Does Erdoğan have something big in mind?
A number of developments in the last few days, mostly moves by President Tayyip Erdoğan, might be signs that he has something big in mind at the planning stage.
I am not talking about the moves in foreign relations. In foreign relations it seems he won the round against Israel as the metal detectors at the entrances to the al-Aqsa mosque have been lifted and gates are opened again for Muslims for Friday prayers. The tension with Germany seems to be de-escalated following the row last week. The Syria outlook is not that good since it was Egypt that brokered a cease-fire in Ghouta between rebel forces and Bashar al-Assad, not Turkey - but no dramatic development there either.
The signs are about the domestic outlook of Turkey and part of it is related to foreign relations.
The new ambassador appointments announced on July 26 is, for example, a part of it. There are two political appointments there and one of it has created controversy. That is Merve Kavakçı’s appointment to Kuala Lumpur. She has been a leading figure in the headscarf debate in Turkey for the last two decades.
When she was elected as a member of parliament in 1999 from Fazilet Party, the party that had given birth to Erdoğan’s ruling Justice and Development Party (AK Parti), then-Prime Minister Bülent Ecevit and his Democratic Left Party (DSP) in parliament had protested and objected to Kavakçı taking the oath because she came in wearing a headscarf, which was considered a challenge to Turkey’s secular democracy and an incident which had triggered a major row at the time. She returned to her Turkish citizenship from her American one, and is now appointed as an ambassador. Dursun Çiçek, a deputy for the main opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP), showed a photo to the media on July 27 and asked whether it was Kavakçı who had kneeled down before an Islamist sheikh in a gesture of pledging allegiance, and if so how would she would represent the Turkish Republic under such circumstances. There is nothing wrong in legal terms for Erdoğan to appoint Kavakçı as an ambassador; the eligibility qualities are another issue. Political appointments are all over the world. But if the appointment of an ambassador to an important capital brings to mind domestic revenge motivations against the - originally problematic - secularist establishment, that would be something new.
Another sign is Erdoğan’s attitude regarding the future career of Mehmet Görmez, the head of Turkey’s religious authority Diyanet. A few days ago, Erdoğan said that it was not him asking Görmez to leave the post, but if Görmez is thinking of a new position, he could consider it. At the same time, Erdoğan talked about the establishment of an International University of Islam in Istanbul to teach in Turkish, Arabic and English, which was necessary to teach real Islam. Already powerful than many ministers and spending more budget than many of them, Görmez said that after serving in his honorable post, he could only think of [Islamic and theological] science as the next step. The development coincided with a government move to give power to “muftis,” who are government employees appointed by the Diyanet, to officially conduct marriages of couples, unlike the mayors elected by people, as it is currently. The Republican People’s Party (CHP) opposition slammed the move as a step violating Turkey’s secular civil code.
Yesterday, on July 27, Erdoğan addressed the AK Parti group in parliament and said those who are exhausted on the road of the great cause of the AK Parti should step aside and leave the positions to those who are willing to serve. He used the word “professional deformation” to describe MPs and party officials who have been serving in their posts for a long time and assuming those posts to be forever. Right after the April 16 referendum, which consolidated all executive power to the presidency, Erdoğan had complained about “material fatigue” within the AK Parti and said the party needed a renewal. In yesterday’s speech, he said the MPs should take a week off to rest and then start working for the next leap to achieve the target of the 2019 elections.
Erdoğan is the kind of politician who actually hints every move in advance in his own style. Those who can read between the lines can see that he might have something big in mind regarding the administrative structure in Turkey. Soon we will be able to understand as he gives more hints through his speeches and moves.