Thursday,20 September, 2018
Current issue | Issue 1296, (19 - 25 May 2016)
Thursday,20 September, 2018
Issue 1296, (19 - 25 May 2016)

Ahram Weekly

One marriage, one divorce

Turkey’s autocrat Erdogan continues his erratic drive towards assuming total power, disdaining and then courting Western powers almost in the same breath, writes Sayed Abdel-Meguid

Al-Ahram Weekly

In spite of the presumably private nature of the wedding of the Turkish president’s daughter, Sümeyye Erdogan, pomp and circumstance elevated it from a family occasion to a major political event.

This one was draped in the political/ideological creed of the proud father, who has meticulously tailored the news of his daughter’s marriage. In the wedding photograph, destined to be stamped “official”, the happy couple and their families are shown surrounded by current and former government officials.

With them are also “dear friends”, carefully selected for their conservative religious outlooks and their wifely accessories who refuse to run around unveiled like all those other Turkish girls these days. Still, the faces were all so familiar.

None of those Western foreigners were there to darken this photographic keepsake. This wedding pic is meant to symbolise the “new” Turkey that Erdogan (the father) dreams of and intends to inaugurate by the time the current republic celebrates its 100th anniversary seven years from now. There is no place for the West in that.

It is strange how Bilal Erdogan’s wedding comes to mind. That was over a decade ago. The star of that event was then Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi who caused a bit of a stir when he asked to kiss the hand of the bride. His courtly European mannerism was shyly rebuffed by the bride, who responded that as Berlusconi was the age of her grandfather, it would be more appropriate, in keeping with Turkey’s deeply entrenched paternalistic traditions, for her to kiss his hand.

But this is only one of the many startling images from backwards-looking Anatolia which, under its current leadership, is well on its way to reverting to its condition of over a century ago as the “sick man”, albeit not of Europe but of Asia. The leadership has, for all practical purposes, been reduced to one man, Erdogan, who has just removed Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu, tossing the millions of votes Davutoglu obtained in the 1 November elections into the rubbish bin.

Still, it is often difficult to fathom what is going on inside the head of the latter-day padishah as he roams the elegant corridors of his exorbitantly costly “White Palace”. The millions of Turkish lira from the public treasury that were poured into the construction of this lavish edifice, located in the heart of public park land, are only one of the reasons why it is so controversial.

The court had issued numerous injunctions ordering a halt to construction, but Erdogan refused to comply. How he growls at his critics from the lands of the Franks who stubbornly refuse to understand that Turkey is a country ruled by law. How deaf he is to the howls of laughter, or the muffled chuckles of the more sycophantic types, who know he is the first to trample on the law when it suits him.

On the whole, his relations with the West are confused and contradictory. He boldly lashes out against Western racism, hypocrisy and double standards, how Western capitals sit back and watch as Muslims are killed in Myanmar and, most recently, how they turned a blind eye to the execution in Bangladesh of the head of the Jamaat-e-Islami Party, Motiur Rahman Nizami.

“If something of that sort were to happen in a Western nation they would raise all hell. But because he’s a Muslim leader they do not say a word,” he proclaimed indignantly. They criticise Turkey day-in, day-out, for judicial rulings or security operations against terrorism. Yet they close their eyes and ears to the implementation of the latest death sentence in Dhaka, he railed.

Yet he sends his own children off to be educated in the most elite schools and colleges of the West and invests millions there. Specifically in “unfair” America, without which Turkey would never have crossed the threshold into NATO 46 years ago. He is perfectly aware of this and the perks of being in the NATO club. He would never have bared his teeth at Moscow after downing the Russian Sukhoi fighter over Syria had he not been assured that NATO would be behind him.

For this and other purposes, he is ready to ingratiate himself to Washington and fawn, if need be (without the cameras looking, of course). His aides worked around the clock to arrange a private visit for him with President Barack Obama on the sidelines of the recent nuclear summit in Washington this spring. Finally, at the last moment, his loyal foreign minister, Mevlut Cavusoglu, succeeded in securing some precious minutes.

Back on camera, he resumed his tirades, against the UN, against the Security Council, against all five of its “Christian” members (a remark made possible thanks to a convenient memory lapse regarding the religious affiliation, or lack thereof, of China).

Ankara, since the founding of the Turkish Republic in 1923, had turned its sights towards the US and Europe. Its aspirations and discourse were informed by the values of Western civilisation. Not anymore. Under its current leader, its discourse has become not religious but sectarian, in the fullest sense of the word.

Clear evidence of this can be seen in its policies and attitudes toward Europe over the past year, against the backdrop of the Syrian refugee crisis. What epithets he heaped on Europe for its “shameful” behaviour on that issue. Meanwhile, son Bilal has been packed off to Italy to “study for his doctorate” and/or to keep him at a safe distance from the corruption scandal that has haunted him since December 2013.

Yet Erdogan is capable of the most incredible mood swings. It is amazing how rapidly an intense loathing can turn into fervent love. Suddenly, he exhorts hundreds of thousands of his supporters to cling to the cherished goal of EU membership as a “strategic option” where only the previous day he ranted against the Europeans, “You go your way and we’ll go ours!” This was his way of refusing to amend Turkey’s antiterrorist laws, which he is finding very useful just as they are.

The Europeans have argued that the laws are too loose and open to interpretation. They would like to see better safeguards for freedom of expression and freedom of the press, and they are alarmed by what they see as a ruthless crackdown on opposition media and journalists, among the most recent victims of whom are Can Dündar and Erdem Gül of Cumhuriyet newspaper.

The Europeans responded with anger to this. Their basic message was, “We will not be blackmailed over the refugee crisis. There can be no visa-free entry into Schengen if Ankara persists in its intransigence concerning respect for freedoms of opinion and expression.”

What is Erdogan to do? He is determined to have his autocratic way and this entails stifling all opposition. So, to put an end to all discussion, the spokesman for the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) declared that it was impossible to meet the demands of the EU Commission. This can only mean divorce.

But what of the poor Turkish citizens who were only recently told the good news that they will soon be granted relatively hassle-free access to the Schengen community? Naturally, Erdogan, his media pool and aides dug into their bag of demagogic tricks. Those “immoral” Europeans were to blame and, knowing exactly what chords to strike in a conservative Muslim society, he added that they care more about homosexuals and animals than about human beings.

Will the Turks swallow this? Will they chime in with the chorus master’s curses against the West and the EU?

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