Turkey: Time for Erdogan and the AKP to go
We have long defended the Turkish government of Recep Tayyip Erdogan and the Justice and Development Party (AKP) in the face of anti-democratic attacks from the Turkish Kemalist establishment and the ultranationalist right. This government has been a reforming force in Turkish politics and society, promoting democratisation and human rights at home and presiding over great economic growth while pursuing a moderate, progressive foreign policy abroad. The AKP government has improved the rights of women and Kurds, pursued detente with Armenia and Cyprus, tried to restrain Turkey’s hawks over the PKK and northern Iraq, and supported the fragile, threatened Balkan states of Macedonia and Kosova.
Nevertheless, any progressive regime that remains in power too long will cease to be progressive. And the indications are that the AKP government has reached this point. Its initially moderately Islamic ideology mirrored, for a time, the moderate Christianity of European Christian Democratic parties, and provided an appealing alternative Islamic message to that of the Islamists. By challenging the Kemalist establishment over the ban on headscarves in universities and the public sector, the government has simply been standing up for the right of religiously observant women to education and a career. Yet the government, whose public support has been declining and which performed badly in local elections last month, is increasingly slipping down the slope from moderate Islam to Islamic popularism. In January, Erdogan flounced off the stage during a panel discussion with Israeli president Shimon Peres at the World Economic Forum, after accusing Peres over the Gaza offensive: ‘When it comes to killing, you know well how to kill.’ During the Gaza offensive, Erdogan regularly denounced Israel in Islamist terms, suggesting that ‘Allah would punish’ Israel, whose actions would lead to its own ‘destruction’.
That this had more to do with pandering to Muslim populism and rising anti-Semitism than to any genuine concern at Palestinian suffering is indicated by the fact that Erdogan has not displayed quite the same degree of anger at the crimes of the Islamist Sudanese regime in Darfur. Indeed, Sudanese president Omar Hassan al-Bashir was invited to Turkey in January 2008, when he reviewed a military guard of honour in Ankara in the company of Turkey’s president, the AKP’s Abdullah Gul, who described him as a ‘friend’. Bashir was invited to Turkey again in August, despite his indictment for genocide by the International Criminal Court. The Turkish government has extended a similarly warm welcome to Iranian president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, with whom it is developing a close friendship, and who was permitted to put on an anti-American and anti-Israeli display at Istanbul’s Blue Mosque. Ankara is also pursuing an increasingly close collaboration with Russia, and is obstructing the transit of Azerbaijani gas to Europe via the Nabucco pipeline project, thereby threatening a source of energy for Europe that would be independent of Moscow.
Perhaps most worryingly, Ankara has been blocking the accession of Danish prime minister Anders Fogh Rasmussen to become the next secretary-general of NATO, on account of his handling of the Danish cartoon controversy of 2005. In Erdogan’s own words: ‘We are receiving telephone calls from the Islamic world, telling us: “By God, this person should not become the secretary general of Nato and we have to take into consideration all these reactions”.’ The AKP’s Islamic populism is thus threatening the functioning of NATO.
Meanwhile, the Turkish government has hardened its stand on the Kurdish issue, with Erdogan warning the Kurdish people that, with regard to Turkey, they should ‘love it or leave it’, creating major difficulties for the AKP’s own Kurdish deputies in relation to their constituents. This is apparently linked to increasing government paranoia over the role of the US and Israeli intelligence services in the country. This shift may account for the AKP’s poor showing in Kurdish regions in Turkey’s recent local elections.
Erdogan is mutating from a Muslim moderate into a Muslim bigot; his government is becoming a negative force in world politics. It is time for them to go.
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