The price of arrogance

Over the past couple of years, Turkey observers and commentators have agreed on one thing, and that’s the growing arrogance of the country’s prime minister, Recep Tayyip Erdogan.

The Turkish leader has often overstepped the mark on the international scene. He has repeatedly insulted foreign leaders, made discrediting remarks about the so-called big powers, and sometimes behaved in a manner bordering on the bizarre.

In a way, his transformation is not that hard to explain. I still recall my first interview with Erdogan in Istanbul when his Justice and Development Party (AKP) was still headquartered in an unassuming block of apartments.

When I traveled to Turkey to interview him again a few years later, this time as premier, at the AKP’s new premises, it was like I had walked into a 5-star hotel.

Under Erdogan’s tenure, the Asian country has experienced enormous economic growth. For the first time, it can style itself as a big power. None of Ankara’s ambitious geopolitical moves has really paid off, but it certainly seems intoxicated by its newfound economic, political and military power.

Meanwhile, the Turkish prime minister was successful in neutralizing the deep Kemalist state, the army and the old entrepreneurial establishment. Until now, he hadn’t come up against any serious resistance in doing so, one of the reasons being that the political opposition is mostly in tatters.

All that success has obviously intoxicated the Turkish leader. The change in attitudes became more than evident in his Sunday remarks. You would have to be completely out of touch with reality to brand anyone who drinks alcohol an alcoholic or describe Twitter as a “menace.”

It’s hard to say how things will turn out in Turkey in the near future. Most likely the mass protests were the outburst of the youth and middle class who feel desperation at Erdogan’s hardline rule. This chunk of society is quite concerned about where he wants to take the country. At the same time, of course, there are always the hordes of people in Anatolia who feel comfortable with the authoritarianism and conservatism of the Turkish leader.

One thing is certain: A leader, no matter how strong he is, puts his own position at risk when his arrogance becomes too big to conceal.