Erdogan in charge

With his recent actions, Turkey Premier Recep Tayyip Erdogan has made it clear that he is the dominant force on the country’s political scene. He has confronted the contradictory forces that shaped his country’s history and seems able to meld them into a new whole. Time will tell whether the eternal civil war between reformers and conservatives is over. Erdogan’s power stems from the fact that he manages to be both a reformer and a conservative at the same time – his reforms have pushed Turkey toward the European Union while also introducing religion into public life, in contrast to the tenets of Kemal Ataturk. Erdogan looks West but turns East; he hosts Barack Obama on the US president’s first overseas trip but does not hesitate to alarm America with his support for Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad while scrapping a joint military exercise with Israel. Ignoring nationalist hardliners, he also has improved ties with the Kurds and with Armenia, while trying to destroy Turkey’s largest (and critical) media group with crippling taxes. Erdogan’s warm support for Ahmadinejad and his visit to Tehran yesterday in pursuit of energy deals, underlines his self-confidence. For decades, one of the Turkish regime’s deepest fears has been the fate that befell the shah’s generals after the Islamic Revolution in 1979. The founding father’s orders aside, this was one of the reasons the military was always ready to overthrow a government that strayed from a pro-West or secular policy. But the moves toward EU accession have given Erdogan’s Islamists the perfect way to tie up the generals: They cannot interfere in politics without being blamed for derailing the country’s progress toward the EU. The guarantors of Kemal’s reforms are at risk of being blamed for undermining it. Erdogan now represents all his country’s forces. So, for the first time, in December the EU’s members will be able to judge Turkey’s progress toward entry on its merits, not according to the old dilemma: «Go easy on us reformers otherwise the forces of reaction will get stronger.»