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Erdogan premiership marked by domestic controversies and foreign policy blunders

By Osman Softic - posted Thursday, 2 October 2014

Recep Tayyip Erdogan comfortably won the presidential elections in the first round as predicted. He however does not want to be 'president of protocol' but rather an executive president with the broadest powers. Change from a parliamentary to presidential system will require changing the Turkish constitution. This will only be possible after parliamentary elections in 2015.

Although Erdogan as President can no longer be a member of the AKP (Justice and Development Party) he is likely to exert a powerful influence on its policies through party officials loyal and subordinate to its former master.

From its orginally modest economic performance the AKP turned Turkey into one of the most powerful economic powerhouses. She is now a member of the G20 and is ranked the seventeenth economy in the world. By 2023 Erdogan hopes to make it 10th.


At the domestic level the AKP marginalized the role of the military in politics, relegating it to democratically acceptable limits. In addition, the Erdogan government liberalized the economy, making it more efficient and giving the middle and lower classes the opportunity for equal participation in society that had hitherto been the sole privilege of the secular elites.

In terms of religious freedom the AKP government abolished draconian laws devised by past secularist governments that banned employment, access to public institutions, universities and government affairs to veiled Muslim women. One of the most significant achievements of Erdogan was the opening of dialogue with the rebel Kurds, including negotiations with Abdullah Ocalan, jailed leader of Kurdistan's Workers Party (PKK).

Realizing that Turkey cannot build its future as democratic country without resolving government conflict with PKK, which so far caused 40,000 loss of lives on both sides, Erdogan demonstrated his eagerness to engage PKK despite the fierce opposition of his political opponents.

That the AKP's strategy for dealing with the perennial political question of modern Turkey was on the right track was confirmed by Gulten Kisanak, a leading figure of Peace and Democracy Party (BDP), and the mayor of Diyarbakir, the city in Anatolia with the highest concentration of Kurds. Kisanak, who spoke at the Al Jazeera Forum in Doha recently, along with Faruk Logoglu, deputy chair of the Republican People's Party (CHP), argued that the AKP policy contributed to progress in terms of realizing greater Kurdish autonomy not only in the cultural domain but also in a practical sense, including management of material resources by Kurdish local communities.

In terms of geopolitics Turkey sought to position itself as a major regional player and initially it achieved some influence in the Middle East, the Balkans and the Caucasus. The doctrine of 'strategic depth' which entailed spreading Turkish economic and cultural influence to geographical spheres once ruled by the mighty Ottoman empire, and the 'zero policy of enmity with neighbors', whose architect was Ahmet Davutoglu, Turkish foreign minister, were dealt a severe blow during the past year or so, to the point that some sarcastically described it as 'a country with zero friends among neighbors in the region', alleging a "covert strategy of Turkish domination of geographical areas once ruled by Devleti Aliye (the Ottoman Empire).

Turkey is today isolated by its neighbors in the Middle East and is left with no allies, apart from Qatar and non-state actors such as the outlawed Muslim Brotherhood and the Palestinian resistance organization Hamas, both regarded as terrorist organizations by the West.


In addition to its numerous achievements the Erdogan prime ministerial era was marked by many controversies, both domestically and internationally.

In an effort to transform the feeble Turkish economy into a respectable economic powerhouse, the Erdogan government implemented a textbook example of neo-liberal developmental model, the primary goal of which was creating economic wealth and profit at any cost. Some scholars regarded such an approach to economic development as 'developmental fetishism'. Yildiz Atasoy, a Canadian social anthropologist of Turkish origin, described this specific Turkish developmental model that sought to introduce neoliberal reforms simultaneously with increased Islamization and introduction of Islamic conservative values, as a 'marriage of Islam with neoliberalism'.

When it comes to the politics of urbanization AKP, seemed not to accord due respect to environmental protection or show any sensitivity to environmentalists groups. In an effort to transform the dilapidated infrastructure of major cities, particularly Istanbul, and in order to make Turkey a more attractive destination for global investment capital, to promote tourism and hospitality and to improve transportation systems and thus position it as global center for services, AKP enraged a large number of people on the left, triggering the protests of Gezi Park.

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About the Author

Osman Softic is a Research Fellow at the Islamic Renaissance Front. He holds a BA degree in Islamic Studies from the Faculty of Islamic Studies of the University of Sarajevo and has a Masters degree in International Relations from the University of New South Wales (UNSW). He contributed commentaries on Middle Eastern and Islamic Affairs for the web portal Al Jazeera Balkans, On Line Opinion, Engage and Open Democracy. Osman holds dual Bosnian and Australian citizenship.

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