Published time: December 28, 2013 02:11
RT: Until recently, Erdogan was enjoying good public support. That’s changed quickly, hasn’t it?
Mark Almond: Yes. What we have had, as people will remember, is protests over the redevelopment of central Istanbul – the Gezi Park area that brought big protest crowds out onto the streets, not only in Istanbul but in the capital Ankara in May and June. But there’s also an economic problem. Over the past 10-12 years, we’ve gotten used to thinking of Turkey as being almost immune to the world economic crisis – and one of Erdogan’s great pillars of support was that his government seemed able to produce economic growth with relatively low inflation, and of course without the allegations of corruption that have bedevilled his secular predecessors. Now we have the allegations of corruption. We also see more generally the Turkish economy slowing down, and that of course is worrying many people who in the past would say, “Well, whatever is wrong with Erdogan, I’m better off.”
RT: Erdogan has been seen as a man that has supported a secular state – but he’s most recently been supporting Islamists abroad. Is he changing his stance?
MA: I think he’s always been regarded by many, certainly by his opponents, as not being secularist at all. He’s ostensibly accepted the secular constitution of Turkey because you have to do that in order to stand for election. And as he’s been reinforced in power with three successive election wins, you see shifts towards what are seen as policies that are endorsing a more Islamic policy. For instance, restrictions on the sale of alcohol and his own comments about having a stricter morality code in universities and amongst young people. His own supporters are perhaps pressing that at a local level.
RT:What do the people of the country want?
MA: Obviously most people in Turkey are Muslims, but how far they would want a strict Sharia law system in place is more open to question. And of course there’s also a generation gap, particularly in the opposition. Until now, they tended to be secular students, young secular professionals. The big threat to Erdogan today is of course that corruption is in many ways a much more of a deadly challenge to the government – particularly one that has presented themselves as being sincere, devout, pious people who therefore won’t have their fingers in the tills like too many Turkish predecessors have had. That begins then to undermine support in their own community base. Of course, he has a big problem with one of the main Muslim organizations, Fethullah Gulen, which is very powerful inside Turkey. And of course there’s been a tremendous falling out between Erdogan and this enormous NGO we might call it, which has a role in education, and in all sorts of spheres of Turkish life.
RT: Do you think he is going to survive this crisis?
MA: If he survives, he’ll be much weakened. Therefore his main project – which was to have himself elected as president of Turkey – may well be not just on the back burner, but actually without any gas underneath it at all. The problem for his opponents is that there isn’t an obvious figurehead who can replace him. There’s only perhaps somebody within his own political party, and that of course would be a big change because he’s been so dominant over his party. But it would of course leave his opponents in various other political parties still very dissatisfied because it would still leave that party in power. But that party may now be approaching a split. As RT has reported, one of the resigning ministers is calling on Erdogan himself to resign – and this is the first time we’ve had a public challenge to his authority from inside his own party.