Erdogan’s ‘New Turkey’ a step away from the West
Istanbul - Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan is leading his country on a new course that is no longer centred on an iron-clad commitment to be a part of the West, critics say.
Hosting a summit of the 57-member Organisation of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) in Istanbul in mid-April, Erdogan called on the Islamic world to unite in the fight against terrorism and extremism and to “solve our problems on our own” instead of waiting for the West to step in.
He criticised the West for exploiting the situation in the Middle East for material gains. “Others get involved and they get involved only for oil, not to bring peace and quiet,” he said.
OIC meeting participants decided to set up a joint police centre to boost the fight against terrorism. Erdogan welcomed efforts by Saudi Arabia to build a joint military force — dubbed the “Army of Islam” by Turkish media — and called for the creation of a separate group representing European Muslims within the OIC.
Erdogan, addressing delegates in a palace on the Bosphorus once used by Ottoman sultans, expressed hope for a “new era” for the Islamic world to begin. His government signed an agreement with Saudi Arabia to create a bilateral cooperation council. The deepening of Turkish-Saudi ties is seen as an effort by the Sunni players in the region to counter the influence of Shia Iran.
Turkey, which assumed the rotating IOC presidency for two years at the summit, was “a ray of hope for Muslim unity”, Ilnur Cevik, an Erdogan adviser, wrote in the pro-government newspaper Daily Sabah.
In a reference to the West, Cevik said outside forces were bent on hurting the Islamic world.
“A secret hand has put into motion a modern-time Crusade that is more sinister and fatal than the challenges posed to Islam throughout history,” Cevik wrote. Islam was under attack by forces that fostered terrorism and internal strife among Muslims, he added. Only Turkey and its president could foil that plot. “The modern day Crusaders are aware that they have to stall Erdogan and Turkey,” Cevik said.
That kind of anti-Western rhetoric comes as relations among Turkey, a NATO member and an EU candidate state, and its Western partners show signs of strain. After a recent visit to Washington, Erdogan said he was disappointed with US President Barack Obama, who criticised the clampdown on the media in Turkey. Shortly afterward, the Turkish government rejected findings of a report by the European Parliament on the state of Turkey’s democracy, which said the country was “backsliding”.
The Turkish opposition newspaper Cumhuriyet said the Erdogan government was cutting the country loose from the West and turning it eastward.
Erdogan has slammed Western diplomats for attending a trial against two Turkish journalists who published a story about alleged arms shipments by Turkey to Syrian rebels. He brought criminal charges against German comedian Jan Bohmermann over a satirical poem. Charges were filed against Bohmermann in a German court after Erdogan had the German ambassador to Ankara summoned to the Turkish Foreign Ministry over another satirical programme on German television.
EU chief Jean-Claude Juncker criticised Turkey’s action against the satirical programmes, saying this “does not bring Turkey closer to us but will put us farther apart from each other”.
The Turkish president publicly warned EU countries to stick to their commitments of a deal designed to reduce the flow of migrants from Syria and other countries via Turkey to Western Europe. He said Turkey will stop taking back refugees from Greece if the European Union does not lift visa requirements for Turks and does not come up with billions of dollars in financial support for Syrian refugees in Turkey.
Hasan Cemal, a well-known journalist critical of Erdogan, said it is no coincidence that the president, who has been talking about a “New Turkey” that would take a leading role in the region, has become so actively involved in the OIC while ties to the West wither.
“There is no doubt about the Erdogan government distancing Turkey from the West systematically,” Cemal wrote on the T24 online news platform. “Regarding core values that make the West the West, like the rule of law, equality between men and women, human rights and freedoms, Erdogan’s face has long turned from West to East.”
While the government insists that it remains committed to the aim of joining the European Union, some of its members have been stressing their country’s determination to make its own decisions and not be at the beck and call of other powers. “Know your limits, Europe,” Yigit Bulut, Erdogan’s economic adviser wrote in the Star newspaper. If EU politicians thought they could boss Turkey around, they should “wait and see what will happen”.
Turkish Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu, a former foreign minister, is also pushing for a more active Turkish role. Behlul Ozkan, a political scientist at Istanbul’s Marmara University, said Davutoglu was a “pan-Islamist” who was aiming for a union of Muslim countries under Turkish leadership.