When will normality return to Turkey?
President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan is one of the most beleaguered leaders on the planet. His response to criticism - especially from Europe, which now has him down as an anti-democratic leader - is to go on full-frontal counter attacks.
Erdoğan inability to come up with rational solutions aimed at overcoming international problems and domestic divisions, and the way he is responding to the failed July 15 coup attempt - which appears more like a massive purge against his opponents - have left many fearing that Turkey is heading down a blind alley. Serious doubts have also emerged on the health of the economy, making matters worse.
The president’s fury against the West goes down well with his supporters, of course. He is a master of populism and understands the pulse of his constituents, whose numbers have grown since he started fusing Islamism with right-wing nationalism.
Erdoğan’s acolytes in the media are also spreading his anger against the European Parliament, which called for a suspension of Turkey’s EU membership talks because Ankara is straying from a democratic path.
There are some members of the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP), however, who are also worried about the direction of the country. Deputy Prime Minister Mehmet Şimşek is a case on point.
One argument that Erdoğan’s supporters have been spreading is that the EU has no value left for Turkey because it is in the process of collapsing. Şimşek, however, struck a different tune.
“The EU is not collapsing. On the contrary, it is a great success story. Nearly 510 million people live there in peace and prosperity,” he tweeted counterintuitively on Nov. 25. This angered Erdoğan and many AKP supporters, who are busy demonizing the EU. Şimşek, who oversees the Turkish economy, was immediately branded a traitor.
But he is known to be a level-headed person, and is clearly aware of what severing ties with the EU will cost Turkey – regardless of what it will cost Europe. He was merely trying to put this on the line his own way. Nevertheless, his job appears difficult, if not impossible. Turkey is not being run by reason today, but rather according to gut feelings. This has left it with very few friends in the world, and with increasing domestic instability that will take years to overcome.
Those who believe that the executive presidency Erdoğan desires - and which he will probably get, with the support of the right-wing Nationalist Movement Party (MHP) – will resolve Turkey’s difficulties, will see before long that they are dreaming.
Erdoğan is effectively already an executive president, and the commander-in-chief of the military, which follows only his orders today, and yet still there seems to be no end in sight to Turkey’s woes.
Erdoğan’s desire to see Turkey dump the EU and join the Shanghai Cooperation Organization is a sign of desperation. It is not the result of a well-considered strategy that could give Turkey a viable alternative to its ties with the West.
One Western diplomat recently told me, while discussing strained Turkish-U.S. ties, that the only capital Ankara has in Washington, regardless of Erdoğan’s continuous pillorying of that country, is the patience and tolerance that exists due to Turkey’s strategic importance.
The same seems to apply to Europe, where the majority of governments see no advantage in
complying with the European Parliament’s recent non-binding call for a suspension of membership talks with Turkey.
Such patience, however, is unlikely to prevent Turkey from entering the morass it appears resolutely to be heading toward. For that to happen, Ankara needs a sensible and rational approach to its domestic and international problems.
The response to Şimşek, and those who think like him, clearly shows where we are in this regard. Much anger and vindictiveness has to be overcome before Turkey can return to reason and normality.