An Islamist critic of Erdoğanism

An Islamist critic of Erdoğanism

You probably have heard well by now that it is not a smart thing to be an outspoken critic of President Tayyip Erdoğan in the Turkish media. You might be prosecuted for “insulting the president,” spend a few years in jail, or simply lose your job due to the pressure coming from some powerful offices in Ankara. 

But lately, a new trend has also become visible in the Turkish media: Even those who support Erdoğan could lose their job if they dare to express this support with the slightest tone of criticism, no matter how friendly or constructively they may put it. 

On this note, the story of Hakan Albayrak is an impressive case. Albayrak is longtime Islamist, in the sense of pursuing political causes that are inspired by Islam and that serve the interests of the “ummah,” the global Muslim community. For decades, he has engaged in humanitarian efforts and political activism to help the oppressed Muslims of the world, from Bosnia to Palestine. He was also one of the veterans of the famous Gaza Flotilla of 2010. As you might expect, he has been a longtime supporter of Tayyip Erdoğan and his Justice and Development Party (AKP).

Albrayrak never renounced that support, but over the past year he has written several articles that criticized Erdoğan - who he continues to call “Chief,” as most people in that camp do. These articles appeared in “Diriliş Postası” (Revival Post), a small Islamist paper spearheaded by Albrayrak himself. All articles were in fact supportive of Erdoğan, praising his services to Turkey and the ummah. They only included friendly and constructive criticisms. By asking from the “Chief” to not to interfere in every single issue, for example, Albayrak warned the president not to undo his own success story. Albayrak emphasized that he is still a supporter of Erdoğan, but a “free supporter” who could still criticize him - unlike many “unfree” ones. 

But these friendly criticisms of the “free supporter” were not taken in a friendly way. Soon, Diriliş Postası lost all its advertising income “due to phone calls that came from powerful seats,” as Albayrak openly wrote in one of his articles. A few weeks later, the boss of the paper fired Albayrak, saying he had “created disturbance.” 

Albayrak vowed to preserve his “free supporter” position, and began to work for a new publication. In the meantime, he also penned an analysis of the Turkish media in his blog. He divided this media into several camps, most of which he didn’t like. His description of the pro-Erdoğan media is worth quoting:

“There are people who publish newspapers, or are called to do so, solely for the sake of protecting and expanding Erdoğan’s power. Their papers, or the papers they seem to manage, cannot say a word against Erdoğan. Even if Erdoğan makes a crucial and giant mistake, they have to present it as a great success, or interpret it positively, or not see it at all. No writer in these newspapers, no matter how famous they may be, can write anything off the line. They then risk being fired or being embargoed in other newspapers.”  

Several days after this piece appeared, Albayrak appeared on a TV show in which he again slammed the pro-Erdoğan media. “Nobody here has a real opinion, a real position. If Erdoğan comes out tomorrow and says, ‘the Syrian revolution was nothing important, the next day 100 people will repeat exactly that,” he said. 

In my view, Albayrak is quite right, and he did a great job by exposing a key fact: In Turkey, the current political problem is not exactly “Islamism,” as the Western media often thinks. It is rather a cult of personality, focused on “protecting and expanding the power” of one single man.