Turkey President Recep Tayyip erdogan.
(photo credit: REUTERS)
It is always a welcome development when an autocrat- wannabe (even when he struts about in the guise of a democrat) is brought down a peg.
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan harbored unconcealed ambitions to resurrect a present-day version of the Ottoman sultanate of old, with himself cast in the starring role. For that he needed enough parliamentary clout to change the constitution and put unprecedented executive powers in the president’s hands, in contrast to his current status as titular head-of-state only.
This is what Sunday’s election in Turkey was all about.
Erdogan failed to amass the mandate he sought and, for the first time since his Islamist Justice and Development Party (AKP) rose to power 13 years ago, he lost his parliamentary majority.
In itself that certainly appears to justify joy in Israel, which Erdogan – a Muslim Brotherhood torchbearer – bashes relentlessly and vituperatively.
Erdogan had set in motion a counterrevolution against the secular post-World War I republic that modern Turkey’s ideological father, Mustafa Kemal Ataturk, established.
Ataturk abolished the sultanate and sought Turkey’s transformation via political, cultural, social, economic and legal reforms. Despite occasional resort to military coups to protect its threatened secular quasi-democracy, Turkey became a NATO stalwart and for decades held radical Islam at bay.
Erdogan changed the direction in a fundamental way.
For Israel, this constituted a particular blow. An outcast in its neighborhood, Israel yearned for Muslim friends, for a comradeship of self-preservation with the region’s other non-Arabs – Turks and Iranians. This made singular sense in the heyday of nationalist pan-Arabism. It, however, eroded as religious fervor supplanted nationalist zeal and Arabs could theoretically welcome Iran and Turkey into their club rather than shun their co-religionists as rank outsiders.
First Iran was lost to the ayatollahs, and then the “strategic alliance” with Turkey collapsed, despite the fact that pre-Erdogan, Ankara’s eyes seemed set westward as it coveted EU membership.
None of the above trends, it needs be stressed, have changed with Erdogan’s letdown at the polls. His visceral hostility to Israel is unlikely to be mitigated by his failure to effectively undo the overhauls that Ataturk put in place almost a hundred years ago.
Erdogan’s hold on foreign policy has not diminished.
The setback he suffered may only make him all the more aggressive and vindictive. His capacity for blaming everything and anything on Jews is well-known. Spewing Judeophobic rhetoric just one day before Turks were to cast their ballots, Erdogan found no issue more conducive to garnering support than blaming The New York Times for a supposed century of anti-Turkish bias fueled by “the Jewish capital that is behind it.”
Such knee-jerk pillory-the-Jew vitriol has become bon ton in much of Turkish public discourse and there is little likelihood that the damage wrought could be instantly reversed.
This is all the more so in view of Turkey’s economic travails and the probability that it is in for prolonged instability. Erdogan is only 19 parliamentary seats short of a majority and he possesses various alternatives for achieving it.
He can illicitly tempt opposition parliamentarians to his camp. He can try to form a coalition. He can opt for a minority government and then, whenever things don’t go his way, he can agitate and provoke until he is “forced” to declare a game-changing state of emergency.
Erdogan can, in essence, seize power. He has shown in the recent past that he is not shy of cynically employing any assortment of dirty tricks.
He has jailed the military hierarchy, opposition politicians and noncompliant journalists. He violently repressed protests. He instituted a personality cult – exemplified by his omnipresent portraits – and built himself a sumptuous 1,150-room palace, all in the name of egalitarianism.
Erdogan is far from a defeated foe. Under no circumstances should he be written off. His capacity for malice must not be dismissed, even if his dreams of heading an ostensibly elected sultanate were knocked down – for now.
We can only hope that the election results are a harbinger of changes to come in the country that once seemed like it could be Israel’s strongest ally in the region.