Saturday,18 August, 2018
Current issue | Issue 1272, (26 November - 2 December 2015)
Saturday,18 August, 2018
Issue 1272, (26 November - 2 December 2015)

Ahram Weekly

Erdogan puts Davutoglu in the shadows

Erdogan continues to press ahead with his cult of personality, despite the Turkish constitution that remains in force, writes Sayed Abdel-Meguid

Al-Ahram Weekly

Bir varmish, bir yokmush (as the “Once upon a time” of Turkish fairy tales goes) the deification of the “leader” (that familiar trademark of totalitarian regimes) was a distant memory.

For decades, after shaking off the dust of a decrepit caliphate, Turkey stood tall and proud as a pioneering democracy in a region filled with theocracies and dictatorships. True, its democracy was not without structural flaws.

But there was rotation of authority, fair competition between political parties, and parliamentary elections without intimidation at the polls, substituted ballot boxes, or electricity blackouts on polling day.

But then the three-party coalition government of Bülent Ecevit (consisting of the Democratic Left Party, Motherland Party and Nationalist Movement Party) fell following the early general elections that were held in November 2002. The winner was the Justice and Development Party (JDP) and the handover was done in a civilised manner.

Sadly, much has changed since then. Nowadays, when your average observer hears someone say that Turkey is a byword for freedom and democracy, his/her eyebrows shoot up because stark realities tell otherwise.

Not a day goes by without several appearances of the leader in newspaper headlines and on state-run television stations. Any stray media outlets that fail to follow suit or, worse, which voice criticism are booted off satellites, confiscated or shut down, and their owners, managers and journalists are rounded up, dragged before the courts and tossed into jail.

It’s not for nothing that Turkey plummeted from 99th in 2002 to 154th in 2014 in the World Press Freedom Index.

As though a piece were missing in the portrait of the glorious leader and sole bulwark against the deluge of anarchy and instability, Turkish media this autumn trumpeted the joyful tidings of the forthcoming film, Reis. “Reis” in Turkish means “chief” or “leader” and, yes, the film is a biographical narrative of Recep Tayyip Erdogan. Coming soon to a theatre near you.

But try to be patient. Filming is to begin in December on this project that follows the life of Erdogan from the time he was a six-year-old boy until he became mayor of Istanbul in the 1990s, before being prosecuted and sentenced to a brief prison term on the grounds of publicly reciting a poem that was held to incite hatred, strife and national disunity.

The film’s director is Ali Avci, who said, “Like it or not, the reality is that Erdogan is the leader of the last quarter of a century. With these films, we will see the spirit of the reis; we will get to know the reis.”

Not that Erdogan, himself, needs reminding of his heroic greatness, and he hardly needs certificates of excellence in the arts of leadership, as he defines them. With his every action he embodies the very concept of leadership to which testify his magnificent achievements.

There he is at the very centre, benevolently tending to every detail, the whole of Anatolia dependent on his nod or nay. He would have it no other way, in spite of the constitutional provisions limiting the authorities of the president to a chiefly ceremonial role.

But was he not elected to this post in the country’s first direct presidential elections, which gave him 52 per cent of the vote (51.7 per cent actually, but let’s not quibble over such a detail)? Surely this is the expression of the popular will demanding that he shoulder more executive powers, regardless of what the constitution says. Clearly, he thinks so.

On Wednesday, two weeks ago, Erdogan proclaimed that the forthcoming phase will be characterised by a partnership between himself and his prime minister. It required little analytical effort to understand that the occupant of Çankaya Palace, now the seat of the prime minister, will not have a free hand in the design of policy, even if the Turkish system of government is still a parliamentary one.

A sign of this is that the Davutoglu’s new cabinet was not unveiled last Friday as scheduled. The announcement was postponed to Tuesday this past week, which strongly indicates some divergent views between the president and his prime minister.

One source of disagreement, according to Cumhuriyet newspaper, is that Erdogan is set on having his son-in-law, Berat Albayrak, appointed minister of economy. Naturally, he also insists on having an ultimate say on all the other portfolios as well, and the PM will simply have to make the required changes.

As for Davutoglu, still fresh in his memory is that time when he accepted the resignation of Hakan Fidan as head of Turkish intelligence, but then had to retract that approval when Erdogan objected that he could not dispense with his chief spy and guardian of many secrets.

The president has no authority (under the constitution) to intervene in such matters, but Davutoglu had little choice but to bow to the leader who had condescended to choose him to be his successor as head of the ruling party and the cabinet.

The occupant of Ak Saray, the sumptuous presidential palace that Erdogan had built for himself, has left little doubt regarding the status he envisions for himself and his prime minister. During the G20 summit that was just held in Antalya on 15 and 16 November, Davutoglu was consigned to the shadowy wings while he, Erdogan, basked in centre stage.

In the past, when he was premier, Erdogan represented Turkey in every G20 summit held, because that was what he was constitutionally empowered to do. His predecessor as president, Abdullah Gül, did not attend a single summit. But now that Erdogan is president, a role reversal was in order.

Davutoglu was conspicuous for his absence in every group photo of world leaders at the Antalya summit. The media picked up on this curiosity, which was also the subject of much discussion on social networking websites and in various political circles. Some even began to wonder whether there was a power struggle afoot in the executive authority.

“Is not Davutoglu the prime minister of this country elected by 49 per cent of the vote? Why didn’t he appear anywhere in the G20 summit?” asked deputy leader of the Republican People’s Party (RPP), Mehmet Bekaroglu, via his Twitter account.

Evidently, Davutoglu, sensitive to Erdogan’s needs and temperament, opted to let the reis garner all the limelight and confine himself to a meeting with German Chancellor Angela Merkel, a cocktail party for participant heads of state, and a formal banquet hosted by Erdogan.

Meanwhile, the climate in Anatolia is as tense and precarious as ever. In addition to the sharp polarisation that shows no sign of abating, it appears that fundamentalist trends are receiving encouragement and support.

Before a “friendly” match between Turkey and Greece was due to start Wednesday last week (on 18 November), Turkish soccer fans refused to respect the moment of silence to honour the victims of the Paris terrorist attack. In a scene described by some observers as scandalous, soccer fans whistled, chanted religious slogans and proclaimed their allegiance to President Erdogan. They then proceeded to drown out the Greek national anthem.

It subsequently came to light that the Istanbul branch of the JDP youth organisation had launched a campaign via social networking sites to drum up sympathetic spectators for whom the Istanbul municipality reserved blocks of free seats in the stadium.

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