graft

What Tunisia and Ben Ali taught me about Erdogan’s future

What Tunisia and Ben Ali taught me about Erdogan's future

What Tunisia and Ben Ali taught me about Erdogan’s future

Two weeks after I came home from a touristic travel to Tunisia in early december 2010, the uprising against Ben Ali started. I was surprised, since I had traveled throughout the whole country and talked to many people, not the least students, asking them what feelings they harboured for the man in charge. Except minor complaints about the high unemployment, all they said was positive. Education was free, people were happy. I left the country with a totally wrong perception of Ben Alis popularity. I had been naïve, and the Arab spring came as a surprise to me.

Ben ali Tunisia Erdogan Turkey

Ben ali Tunisia Erdogan Turkey

But I would would fall into the same trap twice…

During my two years in Turkey, before the Gezi protests, politics was something that people smoothly avoided to talk openly about at dinner tables where not all guests where known. Only at closed gathering, in my predominantly secular circles of friends, did some anger and the dissatisfaction with Erdogan’s politics show. But this I only realised in hindsight and I was therefore surprised when the Gezi protests took place and grew to a national phenomenon. I could never have guessed they would occur one week before they started.

I came to draw the conclusion that in an environment, where critical opinions can´t be ventilated on a continuous basis, sudden, unexpected outbursts – such as the Gezi protests and the Arab Spring- will always be the way of change – BY DESIGN.

So, what can this teach us about the future of Erdogan, the feelings about him in his own circles now so celebrating, supporting and free of criticism against him?

Does the silence and acceptance within the AKP mean that no one harbours any criticism towards him?

Most definitely not.
One example: Bulent Arinc is by many looked upon as the reasonable voice of AKP, before so talkative on all issues. Why has he recently been so silent?

And what does the grass roots of the AKP think about the Soma accident where no secularists where victims, but instead people like the ones Erdogan says he is trying to help?

Does people close to Erdogan buy his explanation and his denial of any involvement in the company who manages the mine?

Do the AKP believe in the Robot Lobisi?

I have decided not to fall into the same trap a third time. The AKP keep silent, just like the liberals and the secularistic Turkey did before the Gezi protests, before they had enough, before it all had built up to being just more than they could accept. But I know better now.

I know that that silence harbours more criticism than thousand words are capable of.

Piece by piece Erdogan is building up a heavy pile sh*% that will eventually fall down on him, crush him, bye bye!

 

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Part 2: Three gentlemen

Three gentlemen Turkey

One day before the elections I went to a classic Turkish fish restaurant together with some friends. The restaurant was located in one of the more wealthy parts of Istanbul. This is an area, where the main opposition party, CHP, always gets a very high percentage of the votes and where people on average aim for a westernised lifestyle.

But this night I would learn, that the political life still had its own distinguished features, specific to Turkish culture.

After ordering a bottle of Rakı – the national drink before AKP replaced it with the non-alcoholic Ayran – and after the first mezes had arrived to the table, I spotted three older men sitting a bit away from us in a corner. They were well-dressed, in suits, and with friendly faces. As our eyes meet, I raised my glass towards them and they saluted back.

“Where are you from? Are you from Germany?” one of the men said in broken English as I passed their table returning from the restroom a bit later.

I answered them and we started to chat. Soon they asked me to sit down with them.

“What do you think about the food? Delicious, isn’t it?” one of the men said.
“Excellent, It was very good. We are waiting for the main course. Do you know the owner?”
“Know the owner!” he exclaimed. “He is the little brother of my childhood friend. We go here all the time. We grew up not far from here.”

As the discussion unavoidably entered in to the area of politics, it turned out that one of the men, was senior local politician, working for the main opposition party, CHP. Glad to make his acquaintance we continued to talk, and after discussing the economic development of Istanbul, my mouth slipped – it must have been the Rakı – and I told them about a idea for a business based in Istanbul.

The politician immediately turned rather serious.

“We should talk” he the said. “We should exchange numbers and meet!”

I looked at the other men and they nodded.

“You should meet him, he can make anything happen” one of them said.

“Everything is possible.” the politician continued. “You can talk to me, and we can make a deal!”

He was saying all this in the way any old and powerful man in Turkey would do. But since he was a politician, there was no doubt about the meaning of his words.

From many friends I knew and heard stories about how knowing the right people, especially within politics and municipality, could mean the difference between bankruptcy and success. If someone within the system saw that your business was successful, they often wanted a cut. They would try to get it by pointing out problems of different kinds, mostly technicalities that at first seemed ridiculous. However, such a situation could quickly grow into a nightmare. Licenses could be withdrawn, deliveries could stop, police could come visit. The solution was always compensative one, meaning money under the table.

What the politician now offered me, was a shortcut. But of course it would not be a free one.

And I came to think: Even though he represented the opposition party, there was, in essence, little difference between him and e.g. Erdogan. They where of the same generation and in terms of attitude to corruption, they were soul mates.

No wonder why the voters did not punish Erdogan for being corrupt!

A Gezi protest within the AK Party?

It is easy to forget that the AK Party is a political unit that most likely would function without it’s leader Tayyip Erdogan. The way that Erdogan rules the party, reminds more of a military commander directing his troops on the battlefield than a democratically elected leader that listen, learn and argue. Those who question Erdogan are immediately expelled from the party. Given that, it is natural that Erdogan takes all criticism personal. Criticizing AK Party means criticizing him.

Lately, however, we have witnessed some interesting signs of resistance against Erdogan in a way that was unthinkable just one year ago. It started with the former famous football player and deputy Hakan Şükur, who resigned December 16, publicly slamming Erdogan for his plan to close down the prep schools, seen as an direct attack on the Islamic scholar Fetullah Gülen, who Hakan Şükur stands close. And after the graft probe was initiated one day later, additionally eight deputies resigned, as a protest against Erdogan’s way of interfering in the ongoing probe, trying to obstruct the justice. Even the finance minister, Mehmet Şimşek, criticized the sacking of police officers initially, but suddenly became very quite on the issue. Most likely, these objections are the tip of an iceberg, and if the political unrest continues, we might witness a Gezi protest within the AK Party. Such a protest would probably erupt equally unexpected as the Gezi protests that took place in Taksim in June 2013. That’s the way it works in Turkey. People are friendly and patient, but there is always a limit. I know that not least from personal experiences.

The critical point that has to be reached for this to happen is that members of the party start to see Erdogan as more of a liability than an asset. Because of the way Erdogan dominates the party, it is easy to forget that not all leading members are corrupt and democratically blinded by a will for power. The AK Party is not the problem. Erdogan is! His response to the graft probe clearly signals that he is more interested in saving his own family than developing Turkey into a true democracy. If he continues along that path without managing to stabilize the political situation, that critical point might be reached much sooner than anyone would guess.

So, what is Erdogan afraid of? Is it to lose the money he has stacked away? Most likely! But even if it weren’t for the corruption charges against his family, he would still be deadly afraid of losing his political immunity. Considering the amount of enemies he has created over the years, not the least within the military because of the Ergenekon trial, staying in power is the only way to survive in a country like Turkey. Thus, Erdogan stepping down voluntarily is not a likely scenario. Excluding the opportunity of an enormous failure for the AK Party in the upcoming elections of 2014, a Gezi protest within AKP is the most likely way forward for democracy in Turkey!

A Gezi protest within the Ak Party

A Gezi protest within the Ak Party