- Erdogan's sweeping new powers have become the law of Turkey
- As his grip on Turkey grows, so too do his global ambitions
- Turkey is expanding its role in Sudan, Somalia and Qatar
- Even though Turkey's economy falters, many are sacrificing democracy for belief in Erdogan the Strongman
By Ty Joplin
Before Recep Erdogan was Turkey’s president, he was the mayor of Istanbul. “We are proud of him,” his former Istanbul barber said of Erdogan. “He’s not only a leader, but a world leader.”
His barber is right: Erdogan has shaped the political system of Turkey around him, and has been trying to market himself as a world leader for Sunni Muslims around the world. With his recent re-election, a project to grant himself sweeping powers and recent international moves, Erdogan is closer than any previous leader at reconstructing a ‘neo-Ottoman’ power out of Turkey, even if it implodes the country’s economy and any semblance of democracy it once maintained.
Even though Turkish voters think many politicians within Erdogan’s own party, the Justice and Development Party (AKP), are corrupt and ineffective, Erdogan’s own reputation appears immune to such skepticism.
Both Turkey’s domestic political sphere and foreign policy objectives abide by one idea: Erdoganism.
Erdoganism Inside Turkey
Erdogan has all but ensured that Turkey’s political system revolves around him personally.
In April, 2017, the AKP launched a referendum that would transform Turkey towards a fully presidential system, getting rid of the Prime Minister’s position and placing more power than ever in the hands of the President.
By a narrow margin (51.4 percent to 48.6 percent), the referendum passed and Erdogan was given a wide-range of newfound powers.
“With the new changes, the president is becoming head of government as well as head of state, absorbing all authorities and responsibilities of the prime minister,” reads an article on the changes from the state-owned TRT World.
The referendum all but eliminated the ability of opposition parties to block the political agenda of Erdogan. It even gives the president the abilities to pass his own laws, which the referendum calls ‘decrees.’
On July 9, the referendum’s changes went into effect.
Erdogan speaks with supporters after a failed military coup in 2016 (AFP/FILE)
“Don’t be misled by the term ‘decree’ — those decrees amount to laws. Parliament has lost its legislative prerogative,” warned Abdullatif Sener, a former deputy prime minister of Turkey.
While on paper, the law states that parliament has the ability to override any presidential ‘decree,’ that clashes with their own, it remains to be seen whether this power will be exercised as parliament, currently in the hands of the AKP, would likely never pass bills that clash with their leader, Erdogan.
The referendum was passed with the implicit understanding that Erdogan would win the June, 2018 national election and formally hold onto the reins of power. He did exactly that, winning about 53 percent of the vote—an outright majority.
One of Erdogan’s biographies is called “the New Sultan,” using an historic term to refer to a ruler. In Turkey, the ‘Sultan’ was once used to refer to the ruler of the Ottoman Empire. Now that Erdogan has formally situated himself in the central seat of power, brushing off coup attempts and purging anyone who dissents, he is setting his sights on building a 21st century empire.
The latest estimate is that Erdogan has jailed over 160,000 dissidents and purged nearly 20,000 civil servants from the government on his quest to centralizing his power.
Sultan Erdogan, the Neo-Ottoman
As Turkey’s economy began to expand, surging an astounding 7.4 percent in 2017 alone, Erdogan began to flirt with regional ambitions that encompassed much of the Sunni Muslim world.
“Today, Turkey is a player in the Levant, GCC, North Africa and as far as Sudan and Somalia,” said Mohanad Hage Ali of the Carnegie Middle East Center in an interview with Al Bawaba.
In other words, Turkey is the region’s Sunni Iran.
While Turkey was riding the wave of its economic surge, it announced that it would deploy 60,000 troops to four separate military bases around the world.
Apart from his protracted intervention in Syria, where he now occupies a solid chunk of the country’s northwest, his ambitions have expanded beyond the neighboring countries.
Turkish troops parade (AFP/FILE)
In 2015, Turkey established a military presence at the Tariq bin Ziyad military base in Qatar before sending elements from its air force to the Al Udeid Air Base in southern Doha in 2017.
According to Turkish state-backed media, “At least 1,000 pilots will be trained annually at the center that was built by Turkish defense contractor HAVELSAN at Al-Udaid.”
Both bases in Qatar serve to entrench Turkey’s strategic and economic ties to the Gulf, but it has sent thousands more troops into Africa.
A little-known port city in Sudan has become a focal point of Erdogan’s project to expand his influence into northern Africa.
Sudan and Turkey agreed to let Turkey completely rebuild the port city, which was once a trade hub in the Ottoman Empire. The deal includes a plan “to build a dock to maintain civilian and military vessels,” Turkey’s Foreign Minister Ibrahim Ghandour said.
Saudi Arabia and Egypt both warned that the Turkey-Sudan deal would give Turkey the ability to establish a military foothold in Sudan. Those concerns turned out to be true.
Sudan leased the city to Turkey for 99 years, and many of the development plans involve ensuring the ability for Turkey to soldiers and a naval base on the port. In fact, the 99-year lease is so long that it's safe to say Turkey has essentially bought control of the port city from Sudan.
Though the rumors of Turkish soldiers stationed in Suakin have been denied or rebutted, experts and officials are careful to say that if there are Turkish soldiers there, they are meant to serve as anti-terrorist security forces.
Erdogan has also sought to capture Somalia in his sphere of influence, funding a wide array of development and security projects in the capital, Mogadishu.
"Ankara aims to help Somalia rebuild its public institutions that have been ruined since 1991. Turkey will train Somali soldiers here so that the Somali army can recuperate,” Olgan Bekar, Turkey’s ambassador to Somalia told TRT World.
Turkey's Erdogan opens a new Turkish Embassy in Somalia, (AFP/File)
Turkey’s entrance into Somalia includes training and equipping Somali security forces in addition to establishing its own facilities capable of housing thousands of soldiers. It is Turkey’s biggest overseas military base, and comes at a time when Somalia is running out of partners for its war against militant groups in the country.
Erdogan is positioning himself to be an indispensable ally of Sudan and Somalia; both of which give him access to critical trading ports and access to the Red Sea.
Erdogan has also gave overtures rhetorically linking his political empire to the welfare of Sunni Muslims around the world including places like Malaysia and the Philippines. “And now as the West grow increasingly wary of him and his authoritarian ways, Erdogan will increasingly concentrate on his growing ties in Eurasia and Asia,” explains Kamal Alam for the Nikkei Asian Review.
All this is to say that Erdogan dreams of shaping modern day Turkey into a neo-Ottoman force is slowly coming true, even if that means sacrificing any semblance of democratic legitimacy.
“Notwithstanding his current political dominance, the deteriorating state of the economy is his Achilles’ heel and the biggest threat to his currently unrivalled leadership.” says Fadi Hakura of Chatham House.
Turkey’s economic surge has begun to stall, and the economy is imploding. In the face of contraction and double-digit inflation, Turkey is drifting into a stagflation crisis that threatens to upend any effort from Erdogan to establish himself as a world leader.
But even as his country remains on the brink thanks to unorthodox monetary policies Erdogan engineered, many are convinced that Erdogan is precisely the leader they need to pull him out.
Turkish people who voted against Erdogan did so to deny him one-man rule; for them, it was a vote for democracy. But for those who voted for Erdogan to receive broad powers and be re-elected President, they seem to care less about democracy and more about strength: Erdogan, to many, projects strength.
“We’ve entered a very peculiar period, which I cannot define as a democracy,” Sener, the former deputy prime minister, posits.
“We might speak of a dictatorship in Turkey in the future.”
This article is part of an ongoing series investigating Turkey's geopolitical aims. Read more about this:
- NATO's Disappearance from the Middle East Starts in Turkey
- Turkey's Big Play in Africa Starts with Somalia
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