ARGUMENT The End of Erdogan?

Why a power struggle over Turkey's deep state could bring down the government. By JOHN HANNAH December 20, 2013 There's a very big story developing in Turkey that all foreign policy mavens sho uld be watching closely. Exactly how big remains to be seen, but the stakes are huge. At issue: Will the decade-long domination of Turkish politics by Prime Min ister Recep Tayyip Erdogan and his Islamist-leaning Justice and Development Part y (AKP) continue? Or is the Erdogan era about to come crashing down, fatally wea kened by scandal, infighting, and authoritarian overreach? Early Tuesday morning , police in Istanbul and Ankara carried out a wave of stunning arrests that incl uded powerful businessmen, the sons of three cabinet ministers, and the head of an important state-owned financial institution, Halkbank. The operation flowed f rom a series of corruption-related investigations that have apparently been unde rway for a year or more. All the key targets swept up in the raids are closely l inked to Erdogan's government. Erdogan, characteristically, responded by going on the offensive and hurling acc usations at his opponents. He attacked the action as a "dirty operation," the go al of which was to smear his administration and undermine the progress that Turk ey had made under his leadership. He alluded to a dark conspiracy launched by te rrorist gangs, both foreign and domestic Erdogan alluded to a dark conspiracy launched by terrorist gangs, both foreign a nd domestic. that were operating a state within the state. While insisting that Turkey was a democracy, not some two-bit banana republic, he proceeded to engineer within a d ay the sacking of more than 20 high-level police officers in Istanbul and Ankara , including those directly in charge of the units that carried out the raids. Mo re heads seem almost certain to roll. Rumors that the lead prosecutor supervisin g the investigations had also been removed were vehemently denied -- though two new prosecutors were suddenly (and mysteriously) added to the probe. Howls of po litical interference in an ongoing judicial matter erupted. The crisis deepened. These dramatic events were simply the latest escalation in a long-simmering batt le royale within the AKP's Islamist coalition. On one side: Erdogan and his foll owers, whose political roots lie in the transnational Muslim Brotherhood movemen t founded in Egypt in 1928. On the other: the Gulenists, a secretive society who se religious ideology bears a more distinctly Turkish flavor, led by Fethullah G ulen, a septuagenarian cleric who fled Turkey in the late 1990s and now lives in exile in rural Pennsylvania. Partners for much of the past decade in the AKP's systematic efforts to undermine the foundations of Ataturk's secular republic an d bring the Turkish military to heel, Erdogan and the Gulenists have now turned on each other with a vengeance. Figuring out exactly why is no easy matter. Ultimately, it's about power, of cou rse. More specifically, it's about Erdogan and the intensifying megalomania that has become an increasingly prominent feature of his governing style. The man no w appears more or less incapable of brooking any challenge to his authority. Egg ed on by an inner-circle of sycophants who live in fear of his wrath, Erdogan ap pears genuinely convinced that his personal interests and agenda, and those of t he Turkish nation, are now largely synonymous. What he wants is, ipso facto, wha t the Turkish people need. Anyone who disagrees with him is resisting the popula r will. Anyone who criticizes him is attacking Turkey and constitutes, by defini tion, an enemy of the state, a traitor that must be broken and neutralized. It's a world where independent centers of power, wealth, influence, and allegian ce are always a danger. Eventually, they must be cowed into submission, co-opted , or crushed, deploying as necessary the coercive levers of the state to do so - threats, wiretaps, blackmail, tax liens, arrests, manufactured evidence, longterm imprisonment, all are fair game. In no small part, the story of the first d ecade of AKP rule has been its slow but methodical march through the commanding institutions of Turkish society. One by one, by hook or by crook, they have been

And that's just the tip of the Gezi last summer -. The media: check. When Turkey was rocked last summer by t he Gezi Park protests. The existence of hours of incriminating wiretaps. with the ultimate verdict delivered at the ballot box.especially in the run-up to a series of allimportant local. There are ominous threats of more to come. Tens of billions of dollars in illicit transactions with Iran. in a major escalation of the conflict that amounted to more or less a declaration of all-out war. himself? No one knows. Erdogan appears to have come to the conclusion that the time was ripe to ta ke them down a peg -. which recommended a series of measures targeting the Gulen movement. millions of loyal followers throughout Turk ey. their media published a classified 2004 memo from Turkey's National Security Council. Gulen's media have kept up a steady drumb eat of criticism against many of Erdogan's most controversial policy positions. The bureaucracy: check. the Gulenists retaliated on multiple fronts. signed by Erdogan. but leave it to Erdogan to re cognize a threat. a dis tinct ideology. And that includes what steps an increasingly desperate Erdogan might be p repared to take against his opponents. it was perhaps only a matter of time before Erdogan set h is sights on the Gulenists. It seems almost certa in to get worse.are the tip of the iceberg. T he courts: check. a dossier of sorts that potentially touches the p rime minister. Most threatening of all. And immediately thereafter came the police ra ids against Erdogan's allies. They have a charismatic leader. as well as the other former pillars of the Kemalist state.or more.brought into line. Paranoid he may be. followed by Erdogan's purging of the police chiefs . They co ntrol their own business and media empire. The leaks so far -. of course. It's been downhill ever since. How much of a leap to suspect that the Gulenists could be holding in reserv e some kind of nuclear option. it is said. Gulenists are said to be seeded throughout the Turk ish power structure. with particular influence over the police and the judiciary . Indeed. or at least a potential threat. a system of exam-pre p courses that serve as a major source of revenue and influence for Gulen's empi re. From this perspective. the military: check. Business: check. They oversee a worldwide network of schools. to his authoritarian ambitions when he sees one. both foreign and domestic. And. even much worse -. Gulen's allies in the police and prosecutor's office hav e already leaked a series of gory details about the corruption probe: Millions o f dollars found stashed away in shoeboxes and safes belonging to the head of Hal kbank and the Turkish interior minister's son. Erdogan proposed eliminating the dershanes. But that's by no means a sure thing. mo re accurately. In late Novembe r. as well as his increasingly autocratic rule. But with that task largely compl ete. and. including. Erdogan allegedly began ousting Gulenists from po sitions of authority in the bureaucracy.billions of dollars in illicit transactions with Iran.puts millions of angry people from opposing camps back into the s treets? And this time with a ruling elite that appears irreversibly fractured an . we're t old. Who can say that some revelation may not em erge. On Monday this week. But anything seems possible in this enviro nment. some provocation may not occur. it sure feels like the latter. presidential and parliamentary elections that are scheduled to kick off in March 2014. but nothing's ce rtain. checkmate. In part it depends on just how far the Gulenists are prepared to go. Gulenists have almost certainly been the tip of the spear in the AKP's multi-year campaign to marginalize and subjugate Turkey's military. Gulen and his supporters not so subtly came out against t he government's heavy-handed response. Or. Is t heir aim simply to get Erdogan to back off or are they really seeking to bring h im down for good? At the moment. some spark won't be lit that -. a well-known Gulenist member of parliament resigned in protest from the AKP. with all the substantial powers at his co mmand and feeling himself under siege and pushed to the wall. Then. In short order. incri minating wiretaps -. One hopes this showdown will play itself out consistent with the rule of law and the democratic process. videotape of a government minister with close ties to Erdogan accepting a seven-figure br ibe. it is believed. the big enchilada. Where this confrontation goes from here is anyone's guess.

that's an internationa l scandal of the first order. Let's wait and see w hat the evidence shows. It would signal that Turks h ad at long last grown fed up with Erdogan's particular brand of e#sthash. that it could not have been carried out without the complicity of some very high-leve l officials in the Turkish government. this week's news sent Turkey's stock ma rket and currency tumbling. it's still almost certainly the case that Erdogan's political for tunes have been seriously weakened. it would be one more power ful reason for the United States to harbor hope that the Erdogan era as we've kn own it may now be coming to a close. while perhaps still not l ikely. .not just among the Gulenists. the AKP loses control of certain key cities and sees i ts majority in parliament significantly eroded. What does seem far more probable today than six months ago. and creeping Islamist authoritarianism. Depending on how bad the news gets. On the economic front. Even in the wake of Gezi and other events. but alli es as well -. and it is entirely possible that a drawn out crisis could precipitate large-scale capital flight from the Turkish market. He appears increasingly err atic. bullying. moderate. It would certainly reinforce the concern that many have long-held about Erdogan's efforts to move Turkish foreign policy in directions decidedly unfriendly to America and the West. and c reeping Islamist authoritarianism? That could only be a good thing for Turkey's democracy and.See more at: http://www. most probably. authoritarian. he's clearly lost his golden touch. involving potentially tens of billions of dollars in illicit transa ctions in a massive sanctions-busting scheme. and constrained. If in upcoming elections. It could empo wer other figures within the AKP with greater inclinations toward a more toleran t. Starting with his intolerant. imperious. to be sure. the direct beneficiary of which wo uld have been the Iranian nuclear program. however. and menacing response to Gezi six months ago. repeatedly. one can even imagine Erdogan's own comrades in the AKP starting to look for ways to distance themselves from him in an attempt to salv age their careers. For the first time in a de cade. and thuggish. bul lying. including perhaps a small number of c abinet ministers. Already. suddenly seems within the realm of possibility. And it's even harder to make the case that Turkey's rathe r hapless secular opposition parties have been major beneficiaries of the Islami sts's internecine showdown. it will be viewed as a direct re pudiation of Erdogan's alarming bid to become a modern-day sultan. for i ts relations with the rest of the world. given Erdogan's near-total mastery over Turkey's political scene f or more than a decade. there are signs that he may be vulnerable politically. it's still probably a stretch at this point to bet agains t him -. Moreover.much less count him out. and consensus-driven form of politics. but if there's a there there. His au ra of invincibility has been cracked. is the pros pect of an Erdogan who has been seriously chastened. one has to ask: What do the police and othe r forces charged with maintaining public security do when Erdogan calls upon the m yet again to crack heads and restore order? It's not too hard to see how this nastiness could get really out of hand.foreignpolicy.ixqKPJJf.dpuf . too.d at each other's throats. including the United States. but within his own camp. weakened. Are Turks fed up with Erdogan's particular brand of demagoguery. not unreasonably. The widespread fear he induced in large sw athes of Turkish society has been partially breached. The state-owned ban k has long been under suspicion for its relationship to Iran. Nevertheless. The implosion of the AKP coalition. He's alienating enemies. If proven out. especially if one assumes. But initial hints from the investigation suggest that it might have been much. there are rumors that there soon could be further resignations of Gulen ists from the AKP parliamentary coalition. it's worth highlighting that the Halkbank element to the current c orruption probe should merit special interest in Washington. Short of that. the re's not yet a lot of hard evidence that either he or the AKP have suffered a ma jor hit in popularity.JTkr11eM. On that note. H e's making mistakes and miscalculations. much worse than any one thought.