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As long as Erdogan is in charge

May 11,2016 - Last updated at May 11,2016

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said early this week that his country’s strategic goal was membership in the European Union, and expressed the hope that granting Turkish citizens visa-free travel within the EU would advance the accession process.

However, he immediately contradicted himself by rejecting the EU’s call for changes in Turkey’s counter-terrorism laws, one of the conditions for according visa-free entry for Turks.

In a report on the situation in Turkey issued last November, after the election that gave the AKP a new mandate, the EU stated: “The … government has made efforts to reinvigorate the EU accession process. However, this commitment was offset by the adoption of key legislation in the areas of the rule of law, freedom of expression and freedom of assembly that ran against European standards…. The situation has been backsliding since 2014.” 

The report also mentioned deterioration of the security situation.

Since the 2011 Arab Spring, Erdogan has adopted contradictory policies towards Turkey’s EU accession. While calling on the EU to fast-track negotiations over its entry, he has turned away from Europe and focused on this region with the aim of securing for his country and himself a role in shaping the post-Arab Spring order.

He has done this by promoting the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt and Syria, prompting rebellion in both countries, a crackdown on dissent in Egypt and war in Syria.

His ambition was to promote the brotherhood, an ally of his fundamentalist Justice and Development Party (AKP), in order to influence developments in these two countries and beyond. His ambition was to emerge as the world’s pre-eminent Muslim figure — an imagined neo-Ottoman sultan.

Since a corruption scandal involving the AKP broke in December 2013, Erdogan has undermined his country’s bid for EU membership by systematically dismantling the quasi-democratic structures of the Turkish state.

He began by dismissing thousands of prosecutors and policemen, hobbling the judiciary and eclipsing the rule of law.

He moved against the press, citing incitement to commit terrorism, closing down or taking over newspapers and television channels, and jailing journalists and editors.

The AKP has politicised the civil service and educational structures. In the case of the latter, the AKP-controlled government has introduced religion courses in schools while the security apparatus has taken action against university professors critical of the government.

In 2014, Erdogan rid himself of president Abdullah Gul; last week, he made it impossible for Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu to stay on.

Erdogan can now exercise executive powers and prerogatives without legally being prime minister or changing the constitution to transform the system of governance into a presidential regime.

The AKP won 49.5 per cent of the vote in the snap November poll after a disastrous, for the party, 40.8 per cent in scheduled the June election.

The AKP did well in the second contest precisely because of the deteriorating security situation caused by the collapse of negotiations between the government and the Turkish Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) and attacks mounted by Daesh in Turkey.

The AKP exploited public fear of chaos and violence by mounting a brutal military campaign against the PKK and proclaiming its determination to counter the spillover from the war in Syria.

AKP rule — Erdogan’s reign — is unlikely to end any time soon.

Since 2007, when the party won re-election, its support has ranged between 40-50 per cent. No other party in Turkey’s otherwise deeply divided body politic can muster such an endorsement.

The next elections for both parliament and president, in 2019, could give both the AKP and Erdogan new mandates.

He and his party have secured their grip on power because they have the support of the 50 per cent of Turks who are devout conservatives. This large constituency feels angry and aggrieved over its marginalisation by the secular elite put in power by Ataturk nearly a century ago.

This constituency considers Erdogan one of its own. While some may feel he has gone too far in his drive to secure absolute power, others, perhaps the majority, are proud and pleased that he has taken the reins of power in his hands.

They support his ambition — which he has repeatedly proclaimed — to create a “New Turkey” fashioned on the old Ottoman system, and believe in Turkey’s regional mission.

He manifested his dream to achieve sultanhood by ordering the construction of a 1,150-room palace, 30 times larger than the US White House and four times the size of France’s Palace of Versailles.

The site is on land set aside in 1937 for a forest farm by the founder of modern Turkey, Mustafa Kemal Ataturk.

Erdogan’s project began when he held the prime minister office and was proclaimed a presidential palace in August 2014 when he assumed the presidency, a ceremonial post he has refashioned with the aim of wielding executive power.

Erdogan has brushed aside legal action against the monumental palace although the forest farm was designated a national heritage area where any type of construction was prohibited.

The total cost of the project has been $615 million so far.

Erdogan has become the most powerful Turkish ruler since Ataturk, powerful enough to override his decree that the forest farm should be free of expropriation in perpetuity.


The doors of Europe are unlikely to open to Turkey as long as he is in charge.

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