(photo credit: REUTERS)
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan continues to transform his regime into a one-man dictatorship reminiscent of strong-man regimes in the Arab world and far less like a European democracy.
In which direction is Turkey’s government headed – to be more in the mold of European democracies such as England, Germany or Italy, or more like the dictatorships of Egypt’s President Abdel Fatah al-Sisi, Libya’s former ruler Muammar Gaddafi or Sudan’s President Omar al-Bashir? The oft-repeated Erdogan quote that analysts cite again and again bears repeating – that democracy is a train that you get off once you reach your destination.
Sunday’s raids on the Zaman daily and Samanyolu television marked an escalation in Erdogan’s battle with former Islamist ally Fethullah Gulen, a US-based Turkish cleric.
Erdogan’s ruling AK Party as well as large parts of the bureaucracy were penetrated by Gulen’s Hizmet movement.
Erdogan, a Sunni Islamist who, along with Qatar, supports the Muslim Brotherhood regionally – including Hamas – is moving to the next phase. Whereas ousted Egyptian president Mohamed Morsi tried to move too fast, Erdogan has been smartly taking over the country at a slow pace since he became prime minister in 2003.
Since the Gezi Park protests last summer, it seems that Erdogan has become less patient. And the war in Syria has also revealed where Erdogan’s heart lies: seeking President Bashar Assad’s downfall at the hands of the Islamist-dominated opposition and refusing to play a significant role in the US-led campaign against Islamic State.
“Turkey has been on the road to an authoritarian regime for several years as infringements on human rights have gradually increased,” Prof. Efraim Inbar, director of the Begin-Sadat Center for Strategic Studies at Bar- Ilan University, told The Jerusalem Post
The longer Erdogan rules, “he becomes more power hungry and his authoritarian personality becomes clearer,” said Inbar, adding, “Nowadays, he arrests even Islamist journalists that are critical of his policies.”
“Turkey never had a political system with checks and balances able to constrain attempts to consolidate power around one politician,” notes Inbar, adding that in recent years, “Erdogan has weakened further the few constitutional constraints against ‘Putinization’ of the Turkish political system.”
Prof. Henri Barkey of Lehigh University and a former member of the US State Department Policy Planning Staff dealing with Middle East issues, told the Post that “Turkey’s democratic past has always been checkered.”
“You had military-backed or influenced governments that made a mockery of justice and the freedom of the press. The big difference between then and today is that power seems to be concentrating in the hands of one person and not an institution like the military,” explained Barkey.
“The other difference, of course, is that the AKP came to power with a promise to bring more democracy and it did, but now it has reversed itself and gone back to the country’s ‘factory settings’ so to speak.”
Yet, asserts Barkey, it is too soon to name the regime a dictatorship.
As to the quest to join the EU, this is “dead for the foreseeable future.”
And asked about moving closer to the Arab world, Barkey observes that Erdogan’s government has poor relations with almost every single Arab country except for Qatar.
Erdogan is depending on Turkey’s historical strategic regional role and its strong economy to lead the region, he says.
Asked if Erdogan is going full-out Islamist, losing any liberal pretensions in his quest for power, Barkey says it depends how you define Islamist.
Surely the Turkish president is influenced by Islam and wants to shape the state in that image, “but Islamists have such negative connotations,” he said, noting that it depends how one defines the term.
The term Islamist is used to describe Islamic State, al-Qaida, and others, so Barkey prefers not to use it in this context.Reuters contributed to this report.