Is it time for Palestinians to give up on Erdogan?

Published February 23rd, 2015 - 09:06 GMT
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan. (AFP/File)
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan. (AFP/File)

Many in the Middle East turn a blind eye to abuses, anti-democratic and at times outright dictator-like behavior when a leader shares their opinion about a conflict or issue. However, Palestinians especially should be wary of their support because more often than not it lacks sincerity and only serves to empower those leaders and their oppressive leanings.

Since coming to power, Recep Tayyip Erdogan strove to be the champion of the Palestinian people and their struggle, denouncing Israel’s decades-long occupation of the Palestinian territories. He also claimed the status of a moderate Muslim who, while embracing “man-made” democracy, never forgot his Muslim identity.

Tensions between Turkey and Israel made international headlines when Erdogan denounced President Shimon Peres at the World Economic Forum. “When it comes to killing you know very well how to kill,” were his words. Next year, after Israel’s violent response to the Gaza flotilla, animosities escalated and Turkey downgraded its relations with Israel.

The two countries remain in diplomatic deadlock to this day over the ongoing wars in Gaza that have killed thousands of Palestinian civilians. On numerous occasions, Erdogan has said that he supported the Palestinian Islamic Movement, Hamas, who are running the affairs in Gaza.

But is Erdogan the champion of democracy and freedom? Not really.

At home, Erdogan is rapidly becoming the very definition of a Middle Eastern dictator who wants to rule forever. Much like his counterparts, from Russia’s Putin to the kings and sheiks of the Persian Gulf, he is doing everything in his power, which in Turkey is more limited than in the Arab world thanks to the constitution, to silence any dissent or opposition.

Erdogan is interested in maintaining power, making Turkey more conservative and religious, and keeping women in the home as mothers and wives.

A 16-year old boy was arrested at his school, like a terrorist in the words of his mother. He reportedly said that he didn’t consider Erdogan the president but the leader of the corruption in Turkey. The prosecutor is asking for a 4-year sentence.

When congratulating the family of the first-born baby in Turkey in 2015, the Health Minister said that a women’s “career should be motherhood.” His remarks came days after Erdogan argued that birth control was a form of “treason”. Weeks earlier he had claimed that equality between men and women was “against nature”.

Morever, in Turkey journalists are often detained and harassed by officials. Since the Gezi protests, Erdogan’s party has derided the foreign media and its representatives in Turkey, who are mostly Turkish citizens. In June 2013, the Ankara mayor launched a smear campaign against a BBC correspondent that led to death threats against the journalist. Last August, after the Economist’s correspondent questioned whether Muslims were capable of questioning their authorities, Erdogan censured her as “a militant shameless woman who had to know her place.”

In January of this year, a Dutch journalist who had criticized the government over the Kurdish question and the flow of jihadists over the border was detained in her home in southeastern Turkey and her house searched by a team of five terror police. The charge was “aiding terror propaganda,” though she was swiftly released. This was only an hour after Erdogan’s speech proclaiming that Turkey had a freer press than the United States and any country in the European Union.

Mustafa Akyol, an author and journalist who has been increasingly critical of the government despite supporting Erdogan during his first two terms, declared on Twitter that her detention was based on “similar terror propaganda charges that were brought against the Al Jazeera staff in Egypt by the Sisi regime.”

So where does this urge by many Palestinians to defend Erdogan come from?

The Turkish government should be commended for its moral support to the Syrian people. Turkey has opened its borders to some 1.6 million refugees. According to a 2014 report from International Crisis Group, the conflict has caused more than $3 billion in economic losses for Turkey thus far.

But under Erdogan, Turkey is moving closer to an authoritarian state rather than a democratic one. Erdogan is nothing like Assad and would never become that type of dictator, but that doesn’t make him a democrat or an advocate of freedom. Erdogan sees himself as the best leader for Turkey and in his own words, “I will be in politics until my last breath.”

Therefore, although Erdogan speaks boldly for the Palestinian cause, Palestinians and their sympathizers have to acknowledge that leaders across the globe use the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, in most cases, to serve a domestic or foreign agenda rather than having a genuine intention.

Over the past 68 years, this conflict has evolved into a global clash between two religions as well as a clash between lovers and haters of American foreign policy.

In a Muslim country, such as Turkey, a leader should expect support from voters by showing sympathy to “our Muslim brothers” in Palestine. This happened in Egypt for a brief moment under the Muslim Brotherhood. And this has also been the case in Iran since the Islamic revolution in 1979, and to this day some Muslims and Arabs sympathize with this oppressive regime because the supreme leader Khomeni or the former president Ahmadinejad would simply go after Israel in a speech or criticize the United States’ biased support of Israel.

Instead of seeking support from dictators such as these, the Palestinians should strengthen their cause from within. They should be the ones looking out for themselves and for their cause, and take the words of outsiders – however defiant and brave – with a grain of salt because they often come with their own agenda.

“Palestine is not common property. It's not your career boost, hot topic to dialogue on or cause to manipulate for your agenda,” Remi Kanazi, a Palestinian-American performance poet and human rights activist said on Twitter. “It’s simple. Non-Palestinian Muslims don’t set the agenda on Palestine. Palestinians do. End of story.”

By Mohamed Hemish

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