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Erdogan, the “Sultan”, who has not lost an election for more than 20 years

Mosques are our barracks.

domes, our helmets,

Minarets, our bayonets

And believers, our soldiers

The young mayor of Istanbul, a lover of poetry, Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, read these poems at a rally in the city in 1997. The political climate was tense. Earlier in the year, the army, established as a guarantor of the pure secularism established by the father of the country, Mustafa Kemal Atatürk, forced the resignation of Prime Minister Nejmetin Erbakan, a victory that turned the establishment upside down. elections and became the first Islamist leader to come to power.

Erdoğan was a disciple of Erbakan – who founded the Welfare Party in 1983 as a successor to another formation banned after another military coup in 1980 – and also worried about the military elite. He renewed a controversial project to build a mosque in the heart of the city, banned alcohol in municipal buildings and said things like “secularism is out of control. Of course, it will disappear when people want it. It cannot be avoided” or “The Islamic world is waiting for the rise of the Turkish Muslim nation. we will get up Easter will begin.”

This poem cost him several months in prison for inciting religious hatred, and in 1999, thousands of people accompanied him like a hero to the prison gates. Erdogan became a national figure. This poem is a good symbol to understand the origin and evolution of the Turkish leader who has led the country continuously for two decades without losing a single vote.

After winning the first round of presidential elections on May 14, without reaching 50%, Erdogan is the favorite for the second round against Kemal Kilicdaroglu, which will be held this week. However, the third candidate with the most votes – disqualified in the second round, who received 5%, which may be decisive – asked to vote for the president. “It is crucial for stability in the presidential system that the parliament and the presidency are under the same government alliance,” he said.

Erdoğan’s father enrolled him in the Imam Hatip Theological Seminary, whose students were barred from university except to study theology. A young student followed in Erbakan’s footsteps in the 1970s, and in 1981, when her second son was born, she named him Nejmetin in honor of his major political reference. His mentor advocated a confrontational style with the West and reached the sweet spot of power in the 1990s. “Other parties have members, we have believers,” he boasted.

Successive military coups, disagreements with Erbakan, and prison time convinced Erdogan that a confrontational style was not the best model for coming to power. In 1998, the justice system outlawed Erbakan’s Welfare Party, and his successors founded the Virtue Party, which was also banned. The hardliners then formed the Happiness Party and the reformists, led by Erdogan, founded the Justice and Development Party (AKP). “Our party is not Islamic. It is not based on religion. The media tried to put us in that category,” said a transformed Erdogan, whose priorities have become EU membership and economic and democratic reforms. According to him, he does not intend to create new religious schools and supports the rights of the Kurdish people. With his new strategy, he succeeded in allaying fears inside and outside Turkey.

The AKP won the 2002 election, but Erdoğan still held a political veto that lingered after he recited the poem when he was mayor and failed to become prime minister the following year. When he took office, he managed to halve inflation in three years, increase life expectancy from 70 years in 2000 to 75.3 in 2014, and improve various freedom indices. In addition, his goal of subordinating the military to civilian power was supported by the West and the Turkish left.

Over the years, the trend has reversed again, and Erdogan has slowly slipped into outright authoritarianism, but he has maintained an absolute majority since the election. “Both forms of government [la moderada y la autoritaria] They reflect Erdogan’s preference for tactical maneuvers and his desire for power. His moderation was useful in gaining foreign support against the military and building a broad coalition in the first years of AKP rule,” Howard Eisenstat, a professor at St. Lawrence University and a researcher at the Middle East Institute, told elDiario. This is in Turkey. “His move toward authoritarianism was as much a reaction to the protests as his tendency to centralize power in his own hands. Until now, he managed to hold elections by consolidating his personalist government.

2007 was a clear proof of Erdogan’s growing power. The Prime Minister appointed Abdullah Gul as the AKP’s candidate for the country’s presidency. The election alarmed the secular elite because of his Islamist background and the apparent symbol of his wife wearing a veil. The army then released a statement that was interpreted as a threat to the government in the context of its historic interference in politics. “The problem of presidential elections is focused on arguments about secularism. The armed forces are part of these discussions and are absolute defenders of secularism.” But Erdogan stood his ground, and it was sold as the first time the government had resisted military pressure.

Another key moment in this phase of consolidation of power over the armed forces was the trial of Ergenekon. Accused of plotting to overthrow Erdogan’s government, the trial ended with the arrest and conviction of hundreds of people, including journalists, politicians and much of the military leadership, including the chief of staff, who was sentenced to life in prison. In 2016, the court overturned the conviction and declared that the Ergenekon group did not exist. Evidence was forged — for example, Word documents detailing coup plans that were supposed to date back to 2002 were created using a 2007 version of Word — and others were obtained illegally.

“Between 2002 and 2011, the AKP shifted from a broad center-right conservative movement led by Islamists to a politburo-style Islamist party dominated by Erdogan loyalists,” writes Soner Kagaptay in his book The New Sultan: Erdogan and the Crisis. Modern Turkey. The repression of Gezi protests in 2013 was another turning point in his authoritarian drift. As the army weakened, the president extended an iron fist to the opposition, the media and the judiciary.

Since the 2016 coup attempt, which he blamed on the Gülen movement (a longtime partner in the country’s hard-line fight against secularism), human rights abuses and persecution of his opponents have reached unprecedented levels. Between 2004 and 2020, the number of prisoners multiplied by 4.6, and even the president had to release more than 30,000 prisoners to make room for new prisoners. In 2017, the president won a close referendum to switch from a parliamentary system to a presidential system, giving him even more power.

Turkey has moved from 98th in the Reporters Without Borders Press Freedom Index in 2005 to 165th in 2023 (out of 180). In 2012 and 2013, the Committee to Protect Journalists ranked Turkey as the world’s largest jailer of journalists, ahead of China and Iran. The non-governmental organization Freedom House notes that Turkey is the fifth country to have experienced the greatest regression in civil and political liberties over the past decade, behind only Libya, Nicaragua, South Sudan and Tanzania.

“Erdoğan, together with Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orbán, is among the inventors of nativist populism. His model is copied by other world leaders and consists mainly of affirming that only those who vote for a great leader are the true children of the country,” Kagaptai told “Only they are good Turks and good Muslims because they want to make Turkey great again, and therefore those who do not vote for them are not good citizens.”

With fears about political Islamism allayed and the army under control, Erdogan has pushed his conservative agenda, the exact opposite of what he promised when he founded the party. In 2008, there were 456 Imam Hatip schools. However, this figure increased to 5138 centers in a decade.

One of Erdogan’s stated goals is to create a “loyal generation” that will “work to build a new civilization.” “The history of Imam Hatip schools is the history of truth, justice and struggle for independence of our people. The way for these schools was opened when the shadow of the guardianship regime rose over the national will. During the coup and dictatorship, our people, like the Imam Hatip schools, were oppressed,” the president said at an event in 2021, where he also stressed that students at these schools had to “put their university dreams on hold.” years. “When we came to power, the number of students enrolled in Imam Hatip schools was about 64,000, and today this figure reaches 1,415,000. Education Minister Mahmut Ozer added: “This is one of the most important quiet revolutions we have achieved in the last 20 years.”

“He is Ataturk’s anti-Ataturk. He has anti-Atatürk values, that is, Turkey should be European, secular and Western. Erdoğan is committed to a socially conservative, Middle Eastern-style Islamist society,” Kagaptai told “But at the same time he is Atatürk because he shares the top-down Jacobin model of social engineering. For this, in the last 10 years and especially since he consolidated his power, he has used educational public policies and institutions to create his own image for generations, but with partial success.

Eisenstat agrees. “If Erdoğan’s goal was to recreate society, it is clear that he failed. The advent of social media and globalization have allowed civil society to remain viable. If the opposition wins, I think many of the changes of the last two decades can be reversed. But if the government wins, the space for dissent will be limited.”

This authoritarian shift has been accompanied by a growing confrontation, sometimes barely hidden, with the US and the West. Mustafa Aydin, president of the Turkish International Relations Council, told in an interview that Turkey is seeking “strategic autonomy” as it has been demanding from the EU for years.

“Erdogan has turned Turkey into a country in search of autonomy,” says Chagaptay. “I think it will remain. Erdogan has reminded citizens that they are children of the empire. This is a very common perception. Even in anti-Erdogan constituencies, they want Turkey to be recognized as a great power,” he says. “As for the domestic legacy, it will not be so positive.” .. He will go down in history as the man who transformed Turkey for the better economically, but ruined everything politically.”

Source: El Diario





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