This week was very slow as the United States celebrated New Years. Many think tanks were closed and very few papers were released. The pace of activity will pick up next week as the holiday season ends.
The Monitor Analysis looks at the political crisis in Turkey. After 11 years in power, it appears that significant segments of the Turkish voter base have tired of Erdogan and this current corruption scandal – and his reaction to it – will be a major test to his ability to survive. Gulen supporters, who have been part of Erdogan’s political coalition, are looking more likely to split off and support his opposition. We also see problems with the US/Turkish relationship as Erdogan has intimated that the US is somehow involved in the corruption investigation.
Think Tanks Activity Summary
The Carnegie endowment also looks at the upcoming referendum in Egypt on the proposed constitution. On that question, they say, “It is rare for a constitution to be rejected in a referendum. Egyptian voters have never turned their rulers down, and constitutional referenda in other countries almost always pass. In this case, it is true that there are some political actors opposed to the constitution—most notably the Muslim Brotherhood and its associated Freedom and Justice Party (FJP), which was ousted from power in July. But these actors are more likely to boycott the referendum than to mobilize for a “no” vote. It is unlikely that the FJP would be able to muster a majority against the constitution. What’s more, prevailing feelings among FJP members—from what can be gleaned—lend themselves far more to expressions of outrage than to cold electoral strategizing.”
The Washington Institute looks at new Saudi laws that are aimed at reducing terrorism, and stifling non-violent activism. They conclude, “This month’s legislative developments in Saudi Arabia are a testament to the domestic pressures the royal family continues to feel three years into the Arab Spring. President Obama has made it clear that Saudi stability is a Middle East policy priority. At the same time, the kingdom’s muddying of the waters between terrorism and nonviolent expression once again brings into sharp relief important differences on political, social, and religious rights between the United States and its strategic partner. Private discussions with the Saudi leadership regarding the issue — perhaps including rewards for progress — remain important to our own and longer-term Saudi interests.”
The Washington Institute looks at the crisis in Turkey too. They look towards the March elections and conclude, “What happens in March has the potential to determine Turkey’s democratic trajectory. This poses a major challenge for the U.S., raising thorny questions about the future of America’s alliance with Turkey. The threat to bilateral relations has been exacerbated by the remarkably explicit attacks on the U.S. by prominent AKP officials and pro-government media, which have accused America of being behind the corruption probes. Other allegations include an assertion that U.S. Embassy staffers have conspired with Turkish nongovernmental organizations to try to oust the AKP government. Last week, Mr. Erdogan publicly complained that the corruption investigation is a foreign plot. And he made matters even more precarious on Dec. 21 by suggesting that the American ambassador, Francis J. Ricciardone Jr., a stellar diplomat, leave the country — the first such incident in living memory.”
The Carnegie Endowment looks at the Iranian nuclear deal. They note that in any deal – the current proposed one or any future deal, the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) will play a major role that must be accounted for. They note, “The IAEA could be the elephant in the room. The IAEA is not a party to the initial step, but it remains closely involved with Iran’s nuclear program… The IAEA, on the basis of its verification mandate, independently seeks answers about whether Iran is in compliance with its bilateral agreement on nuclear safeguards. The forthcoming negotiation over the final step will have to reconcile these two imperatives… but neither it nor the November 24 Joint Plan of Action spells out when or to what extent Iran must comply with the IAEA’s request for information concerning activities related to nuclear weapons development. It is possible that Iran may strictly implement the suspension terms in the Joint Plan of Action but not cooperate to the extent the IAEA deems necessary on PMD. In that case, if the powers conclude that lack of cooperation between the IAEA and Iran stands in the way of a final agreement, they might pressure the IAEA to relent on its requirements in the interest of making a deal.”
Political Crisis in Turkey Threatens Erdogan’s Government
One political maxim that remains as true today as when it was coined over 100 years ago is that, “Power corrupts – absolute power corrupts absolutely.” And, it doesn’t just occur in Third World one man rule like North Korea. Democracies also are easy prey to corruption, especially when one political party stays in power too long. America, Nixon, and Watergate is a prime example, but they are also found in Britain, France and Germany. Even “progressive” nations like Sweden have their share of corruption, where the party is power abuses its power.
Therefore, it can’t be considered surprising that Erdogan and his administration in Turkey are finding themselves in trouble after 11 years in power and a growing centralization of power around Erdogan. He has won three national elections – the first in 2002 because voters were tired of the corruption of the previous government, which was tied to the policies of Kemal Ataturk. He replaced the overall direction with his Islamist Justice and Development Party (AKP) that has pushed for a stronger Islamic bend to Turkish society and politics. This has included putting restrictions on the sale of alcohol, enhancing the status of religious schools, encouraging the establishment of Muslim-oriented institutions of learning, and nominating more radical Islamists to powerful positions in the public sector.
However, with that came a corruption of his administration and a growing disrespect for Turkish institutions. The Turkish media is subject to intimidation and journalists are sent to jail under a variety of charges. The business community is pressured to conform to Muslim mores instead or remaining secular. This, in turn has alarmed more modern factions of the AKP, which are allied with American based Fethullah Gulen.
The first cracks appeared in the public support last summer with riots around Taksim Square over the development plan for a mall. However, the development was only the spark that allowed public unrest with Erdogan over many issues like restrictions on alcohol sales to be exposed. Riot police stopped the protests and the proposed development plans were shelved.
The current crisis is more serious in that it is a corruption scandal that strikes close to Erdogan himself. There is rioting in the streets, but it is also pitting his political allies with those who back Gulen and is threatening a split in the AKP that threatens Erdogan’s political majority.
The crisis began in mid December when police raided several places as a part of a corruption investigation. The raid netted the sons of Economy Minister Zafer Caglayan, Interior Minister Muammer Guler, and Environment and Urban planning minister Erdogan Bayraktar. The raids had been kept secret from the government lest the Erdogan regime warn the ministers.
Investigations have also been launched into Prime Minister Erdogan’s sons Bilal and Bürak along with the newly appointed Istanbul police chief. The state run Halkbank’s CEO Süleyman Aslan has been charged with taking bribes to circumvent the economic sanctions against Iran. The police reportedly found $4.5 million in cash stored in shoe boxes in his home. Police say gold was smuggled into Iran to buy Iranian oil and gas
Erdogan reacted quickly. He ordered that future police investigations be reported to their superiors. That order was blocked by a court. He also, like many other political leaders in trouble, accused foreign countries like the US of fostering the trouble.
Erdogan then struck against the police who are generally more supportive of Gulen, than Erdogan. He fired over 500 police officers and officials involved in the investigation and replaced with police loyal to himself. He has also struck against the judiciary system by ordering the police not to obey judicial decrees.
These moves may hamper the police investigation, but they do nothing to stop the political hemorrhaging, help him win the local elections being held in a couple of months, or hold his political alliance together. He forced three cabinet ministers to resign and has reshuffled the cabinet. This may have stopped slowed the crisis a bit, but at the cost of political support within his own party.
The eroding support for Erdogan showed when Environment and Urbanisation Minister Erdogan Bayraktar was forced out as a result of his son being caught in the investigation and arrested in mid December. Bayraktar, previously a close ally of Erdogan, urged the prime minister to follow suit and accused the PM of corrupt real estate dealings. “For the sake of the wellbeing of this nation and country, I believe the prime minister should resign.” Bayraktar made his comments during a live interview on NTV, which tried to cut him off and then later edited the interview clip on its website and during subsequent airings on television so that Bayraktar’s comments about Erdogan were missing.
Bayraktar probably voiced what many in the AKP believe is necessary in order to survive politically, but are afraid to vocalize. However, despite the silence by many party members, the damage has rocked the AKP. For instance, the previous interior minister, Idris Şahin, resigned from the party over the police purge and after accusing Erdogan of allowing a small oligarchy to run the party.
Three MPs also resigned from the party. One of the MPs, Ertuğrul Günay, left with a stinging attack on Erdogan and the party’s leadership. “While the party was facing serious accusations, they tolerated the people responsible and ordered disciplinary action against those who were trying to get them to reason,” Mr Günay, himself a former cabinet minister, said in a parting statement. “They have made my decision easier. The party has evolved into two different wings: the wide base of people who have been oppressed and an overbearing mentality on the top. This mentality has no chance now.
“At this point, those people who have this mentality are sailing to somewhere else, guided by their arrogance. We have come to the point of a parting of the ways.” Another of the MPs, Erdal Kalkan, warned that more trouble was to come. “This will not end here,” he said. “Our honorable people see everything.”
The reaction of a national leader to a crisis and mass resignations is instructive. Some try to regain the initiative by bringing in new opinions and voices to broaden the political base. Others try to stop the problem by bringing in loyalists who will not ask questions, but follow orders. Erdogan is one to do the latter.
An example is the new Interior Minister Efkan Ala, who is not a member of parliament but is rather one of Erdogan’s political aides, who reportedly urged Erdogan to crack down harder on the protestors this summer and the Istanbul chief of police to cajole him to use greater force.
Although these new appointments will help Erdogan temporarily stop the problem, he is now relying on politically inexperienced subordinates who do not have the skills or savvy to regain power within the AKP or neutralize public unrest. That bodes ill for Erdogan’s long term prospects.
Another problem for Erdogan is the growing lack of confidence in the Turkish economy during the continued unrest. Turkey’s stock market has slumped and the Turkish Lira dropped about 5% in December despite substantial Turkish central bank intervention – only trouble plagued Argentina’s peso did worse.
Turkey heavily relies on foreign investment – which is scared off by political unrest and a government that is accused of corruption. Interest rates on Turkish bonds are going up, which will economic growth in future quarters.
Inevitably elections revolve around economic issues and Erdogan has stayed in power by keeping the Turkish economy upright and encouraging foreign investment. The current unrest promises to make the local elections in March a test for Erdogan and the AKP. However, that is only the beginning as national elections are coming in 2015 and few think the Turkish economy will be helping the AKP.
The AKP is also losing the support of its strong grassroots supporters who back Gulen and his movement. The Alliance for Shared Values, an organization allied with the Gulen movement released a statement that was critical of the Turkish PM. It said, “Rather than doing what any democratic government ought to, the present government has attributed these investigations to foreign powers or certain groups. These efforts are perceived by the collective conscience of the Turkish society as an attempt to detract attention from the essence of this case…These are anti-democratic actions by the political leadership that deserve condemnation.”
Erdogan is facing the test common to all long serving politicians – corruption. For many politicians, the answer is to claim all corruption charges are politically motivated and try to hamstring the investigation. In democratic societies, this is a short term fix that inevitably leads to political defeat. This is the course that Erdogan is currently taking. And, given his penchant to blame other countries for the unrest, it’s probable that Erdogan will try to refocus on international events during this crisis.
This poses problems for US/Turkish relations since Erdogan has implied that the US is behind this political turmoil. But, it helps him solidify support amongst voters in Turkey who are more suspicious of the US.
There are also two other courses for Erdogan. One is to be more open to the investigation, take the short term political fallout, but place oneself in a position to win future elections, His arrogance so far makes this option unlikely course. The second is to subvert the democratic process to ensure future political victories despite any corruption.
In the end, this is about more than corruption and gold smuggling. It is about the amount of power Erdogan has and how much Turkey’s voters will allow him to have.
The Muslim Brotherhood’s winter offensive
A Year of Too-Great Expectations for Iran
By Mark Hibbs
December 30, 2013
If all goes according to plan, sometime during 2014 Iran will sign a comprehensive final agreement to end a nuclear crisis that, over the course of a decade, has threatened to escalate into a war in the Middle East. But in light of the unresolved issues that must be addressed, it would be unwise to bet that events will unfold as planned. Unrealistic expectations about the Iran deal need to be revised downward. In Geneva on November 24, Iran and the five permanent members of the United Nations Security Council—China, France, Russia, the United Kingdom, and the United States—plus Germany agreed to a Joint Plan of Action. For good reason, the world welcomed this initial agreement because it squarely put Iran and the powers on a road to end the crisis through diplomacy.
An Anticlimactic Referendum in Egypt
By Nathan J. Brown
December 27, 2013
Egyptians will begin 2014 by heading back to the polls, this time to pass judgment on a new constitution. The draft, actually a series of changes to the old constitution so numerous as to constitute an entirely new document, will be put to a vote in mid-January. In this Q&A, Nathan Brown argues that approval of the referendum is a foregone conclusion, and the result is likely to resolve little. Indeed, the constitution and the referendum are more likely to exacerbate tensions and divisions in Egyptian politics than to form part of a democratic transition.
The Islamist Feud behind Turkey’s Turmoil
By Soner Cagaptay and James F. Jeffrey
December 29, 2013
Wall Street Journal
The news last week about a corruption scandal in Turkey seems on the surface a traditional case of prosecutors ferreting out wrongdoers in high places. But the turmoil that threatens Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s government has been a long time coming and is the most public manifestation of a struggle between Turkey’s two main Islamic-conservative factions hitherto united under the governing party: the prime minister’s Justice and Development Party, known as AKP, and the influential, popular Gulen movement. The past year has already been challenging for Mr. Erdogan. Demonstrations that began in May grew out of anger over plans to develop Istanbul’s Gezi Park and were a liberal affair, challenging the prime minister’s increasingly autocratic rule. The Gezi Park occupants would seem to have little in common with the Gulen movement, an opaque, Sufi-inspired group known for its Islamic piety and, until recently, its support for Mr. Erdogan. But the Gezi and Gulen movements are now de facto, if not actual, partners with similar aims: resisting Mr. Erdogan’s near-total power.
Saudi Arabia: Outlawing Terrorism and the Arab Spring
By Lori Plotkin Boghardt
December 27, 2013
King Abdullah is expected to decree a new “penal system for crimes of terrorism and its financing” in the coming days. This comes on the heels of amendments to the country’s criminal procedure law earlier this month. The terrorism crimes legislation passed December 16 by the Saudi cabinet defines terrorism as “disturbing public order,” “endangering national unity,” and “defaming the state or its status,” among other endeavors. A criminal procedure law change that came into effect December 6 legalizes indefinite detention of prisoners without charge or trial. Together, the new regulations will tighten the legal framework for the kingdom’s approaches to terrorism, nonviolent dissent, and other activity deemed offensive to the government. To date, Saudi Arabia does not have a written penal code, and judges sentence defendants according to their own interpretations of Islamic law based on the Quran and the Prophet Muhammad’s teachings, as noted in a Human Rights Watch report released December 18. King Fahd decreed a criminal procedure law in 2001, but judges do not consistently adhere to its provisions. A Specialized Criminal Court has tried both terrorism and peaceful expression cases since it was established in 2008.