Having dropped off our radar for a while, Turkey is back in the news again, with trouble brewing for Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan after he weathered the Gezi Park protests last summer.
The latest round began last month with the arrests of 52 people, including the sons of two ministers, for fraud and bribery:
Istanbul and Ankara police staged morning raids Dec. 17 as part of a probe into tender fraud and bribery operation allegations, detaining 52 people, daily Hürriyet reported on its website.
Twenty-nine of those detained, including two sons of ministers, were taken into custody by the police’s Financial Crimes Department, while another son of a minister and 22 others were detained by the police’s Organized Crime Department.
Riots and demonstrations broke out following these arrests with reports that:
The Turkish Government has lost control in some areas in Turkey, the Turkish Police, are now clashing with the secular protesters in Turkey.
Some of the demonstrations turned violent:
Police forcibly dispersed thousands of anti-government demonstrators in Ankara and Istanbul who had been calling for the government to step down.
In Istanbul, some protesters shot fireworks at police preventing them from reaching a central square. At least two protesters were hurt when police responded with tear gas.
Here are some interesting details about the corruption scandal (at the above link):
The fast-moving inquiry has struck at the heart of Turkey’s ruling elites and thrown up a serious challenge to Erdogan’s 11 years in power. It led to a comprehensive cabinet reshuffle after the resignation on Wednesday of three ministers whose sons were implicated in the probe.
The political fall out has also had economic repercussions, dealing a blow to the premier who has overseen a decade of growth.
The affair turned more personal this week when Turkish media published what appeared to be a preliminary summons for Bilal Erdogan, one of the premier’s two sons, to testify, although its authenticity could not immediately be verified.
Pro-government media has suggested the corruption inquiry could be a setup to trigger a military coup.
But the army, seen as guarantor of the country’s secular traditions, made it clear on Friday that it would not get involved.
Quite unexpectedly, Erdogan is casting the blame for this scandal on an American-born Islamic cleric with the military caught in the middle:
Turks are watching with disbelief as two major Islamic groups go after each other so transparently.
Many believe the probe was orchestrated by followers of Pennsylvania-based spiritual leader Fethullah Gulen, a moderate preacher whose network of Muslim believers command a global empire of business, media and education interests.
Erdogan’s political adviser Yalcin Akdogan suggested in a regular column in the pro-government Star newspaper this week that the Gulen movement had “framed” hundreds of military officers who were convicted last year of plotting to bring down the government.
Analysts say the military distrusts Gulen’s movement and may see Erdogan’s government as the better option.
“As the alliance with Gulen is breaking down, there are signs that the government is entering into a kind of solidarity, a kind of a coalition, with the military,” said Umit Kardas, a retired military judge and commentator for Taraf newspaper. “We are seeing a realignment of political alliances of sorts, although these types of alliances have no place in Turkish democracy.”
Among the collateral damage in this scandal are a popular game-show, an AKP member of Parliament who had criticised the government for pressurising the judiciary over the graft probe, and a woman attacked by pro-government protestors who shouted at her “Are you Jewish?”.
The Wall Street Journal aptly calls this whole corruption scandal “Turkey’s Byzantine Scandal“:
The Prime Minister has spent a decade consolidating power in Turkey, and his AK Party faces no serious rival on the national stage. The Turkish military, once feared by civilian governments, has been removed from the political scene. Mr. Erdogan’s deceitful and brutal handling last summer of protesters in Istanbul damaged his international reputation, but the protests did not seem to shake his political grip.
Last week’s arrests, however, show that Mr. Erdogan’s political dominance has limits. Turkish politics over the past decade has been steeped in corruption, conspiracy and counter-conspiracy allegations, along with mass arrests and show trials of the old secularist establishment. This once served Mr. Erdogan’s political ends, but now he may be losing his control over the broader Islamist movement he once led.
That’s a good thing
Read it all to discover just why it is a good thing.
Prof. Efraim Inbar too explains why Erdogan is in trouble:
But under Erdoğan, Turkey gradually adopted policies that amounted to a wholesale attempt to Islamize the country: putting restrictions on the sale of alcohol, enhancing the status of religious schools, encouraging the establishment of Muslim-oriented institutions of learning, and nominating Islamists to sensitive positions in the public sector.
Changes were also introduced in the foreign policy area. Fueled by Islamist and Ottoman impulses, Turkey devised a so-called “Zero Problems Policy” toward its Middle Eastern neighbors.
As part of this attempt to gain hegemony in the Arab and Muslim worlds, Israel-bashing became an important tool of Erdoğan’s foreign policy, causing deterioration in relations between Ankara and Jerusalem. This policy also reflected a Turkish distancing from the West, basically giving up the long-cherished Turkish goal of becoming part of Europe. (The Europeans are partly at fault for that). The apex of this foreign re-orientation was the September 2013 decision to purchase an air defense weapons system from China, which is clearly and blatantly at odds with Turkey’s NATO membership.
Most important, a rift developed between the AKP and the Fetullah Gülen movement. The Gülens are seemingly modern Islamists and an important component of the AKP. They have become increasingly uncomfortable with Erdoğan’s policies. For example, they were not happy with Turkey’s new foreign policy, with Israeli-Turkish tensions, and with Turkish support for the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt. They also criticized Erdoğan’s clumsy treatment of the Gezi Park affair.
Read the whole article to understand how Erdogan’s political situation has become so complicated.
Another interesting analysis is brought by David Goldman in his Spengler column, where he simply says “The end of Erdogan’s Cave of Wonders: I told you so“. Read it all.
Kicking someone while he is down is not usually fair, but an exception can be made in this case: an NGO reports that Turkey leads the list of states who suppress the media – coming out ahead even of Iran:
Turkey headed the list for the second year in a row despite reducing the number of journalists imprisoned in the country from 49 last year to 40. However, of those released, some are awaiting trial and could still find themselves back behind bars.
In addition, other prisoners were released for time served while awaiting trial. In his November acceptance speech for the International Press Freedom Award, Turkish journalist Nedim Sener noted that it is common for journalists to sit in jail for lengthy periods in Turkish prisons without being brought to trial.
As so often happens in the Middle East, when one side is up, the other side is down. In this case, Israel is the apparent beneficiary of a certain movement towards relaxing tensions between the two countries.
The signing of the flight renewal document was made possible after the Turkish authorities agreed to the Israeli security demands, and after Israel received satisfactory answers and solutions to all the security issues that it raised over the course of the talks.
The agreement will allow the Israeli airlines to operate unlimited scheduled and charter flights to Turkey. Turkish airlines operate more than 60 flights per week to Israel and have carried more than a million travelers between the two countries this year.
Equally as interesting, a local Turkish court rejected a Mavi Marmara victim’s claim for compensation against Israel – albeit because Israel cannot be tried in Turkish courts. This may sound like a simple judicial interpretation, but such logic has not been applied previously when Israel was involved.
While I do not wish any sorrows on the Turkish population I can’t say I’m sorry to see Erdogan embroiled in scandal and corruption. Maybe this will bring him to his senses, or maybe this scandal will throw him out of politics. Either possibility can only bring benefit to Israel and the West.