Recep Tayyip Erdoğan: Prophetic Leader or Political Suicide?

It has become commonplace to label Turkey as an autocracy following the despotic policies of its president, Recep Tayyip Erdoğan. A wave of ideological purges succeeded the failed coup d'etat of June 2016, by a faction within the Turkish Armed Forces, namely the Peace at Home Council. The motivating factors behind the coup appear to be a combination of an increasing feeling of eradication of secularism within the country, and Turkey's declining influence on the global political stage. The supposed spearhead of this entire operation has been namechecked as Fethullah Gullen, a Turkish religious figure who used to be an ally of the president but withdrew his support amidst the 2013 Turkish corruption scandals, and whom Erdoğan equally accused of having organised. However, it is highly likely that such accusations serve as pretenses for the president to consolidate his grip over the country in an attempt to erode the influence Kemalist ideology and revert to Islamic rule, thus effectively merging the state and religion, as it used to be the case during the Ottoman Empire.

Kemalist ideology had impacted Turkey drastically, for the archaic social organisation and political thought associated with Islam served as a barrier to cultural and economic development. Ataturk's set of reforms demonstrated an endorsement of Western values and customs, that not only radically changed Turkish life but also opened the door to economic partnerships between Turkey and countries belonging to the Occident. For example, one prominent principle present in Kemal's thought is that of Revolutionism, which emphasizes the importance of the termination of old institutions and the necessity to replace said institutions with ones that contribute to modernization through scientific and intellectual progress. Crucially, a society that is not modern is unstable and would therefore collapse, with the dream of creating a civilized nation vanishing. 
(Mustafa Kemal ''Ataturk'')

As such, Ataturk's reforms reflected the 6-tier ideology of Kemalism. All primary education was made free of charge and obligatory, with thousands of new schools opened across the country. This was chiefly inspired by Kemal's endorsement of State Socialism, which upholds the importance of the state in the care of its citizens, so that they may thrive in whichever paths they choose to go down later in life. Equally, Ataturk conferred upon Turkish women full civil and political rights far ahead of any other Western country at the time. Thus it was no surprise that the majority of opposition the open-minded leader faced came from fundamentalist Islamist groups and individuals, notably Sheikh Said who expressed dismay over Ataturk's abolition of the Caliphate, his adoption of civil codes based on Western values, and ban on polygamy to name a few. 

However, despite Kemal's benevolent policies, Erdoğan's philosophical doctrine denotes a reversal of Kemalist beliefs. For example, he has stated on numerous occasions that he does not believe in the equality between men and women due to Islamic teachings that define the role of the woman as motherhood and therefore there can be no equality between the genders due to men and women's diverging natures. Despite his repeated remarks of denial, it is clear that Erdoğan has delusions of grandeur with regards to wishing to be seen as a sultan, especially after he oversaw an extensive revival of Ottomanism, preferring to refer to universities not by secular terms, but rather by traditional labels attributed to religious educational establishments.

The situation became even more turbulent when the president, in his quest to make himself the spiritual successor to Suleyman the Magnificent, had used the purges in order to goad Germany and the United States into conceding to his demands. In the case of the latter, this has undoubtedly been a ploy, the aim of which is to motivate the Americans to extradite Gullen, who currently resides in Pennsylvania. This has manifested itself via the arrest of a Turkish-born, U.S.-based NASA scientist and Andrew Brunson, an American pastor ludicrously accused of being a CIA operative tasked with organizing last year's coup. However, in the case of the former, the move to detain German journalists has been political suicide. Aside from the detention of German journalists, corporate investment in Turkey has been suspended indefinitely due to the accusations brought forward by Erdoğan's government that several giants such as Daimler have ties to the Gullen movement, thus significantly affecting Turkey's ability to attract foreign capital for the foreseeable future. That said, this may serve as retribution for the lack of compensation for Turkey's aiding in housing millions of refugees, with only 700 million euros having been delivered so far out of the 6 billion that were agreed upon by Germany for the period 2014-2020. Halfway through this time-span, Germany has not even come close to paying half of the pledged money as a sign of gratitude for Turkey's willingness to keep within its borders an abundance of refugees. 

In this respect, Erdoğan possesses the high-ground for he has upheld Turkey's promise of sheltering refugees and thus saving Europe further escalation. He could thus use this situation and associated agreement between the two nations as a bargaining chip in order to get Germany to fall in line. Yet the president ought not to overstate his hand for Germany's request that accession funds from the EU to Turkey be ceased, despite minute amounts of money flowing into Turkey as promised, indicate that tensions will tighten.
In the meantime, President Erdoğan has set his sights on Russia and the Arab League, as a result of his aggressive stance towards the EU and the United States. While the recent deal struck with Russia to buy the S-400 defense system may strengthen Turkey's position from a military standpoint, potential negotiations with Saudi Arabia, the UAE, Kuwait and Bahrain would be much more tempestuous due to Turkey's warm ties to Qatar, who has been accused of being affiliated with and offering financial support to Islamic extremist organizations, such as the Muslim Brotherhood. For example, Qatar-Turkey relations are so watertight that the former has permitted a deployment of Turkish troops, the removal of which has been requested by the quartet in order for tensions to diffuse.

So, what might be made of this cumbersome affair? Well, Erdoğan is most certainly not a prophetic leader but rather a perfect example of political suicide. In his relentless quest to transform himself into a sultan-like figure, Erdoğan does not only risk alienating other major economic powers, but his very own people who have become accustomed to Western conduct ever since the Kemalist reformation and would not take too kindly to their leader's wish to reverse social and political organization to an atavistic form of rule. Turkey is in an extremely frail position given that it is losing Western allies and the tensions within the Arab League. Therefore, if Erdoğan persists in this callous quest, it will only be a matter of time before he succumbs to increasing economic pressure that will threaten to leave the country destitute. Throughout human history, religious dogma has always compounded social, cultural and intellectual progress and in the increasingly interdependent world that we live in, it would be extremely asinine to seek to implement archaic policies that have a stagnating effect.


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