Turkey's Erdogan with Hamas' Ismail Haniyek 311.
(photo credit: REUTERS/Kayhan Ozer/Prime Minister's Press Office/)
Speculation is mounting that Recep Tayyip Erdogan has cancer, and
political jostling has already begun in Ankara to replace the
rabble-rousing prime minister who is Turkey’s most popular leader since
RELATED:Opinion: Erdogan’s blood libel against the Jewish stateErdogan serious when it comes to regional leadership
Last month Turkish media revealed that Erdogan had
had stomach surgery the month before – the reports said doctors had
removed polyps from his intestines, but found no traces of cancer.
57-year-old spent several weeks at home recuperating, but President
Abdullah Gul, an Erdogan ally, was quick with reassurances the premier
remained in good health.
“It was a preventative operation,” Gul
said. “There is nothing more normal than someone who has undergone an
operation to rest for a while.”
But a Turkish blogger said a
physician with ties to the Turkish executive branch told him Erdogan is
suffering from colorectal cancer and is under close examination to
determine its severity. On the condition of anonymity, the blogger said a
respected authority in academia had told him the prime minister was
expected to start chemotherapy last month.
The blogger said
Turkish media have reported almost nothing about Erdogan’s condition,
leaving most Turks totally unaware anything might be wrong. Still, he
said, it’s an “open secret” in the Turkish medical community that
Erdogan has been diagnosed with cancer.
Last month the
Jerusalem-based intelligence website DEBKAfile quoted “Western
intelligence sources” as saying Erdogan had been diagnosed with
colorectal cancer, also known as colon cancer.
sources have remained tight-lipped. Following Erdogan’s surgery the
AKP’s English- language website ran a three-sentence news item headlined
“Premier Erdogan says he is fine,” quoting the premier as saying only,
“I’m fine and I will be better.”
Erdogan is immensely popular not
only in Turkey but around the Muslim world for promoting Islamic
values, growing the economy and adopting a hardline foreign policy that
is often at odds with Ankara’s former allies Israel and America.
elected in 2003, Erdogan was reelected in June for a third-straight
term after his Islamist Justice and Development Party (AKP) won fully
half of the national vote.
AKP bylaws, however, prevent
candidates from running for parliament for a fourth time. Instead,
Erdogan was widely expected to stand for president in the next national
elections in 2014, when Gul’s two-term tenure expires. (Like its Israeli
counterpart, the Turkish presidency is largely a ceremonial position.)
Four senior AKP figures – Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu, Deputy Prime
Minister Bulent Arinc, Economy Minister Ali Babacan and Gul himself –
have been named as possible successors.
None of the candidates,
however, match Erdogan’s popular appeal: A recent poll conducted by an
independent US-based NGO found one-third of Turks would “definitely not”
vote for AKP if it were run by anyone other than Erdogan.
“From an electability perspective, there is no one who can replace Erdogan,” the blogger said.
Davutoglu is an erudite former political-science professor fluent in
English, German and Arabic, and his piety and sense of Turkish
exceptionalism endear him to many conservative voters. Gul boasts
leadership experience (he served four years as foreign minister and
briefly as premier) who has the backing of the Fethullah Gulen movement,
an opaque but powerful Islamist movement led by a US-based religious
Another potential candidate is Kemal Kılıçdarog˘lu, leader of the
Republican People’s Party, an opposition movement known by its Turkish
acronym CHP. But despite its venerable legacy – it was founded by
Ataturk, the father of modern Turkey – the CHP remains driven by
internal divisions that make a challenge to AKP dominance unlikely.
The geopolitical implications of Erdogan’s exit from politics would be
immense. US President Barack Obama counts the Turkish premier as both an
ally and friend – The New York Times
reported the two leaders spoke at least nine times by phone last year,
and Washington has often looked to Erdogan as a diplomatic bridge to an
Arab world roiled for the past year by popular unrest.
For Israel, meanwhile, change in Ankara can’t come soon enough. Erdogan
defended the 2010 Turkish flotilla to Gaza, demanded a public apology
for the nine passengers killed in the ensuing Israeli raid and fostered
close ties with the Hamas government in the Strip.
This week he welcomed Hamas Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh to his private
residence in Istanbul and later accompanied him into a parliamentary
session in Ankara.
Erdogan reiterated the unyielding positions that have become his
hallmark – Hamas, he said, is not a terrorist group but “freedom
fighters protecting their land.”
Images from the meeting showed him looking pale and gaunt.