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Erdogan: a classic case of power corrupting

By Alon Ben-Meir - posted Monday, 6 February 2017


This is the second in a series of articles based in part on eyewitness accounts about the rapidly deteriorating socio-political conditions in Turkey and what the future may hold for the country. The first article is available here.

Much has been written on the endemic corruption in Turkey which involves virtually every social strata-including political, judicial, government administration, private sector, civil society, business, and military-and which stands in total contrast to President Erdogan's grandiose vision to make Turkey a significant player on the global stage. After fifteen years in power, Erdogan now presides over a state deeply entrenched in corruption, conspiracy theories, and intrigue. He uses every lever of power to cover up the pervasive corruption consuming the nation and overshadowing the remarkable socio-political progress and economic growth that he made during his first nine years in power.

To consolidate his reign, he intimidated his political opponents, emasculated the military, silenced the press, and enfeebled the judiciary; most recently, he pressed the parliament to amend the constitution to grant him essentially absolute powers.

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Turkey ranks 75th in the world in transparency on Transparency International's Corruption Perceptions Index-falling nine places since 2015-along with Bulgaria, Kuwait, and Tunisia. More than 40% of Turkish households perceive public officials to be corrupt.

The economy: Given the pervasiveness of corruption, economic progress in Turkey has slowed down. In Erdogan's initial years, the economy grew by 5-7 percent because he made it a priority while focusing on the poor and less educated, who subsequently became his core supporters.

When the global economy was strong Turkey registered significant economic growth, but the recent economic slowdown revealed the fault line in Turkey's economy. An inflated and corrupt bureaucracy made it extremely difficult to be granted licenses for development, making it ever harder for foreign and local investors to accelerate the process without bribing government officials.

During a corruption investigation in 2013, $17.5 million in cash was discovered in homes of various officials, including the director of state-owned Halkbank. Fifty-two people connected to the ruling AK Party were detained in one day, but subsequently released due to "lack of evidence."

Given this grim reality, as long as the government continues to deny the existence of pandemic corruption, Erdogan's ambition to make Turkey's economy among the ten largest economies by 2023 (the 100th anniversary of the Turkish Republic) has become nothing but a pipe dream.

Suppressing the press: Erdogan has shown zero tolerance for criticism and has worked to stifle the press. Any media outlet that exposed corruption cases became an 'enemy of the state.'

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According to the Committee to Protect Journalists, 81 journalists are currently imprisoned, all of whom have been charged with anti-state offenses, and over 100 news outlets have been ordered closed by the government. In total, between July 20 and December 31, 2016, 178 broadcasters, websites, and newspapers were shuttered.

Whereas in a democracy the media is considered central to keeping the government honest, in Turkey investigative journalism has become taboo as the Erdogan government is terrified of the potential exposure of corruption cases where government officials are directly involved.

The implications of this are far and wide as other countries, especially democracies, become suspicious of Turkey's positions. The lack of transparency severely erodes its credibility and international standing.

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About the Author

Dr. Alon Ben-Meir is a professor of international relations at the Center for Global Affairs at NYU. He teaches courses on international negotiation and Middle Eastern studies.

Other articles by this Author

All articles by Alon Ben-Meir

Creative Commons LicenseThis work is licensed under a Creative Commons License.

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