Tuesday,24 October, 2017
Current issue | Issue 1283, (18 - 24 February 2016)
Tuesday,24 October, 2017
Issue 1283, (18 - 24 February 2016)

Ahram Weekly

Erdogan eyes Syria

Continued domestic turbulence, including a near schism in the ruling party, appear behind Erdogan’s increasing intervention in Syria, writes Sayed Abdel-Meguid

Al-Ahram Weekly

When they switched on the symbol of the light bulb, their ambition was not so much to free themselves from the grip of the great master and founder of the Turkish Islamist movement, Necmettin Erbakan, as it was to revive respect for a large portion of their fellow citizens who had been wronged and excluded for reasons that should not stand in their way of public life and political office.

Those reasons had to do with the longstanding traditions and beliefs of the large swaths of conservative-minded ordinary folk in the Anatolian heartland. So 10 men decided to act to enable those people’s voice to be heard within a democratic framework that embraces all and shuns no one. They split off and were joined by others in the creation of a new political entity that proved very successful.

They chose as their lead torchbearer Recep Tayyip Erdogan, who had previously been elected mayor of Istanbul and from which position he had been removed when he served jail time for no other reason than he publicly recited some lines of poetry that were seen as opposed to the established principles of Turkey’s secular system.

Before long their dreams and actions inspired as much if not more admiration abroad than they did at home. Without violence, a new era was ushered in beneath the banner of the Justice and Development Party (AKP). With each successive year, Turkey moved further and further up the rungs of progress.

The country’s economy began to burgeon, developing from the fledgling shoots that had been planted by the previous government of Bülent Ecevit and his brilliant minister of economy, Kemal Derviş, the architect of Turkey’s economic recovery programme. At the same time, the AKP base continued to expand, bringing on board secularists, including writers and intellectuals who had no problem working with a religiously minded group as long as they too sought to serve the cause of freedom.

Then came 2007. That was when Erdogan began to show his authoritarian ambitions, which first set their crosshairs on his long-time companion on the road, the number-two man in the AKP journey, Abdullah Gül, whom he tried to keep from becoming president. That bid failed, as we know. This did not keep Erdogan from having another go, five years later, to curtail Gül’s tenure because he, himself, had his sights set on that office.

Yet his various arguments and devices ran up against the wall of the Supreme Constitutional Court. But even though Gül could have run for a second term as president, he chose instead to step aside, clearing the way for his friend while helping to maintain the cohesion of the party whose fraying seams had begun to gape. The gapes have since broadened so rapidly and dramatically that, now, desperate efforts are needed to avert a major schism.

Gül, a modest and unassuming man, spent three hours with his fiery and impetuous friend and presidential successor in the hope of repairing the party they had launched together 15 years ago. They met in the controversial presidential palace — the Ak Saray — that Edogan had built for himself to the tune of millions of Turkish lira at the cost of the Turkish taxpayer. During the meeting, the 11th Turkish president expressed to the 12th his concerns regarding the current state of affairs in the country and the ruling party, which has been in power for 14 years now.

Naturally, it is impossible for us to know the substance of that confidential conversation in the Ak Saray, but it requires no great effort to know what prompted it. Internal AKP squabbling has reached seismic proportions, as was revealed by one of its key leaders, Bülent Arınç, former deputy prime minister and former government spokesman who has since been replaced by Numan Kurtulmus.

The following day, Gül called on Arınç in his home in Ankara to calm Arınç and another friend down and to search for a solution to the crisis, which he hoped would pass. Did Gül’s peace-making efforts succeed?

So far it appears they did not. Or, perhaps more optimistically put, it looks like there is a long way to go to reconciliation. The wounds are deep and will take time to heal. Evidence of this is to be found in the fact that Arınç and other AKP moderates who have fallen afoul of Erdogan and his media pool were not present at the funeral of former president Gül’s father-in-law last Friday.

Erdogan and his clique were there, front and centre, of course, so someone must have whispered to Arınç to stay away so as to avert an unfortunate and perhaps unseemly encounter.

Meanwhile, the voice of the pro-Erdogan propaganda machine rose to a strident pitch. Pro-government dailies declared that the “progress of the Great Leader” — that would be Erdogan — “will not be halted by little men here and there” — meaning Arinc and others whose names Erdogan refuses to say anymore.

“Let it be known to all near and far that the party stands as tall and proud as the New Turkey,” they proclaim. “Its edifice is solid and eternal and capable of squash those who conspire against it ... Look what happened to Abdüllatif Şener, who had helped build the AKP. He rebelled against the leader of the party, was dismissed and founded a party of his own. Where is he now? He is long forgotten and many others met the same fate,” they say.

Pro-AKP and pro-Erdogan pollsters have also been busy, which is why it was not surprising to find the results of a recent poll broadcast immediately after the meeting between Gül and Erdogan. According to the survey, if another round of parliamentary elections were held now, the AKP would win 52 per cent of the vote while the pro-Kurdish People’s Democratic Party (HDP) would come away with only 4.5 per cent.

The HDP had surpassed the parliamentary threshold of 10 per cent in the two previous rounds, winning over 13 per cent in the 7 June elections and 11 per cent in the 1 November elections.

The right-wing National Movement Party (MHP) would win about 11 per cent of the vote while the Republican Peoples Party (CHP) would remain as it is with about 25 per cent of the parliamentary seats. In other words, according to this poll, far from being riddled with rifts, the ruling party is as solid as ever under Erdogan’s wise leadership. Moreover, it was even 2.5 points more popular than it was on 1 November.

So why does Erdogan not appear chuffed by all these facts and figures and the overwhelming support he hears from so many quarters of the media? Perhaps it is because he is only too well aware of how the poll results are cooked and why the many quarters of the media echo exactly what he wants to hear.

On the other hand, he also knows that Arınç and his colleagues are not the type of adversaries who can be forced or bought into silence. They actually have principles and their personal and professional records bear this out. So in order to salvage his party there is little leeway there.

On top of the problems within his party, there are the alarming developments across the border in Syria. But instead of fearing the dangers of the Syrian quagmire, he appears to be bracing for the plunge.

Maybe he is bargaining on the diversion this will offer from the disturbing developments the home front, and on the patriotic ardour it will stir. However, by all indications, Turks are opposed to a ground offensive into Syria that Turkish opposition forces caution will reap nothing but disaster for Turkey and its people.

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