first win Erdogan and his lieutenant, Gul, were fully engaged in making Turkey’s EU membership candidacy work. Later on however, two central EU members, Germany and France, strongly opposed this prospect and went so far as to propose to Turkey, a ”privileged partnership”, instead of full membership.

This proved beyond reasonable doubt that the Cyprus issue was not a real impediment to Turkey’s EU accession. Ankara also covered a lot of its way towards the EU by recognising Nicosia as an EU member, which is however less than a full recognition.

In any case, the Franco-German decisiveness to block Turkey’s EU road, pushed Erdogan eastwards to seek glory in the Middle East. The Arab spring and the subsequent uprisings gave him a good base to step forward as a unique case of proved Muslim-democrat. Erdogan also promoted Turkey as the unique country-paradigm of successful marriage between Islam and democracy.

To make his offer even more palatable for the Arab taste, Erdogan went as far as to completely destroy, the very close relations Ankara had developed with Tell Aviv. He even accused Israel of being a terrorist state and Turkey unilaterally recognised the Palestinian State. For a finishing touch on this newly minted Turkish foreign policy, minister Ahmet Davoutoglou, started talking seriously about an Ottoman Empire resurrection.

All went well for Erdogan in the Arab world and his good reputation strengthened, until the Arab spring touched his close ally, Bashar Al Assad, in neighbouring Syria. During the first months of the Syrian revolt Erdogan joined the Iranians in supporting Assad, against the will of the Sunni Arabs, despite being a Sunni himself. However after the West appeared strongly in favour of the opposition, he changed camps unnerving this time the shia Arabs. In any case he did not actively back the Syrian opposition, this time irritating not only Washington, but also Paris and London.

To cut a long story short within a very short period of time Erdogan and Turkey made a number of U-turns over serious foreign policy directions, letting down almost every major player in the Middle East. While the initial moves in favour of the Palestinians and against Israel helped Erdogan acquire a strong position in the Middle East, the subsequent change of course over Syria and the continued enmity with Israel, have weakened his position, not only in the Eastern Mediterranean but also within his own country and elsewhere. He even made the mistake to help Iran cash its embargoed oil exports.

If you add to all that his serious health problems and given the fact that his iron hand rule has extinguished internally almost every possible opponent, there is no credible political figure to succeed him. In the unfortunate event of his disappearance from the Turkish political life, the country will enter a long period of instability. For one thing, the deeply wounded by AKP secular forces in the army and the state bureaucracy may find the opportunity to retake Turkey.

And all that without saying anything about the Kurdish issue. The PKK guerrilla forces having subsided for some years after the arrest of their leader, Abdullah Ocalan, are now again in the open. They seek nothing less than to fulfil their national dream, for a free Kurdistan in the eastern parts of Turkey and the oil rich north Iraq.

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