jump to navigation

Beleaguered at home, now Turks lose friends abroad 12 octobre 2014

Posted by Acturca in Middle East / Moyen Orient, Turkey / Turquie, Turkey-EU / Turquie-UE, USA / Etats-Unis.
Tags: , , , ,

The Observer (UK) Sunday, October 12, 2014, p. 30-31

By Andrew Finkel in Istanbul

The growing crisis in neighbouring Syria has plunged President Erdogan into a fresh crisis, even as his country faces economic slowdown and social divisions. Whatever happened to the ‘New Turkey’?

His government is less than two months old, but there has been no honeymoon period for the new Turkish prime minister Ahmet Davutoglu. Wednesday, in particular, was full of woe.

That was the day authorities rushed to impose a curfew in five largely Kurdish provinces. Angry demonstrations over the government’s refusal to relieve Kobani, the Syrian canton under siege from the brutal group calling itself Islamic State (Isis), led to a spate of deaths. That toll has since risen to more than 35. Wednesday was also the day the minister for the economy politely lowered expectations. The mid-term programme cut the growth projections for this year from 4% to 3.3% and for next year from 5% to a still optimistic 4% – and boldly promised to rein in public spending before next summer’s general election.

On Wednesday, too, the European Union released its annual report on Turkish accession, which, though couched in diplomatic language, did little to conceal that in a year in which Turkey had tried to ban Twitter and YouTube, in which the national broadcasting authority gave scant air time to opposition candidates during a presidential election, and where parliament had granted immunity to national intelligence to track citizens on the web, the country had backslid on fundamental rights and the rule of law.

All this is in stark contrast to « New Turkey » which the building-sized posters promised in the runup to last August’s presidential poll. That contest was won on the first round by Tayyip Erdogan, Davutoglu’s mentor and predecessor. Erdogan still runs the show and few doubt his great ambition is to secure a large enough parliamentary election next year to change the constitution to a Putin-style system.












Yet many argue that, even without those changes, Turkey is edging ever closer to one-man rule. « The whole system of checks and balances is in question, » says Yavuz Baydar, Shorenstein Fellow at Harvard Kennedy School. « The one safeguard has been the constitutional court, but even its integrity is now in jeopardy. »

Erdogan’s « New Turkey » is one in which a country of nearly 80 million assumes its rightful place as a regional power. The Turkish republic celebrates its centenary in 2023, by which time, the president promises, its economy will leap from its current position as the world’s 17th-largest economy into the top 10. Istanbul, already Europe’s third most-visited city, is being promoted as a global financial centre.

However, the centrepiece of Turkey’s transformation has been the skill with which Erdogan has stripped the old Republican guard of their power. In the parlance of his Justice and Development (AK) party this has been a democratic revolution, weeding out a « deep state » within a state. It also promised to make room for those abandoned stepchildren of the political system – Kurdish nationalists and the overtly pious who for decades had been excluded from public life.

It was this determination to ignore the establishment’s thick red lines that won AK the support of Turkey’s allies despite suspicion of its Islamist hue. AK came to office in 2002 in the wake of a dire economic crisis which obliterated Turkey’s postwar political machine. It promised to be an engine of reform. The economy did improve, interest rates tumbled, inflation, which had been running at 70% a year during the 1990s, came down to a single digit. In 2005 the government celebrated its success by trimming six zeros off the currency – proof that the situation had stabilised but also that AK had established – and become – the new normal.

A country which had struggled to get any direct foreign investment attracted pounds 10bn in the crisis year of 2008. What made investors’ eyes water was Turkey’s rapid recovery post-Lehman Brothers. When some European economies were on life support, Turkish GDP was expanding by 9% a year by 2009.

« After you run very fast, you lose momentum, » warns Murat Ucer, an Istanbul consultant at GlobalSource Partners. The 2000s was an era of high liquidity. Some of the money the US Federal Reserve printed to bail out its economy sloshed Turkey’s way. Growth was consumer-led. Shopping centres became the symbol of AK’s years in power.

As the US economy improves and interest rates there rise, the pipeline of cheap credit will be reduced to a trickle. This means the government’s 2023 goals are already fiction. Per capita income was projected to grow from the current pounds 6,500 a year to pounds 15,500, but even official forecasts suggest the figure is likely to be under pounds 10,000.

This means that Turkey finds itself in a classic « middle income trap ». To escape, the government would have to engage in a painful series of reforms. While there are those in the cabinet who acknowledge the need for an overhaul of the education system and greater overall accountability, it is not clear that they have the president’s ear.

Unlike Putin’s Russia, Turkey is a relatively complex economy that cannot rely on a natural resource such as oil. It needs international markets to cover its current account deficit. And it ultimately relies on its export markets which, given the turmoil on the Iraq and Syrian borders, means it must increasingly turn to Europe.

The government still tries to prime the pump with mega-construction projects including a third bridge across the Bosphorus, a bridge bypassing Istanbul from Thrace across the Dardanelles, and yet another bridge across the Sea of Marmara. However, pressure to keep Turkish interest rates competitive means that some of these ambitious ventures will be harder, if not impossible, to finance.

Istanbul is also slated to get a third airport with six runways. Some investors are reported to be running shy on the grounds there is not enough airspace in the city to accommodate the project. There is also the lack of an environmental impact report.

Yet the government may be caught in another trap, one very much of its creation. It has been much too successful in rebuilding the system of patronage and cronyism which lay in ruins when it first came to power. If authenticated, a series of leaked phone taps suggest that senior government officials were involved in corruption on a massive scale. One of the most damaging tapes purports to be a conversation among the members of the consortium which bid successfully for that third Istanbul airport. They complain of being forced to come up with the funds (estimated by a Bloomberg report to be pounds 280m) to buy a loss-making pro-government media group.

The leaks, before last March’s nationwide local elections (which AK won with close to 43% of the national vote), propelled the government into an overdrive of denial, branding the accusations as nothing short of an attempted coup. Particular wrath was reserved for social media, where many allegations were propagated.

This in turn led to the banning of access to Twitter and YouTube, later overturned by the constitutional court. More recently, the court overturned legislation that would have allowed the telecommunications authority to close websites on grounds of national security and without a court order. « The rule of thumb is that as the economy gets into trouble, the government gets more repressive, » according to the vice-president of one high-street bank.

« I don’t regret having supported the government in the past but the atmosphere has changed completely. It thinks that by winning an election, it can do exactly as it pleases, » says Orhan Kemal Cengiz, a human rights lawyer and newspaper columnist.

The government’s hold over main-stream media has meant that disillusioned liberal commentators who may have supported Erdogan’s reform efforts in the past have found themselves out of a job. They were replaced with a new generation of pundits for whom doubt has become a luxury. The government has become increasingly unwilling to accept criticism, particularly from the media, which might influence its own constituency.

While no one is prepared to go on record to complain publicly for fear of losing their job, the remarks of one colleague, a senior editor of a major television station, are typical: « The morning [editorial] meetings are not about the big story of the day, but what story we will be allowed to cover. »

This means that for some the « new Turkey » is more a « brave new Turkey » in which a tightly controlled media papers over the cracks. It also means consensus building is not what the government does best. Yet the crisis across its border in Syria and the mayhem in some Turkish cities may require exactly that.

In the summer of 2013, there were very different demonstrations in Turkish cities. They started as an environmental protest to protect Istanbul’sGezi Park from being turned into yet another shopping mall. Those protests, too, were condemned by the government as an attempt to foment a coup d’etat. Another interpretation is that the occupation of an inner-city green was an attempt to make government accountable. For many, Gezi was the real new Turkey in the brief surfacing of a movement which has gone underground. What happened this week was a surfacing of old sectarian tensions between Kurds and religious nationalists in which many people died.

Turkey’s own Kurds accuse the government of turning a blind eye to the arming of Isis from the Turkish side of the border to undermine an exercise in Kurdish self-rule. At stake, they say, is the fate of a longstanding process to bring a Turkish-Kurdish conflict to an end. A massacre on the Syrian side of the border would mean there could be no peace. « If Kobani falls, then the whole picture changes, » says Nursel Aydogan, a deputy for the Kurdish nationalist People’s Democrat party.

If Ankara is under pressure to sort out the mess on the other side of its border, it might have itself to blame. Davutoglu is the architect of a new direction in Turkish policy which asserted that its influence would depend less on its readiness to fight other peoples’ battles (those of its western allies) than the ability to pursue its own cause. But events have conspired to call Turkey’s bluff. The rise of Isis has left Davutoglu sitting on a long fence – the 750-mile frontier with Iraq and Syria. Instead of being master of its fate, Turkey seems to be at the mercy of events.


No comments yet — be the first.

Votre commentaire

Entrez vos coordonnées ci-dessous ou cliquez sur une icône pour vous connecter:

Logo WordPress.com

Vous commentez à l’aide de votre compte WordPress.com. Déconnexion /  Changer )

Photo Facebook

Vous commentez à l’aide de votre compte Facebook. Déconnexion /  Changer )

Connexion à %s

%d blogueurs aiment cette page :