Authoritarian, obtuse, vengeful are just a handful of words to describe the modern day dictator of Turkey, President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan. Once seen as a political breath of fresh air and a beacon of change in the Middle East by dominant Eastern countries, and now to be considered one of the worst leaders in modern history, President Erdoğan has proven he does not deserve a place of power.
Even before the failed military coup, Turkey’s President Erdogan governed like a dictator who had the last word on all state matters. The botched coup was nothing but, as he put it, “a gift from God” to purge what is left of Turkey’s democracy and cleanse the army and judiciary in order to ensure the total subordination of all institutions to his whims.
Turkey is a member of NATO and a modern country with a Muslim majority that many American officials imagine as a bridge to the Middle East. Its military is helping in the fight against ISIS (Islamic State of Iraq and Syria). When Erdoğan was first elected Prime Minister, in 2003, many hoped that he would serve as a democratic model for the rest of the Islamic world.
That was a long time ago. Erdoğan is well on his way to becoming a dictator, if he isn’t one already. Not long after his initial election, Erdoğan’s agents embarked on a large and sinister campaign to destroy his political opponents, jailing hundreds—journalists, university rectors, military officers, aid workers—on trumped-up charges and fabricated evidence. Despite his excesses, Erdoğan remained popular as the Turkish economy rapidly grew. In 2014, having completed three terms as Prime Minister, he ran for President and won. Still, Turkish voters have refused to give him the blank check he desired, and last year turned down his effort to rewrite the Constitution to give himself vast new powers.
Since becoming President, Erdoğan has made a further turn toward dictatorship, crushing the remnants of a free press, shadowing the Nazi regime of Adolf Hitler. In December, 2014, Turkish police arrested the editor of Zaman, the country’s largest newspaper, which had not only been a critic of Erdoğan but also written extensively about the corruption that pervades his government and family. The editor, Ekrem Dumanlı, was accused of trying to mount a coup d’état. The government also seized Zaman and began printing pro-government articles. Feza Gazetecilik media, the parent company of the popular bestselling daily Zaman, was seized only a few days before the first EU summit.. Water cannon and tear gas were used against the supporters outside and within hours, court-appointed trustees had sacked the editor-in-chief and the chief columnist. He also took the liberty of blocking twitter and other forms of mass social media from the country in 2016, no matter how much the international community was against this, and fights to ban the internet inside Turkey.
Turkey also announced a series of political sanctions against the Netherlands on Monday, March 14th, over its refusal to allow two Turkish ministers to campaign there, including halting high-level political discussions between the two countries and closing Turkish air space to Dutch diplomats.
Once admired and adored in the West, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, the Turkish president, is now accused of moving Turkey away from liberal democracy towards authoritarianism as he tries to create an executive presidency with him at the helm. He has been described as an Islamist autocrat having upset many of Turkey’s liberals and Kurds with his heavy-handed actions including curfews and sending military forces into areas in the south-east.
Whereas Erdogan viewed the failed coup as a God-sent opportunity to wipe out whoever is perceived to be his enemy, the US and the EU must use this occasion to put Erdogan on notice that history has shown time and again that totalitarian regimes come to a bitter end, and that he too will not be spared his day in court.