Sunday,22 July, 2018
Current issue | Issue 1210, (21 - 27 August 2014)
Sunday,22 July, 2018
Issue 1210, (21 - 27 August 2014)

Ahram Weekly


Al-Ahram Weekly

Erdogan’s game plan

One of the tactics often used in politics is to present your opponents with two choices, one that you know they cannot possibly stomach, and one that they would grudgingly put up with as the least of all evils.

Situations such as this have arisen in connection with the Muslim Brotherhood, which claimed to inhabit the middle ground of Islamic politics. Nothing about the Brotherhood is forward-looking or enticing. Indeed, the Brotherhood has given birth to most of the fanatical Islamist groups one sees today. And yet its main claim to local collaborators and foreign supporters was that it was moderate enough to be viable as a partner and Islamist enough to keep the fanatics in check.

We tried it and it didn’t work out. The leftists were willing to give the Muslim Brotherhood a try and the west thought it was a great idea, but the outcome was just as divisive as it was disappointing.

To some extent, Turkey’s Erdogan seems to be offering this same duality of options. Some see him as the lesser evil when compared with the Islamic State (IS) caliphate recently declared in parts of Syria and Iraq. Compared to Abu Bakr Al-Baghdadi, Erdogan indeed looks like a paragon of moderation. But this is where the relativity of politics can be misleading and one has to start thinking outside the box in order to see the path ahead.

Some people in the region, including the Qatar-based popular cleric Youssef El-Qaradawi, seem willing to look at Erdogan as caliph material. In their view an Islamist-leaning Turk might be able to lead the region into the future, consolidating and taming the power of fanatics, putting Iran in its place, and generally offering a modern face to the world.

The Justice and Development Party (JDP) isn’t totally lacking in credentials. Under its lead, Turkey has tripled its per capita income and the economy is now ranked 15th in the world. But the legacy of the JDP hasn’t been that flattering, nor that of Erdogan for that matter.

As prime minister, Erdogan proved himself overbearing and dismissive of the opposition. Members of his family were accused of corruption and he was suspected of manipulating the law. He suppressed demonstrations and ruled in an autocratic manner. Now that he has successfully pushed the army out of the way, Erdogan seems to have consolidated his grip on power. Some say that he has Ottoman-style ambitions, but this remains to be seen.

In this region, what we need is not the least of bad options but the resolve to realise our dreams. Bowing to the clerics and humouring Islamists cannot be part of this future.

Those who are celebrating Erdogan’s recent electoral victory are encouraged to recall some incidents from his past. In 1994, when he was the mayor of Istanbul, he was a member of Erbakan’s Refah Party. At a public event, Mayor Erdogan recited a poem, part of which went like this: “The minarets of mosques will be our spears, its cupolas our helmets, its yards our barracks.” Critics saw this as an offence against the country’s secular tradition, and he was tried and convicted. He bounced back, however, forming the JDP after he was released from prison, then running successfully for prime minister.

As Turkey’s president, Erdogan seems determined to revive the glory of Ottoman times. But in this region, few are eager to repeat that experience. Four centuries of Ottoman rule, which turned the glorious cities of the Arab world into mere provincial towns, have little to recommend them.

As the late Gamal Hamdan once said, “Fanatical groups are a plague that inflicts the Muslim world on a regular basis.” This is hardly in doubt, what with current events in the region. But fanatics are not the region’s only scourge. One must beware of those who offer themselves as the lesser evil.

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