Editorial: Erdogan victorious

We will be seeing plenty more of Erdogan – including his unique brand of “democracy,” and a foreign policy which apparently features as its centerpiece a steady distancing from Israel.

311_erdogan voting (photo credit: Associated Press)
311_erdogan voting
(photo credit: Associated Press)
Ostensibly, the results of Turkey’s referendum this week were a boon to democracy. Some 58 percent of voters approved a package of 26 amendments that protect privacy and personal information, strengthen collective bargaining for civil servants, and foster gender equality and other citizens’ rights.
Even the controversial elements of the referendum, bitterly opposed by secular forces, also seemed to be, as EU Commissioner for Enlargement Stefan Fuele put it, “a step in the right direction” toward the realization of Turkey’s dream of joining the EU. The curbing of the power of the secular-controlled military, which has deposed four democratically elected governments since 1960, also seemed to bring Turkey more in line with western democracies, where the executive and legislative branches of government have clear control over the armed forces.
However, as Prof. Efraim Inbar of Bar-Ilan University’s Begin-Sadat Center for Strategic Studies has argued, it would be Orwellian to describe post-referendum Turkey as “more democratic.”
Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan is likely to use the new powers granted to him by the referendum to neutralize the secular opposition. For instance, President Abdullah Gul, a member of Erdogan’s AKP party, was granted a key role in the appointment of justices to the Constitutional Court, which may soon cease to be a bastion of secularism after it is expanded from 11 to 17 justices.
The secularists can be blamed in part for having brought this potential Muslim resurgence on themselves.
Since the founding of the secular Turkish Republic by Mustafa Kemal Ataturk in 1923, the military elite has launched coups, occasionally accompanied by torture and extrajudicial killings, to secure secular political hegemony. It has aggressively pursued a strict separation of religion and state – such as a blanket ban on headscarves in universities, a move that prompted Erdogan’s daughter Sumeyye and thousands of other daughters of conservative, wealthy families, to pursue their degrees abroad rather than remove their head coverings.
Now Erdogan’s AKP, which has remained in power for the last eight years thanks to the support of Turkey’s religious masses, is leading a counter Islamic trend.
A HARBINGER of what might lie in store for Turkey’s secular elite was evidenced last month when Erdogan threatened to “eliminate” Tusiad, the country’s largest business lobby, for not taking a clear stand on the referendum.
Tusiad rightfully responded that “To warn an institution of civil society that ‘the neutral will be eliminated’ ... will not strengthen the role of civil society in modern democracy.”
The Turkish business community is already worried by the government’s imposition of massive tax fines on the Dogan media group, whose newspapers have been critical of Erdogan’s government. And businessmen have been complaining for some time now that to win government tenders they must conceal consumption of alcoholic beverages and other secular habits.
In April of last year, meanwhile, Turkey’s delegation to the NATO summit initially rejected the appointment of Danish Prime Minister Anders Fogh Rasmussen – an outspoken defender of the freedom of expression of Danish cartoonists who caricatured the Prophet Mohammed – as the alliance’s new secretary-general.
That kind of position raises questions about Erdogan’s commitment to democratic values such as free speech.
THE SHIFT in power marked by the referendum will also likely impact relations with Israel. In recent years, the secular elite that controls the Turkish armed forces spearheaded joint military exercises with the IDF. In the wake of Operation Cast Lead, Israel’s winter 2008/9 assault on Hamas in Gaza, during which Erdogan took the side of Hamas, and especially after the Mavi Marmara affair, cooperation has dropped to a new low. With the military leadership’s power inside Turkey waning and Islamic influence gaining ground, relations between the IDF and Turkish forces are likely to suffer further setbacks.
And with Erdogan enjoying the political momentum of his relatively wide referendum victory, a win for the AKP in the July 2011 national elections is looking increasingly probable.
We will, it appears, be seeing plenty more of Erdogan – including his unique brand of “democracy,” and a foreign policy which apparently features as its centerpiece a steady distancing from Israel.