Erdoğan and the Turkish Lira Crisis: The Pseudo-Sultan That Is Making Atatürk Roll Over in His Grave

President Erdogan has made it crystal clear over the past few weeks that he is unbridled in his quest to establish himself as the most revered and famous Turkish politician since the age of modern Turkey's founding father, Atatürk. While in his view, the Islamist notion of a reversal to a caliphate-like form of government would be a watershed transformation in the history of Turkish politics, the brash, bellicose and belligerent ways in which he is trying to sew his ideal into the country's social fabric are alarming for they risk plunging the nation into a long-term recession. So, in a sense, Erdoğan will become the most infamous political leader the country has ever had, undoing years of lucrative labour undergone as part of Atatürk's political pledge to modernise Turkey. Following on from last year's entry in which I argued that Erdogan was political suicide (, in this article, I shall be discussing the likely ramifications of Erdoğan's aggressive foreign policy, as well as offering an academic analysis of the present situation.

A long-standing and negative characteristic of Turkey's economy is its very low savings rate, which has led to the country accruing huge current-account imbalances. For example, over the past 12 months, Turkey's already staggering deficit has risen to $51.6 billion, which is one of the largest trade disequilibria in the world. The economy has heavily relied on recurring infusions of foreign capital in order to excessively finance private-sector projects, with Turkey’s banks and big firms borrowing heavily, often in foreign currencies. Given those harrowing circumstances, Turkey needs approximately $200 billion a year to fund its wide current-account deficit and maturing debt, while simultaneously risking a dry-up of capital inflows; the state has gross foreign currency reserves of only $85 billion. Under Erdogan's watchful eye since 2014, Turkish economic policy has had an increasing focus on developing the construction industry with a neglect of the need to fund education and research development. The president's rationale behind those policies is that he has associated progress with mass high-rise buildings and ginormous infrastructures. However, Erdogan's greatest mistake has been his failure to appreciate that Turkey’s growth model is too reliant on consumer spending and government-sponsored infrastructure and construction projects funded by speculative financial flows rather than on continuous private-sector investment. One may see this as an early sign of Erdogan's financial and economic incompetence and of an unrelenting desire to shape Turkish economic development, or lack thereof, according to his own grandiose agenda, to which he adheres with indomitable pride. 

Similarly, if we fast forward to the current political climate, we may see clear examples of the Turkish leader's attempts to mask his lack of financial and economic finesse, and thirst for achieving his Islamist utopia. For instance, Erdoğan is deliberately using the ongoing row with the United States over the detention of pastor Andrew Brunson to cover up his big failure in the economy, an argument that is vehemently shared by main opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP) leader Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu, who accused the president of not taking necessary measures to stop the plunge of the Turkish Lira despite seeing the crisis coming. The Lira has lost nearly 40% of its value against the American dollar in the last few weeks after Donald Trump imposed sanctions on the Turkish government for not releasing the pastor. Washington has warned that more sanctions will be due until the pastor is returned home, while Brunson, who is currently under house arrest, is being accused of aiding terrorist organisations. 

From an academic standpoint, one may argue that Erdogan's actions are indicative of an authority that the great German sociologist Max Weber labeled "charismatic domination". This can be embodied by the leader of a religious cult, a military group, or by what is of most relevance to this article: a political demagogue. Such leaders claim to be special people either because they have powers granted to them by greater forces, or by virtue of some mission that they alone can accomplish. However, the crux of Weber's argument is that the leader’s capacity to lead is under constant test, with his/her continual deeds proving their worth as a leader; failure to make things happen is a massive setback to the leader’s claims and subsequently, to their authority. As such, I argue that Erdogan's presidency is being defined by this struggle delineated by Weber. His brash actions perhaps demonstrate that he is failing the aforementioned competency test, and is constantly resorting to bellicose measures and speeches in order to soothe and reassure supporters and the general populace alike of his charismatic ability to lead, all the while masking his true frustration with his disability to achieve the ideal of the "charismatic leader".

The recent row over Incirlik Air Base is a case in point. A group of pro-government Turkish lawyers have apparently pressed charges against U.S. Air Force officers affiliated with İncirlik Air Base following allegations that they are partly responsible for the coup d'état of July 2016. The lawyers are seeking a temporary halt to all flights leaving Incirlik Air Base, which is an important geopolitical strategic starting point for anti-Islamic State military operations, according to court documents unearthed by a clique of outcast Turkish journalists. It appears that the lawyers who submitted the request are from the Association for Social Justice and Aid, which the exiled Turkish journalists have described as a non-governmental organisation serving the interests of senior Turkish officials. The journalists' report also cites the dispute between the Trump administration and Erdoğan as a likely cause of the charges. 

While the intricacies of the US-Turkish dispute highlight Erdogan's personal struggle with his frustration of being unable to achieve the status of "charismatic leader", his vision of andiscourse on the 'right' Turkish society certainly raise eyebrows. As a result of the benevolent reforms implementeby Mustafa Kemal Ataturk, the first president of the independent Republic of Turkey, the Turkish government was lauded throughout the 20th Century as the perfect model of moderate Islamic governance. Turkey eventually became an advanced industrial nation that espoused profound Western values, joined NATO, and applied to become a member of the European Union. However,  this goodeed has come undone under the current president, an Islamist disciplinarian who has made it his life-goal to reverse Ataturk’s achievements and restore a Turkish “caliphate.” For example, Erdogan has brought Islamic sharia law back to Turkey, enhanced his executive powers so as to essentially become a dictator, imposed an authoritarian police state, alienated the EU, begun turning to Russia as a supporter, and may very well consciously or unconsciously lead Turkey to its expulsion from NATO in the not-too-distant-future

In contrast,    Ataturk essentially eradicateIslamic control over the nation's governance with a brilliant tenacity and thoroughness. Turkey had an actual caliph, a Muslim religious ruler roughly analogous to the ayatollahs of modern Iran. Ataturk saw the caliphate as a rival to Turkey’s secular government and neutralized its power, overthrowing the caliph and exiling himAdditionally, Ataturk rid the country of Islamic education and abolished sharia courts. More controversially, the hijab was deemed a “ridiculous object” and discarded. Even the calendar was changed to fall in line with the one used by the rest of the world, instead of using a calendar based on the life of the Prophet Mohammed. Finally, in 1928, the article of the Turkish constitution specifying Islam as the official state religion was removed. 

However, all of Erdogan's so-called "reforms" are cases in point of a policy of anti-Kemalism. For example, the Turkish educational system has become reinfused with Islamic dogma, justified by Erdogan's pledge to shape a new pious generation of individuals following years of secular dominance. Equally, sharia law has re-entered the legal lexicon. For instance, speech or writing that is deemed “offensive to Islam” will be swiftly censored and prosecuted. More gravely, Turkey’s religious ministry, the Diyanet, which was established by Ataturk to constrict the influence of religion upon politics, has been transformed by Erdogan into a cabinet in order to be used as a tool for the installation of Islamic law in Turkish society. 

From an academic standpoint, Erdogan's vision of a caliphate Turkey quite aptly embodies the Althusserian conception of state power through the notions of Repressive State Apparatuses (RSAs) and Ideological State Apparatuses (ISAs). The former, in their most basic form, refer to the unilateral imposition of the ruling elite's will upon their subjects. Institutions such as the police, the courts and the military are all RSAs, the basic social function of which is to forcefully subvert the subordinate classes, either by direct violence, or by non-violent forms of coercion. The clearest example of an RSA employed by the Erdogan administration is the courts, all of which are being used by the president to rid himself of political opponents, as well as journalists (such as the aforementioned exiled Turkish journalists who have been attempting to uncover the truth of the Incirlik turmoil), and other bureaucrats who vehemently criticise his rule. However, what warrant a closer inspection are the Erdoganist ISAs for they have the potential to possess a great permeating effect as they involve civil society due to their apolitical nature. In a similar line of reasoning to Foucault, Althusser (1971) argued that ISAs utilise methods other than those employed in the application of corporal punitive measures, in order to reach the same goals as the RSAs. These typically include educational institutions, media channels, churches, social clubs and the family. The main difference here is that they are informal for they do not pertain to the state, unlike RSAs. Psychologically speaking, ISAs may be understood as being psychosocial, because they desire and aim to ingrain ways of analysing events and class relations and, contrary to RSAs, the main instrument of exercising power is fear, such as the fear of social rejection. 

More crucially, educational ISAs assume a dominant role in a capitalist economy, and they cover and conceal the ideology of the ruling class behind the so-called "liberating qualities" of education, so that the ruling agenda remains mostly unclear to students, teachers, parents and to members of the wider society more generally. Although Althusser's argument chiefly referred to capitalist societies employing secular educational systems, its essence may be extrapolated to the propaganda behind the Erdoganist Islamisation of the Turkish national curriculum. What Althusser called "liberating qualities" may be equated, in this case, to Erdogan's promise of fostering a new "pious generation", which has connotations of prosperity and flourishing, when in truth, such discourse diverts attention away from the president's true ambitions of crafting a Turkish caliphate similar to that present in Iran. That said, continuing from an Althusserian line of reasoning, due to the fact that ISAs cannot assert their dominance as quickly and as swiftly as RSAs, they may themselves become ideal sites for class struggle. That is, subjugated social classes are able to find the means and opportunities to oppose the rule of the dominant class by, for example, taking advantage of ideological contradictions within the ISAs. Therefore, Erdoganist ISAs do not subsequently guarantee the achievement of a Turkish caliphate nor do they guarantee a successful nationwide Islamisation in the long-term. For in this case, the urban secular middle-class and elite, the classes that Erdogan clearly intends to subjugate may be in a constant struggle with the Islamic majority that Erdogan is seeking to empower. 

In conclusion, the Turkish Lira Crisis is exemplary of larger powers at play, ones that have the potential to plunge the nation into economic despair, which may very well be followed by significant social unrest. What it also highlights is the incompatibility of leaders such as Erdogan with the modern-day political and economic global situation. The Turkish pseudo-Sultan may aspire to be an ayatollah in a similar vein to Ruhollah Khomeini, yet he fails to realise that the reason why the Iranian system is prevailing is due to its sustainability on natural resources, something which Turkey does not possess, thus driving it to rely on foreign capital. Surrounding himself with sycophants and fawners will not lead the nation to glory as Erdogan might envisage in his deluded mind, but will only ruin thousands of lives and affect other nations with whom Turkey has strong economic ties, and all of this because of one man's bloated ego, pride and lust for glory. However, as I mentioned in my Althusserian analysis, while things may be appearing bleak, it is by no means a certainty that the belligerent president will accomplish the creation of an Ottomanist state.   




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