Turkey’s Political and Economic Future under Erdogan

Turkey’s Political and Economic Future under Erdogan
Marcus Templar
U.S. Army Cryptologic Linguist, and All-Source Intelligence Analyst of the Defense Intelligence Agency (Retd.)
30 July, 2018

The Hellenic Cultural Commission sponsored a panel discussion on July 25th in Atlantic City, New Jersey. The panel discussion transpired during the Convention of the Family Supreme of the American headquarters for the American-Hellenic Educational Progress Association, or AHEPA. The moderator of the panel was Mr. Lou Katsos and the participants in the discussion were professor Alexander Kitroeff, former ambassador Karolos Gadis, and I. The subject of the discussion was “Turkish Irredentism and the Finlandization of the Eastern Mediterranean”. As it is known, finlandization is the process or result of being obliged to favor for economic reasons, or at least not to oppose the interests of the great power, as in the case of Finland, the interests of the former Soviet Union despite not being politically allied to it.

The panellists suggested and discussed several points of view from historical, political, diplomatic, and psychological aspects of Turkey and its present leadership, especially of President Recep Tayyip Erdogan. Some of the opinions expressed below were also communicated during a radio program and individual conversations. The core of the discussion was Erdogan and the new Turkey as he has envisioned it. And to implement his vision even before he took an oath as president he issued a published 143 page dictum changing the operation of every single ministry and other agencies under the ministries.

After that Erdogan continued issuing decree after decree making the Republic of Turkey a fully functional dictatorship that Ataturk would be jealous and the Sultan disgusted. Controlling all political life, Erdogan could essentially become president for life whose psychopathic cruelty would make Francois Duvalier of Haiti, and also known as Papa Doc, a cub scout. The man fundamentally caused unchecked, wicked authority as Russia’s Vladimir Putin and Hungary’s Viktor Orban. They all use democracy to expand their influence in the same manner that the Communists had done in the past.

But Erdogan’s vision for Turkey is magnificently ambitions and costly. Because the Straits are getting shallower and narrower, Erdogan is determined to open a canal from the Black Sea to the Sea of Marmara near Küçükçekmece, 25 kilometres west of Istanbul. The name of the canal is Kanal İstanbul and Erdogan is determined to make the canal the rival of Suez and Panama. He has brushed around aside legal, environmental and budgetary questions to make the canal a central plank of his re-election bid in June 24th.

But the Financial Times stated that according to Erdogan one of his first projects in the new era will be to start building Kanal İstanbul. There might be a Suez somewhere, a Panama somewhere else, but the Kanal İstanbul will send the world a message. The problem is that when Erdogan announced the canal in 2011, the estimated cost was 13 billion US dollars. Today it has increased to 15 billion US dollars and by the time the project ends its price could reach 20 billion US dollars. That’s very expensive.

Also, Erdogan wants to build at least one runway long enough to take care of the taxiing needs of F-35 aircraft. However, it always depends on specific variants as whether Turkey will be trusted to own such an aircraft, the capacity for such a heavy and costly aircraft to manoeuvre, like turn, climb, run, the specific models of the aircraft like traditional takeoff, landing, versus vertical takeoff, landing, guns, and a few other variants. With a price tag of 94,6 million US dollars each, for only the basic F-35A; the price for a more advanced model of F-35 could include and increase its cost to 132,44 million US dollars.

If we add the grand plan for the Istanbul Airport that Erdogan has in mind we can quickly add the cost of 12 billion US dollars as he wants to improve the airport by adding six runways across a strip-like land. It will take about a decade to complete with a projection of making the busiest airport not just in the region but also on the planet. The projected number of passages could hit 200 million people annually.

However, in a global economy which is afflicted gradually by worries from an unfolding trade war to higher oil prices, Turkey could be very close to comfort. Turkish economy is 22nd in the world, below that of the state of Illinois of the United States, which is 20th, and below Russia, which is 13th in the world.

Starting a business is not an easy venture, but including family in the government is unwise. Yet in a country whose finances constitute a bubble ready to burst, the worst thing anyone wants to do is having a relative as finance minister. Berat Albayrak is a Turkish businessman and politician, but also Erdogan’s son-in-law. The question is whether Erdogan will listen to his relative or he will tell his son-in-law to implement his personal policies. As a Bloomberg business week out it, it is abundantly clear that the president’s whim will appraise the all future strategic decisions taken about anything in Turkey and the new cabinet will function purely as the rubber-stamping forum.

The only constraints set to be imposed on Erdogan are those likely to derive from bond and currency markets which may inhibit any overtly reckless economic polls-making. The chances in the function of the government are expected to have a severe impact on Turkish assets and it is assumed that Turkish assets to remain under pressure, unless policy measures address the country’s high inflation and external dependence, it won’t make it.

The Central Bank has not raised rates enough like some other countries given the government’s focus as GDP growth rather than inflation or currency stability. On the other hand, Turkey is likely to face more challenges ahead and it is running a massive fiscal deficit but don’t have savings to fund it.

So, Erdogan atop of it was the only one who actually decided Turkish monetary policy keeping the Central Bank of the Republic of Turkey captive. He has prevented any recent Central Bank constraints and in the last two years under Erdogan’s control, because he helped the Turkish voters to do better by offering cash bonus and other trading methods.

Turkey has had an extraordinary loose both monetary and fiscal policies. Turkey is facing the variety of issues. The Turkish lira has declined, the inflation rate is in the area of 12%, although the target was 5%, and also Erdogan’s restriction of the Central Bank’s independence. Setting interest rates which opt in for a monetary policy that prioritizes growth over controlling the inflation, is a real problem. Nevertheless, the voters preferred the man, who as a mayor of Istanbul had cleaned this  city, even if their first choice was a bit shaky – and that is an understatement.

Democracy in Turkey suffered since its inception, oscillating from the socialism of Ataturk to the right-wing Islamists of Erdogan, and that includes about 1.5 million people who live abroad, most of them in Germany. The burst of the economic bubble and the consequent implosion of the present political survival of Turkey is not a matter of supposition but a matter of time.

The Aftermath of the 2018 Turkish Elections


Aftermath of the 2018 Turkish Elections
Marcus Templar
U.S. Army Cryptologic Linguist, and All-Source Intelligence Analyst of the Defense Intelligence Agency (Retd.)
16 July, 2018

The elections in Turkey were nothing more than the continuation of Erdogan’s grasping of all the powers he could and more in Turkey since the coup two year ago. Last year they had the referendum which changed the political system and this year he actually took officially, I would say, the radar of Turkey in his hands. He has more powers than Kemal had and definitely has more powers than our President, because in our democracy in the United States there is a balance of powers. Erdogan doesn’t have any balance. He controls everything and he has put either relatives in cabinet posts or very close friends and associates – the Minister of Finance that is very important for a country is in the hands of his son-in-law Berat Albayrak.

And then we have a number of others that are already known in Turkey and they are very rich people, like the Minister of Education, who is the owner of a private college, the Minister of Health owns a chain of pharmacies, and the Minister of Culture and Tourism has a successful travel agency. So the whole thing is now in his hands. He has control over sixty five boards, commissions, committees, established with laws and other regulations and are merged in nine entities, namely social policies council, law policies, security  and foreign policies, local governments, health and food, economy, education and science, technology and innovation. Now, the President is on a chair in these boards, but at the same time he has already installed other chairs because he cannot be President everywhere, he has his own representatives in the same boards. So, these boards, according to the new system, propose policies, oversee implementation of the policies, make decisions, long-term strategic decisions and these decisions are beyond the responsibilities of the ministers. So, in essence Erdogan controls even the ministries.

He has installed eight directorates which include the Directorate of General Staff, Directorate of National Intelligence, Directorate of Religious Affairs, and for the first time Turkey sees the Directorate of Strategy and Budgeting. So, how it is going to work? I am not sure and I don’t believe anybody can be sure, but also he has the Directorate of Communications which actually will organize media and communications activities. In essence, he is going to control even the press and he has already thrown to prison a lot of journalists, religious people who are against him, other politicians, and that’s how he got actually elected, because he didn’t have any real opposition to begin with.

So, slowly he’s trying to become a modern sultan and he hopes to get the caliphate again. But in my opinion he has a problem with that because the caliphate was a product of occupation of lands, and since he had occupied all the Islamic centres and mostly Sunni people, he became himself a caliph, like the Pope, if I could say, like the Ecumenical Patriarch, this kind of a thing. There is no democracy in that caliphate. So, what he wants to do is to control even the religion of other countries, and through the religion of other countries impose his own power to other countries, his own influence. And that would be Bosnia and Herzegovina, Albania, Kosovo in Europe, and also he could control the Muslims in Greece, in Thrace especially, the Dodecanese islands, the occupied territory of Cyprus in the north and also Saudi Arabia, all the Arab countries, Iran, Afghanistan, Western India and Pakistan. So, this is what he wants to do. The problem he has with that is that he is not in political control of those countries. Also, most Arabs, most Muslims, I should say, do not consider the Turks to be real Muslims. And this is because they gamble a lot, which is against the Quran, and also they drink alcoholic beverages, which is also against the Quran. So, that’s what we have on the religious side. I don’t believe he’s going to make it.

At the political side, I think he might keep the power for a few years but I don’t see him staying, because the world is unlike when Kemal was, or sultans before. Today, even if he controls the social media, there is always a way for people to find out what is happening outside of the country and to get to be influenced from outside of the country.

I don’t believe that he will be able to control the Muslims in Western Europe, although I’m sure he will send his own people to agitate, I would say, other countries, mostly Germany, and I say that because in Germany, in the west, most of the Muslims there that come from Turkey are not Turks – they are Kurds and that would be a problem.

Also in Constantinople most of the Muslim inhabitants, the non-Greeks of Constantinople, are Kurds – they are not Turks. So, I believe it is a matter of time. He is not going to stay like that and I do believe that Turkey, because of the control he has, might not be able to sustain the economy it has right now. Some people say it will be stronger. I am not an economist, but I don’t believe in a controlled economy. I cannot see how a controlled economy can flourish. Economy requires innovation, education is very important. And if these two are controlled, investments are controlled, I don’t see how can the economy become better.  Again, I’m not an economist – that is just my belief.  In a free economy you have movement of ideas, movement of economic culture, businesses come and go, if they don’t like what they see they can always change the product, they change the way it works. When you control the economy like that, I don’t know how he can make it better, allow the economy to grow. That’s my belief as a non-economist.

Turkey is losing its importance. Turkey kept importance all these years because of the location.  The Straits do not have the importance they used to have. Never mind that people say they still do. They don’t. And number of reasons is supporting this. One is that they are getting shallower and shallower, while the ships are getting bigger and bigger, so you cannot pass through the Dardanelles big ships like they used to pass one hundred years ago, because the ships were smaller and the bottom of the Dardanelles were deeper. At the same time we have different weapons that we didn’t have a hundred years ago like missiles – you do not need to be close, let’s say, to Crimea if you want to bomb it. You can do it from Chicago. So, they have lost that. And Erdogan has realized that and I’m sure he wants to open a canal, the Istanbul Canal, which will be actually a line from Küçükçekmece down south, up north – I don’t remember the town today. But it’s like an alternate route which is going to be dug like a regular canal.

Also, he wants to expand the airport in Istanbul, Constantinople, which is actually outside in Yeşilköy, and some other airports, so that he can buy the F-35s. Personally, I don’t believe the United States will sell F-35s to Turkey, but Turkey has a very strong lobby. It has a very strong lobby because it pays money to lobbies. I was reading the other day that the President of PSEKA (The International Coordinating Committee “Justice for Cyprus”), Mr. Christopher, stated that Turkey spent a hundred and two million dollars just in lobbying. Greece, for example, has spent nothing.

The problem now would be that if Turkey continues to be the way Erdogan wants it to be, it is going to come in opposition mainly of Germany, and this is because Germany would never allow Turkey to direct traffic, if I can say that. I don’t know how NATO is going to take care of that because he is becoming more of a liability as he goes and against NATO standards. To be a NATO country you have to follow the OSCE, and have democracy, and Turkey is losing it. The question I have is how NATO is going to handle this, because to my knowledge there is no mechanism to kick a country out, just like in the EU. I have not seen anywhere a mechanism that allows the other party members to say to the country, to Turkey or whosoever, “We don’t want you, you are a liability to us, you don’t serve anything, get out of here.” But, again, that would be related to how Russia is going to act. And to tell you the truth, I’m not really sure about the United States because it seems to me that the exception of the President all the others are against Russia and our President now says, “Russia is our friend.” That makes a few countries, especially in the Baltic Sea, nervous because they used to be under the Russian occupation since 1918, or so. I don’t know how that is going to work. It is a matter of, I think, a guessing game right now. But as long as Erdogan is pushing the West, the West is going to react against him. And I don’t know how Russia and Turkey are going to work together or against each other, because now they have the problem in Syria, the problem of Kurdistan in Iraq, in part of Syria. I’m sure in few years we are going to see the tiles will fall where they may and we will see how it’s going to go.

The 2018 Turkish Presidential Election Results


The 2018 Turkish Presidential Election Results
Alan Makovsky
Center for American Progress, Senior Fellow
4 July, 2018

As everybody knows, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan was re-elected President on June 24th, 10 days ago. He won with 52,6% of the vote, far ahead of his next closest challenger, Muharrem İnce of the Republican Peoples’ Party, or CHP by its Turkish acronym. İnce received 30.6%, 22% points less than Erdoğan. By winning a majority, Erdoğan averted the need for a second round runoff against İnce. The result continued the pattern of narrow Erdoğan victories, a reflection of the deepening polarization of Turkish society between pro and anti-Erdoğan forces.

This is only the second time that Turks elected their President directly. The first time was 2014, when Erdoğan also got slightly more than half the votes in the first round. However, this election marks the first time in Turkish history that Turks voted simultaneous and separately for the head of their government and for their parliament. The election and swearing of Erdoğan and the parliament on July 8th this coming Sunday will trigger a new system in Turkey with greatly enhanced powers for the Presidency. This is the result of wide ranging government-sponsored constitutional amendments, narrowly passed, possibly of the result of fraud, in a public referendum last year. In this system the President will be the all powerful master of the executive branch with unreviewable powers of appointment and a broad ability to govern through decree. The Prime Ministry will seize to exist. Nevertheless the Parliament will retain some important powers at least on paper, including the right to overrule presidential decrees.

Let’s look at the parliamentary vote as well.  In the parliament vote Erdoğan’s Justice and Development Party, AKP by its Turkish acronym, won an unprecedented sixth straight election although for the second time in the past three elections it failed to win outright parliamentary majority. It came very close, it won 295 seats in the 600-seat Parliament leaving it just six votes short of a majority. Erdoğan is likely to pick up the extra votes he needs in Parliament through the alliance he has maintained over the past three years formally during the election campaign but otherwise informally with the hard right Turkish nationalist Party, called the Nationalist Movement Party or MHP by its Turkish acronym. Erdoğan will also probably try to allure a few parliamentarians to AKP from other parties to ensure an absolute majority for AKP on its own so that it won’t have to rely on MHP. In that regard a likely target is former Interior Minister Meral Akşener of İYİ Parti or Good Party.

“Good” is the English translation of the name of her party, it perhaps might strike some people as a funny name, it doesn’t tell you much about what the party stands for except that it inspires to be good, but when written with upper case letters is it is reminiscent of a symbol that is dear to many Turkish nationalists, that evokes an ancient Turkic people. Akşener herself is seen as quite nationalist, and indeed she used to be a member of MHP. Akşener’s party, newly formed last year, as in fact a breakaway from MHP was expected to far outpace its nationalist rival MHP in the parliamentary vote. In fact, MHP won the intra-nationalist contest finishing fourth overall, with 11% of the vote and 49 seats to the İYİ Parti’s fifth place finish with 10% of the vote and 43 seats.

Many who joined İYİ Parti  did so because they expected it to be a winner or at minimum at least the winner of the nationalist right with the prospect of absorbing what was anticipated to be a collapsed MHP. Now, that that prospect is no longer tenable, that is the MHP very clearly did not collapse, and now that Iyi is out in the wilderness of the opposition with no real leverage to speak of within Parliament, it will not be surprising to see some of its members of Parliament seduced into singing up with Erdoğan’s AKP, providing AKP with the few extra MPs necessary to achieve the absolute parliamentary majority it could not win at the polls.

I have mentioned that AKP came first, MHP was fourth, İYİ was fifth, so what about the in-between? The secular Republican Peoples Party, or CHP, that’s the Party of presidential candidate Muharrem İnce who we mentioned a few minutes ago, and more famously the party established by Turkey’s founder Mustafa Kemal Atatürk, nearly a century ago, that party finished second in the parliamentary vote, with 22,6% of the vote and 146 seats. It marked the sixth straight parliamentary election in which CHP is finished at distanced second to AKP. In third place, which is the the Kurdish rights-focused and Kurdish-dominated, Peoples’ Democracy Party or HDP with 11,7% of the vote and 67 seats. Under Turkish law a party must receive 10% of the national vote in order to enter parliament. HDP succeeded in doing that for the first time in June 2015 and this is now the third consecutive election in which it has managed to win parliamentary seats. In both, the presidential and parliamentary elections, the basic pattern of recent elections remained intact. The secular CHP wins the western Aegean coast and the western Mediterranean coast. The HDP dominates the Kurdish population in the south-east and MHP, Turkish nationalists have a meaningful presence in central Anatolia which they share as a junior partner to AKP. But the AKP itself remains the only Party in Turkey that is competitive all over the nation winning the overwhelming majority of the provinces and rarely finishing worse than second anywhere.

The elections results provoke myriad of questions but let me just try to address four of them in the brief time we have. They are: First, was the election free and fair? Second, why did AKP get so many fewer votes for Parliament than its leader Erdoğan received for President? Third, why did MHP performed so much better than expected? The polls were showing prior to the election that MHP would get somewhere between 3-6% of the vote which is what led to the expectation that it might crumble and be absorbed by Akşener’s İYİ Parti. And fourth, how significant is it that the Kurdish-dominated HDP got into Parliament for the third consecutive election? Does it hold any meaning for the prospect of a solution to Turkey’s long-standing and most difficult issue, the Kurdish problem?

First, was the election free and fair? Clearly, the campaign wasn’t fair. Turkey’s media industry is overwhelmingly controlled by pro-Erdoğan forces, it is said that roughly 90% of the media is pro-Erdoğan and that media made sure that the opposition got minimum covered even when millions attended opposition rallies in the closing days of the campaign. In the Kurdish dominated south-east, access to the ballot box was suppressed for at least tens of thousands of voters and possibly up to 200.000, whose place of voting, polling stations were moved to distanced towns, ostensibly for security reasons. This was somewhat odd, because if anything, security is much better now in those areas. There is less violence in those areas than there was during the last several elections, when the polling stations were not moved.

Further, thousands of members of the pro-Kurdish rights HDP were arrested in the course of the campaign and to top it off, the entire campaign and election were conducted under emergency rule, which has been in place for two years and gives Turkish security officials extraordinary powers to suppress demonstrations and other manifestations of free speech. Ok, but was the vote count itself honest? There are plenty of rumours of ballot box staffing and tampering and the election was conducted under an election law passed in March that seemingly facilitated ballot box staffing. Nevertheless, no clear proof of fraud has emerged; unless and until it does the count must be deemed legitimate. In his concession speech widely viewed as gracious, the candidate who finished number two in the presidential race, Muharrem İnce, claimed that there had been fraud, but not enough to explain what he calls the ten million vote gap – it was actually eleven million – between him and Erdoğan. And therefore, he said, Erdoğan should be seen as the legitimate winner. This is somewhat puzzling, because İnce did not address the issue of whether the fraud had been large enough to explain the roughly 1.8 million vote gap between Erdoğan’s official vote total and the 50% mark that would have forced the second round run-off. And I should mention, 1.8 may sound like a lot but in the referendum on the constitutional amendments last year the OSCE delegation that monitored, estimated that it was possible that up between 1-2.5 million votes were fraudulent. So, that 1.8 would fall within the range between 1-2.5 million. That doesn’t means there was that much fraud, only that the vote total that put Erdoğan over the 50% mark in the first round is far more significant than the vote gap between him and İnce. OSCE election monitors were also present this time around and they will issue a report in just a few weeks rendering their assessment of the election and the vote cap. That report will be important in shaping perceptions no doubt, but whatever the verdict of the OSCE, the official results as announced by the Turkish government already are the ones that will stand.

Questions two and three. The gap between the Erdoğan presidential vote and the AKP parliamentary vote on the one hand and the unanticipated success of MHP on the other are linked. Those two questions are linked. For the first time Turkish voters were casting separate and simultaneous votes for the head of government, the President, and for parliament, as I pointed out. Also for the first time, some of the parties were running for parliament in blocks. There were two main blocks. The Cumhur İttifakı or People’s Block, which grouped AKP and MHP, and the Millet İttifakı or Nation Block which grouped three main opposition parties: the secular CHP, Akşener’s nationalistic İYİ Parti  and a small Islamist but anti-Erdoğan party called Saadet Partisi (Felicity Party).

Besides the parties in these two blocks, the only competitive party in the election was the Kurdish-dominated HDP, which did not affiliate with any block. Actually, it was widely reported that HDP wanted to be part of the opposition block but that idea was vetoed by the Turkish nationalist Meral Akşener, the head of İYİ Parti. So, AKP ended up with 42.6% of the parliamentary vote, exactly 10%points less than Erdoğan received in the presidential contest. We don’t know why so many Erdoğan voters chose not to vote for his party but we can hazard a reasonable guess. It’s seems likely that many voters recognising that Erdoğan was about to assume immense new presidential powers decided to check his power by voting for AKP’s only block partner MHP. For such voters, those who wanted Erdoğan as President but with some degree of checks and balances, MHP really was the only choice since they weren’t going to go so far to vote for a party in the opposition block.

This also helps to explain why MHP ended up outdistancing the İYİ Parti. Originally, Akşener was hoping her party would attract not only most of the former MHP voters but also former AKP voters. I think she might have been able to do that but for one fact, she wanted to run for president and her presidential campaign was an abysmal failure. A part of that was that she couldn’t get any traction in the media which wasn’t entirely her fault for reasons we have already mentioned. But she came in a distant fourth in the presidential race with only 8% of the vote. Not only did she trailed Erdoğan and İnce, but she trailed the Kurdish party’s candidate as well who was actually forced to campaign from prison – that’s another story in itself. Thorough presidential campaign was a failure. In retrospect it seems her best bet would have been to run only for parliament unaffiliated with any block, while declaring her party would work with whoever wins the Presidency on an issue by issue basis. Had she done that, her party may indeed have attracted some of the checks and balances voters, those who voted for Erdoğan but not his party that otherwise went to MHP. Of course this is only my speculation.

The fourth question is: What’s in store for the HDP, the pro-Kurdish rights party? They were celebrating in Diyarbakir, the main city in the Kurdish populated area of Turkey, celebrating that is on June 24th because HDP had once more succeeded in getting over the 10% threshold and getting into Parliament. But there is little prospect in my view that anything good will come of it regarding the long standing Kurdish problem. The HDP was helped getting over the 10% threshold by small numbers of non-Kurdish Turkish liberals, some supporting HDP’s liberal agenda and some voting merely tactically to get them into parliament to diminish AKP’s portion of parliament. I won’t (inaudible) you with further explanations of Turkey’s electoral system, but suffice it to say that had HDP fallen below 10% and thus failed to get into Parliament, AKP would have won dozens of additional seats and thus would have had an overwhelming parliamentary majority instead of falling just short of a majority, as actually happened. And that’s why some voters who did not necessarily agree with or like HDP voted for HDP tactically as a means of suppressing AKP’s parliamentary representation.

Erdoğan dislikes the HDP which has actively opposed him and he shows no interest in reviving the peace process he once courageously pursued with the Kurds. That process came to a decisive end with the Turkish military’s onslaught against several Kurdish towns where pro-PKK forces were (inaudible) three years ago. To the extent Erdoğan might be inclined to renew the peace process the MHP, his unofficial coalition partner, will be there to make sure he gets back to the Turkish nationalist path. The Kurdish problem anyway is unlikely ever to be solved through a parliamentary process unless there is initiative from the head of the government and there is no prospect of that now. 20% of HDP MP’s from the last parliament are in jail, many others were detained and then released during their term of office. Nobody should be surprised if the current incumbents meet a similar fate.

Notwithstanding the implementation of a new presidency-focused system in Turkey, governance probably won’t look much different to outsiders than previously, particularly not much different than it has for the past two years since the declaration of emergency rule following the failed coup attempts of July 2016. Under emergency rule Erdoğan has essentially been able to decree whatever he wants and the constitutional court has said that it has no jurisdiction over emergency rule decrees. So, opposition efforts to contest those decrees have fallen on deaf ears.

Now, following this election Erdoğan will continue to call all the shots and he will be able to do so constitutionally by decree, based on these new powers given in last year’s referendum. Given AKP’s near majority in Parliament and its close working relationship with the Turkish nationalist MHP as well as its prospect for using its considerable patronage and other forms of leverage to allure other MPs from other parties, Erdoğan can pretty much count on having a rubber stamp parliament. Continuity in foreign policy is also likely, which isn’t good news for the US, the western alliance, Israel, Egypt and many of the Arab monarchies. It is good news for Qatar where Turkey has established a small military base and which has come to view relations with Turkey as critical in fending off the isolation and boycott imposed on it last year by Saudi Arabia and the UAE.

Erdoğan’s resentment over Greek refusal to extradite accused Gulenist Turkish soldiers who fled Turkey in the wake of the coup is likely to continue to rile Aegean relations.  Nor is there any prospect of Turkey’s softening its approach to the Cyprus problem and related eastern Mediterranean gas exploration issues.

Now, is there any chance that Erdoğan will alter the nationalist, (inaudible) Muslim Brotherhood-sympathetic path he has pursued in recent years? It seems to me, perhaps, only in this case. Many economists are expecting a very serious economic downturn in Turkey in the months to come. Many are saying a crisis is likely. The Turkish lira has lost roughly 15% of its value against the dollar already in 2018. Year on year inflation is at a 14-year high, measuring it just over 15% in June. Now, it should be remembered that the Turkish economy has often proven more resilient than economists’ predictions, we should keep that in mind, still should the worst happen and should Turkey need an IMF bailout, Turkey might just project a friendlier attitude toward the wealthy western nations that dominate IMF decision-making. At this point, however, the reasonable overall conclusion must be that Turkish voters have chosen five more years of continuity and Erdoğan dominance. The only exit from recent policies during those five years being the whims of an all-powerful President, Recep Tayipp Erdoğan – the longest serving leader of Turkey in the history of the Republic.

Thank you very much.    

Turkey’s Election 2018



Turkey’s Election 2018
Alan Makovsky
Center for American Progress, Senior Fellow
22 June 2018

Hello everyone. Our topic is the Turkish elections which will be held on June 24th, about 16 months ahead of schedule. Usually when we talk about elections, the first question that we ask is who is going to win. It’s a reasonable question. In this case we really have to ask a preliminary question. Will it be fair? Will it be free and fair? There is, unfortunately a lot of reasons to be suspicious that it might not be fair. Why is that? Basically, three reasons.

First of all, recent history. In April of last year, Turkey held a very significant referendum on thoroughgoing change of its constitution through a series of amendments which greatly empowered the Presidency far beyond what it had been before and abolishes the prime ministry and diminishes the power of parliament, although it does not totally eliminates parliament’s powers. The vote was very close, roughly 51,8 % was the winning total as officially reported but many people suspected that the vote was unfair, that it had passed because of fraud. Many unmarked ballots, unstamped ballots were counted, according to Turkish law only officially stamped ballots are supposed to count, nevertheless these unstamped ballots were counted, there were counter-arguments by the Turkish government as to why these votes were counted. But nevertheless there was a lot of suspicion about it. I would say this and I think it’s very important; Turkey has had its democratic problems over the years. But until the election last year, starting in 1950, Turkey had had more than twenty, almost two dozen, national, parliamentary and referendum elections and this was the first time in all those elections that the losing side said we lost because we were cheated. Of course there is always been issues of localized fraud, there have been local elections where the loser cried “faul”, but this is the first time in a national election, that that happened and there is concern that there will be a repeat of cheating in the upcoming elections.

Second of all, there is a new election law which in fact makes cheating, seems to make cheating much easier, by making it official that unstamped ballots in certain circumstances can count and also by limiting the monitoring that can be done by other parties. In fact, one of the reasons that early elections were called according to the Turkish opposition was so that they would have less time to train monitors. One political party said that it was planning to train 200.000 election monitors, now it only has time to train 50.000. And the access of those monitors will be limited.

Thirdly, there is the issue of the media environment. Turkey has been under emergency rule, something very akin to martial law, since the failed coup d’etat of July 2016. That means that president Erdogan can really do almost anything he wants and he has been doing that. He can limit the rallies that the opposition holds. One thing that is clear is that he overwhelmingly dominates the media. It’s hard to put a number on it but I don’t think anyone will quarrel with the idea that 90% of the media is a mouthpiece for President Erdogan and his supporters. So, for all of those reasons it’s not clear that the upcoming election will be fair.

Now, why would Erdogan want to cheat? Obviously, the reason is to win. But, those people who are expecting, who think that he is willing to cheat really cite two reasons. One is that he is power hungry, he is in power since 2003, his party won in 2002, he did not formally become the Prime Minister until 2003, then 2014 he became the President. The other reason is, since 2013, there have been corruption allegations swirling around him and his family and some of his supporters. Some people feel that if Erdogan should lose, his fate would be prison. And, therefore, he cannot let himself lose. People argue how much can he change, how much is he willing to change. I think most people agree that there could be significant cheating in rural areas and in the Kurdish dominated southeast, where there is a strong military presence. But most people feel there is a limit to how much he can cheat without being fully obvious.

Anyway, this is the environment in which the election is taking place. And what about the election itself? Let’s put aside the issue of fairness and let’s just look at what is about to happen, let’s assume it will be fair. This election is unique in Turkish history in terms of its mechanics and in terms of the political tactics being used. What do I mean by that. So, I mentioned that the referendum passed; at least legally it passed last April that brought in a new system of an empowered Presidency. There were several other changes related to it, one of them is that for the first time in Turkish history Turks will vote separately but on the same day for Parliament and for the President. The first direct presidential election in Turkey happened in 2014 when Erdogan was elected, before that the President was always elected by Parliament. However this is the first time that the presidential election and parliamentary election will be held on the same day. And constitutionally now, so long as the new amendments that were passed in the referendum last year are in place, that will be the case from here on in Turkey.

Let me say a word about those two elections. According to the polls they are both surprisingly close. Foreigners tend to look at Turkey from the outside and they see Erdogan and his party, the Justice and Development Party known as the AK Party in Turkish, as unassailably dominant in Turkish politics and governance. And that has been true. However, the opposition has never been so united as it is for this election.

Let’s look first at the presidential election. The rules are basically the same as the rules for the French presidency election. That is, in the first round there are multiple candidates, the top two candidates then face off against each other in a subsequent round with the winner becoming President. In 2014 the first direct presidential election in Turkey, Erdogan won in the first round with approximately 52% of the votes. Nobody is expecting him to win in the first round this time. It is a virtual certainty that he will finish first but it seems unlikely that he will get more than 50% in the first round. By the way, if you get more than 50% in the first round, it is over, there is no need for a second round. There are several other presidential candidates but in particular there are two very strong candidates who are also strong campaigners. Many people feel Erdogan is a very tough style of campaigning that he often just railroads over his opponents. At least two of his opponents have a very strong style of their own. One is Muharrem İnce, who is a center – left candidate for the secular Republican People’s Party (CHP) which has for several elections now been finishing second to Erdogan’s party. The other candidate is Meral Akşener. She is originally from the Nationalist Movement Party (MHP), she broke away from it, has formed her own party (İyi Party), she is still somewhat finding her identity, but she is generally seen as nationalist, some people see her as more center-right. She is drawing some votes from the AKP voters according to the polls, some votes from her former party and some votes from Muharrem İnce’s center – left CHP. The big issue will be which of those two candidates finish second and will all of the opposition then support the candidate that finishes second in the following round assuming Erdogan fails to get 50% plus in the first round. That’s the real fight in the presidential election, it’s between the two opposition candidates. Now, there is a third opposition candidate of prominence who is running, his name is Selahattin Demirtaş. He is Kurdish, he leads the Kurdish dominated Kurdish HDP party – Peoples’ Democratic Party and he, like almost a dozen of his colleagues from his party have been arrested and he’s been in jail for over a year. He has announced that he is going to run for President from jail. He was a very impressive candidate for President in 2014 when he got just under 10% of the votes but really made a big splash in the Turkish media and showed that he was not frightened to go up against Erdogan. He will certainly get a lot of Kurdish votes but he will unfortunately not be able to campaign unless he gets a last minute reprieve that nobody is expecting.

On the parliamentary side of the election and this the second really unique feature of this year’s contest, we see two blocks running against each other. Historically, in Turkey parties run separately not as blocks. There is some exception here and there, where a couple of parties run as a block but basically parties run separately. This year, Erdogan and the nationalist party decided to run as a block. That is the nationalist MHP that I mentioned a few minutes ago from which Meral Akşener departed in order to form her own party and run for President. In response to the block that Erdogan and the nationalists forged the opposition, most of the opposition forged its own block. So, now this is just on the parliamentary side, I know this is complicated, but these are two separate elections happening on the same day. The opposition block consists of the center – left secular Republican People’s Party (CHP), the righter – center, more nationalist İyi Party (Good Party) that was formed by Meral Akşener, who broke away from the nationalist MHP, and there is a small conservative party called The Democrat Party and most surprising of all, the most religious party in Turkey is part of this block, is called Saadet Partisi (Happiness Party). Now, the ultimate odd couple in Turkish politics is to have the CHP, the highly secular party, that was actually founded by Mustafa Kemal Ataturk, the founder of modern Turkey, in a block together with Saadet Party which is the most religious party. On most issues these two parties are completely at loggerheads, can’t agree on the time of day. But there is one thing that these two parties, as well as Akşener’s party and the small Democrat Party do agree on and that is that Erdogan must go. And that the presidential system is bad and that they should try to take power and get rid of that. There is an ”X” factor here, the Kurdish party, the one that I said is led, by the way not formally led because he is in jail, but he is the face of the party – Selahattin Demirtaş. That Kurdish party is not part of either block. There may be a Kurdish block, but it is the dominant element. And, there is a trick to the Turkish parliamentary system, it was there before, it’s not new with this parliamentary election. In order to get into Parliament you need to get 10% of the vote. Otherwise, you get 9,99%, all those votes are wasted because your party doesn’t get in. The Kurdish party HDP did get in, in the last two elections, in last one just barely, it got between 10-11%. Most polls are showing that Erdogan’s block, AKP along with MHP, is not getting 50% of the vote. Now, that won’t matter, if HDP doesn’t get into Parliament, almost certainly Erdogan’s block will come in first. But will they have enough to have the majority in Parliament? And that will probably be determined by the success or failure of the Kurdish party to get more than 10%. Should the Kurdish party get in and ally itself with the opposition block and should they have a majority, they can create a lot of problems for whoever is President. Now it’s widely believed that under this new system Parliament has zero powers. So, it doesn’t really matters what happens. But that is not accurate. Again, we are assuming that the system is going to be applied fairly for these purposes of this discussion, so by what is on paper, by what is in the amendments that were passed in the referendum in April last year, Parliament does retain some very important powers. For one thing it can overrule any presidential decree. Another thing is, the President is not supposed to do any decree in an area where Parliament has already passed law. And third of all, there are certain powers in the constitution, such as the power to declare war, but others as well that are specifically reserved for Parliament. I don’t want to say that Erdogan’s party and his block, cannot win a majority of Parliament, they might. But the polls right now are not showing that.

By the way, I know this is complicated, let me try one more time. Let’s say Erdogan’s block gets 48% and the opposition block gets 40%, well, if the Kurds get 11% then the Kurdish party plus the opposition block will have 51% to Erdogan’s 48%. Now, seat distribution is complicated, but assuming it’s done proportionately, that will give the opposition along with the Kurds a majority over Erdogan’s party. If, however, Erdogan’s block gets 48%, the opposition block gets 40% and the Kurds let’s say get only 9% with the other votes scattered among various other small parties that are running, then Erdogan’s block wins 48% to 40% and all those votes for the Kurdish party are thrown out. And that would undoubtedly, yield a clear majority in Parliament for Erdogan’s party.

One other factor that I’ll mention. It seems there is a certain Erdogan’s fatigue in Turkey, even among his supporters. His early rallies have not revealed the same exuberant, let’s say, that he is traditionally enjoyed from his supporters. Still, it is odds-on that he will finish first in the first round of the presidential election and odds-on that his block will finish first with the most votes for parliament. The issue is, can the opposition in the presidential race keep him under 50% and then with all their votes coalescing defeat him in a second round. In Parliament the issue is again keeping Erdogan’s block under 50% and between the opposition block the four-party opposition block and the Kurdish party, can they get more votes than the AKP. Here is the ultimate dream scenario for the opposition that they win the parliamentary vote, that is that the opposition block plus the Kurdish party outpaces the Erdogan block, then two weeks later there will be a run off in the Presidency and they would then campaign saying, “Look, don’t vote for a guy who doesn’t have control of Parliament because there would be chaos”. So then they would urge that voters vote for Akşener or İnce, whichever of the two emerges as the run off candidate based on the idea that stability requires it. We will see, there are a lot of possibilities here, too many to talk about.

This is a very momentous election for Turkey. So, what are the issues in this election. The overwhelming issue, as it has been for many elections in Turkey, is Erdogan’s persona. Do people want this person who is been running Turkey since 2003 to continue to dominate to get another five year term? Which, by the way, under the new system could ultimately lead to fifteen more years of Erdogan. That is the dominant issue. But there are other issues. The economy, which traditionally has worked in favor of Erdogan and his party, has been stifling recently and the Turkish lira has dropped to an all time low against the dollar. And people are feeling that, and there is a lot of concern. The one saving grace for Erdogan and his party may be the people also do not have a lot of confidence in the economic stewardship skills of the opposition. Another big issue is education. A surprising number of Turks, even among those who vote for Erdogan’s party feel that Turkey has enough religious schools. The government’s policy of increasing the number of religious schools should come to a halt. But I would say that the two top issues, Erdogan’s persona and the economy, Erdogan is also hoping to score points from his recent invasion, anti – Kurdish, seen in Turkey as an anti – PKK, invasion of Syria.

One way or another this is going to be a momentous election. We know that there’s been increasing authoritarianism in Turkey. Certainly, since emergency rule started in July 2016, but even before that it started. And since July 2016 over 75.000 people have been arrested on charges somehow related to the coup or being Gulenists, the group that Erdogan accuses of being behind the coup. And about over 150.000 civil servants have been fired. This authoritarian trend will likely continue if Erdogan wins the Presidency and his party wins Parliament.

The second possibility is, if the opposition wins the Presidency and wins Parliament that would be an incredible result because it would mean the first time since 2002 that Erdogan and his party will not be governing. The third possibility is cohabitation. Erdogan wins the Presidency but the opposition has the majority in the Parliament or the opposition wins the Presidency defeating Erdogan, but Erdogan’s party, his block has the majority in Parliament. That would be a formula that would be a mess, because those in Parliament would be trying to block the President at every turn in that case. So I think this is a very momentous election coming up and it is very complicated, I tried to make it as clear as possible, there is much more that can be said but it is a highly important election in a highly important country. It is going to take place in a month and it is certainly merits are very close observation. Thank you very much.

Political Islam in South-Eastern Europe and Beyond


Political Islam in South-Eastern Europe and Beyond
Dr. Darko Trifunović
Research Fellow and Lecturer, University of Belgrade
8 June, 2018

How Significant is Turkey’s influence in South-Eastern Europe?

We used to deal with Turkey and Turkish officials that they are type of Ataturk, basically, they are holders of Ataturk’s legacy. But with the “new generation”, with Tayyip Erdoğan, with Gülen and others, Grey Wolves as well as Muslim Brotherhood rise up in Turkey and as well in northern part of your island. The Muslim Brotherhood, of course, is a basic organization for all jihad. We are now facing a big misunderstanding, mainly coming from lack of knowledge from the West and the Western countries, because they do not call all these organizations Muslim Brotherhood but regionally they call them Al-Qaeda, Islamic State, etc. But it’s very well-known among us experts that basically Bin Laden, Zawahiri, Al Baghdadi, Tayyip Erdoğan and others, they are all members of the Muslim Brotherhood.

Recently, Erdoğan visited Bosnia. Bosnia is not a Muslim country; it is predominantly Christian country if you see population, if you consider Croatian Catholics and Serb Orthodox residing in Bosnia. And what he did at the airport? Immediately after his disembarkment from the airplane on the Sarajevo International Airport he showed the four-finger of the Muslim Brotherhood (Rabia sign). He showed all what is our destiny according to his plan. The same Muslim Brotherhood is present in northern part of your island.

Erdogan doesn’t hide that his aspiration is to become a new caliph. That’s why he is in confrontation with all those prominent individuals in groups coming from Arabic Sunni population, particularly Al-Baghdadi, that they are claiming that they are supposed to be a caliph in the caliphate. It is very clear for all of us that the Muslim Brotherhood is basically an organization which propagates political Islam. Political Islam is just the platform for their ultimate goal – the goal is creation of umma and caliphate. And methods of their operations, modus operandi, is guerilla, terrorism, and right now we are facing also state terrorism.

And if you consider at this moment what Mr Erdogan and army under his control in Turkey right now, what they are doing provoking conflict with Greece. There is no day that Turkey doesn’t violate the Greek sovereign territory. There is no day that the Turkish forces are not committing crimes in Syria. Because what is Turkish army doing in north of Syria according to international law this is a clear act of aggression. Regardless if Russian side would contact now with the Turks, if Russians decide to allow the Turks to enter the territory of Syria, but according to the international law, Turkey is behaving very aggressively and, I repeat, against Greece, and in the same time you can expect in the future of course any kind of aggression towards Cyprus, towards the East European nations, particularly in the Balkans, and as well as Syria.

And, of course, their aggressive policies now are very visible in Central Asia. Few thousands Uyghurs are members of Al-Qaeda and Al-Nusra and, particularly, all these units of Islamic State fighting in Syria and Iraq. After the defeat in Syria they are now in Turkey, and according to my knowledge, they are now preparing operation and actions against western China in province called Xinjiang. So, Turkey has become a problem not only for Europe and European partners, not only for the Greek and the US governments. Turkey is now becoming also a problem of China. Nobody stopped Turkey in their effort to organize, recruit and support by any other ways and means equipping Uyghur terrorists, because in Turkey there is a common opinion that Uyghur people are originally Turks and they speak Urdu language that most of the Turkish citizens consider as old Turkish. So we are now facing, as I said from the beginning, not really old Turkey that we used to deal with – type of Attaturk. Now we are facing a giant, which is completely out of civil control, out of control of our civilization, they don’t accept values of our civilization, they become more and more radical, and there will be in the future, of course, this kind of a clash between.

Regarding the Balkans, and indeed it’s the same policy, radical circles from Turkey try to widespread this Turkish radical form of Islam. And by that way Turkey tries to keep the interest and to misuse local Muslim population from the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia (FYROM), Albania, Serbia, all the way up to Bosnia. Of course, there is now the conflict between Turkish influences and Arabic, mainly Saudi Arabia influence. And Saudis are more present in our part of the world, but Turkish influence is present more and more in your part of the world. And particularly right now there is a very strange marriage between Turkey and Russians. And since you have in Cyprus a large population of the Russians, now we need to think whether all of these Russians are our Orthodox brothers and fellows, whether all of these Russians are just our neighbors, or some of them do some kind of intelligence gathering job for their new ally at the moment – Turkey.

What is the connection between Turkey and the Muslim Brotherhood?

Muslim Brotherhood is not an organization which strictly respects the rules from country to country. You can see Muslim Brotherhood in Saudi Arabia, and their relation towards, for example, the women issue. You can see Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt and their relation to, for example, the women issue again. And it’s from country to country. They are root organization, they have common goals and they have common platform. The platform is political Islam, but it’s from country to country, and in every country the Muslim Brotherhood respects some traditional relations among those inhabitants of those countries. So you can see, if you are studying the Muslim Brotherhood carefully, you can see that their roles are not the same from country to country. In Egypt, for example, their representatives behave completely differently than in Saudi Arabia or in Morocco. There is a strong connection, they are part of one body. Of course in this body there are different wings. Basically, they want to put themselves above all others. You remember that from the beginning all kinds derive from the Arabic world. But the last twenty, maybe thirty caliphs they came from the Turkish world. And Attaturk, at the beginning of the twentieth century shut down the caliphate and that was the end of the caliphate. And basically, all these jihadists right now, whenever they do something, they recall the past. They recall Salahuddin, they are living in the past. They are back in seventh century, and that’s why they’ve attacked first France, whose French troops came to Baghdad and killed the idea of, at that time, the guy who claimed that he was going to be the Caliph from the Arab Syrian (inaudible).

Turkey is a part of this. Regardless how much they are different, regardless that they are not Arabs, but they are claiming, they are in constant fight, among the Sunni (inaudible) their Arab fellows. But at the end of the day they have the same idea of jihad, they are misinterpreting Quran and misunderstanding the basics of the religion.

But now, if you talk about religion, in particular Sunni version of religion, then, I said just a minute ago that they misinterpret religion. Maybe I’m wrong? Maybe they interpret the religion in the right way? But who can understand, for example, verses from the Quran, “When the holy months pass, kill infidels wherever you find them, burn their property, until they start paying zakat.” What does that mean for an average Muslim inhabitant, for an average Muslim citizen, this order from the Quran? Of course, there are Muslim scholars that are lying to us that in other parts of the Quran there is a verse that propagates love and tolerance among the people, etc. But the main thing is that in the Quran there is a verse that says that the newer Surah is above the older. That means that in the second part of the Quran there is much more power than in the older part of the Quran. That’s why the lie to us.

How should Europe deal with religious radicalization?

The key is de-radicalization. But it is also from country to country. For example, Serbia, Bosnia – our Muslim population are not Muslims that come from somewhere – they are out of our blood, they are autochthon Muslims from Europe and they have a unique position that we need to create out of them our first defense. And more and more Bosnian and Serbian Muslims here converted during the Ottomans. They are European Muslims with European standards and European traditions. Last twenty-twenty five years, someone, mainly Saudis, Turks and others, started to change them. They want to change their name for example. They used to call themselves Bosnian Muslims, and now they convert to Bosniaks. They don’t speak now Serbo-Croatian language, which is basically our language. Now they call it Bosnian language, which is nonsense. They used to go to mosque, this type of mosque which is Turkish-style, with low minarets etc., but after the civil war in Bosnia they started to build very high minarets, like those you can see in Saudi Arabia and all other places. So, the last twenty-twenty five years someone has tried to change the identity of the European Muslims. This is one category.

The second category is a Muslim population that came from North Africa, Middle East and other parts of the world. Again, de-radicalization, but because we are dealing with the radical, we are not dealing with Islam here. And we need to make clear distinction between Islam as a great world religion, and radical jihadists, radical Islamists, that want to jeopardize our values, they want to destroy our civilization, and they want to put in our mind their ideals in a very brutal way. Every day they are sending this kind of a message to us, that they are brutal, that they are terrorists, that if we don’t accept their values and their civilization, we are going to die. It’s a kind of message they are sending to us every day.

So how do we confront that? Of course, with de-radicalization. But also, since we are dealing with radical Islam, we need to treat them as Europe treated communists, Bolsheviks, in the past. We need to create a ban list that they cannot travel. We cannot allow them enter our civilization. And also, if you are taking Israeli experience, if some of them commit any kind of terrorist activities, in particular suicide, we need to take measures against the traitors’ family, and keep them entirely out of Europe. If someone grew up in Europe and becomes a suicide bomber or any other radical jihadist, there is no space for these people. Europe is liberal. They came to our world. They want to change our habits, they want to change our way of life. They want to change everything. So, if they don’t like us, why are they coming to us? And why do we allow them to come? It sounds maybe like a radical approach. But explain to mothers and fathers of those kids that were killed by jihadists in Bosnia. Explain to the family of the France bombing how they feel right now. Explain all the families that suffer from jihadist or Islamist terrorism, from America, China, India and Europe. Think a little bit about families, think a little bit about victims, and then you will find that we need to implement very extreme measures.

De-radicalization means soft and strong measures. For example, one of the leading experts on de-radicalization is Mr Asir Hafiz. He used to be an imam of the London mosque. But he realized how dangerous radical Islam is to Muslim population. He wants to underline that radical Islam is targeting namely Muslim kids. They want Muslim kids to be the suicide bombers. They want Muslims to convert to their way, to confront the rest of the civilization. The average Muslims in Europe, in particular Bosnian or European-born Muslims, not second or third generation, but our Muslims, that they are here for the last 500 years, they understand that they are victims and so are their kids. We need to talk to those that came to Europe. We need to tell them why their family came to Europe. Because they cannot live under the Islamic rule and other circumstances in their own country. So what do they want from us? If they don’t like our way of life, if they don’t like our civilization, we need to find out way how to face them with the consequences. The consequences vary from jail to ban list that they cannot travel. Our legislators and our colleagues from law faculties can give us which kind of measures we can implement. But also there is a big dilemma in that sense. Which kind of the measures? What can you do to someone who decides to die? That is also a key question for me and my colleagues and we are still looking for answers. I find out that those jihadists, they are using techniques, special psychological techniques to brainwash young Muslims to become suicide bombers. So we need to do the opposite. And in psychology there are measures. But unfortunately, our not only Serbian, but also European legislators don’t understand gravity of the threat. Since they start to understand the gravity of the threat, they’ll do things about legal measures and ways of how to confront it.




Political Islam in the Eastern Mediterranean and Beyond

Political Islam in the Eastern Mediterranean and Beyond
Professor Uriya Shavit
The Department of Arabic and Islamic Studies
Tel Aviv University

What is political Islam and what are its characteristics?

First, it is important to emphasize that there are different definitions, some of which are so broad that they’re almost meaningless. Let me tell you how I understand political Islam. Political Islam are movements that believe that Islam must be reinstated as the all-encompassing framework of all aspects of life, including the political. And that the means to achieve this objective are through politics.

I think the best example for a political Islam movement are the Muslim Brothers, because that is basically the idea that they have championed through the years. That is basically their flagship idea: that there was a time in history, when everything in Muslim societies was regulated in accordance with Islamic norms. And then with the collapse of the Ottoman Empire, and even before that time in history, that ended. And the only way to remedy the misfortune of Muslim societies in our day and age is to return to those old, glorious days, where the law is the law of Allah, where the norms are the norms of Allah, and nothing but the laws of Allah, and nothing but the norms of Allah is legitimate.

Now, we have to understand that it is not as if Muslim societies today, or our Muslim societies today, are radically in contradiction with these ideas. If you read the amended Egyptian constitution of Anwar Sadat, it stated very clearly that laws must be in line with Sharia. So in that sense it’s catering to the demands of the Islamists. The problem is that from the point of view of political Islam, not a single norm, not a single code can breach the norms of Allah. If Allah said that you shouldn’t drink alcohol, then you shouldn’t drink alcohol. If Allah said “no” to abortions, then abortions are strictly prohibited. If Allah said “no” to gay marriage, or to gay sex, then obviously no one can allow something that Allah banned. And further, if Allah permitted something, if Allah made something permissible, no human being can say it is not permissible. So if Allah said that a man should be allowed to marry four wives, then human beings cannot legislate that it is illegal. Basically, the concept of the political Islam movement is that anything that Allah legitimized is legitimate, and anything that he delegitimized is illegitimate. So, to the extent that there is one law in Egypt which breaches the norms regulated by Sharia, if there is even one such law, then the country defies God. And this makes perfect sense in one way. If you accept that there is God and that Prophet Muhammad was his Final Prophet, a Messenger, and that the Quran is the Holy Book of God, then it doesn’t make sense to accept some of the laws and deviate other laws. So either you accept them as your framework, or you don’t. This is the basic philosophy of the Muslim Brothers.

Through the years the Brothers had to face the question of whether or not they engage and participate with the political system that doesn’t abide by the norms that they hold so dear. And I think it was the 1980s when they reached a decision that it is permissible for them, it is beneficiary for them, to take part in an electoral democracy, that doesn’t abide by the codes that they adhere to. Obviously, they did that already during the 1930s and the 1940s, but there was a period of loss of faith in the democratic system and it was regained during the 80s. The Muslim Brothers’ theory is that today it is, or was after the 80s, that it is permissible to take part in elections, even if the elections lead to a parliament that doesn’t exclusively and comprehensively abide by God’s laws.

But there is a bigger issue, and I think that that is the issue, that possibly needs to be addressed, or should be the focal point of attention. The Muslim Brothers’ understanding of democracy is that the origins of Western democracy can be found in Islam, and that democracy is the Western way of practicing the Islamic principle of Shura, which is mentioned in the Quran twice explicitly, and in the traditions and elsewhere in less explicit way.

The Muslim Brothers’ understanding is that when God commanded Muslims to abide by the principle of Shura, or consultation, that is the equivalent of the way Westerners practice democracy today in many ways. First and foremost, according to the Muslim Brothers, because God commanded human beings to practice Shura, leaders are only legitimate to the extent that they are elected in universal, fair and frequent elections. That their regime is transparent. That they respect the will of the people, if the people decide that they should leave office. It is also the firm belief of the Muslim Brothers that God commanded Muslims not only to abide by Shura in this narrow electoral sense, but also to practice freedom of speech, and other human freedoms. And that practicing those freedoms is not just something that Muslims can do; it is something that they must do. It is something that God commanded them to do. And in this sense the fact that Western nations, and also the fact that Israel, are more democratic, or have been more democratic for such a long time, while other states are not, is not just an offence against democracy in the simple sense. It is also an offence against Islam. Because if God commanded Muslims to live in democratic societies and they do not, then by not being democratic they are also not being good Muslims.

So far so good, it seems it is a very clear and coherent theory of democracy. And let me explain where I think the problem lies. The reference for all of this, what legitimizes all these ideas from the Muslim Brothers’ point of view, is their understanding of God’s commands. That is, democracy is something that has to be practiced, leaders must be elected, freedom of speech must be respected, because this is what God ordered. Democracy is part of Islam. Therefore, from the Muslim Brothers’ point of view it also makes perfect sense that you can legislate in a Muslim democracy only on those issues, on which God did not legislate. And here is why this makes sense. It makes sense, because if we accept that the premise of democracy, that the source of democracy’s legitimacy is God’s commands, if we accept that, then it doesn’t make sense to disobey God’s command on other issues. Therefore, according to the Muslim Brothers, the democratically elected parliament in a Muslim country cannot legitimize the drinking of alcohol. The democratically elected parliament in a Muslim country that abides by the principle of Shura, cannot legitimize, for example, abortions. It cannot illegalize marrying four wives. So democracy is good so long as God’s laws are abided by. That is the basic principle of the Muslim Brothers. This is their theory of democracy, which is just as in the West, except that in the Muslim democracy, in a Muslim Brothers’ democracy you cannot legislate against God’s commands.

If you tell a Muslim Brother that this theory is not very democratic, he will tell you, or she will tell you if she is a Muslim Sister, or he will tell you if he is a Muslim Brother, that it is not fair to argue that their theory is non-democratic. And they will present the following argument, which I have to say is a very appealing argument. They will say, “In a Western democracy parliaments also cannot legislate on anything as they deem fit”. For example, it is possible in the United States, which, most people will argue, is a democracy, it possible there, that the Congress, both Houses of Congress, approves through legislation, through a very broad margin a piece of legislation, which later the Supreme Court, which is basically nine justices, will decide with the 5:4 majority that that piece of legislation is unconstitutional, and everyone will accept that these are the rules of the game. The Congress legislated, and everyone was happy there, but the Supreme Court found that this act of legislation is unconstitutional, and that’s the end of that. So a Muslim Brother will say, “Where is the difference, theoretically speaking, between an Egyptian Parliament, where it is established that the Quran is the constitution, or let’s say broadly, that the Quran and the traditions, any of God’s decrees, and the Prophet’s decrees are the constitution, Sharia is the premise for all legislation, and if Parliament legislates in a way that the Supreme Court of Egypt, or some other panel, will find is unconstitutional, that it negates, it counters the Quran, then the law will be declared unconstitutional, and that will be the end of that. What is wrong with this theory?” They say, “Where is the difference between such a system and the American system?” And I have to say this is something I elaborated quite a bit on in my book “Scientific and Political Freedom in Islam” in a more systematic fashion. But I have to say, just in the context of our conversation there is a lot of sense in this theory, and this way of presenting things by the Muslim Brothers makes perfect sense, save one crucial issue.

And here is that one crucial issue. Obviously, those justices in the United States, who decide that something is constitutional or not, they are indirectly elected by the people, because it’s the President who decides who the justices will be – he is elected by the electors, and the electors are elected by the people. So in the end those justices represent the popular will. What do the Muslim Brothers have in mind in their hypothetical state is the panel that will decide whether a piece of legislation is compatible with the Quran or whether it is not. What will that be? I’ve been reading Muslim Brothers’ literature from the 1930s to the early 2000s that dealt with the issues that we’re discussing: the issue of who should have the authority to decide whether certain legislation is compatible with the Quran or not. And it’s very interesting, and I hardly think it’s a coincidence, that the Brothers have neglect to fully answer that question. They’ve neglect to fully answer that question, because if they say that those justices, that legal panel that will have the full authority, should be indirectly or directly elected by the people, then they describe a democracy, not a liberal democracy, but nevertheless a democracy. But in a situation whereby this panel will be comprised of religious scholars, of Ulema, who will be elected by other religious scholars, the name for such a regime is not a democracy; the name for a regime of that kind is a theocracy.

I’m not splitting hairs here, this is actually a crucial issue. The reason why the Brothers are avoiding answering it, is that they want to be able to play on both fields. That is to have an appeal with people who are very eager to see Egypt as a theocracy, but also to have an appeal with people who want the more Islamic Egypt, but nevertheless a democratic one. That is, basically, they wanted to appeal both to those, who wish Egypt to be some variation of Iran, and those who want it to be some variation of conservative European countries.

I was very eager to see them once and for all in power in Egypt, because they figured, that once they are in power, they would have to answer the question, and then they would realize, and the Egyptian public would realize, that you have to make a choice. You have to make a choice between a theocracy and a democracy, you cannot have both. And I have to say it is rather interesting that when they passed the constitution in Egypt, their span in power was very short, but they did manage to pass the constitution, and it was very interesting that even in that constitution they managed to avoid answering that question. They left it open for the future.

But why did we have millions of Egyptians marching on the streets of Cairo and elsewhere? We had millions of Egyptians, including liberals, who marched there, because they were quite convinced that given the chance, that if they are enough time in power, then what the Muslim Brothers would do is lead Egypt towards the path of becoming a theocracy. And I have to say, Egyptian liberals faced a rather uncomfortable dilemma. They had to choose between a military regime, because everyone, I think, realized that el-Sisi would end up with the establishment of a military regime, so they had to choose between establishing a military regime, former authoritarian regime that they knew well, that was the evil they knew, or accepting the gradual encroachment of theocratic norms on Egyptian society.

And they finally did choose the evil that they knew, and that is what we have seen in Egypt over the last four-five years. The evil that the Egyptian liberals new. A non-democratic regime led by a strongman that nevertheless is strong enough to fend off the Islamist threat.

A very crucial question is, “Is it possible to have a democracy with strong political Islam movement as part of that democracy?” The answer to that question is, “Yes”. But under one condition: that that political Islam movement does not enjoy a majority. Because if it enjoyed the majority, it will ultimately lead the country to a theocratic regime. If it doesn’t, it may just have an effect on leading the country to be more conservative, more Islamic, more religious, but not in the way, that doesn’t allow popular vote to express itself, and doesn’t allow regime change.

We spoke a lot about Egypt, but Tunisia, the events that took place in Tunisia ever since the Arab Spring, they prove that political Islam can have different faces and can function differently in democratic systems, so long as one thing is maintained. And that one thing is their acceptance of a non-Sharia abiding regime.

Political Islam can take part in liberal democracy as long as it doesn’t win an absolute majority. You have political movements in Israel whose dream would be to see here a regime, a society that is governed by the laws of God, by the rabbinical law. And they take active part in Israeli politics. The difference is that they don’t comprise more than 15-20% of the Israeli Parliament. You have in Indonesia political parties, the largest Muslim country in the world, you have political parties that are Islamic, that even preach variations of political Islam, but they haven’t been able to win an absolute majority. And that has also been the case in Tunisia. Political Islam movements want one thing, ultimately, in the end. That one thing shouldn’t make it impossible for them to participate in politics so long as they don’t get that one thing that they actually want.

Is Turkey under Erdogan’s leadership an Islamist regime?

Turkey is a very interesting example. What a lot of people do not know is that Erdogan managed to assert his control over Turkish politics only after he went that extra mile that other Islamists at the time were not willing to take. Erdogan basically renounced all the demands for the Sharia-led government and the Sharia-led society. And he was as clear cut and unequivocal in renouncing those old concepts that Erbakan and other Turkish Islamists preached for and that was how it was possible for him to take power in Turkey. A lot of people ask, “So where does Erdogan really want Turkey to go?” Giving full authority, facing no opposition from the public, from the judiciary, will he still abide by his commitment to a different face of Islamism? He says he would. But knowing that this is Erdogan and how capricious he is, that is not necessarily going to be the case. Nevertheless, there is a great disparity between the political views the ideology of the Egyptian Muslim Brothers and that of the Turkish Islamists. And knowing that since 2016 the Tunisian Islamists have also gone that extra mile that Erdogan has gone through already in the late 1990s and now they are not preaching, they’re not insisting on the Sharia-led society.

What is the role of political Islam in Europe?

That is a whole new topic and I will only say two things. It’s very difficult and not very analytically constructive to discuss European Islam as a whole. European Muslims are so diverse and there is so much that brings them apart, aside of the basic beliefs in God and his final Prophet, that it is not possible really to discuss them as one coherent political group, not even on a national basis. Not even if we discuss British Muslims, or German Muslims. There is so much disunity to make such an analysis credible. It is true that among first, second and third generations of European Muslims there are individuals who find integration more difficult. We also need to be cautious that it is not obvious what we mean when we say “integration”. I think that we see very little Islamic politics in Europe. Maybe that will change in twenty years, or thirty years, or forty years. But at the moment those Europeans of Muslim faith who do well in politics are actually secular, or if not secular, then at best traditionalists. You have very little Islamic influence in European parliaments, in European politics. I would speculate that could change, but right now Islamic politics is almost redundant in the broader map of European politics.

What is the future of democracy in the Eastern Mediterranean?

Some of the states are vibrant democracies, some are challenged democracies, and some are not democratic at all. Of all these, the greatest shame is Egypt, because they had a unique historical opportunity to change the face of their society, to drastically and dramatically transform it. The Arab Spring brought such a wonderful opportunity and Egyptian society could not find in itself the forces of revival and the forests of renewal. It is extremely unfortunate considering what Egypt can contribute to the region and to the world. My guess is that, just by very crude and even cold-calculated analysis, my guess is that that Egypt’s worst days are still ahead of it. Because I don’t think it makes much sense to think that the Muslim Brothers and Islamists at large have said the last word. A movement that comprises some half of the Egyptian population didn’t just disappear. And the moment will come, maybe when el-Sisi is weakened, maybe when he’s gone, maybe for another reason, but the moment will come that these forces will resurface. And when they resurface, I tell you one thing is going to be different. They’re not going to buy the idea that they can achieve anything through electoral processes. They bought this idea and now they are disillusioned. Now they understand that the only way to make change is using violence, applying force. And, therefore, I repeat my rather gray and grim statement that I fear that Egypt’s worst days are still ahead of it.

Turkish Invasion of Syria – 21 January 2018

Turkish Invasion of Syria – 21 January 2018
Air Cdre RAF (Retd.) Andrew Lambert
Director, ERPIC Regional Security Program


On Sunday 21st January 2018, armed forces of the Turkish Republic invaded Affrin Province in Northern Syria. This invasion, codenamed somewhat paradoxically as Operation Olive Branch, involved tanks, artillery, infantry and aircraft. It is a very significant event and begs a number of strategic questions for the region, for Turkey’s future, and for Turkey’s allies.

Continue reading → Turkish Invasion of Syria – 21 January 2018

The Kurdish Referendum for Independence in Northern Iraq

The Kurdish Referendum for Independence in Northern Iraq
Air Cdre (Ret) Andrew Lambert
Director, ERPIC Security Program

Before we start, let’s just remind ourselves some of the history, because of the context in which this was established, that actually dictates the way in which the future is likely to unfold. Of course, we should remember that the Sykes-Picot agreement at the end of World War I envisaged a separate entity for the Kurdish nation. If a plebiscite was agreed, than according to the Treaty of Sevres the Kurds would have the area to the east of the Euphrates river, across almost to the boundary of Mosul, but not including Mosul itself, while Armenia would have the area from Trabzon in the north, almost up to the edge of the area by the Kurds, and Turkey would have the remaining part of western Anatolia.

As I’m sure listeners will recall, the early 1920s the group of Turkish officers under Ataturk carried out several attacks that began a Turkish war of independence in order to regain all the annexed territories. Most importantly, they were concerned about the territories to the west, around Izmir and Constantinople, and the area to the east was always something additional, but not necessarily essential. However, as a result of their success in their war of independence, the Treaty of Sevres, which was the original treaty granted to the Kurds, was negated, and the Treaty of Lausanne was instituted in its place. This gave the whole of Anatolia to the Turkish Republic, and negated the Turkish promises that were offered under the Treaty of Sèvres.

Of course, since then, the Kurdish territories had been divided up between, as I said earlier, the Turkish areas to the east and part of Anatolia, the northern part of Iraq, and the western part of Iran. And the Kurds in all three of those areas have effectively been second-class citizens. They’ve been taking the lowliest jobs, and suffering considerable discrimination. And nowhere was this more stark, than of course during the 1980s, when under Saddam Hussein’s regime the Iraqis conducted the Al-Anfal Campaign, which  climaxed with the weapons of mass destruction, specifically the use of chemicals against Halabja in 1988, when probably something like 7000 civilians – women and children – were killed as a result of the chemical attack. In fact, I spoke to some of the Kurdish survivors, and they said, surprisingly after the attack, or what surprised them after the attack, was the fact that nothing moved. Not only were all the women and children dead, but all the animals were dead, the birds were dead, everything in that area, apart from cockroaches, had been killed. Now that was ethnic cleansing on a grand scale by the Saddam Hussein regime. It was a form of attempted genocide, and this has now, as I am sure your listeners will know, been recognized by Iraq’s Supreme Court.

So the Kurds have long sought to have a proper homeland, to live in peace. They are a relatively modern grouping, relatively liberal, and very much Western-orientated regime. Now the Kurdish area, certainly in the northern part of Iraq, is an island of stability in what is essentially a sea of chaos. To the west we see the chaos in Turkey, to the east we see the problems in Iran, the problems with weapons of mass destruction, and the aspirations there, and of course in Iraq itself we see an ongoing Sunni-Shia conflict. Saddam, at the end of Gulf War I, attempted to reassert his authority, and the UK government, as Saddam attempted to move to the Kurdish areas, decided they would attempt to prevent the humanitarian excesses that were taking place. And what then happened was that many of the Kurdish villages were just left like the Mary Celeste. The Kurds departed, moved up in to the hills in order to escape the Saddam regime. Approximately 500 to a 1000 women and children were dying every single day up in the hills, because there was no water, no food, and no shelter. And in order to prevent this humanitarian outrage, the UK government, alongside the Americans, decided to set up what eventually became the no-fly zones in northern Iraq, and indeed, subsequently in southern Iraq also.

In 1999 I was commanding the British forces in the northern area of Iraq, and we were imposing a no-fly zone on Iraq north of the 36th parallel. My task was to ensure that Saddam Hussain did not move forces into the area, and start to threaten the Kurds, and cause the mass evacuation of villages again. So we end up in a situation that having established now since the fall of Saddam, following the 2003 Gulf War, the Kurds do have a considerable regional autonomy, and indeed a Kurdistan Regional Government has been set up. They enjoy that autonomy, but they nevertheless, certainly in the northern part of Iraq, are under control of the Iraqi regime. For those Kurdish assets, or those Kurdish peoples in the eastern side of Turkey, of course there is not such government, nor indeed is there any such form of autonomy for the Kurds in the western part of Iran.

So the question is, why is it that right now the Kurds have decided to set up a referendum to decide whether or not to have an autonomy? And that autonomy, of course, or the question on the ballot paper is: “Do you wish to have autonomy for the Kurdish Regional Government, i.e. the Kurdish grouping in northern Iraq? It has no effective mandate in either eastern Turkey, or western Iran. But why now? Why did they decide to do it now? I think that the answer to that really comes in two parts.

The first is that, of course, the Kurds have been fighting essentially as the West’s surrogate ground forces in the fight against ISIS, and they’ve done exceptionally well.  Obviously they’ve been supported by a massive Western air power, by the real hard fighting has largely been done by the Peshmerga of the KDP forces, the Kurdistan Regional Government in Iraq. And they have been very successful indeed. As a result of that, not two things have really happened for the Kurds. First of all, they’ve built up a considerate Kurdish pride in the strength and capabilities of their own armed forces.  But equally importantly, there is probably a sense of indebtedness: the West owes them for the forces they have committed, for the losses that they have incurred, and for the successes they’ve clearly had, against ISIS. Not only in taking places like Mosul, but also for the Syrian Kurds, in starting and continuing the battles in Raqqa. So of course the West does owe the Kurds something.

Secondly, 90% of the revenues that the Kurds enjoy come from oil. And this, of course, has been very much subject to the reductions in the price of oil that has occurred in the last three or four years. This has caused considerable difficulties for the Kurdistan Regional Government. A lot of salaries have not been paid. And of course, by having a plebiscite right now, it does rather focus the attention somewhere else, and makes it seem as though that is the problem, and the salaries are less important than anything else. Now we come to the reactions by the countries that have direct interest in this area. The US has actually condemned a referendum, and the diplomats have gone out of their way to say, of course we should realize that support for the Kurds, and there has been a considerable support for the Kurds, does not equal support for independence. So the US, of course, is somewhat equivocal on this: it does not want the independence referendum to cause any form of difficulty in the area, but at the same time it wants to try and support the Kurds where possible.

For the other three nations that are directly involved, both, or three of them have considerably overreacted. The one nation that has probably reacted least is Iran, although there have been reports of missiles being fired in the area from Iran into some of the Kurdish areas. Whether it is true or not is difficult to know. But they have shut off all air links between Teheran and the Kurdish Regional Government. To the west, of course, there is Turkey, and Turkey probably has a population of some 20 million Kurds in the eastern part of Anatolia. And they see a grave danger, that if the Treaty of Sèvres, or some surrogate of the Treaty of Sèvres were to be implemented, it would essentially mean the partition of the eastern part of Turkey. And they are considerably worried that unless they do something to stop the Kurdish referendum migrating, or evolving, into a form of a proper independence, they would then find themselves with half of their country disappearing. But what it has done, of course, is it’s probably encouraged the PKK under Abdullah Öcalan who, we should recall, was imprisoned, was captured in Kenya, was imprisoned by the Turks, was sentenced to death, although his sentence to death has now been revoked, and substituted by a life of hard labor. But Abdullah Öcalan and the PKK are continuing to carry out their terrorist attacks in the eastern parts of Turkey against the Turkish regime. And there are some concerns that of course this referendum will cause the PKK to fight with renewed vigor. But there is a great danger, of course, from that, that if Turkey then does what it says it is going to do, which is to close the borders and shut off the oil, when you recall that 90% of the revenue for Kurdistan comes from oil, if Turkey shuts off the oil, then of course there will be essentially no money to support the Kurdistan Regional Government. The danger of that will of course be that it will convince all the other countries that have pipelines through the area that Turkey is not a reliable partner, and whenever some difficulty arises, Turkey can begin to turn off the oil, or turn off the oil pipeline.

But it’s really in Iraq that one sees as the most vehement form of reaction. And the problem with Iraq’s reaction, which is to close the borders and stop any movements in the air space, is that it will force the Kurdistan Regional Government to look elsewhere for its friends. And the danger already is that with Iran already heavily involved in Syria, and with the Russians, already heavily involved in Syria, I would be very surprised indeed, if the Russians did not use the opportunity to start improving links with the Kurdistan Regional Government. So it really comes down to America realizing where it’s best interests lie, because if it doesn’t manage to resolve this little impasse, then I would be surprised if the Russians did not start to move into supporting the Kurds in their aspirations.

Known of course also is the other element in this, and that is China. China, as we know, under the Shanghai Cooperation Organization, is already trying to reestablish the Silk Road, which, no doubt, will pass, in some way or form, across the territories of northern Iraq, and may involve also the Chinese becoming involved. I would find it very difficult for the Kurds if they did not start to look towards China and Russia to see if they would be prepared to support their best interests. 

It would be a great shame, given all that, if the West were to allow the Kurdistan aspirations just to be left on one side and to become stillborn. And it seems to me that it’s in the best interest of the West, best interest of Turkey in particular, and certainly of the Iraqi government, to try and look at the Kurdish aspirations in the historical context, and say to them, “We recognize what you wish, and we will work towards it, but we won’t carry out some form of draconian operations against you. Because to do that, we’ll create exactly the sort of situation, that we do not want to happen, which will be instability, and growing involvement by Russia and China in the region.”

The Qatar Crisis

The Qatar Crisis
Brig Gen (Retd) Dr. Ephraim Sneh
Chairman, S. Daniel Abraham Center for Strategic Dialogue
Netanya Academic College

Turkish Constitutional Referendum

Marcus Alexander Templar
Former U.S. Army Cryptologic Linguist
and All-Source Intelligence Analyst of the Defense Intelligence Agency

“Considering everything Erdogan has done so far, he is seeking not only political power, but also religious power. If he could, he would become a caliph.” Marcus Alexander Templar comments on Turkey’s drift towards authoritarianism and theocracy, as well as deterioration of its relations with Europe.