Turkey is politically more unstable today on several levels than it was a few years ago. The version of the AKP breaks. It is an ongoing process in the country.
- Erdogan no longer seems to be able to control or maintain control of the whole of Turkey.
- Because the AKP’s vision no longer works, the president is relying more and more on clientelism and coercion.
- Where is Turkey going?
- This article is available in German for the first time – it was first published on July 23, 2021 by the magazine “Foreign Policy”.
Washington, DC – Anyone who knows Washington knows that briefings with policy makers and their staff usually begin and end with the question, “Is [Name des Landes] stable? ”Unfortunately, this question is seldom easy to answer. A simple yes or no opens the door to a policy based on flawed assumptions. This is exactly what happened at the end of 2010: Middle East experts and other observers assured official agencies in the USA that the rule of Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak was permanent and that his son Gamal or secret service chief Omar Suleiman would probably succeed him. And then, as you know, things turned out very differently.
Instead of evaluating countries according to their stability or instability, it makes more analytical sense (and more interesting) to look at the relative Based on the instability of a country. And from this perspective, one country in the Middle East stands out: Turkey *.
Turkish politics is unstable on several levels
Turkish politics today is more unstable on several levels than at any other point in time in recent years. This does not mean that there will be another uprising like the one that ignited in Gezi Park in the summer of 2013, or that President Recep Tayyip Erdogan * is in danger of being overthrown. But Erdogan no longer seems to be able to control the entire country and maintain that control. That makes protests across the board, more violence and political fighting at the top of the state more likely.
I am old enough and still remember how Erdogan, former President Abdullah Gül and a few others from a group of Islamist reformers founded the Justice and Development Party (AKP) in the summer of 2001. The new party broke with Turkey’s Islamist old guard and offered a positive vision for the future. Their foundation: piety, broader political participation, prosperity and national power. It found favor with an ever larger and more diverse group of voters, more so than previous Islamist parties. It didn’t hurt that the government that replaced the AKP in 2002 had implemented important economic reforms that helped fuel economic growth for much of the noughties of this century. The party also benefited from the fact that the Turkish electoral system gave the AKP a parliamentary majority, although it never received more than 49.5 percent of the vote, and thus there was no need to involve other parties in government. And so the country experienced a period of political and social stability.
Of course there were problems. The AKP and its partners, the Gülenists, were an affront to the traditional, secular, nationalist elite. Erdogan and other party leaders like Gül liked to refer to themselves and the party they led as the Muslim equivalent of the Christian Democrats. In fact, they turned out to be far less democratic than the world would have them believe. The same goes for Fethullah Gülen, the Turkish clergyman and former ally of Erdogan, whose supporters helped the government arrest critics on the basis of falsified evidence. And Europe missed the opportunity to help Turkey consolidate the political and social reforms that the AKP government launched in its early years in office. On the contrary, not long after they began, the EU suspended accession negotiations.
Turkish President has strong social support, which promotes stability in Turkey
A lot has happened since then. The military tried to prevent Gül from becoming president. Prosecutors tried to ban the AKP. Officials uncovered a conspiracy to incite violence and an attempted coup against Erdogan, as well as a counter-conspiracy. All of this contributed to what analysts often refer to as Erdogan’s “authoritarian turn” around 2008. Erdogan’s authoritarian leadership in and of itself has not undermined Turkey’s stability. He was and is not like his Tunisian counterpart Zine el-Abidine Ben Ali. The Turkish president has strong social support, which promotes the stability of Turkey.
So when did Turkey start to tip over? It is difficult to pin this down to a single event. Instability is an ongoing process. The Gezi protests of 2013 should be mentioned as a starting point, followed by a corruption scandal in the Gülenist community at the end of 2013, which resulted in the spiritual leader being removed in large numbers from the government and the media and university landscape in 2014 . The war with the Kurdistan Workers’ Party, which flared up again and again, broke out again in 2015. In addition, there was the election failure in the same year. This was followed by the attempted coup in 2016, a sustained slump in the Turkish economy in 2018 and 2019, and finally the corona pandemic in 2020.
All of these events can be linked: in their totality, the vision of the AKP * is shattered. The party has failed to expand political participation, create a more prosperous society, realize Turkey’s potential as a great power, and institutionalize religious values. That would have been the basis for good governance in order to overcome the divisions in society. For at least the last five years, the press – which under the AKP is little more than government balloons, exaggerated Erdogan flattery and nationalist paranoia – has reliably ensured that the Turks are always to blame when it comes to others the promises of the past now lag so far behind reality: international bankers, the CIA, Zionists, Gülen, the Emirates, Professor Henri J. Barkey, and a host of other alleged troublemakers.
Questioning the official narrative regarding the guilt of the Gülenists? Then the Turkish government strikes back with full force
Of course, not everyone believed that, but speaking out against the AKP was a great risk. There has never been an independent investigation – because it is impossible under the current circumstances – and so many questions remain unanswered about the failed coup attempt in July 2016. Anyone who dares to question the official narrative regarding the guilt of the Gülenists can expect the Turkish government to strike back with full force: prison, expropriation, family ruin and, those lucky enough to escape, constant fear of extradition or violent retaliation Turkish intelligence agents and similar thugs.
It may be that this fear is slowly disappearing, but it only increases the instability of Turkey. In the past few months, a man named Sedat Peker has kept the country busy with a series of spectacular YouTube videos accusing senior government officials, including the Home Secretary, of drug trafficking, murder and corruption. Peker – part of the Turkish mafia – did not accuse Erdogan directly, but made it clear that the Turkish president was involved. Beijing’s allegations, for which he largely fails to provide evidence, have raged the country. Turkish journalists in European exile have taken up these allegations and expanded them through their own persistent research – often at great risk to themselves. The journalist Cevheri Güven fled from Turkey to the relative security of Germany and is also active on YouTube. In his videos he shows how the statements of the AKP and objective reality diverge.
Let us distance ourselves for a moment. A mafia don and exiled Turkish journalists like Güven have become more trustworthy sources than the government or the press. This is a big deal.
Turkey: Reasons for millions of hits on YouTube videos by Peker and exile journalists like Güven
What does this have to do with stability? A lot! A positive vision for the future, as the Party for Justice and Development once represented, is important in order to secure loyalty and thus gain control over society. When life was still in line with the party’s vision – as it seemed in the early years after the AKP came to power – Turkey was less unstable. A few years later, for fewer and fewer Turks, reality feels like the AKP is leading it to believe. That is one reason for the sensationally high, millions of hits on the YouTube videos of Peker and exile journalists like Güven. And one reason why Turkey is increasingly unstable. Since the vision of the AKP no longer works, Erdogan has to resort more and more to clientelism and coercion in order to maintain control. But both are expensive and cannot be increased infinitely.
Such a political climate calls for rivals. Some of these adversaries are relatively insignificant, such as the former Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu and Ali Babacan, the once respected Minister of State for the Economy. They may dispute some votes from the Justice and Development Party, but far more important are the tricks of officials like the Minister of National Defense, Hulusi Akar, those of his rival in the Turkish secret service, Hakan Fidan, and the commander of the land forces, General Umit Dundar. They are Erdogan’s people. But what if the president, who lacks a vision that will secure the loyalty of the people, jeopardizes social cohesion? Will they continue to reliably secure the supremacy of Erdogan and the AKP with more and more violence? These uncertain conditions create opportunities for powerful and ambitious people.
Where is Turkey going? Erdogan continues to be the most powerful person in the country
It is by no means clear where Turkey’s political path will lead. Despite all the challenges, the Justice and Development Party remains the country’s most popular political organization and Erdogan remains the most powerful person. The economy could rebound and Erdogan could very easily win another election. When people ask me whether Turkey is stable, I often say “yes and no”.
by Steven A. Cook
Steven A. Cook is a columnist at Foreign Policy and Eni Enrico Mattei Senior Fellow for Middle East and Africa Studies at the Council on Foreign Relations. His latest book is called: False Dawn: Protest, Democracy, and Violence in the New Middle East.Twitter: @stevenacook
This article was first published in English on July 23, 2021 in the magazine “ForeignPolicy.com“Published – in the course of a cooperation it is now also available in translation to the readers of the members and partners of IPPEN.MEDIA. * Merkur.de is an offer from IPPEN.MEDIA.