Sultan Erdogan: Invincible and Doomed
By far the most interesting thing about Sunday's Turkish elections was the endless speculations by pundits left and right about what would happen if Recep Tayyip Erdoğan were to lose. These clueless if numerous pontificators forgot to ask themselves a simple question: when was the last time an Islamist dictator in full control of state power lost an election? Mindless as they are, these idle meditations have little to tell us about Turkey but a lot about the West's (and Europe's, especially) failure or unwillingness to understand what Erdoğan is and is all about. For NATO and the West, the inevitable harsh payment due is just around the corner.
In the meantime, Turkey has a new sultan who can and will do whatever he seemingly wants – except that the time of sultans is long past, and this one is preprogrammed for failure.
In the old Ottoman days, upon the anointment of the new sultan, all male pretenders were dispatched with a silken cord. Now they are simply put in jail as "terrorists." In the old days, all the sultan had to do was run to the largely ignorant ulema to be told why introducing the printing press is a great sacrilege, but it took centuries for the empire to become the "sick man of Europe" and a technological and military anachronism. Today, the sultan is forced to dispatch his flunkies to the captains of finance in London to explain why raising the despised interest rates sharply will calm the markets and to plead for continued funds flow.
Herein lies the new sultan's ineluctable vulnerability and the cause of his inevitable demise. A dyed-in-the-wool Islamist, he depends for the very economic survival of the obscurantist polity he is building on the hated Western secular society and markets. Take away his privileges as a member of the European Customs Union, and Turkey becomes but a run-of-the-mill Middle Eastern satrapy. It is a match made in Islamist Hell, and that is where it will end. Unlike with the old Ottoman empire, a version of which he is trying to recreate, it will not take long.
Before looking into Turkey's specific and systemic vulnerabilities, it may be worthwhile reminding ourselves quickly of the dismal record of Islamism. A radical doctrine not altogether different from its fellow totalitarian confrères – Nazism and communism – Islamism, based as it is on sharia, the most reactionary possible interpretation of Islam, has already done incredible damage to Muslims around the world and is now being gradually introduced in Turkey. Ninety-five percent of its physical victims have been other Muslims, and wherever it has been introduced, from Pakistan to Iran and Saudi Arabia and from Sudan to Algeria to northern Nigeria, in whole or in part, it has resulted in murder and mayhem and economic disaster for the people involved, except in the oil-endowed areas like Saudi Arabia. Misogynistic to a fault, Islamism dooms its adherents to permanent underdevelopment, for, as the late great American sociologist David Landes taught us, there is no greater predictor of the success or failure of a nation than the status and role of women.
None of this has stopped Erdoğan from ardently promoting it. From calling women to stay home and have at least three children to pushing compulsory Muslim education and "a pious generation" to new sanctions for "insulting Islam," he has gone as far as having his Directorate of Islamic Affairs (Diyanet) issue a fatwa (later rescinded due to public furor) declaring the proper age of marriage to be nine years. While stridently pushing the Islamist envelope, Erdoğan has had the great fortune of having to deal with Western leaders like President Obama and Chancellor Merkel, who either were clueless or perhaps sympathized with his agenda. As late as 2010, Obama called Erdoğan's Turkey "a great Muslim democracy," and two years later, the Islamist was declared one of Obama's five closest friends. Meanwhile, Mrs. Merkel, who, it should be noted, was a chancellor of Germany, not of Europe, opened the borders of Europe in Sept. 2015 to massive numbers of migrants and gave Erdoğan the perfect opportunity to extort the E.U., something he has proven quite good at.
Still, Erdoğan's election promises of extra cash for renters and free coffee shops for all cannot hide the reality that Turkey is in deep trouble. It lives on borrowed money, and it is now forced to pay an exorbitant interest of 16.5% to attract investments to make ends meet, because it is unable to cover its huge deficit in any other way. More trouble is on the way. Since the beginning of the year, the lira has depreciated by over 20%; inflation spiked to 12.15% this month; unemployment is over 10%; and, most disturbingly, foreign investment since the beginning of the year is off by a third compared to last year. Welcome to the sultanate, Mr. Erdoğan.
Alex Alexiev is chairman of the Center for Balkan and Black Sea Studies (cbbss.org) and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.