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Erdogan, Moderate Islamist, Consolidates Power

What it could mean for Israel

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Prime Minister Erdogan yesterday.(-/AFP/Getty Images)

If you sold one thousand words for that picture, you’d be getting a bargain. Over the weekend, Turkish Prime Minister Erdogan—pictured yesterday, the sole suit, striding in front of all his military men—solidified his power when, in response to government-led investigations into military commanders attempting to sabotage him, several top members of the military brass resigned. Cut to Monday, when Erdogan sat alone at the head of a table during a meeting to decide military appointments, clearly the man in charge.

To grasp why this is so remarkable—since certainly the notion of civilian authority over the military is de rigeur in, say, the United States—you have to know about Turkey and about Erdogan, and Christopher Hitchens does a nice job with the particulars. The modern state of Turkey was founded in 1923 by the resolutely secular and thoroughly military Kemal Mustafa Atatürk, and for the next 80 years existed with a military at least as powerful as the civilian authorities (sometimes more powerful, as when one prime minister was hanged) and with a French-like commitment to laïcité in public life. That started to change last decade, when Erdogan’s AKP—ideologically Islamist, but moderately so—came to power, the first of three straight national elections they won. Erdogan “now enjoys more power than any Turkish leader since Kemal Atatürk,” Stephen Kinzer wrote two weeks ago. “Politically Turkey has changed more in the last ten years than it did in the previous eighty. For generations the army was able to enforce strict secularism in the tradition of Atatürk, but a new ethos, more open to religious influence, has changed the terms of politics and public life.” So in Turkey, the military correlates to secularism, while Islamists correlate to democracy. Pakistan it ain’t.

Israel currently has two major concerns with Turkey: its own bilateral relations, which dipped severely last year, and their mutual neighbor, Syria. On the latter front, the Assad regime’s instability has clearly brought the two countries closer. And the two sides seem to be circling around some sort of U.S.-backed rapprochement wherein Israel apologizes but does not take responsibility for last year’s raid on the Gaza-bound Mavi Marmara.

Israeli officials are concerned about Erdogan’s consolidation. I’m not sure I agree? If the lesson of the Arab Spring is that in the long run cooperative authoritarian rulers are poor guarantors of stability, then the much more modified Turkish Spring offers a much lower-stakes exchange: While in Egypt there is fear that genuinely scary Islamist elements could take over in the military’s wake, here the popular Islamists are avowed moderates who on the international stage are rational actors who can be made to see where their interests align with Israel’s. The Turkish model is probably the best to hope for Egypt to emulate. (Sure beats the Pakistani one.) I mean, an ostensibly secular republic that is nonetheless also the result of an early-20th-century nationalist movement, with a democratically elected government that includes overtly religious elements? Turkey and Israel should probably be friends. Meanwhile, hopefully Erdogan will remember what great powers come with.

Turkish Prime Minister Climbs a Higher Perch in Wake of Resignation [NYT]
Turkey: Flanked by Generals, the Prime Minister Sits at Head of Table on a Day of Symbolism [AP/WP]
The End of the Kemalist Affair [Slate]
Triumphant Turkey? [NYRB]
Barak: U.S. Advises Qualified Apology to Turkey [JTA]
Officials: Israel Concerned Over Turmoil in Turkish Army [Ynet]
Earlier: Should Israel Apologize to Turkey?
Have Israel and Turkey Reached Détente?

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The Egypt of the “Arab Spring” is becoming another Islamist state like Iran – in part because the US, under Obama, failed to support Mubarak to transition out of power, just as under Carter we failed to support our long time ally the Shah to transition out of power.

Turkey is growing ever closer to Iran and becoming more Islamist despite a secular nationalist history. At some point the US will be facing a NATO (of which Turkey is a key eastern member) that supports Islamists and is powerless to act against them in the event of conflict with Iran or elsewhere.

Hershel (Heshy) Ginsburg says:

MT Turkey is far from being “moderate Islamist”, and is well on its way to being a Sharia state (I think you have been spending too much time reading — and believing — the NY Times; broaden your info sources). More importantly, the media in Turkey has become rabidly antisemitic, Egyptian style. The Turks also have their Ramadan TV specials depicting Israelis and / or Jews as blood thirsty killers who murder children just for the heck of it. And if my memory serves me well one of the shows even used the classic blood libel trope of matzah baking.

I suggest you read much more of Claire Berlinski’s writings on Turkey. She has been living there for the past 5 years or so and I believe may actually know Turkish (that beats Roger Cohen). You also may want to read an article that appeared about a year ago in the New Republic (http://www.tnr.com/article/world/75123/turkey%E2%80%99s-other-dirty-war) on the Ergenekon trials, before you pontificate on what a wonderful democracy Turkey may become.

And also don’t forget to read some of Barry Rubin’s stuff on Turkey. Rubin is a recognized expert on the country and has published extensively on it (see his blogs). You may actually learn a thing or two.

Blogging does not exempt you from knowing something about your subjects.

hg

Jerusalem / Efrata

Hershel (Heshy) Ginsburg says:

One more item worth reading (I didn’t include it my previous post because 2 URLs automatically diverts a comment to the Moderation Monster, which is actually more of black hole).

Last November TNR ran an interesting piece on Fethullah Gulen the real leader and brains behind the Turkish Islamic movement. Strongly suggest you read this one too: http://www.tnr.com/article/world/magazine/79062/global-turkey-imam-fethullah-gulen

BTW, Gulen lives in the U.S. of A….. food for thought.

hg

Simon says:

Turkey under the rule of an Islamic supported Erdogan is a danger to the entire world.His support of Hamas and the provocation to Israels security using his state sponsored apparatus to create an international situation shows we are dealing with a megalomaniac.His jailing of reporters and denial of Internet freedoms are not actions of a democratic leader but a banana republic.

Carrie says:

Israel is concerned about Erdogan’s consolidation, but I think they are more concerned about Erdogan’s support of Hamas and Iran.

Bryna Weiss says:

We vacationed for a month in Turkey about three years ago and spent a lot of time with the shop and restaurant owners. We were told by all of them, that they had to be careful not to be heard criticizing the government, that free speech was limited free speech, that their children were leaving the country as soon as they were old enough because of the Islamism. Not a good word about Erdogan and his government- plus a lot of anti-semitism.

Carl says:

Turkey is the world leader for imprisoning journalists over the past year.

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Erdogan, Moderate Islamist, Consolidates Power

What it could mean for Israel

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