Tuesday,21 May, 2019
Current issue | Issue 1440, (25 April - 1 May 2019)
Tuesday,21 May, 2019
Issue 1440, (25 April - 1 May 2019)

Ahram Weekly

Shifting tides for Erdogan

The political tides in the region and internationally are flowing against Turkish President Recep Tayyib Erdogan, writes Hany Ghoraba

Political paranoia has long characterised Turkish President Recep Tayyib Erdogan in all his years in office even when he was prime minister. Erdogan, the conspirator and instigator behind a lot of the upheaval and turmoil in the region, has ironically viewed many political events as plots against Turkey. This can be seen in his comments on the 30 June Revolution in Egypt against ousted former Muslim Brotherhood president Mohamed Morsi, a staunch ally of the Turkish tyrant. 

Erdogan felt that the revolution was a personal slap in the face, and accordingly he has displayed huge animosity towards Egypt and the Egyptian state. That animosity has seen him launching a propaganda campaign against Egypt, financing terrorist activities particularly in Sinai, and harbouring a number of Islamist and jihadist fugitives. Turkey became a launching pad for jihadist propaganda against Egypt when it harboured several TV networks administered by the Muslim Brotherhood on its soil. 

The provocative statements made by Erdogan against Egypt following the 30 June Revolution, approved by the Islamists and Brotherhood members, led him to delude himself into thinking that his approval of the political situation in Egypt and the region actually mattered – which is nothing but a fallacy that he has chosen to believe. That fallacy led him to engage his country’s resources in financing terrorism in Egypt, Libya and Syria, while also militarily interfering in the Syrian conflict. The end result was huge financial losses for the Turkish state that have had ripple effects on its economic and political status in the region.

These were exacerbated by the dire human rights conditions in Turkey during the “purge” that followed the 2016 failed coup against the Erdogan regime. This purge saw the use of draconian measures of imprisoning tens of thousands of dissidents, shutting down hundreds of media outlets, and silencing all opposition to the regime in a manner not witnessed since the establishment of the Turkish Republic in 1923. 

April 2019 has been a dark month for Erdogan following the multiple defeats for his Islamist AKP Party in the country’s local elections, including the iconic mayoral elections in Istanbul which his party fought tooth and nail to overturn. The Republican’s People Party the CHP won the mayoral seat in Istanbul, a loss that left the AKP distraught. The winner, Istanbul new mayor Ekrem Imamoglu, has now taken his seat despite continued pledges by the AKP to challenge the result. Three weeks after the elections and after an official recount, the AKP is still claiming fraud. The AKP has dominated the city since Erdogan was Istanbul’s mayor in the 1990s. 

The party’s political machinery is still scrambling to find the reason for the loss of its powerhouse, not realising that there have been shifts in the tides for even Islamist sympathisers in the city after a series of economic, social and political setbacks over the past decade. The AKP Party has lodged a new complaint against the election results in Istanbul, claiming that 14,000 “ineligible” voters cast their votes, but the longer the party and Erdogan keep dragging this claim into the courts, the more they will appear to be sore losers in the eyes of the Turks. 

This image would be quite contrary to the over-confident and popular one that they have tried to present inside and outside of Turkey. To make matters worse, evidence of corruption and bribes received by the AKP have been surfacing, making the loss of Istanbul even more costly.

In the same month, Erdogan received two other setbacks, with the Libyan military led by field-marshal Khalifa Haftar marching to liberate the Libyan capital Tripoli in Operation “Toofan Al-Karama” or “Deluge of Pride.” The ousting and imprisonment of former Sudanese dictator and Erdogan ally Omar Al-Bashir by the Sudanese army following months of popular uprisings also left the Turkish tyrant out of balance. 

Libya and Sudan had two of the last Islamist-dominated regimes that had ties to the Erdogan regime. With the Libyan pro-Muslim Brotherhood government under siege and bound to fall as part of the reunification campaign led by the Libyan army, the fall of the Al-Bashir regime in Sudan may be the last nail in the coffin of Erdogan’s imperial Ottoman dream. The pro-government media in Turkey has called the ousting of Al-Bashir a coup directed at Turkey’s interests in the region. 

Erdogan has attempted for years to find a foothold on the Red Sea through a deal establishing a military base on the Sudanese island of Suakin, but the new regime in Sudan may now have different plans. The Suakin base from which Erdogan would have pursued his Ottoman dream of ruling the Red Sea would not have been large enough in any case to have any tangible effect given the presence of the Egyptian and Saudi navies in the region.  However, it would have satisfied Turkish neo-Ottoman ambitions of reviving the Turkish presence in the Red Sea. 

Lastly, Erdogan has been hit by a US department of defence decision to halt deliveries of equipment related to the latest US stealth fighter, the F-35, as Turkey pursues its contract to buy Russian S-400 anti-air missiles. Erdogan, who attempted to extend ties with Russian President Vladimir Putin with the purchase, now faces the harsh choice of calling off the deal with Russia or facing a ban on receiving the F-35s from the US along with an assortment of other sanctions that may follow from fellow NATO members. 

Undoubtedly, Erdogan has seen better days, but the political tides in the region and globally are shifting beyond his comprehension. The fall of the Muslim Brotherhood regimes and the defeat of their militants and terrorists in Egypt, Syria and Libya have been a nightmare for Erdogan. It also appears that his iron-fisted rule in Turkey itself is next in line for defeat. The loss of the local elections, especially in Istanbul, is a sign of things to come.

However, a wounded beast is dangerous when cornered, and Erdogan and his regime will attempt everything they can to stay in power before accepting defeat. 

The writer is a political analyst and author of Egypt’s Arab Spring and the Winding Road to Democracy.

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