Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s decisions in recent years has led to many in the region considering him a threat to peace, wrote Shannon Ebrahim for South Africa’s Independent Online.
Erdoğan was considered a moderate and modernising Muslim leader in the Middle East when his Justice and Development Party (AKP) first came to power in 2003, but has lost this title in the 17 years since, Ebrahim said.
Istanbul’s mayor from the main opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP) Ekrem İmamoğlu winning the mayoral race in June 2019 after Erdoğan insisted on a re-vote has weakened the AKP’s access to the city’s resources, which the party used for patronage, she wrote.
Erdoğan’s sabotage of democracy is not new, said Ebrahim. The Turkish president has threatened Mayor İmamoğlu as well as his one-time allies, former prime minister Ahmet Davutoğlu and former deputy prime minister Ali Babacan, saying those who betray the AKP would pay a heavy price, Ebrahim said.
Erdoğan has made sure that dissenting voices, like Davutoğlu and Babacan who have announced their efforts for two new parties to break away from the AKP as well as former president Abdullah Gül, are not allowed on pro-government media, according to Ebrahim.
Over 90 mayors were dismissed after the failed coup attempt in 2016, and Erdoğan has used the anti-terror laws in Turkey to repress dissent, Ebrahim wrote.
The judiciary has been used to destroy the Gülen movement, as well as the liberal, leftist and Kurdish opposition groups in the country, she said.
Since the coup attempt in 2016 and the crackdown that followed, some 150,000 state employees were fired on alleged ties to the Gülen movement and 77,000 have been arrested.
A third of the HDP’s members have been at least detained in the three years from 2015 to 2018.
There are over 200,000 people put into pre-trial detention since a state of emergency was declared after the coup attempt, wrote Ebrahim.
Under the state of emergency, Erdoğan and the government used decrees to resolve ordinary parliamentary matters without a vote, circumventing the constitution and various limitations on the government’s power. The emergency rule deprived the parliament of its powers, she wrote.
Turkey’s parliamentary system was replaced by an executive presidential system in 2017, vastly increasing the president’s powers, which the majority of citizens now oppose.
Critics have called the new system a presidential autocracy, Ebrahim wrote.
Ebrahim called the trial of philanthropist Osman Kavala the latest attack on democratic freedoms in Turkey.
Osman Kavala has been in prison for over 600 days, with charges of orchestrating the massive anti-government protests of 2013 that sparked from the AKP’s attempt to build an Ottoman-style barracks in place of the central Gezi Park.
Erdoğan’s destruction in the Kurdish-majority parts of Turkey is egregious, wrote Ebrahim.
Several former HDP MPs remain in prison on terrorism charges following the failure of the peace talks between Turkey and the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) in 2015. Thousands have died in military operations since.
The dismissal of mayors and their replacement by government-appointed trustees was Erdoğan usurping what his party could not gain at the elections, Ebrahim said.
Turkey’s war on terror is a war on democratic participation designed to eradicate Kurdish identity, according to Ebrahim.
Erdoğan has insisted on a safe zone to be established along the Turkish border within Syrian territory, and an agreement was recently reached between Turkey and the United States, with the latter taking into account its Kurdish allies in Syria.
Together with the safe zone issue, Erdoğan is threatening Europe with opening Turkey’s borders and letting refugees and migrants set out for the west, wrote Ebrahim.
Erdoğan has hinted at his desire for Turkey to acquire nuclear weapons.
Such an arsenal would add to the threat Erdoğan poses to regional peace and stability, Ebrahim wrote.
South Africa’s ruling party African National Congress (ANC) has declared the AKP a sister party, with the objective to increase educational and trade ties between the countries, she wrote.
South Africa’s central theme in foreign policy is human rights, and as such, it may be time to take a closer look before making ANC’s relations with the AKP concrete, according to Ebrahim.