Erdoğan lost his Twitter battle - very badly
On March 20, Prime Minister Tayyip Erdoğan said in an election rally that he wanted to “root out” Twitter, no matter what the “international community” thought. Within hours, an Ankara court had shut down the site to the 12 million Twitter accounts in Turkey.
The official reason from the PM’s press office was shown as the number of court cases opened by Turkish citizens against Twitter on the basis that they had been insulted.
But there are many speculations about the actual reason for the unfortunate move.
Erdoğan has been getting more upset because of leaks of wiretap records of telephone conversations between him and his family members, Cabinet members, media figures, and business figures, with lots of claims of corruption. This has been the case ever since the graft probe started on Dec. 17, 2013, which has so far cost Erdoğan the resignations of four ministers.
Instead of opening the judicial path to investigation of the corruption allegations, Erdoğan started to bash judges, prosecutors, policemen and social media for trying to stage a “coup” against him with manipulation from his former close ally Fethullah Gülen, the U.S.-resident moderate Islamist scholar. It was then that the leaks started to cause so many headaches for the prime minister.
As Turkey approaches the March 30 local elections, Erdoğan and his close aides have started to worry about more leaks, which could affect the ruling Justice and Development Party’s (AK Parti) votes.
Erdoğan first introduced more political control over judges and prosecutors, and then passed a law restricting the use of the Internet, taking advantage of the AK Parti’s domination of Parliament.
But nobody expected that he would act so quickly and so firmly as to shut Twitter down completely.
There are speculations regarding the timing of the move as well.
When the day turns from March 20 to March 21, day and night are equal in the northern hemisphere, which marks one of the most ancient festivities on earth: Nevruz (Nooruz in Persian, Novruz in Azeri, and Newroz in Kurdish). On March 21 in the predominantly Kurdish populated city of Diyarbakır, the Kurdish problem-focused Peace and Democracy Party (BDP) held a big rally. It featured a message from Abdullah Öcalan, the imprisoned leader of the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), which shares the same grassroots with the BDP.
Erdoğan’s government was uncomfortable with the possibility that the PKK would end the dialogue process on the grounds that the government has not been doing enough, or at least give an ultimatum to end the cease-fire.
There is speculation that those who are leaking the documents could have a recording between Turkish Intelligence Organization (MİT) Chief Hakan Fidan and Öcalan about guarantees for his release. The possibility of a leak before the BDP’s Nevruz rally could ruin all Erdoğan’s game plan before the March 30 elections.
So he preferred the hard way and shut down Twitter, which he sees as the source of the leaks.
Erdoğan had once promised to take the Turkish people into the European Union, or at least to the level of the EU’s democratic standards, but with the latest ban he has put Turkey in the same league as North Korea, China and Iran.
Nevertheless, hours after the ban most Turkish users were back on Twitter, using the ways and means of digital technology.
What’s more, to Erdoğan’s dismay, those rejoining Twitter and breaking the ban included Deputy Prime Minister Bülent Arınç and Ankara Mayor Melih Gökçek (a genuine Twitter addict).
President Abdullah Gül, who had “unwillingly” approved the recent Internet law, also broke the law, saying via his own Twitter account that he was against the ban.
Immediately after the ban went into effect, millions of Turkish Twitter users hit back, defying the restrictions and demonstrating that the walls of fear that Erdoğan is trying to build have started to fall apart.
It is getting more difficult for Erdoğan to rule Turkey as he has done up to now, even if his AK Parti comes first on March 30.