Saturday,21 October, 2017
Current issue | Issue 1262, (10 - 16 September 2015)
Saturday,21 October, 2017
Issue 1262, (10 - 16 September 2015)

Ahram Weekly

The unlucky 13th month

Turkish autocrat Erdogan enters his 13th month as president as signs continue of the general deterioration of Turkey’s standing, both politically and economically, under his rule, writes Sayed Abdel-Meguid in Ankara

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Al-Ahram Weekly

Recep Tayyip Erdogan has just entered his thirteenth month in power as president. After the brief glimmer of light brought by the general elections in June, the skies are clouding over again and looking very dark and gloomy.

There was a thrill of joy when the election results shook the edifice of a despot’s dreams and promised gradual relief after witnessing the results of his monumental arrogance and extravagance as he mouthed religious pieties and did all in his power to sweep major corruption probes under a heavy, oppressive rug.

Sadly, that joy was short-lived. Today, it seems the Turks are now fated to wake up every day with another piece of painful news, especially from southeast Anatolia, which is once again gripped by confrontations between the army and Kurdish separatists who have reverted to militant tactics after an extended period of calm.

Politically, Turkey had emerged from the frying pan of military mandate only to land in the more dangerous Erdogan fire, especially now that he is updating and revamping the notorious “Red Book”.

Often described as the “secret constitution” of the country, the “Red Book” was introduced by the National Security Council when it was at the height of its powers in the 1980s and 1990s. In it are inscribed individuals, groups or organisations deemed to constitute a threat to the state and that, once inscribed, would be marked for perpetual surveillance and police clampdowns.

During his meteoric rise to power, he pledged never to let that “accursed” book run the country again. He has now found it convenient to revise and expand it in order to target his adversaries.

As the eminent journalist Mehmet Kamis observed, there is a group that is exploiting the powers of the state in order to conduct witch hunts, raiding student dormitories, private academies and the homes of businessmen who seek to help poor and needy children.

Anyone who has anything critical to say about the government or the president (it amounts to the same thing from the perspective of Turkey’s autocrat) has to either remain silent or be very careful about the words he chooses.

Every day brings another report of a critic facing some charge or other and the prospect of being added to Turkey’s already burgeoning prison population, which has tripled since Erdogan’s Justice and Development Party (JDP) came to power in November 2002.

The criticism may be trivial and not worth mentioning. But to the occupant of the sumptuous “White Palace” any hint of criticism is unforgivable. A woman was tossed into jail simply for having flashed the “Grey Wolf” emblem of the opposition National Movement Party (NMP) at the president’s motorcade in late May. The president was passing through the city of Usak in the Aegean region, on his way to launch some project as part of his campaign efforts on behalf of the JDP.

Just last week, Turkish news headlines were dominated by police raids against the various concerns of Koza Ipek Holding, which is based in Ankara and alleged to be linked to Erdogan’s erstwhile mentor and political ally turned arch enemy, the US-based cleric Fathullah Gülen.

Ipek Holding controls dozens of businesses, including several newspapers and satellite television stations. The raids triggered a widespread outcry from across the political spectrum (apart from the ruling JDP, of course) on yet another attack against freedom of the press in a bid to silence all opposition ahead of the November polls.

Indeed, indicative of the lengths to which this campaign is willing to go, Deniz Ülke Arıboğan was fired from her job as host of the programme “Angle”, broadcast on the state-run TRT station, within three hours of her having dashed off a single tweet that the upper echelons construed as critical of the government operation targeting media outlets.

EU officials expressed their grave concern over the police raids. Mogens  Bjerregård, president of the European Federation of Journalists, harshly condemned the raids that were carried out on the direct orders of Erdogan, who is determined to enter the forthcoming elections with a media that was totally submissive to him, making not so much as a whisper of criticism.

Bjerregård was quoted by Zaman newspaper as saying that a country that does not have a free press is a dictatorship. He stressed that the JDP government has been violating freedoms of the press and opinion systematically, and for a long time.

Echoing this view, the  director of the Eastern Europe and Central Asia Department at Reporters Without Borders observed the mounting repression against the opposition and the opposition press in recent years, and how it has escalated since the ruling power failed to secure a controlling majority in parliament in the last general elections.

The reactions from international bodies and rights organisations compounded the anger and frustration of large segments of Turkish public opinion. Kemal Kilicdaroglu, leader of the Republican People’s Party (RPP), the largest opposition party in Turkey, appealed to the government not to disgrace Turkey further in the eyes of the world. “It is impossible to speak of democracy in a country with a muzzled media,” he said.

A clampdown against a major business conglomerate and its media holdings was hardly guaranteed to boost a flagging economy. And the economy is flagging. After years of the JDP boasting that it would bring Turkey into the club of the top-ten largest economies in the world, that dream is moving more out of reach than ever: its ranking has fallen from 17th place to 18th, and is heading toward 19th and may eventually leave the G20.

Davit Çetin, chairman of the board of the Antalya Chamber of Commerce and Industry, offered a grim prognosis. The economy is suffering due to the climate of political uncertainty, which has grown in light of rumours that the snap elections set for 1 November might be postponed, and due to the increasing terrorist attacks, he said.

Nor were there any encouraging signs on the horizon that the situation will improve. In fact, Morgan Stanley Investment Bank has recently predicted that the dollar to Turkish lira (YTL) exchange rate will climb to YTL 3.63 by the beginning of 2016 and perhaps to YTL 3.85.

Political uncertainty and the flagging lira have led economic expert Mehmet Altan to herald the “collapse of the JDP growth model.” He explained that since 2011, government violations of the law have become the rule, not the exception.

This has ultimately caused foreign investors to flee, and especially those operating in the banking sector. Also, a broad segment of the public is no longer certain that they can obtain justice through the courts.

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