Erdoğan blames ‘foreign powers’

Erdoğan blames ‘foreign powers’

Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan sees not only “domestic extremists” but also “foreign powers” behind the demonstrations triggered by the movement to save Gezi Park in Istanbul. Erdoğan said this June 3 at the airport in Ankara prior to departing for Morocco. He added that “intelligence units” would be investigating the foreign connections behind these events.

All of this sounds extremely familiar in a way that is not extremely complementary for Erdoğan. The reason why is explained clearly by Linda Heard writing in Gulf News – the Arab world’s most-read English language newspaper – on June 3. Her opinion piece carried the title, “Erdoğan seems to be going the [Syrian President Bashar] al-Assad way,” which is bound to have deeply annoyed government circles at such A time.

Indicating that “Erdoğan appears to have learned nothing from the mistakes of [former Egyptian President Hosni] Mubarak and al-Assad,” Heard said that just like al-Assad, he is blaming extremists for stoking dissent. Adding that Erdoğan also attacked “the preaching of foreign governments,” counseling them to “first look at their own countries,” Heard reminded us that this is “just the sort of thing Mubarak, [deposed Libyan leader] Moammar Gadhafi and al-Assad were saying all along.”

President Abdullah Gül is correct when he argues that the demonstrations in Turkey should be seen more in the mold of the “Occupy Wall Street” movement than the “Arab Spring.” Unlike Arab countries, or Russia, Turkey is still a democracy where elections are not contested as having been rigged by anyone. This is the system that also brought Erdoğan to power.

Erdoğan is particularly angry at criticism from Washington and Europe over the events that started in Gezi Park and spread to the rest of the country. One assumes these are the “foreign powers” being investigated now by MİT, Turkey’s intelligence service. We are all waiting expectantly to see what the results of this investigation will be. It is of course absurd to try and divert attention from the core facts in this way.

This is the sort of thing Russia’s Vladimir Putin does, but stands out in a country that is still, thankfully, a democracy. To suggest, however, that foreign powers, in cahoots with domestic extremists, are behind the troubles amounts to a reluctance to address the root problems that have led to this situation.

Erdoğan’s reluctance in this respect is also apparent in the fact that he appears to be at loggerheads with Gül over these events. Gül’s remark that democracy is not just about elections, and that the message of the streets has been received, clearly annoyed Erdoğan. Commenting on these remarks, Erdoğan respond curtly from Morocco that he was not aware what the message referred to was.

It appears, however, that leading figures and policy planners in the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) are concerned and want to bring down the tension. This was apparent in the statement by Deputy Prime Minister Bülent Arınç, after he met with Gül on June 4. Arınç also believes the message of the streets has been received. He even apologized for last weekend’s police violence, which triggered the demonstrations.

The question now is whether Erdoğan will finally receive this message, or continue with his abrasive manner of accusing domestic extremists and foreign powers in order to avoid facing up to it. The domestic and foreign business community is also deeply worried about what is happening at such a crucial time for the Turkish economy, which has been performing in an exemplary manner while much of the world is in recession.

This fact alone may help concentrate Erdoğan’s mind, whatever his ideologically motivated instincts may dictate to him. The economic success is, after all, what his political success depends on to a significant extent. If he does not mend his destructive ways, though, he will help destroy what he contributed to building over the past decade, and this is what Turkey’s real enemies are banking on today.