Recep Tayyip Erdogan became prime minister of Turkey in 2003 and served until being elected president in July, 2014. Over these years, he has become more authoritarian, more aggressive, more paranoid, more conspiratorially minded, and certainly more outspoken on his perception of the many enemies of Islam and its greatness. Here are just a few recent examples of all this.
“Believe me, outsiders don’t even like us,” the Turkish president told an Islamic meeting on Thursday, arguing that the West just wanted to take resources from a Muslim world in flames. “They look like friends but they want us dead, they want to see our children dead.”
“Erdoğan caused eyebrows to be raised again recently when he told the Standing Committee for Economic and Commercial Cooperation of the Organization of Islamic Cooperation (COMCEC) in Istanbul that Westerners “look like friends, but they want us dead, they like seeing our children die.”
“Striking the attitude of an imam exhorting jihad, he went on to ask, “How long will we stand that fact?” and added, “The only condition to overcome the crisis in the Islamic world is unity, solidarity and alliance.”
“An ally of Hamas, which has ruled Gaza since 2007, Erdogan repeatedly said Israeli leaders are “just like Hitler, who sought to establish a race free of faults.” While Israelis always talk about the Holocaust, he said, their “barbarism has surpassed even Hitler’s.” And to his critics in the U.S., he asked, “What do Americans know about World War II?”
“It is alleged that the American continent was discovered by Columbus in 1492,” Erdogan said. “In fact, Muslim sailors reached the American continent 314 years before Columbus, in 1178.”
“In his memoirs, Christopher Columbus mentions the existence of a mosque atop a hill on the coast of Cuba,” Erdogan said, adding that he’d like to see a mosque built on the hilltop today.”
“A file containing five audio recordings of conversations between Erdoğan and his son from a 26-hour period beginning December 17, 2013, in which he appeared to be instructing his son to conceal very large amounts of money, was posted to YouTube and widely discussed on social media.On February 26, 2014 Erdoğan acknowledged that his telephone had been tapped, but denied that the conversation was real, instead calling it an “immoral montage” that had been “dubbed” by combining other conversations. An analysis by Joshua Marpet of the United States, published by McClatchy, concluded that the recordings were “probably real”, and if not, the fabrication was done with a sophistication he had not previously seen.”
“Erdoğan has also received criticism for the construction of a new palace called Ak Saray (white palace), which occupies approximately 50 acres of Atatürk Forest Farm (AOÇ) in Ankara.Since the AOÇ is protected land, several court orders were issued to halt the construction of the new palace, though building work went on nonetheless.The opposition described the move as a clear disregard for the rule of law. Allegations of corruption during the construction process, wildlife destruction and the complete obliteration of the zoo in the AOÇ in order to make way for the new compound were also subject to heavy criticism.The fact that the palace is technically illegal has led to it being branded as the ‘Kaç-Ak Saray’, with the word kaçak in Turkish meaning ‘illegal’.
“Ak Saray was originally designed as a new office for the Prime Minister. However, upon assuming the presidency, Erdoğan announced that the palace would become the new Presidential Palace, while the Çankaya Köşkü will be used by the Prime Minister instead. The move was seen as a historic change since the Çankaya Köşkü had been used as the iconic office of the presidency ever since its inception. The Ak Saray has almost 1,000 rooms and cost $350 million (€270 million), leading to huge criticism at a time when mining accidents and workers’ rights had been dominating the agenda.”
“In 2013 a comment made by Erdoğan made second place on the Simon Wiesenthal Center‘s list of the year’s top ten anti-semitic/anti-Israel slurs, after Erdoğan blamed the “interest rate lobby” as organizers of the mass protests against him in cities around the country in June 2013. In another quote that was regarded as antisemitic, he said “When the word ‘media’ is pronounced, Israel and Israel’s administration comes to mind. They have the ability to manipulate it as they wish.” He then claimed he believes that not only the international press is run by Israel but also Turkish newspapers.
“In August 2014, during the 2014 Israel–Gaza conflict, Erdoğan accused Israel of deliberately killing Palestinian mothers, saying: “They kill women so that they will not give birth to Palestinians; they kill babies so that they won’t grow up; they kill men so they can’t defend their country … They will drown in the blood they shed”. He also likened Israel’s actions to those of Adolf Hitler, saying: “Just like Hitler, who sought to establish a race free of all faults, Israel is chasing after the same target”.”
“The new bridge being built to cross the Bosphorous is named Yavuz Sultan Selim Bridge, in honor of Ottoman Sultan Selim I (1465–1520).The choice of name of the bridge led to protests by Alevis [a n offshoot of Shiism] in Turkey because of the role of Sultan Selim I, nicknamed “the Grim” due to his cruelty, in the Ottoman persecution of Alevis. In 1514, Selim I ordered the massacre of 40,000 Anatolian Alevites (Qizilbash), whom he considered heretics, reportedly proclaiming that “the killing of one Alevite had as much otherworldly reward as killing 70 Christians”.”
Erdogan’s popularity, even in the Middle East, has declined.
Turkey’s impressive economic growth has faltered in recent years.
“To a certain extent, the Turkish story so far has been less than meets the eye. The government trumpets that during its time in office, income per capita has tripled, partly a result of disparities between inflation and the exchange rate. But that growth happened early on, mostly due to the lira’s strengthening in real terms, and for the past half decade, that figure has largely been stuck around $10,500.
“Then there are a whole host of structural issues that Turkey must address. Participation in the labor force remains low: only about 50 percent of working-age adults were employed in 2012, compared with an average of 68 percent across the mostly developed countries of the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development. Part of the reason for this is the fact that Turkey has overlooked the potential of half its population: according to a recent World Economic Forum report, Turkey ranks 120th out of 136 countries in terms of gender equality, and women constitute only 23 percent of the nonagricultural work force. Moreover, Turkey still lags behind the developed world in terms of educational levels. In 2011, two-thirds of Turkey’s working-age population had received only primary education or less, and according to the EU, fully 30 percent of Turkey’s young people are neither receiving education or training nor securing jobs.”
Marvin Zonis is Professor Emeritus, Booth School of Business, The University of Chicago.