The man who used to sell cakes and bread on the streets of Istanbul is now sitting on the throne of the successor to the Ottoman Empire. The shrewdest, most civil and most distinguished of men, the poor man from Istanbul is now ruling Turkey in very sensitive conditions in the most volatile and turbulent region of the world. He is leading his country to modernity, economic development and a scientific renaissance, lifting Turkey out of its economic crisis to a ranking as the 16th most prestigious economy in the world. This man, who has now reached the Çankaya Köşkü presidential palace in Ankara, was able to attract over $100 billion in foreign investments and raise Turkish exports to $152 billion in the past year. He was also able to triple per capita income, while increasing Gross National Income (GNI) by 100 per cent.
The coming days will not be any calmer and quieter for Recep Tayyip Erdogan, as his great victory in the presidential election was a harsh blow to the governments that represent the so-called Axis of Moderation, which is antagonistic towards political Islam in power. Things have been made more difficult by some Arab parties aligning themselves with the Israelis during the ceasefire talks and dealing a blow to the Palestinian resistance. The recent events in Gaza and Turkey’s noble stances have put the other camp in a difficult position in front of their people, comparing the disappointing positions of the Arabs to the positions of the strong man in Turkey, and this has raised many questions.
The continued firmness of Turkey in opposing the counter-revolutionary movements in several Arab countries have put Erdogan on a collision course with the Arab governments that oppress their people. In his first political speech during a Justice and Development Party conference, he said, “We will follow a clear and active policy in order to achieve Ataturk’s goal of establishing a modern and civilised society within the framework of Islamic values, which 99 per cent of Turkey’s citizens believe in.” The man who began his political life with political and economic openness to the world will not enjoy calm days in the beginning of his presidential rule. Instead, he will face the “parallel state” in Turkey, as he calls it, which is trying to hinder the country’s progress and which remains ever-present in the judiciary and police.
Although I have witnessed Erdogan start fierce campaigns to hunt down the leaders of this state, the domestic conflict will not make the coming days easy for the new president. To this must be added the issue of changing the presidential system from its current largely symbolic role towards a “new Turkey” in which the president is given more of an executive role with enhanced powers. Will this be accepted by the Turkish masses who are afraid of the return of dictatorship, or will it prompt a heated confrontation with the opposition forces?
I believe that Erdogan’s choice of Ahmet Davutoglu as prime minister is a good one. The former foreign minister has a strong political background that enables him to manage internal issues, while his clear vision for dealing with conflicts is down to his diplomatic experience. The negative aspect is that he is leaving the foreign ministry at a time when it needs a man with Davutoglu’s capabilities to deal with the many issues being faced.
However, Erdogan is a charismatic man who needs a prime minister who he can allow him to expand the president’s executive authority. He will not let himself be limited to the same powers as his predecessor Abdullah Gul, and will give himself greater powers, especially over the management of internal affairs.
As prime minister, Mr Erdogan spoke frankly to Israeli President Shimon Peres at the annual Davos economic forum in 2009. He will not have an easy test now that he is president of Turkey in terms of the situation in Gaza. He faces a complex combination of his armed forces and the “parallel state”, which are looking on expectantly to his management of thorny issues such as the Kurdish problem and ISIS, and will not allow him to make any uncalculated moves. However, the politics of the region, the proximity of Israel and Turkey’s openness to the European Union and countries neighbouring Russia are going to make his decisions more balanced.
I think it is a positive sign of Erdogan’s political intelligence that he is taking action to broaden Turkey’s horizons in terms of international relations, including links with Qatar and Iran. However, I believe it is unlikely that they will form a political axis that will be able to assert any pressure within the region doe to Iran’s policies on Syria.
I will, though, say that political Islam’s big brother in the region will expand with more support by all those backing the Islamic trend who view Erdogan as an example of moderation because he remains an icon for those opposed to enslavement and for those within liberation movements. In my opinion, this man is carrying a regional advancement and development project that is based on strong international relations and great political, economic and historical influence amongst neighbouring countries.
Erdogan has come out of the last year stronger than ever; he is smarter in seizing opportunities, taking the initiative to pick off his political enemies and learning from his past mistakes. He is also very skilled at putting the spotlight on the coup in Egypt and adopting it for the cause of the free Egyptians, which has given the people of Turkey a sense of pride that their country has overcome such difficulties and that it will be very difficult for it to go backwards. The coming days will definitely not be calm, but the neo-Ottoman president and most resourceful Turkish leader will move forward with his project.
The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Monitor.