With country's economy on brink of recession, Erdogan still in pursuit of imperial designs

Erdogan seems unwilling to limit the scope of his ambitions even if it means extending the list of regional rivals and enemies.
Wednesday 20/05/2020
Fuelling concern. A file picture shows Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan (R) taking part via a video conference in Extraordinary Virtual G20 Leaders' Summit in Istanbul, last March. (AFP)
Fuelling concern. A file picture shows Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan (R) taking part via a video conference in Extraordinary Virtual G20 Leaders' Summit in Istanbul, last March. (AFP)

LONDON--With the economy on the brink of a second recession, the stakes are high for Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan at home and abroad.

Considering the prospects of  higher unemployment, collapse in tourism and unstable currency, “the situation is extremely bad," said Atilla Yesilada, an economist at GlobalSource Partners think tank.

Economists say the $15 billion stimulus package he has introduced since the pandemic outbreak will not be enough to revive the economy.

The government hoped for 5% growth in 2020, but the IMF predicts GDP will instead contract by 5% and unemployment will rise to 17.2% this year.

In view of such a gloomy outlook, economists believe Ankara will soon have to seek IMF help.

Turkey has asked for IMF assistance 19 times already, and for Erdogan, an impassionate advocate of an aggressive notion of sovereignty, such a move would be a humiliation, experts say.

Instead of being an asset that he has used to secure his hold on power, the, the economy has now become his “achilles heel," Soner Cagaptay of the Washington Institute for Near East Policy told AFP.

Ankara Mounted Police Unit officers patrol the streets in Ankara, May 18 .(AFP)
On guard. Ankara Mounted Police Unit officers patrol the streets in Ankara, May 18 .(AFP)

Questions are also being raised over whether the worsening economy could affect Erdogan’s ambitions for leadership in the region, where Turkey has a major role in conflicts in Syria and Libya.

The deteriorating economic could eventually shake Erdogan's hold on power. Last year, it already led his Justice and Development Party (AKP) to lose local elections in Ankara and Istanbul.

Cagaptay noted that “there are no elections scheduled until 2023 but his popularity is slipping and… it would be hard to ignore calls for early elections if the economy tanks." Until that dates comes, Erdogan is likely to continue his crackdown on the opposition, including by sacking elected mayors in predominantly-Kurdish cities.

The country's economic woes could also hinder Erdogan's costly interventionist policies abroad. The need for austerity measures and IMF help would hardly match the imperial image Erdogan would like to project of himself and his policies.

At the end of a video teleconference with members of his government last Monday, a boastful Erdogan warned that "there is no chance of success for any project, plan, regional political or economic grouping in the region and the world, if Turkey is excluded."

"This fact can be witnessed from the Balkans to the Mediterranean and from the north of Africa to its south," he added.

In pursuit of an idealised neo-Ottoman vision of history and political-economic influence, Erdogan is increasingly relying on military force and on regional Islamist networks of support to achieve his goals in the Middle East, the Maghreb and the Eastern Mediterranean region.

His aggressive moves are sparking concern but despite the rising cost of his incursions in Syria and direct military involvement in Libya -- both in terms of unpopularity at home and the casualty toll on the ground -- Erdogan seems unwilling to limit the scope of his ambitions, even if it means extending the list of regional rivals and enemies.

"Those who back Turkey's opponents from Syria to Libya should reexamine their policies," he warned.