Erdoğan’s regional role

Erdoğan’s regional role

The title of this column is borrowed from Yalçın Akdoğan, a close advisor to Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan and a columnist for the daily Star newspaper. Akdoğan, in his column published on July 29, suggests that Erdoğan’s election as President has gained significance in a region that is shaken by political and social earthquakes that put countries like Iraq, Syria, and Egypt into jeopardy, empowering authoritarianism among the ruling elite and thus brewing radicalism.

Akdoğan accuses the West and their local collaborators of nixing waves of democratization in the region and of openly promoting “radicalism, violence, illegality and extremism.”

“The way to overcome this deadlock is a trustworthy leader that would draw a vision and horizon to the region and would promote certain concepts. Under the new situation, messages conveyed by Erdoğan to the region have become of vital importance,” Akdoğan wrote in his column.

For Akdoğan; messages being delivered by Erdoğan to the region do in fact address regional problems of sectarian conflict, radicalism, anti-Semitism, co-habitation of different ethnic and religious groups in a democratic and tolerant environment, the absence of genuine democracy, etc. “It’s Erdoğan who can genuinely call and end to Sunni-Shiite conflict and who can issue messages for strengthening this brotherhood,” he says. 

Likewise, he continues, Erdoğan’s ability to re-conceptualize secularism in a bid to furnish it with a more democratic and embracing meaning is a reflection of the prime minister’s “reformist leadership.”

The Turkish prime minister, as the most outspoken politician in criticizing Israel, is the sole leader whose word on anti-Semitism can be taken into account, Akdoğan says. The prime advisor concludes his article by suggesting that “As the President, Erdoğan will take important tasks and will exert sincere efforts for the salvation of the region.”

It’s no doubt that Erdoğan, as the leader of a country like Turkey, has a great role to play particularly in the region. As a matter of fact, he has played this role in the last 12 years as the prime minister. He was an important stakeholder of international initiatives like the Greater Middle East Project and Alliance of Civilizations, global efforts that erupted in the aftermath of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks on the United States. These were the days when the “Turkish model” was highly promoted in the world. And, furthermore, these were the days when the Turkish government was upholding its reformist nature with consecutive steps for the democratization of the country.

Unfortunately, given today’s picture, it’s hard to say that Erdoğan has a role to play in the Middle East. For two main reasons: First, he lost his regional and global interlocutors and second, he lost his consistency. Erdoğan has no direct communication with Iraqi, Syrian, Israeli and Egyptian leaderships and recently admitted that he cannot talk to U.S. President Barack Obama. Turkey’s sole partners in the region are the Iraqi Kurdistan Regional Government, the Free Syrian Army and Hamas. Obviously, this limited framework will not offer Erdoğan much of a role to play as either prime minister as the president.

The problem of consistency, however, is more profound. It’s hard for Erdoğan to become a credible leader in the eyes of Shiite groups as long as he continues to use a discriminatory language towards the Alevi groups in Turkey. To me, he reached his highest point in this defamation of Alevi identity during his election campaign in 2011 where he frequently brought his main rival, Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu’s Alevi identity to the fore during his public rallies. For Erdoğan, Kılıçdaroğlu’s opposition to the government’s policy on Syria, which aimed to topple Bashar al-Assad, had a sectarian motive.

On democracy, human rights and freedom of expression and assembly, Erdoğan, unfortunately, has not much to offer to the others due to its own implementations inside Turkey. Erdoğan’s zero-tolerance policy towards dissidents is surely not seen as a positive record on his side. Memories of cracking down on even peaceful activists by using disproportionate force that killed 10 youngsters during last year’s Gezi protests are still very fresh. It was this government that labeled this very societal incident as an international plot against the government which was backed by the Jewish lobby, interest-rate lobby, etc.

By the way, it’s been a long time since Erdoğan has lost his image as a leader against anti-Semitism. For Erdoğan, both Gezi and the Dec. 17 corruption and graft operation are plots in which the Jewish lobby is the main sponsor.

How can Erdoğan introduce a different picture if he’s elected as the president on Aug. 10? The current picture of Erdoğan is, unfortunately, far from a leader who the region needs to reverse its ill fate.

Erdoğan’s regional role is very much dependent on the role he will play in Turkey as the President, if elected.