Not everyone is enamored by Erdoğan

Not everyone is enamored by Erdoğan

Remarks about Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan attributed to Jordanian King Abdullah II by The Atlantic magazine have gone down badly in Ankara. Especially after the king recently paid a high-profile visit to Turkey, during which he shed tears over the grave of Mustafa Kemal Atatürk, the founder of the secular republic, with whom Turkey’s political Islamists have rarely been at peace.

The Jordanian side is reportedly saying now that the king’s remarks had been quoted out of context. But as the saying goes, “there’s no smoke without fire.” At any rate reading the long interview in The Atlantic with King Abdullah, headlined “Monarch in the Middle,” one does not get the impression that its author, Jeffrey Goldberg, is a rookie. He appears to know the Middle East well, a fact demonstrated by his questions and observations.

Goldberg writes:

“The king argues that a new, radical alliance is emerging – one that both complements and rivals the Iranian-led [Shiite] crescent. ‘I see a Muslim Brotherhood crescent developing in Egypt and Turkey,’ he told me.”

What Goldberg says here and the quote from Abdullah in fact contain nothing new. Everyone sees such “Sunni crescent” developing in the region in rivalry with a “Shiite crescent.” Many Turkish commentators have also referred to an “Islamic Brotherhood International” that Turkey is a part of.

Goldberg also quotes King Abdullah, declaring, “Erdoğan once said that democracy for him is a bus ride, once I get to my stop, I’m getting off.’ ” Abdullah is not making this up either. Erdoğan did make a remark to this effect in the past that has haunted him politically ever since.

At any rate the manner in which Erdoğan intends to bulldoze a new Constitution through Parliament does indeed reflect a different, and more limited, understanding of democracy than the more advanced interpretations of this form of government. Like President Mohamed Morsi in Egypt, sheer electoral numbers, and sufficient seats in Parliament, appear enough for Erdoğan and his party to tamper with the established political order.

Erdoğan’s desire to change Turkey’s system of government from a parliamentary one to an executive presidency, which will be unencumbered by checks and balances, is a case in point. It is not secret at this stage that Erdoğan expects the “democracy train” to take him to his destination, which in this case is to head what his critics are calling a “constitutional dictatorship.”

There may be a problem for some in the way Goldberg juxtaposes King Abdullah’s remarks with his own subjective observations – for example when he says “Abdullah is wary of Tayyip Erdoğan.” But we have enough remarks from Abdullah that not only reveal such “wariness,” but also reflect a general frustration at seeing more Islam than democracy come out of the Arab Spring.

As for Turkey’s position on Syria, there is an increasing suggestion, both in Turkey and the region, that Erdoğan and his Justice and Development Party (AKP) are more interested in contributing to strengthening the “Sunni Crescent” in the Middle East today, than pushing for democracy across the region in an impartial way.

For example we hear a lot about the need for democracy in Syria and Iraq coming from government circles in Turkey, but hardly any criticism is ever leveled by Erdoğan or Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu at the appalling state of human rights and the total lack of democracy in Gulf states. There is a “selectivity” here that is hard to miss.

Whether a king of a country in a delicate geopolitical position such as Jordan should be so candid in his remarks about regional leaders is open to debate, of course. What is not debatable, however, is that contrary to the impression government officials and their supporters in the media are trying to give in Turkey, it is clear that not everyone in the region is enamored by Erdoğan and his brand of “soft but creeping Islamism.”

That much we can glean from King Abdullah’s remarks.