by Zafar Bangash (Opinion, Crescent International Vol. 47, No. 5, Shawwal, 1439)
Despite being in power for 16 years, Turkish President Recep Tayip Erdogan remains an enigma. There is often contradiction between his words and deeds but this is unimportant for his supporters. They adore him and insist he can do no wrong. His detractors see him as a power-hungry politician bent on becoming an absolute dictator. These contradictory views were merely reinforced by the June 24 presidential and parliamentary elections. One example was the fact that elections were held while there is a state of emergency in the country.
Following last year’s referendum on a new constitution granting vast new powers to the president, Erdogan sought a new mandate. He called the elections 16 months ahead of schedule prompting speculation that he wants to consolidate power before the economy deteriorates further and the electorate turns against him. Turkey has now officially become a presidential form of government abolishing the post of prime minister and diminishing the powers of parliament.
Erdogan has successfully played his Islamic credentials appealing to the conservative rural base that had been marginalized for nearly 100 years. Secularism, officially called Kemalism, named after the man responsible for abolishing the khilafah in 1924, was imposed from the top. The Turkish language script was changed from Arabic to Cyrillic, severing a link that had existed for nearly 1,400 years. Hijab was banned in government institutions and universities. Beards were frowned upon and seen as a sign of “backwardness.” The military remained politically dominant enforcing the rigid Kemalist system. Popularly elected political leaders were overthrown and in one instance, Prime Minister Adnan Menderes was hanged in 1961. Military coups were a common feature of the Turkish political landscape.
The Adalat ve Kalkınma Partisi (AK Parti) or the Justice and Development Party, was established in August 2001. It was formed after the parent Fazilat Party led by Necmettin Erbakan was banned in 2001. The AKP gained power in the 2002 parliamentary elections. It has remained at the helm ever since. When Erdogan served his two terms as prime minister, he moved over to the presidency, displacing long-time ally Abdullah Gul. The president’s post was largely ceremonial but Erdogan soon rectified that by introducing amendments to the constitution, which were passed by the AKP-dominated parliament. The amendments were ratified through a referendum in April 2017.
As prime minister, Erdogan improved the economy battered by years of political uncertainty and raised the standard of living of the vast majority, mainly rural population. He increased exports and played on Turkish nationalism to contain the Kurdish problem. His greatest success may have been in containing the muscular military that is the bane of most Muslim societies. He successfully beat back a well organized coup attempt in July 2016 in which the US was involved through the US-based cleric, Fethullah Gulen, who has close links to the CIA and the Zionists.
Following the failed coup attempt of July 2016, Erdogan embarked on wholesale arrests. While the majority of those arrested were Gulen supporters, others have also been arrested in sweeping purges. The scale of arrests gives rise to concern and does not bode well for the future.
Turkey is a NATO member but the US has refused to extradite Gulen to face treason charges. This raises the question as to why Erdogan does not end Turkey’s membership of NATO, a military alliance whose primary role is to maintain Western military and political hegemony in the world. Turkey’s NATO membership also puts it at odds with neighboring Russia with whom Ankara is trying to cultivate closer ties.
There are other contradictions in Turkey’s policies that have continued under Erdogan despite claiming to champion Muslim causes (Palestine and Syria, for instance). Turkey has not severed diplomatic ties with Zionist Israel, a racist entity that has inflicted and continues to inflict immense suffering on the Palestinian people. Ankara’s economic relations with the Zionist monstrosity remain strong.
Erdogan’s policy on Syria is equally problematic. He not only bought into the diabolical US-Saudi-Zionist plot of regime change, he allowed Turkish territory to be used to smuggle mercenaries as well as weapons including chemical weapons into Syria. Turkish troops illegally occupy large swathes of Syrian territory (as do US and Israeli troops). While Turkey justifies its incursion into Syria to contain the Kurds, this is illegal under international law.
This policy also puts Turkey at odds with Islamic Iran with whom it is trying to cultivate close links. Erdogan has at times even resorted to crude sectarianism, conduct unbecoming a person claiming to represent Islamic values.
So we come back to the question: what is Erdogan trying to achieve: does he want to become a sultan or adopt the mantle of a khalifah? His contradictory policies are likely to catch up with him and cause grief in the future. Our brotherly advice to President Erdogan is to adopt the proper Islamic conduct free from hypocrisy and double-dealing. With a secure mandate, he now has an opportunity to do so.
Zafar Bangash is Director of the Institute of Contemporary Islamic Thought (ICIT).