Published in Al Ahram 24/3/2017
Hardly a few weeks pass without Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan fuelling a new series of problems with his Middle East neighbours or even his NATO allies. The latest spree of troublemaking witnessed Erdogan’s attempt to garner support for a new controversial referendum to change the Turkish constitution. If approved by Turkish voters, on 16 April, it will give limitless powers to the Turkish president and place a final nail in the coffin of Turkish democracy. Given how referendums and elections have been conducted in Turkey in recent years, unless a miracle takes place it is very likely that the referendum will pass. Once passed, it will secure Erdogan the presidency till at least 2029, or, in other words, till he comes up with a new idea to alter the constitution to prolong his endless power grab in Turkey.
As devastating as the new referendum may be for Turkish democracy, that is not the only problem Erdogan has stirred recently. The Turkish president is apparently not content at the masses in Turkey whom he rallies with red flags in Nazi-styled parades; he wants to expand these massive rallies into European countries with Turkish descent populations who are eligible to vote in the upcoming referendum.
ERDOGAN AND GERMANY: At one time, Germany — and especially German Chancellor Angela Merkel — was considered to be Turkey’s biggest ally in Europe and probably in the world. With about 2-3 million Germans of Turkish origin living in Germany, Turkish-German ties, spanning back as far as World War I, were always strong. But these ties witnessed a severe deterioration after Erdogan called the Germans and German chancellor terrorist supporters for demanding the immediate release of German-Turkish journalist Deniz Yücel in Turkey.
The 43-year-old Yücel is a reporter for the prominent German newspaper Die Welt who has been charged with spreading terrorist propaganda and inciting hatred. The truth is that Yücel received data from a hacker who infiltrated the e-mails of Berat Albayrak, Turkey’s energy minister and Erdogan’s son-in-law. These e-mails, exposing his connection with the terrorist Islamic State group’s oil smuggling from Syria into Turkey, revived a scandal that was previously uncovered by Russian intelligence and denied and covered up by the Turkish regime. Among other subjects, the e-mails contained information about the control of Turkish media groups and influencing the public by means of fake users on Twitter. Yücel is still held in custody and German authorities are adamant he must be released.
Meanwhile, Germany banned the proposed demonstrations organised by Erdogan’s Justice and Development Party (AKP) to rally support for approving the new Turkish constitutional amendment. Erdogan has labelled Germans as Nazis, which sparked anger in Germany on both the street level and in political circles. Many Germans are demanding their government place sanctions on Turkey as a result of such irresponsible behaviour from the Turkish president. The row is still taking place and is escalated by the continuous flaming rhetoric of Erdogan.
ERDOGAN AND HOLLAND: To garner more support from eligible Turkish voters across Europe, the AKP decided to plan massive rallies across many European cities with significant Turkish populations. The Dutch government decided that this move would harm integration policies between immigrants and Dutch citizens as well as it being an infringement of Dutch sovereignty. Accordingly, a ban on these rallies was issued. Despite the warning, the Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu insisted on travelling to Holland to lead one of the rallies but his airplane was refused permission to land and he had to go to France instead. At the same time, Turkish Minister of Family Fatma Betül Sayan Kaya was held in Holland and deported after attempting to lead one of the pro-Erdogan rallies.
Furthermore, Dutch police clashed with Turkish protesters, dispersing mobs that demanded to see the Turkish minister at the Turkish Consulate in Rotterdam before she was deported. Water cannons and dogs were used to confront the angry mobs of the pro-Erdogan rally. Angered, Turkish officials who instigated this entire situation bizarrely labelled Holland and the Dutch — who were once occupied by the Nazis and fought vehemently to push them out — as “Nazis”. Also sanctions were declared and Dutch officials were restricted from entering Turkey. But economic sanctions by Turkey on Holland would be farcical since Turkey exports products amounting to over $3 billion annually to Holland, while Dutch investment in Turkey is massive. According to economic reports, Dutch direct investment in Turkey amounts to $22 billion, making Holland the biggest source of foreign investment with a share of 16 per cent. Accordingly, Erdogan is sanctioning the biggest investor in Turkey, thus risking billions of dollars of losses to the Turkish economy along with even bigger losses from any potential investors in the long run.
STIRRING WAVES OF TROUBLE: Time and again the Erdogan regime proves a liability to NATO, the Middle East and the EU. The Turkish regime has been a catalyst of chaos and trouble in the Middle East region and Europe. The cult of personality Erdogan has fostered for himself in Turkey has swayed the Turkish state towards a dictatorship of the worst type. Erdogan has upped the ante time and again, and so have European countries such as Germany, Austria and Holland who are finally realising — a bit too late — that they have pampered a dictator and invested in his tyranny for too long. Being a liability to Europe and the US, along with the Middle East, is likely to shorten the shelf-life of Erdogan despite him feeling extremely powerful lately.
On the other hand, Erdogan’s tomfoolery is a blessing to real fascists in Europe who utilise his blunders to bolster their racist claims of cleansing Europe of non-European origin citizens. Fascist, far right and Alt-Right leaders use the actions of the Islamist leader and his jihadist rhetoric and mindset in support of their claim of the Islamisation of Europe.
According to a Pew Forum report in 2011, the number of Muslims in Europe, excluding Turkey, is about 44 million, representing six per cent of Europe’s population with a projected increase to up to 10.2 per cent by 2050. None of the far right and fascist groups have elaborated amidst their heated and bigoted rhetoric how six per cent of the population now, or 10.2 per cent by 2050, will “Islamise” the remaining over 90 per cent of Europeans. These projections also presume that all European-born Muslims will remain devout Muslims and don’t factor in the existence non-practising Muslims or any conversions to other religions. The true danger stems from groups such as the Salafis and Muslim Brotherhood, the latter of which Erdogan is an active member. Nevertheless, bigots and racists bolster their presence based on fear and xenophobia and will continue utilising the likes of Erdogan as proof of their bigoted vision of the grim future that awaits Europe with the presence of Muslims within its countries.
THE SICK MAN OF EUROPE: “Aggression unchallenged is aggression unleashed,” wrote the Roman author Phaedrus. Middle Eastern countries became accustomed to Erdogan’s antics over the years. Most Middle Eastern leaders ignore Erdogan’s attention seeking gambits unless they are immediately affected. The Turkish tyrant seems to be following the playbook of late Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi who failed miserably to fulfil his dream of becoming leader of the region. Accordingly, Erdogan is resorting to Third World dictator rhetoric of empty threats and adding to that support for terrorist groups in the region who destabilise neighbouring countries such as Syria, Iraq and as far as Egypt and Libya.
In the early days of his reign, Erdogan was hardly challenged or kept at bay by any of the region’s leaders, and that encouraged him and his diehard supporters to take matters to the next level. For over a decade this pro-Erdogan populist movement, which could be described as the “Erdo-goons” movement, comprised of overzealous Erdogan supporters, has resembled the Revolutionary Guard in Iran. This sort of social and political aggression from Erdogan’s regime on the sovereignty and integrity of European Union countries will never be acceptable.
Erdogan insists on playing a dangerous game in Europe as he attempts to turn Europeans of Turkish decent into his own “Fifth Column” agents. These agents would serve as pressure groups against their host governments as he can rally thousands of them at his request to serve any political goal he is pursuing. Knowing that the majority of Erdogan’s supporters in Europe are Muslim Brotherhood members, the extent of the danger of such a movement can be massive if not dealt with decisively. European countries such as Holland, Austria and Germany who refused to be a ground for pro-Erdogan propaganda campaigns are righteous in their position and should hold their ground in this stance.
Erdogan may have borrowed a page from the Gaddafi playbook, but he is tenfold the danger that Gaddafi represented to the region and the world. The Sick Man of Europe was a description of the Ottoman Empire during its decades of decline in the 19th century all the way to its fall in 1922. That name seems to be equally adequate to label the Turkish president who is becoming a liability to his nation and his allies equally. Erdogan, who once claimed to adopt a “zero problems” policy with allies and neighbours now has “zero friends” and no real allies.
At the moment, the Turkish tyrant is banking on reinvigorated relations with Russia. However, he forgets that on Turkish soil a Russian warplane was downed by Turkish air-defences and the Russian ambassador was assassinated live on air as well. Russia is holding back its vengeance on Erdogan’s regime and will seize the right opportunity to have its payback. With Erdogan moving closer to Russia, Vladimir Putin will likely seize the opportunity to exploit this relation to the maximum.
The Russians will hardly forget how coarse and arrogant Erdogan was after downing the Russian fighter jet and how he sought NATO protection after committing that act of aggression. Attempting to pin the downing of the plane and the assassination of the Russian ambassador on the Gülen Movement, which is Erdogan’s favourite scapegoat, doesn’t fool even a child in Russia. The Russians know that it was Erdogan’s attempt to force Russia out of Syria by fair means or foul. However, the pragmatic Putin chose not to escalate with Turkey at the current moment and live to fight another day as the days of Erdogan in power seem numbered.
The Sick Man of Europe is garnering support for an extended presidency to reach 2029, and near absolute power. Nevertheless, as with the Ottoman Empire, Erdogan’s shelf-life as a politician has expired and every day he is costing Turkey and the region significant losses, which signals his imminent end as a president.
Original Link in Al Ahram Weekly