Does Erdoğan need more enemies than friends at home?

Does Erdoğan need more enemies than friends at home?

The decision by Ankara to move toward normalizing its foreign policy - under the banner of “increasing the number of our friends and reducing the number of our enemies” - has raised the hopeful question in many minds as to whether this also heralds a period of normalization in domestic politics.

There are influential voices within the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP), and among its supporters, who also believe the picture will never be complete until that happens. Cemil Çicek is one such figure, who I quoted in this column on July 7. Çiçek says the AKP also now needs to reduce the number of its enemies at home.

Our very own Serkan Demirtaş pointed out during a conference we attended a number of years ago that, under the AKP, Turkey no longer has a foreign policy, but faces a situation where domestic politics has spilled over into the foreign policy domain and taken over. 

Many are hoping the reverse will now happen and create a much more democratic, tolerant and mutually respectful political environment in Turkey. But given President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s bellicose manners - which have been an inseparable part of his populist politicking, through which he aims to promote his Islamist agenda - this does not appear to be a promising expectation.

The opposition is no better, of course, when it comes to bellicosity. But in true democracies eyes are generally on the leadership in this regard, rather than the opposition. After all, it is the democratic responsibility of the leadership to try to build a consensus in a country. 

Erdoğan, however, has never had any such concern. In his eyes a ballot box victory is sufficient grounds for grabbing the reins of powers, whether or not this is constitutional, and to lead the country down whatever path he wants. Rather than building democratic consensus, he is determined to introduce one-man-rule under the guise of a presidential system. He also wants no checks or balances to curb his powers.

It is also interesting to note in this context the way Erdoğan’s slavish supporters are now attacking other supporters of Erdoğan and the AKP who, like Çiçek, are arguing for normalization in domestic politics. These seemingly “moderate Islamists” are being labelled “turncoats,” and the reason is not hard to understand. 

If Erdoğan moves towards a more pluralistic understanding of democracy, he and the AKP will have to enter into democratic arrangements with other elements of society. This is a development Erdoğan’s hardline Islamist supporters would hate to see. Even an Islamist columnist like Ahmet Taşgetiren, therefore, becomes and enemy because, like Cicek, he is calling for domestic peace.

The fact that Taşgetiren is an avid supporter of Erdoğan and the AKP, and writes for the blindly pro-government newspaper Star, makes no difference for those attacking him now. In his recent commentary on the topic Taşgetiren concludes that those from his own camp who are attacking him are saying, in effect, that Erdoğan and the AKP need enemies more than they need friends.

If Erdoğan wants to, he could of course disregard his unquestioning supporters - who are already smarting from his reconciliation with Israel - and opt for consensus-building at home. But the question remains whether he is ready to do so.  

All the evidence indicates that he is more than happy with his domestic enemies and would hate to lose them.  He was extremely reluctant to lose his foreign enemies too, but developments forced him into taking foreign policy steps that he would not have taken if he had a choice. But he had no choice.

Domestically we are still not at a point where Erdoğan has to show genuine democratic leadership due to the forces of circumstance. As a result, the prospect of the normalization process in foreign policy spilling over into the domain of domestic politics does not appear too promising for now.