Why does Erdoğan have no friend left in the West?

Why does Erdoğan have no friend left in the West?

It is an open secret that German Chancellor Angela Merkel has never liked her Turkish counterpart, Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, very much. Now, Erdoğan is also at odds with German President Joachim Gauck.

Turkey’s prime minister may not like what Gauck said in Turkey and he has every right to criticize him and his messages. However, while Gauck used a careful, sophisticated and civilized manner in voicing his criticism of developments in Turkey, unfortunately one cannot say the same for Erdoğan.

“He should act like a statesman. He still thinks he is a priest,” said Erdoğan. Watch out for the language he used. He could have said, “a man of religion,” but in a society where hostile feelings are still harbored against Christians, he deliberately choose the word “priest.”

Ironically, President Gauck could have thought that he, as a believer, could have forged a special dialogue with Erdoğan, who is known to be a practicing Muslim. Yet I have heard that many in European capitals have started questioning whether the Turkish prime minister is a real believe, or whether he is using religion for political gains.

At the end of the day, being a practicing Muslim and using religion for political gains may not be mutually exclusive for some politicians. It all depends on how you look at religion and politics. But this type of questioning among Europeans demonstrates the state of confusion about Erdoğan.

In the early days of his prime ministry, he was welcomed by European leaders and applauded as the great reformer of Turkey. At one stage, even U.S. president Barack Obama said Erdoğan was among the three of four leaders he kept talking on the phone.

Nowadays, Erdoğan’s popularity has taken a dive among Western leaders. “When there is a problem in Europe, one leader takes up the phone and calls the other one and has a frank discussion. But with Erdoğan, there is no leader willing to talk to him directly about issues of concern,” a European diplomat told me. When European foreign ministers make a visit to a country they can also ask to see the prime minister of that country, but they don’t ask to see Erdoğan when they come to Turkey, the same diplomat added.

“Well, basically there is a conviction that there is no point in talking to him,” another told me, adding that some Turkish officials had been advising European leaders to engage with Erdoğan more so that he becomes more familiar with the Western way of thinking.

Indeed, it might be too late. In contrast with President Abdullah Gül - who, despite having a religious background, has internalized European values - Erdoğan, let alone having such internalization, even displays a condescending attitude against these values.

What had separated Turkey from Middle Eastern, Arab, Muslim countries, despite living in the same geography as them, was the fact that we had a leadership that - as a NATO and Council of Europe member and as an EU candidate - at least tried to talk the same language as Europe. Now we have a leadership that increasingly talks a different language than Europeans. It’s no wonder that it was Rusian President Vladimir Putin who was the only one rushing to congratulate Erdoğan after his local election victory in March.