President Erdogan Is Reshaping Turkish Society, But At What Cost? #TurkeysNewJourney
As president of Turkey, Recep Tayyip Erdogan could be the wedge that destroys Turkey’s relationships with the U.S. and Europe.
A new mosque in the traditional Ottoman style is currently being built in Istanbul’s central Taksim Square. Due to be completed later this year, it is just one of thousands of new mosques going up across Turkey. But the construction in Taksim is particularly symbolic—an apparent sign of President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s conquest of the political landscape and ability to reshape the Turkish nation in line with his wishes. Having won snap presidential and parliamentary elections on June 24, he is now set to further cement his grip.
Despite a surprisingly energetic opposition campaign in the recent elections, Erdogan won a first-round victory. But under the surface, things may not be so simple. Turkish society today is too sophisticated to be entirely reshaped by one man. While Erdogan and his party’s religious-nationalist program, combining modern Islamic conservatism with a populist streak heavy on Ottoman nostalgia, appear firmly in place today, there are growing signs that social tides in Turkey are not necessarily moving in the conservative direction that many assume.
Taksim offers a useful window into why.
As Erdogan Strengthens His Grip on Power, the West Faces a New Reality
The June elections were the final political hurdle before Erdogan’s long-sought presidential system, which was narrowly approved by a popular referendum in April 2017, could kick into full gear. With the victory, an ever-stronger Erdogan will now lead Turkey until at least 2023, the centennial of the modern Turkish Republic. This is the dawn of the Turkish Fifth Republic. But what next? With the political reality of Erdogan’s Turkey settling in, the biggest question is how the Turkish leader plans to use his expanded power. It’s difficult to answer, if only because Erdogan has made uncertainty a hallmark of his governance style. That said, there are three priority issues for Erdogan in the coming months.
How Erdogan is Using an Anti-Terrorism Law to Muzzle Dissent in Turkey
As the president of Turkey, Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s increasingly authoritarian rule has included draconian measures to silence the press and his critics. In February 2017, a month after a gunman affiliated with the so-called Islamic State killed 39 people in an Istanbul nightclub on New Year’s Eve, the Supreme Council of Radio and Television, or RTUK, issued a notice to stations that effectively banned reporting on domestic terror, even during breaking news incidents. Instead of countering terrorism in Turkey, however, the gag order merely cowed editors and producers into showing the Turkish public only what the authorities want it to see. The move, which was in line with a trend of media intimidation over the previous two years, resulted in a less-informed public, which carries its own risks, both in the short and long term.
Why Ties Between Turkey and the West Are Straining
Erdogan’s authoritarian slide and several high-profile disputes with a number of European governments have put the NATO alliance under strain. As Europe has winced watching the president of Turkey assault the freedoms of the press, crackdown on the opposition and amass power, Erdogan has responded by declaring that “Nazism is still widespread in the West.” But those are just symptoms of a larger problem. Under Erdogan, Turkey and Europe have grown politically incompatible.