Erdogan and the Wisdom of
By: Amir Taheri
Outlet: The Gatestone Institute
Date: July 14, 2019
regard history as a stage on which the drama of human existence is played, we
may pay heed to a piece of advice to actors by Max Reinhardt, the legendary
Austrian theater director: How and when you leave the stage is as important as
when and how you enter it!
Julius Caesar bowing out of the stage just a year before his assassination in 44
BC. He would have been remembered as the leader who healed the wounds of Rome's
bloodiest civil war, and laid the foundations of an empire destined to dominate
the world for centuries. And, what about Winston Churchill? Had he retired in
1945 after leading Great Britain to victory over Nazi Germany, he would have
avoided a humiliating defeat in the first post-war general election. Other
putative timely exits could be cited: General Charles De Gaulle, handing in the
keys to the Elysee in 1967 instead of 1968. Iran's Muhammad-Reza Shah stepping
down in 1977. And, to return to present-time, Turkey's Recep Tayyip Erdogan in
problem is that President Erdogan may have already missed the ideal when and how
of his eventual exit. But, one thing is certain: the hourglass of his career has
started flowing down faster.
other cases of leaders missing the exit time, Erdogan is a man of remarkable
achievements. It would be no exaggeration to claim that, leaving Mustafa Kemal (Ataturk)
aside, he is the leader who has most affected modern Turkey's destiny. Some of
Erdogan's achievements are too well-known to need detailing here. Among these
are the almost doubling of the size of the Turkish economy in just two decades
is one. The partial end to a generation-long internal war with ethnic Kurds is
another. Despite recent turmoil, especially the abortive coup of 2016, Turkey
today is more prosperous and more at peace than almost any other time since the
creation of the republic in the 1920s.
I think the most significant event during the Erdogan's era is the firm
establishment of the ballot box as the ultimate source of power in Turkey. This
may have happened in spite of Erdogan's wishes, as seen in the recent municipal
election in Istanbul that he tried hard to twist and turn to his party's
republic that Ataturk established without securing grassroots understanding, let
alone active support, was more of an autocracy with a democratic veneer than a
functioning pluralist system. In the first quarter-century of its existence, the
Turkish Republic was a one-party state with Ataturk's Republican People's Party
(CHP) winning four-fifth of the seats in successive general elections. In those
elections, rural and still religious Turkey was all but marginalized in favor of
the growing urban and increasingly secular half of the nation.
"Backward" Turkey managed to stage a dramatic entry center stage in
the 1950 general election when the Democrat Party won four-fifths of the seats
in the Grand National Assembly (parliament) and, for the first time, formed the
Turkey repeated that spectacular success in 1954 (increasing its majority) and
in 1957, fomenting fears in the top brass and many Turkey-watchers that the
modernizing Kemalists would never return to power. Those fears inspired the
military coup of 1960, pitting Chief of Staff General Cemal Gursel against
President Celal Bayar's government.
top brass had already agreed on the formation of an interim government
sanctioned by the Republican People's Party before the tanks were ordered to
roll in Ankara.
similar pattern was observed in 1971 when another coup leader, General Memduh
Tagmac, in effect ordered the politicians, in a pronouncement, to form a new
government under the military's supervision. The 1980 coup, led by General Evren,
produced a largely technocratic government but enjoyed significant political
Turkish military -- claiming only the presidency of the republic, which remained
a largely ceremonial position until Erdogan gave it executive power -- always
avoided direct rule.
events of 1960 to 1980 created the impression that Turkey's modernizing forces,
largely led by the CHP, would never win power without the backing of the
recent mayoral election in Istanbul, the nation's largest city, cultural capital
and home to almost a quarter of the population, may help change that perception.
For the first time in a long while, leading an opposition alliance, the CHP's
mayoral candidate, Ekrem Imamoglu, won a convincing electoral victory without as
much as a nod and a wink from the military. Also, that victory was secured with
a theme of hope, reconciliation and reform rather than despair, revenge and
conspiratorial fantasies so common in recent Turkish elections. More
importantly, perhaps, Erdogan managed, or was forced to, contain take his
chagrin and eventually accept the defeat of his Justice and Development Party (AKP).
opponents insist that he had to swallow defeat in Istanbul because he lacked the
strength to continue challenging the results. They may be right. But, what if
Erdogan has converted to the idea of alternation of power through elections?
may be intelligent enough to understand that things do not always go the way one
likes. He led a remarkable economic resurgence in Turkey, but is now presiding
over what looks like an economic meltdown with rampant inflation, falling
productivity and shrinking job opportunities. Rather than calming things down,
his authoritarian moves, including the sacking of the Central Bank governor,
have intensified the crisis. His trademark "no-enemies" foreign policy
has been replaced by a policy that seems designed to turn everyone, including
NATO allies and European Union partners, not to mention Arab states, against
Turkey. Another of his signature successes, cooling down the Kurdish cauldron,
seems to be a thing of the past.
party's claim of being "whiter than white" is hard to sustain as his
entourage sinks deeper in the grey of corruption. More importantly, his success
in persuading the "backward" half of Turkey that it could gain power
through elections no longer enjoys the same level of support it once did even in
or bad, the once-successful Erdogan recipe seems not to be working anymore. The bashkhan has
read his text, played his part and has nothing new to utter. The play has to go
on but, for him, the finger may be pointing to exit.
Amir Taheri was the
executive editor-in-chief of the daily Kayhan in Iran from 1972 to 1979. He has worked at or
written for innumerable publications, published eleven books, and has been a
columnist forAsharq Al-Awsat since 1987. He is the Chairman of
This article was
originally published by Asharq al-Awsat and is reprinted by
kind permission of the author.