The Middle East region has had its lion’s share of leaders who eventually lose a lot of their mental capacities the longer they stay in power. Dictators like Saddam Hussein and Muammar Gaddafi have headlined the international press for their wacky, quirky and eccentric behaviour in public. That has never taken anything away from their crimes committed against their people, but news of these crimes was sometimes overshadowed by their complete lack of logical thinking patterns. Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan is the latest in a long line of megalomaniac and mad dictators who have plagued the Middle East region for decades. His rise to power in 2003 as prime minister marked a turning point in the history of Turkey and the Middle East in general.
After serving from 2003-2014 as premier, Erdogan’s desire for power grew even stronger and he nominated himself for president in 2014 and won the elections. Since Turkey’s older constitution limited the powers of the president in favour of the prime minister, Erdogan decided to change the constitution to expand his powers.
Aided by Erdogan’s ruling Islamist Justice and Development Party (APK), which dominates the Turkish parliament, the legislature approved Erdogan’s proposed reforms amid opposition anger. Should they be approved in the upcoming April 2017 referendum, Erdogan as president will have all the powers that were held by the prime minister and will even have the power to install and depose ministers of the cabinet. The new constitution will guarantee Erdogan’s power grab up till 2029 at least. It would also annul the position of prime minister, enabling Erdogan to be a complete dictator with unlimited powers.
RISING TERRORISM IN TURKEY: On the other hand, it was only a matter of time for Erdogan and his Islamist government to reap what they sowed in the Middle Eastern region for over a decade. By the region here one can specifically point to four countries that witnessed vicious Turkish infiltration in favour of terrorists and extremists: Egypt, Iraq, Syria and Libya. Turkey has been a point of safe passage for jihadist terrorists from across the world who cross Turkish borders to enter Syria and commit atrocities in the name of fighting for freedom. Similar scenarios occurred in Egypt, Iraq and Libya as a result of Turkish logistical, media and financial support to domestic and foreign jihadists. Consequently, Egypt recalled its ambassador from Ankara and also considered the Turkish ambassador in Cairo as persona non grata. Once flourishing Egyptian-Turkish relations came to a nosedive with the Turkish regime openly financing, aiding and abetting terrorist groups such as the Muslim Brotherhood and others operating from Turkey and planning attacks in Egypt.
Unfortunately for the Turkish nation, these terrorists found their way back inside Turkey’s borders after being defeated in most of the areas in which they attempted to operate, such as Syria, Iraq and Egypt. These terrorists affiliated with the Islamic State group and others have wreaked havoc on Turkish soil, creating one of the most devastating waves of terrorism the country has ever witnessed. Erdogan’s attempts to play with fire ended up burning Turkey from the inside.
The terrorist links of the Turkish president stem back to during his youth where Erdogan was photographed sitting at the feet of his mentor, the Afghani warlord Gulbuddin Hekmatyar. Nicknamed “The Butcher of Kabul”, Hekmatyar killed thousands of civilians in the Afghani capital and was the idol of Turkey’s “fearless” leader.
ERDOGAN AND MUSLIM BROTHERHOOD EXPANSION: Being a member of the Muslim Brotherhood, the global terrorist group seemed to be the right vessel through which Erdogan would inject his poisonous Islamist beliefs upon the subjects of these nations. Impressed by Turkey’s economic rise in the past decade, a lot of Middle Eastern nations believed that the Turkish model would offer salvation to their country and hence they temporarily believed the lie that the Muslim Brotherhood is a moderate group that can govern in peace. It took less than three years, following the Arab Spring, for the same people to realise how deceitful and murderous the Brotherhood and their allies are.
Furthermore, Erdogan visualised himself as the new Middle Eastern ruler, exploiting Turkey as the last Muslim Caliphate that witnessed its final days in 1920. Ever since that date all Islamists across the world, especially the Muslim Brotherhood, have dreamt of resurrecting the Caliphate on the same ground where it reached its height during the Umayyad period, from the borders of China all the way to Andalusia (Spain and Portugal). Erdogan’s dream to be caliph came even closer with the fall of several regimes, in Egypt, Libya, Yemen and Tunisia, and the possible fall of the Syrian regime.
In the eyes of Erdogan and his neo-Ottoman fascists, the Middle East is their playground and its citizens should only be pawns moved to the whims of the prospective caliph in Turkey. Their air of self-entitlement to the Middle East led the likes of Erdogan to lose more friends and allies than they gained. The medieval fantasies of Erdogan have eclipsed his own ability to rationalise his ambitions. He can no longer look at the world within the context of the 21st century but only through a 15th century eye. The rude awakening to Erdogan’s expansionist dreams came faster than he and his supporters imagined when his plans to topple regimes in Egypt, Syria and Libya faced enormous difficulties as a result of these nations’ awakening and the strength of their national armies. The Turkish army also suffered major losses in its fight with Kurdish separatists in Syria, which complicated an already tense situation in Turkey.
Erdogan’s miscalculations and political adventures did cost him and the Turkish state a hefty price. He once believed that he can expand his dominion in the Syrian lands by supporting the Islamic State group and crushing the Kurdish insurgency in the process. The result was an absolute failure that ended with having the Kurds unified to fight both the Islamic State group and the Turkish government.
DECIMATING THE TURKISH ARMY: In the aftermath of the failed coup d’etat that took place in July 2016, the once powerful and professional Turkish army has been systematically decimated by Erdogan’s purge to weed out any opposition forces within army ranks. In a manner similar to the Iranian Revolutionary Guard, the Turkish president intends to turn the professional Turkish army into his own personal guard. Before the revolution in Iran took place, the Iranian army used to be ranked among the top five armies in the world. Decades later, the Iranian Islamic Army has become reliant on smaller militias and suicide bomber squads with mostly obsolete weapons systems. That fate could be the fate of the Turkish army if Erdogan’s plans come to full effect in the near future.
Mass arrests on account of supporting the coup attempt in 2016 along with the replacements of experienced officers and generals with Erdogan loyalists is the first step towards the total demise of the Turkish army. The world still recalls the shocking and humiliating scenes of Turkish army personnel being dragged inhumanely, stripped of their military uniforms, and tortured in the aftermath of the attempted coup.
SOLO PLAYER IN TURKISH POLITICS: As of the January constitutional amendments, Erdogan becomes the main player in the Turkish political spectrum. The Turkish AKP is slowly becoming a Turkish replica of the Baath Party of Syria where a single party is dominating the scene. The AKP is Erdogan’s partner in crime in his ambitions to turn Turkey from a modern republic into a medieval caliphate.
Moreover, it takes a high degree of delusion to pretend that the failure of the coup will help democracy flourish in Turkey, especially after the reactions of the Turkish tyrant and his government towards the opposition in all sectors of Turkish society. Turkey became the biggest prison for journalists along with countless politicians, army officers, judges and teachers, being detained on flimsy charges such as being loyalists to Erdogan’s nemesis, preacher Fethullah Gülen. The latter is being accused by Erdogan and his supporters of orchestrating the July 2016 coup along with countless other crimes, such as downing the Russian fighter jet over Syria.
Erdogan systematically grabbing all powers and threatening the execution of all alleged coup perpetrators is a sign of the tyrannical state that has been simmering for years and is now prepared to be unleashed. Erdogan is becoming a lethal hybrid of Gaddafi’s eccentricity, Saddam Hussein’s tyranny and Ayatollah Khomeini’s radicalism. The farcical part is that he considers himself a democratic president despite changing the Turkish constitution repeatedly to tailor his ambition to stay in power forever. The Turkish mad sultan is increasingly becoming the biggest threat to stability in the Middle East region, similar to that of Islamic State and Al-Qaeda.
CONCLUSION: Erdogan’s irrational policies is rapidly turning Turkey into a pariah state in the Middle East, detested by its neighbours for its interference and military misadventures, as well as covert operations.
In 2017, the world is witnessing a rare political phenomenon, one that hardly occurred since the fall of the Soviet Union in 1991. This rare phenomenon is the descent of democratic Turkey towards full scale dictatorship. Unfortunately, the shattered Turkish opposition is helping Erdogan attain his goals even faster than he expected as he never seems to face a unified front to curb his seditious ambitions.
Edogan’s Turkey is a far cry from the modern and secular Turkey established by its founder, Mustafa Kemal Atatürk, in 1923. There has never been a time in modern history when Turkey is more divided or isolated from the world than today. The dreams of the mad sultan Erdogan are to be thanked for the dismal state of affairs he has led the great Turkish nation into.
The writer is a political analyst and author of Egypt’s Arab Spring and Winding Road for Democracy.