Oedipus’s is a double tragedy – he kills his father and weds his mother, he saves his city from the Sphinx but becomes the cause of the disasters that befall it. In both aspects, that which determines his actions and his fate, for good or ill, is Oedipus’s very identity. Character is destiny. Similarly, the protagonist in Turkey’s politics for many years, Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan, managed to change his country and improve the lot of his compatriots, through consecutive electoral victories. Today, though, his own behavior is threatening to destroy what he achieved. But Erdogan cannot do anything other than continue fighting in the only way he knows – with a full-frontal attack on everyone who questions him, at any cost.
The last few weeks have brought a series of disasters: the appearance of wiretapped conversations purporting to entangle Erdogan and people close to him in a wide network of corruption has undermined the sense of trust between government and governed. The renewal of demonstrations against Erdogan’s autocratic ways followed a range of aggressive decisions, such as placing the judiciary under government control, allowing free rein to intelligence services, and threatening to curb freedom of speech on the Internet. The rapid devaluation of the country’s currency, the flight of foreign capital, and a series of obsessive and thoughtless decisions on several diplomatic fronts, at a time when instability is becoming constant on Turkey’s borders, has stirred insecurity further.
Perhaps, though, the clearest sign of how Erdogan has been trapped by his own self is the fight to the finish with the exiled spiritual leader Fethullah Gulen. The alliance between the two was a cornerstone in the successful overthrow of the military and judicial regime that – like a modern-day Sphinx – controlled everything in the country since the founding of the Turkish Republic. In the clash with Gulen, who controls large sections of the state now, Erdogan is not only losing a powerful ally and making him an enemy, he is also forced to seek openings with those in the establishment who are his enemies.
Everywhere we note the signs of arrogance, of a mentality that does not leave room for tactical retreats. For Erdogan, others are always to blame for whatever happens, never himself or his choices. This is a useful trait when you are continually moving forward, as Turkey was through economic development and Erdogan through his political hegemony.
So far, an important distinction between Erdogan and Oedipus is that the Turkish leader is not trying to discover who is really responsible for his country’s woes – he is certain that they are anarchists, terrorists, scoundrels and speculators. Challenging his rivals to duel with him in this month’s municipal elections, he is declaring that when he has followers he has no need of friends. As long as he does not seek real solutions to problems, though, he takes their cost on his shoulders. And the longer he delays, his only way out is to wait for others to bring him down.