Wednesday,19 September, 2018
Current issue | Issue 1183, (6 - 12 February 2014)
Wednesday,19 September, 2018
Issue 1183, (6 - 12 February 2014)

Ahram Weekly

Turkey on the road to change

With internal crises mounting, Turkey’s ruling party appears to have no choice but to negotiate with its opponents or risk eventual defeat, writes Ahmed Magdy Al-Soukkary

Al-Ahram Weekly

Since its establishment in 1923, Turkey, the successor state of the Ottoman Empire, faced accumulated drastic changes, internally and externally. However, the recent investigation into public sector corruption involving the construction industry has represented a significant escalation. Dozens of Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s allies have been targeted. From the political standpoint, the crisis in Turkey encompasses many interrelated factors as follows:
Internal divisions on more than one level, as a sit-in against plans to demolish Gezi Park in Istanbul and replace it by a replica of the historical barracks that existed there until the 1940s sparked the fiercest anti-government protests in recent years, 1-2 June 2013. The protesters, generally middle class but ranging politically from leftists to nationalists, initially began as a peaceful occupy-style movement, but evolved into a general expression of discontent with the government. They demand that Erdogan resign because of the corruption investigation in Ankara.
This division extends to the vision across the country’s urban centres on the future of Turkey’s democracy, especially with the arrests of the sons of three government ministers amid a widening graft probe while the Federal Reserve’s decision to cut its $85 billion-a-month bond-buying programme is threatening growth and political stability in an economy that has grown five per cent annually under Erdogan’s decade-long premiership.
Another division exists inside the ruling elite itself, between Erdogan and President Adbullah Gul, ahead of 2014 presidential elections, especially with Gul’s statement about his desire to be leader of the Justice and Development Party (JDP), and hence become the next prime minister if the JDP wins the next elections. Erdogan, on the other hand, would prefer to have someone in the prime minister’s office that he would be able to give directions to on how the country should be run. Erdogan has strong ambitions to shift to a presidential system of government in order to lead the country as the future president of Turkey.
There is a third division between Erdogan and Islamic preacher Fethullah Gulen. Though the ruling JDP enjoyed benefits from the support of the Hizmet Movement since assuming power in 2002, with which it shares a moderate, liberal Islamic ideology, their natural alliance was based on their common opposition to the Kemalist establishment represented by the army and bureaucracy.

REPERCUSSIONS ON TURKEY’S EU PATH: One specific achievement of the JDP was its success in opening accession negotiations with the European Union (EU) — negotiations that were and still are difficult and protracted, and stalled in light of the fact that Turkey, in the European view, adapted but has not yet applied the Copenhagen political criteria for EU membership. In its non-democratic approach to dealing with the domestic crisis, Turkey’s ruling regime seems to be walking the wrong path to approach European democratic standards, and therefore strong questions are raised about the possibilities of accession to the EU, which is a community based on the values of liberty, freedom and the rule of law.

TURKEY’S POSSIBLE CHOICES: Whether Turkey will face a turbulent time in the coming period or not depends mainly on the course of the current crisis, which is very uncertain. To be more specific, the future of the crisis depends on four separate but interconnected arenas:
The real diagnosis of the crisis and whether it is internal or external. In my view, the current crisis in Turkey is essentially an internal one, as ongoing public discontent in parallel with the damaging corruption scandal pushes the crisis to greater escalation. The driving forces for a real change in Turkey remain in the internal Turkish political scene, based on the effective role of social movements in promoting a democratic and pluralistic society, which is considered linked to the necessity of change.
The stance of the military. The JDP is viewed as hollowing out Kemalism through its electoral dominance and limiting the powers of the military since 2011, when Erdogan managed to subdue it. However, there is a Turkish legacy in that the military was placed at the core of the state and was perceived as the guardian of Kemalist state ideology. So, if the situation in Turkey escalates to the extent that it threatens Kemalist principles, it is expected that the military will react. Though supporters of both Erdogan and Gulen were against military participation in the political process, any intervention of the military in the crisis would change the political equation in Turkey in a way that would change the nature of the socio-political crisis — especially if this intervention was supported by large numbers of people in most Turkish cities.
The pace of economic growth. As long as strong economic growth persists, opportunities for increasing public discontent will not increase; conversely, if growth rates decrease sharply because of the crisis, the economy may enter a cycle of strong inflation that could affect strongly employment rates, which would lead to an increase in public discontent — especially as the crisis has seen stocks plunge and sent the lira tumbling to record lows, leading to a fast deterioration of the financial situation in Turkey.
4. The impacts of the crisis on the Middle East. As when the uprisings in the Middle East took place in 2010 and 2011, questions and expectations were prompted about the role of Turkey in the region, and in particular its capacity to promote its model to the countries and peoples of the region. The situation was initially very favourable for the interests of Turkey, especially with the great economic achievements that characterised the Turkish experience over recent years. However, given the growing crisis in the country and the failure of its mantra of “zero problems with neighbours” (especially in Greece, Cyprus, Syria, Iraq and Armenia), the JDP government has been criticised strongly for following sectarian and ideological policies, especially after the collapse of Turkey’s allied Muslim Brotherhood regime in Egypt. This resulted in a decline of Turkey’s popularity in the Middle East and North Africa, which is fragmented along secular-Islamist lines, as well as sectarian and religious differences, especially in Egypt and Syria. It is expected that the dynamics of the current transformation of Turkey’s political scene will lead to a retreat from the regional stage. This will give a positive opportunity to “Arab Spring” countries to adopt its model in democratisation.
To conclude, the vital question that the Turkish government has to answer is whether it really wants to engage in a political negotiation with the other political powers, to be better able to smooth the transition from the current crisis. Or it will move to political bargaining around the main causes of the crisis? The answer will be of great importance for the future of Turkey. In this regard, if no change is made in the schedule of the upcoming March 2014 municipal elections, it will be the first test of the repercussions of the current crisis

The writer is an accredited Academic University Lecturer in International Negotiation Studies and Mediation Processes with a D.Phil. in International Relations (IR).

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