Thursday,19 July, 2018
Current issue | Issue 1181, (23 - 29 January 2014)
Thursday,19 July, 2018
Issue 1181, (23 - 29 January 2014)

Ahram Weekly

Erdogan’s time is running out

Beset by corruption scandals and seemingly on a path to alienate even close allies, Turkey’s prime minister and his ruling party are ripe to fall, writes Sayed Abdel-Maguid

Al-Ahram Weekly

The wheels of the prime minister’s office must keep turning. There can be no putting off meetings, speeches and tours abroad. So, naturally, Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan — now familiarly abbreviated to RTE — set off on a scheduled tour of Southeast Asia two weeks ago to drum up investment from the Asian tigers. This was a perfect opportunity to demonstrate his government’s resolve to confront the conspiracy against it that had been masterminded — allegedly — by enemies overseas and is being carried out by “paid agents” at home, which is why he brought with him a delegation consisting of about a third of his ministers followed by a retinue of businessmen, financial experts and a select group of reporters and journalists, thereby informing the media in those distant lands that all was well in Anatolia and that there was no truth whatsoever to those spurious rumours about troubles and confusion in Ankara. To confirm this, the Turkish stock exchange inched up a few hundred points at that time, while the green giant, the US dollar, inched down a bit against the Turkish lira that had taken a plunge during the previous three weeks.
But at home, the clouds looming over Turkey’s ruling Justice and Development Party (JDP) had not dispelled. On Saturday, 11 January, thousands of people resumed their weekend protests against the government. In Ankara alone, at least 20,000 gathered in response to a call by labour syndicates and NGOs and chanted such slogans as, “It will take a revolution to clean that filth,” “Take your hands off us,” “Goodbye Tayyip,” and in reference to RTE’s clique of JDP luminaries, “They’re all thieves!” Also, like the cigarette packages featuring a photo of Erdogan along with the “Dangerous to your health” warning that circulated during the Gezi Park protests last summer, the anti-government protests that kicked off 2014 featured large posters of the US dollar with Washington’s face replaced by that of RTE.
That was in the morning. That evening, in the parliament building, MPs were set to discuss a bill designed to undermine the autonomy of the judiciary preparatory to turning it into a branch of the executive. The session quickly descended to a brawl, merely because Ömer Faruk Eminagaoglu, president of the Association of Judges and Prosecutors, had the audacity to describe the proposed law as unconstitutional. He was not allowed to speak further. Afterwards, he stated: “If I, as a representative of the judiciary, can be kicked and punched here (in parliament) in order to keep me from arguing against the law before it passes, then all judges and prosecutors will be beaten to a pulp when this law does pass.”
There were quite a few shoes waving in the air during that stormy session. This time, the shoes took on an extra significance that might have escaped the average observer. When news of the corruption scandal that would implicate JDP members close to RTE broke on 17 December, Turkish media reported that, during a raid on the home of a certain bank director, police discovered a cache of $4.5 million. Large wads of bills had been stuffed into dozens of pairs of shoes.
Whatever the impression RTE was trying to create abroad, the echoes of bribery, embezzlement and blackmail continue to haunt the corridors of power. In the street, people talk of little else than the corruption scandal that is shattering the humble JDP home. They had believed this home was inhabited exclusively by virtuous God-fearing men of faith. Yet, suddenly, carton loads of cash were unearthed in the home of the son of the (now former) minister of interior. A number of money-counting machines had to be brought in to calculate the sums of hidden cash, hoarded by the attentive director of the Halk Bank. “Halk Bank” translates as “The People’s Bank” and it was no time before the wise-crackers on some social networking sites were speaking of the “Rip off the people bank.”
Then came another revelation that riveted closer scrutiny on this bank in connection with some shady dealings with that hateful Persian neighbour. Turkey and Iran glare at one another with daggers in their eyes over such issues as the Syrian question, into which quagmire the JDP government has dragged Turkey. But there is no reason why such “ideological” differences should prevent a bit of money laundering to facilitate some commerce in gold, to give Tehran a little breather from Western sanctions. It was that venerable banking establishment, whose imposing headquarters are situated in front of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in Ankara’s upscale Balgat neighbourhood, which was used for the laundering.
In another episode in this season of scandal that has moved closer and closer to Erdogan’s inner circles, a public prosecutor issued a warrant summoning the JDP party chief’s son, Necmettin Bilal Erdogan, for questioning in connection with a corruption probe. That warrant, issued on 25 December, advised Necmettin to report voluntarily to the investigating judge’s offices on Thursday, 2 January, or else he would be brought in non-voluntarily. The prosecutor was immediately taken off the case and Necmettin, himself, appears to have gone into hiding. Thanks to the heavy muffle with which the JDP has gagged the press, there is no news of his whereabouts and Thursday, 2 January, came and went without a word of his failure to comply with the summons. Perhaps this is because national radio and television are now dedicated, full time, to reporting RTE’s every word and deed, having long since learned the consequences of the failure to transmit his speeches and statements live and to reiterate the official line.
Even Fethulla Gülen, the aesthetic sheikh who has adopted Pennsylvania as his optional asylum and whose revelations triggered the wave corruption probes that have sent tremors through the JDP rank and file, has come in for his share of public criticism. “Why now?” people are asking. Why had he remained silent for so long, if he knew precisely the nature of the persons with whom he had allied in his campaign to champion the faith? Even his erstwhile allies used this argument in the course of their attacks against him and his followers — accused of “conspiracy” — of course.
Someone had to step forward to defend the sheikh. Cemal Ocak, vice president of the Journalists and Writers Organisation and a prominent spokesman for the Gülen Foundation, volunteered. The accusations that the Turkish government levelled against Gülen and the society of his followers in Turkey were “lies and fabrications”. He predicted that the conflict between Erdogan and his former friend and mentor would be “reflected” in the results of the municipal polls, scheduled for the end of March, and/or the presidential polls, set for August.
In so saying, Ocak underscored a crucial development in the Turkish political arena. The battle lines have shifted. No longer is it just between the JDP Islamist citadel and secularists. The Islamists themselves are now at each other’s throats, with the Erdogan government coming under attack from the religious right.
The Saadet (Felicity) Party, founded by the late Necmettin Erbakan in 2001 on the ruins of his officially banned Fazilet (Virtue) Party, from which emerged the Erdogan and Abdullah Gül duo, has become one of the JDP’s fiercest foes. Barely a day goes by without a headline blazoned in the Saadet Party mouthpieces about the “mafia” that has taken control of the country thanks to the JDP and its leader, Erdogan. As for RTE, himself, according to these newspapers, his reformist Islamist façade has shattered now that he has revealed that he is only interested in economic growth, as opposed to economic justice, and in entering the European “paradise”. Moreover, the newspapers continue, Erdogan is once again cuddling up with Israel, which has not budged an inch on the Palestinian question while the issue of the nine Turkish citizens who were killed during the Israeli assault against the Mavi Marmara off the coast of Gaza on 31 May 2010 has been reduced to “compensations” as the cause for which these citizens died still persists.
 Only half a year ago, this might not have been conceivable, but now it looks as though Erdogan and his party are doomed to fall. This is no longer just the wishful thinking on the part of secularist Kemalists (in reference to the republic’s founder, Kemal Atatürk). It is also the prediction of members of a camp within the Islamist camp.
Aye Nazli Ilicak, a leading member of the Refah Party (banned in 1998) and then the Fazilet Party (banned in 2001), does not have a shadow of a doubt that the ruling party committed a fatal error when it wounded an important religious segment of society, namely the philanthropic movement led by Fethulla Gülen whose members had marched door to door through the streets and alleys of Anatolian villages to muster votes in favour of Erdogan and the JDP. Those people would not be voting for Erdogan and the JDP the next time around, she warned. Ilicak, who herself had once been slapped with a five-year ban from practicing politics, added that the prime minister has built a thick and terrible wall around himself, closed doors to all criticism, and proceeded to cast all who voiced opinions different to his own as enemies.
The question remains as to whether her prediction will come true. Is Erdogan and his party headed towards electoral demise?

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