Recep Tayyip Erdogan: Secure ruling or falling dawn of the cliff?


Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan on his visit to Republic of Macedonia in September, 2011. Photographed after his visit to International Balkan University in Skopje. Photo by Aleksandra Dukovska
Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan on his visit to Republic of Macedonia in September, 2011. Photographed after his visit to International Balkan University in Skopje. Photo by Aleksandra Dukovska

Indian summer in Macedonia in late September of 2011 when a Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan for the first time arrives in Skopje in an official visit. Protocol news, as other official visits of a statesmen, although unusually attracts huge attention in local media in Macedonia. At the same time at the Ottoman heritage site in Old Bazar, Kurshumli An in Skopje workshops on design at Skopje Design Week. With a former editor of foreign affairs newspaper Macedonia Today and a member of Macedonian Artisans Trade Association (MATA) Gordana Ristevska we enjoy late summer days in the great shadows at one of the most beautiful cultural sites in Macedonia.

It is quiet, peaceful inside Kurshuli An while organizers Public Room prepare the venue for the workshops. At the very informal atmosphere in Kurshumli An delegation of Macedonian Ministry of Foreign Affairs enters together with the wife of Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan, Emine Erdogan and part of delegation briefly enters inside the MATA corner at Kurshumli An and purchases handmaid crafts of present MATA members. No doubts. The challenge is now to have the photography of Turkish Prime Minister visit to International Balkan University in Skopje and a local mosque. Surprisingly, large number of Turkish minority living in Macedonia greets warmly Erdogan’s visit.

Challenges for Recep Tayyip Erdogan

Turkish Prime minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s style of ruling with Turkey is under question domestically and internationally.

Even though Turkish Prime minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan wants to create a new path of Turkey based on the economic premises, although with authoritative ruling and more traditional values, one cannot challenge the economic achievements of Erdogan’s government rules because economic reformation influenced the development of entrepreneurial spirit and spurred development in small industry sectors, services and gradually in construction business.

Parties of opposition and students protest in Turkey with an idea to shake relatively stabile ruling of a Turkish Prime minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan. Erdogan wants to create a new path of Turkey based on the economic premises and more traditional values than in the recent past.

Current Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan needs to face discontent of people who purred on the streets. Although, one cannot challenge the economic achievements, Erdogan created at first with Welfare party to which he belonged to and later with Justice and Development (AKP) party. Economic reformation influenced the development of entrepreneurial spirit and spurred development in small industry sectors, services and gradually in construction business.

Though, the other side of the Turkish lira coin with the portrait of Mustafa Kemal Ataturk expresses another story. Those are opinions of those who question not only economic legacy of Erdogan, but also the justice system, corruption and human rights policies throughout the country.

On that side to the coin are faces of people, some of them literally set the fire in the rain during protests, while others are dominantly members of Turkish youths, students and those which vision of Turkey is for the society with more rights and access.

Erdogan presumably faces personal challenges to unleash the riot police unites toward those who do not support his policies and politics.

And what a paradox?

Ratings

Erdogan’s Justice and Development Party (AKP) won the general elections in June 2011 with 46,6 percentages against principal opposition Republican Peoples Party (CHP) and its leader Kemal Kilicadaroglu that won 20.85 percentages. Two years after, he confronts with loudly spoken and written words on Turkish: “Tayyip Istifa” – which means a call to resign. In most-recent polls from Republic of Turkey, Erdogan’s party has 44, 2%, while main opposition shares and rises to 30.1%.

Nationalist Movement Party (MHP) has 15.5 percentages and Kurdish Peace, and Democracy Party counts 6.9 percentages. The polls of one of the most populated cities in Turkey Istanbul are rather different than on general level and Erdogan’s party, although AKP steel leads with 41% to CHP 34% is losing the support among middle-class Turkish citizens of Istanbul.

Aside political party’s ratings even in a downturn Erdogan’s personal rating is still stabile among a majority of Turkey’s citizens and according to the Pew Research Center, Poll conducted before the protests indicate 62% favors him, while only 34% see him unfavorably.

With an aura that openly raises questions on his political moves, if they are justifiable or not, economically reasonable or not, Erdogan counts less popularity in Istanbul were only 46% expressed share a positive view on him, while a majority of those surveyed in Istanbul (54%) see him negatively.

The Pew Research Survey reveals Turkish Prime Minister “receives less support from more secular Muslims.” Moreover, Pew Research Data show only “36% of Muslims in Turkey, who pray infrequently (hardly ever or only during religious holidays) to have a favorable view of the Islamist-oriented Prime Minister.

At the same time, “the data show three-fourths of Turkish Muslims who pray five times a day to have a positive view of him.”

The opponents will argue that beside fact, Turkish Prime Minister Erdogan still enjoys broader support, he might have no justification to wave with election results and to support police intervention to crack down the peaceful protest at Gezi Park in Istanbul.

Protests show the existence of many single voices that speak fearlessly on the street unified around the network of Taksim Solidarity. Besides, Erdogan is determined to follow his own path and not condone discord in voices.

Erdogan is not complaisant to hear the voices of various forms of protests, not only in Istanbul, but also in the Diyarbakir and other places in Turkey.

The first impression is his ruling style could easily become more vulnerable than it is at this moment. Discontent liberals, guardians of secular values of Republic of Turkey and arising inside Justide and Development party tensions between Erdogan and Turkish President Abdullah Gul could influence Erdogan’s vulnerability.

Discontent liberals, socialists and guardians of secular values of Republic of Turkey and arising inside Justide and Development party tensions between Erdogan and Turkish President Abdullah Gul could influence Erdogan’s vulnerability.

Economy vs. Religion

Vincent Bolan, a writer with Wall Street Journal seven years ago wrote a profile on Erdogan explaining crucial moments of his life, personal and in political terms. What Bolan writes no and have not go into further details on it is how prison experience changed and modified Erdogan’s style in ruling in the party, but as well how he envisaged his views and visions of Turkey.

What Turkey represents in one’s eyes is apparently a very modern country, with busy and dynamic life, although if one looks carefully under the surface will rather discover more traditional community at some places, like in the villages where remains of tribal behavior exist.   

“Erdogan embodies those tensions and contradictions. His rise to power mirrors the emergence as a political force of a significant but diffuse power in Turkey – its Muslim, conservative, Anatolian heartland. It comes after much of the past eight decades of Kemalist, secular, metropolitan government and is the result of a protest vote against the corruption and missed opportunities that have hampered Turkey’s progress towards modernity since the 1980s,” writes Bolan.

For the first time, Erdogan’s Justice and Development, party won the general elections in Turkey in 2002 and won on several other election cycles, including the general elections in 2011. In between where struggles and fears if he becomes the President, Erdogan will reach for secularism through Constitutional changes. Three years before Erdogan’s attempts for president candidacy and one year before Turkey opens the negotiation with European Union, Bolan wrote in his profile of Erdogan:

“I have heard many ordinary Turks say that Erdogan was elected for his reforms, not for his religion. It also reflects a desire among a growing number of Turks to embrace both their Muslim and their Republican traditions, who argue that these are not mutually exclusive, and that Turkey cannot be one without being the other.”

Seven years after Bolan’s profile, Erdogan is still on power in Turkey, facing similar dilemmas on Turkey as the country that is not only placed for those of libertarian values, but as well a country with more traditional population and some of them even more religious than the majority of populations.

Erdogan lives in his precise tailored black suits that one can see as simplification of his economic orientation and support of western business values, although his opinions open from embracing more values of Ottoman Empire legacy than those of secular Republic.

Turkish Prime minister talked on Ottoman Empire, heritage and geography of Turkey and his government economic success on May 17, 2013 at Bookings Institute.

Erdogan visited the USA a couple of weeks before citizens to start with protest in Istanbul and to show dissatisfaction with the policy of economic growth, development and foreign investments in Turkey.

 While he talked in the Brookings Institution, Turkish Prime Minister emphasized Turkey faces different challenges domestically and internationally.  “And the challenges we were faced with created particular consequences, and we face certain trauma in our domestic politics, social life, and foreign policy,” said Erdogan at the Brookings Institution event dedicated to him.

 Although much important, “Turkey has now become the 17th largest economy into the world, and we are the 6th largest economy in Europe now,” said Erdogan at the Brookings Institution, explaining that “when we came to government, the Istanbul Stock Exchange — which now became Borsa Istanbul — was — had an index of 11,000 ten years ago. On May 3, this year, the index went beyond 89,000, as Borsa Istanbul, in its new name. And, at the moment, it’s actually above 90, 000.”

He spoke on federal reserves of the Turkish Central Bank:

“Ten years ago, the foreign-currency reserve of the Central Bank was $27.5 billion; now the reserves are $135 billion,” underlines Erdogan.  Two weeks after his economically oriented speech at the Brookings Institution in the USA on May 17 2013, there is a turning point in the life of Turkey that dramatically challenges the future of his leadership to this country.

Apparently, at the end of the day the challenge to Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan even under the beautiful sunny weather in Morocco where he traveled soon after protests in Turkey began, will be the same: Can he hear the voice of its own people who confront his policies and will be able to hear the voices coming of streets and cities in Turkey?    

 Gezi Park and plans for urbanization

Last year, Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan announced that Gezi Park would be leveled to make room for a reconstruction of the HalilPasaArtillerybarracks, which had been built there under Sultan Selim III, more than two hundred years ago; the reconstructed barracks would then be converted into a shopping mall.

On May 28th, a peaceful demonstration convened in Gezi Park to protest the bulldozing of the first trees. The weather was, and continues to be, beautiful. However, over the course during the week, Occupy Gezi transformed from what felt like a festival, with yoga, barbecues, and concerts, into what feels like a war, with barricades, plastic bullets, and gas attacks,” writes Batuman in the article Occupy Gezi: Police against protesters in Istanbul. 

‘‘Police were present in Taksim yesterday,’’ Erdogan said. ”They will be present today and they will be present tomorrow too. Taksim cannot be a place where extremist groups run wild.’’

According to the article published in Boston Globe, “Erdogan, who is serving a third term in office after winning landslide elections, denounced the protests as illegitimate and suggested he could easily summon 1 million people for a pro-government rally.”

Turkish Prime minister does not believe in protests and tends to repeat that only elections are the instruments for telling the opposite. “All attempts apart from the ballot box are not democratic,’’ Erdogan said in his Saturday televised speech.

Nevertheless, protests that started with small citizens disagreements on Gezi Park turn to broader, turn to broader demonstrations against is policy,

David Kenner in the article “Why Turks are fighting to get back Istanbul goes deeper ” published in online edition of Foreign Policy, explains the context around the protest in Turkey that suddenly sparked in fire from environmentalist’s disagreement over the urbanization of Taksim Square and the discontent with new forms of politician and business relations.

“It’s an old story in Turkey. A five-minute walk from Gezi Park lays Tarlabasi, a working-class neighborhood that has long been home to those who live on the city’s margins – a century ago. It was Greek, Jewish, and Armenian craftsmen; today, it is members from the Kurdish minority who migrated there to escape the bloody insurgency in Turkey’s southeast. Appropriate, Erdogan’s government soon stepped in to build a better Tarlabasi, as Piotr Zalewski wrote for Foreign Policy, it used an eminent domain law to lay claim too much of the area, empowering a private development company to transform it into an upscale neighborhood of luxury apartment buildings and shopping malls.

While Tarlabasi was declared an “urban renewal area” in 2006, residents did not learn about the planned demolition of their houses until 2008, explains Kenner in Foreign Policy.

Years in Erdogan’s past: What shapes him in present days

Back in 1994, Erdogan won the election for a mayor of Istanbul and introduced some changes in the city, especially in dealing with community waste services and reparation of pavements.

“Elected mayor of Istanbul in 1994, Erodgan proved to be a competent administrator. Garbage was collected, and pavements repaired. In his self-appointed role as “the imam of Istanbul,” he banned alcohol in municipal buildings and tried (unsuccessfully) to close down the city’s bordellos. By now, he had ascended to the hierarchy within the Welfare party, and his public position gave it a serious role in national politics,” writes Bolan in his WSJ profile on Erdogan.

Nurtured under the leadership of the political chief of the first Islamic party it seems Erdogan loose more than he gain, when after a tumultuous period of military involvement in maintaining the secular character of Turkey, he was imprisoned ten months after a rally and speech in Siirt. Upon the agitation activities of military at universities and broader public, but as well in allegation that exemplified Erbakan’s fail to deal with corruption, first Islamist Turkish Prime Minister resigns in 1997.

“Erbakan’s coalition allies deserted, and he resigned. In the crackdown on religious expression that followed, the Welfare party was banned, and Erdogan lost his job as mayor of Istanbul. He would soon be on his way to prison as a consequence of his “anti-secularist” speech at Siirt.”

Years later on 14th of August 2001 the Justiuce and Development party was established and participated on general elections in 2002.

“After his release from prison, Erdogan gathered the Welfare party apparatus in a new political grouping. He named Adalet ve Kalkinma Partisi (Justice and Development party, or AKP),” writes Bolan, who interviewed Erdogan in 2004 for Walls Street Journal profile on him.

”Let me be quite open and clear in stating a fact – we don’t find it appropriate to mix religion and politics,” he says in 2004.

“We are not Muslim Democrats. We are conservative Democrats. Some in the west portray us as [Muslim Democrats] but our notion of conservative democracy is to attach ourselves to the customs and the traditions and the values within our society, which is based upon the family. This is a democratic issue, not a religious one, stated Erdogan to Bolan in an interview in 2004.

And when Bolan asked him about the historical significance for Turkey of the EU decision. His answer is surprising.

For Turkey, he says, a positive outcome will ensure that it is no longer “an isolated and closed society” but “an open and transparent one, in touch with the rest in the world. Countries, standing alone, do not mean, do not represent, much any more. They can achieve a lot more in solidarity with their friends, explained Erdogan to Bolan.

Long time after this statement and after weakened relations with European Union, Erdogan is looking after new co-operations outside of the Union’s border and targets countries from the Arab world. Nevertheless, and even after the action against the police at Gezi Park, European Union Council decided to open another chapter of the negotiations, but delayed accession talks.

Meanwhile, Prime minister Erdogan embodies paradoxes of his way of ruling.

Author of the text “Erdogan’s Paradox: Turkish Leader Struggles between Authoritarianism and Democracy,” Karl Vick publishes the statement of McGill University Professor Rex Brynen.

“Erdogan is the Margaret Tacher of AKP,” says Brynen in Time’s article, adding as the fight over public space grinds on the question is. How much is Erdogan, and how much is a transition from Turkey’s authoritarian legacy to democracy? The legacy issue is seen through the prism of this individual. He’s clearly not Nelson Mandela,” explains Brynen.

With last news coming of Egypt and 48 hours that Egypt’s military gave to President Mohammed Morsi and protesters to reach an agreement, “Turkish model” is again the focus when dealing to issues related to secularism and religion. In the New York Times article Turkey as a case study by the author and a journalist, Mustafa Akyol “this ‘Trukish model” – which is still far from being a heaven-proves that political Islam is transformable.

The critical question for Egypt, of course, is whether Morsi, and the Muslim Brotherhood, are willing to follow the “Erbakan model” (say, version 1.0) or the “Erdogan model” (version 2.0). Akyol, questions the possibilities Egypt to comprise with Turkish model easily.

“Moreover, they don’t have the A.K.P.’s business-minded middle-class base — dubbed by some as ‘Islamic Calvinists— whose interests lie behind the making of a more pragmatic and cosmopolitan vision,” writes Akyol.

At the same time, the question for Erdogan and his model could be: Will the same middle class on which he starts to build its legacy stay close to his policy, or he will gain further support only of business elite created over the time in Republic of Turkey?

The dilemma is still open.

Note:  Although correct in factual information previous version published on July 1, 2013 was changed by the author of the text and re-published on November 24, 2013.

CORRECTION: The name of Brookings Institution was written wrongly as Brookings Institute. We apologize for unintentional inaccuracy with the name of this organization.

References:

Pew Research Center. (2013, June 5). Prime Minister Erdogan popular in Turkey broadly, but less so in Istanbul. In Pew Research Center. Retrieved June 23, 2013, from http://www.pewresearch.org/fact-tank/2013/06/05/prime-minister-erdogan-popular-in-turkey-but-less-so-in-istanbul/

The Wall Street Journal. (2013, June 17). Half of Turks Say Erdogan Is Becoming Authoritarian . In blogs.wsj.com/emergingeurope. Retrieved June 23, 2013, from http://blogs.wsj.com/emergingeurope/2013/06/17/half-of-turks-say-erdogan-is-becoming-authoritarian/

Financial Times. (2004, December 3). Eastern premise. In ft.com. Retrieved June 24, 2013, from http://www.ft.com/intl/cms/s/0/4496c6ce-441b-11d9-a5eb-00000e2511c8.html#axzz2lan3BqjK

Kenner, D. (2013, June 2). Why Turks are fighting to take back Istanbul.In http://blog.foreignpolicy.com/. Retrieved June 3, 2013, from http://atfp.co/11pQNlS

The Boorkings Institution. (2013, May 17). A Statesman’s Forum with H.E. Recep Tayyip Erdogan, Prime minister of Turkye.. In http://www.brookings.edu. Retrieved June 2, 2013, from http://bit.ly/13DqPtW

Batuman, E. (2013, June 1). OCCUPY GEZI: POLICE AGAINST PROTESTERS IN ISTANBU. In http://www.newyorker.com. Retrieved June 1, 2013, from http://www.newyorker.com/online/blogs/newsdesk/2013/06/occupy-taksim-police-against-protesters-in-istanbul.html

Emiroglu, B., & Fraser, S. (2013, June 2). Turkish police retreat from Istanbul square. In http://www.bostonglobe.com. Retrieved June 2, 2013, from http://www.bostonglobe.com/news/world/2013/06/01/turkish-police-retreat-from-istanbul-square/AcQ1TJGmIXxnhwvsyT8oQO/story.html

 

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