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Erdogan stays in control – for now

Supporters of the ruling Justice and Dev't Party (AKP) in Turkey celebrate its sweeping election victories March 30, 2014. Many are concerned the results will be viewed as validation for PM Recep Tayyip Erdogan's increasingly authoritarian acts. Credit: Reuters/Umit Bektas

Supporters of the ruling Justice and Dev’t Party (AKP) in Turkey celebrate its sweeping election victories March 30, 2014. Many are concerned the results will be viewed as validation for PM Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s increasingly authoritarian acts. Credit: Reuters/Umit Bektas

In September 2011, on the heels of the Arab Spring upheaval, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, Prime Minister of Turkey, visited Cairo. In the shadow of the chaos of the Arab Spring, he took the opportunity to point out that “the Turkish state is in its core a state of freedoms and secularism.”

Two and a half years later, Turkey is a radically (literally) different place. Those freedoms have been curtailed and secularism pulled back. Unrest and accusations of corruption persist and the economy teeters on the edge of downturn, yet Erdogan seems more popular than ever. His ruling Justice and Development Party emerged the clear winner in local elections on Mar. 30, 2014, but many opponents and outside observers worry the victory will result in further crackdown on openness and moves toward authoritarian rule.

In the wake of intense protests last summer in Istanbul, 10 people died and dozens more seriously injured as a result of police activity which Erdogan supported. Last December after a police corruption probe targeted key Erdogan supporters, the prime minister dismissed thousands of officers and pushed through new laws to significantly limit judicial authority. When corruption allegations continued online, Erdogan banned social media sites in March 2014. Earlier this month a court ruling restored use of Twitter, but other sites remain off-limits.

Especially concerning is Erdogan’s comments towards the opposition, especially those supportive of the corruption investigation. Asli Aydintasbas, a columnist for a newspaper that had criticized the administration, observed, “Where he could have said any number of embracing or positive things, he chose instead to carry on with the very abrasive rhetoric he’s used throughout the campaign. He effectively said ‘I’m going to punish all of you.’”

These developments should be of great concern to the international community. While perhaps the aggressive moves in Ukraine have drawn the most attention, Turkey’s shift towards a more closed-off, restrictive state could have massive ramifications for stability in the Muslim world. Perhaps the sanctions being contemplated in regards to Putin’s Russia should be applied to Erdogan’s Turkey too, if further undemocratic behavior continues.

In its political and economic development, Turkey has made great strides while preserving freedom and secularism. It is up to the free people of the world to make sure those strides are not reversed. Backsliding must not be accepted — there is too much at stake.



Scott Bleiweis

Scott Bleiweis writes on international relations topics for FPA. He has a M.A. in democracy studies and conflict resolution from the University of Denver, and a B.A. in Politics/International Studies from Brandeis University. Scott was formerly a Fulbright education scholar in Bulgaria (views in this blog are his own, and do not represent those of the Fulbright organization or U.S. government).

Scott supports Winston Churchill's characterization of the complex form of government known as democracy: “Many forms of Government have been tried and will be tried in this world of sin and woe. No one pretends that democracy is perfect or all-wise. Indeed, it has been said that democracy is the worst form of government except all those other forms that have been tried from time to time.”

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