Turkey’s Pariah Sultan?

by Benjamin Weinthal

Jerusalem —Yesterday, Katherine Connell covered in this space the Turkish prime minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s crackpot statements blaming Israel and the French Jewish philosopher Bernard-Henri Lévy for the military coup in Egypt.

The decline of Erdogan’s brand of political Islamism mixed with electoral democracy is hardly surprising. He showed pure contempt for democratic protests in Turkey, terming the demonstrators’ demands for less Islamism a result of an external “Interest-rate lobby” — a classic anti-Jewish trope.

The anti-Erdogan protests prompted The Economist to headline its June story on Erdogan: “Democrat or Sultan?”

However, his hardcore anti-democratic credentials were largely ignored by the Obama administration and the EU before the June protests. According to a report issued last year by the Committee to Protect Journalists, Erdogan’s government “imprisoned more journalists than China and Iran combined.” Turkey is the world champion in gutting press freedoms.

Erdogan’s pathological obsession with Jews and Israel has marked nearly half of his term in office since 2003. A telling recent example from February: He called Zionism — the founding political philosophy of the Jewish state — “a crime against humanity.”

A prime minister animated by anti-Semitic thinking and statements, to put it mildly, does not lend himself to a democratic governing structure. 

Over at the Wall Street Journal’s Middle East Real Time Blog, the authors write that Erdogan has earned a growing pariah status because he “ has struck an increasingly anti-U.S., anti-Western, anti-Semitic and, since Tuesday, also an anti-Arab tone.”

The Jerusalem Post’s veteran reporter Herb Keinon wrote on Tuesday, “Even Turkey’s Hurriyet Daily News seems to be tiring somewhat of Erdogan’s anti-Israel rants and conspiracy theories. The lead to an article on Erdogan’s comments Tuesday that appeared on the paper’s website began with the words, ‘Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan went back on the warpath August 20, accusing one of Ankara’s most prominent bogeymen, Israel, of complicity in overthrowing Egyptian president Mohamed Morsi.”’

Erdogan’s model of political Islam is stumbling on both legs. A significant segment of the Turkish population rejects his authoritarianism. His foreign policy of “zero problems with neighbors” has turned out to be a largely hollow goal.

His enthusiastic support for both the radical Islamic terrorist group Hamas in the Gaza Strip — and the Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood movement — has damaged Turkey’s foreign policy.

 Erdogan’s blunders have left him and his Justice and Development Party (AKP) in a more vulnerable position than at any time in its history. Will the Obama administration and its allies capitalize on the opportunity to influence a change in Erdogan’s anti-democratic rule?

Benjamin Weinthal is a Berlin-based fellow at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies. Follow Benjamin on [email protected]

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