OPINION semih-idiz

Erdogan fans anti-Israeli, Anti-American sentiments for political gain

HDN | 6/14/2010 12:00:00 AM | Semih Idiz

PM Erdoğan appears set to milk the popularity he gained in Turkey and the Middle East after the Marmara crisis.

Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan appears set to milk the popularity he gained in the streets of Turkey and the Middle East after the Marmara crisis in which nine Turks were killed by Israeli forces in a seriously botched up military operation.

It is almost as if he was waiting for a new crisis with Israel to be able to work the streets in order to regain some of the political ground his ruling Justice and Development Party, or AKP, has been loosing over bread and butter issues at home.

He and his party executives are clearly worried that the reinvigorated Republican Peoples Party, or CHP, may make headway given the successful manner in which its new leader, Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu, has been hitting at the government over topics that really matter for the average man on the street. He is also concerned that the Saadet (Felicity) Party, the other Islamist party, may steal votes from the AKP given the rising dissatisfaction among the public.

Turks are fickle though, and easily swayed emotionally even if this means that the bread and butter issues of vital importance to them are pushed to the background. It is clear that there is great public animosity towards Israel today. As for the almost endemic anti-Americanism among Turks, this is also adding grist to Erdogan’s populist mill.

So we see him increasingly turning up the volume of his demagoguery, and hitting at Israel and the United States at every opportunity that presents itself. No doubt he is keeping a close eye on the “political rating meter” as he sends his crowds to paroxysms of delirious applause with his remarks, some of which smack openly of anti-Semitism and reflect a growing anti-Western tendency.

After the Marmara incident he was not only quick to use the harshest and most insulting adjectives when referring to Israel, but also had thinly veiled warnings to Washington, suggesting openly that those who stood behind Israel were also culpable in the crimes committed by that country.

Over the weekend he went further and openly named the U.S. this time, thus revealing what lies in his heart-of-hearts. This is what he had to say while addressing an adoring crowd in Rize, on the Black Sea coast, where people are not only religious but also ultra-nationalist.

“They are asking us what Turkey is doing in the Middle East, in Palestine. Why is Turkey bothered about Gaza? But could they not be asked in return what America is doing in Iraq? What is it doing in Palestine? Could it not be asked what is it doing in Afghanistan? What are France, Britain, and Holland, and so on, doing in these places?”

Erdogan went on threateningly to say, “I am calling on the Israeli supported international media and their subcontractors at home: Turkey is not like other countries.” His only tribute to sophistication during this show of demagoguery was his reference to “the Israeli supported international media.”

Previously he had made references to the “Jewish controlled international media” but must have been warned by his advisors that this was too overtly “anti-Semitic,” and thus politically incorrect. This no doubt forced him to make a slight modification in his nevertheless anti-Semitic reference to the international media.

What is worse, however, is that Erdogan is set to raise the volume of his bellicosity in coming weeks and months, given that Turkey will, for all intents and purposes, be moving into “election mode.” We had an opportunity to talk to Hikmet Cetin, a highly respected veteran politician and former Foreign Minister, the other day.

He too expressed serious concerns that Erdogan and the AKP would make anti-Israeli and anti-American rhetoric the centerpiece of his political campaign in the lead-up to the elections in 2011. Mr. Cetin is right to be concerned of course.

Erdogan is, after all, utilizing the least sophisticated of political tools to increase support for the AKP at home, and totally disregarding what harm he may be doing to Turkey’s well established links with the West in general and the U.S. in particular – regardless of the periodic turbulence in these ties over specific issues.

There are those who say that he is in fact doing all of this intentionally, because he is trying to turn Turkey’s direction from the West to the Islamic East. We personally believe that whatever his ultimate aim and intentions may be in this respect, Mr. Erdogan will find that it is much harder to turn Turkey’s direction than he thinks.

But it can not be denied that he and his government are providing material for those in the West who feel Turkey is in fact “drifting away.” There is truth, of course, in the contention being also put forward by some in the West today that certain countries and leaders in Europe have made it easier for the AKP to hit at the West. This is highly apparent from Erdogan’s lambasting Europe while also pursuing his populist line of demagoguery.

Some in Europe have been clinging to Mr. Erdogan and his party as the only viable reformist force in Turkey and providing him with a benefit of the doubt way beyond what is justified (even as he feeds the anti-western undercurrents in this country.) Less admiration and more attention on their part to what he is actually saying and doing at this stage should provide a wake-up call, as his latest actions and remarks appear to have done in Washington.

The bottom line is that while some may be worrying that Mr. Erdogan and the AKP are changing Turkey’s course, the truth is that it is not clear what they are trying to do, or if they even have a viable master plan for a modern Westward looking Turkey at this stage. As matters stand it appears that Mr. Erdogan is simply riding the crest of a populist conservative and Islamist wave – with nationalist overtones - which enables him to fog some seminal questions about where he is taking the country.

As for the great strides his party made over the past eight years, this may be true to an extent but it must not be forgotten that the road had already been laid for the AKP government to move on in terms of much of what they achieved over these years.

For example Turkey’s EU orientation – which Mr. Erdogan never referred to in a positive light while in the opposition -is something that was well underway. He simply went along with it continuing a reform process that had been started under the previous Ecevit government.

The much touted “zero problems with neighbors” policy, on the other hand, was always there but was called “a policy of good neighborliness.” As for the much lauded “opening up to the Middle East” this was the pet project of a host of former Turkish politicians ranging from Suleyman Demirel to Bulent Ecevit and Erdal Inonu, and not exclusive to the AKP.

It may appear to some that nothing was achieved in this country prior to the AKP. Mr. Erdogan and his party executives are working overtime to spread that impression, of course. But it is wrong and misrepresents the facts. Mr. Erdogan’s vitriolic and bellicose attitude both in domestic and in foreign policy should help open many eyes on this score too in the coming period.



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