As President Gül refrains from problems with Erdoğan

As President Gül refrains from problems with Erdoğan

Turkish President Abdullah Gül has another difficult decision to make. It is about the approval of the new Internet restrictions passed by the Turkish Parliament early Feb. 6, despite strong resistance from opposition parties with the dominant votes of the ruling Justice and Development Party (AK Parti).

There has been criticism against the Tayyip Erdoğan government on the matter from Brussels and Washington, Turkey’s Western allies. According to the new law, the head of Turkey’s Telecommunications Directorate (TİB) will have the power to block material from the Internet if he or she decides it violates the privacy of individuals, without the need for a court decision. But anyone who wants to object will have to go to a court for that.

That is the main reason among others that the Turkish opposition has described the restrictions as digital censorship.

The worries on censorship have been strengthened as the government recently appointed Cemaleddin Çelik, an intelligence officer from Turkey’s National Intelligence Organization (MİT), as the head of the TİB, removing the former head right after the start of the graft probe on Dec. 17, 2013. Soon after Çelik was appointed, the Erdoğan government issued a decree making it impossible for any prosecutor to open a probe against the TİB president without asking prime minister first.

Erdoğan decided to take such a decision as a number of tape recordings involving his and some of his family members telephone tappings with businessmen and media executives started to hit the web. Reporting about such incidents made Erdoğan upset and have caused him to escalate his tone against the critical media in Turkey.

Gül, on the other hand, told reporters during a visit to Italy on Jan. 30 that it was part of the media’s duty to criticize; “otherwise it would not be the media, [it would] be something else,” he said. Perhaps that is the reason why not only opposition parties, but also national and international press institutions are calling on Gül not to approve the Internet restrictions.

In the same interview with Turkish journalists, Gül, like Erdoğan, made it clear that he was not comfortable with the reports on “parallel” structures within the administration but that those should be dealt with within the law. He was referring – without giving a name – to sympathizers of Fethullah Gülen, a moderate Islamist scholar based in the United States who was once a close ally of the AK Parti government.

But Gül said something else that mainly went unnoticed – probably because of the hectic news agenda in Turkey – in another interview on Jan. 31.

Turkey, according to Gül, did not look as “bright” as it looked “three or four years ago.” Reading between the lines, one could infer that there used to be “more friends” to help cope with international problems, but that there are now “difficulties” because of the political situation outside and inside the country; as such, Turkey should “recover” its shine at once.

Those are probably the bitterest pieces of criticism by Gül to his long-time fellow Erdoğan, as well as an example of self-criticism of AK Parti rule, as Gül is among the triumvirate (with Erdoğan and Bülent Arınç) that established the party.

In a way, Gül is making a kind, indirect, hidden but public warning to Erdoğan to say that things are not going in the right direction. It is the president’s constitutional duty to maintain harmony between the branches of the administration, but his worry is more than that it seems.

This is because almost all the steps Erdoğan is taking to counter the attack he believes he is under by Gülenists are placed on Gül’s desk the next day for approval.

Plus the president could always ask the State Inspection Board to have a closer look into the corruption allegations. But all of those are potential sources of confrontation between him and Erdoğan that he wants to refrain from doing in this year of two, maybe three, elections, one being presidential.
That’s why the moves that Gül are going to make on all those issues are likely to have a critical impact on the short-term future of Turkish politics, both domestic and foreign.