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What is happening to Turkey? 11 mai 2010

Posted by Acturca in Economy / Economie, Middle East / Moyen Orient, Turkey / Turquie, USA / Etats-Unis.
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The Wall Street Journal (USA), May 11, 2010

By Bret Stephens, Istanbul

As the country has become wealthier, it paradoxically has also shed some of its Western trappings.

Today, Mr. Erdogan has excellent relations with Syrian strongman Bashar Assad, whom the prime minister affectionately calls his « brother. » He has accused Israel of « savagery » in Gaza and opened a diplomatic line to Hamas while maintaining good ties with the genocidal government of Sudan. He was among the first foreign leaders to congratulate Mahmoud Ahmadinejad on his fraudulent victory in last year’s election. He has resisted intense pressure from the Obama administration to vote for a new round of Security Council sanctions on Iran, with which Turkey has a $10 billion trade relationship. And he has sabotaged efforts by his own foreign ministry to improve ties with neighboring Armenia.

Today, Mr. Erdogan has excellent relations with Syrian strongman Bashar Assad, whom the prime minister affectionately calls his « brother. » He has accused Israel of « savagery » in Gaza and opened a diplomatic line to Hamas while maintaining good ties with the genocidal government of Sudan. He was among the first foreign leaders to congratulate Mahmoud Ahmadinejad on his fraudulent victory in last year’s election. He has resisted intense pressure from the Obama administration to vote for a new round of Security Council sanctions on Iran, with which Turkey has a $10 billion trade relationship. And he has sabotaged efforts by his own foreign ministry to improve ties with neighboring Armenia.

The changes in foreign policy reflect the rolling revolution in Turkey’s domestic political arrangements. The military, long the pillar of Turkish secularism, is under assault by Mr. Erdogan’s Islamist-oriented government, which has recently arrested dozens of officers on suspicion of plotting a coup. Last week the Turkish parliament voted to put a referendum to the public that would, if passed, allow the government to pack the country’s top courts, another secularist pillar, with its own people. Also under assault is the media group Dogan, which last year was slapped with a multibillion dollar tax fine.

Oh, and America’s favorability rating among Turks, at around 14% according to recent polls, is plumbing an all-time low, despite Barack Obama’s presidency and his unprecedented outreach to Muslims in general and Turks in particular. In 2004, the year of Abu Ghraib, it was 30%.

All this would seem to more than justify Prof. Lewis’s alarm. So why do so many Turks, including more than a few secularists and classical liberals, seem mostly at ease with the changes Mr. Erdogan has wrought? A possible answer may be self-delusion: Liberals were also at the forefront of the Iranian revolution before being brutally swept aside by the Ayatollah Khomeini. But that isn’t quite convincing in Turkey’s case.

More plausible is Turkey’s economic transformation under the AKP’s pro-free market stewardship. Inflation, which ran to 99% in 1997, is down to single digits. Goldman Sachs anticipates 7% growth this year, which would make the country Europe’s strongest performer—if only Europe would have it as a member. Turks now look on the EU with diminished envy and growing contempt. One time arch-rival Greece mostly earns their pity.

Chief among the beneficiaries of this transformation has been the AKP’s political base: an Islamic bourgeoisie that was long shut out of the old statist arrangements between the country’s secular political and business elites. Members of this new class want to send their daughters to universities—and insist they be allowed to do so wearing headscarves. They also insist that they be ruled by the government they elected, not by the « deep state » of unelected and often self-dealing officers, judges and bureaucrats who defended the country’s secularism at the expense of its democracy and prosperity.

The paradoxical result is that, as the country has become wealthier and (in some respects) more democratic, it has also shed some of its Western trappings. Mr. Erdogan’s infatuations with his unsavory neighbors undoubtedly stem from his own instincts, ideology and ego. But it also reflects a public sentiment that no longer wants Turkey to be a stranger in its own region, particularly when it so easily can be its leader. Some Turks call this « neo-Ottomanism, » others « Turkish-Gaullism. » Whichever way, it is bound to discomfit the West.

The more serious question is how far it all will go. Some of Mr. Erdogan’s domestic power plays smack of incipient Putinism. The estrangement from Israel is far from complete, but an Israeli attack on Iran might just do the trick. And it’s hard to see why Mr. Erdogan should buck public opinion when it comes to Turkey’s alliance with the U.S. when he’s prepared to follow public opinion in so many other matters.

Most importantly, will the Erdogan brand of Islamism remain relatively modest in its social and political ambitions, or will it become aggressive and radical? It would be wrong to pretend to know the answer. It would be insane not to worry about the possibility.

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