Erdoğan’s problems mounting every day
In a speech over the weekend, President Tayyip Erdoğan complained that the ongoing Qatar crisis came out of the blue, at a time when Turkey was trying to deal with other serious regional issues like Syria and Iraq.
He has a point. The Qatar crisis has put the Turkish government in a position where it is confronting a number of Muslim-majority countries, particularly Saudi Arabia, in defense of Qatar. In order to avoid further antagonizing relations with the House of Saud, Erdoğan has tried to make a number of maneuvers, including sending Foreign Minister Mevlüt Çavuşoğlu to Riyadh, in the hope that Turkey’s mediation efforts would be welcomed.
This seems to have not yet worked. After the intervention of U.S. President Donald Trump, both Saudi Arabia and Qatar are looking to the White House for a way out of the crisis. Qatar’s $12 billion arms deal with the U.S. could be read as a sign that Emir Thamim al-Thani can keep his place. That is good for Erdoğan, as there is a personal bond between the two leaders, which has helped a lot of the money to flow from the Gulf state to Turkey for investments. But the price that al-Thani pays for keeping his chair may include halting support to the Muslim Brotherhood and factions of the Free Syria Army (FSA), which Qatar has backed strongly up to now.
In Syria the advance of the U.S.-backed forces on Raqqa - with the help of the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) affiliate, the Syrian Kurdish People’s Democratic Units (YPG), despite Erdoğan’s objections - seems to be squeezing the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) day by day. But recent news coming from al-Bab and Idlib, held by the FSA with the backing of the Turkish Armed Forces, is not good after the Qatar crisis.
The advance of the Iraq, army with the help of the U.S.-led forces in Mosul, is also likely to bring results, despite the fact that Turkey has only indirectly contributed.
Ankara’s relations with the EU have recently given some hope, but unless Ankara takes some steps on rights and freedoms there is unlikely to be any positive steps regarding the opening up of new negotiation chapters, which are directly locked into the fate of the Cyprus talks anyway.
Speaking of rights and freedoms, another problem that Erdoğan has had to deal with since last week is the “Justice” march of social democratic main opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP) leader Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu, announced after CHP deputy Enis Berberoğlu was sentenced to 25 years in jail for giving a newsworthy document to a journalist.
After keeping relatively quiet over the first two days of the 450 km march from the capital Ankara to Istanbul, scheduled to last for another 20 days, President Erdoğan started to blast Kılıçdaroğlu over the march, saying he should halt it at once. In a speech on June 17, Erdoğan even described the action as no different to the July 15, 2016 military coup attempt: The Gülenist soldiers had their F-16s and tanks and Kılıçdaroğlu had his walk as a weapon, he claimed. He warned civil society groups supporting Kılıçdaroğlu’s march that “violating the constitution” would land them in the court one day, while also stressing that politicians should respect court rulings (although he himself has denounced court rulings on more than one occasion).
Kılıçdaroğlu, meanwhile, has continued his walk. He has called on Erdoğan to not threaten him using courts as a weapon and even declared that “there’s a Moses for every pharaoh” - a rather boldly challenging expression.
Another issue that Erdoğan currently has to deal with is the ongoing dispute with the U.S. over the arrest warrant against 12 of his bodyguards over the way they dispersed protesting PKK sympathizers in front of the Turkish ambassador’s residence in Washington during his visit last month. This disagreement is added to the already existing issues between Turkey and the U.S. of the YPG and the extradition of Pennsylvania-based Islamist preacher Fethullah Gülen, believed to have masterminded the July 2016 coup attempt.
Erdoğan is a master of creating “ballot box opportunities” to find collective solutions to mounting problems. But Turkey only recently held a referendum, after which Erdoğan became the only source of executive power in the country, promising that no election would be held until November 2019.