Erdogan

There is no such thing as a heartless “good cause”


(To be published in Arabic for Arabi21)

Walking in the streets of Istanbul, I am frequently greeted by strangers with “as-Salaamu ‘alaikum” as they pass.  If you go outside with small children, you very quickly realize that Turks assume a sense of collective responsibility for them.  You will never lose a mitten or a baby shoe, because inevitably someone will notice that it has been dropped, and either tell you, or bring it to you.  Exclamations of “masha’Allah” come from passersby as they dote over your babies, whether old men, women in flowing abayas, or girls in t-shirts and jeans.

I have lived in the Muslim world for a third of my life, and been in many Muslim countries, and I have never seen a society that is as fundamentally decent as Turkey.

Last night a suicide bomber blew himself up outside a stadium in Taksim, Istanbul, followed in less than a minute by a second blast; nearly 30 people were killed, and 166 injured.

Whenever something like this happens, I always find myself thinking about what both the victims and the perpetrator were doing a few hours before; they woke up, dressed, ate, talked to friends and family, laughed, noticed things, had thoughts, feelings. It does my head in. Someone they made smile in the morning was screaming about them a few hours later, weeping, praying for their safety.

And whoever carried out the attack; were there not hundreds of things permeating his senses that should have made him change his mind? Things that should have awakened his reason, his human compassion, his desire for another path in life?  How can you believe your “cause” is right (whatever it is), if you have to shut these things off in your heart and mind, or in the hearts and minds of your followers and supporters?  If you are right, why do you have to brainwash anyone and dehumanize them so much that they dehumanize others?

As of my writing this, no one has claimed responsibility for last night’s attack.  The usual suspects, of course, will be the PKK, Da’esh, or the radical communists.  They take turns knowingly or unknowingly serving the West’s agenda to destabilize Turkey.  They have proved to be incapable of noticing that these tactics have never positively benefited their own “causes”, and never will.

These groups, and I think, the West, have not understood the greatest lesson from the July 15th coup attempt.  The Turks assume a sense of collective responsibility for their society; just as they do for small children in the street.  Whatever differences some may have politically with the government, they are generally unified when it comes to the country’s stability.  Any opposition group should learn from this.

When any group resorts to dramatic acts of violence, it revels their weakness and their inability to convince anyone to support their objectives; it is an attempt to blast their way out of the margins, but it just marginalizes them even more.  If you want your cause to succeed, you cannot do it by a process of dehumanization.  You need to build connections between your group and the general public, not sever them.  Help them, don’t harm them.  Empathize, don’t dehumanize.  Don’t turn your group into cold-hearted, brainwashed automatons serving their leaders; but rather compassionate, intelligent servants of the community. And if you cannot do that without it detracting from your “cause”, then you should recognize that your “cause” is wrong.

Blood in, blood out: you don’t get to just walk away from neoliberalism

 

(To be published in Arabic for Arabi21)

When the AK Party came to office in Turkey under the leadership of Recip Tayyip Erdogan in 2003, they inherited a government obligated to repay over $20 billion in debt to the International Monetary Fund, the World Bank, and other major international lenders.  The loans had been acquired largely by the former government’s economic minister Kemal Dervish (who had previously worked for the World Bank), and Dervish had put together a “National Plan” for restructuring Turkey’s economy to enable the government to service these loans.  Dervish’s plan was a classic neoliberal formula; the standard macroeconomic structural reforms demanded by the IMF of all its debtors.

The plan included large-scale privatization of state-owned enterprises and banks, and opening them up for foreign investors; as well as slashing social spending, stopping agricultural subsidies, freezing public sector wages, and so on. When the AKP came to power, this plan was already underway, and, since the debts were already hanging around Turkey’s neck. Erdogan’s government continued with the neoliberal program.

As a result of these policies, superficial economic data from Turkey went from strength to strength for the last 10 years.  Foreign investors were happy, the IMF was happy, and the AK government was almost universally praised.  The story of the real economy, as is most often the case under IMF structural adjustment reforms, was rather different.  By 2010 real wages in manufacturing were 12% lower than they were in 1998; household debt has increased, purchasing power has decreased, the gap between rich and poor has widened.  The richest 100 families in Turkey own wealth equivalent to the total wealth of the poorest 15% of the population (about 11.25 million people).

Since the Ottoman times, business in Turkey has functioned under a kind of patronage system, with the state operating as a key facilitator, or even as a sponsor for favored groups of elites. Any type of entrepreneurial activity in Turkey has always been based on government relations.  Thus it has been said that in Turkey they do not have political parties per se, but rather they have patronage networks.  The Islamists have, therefore, always been locked out of this game in Turkey, as the anti-religious government exclusively patronized secular nationalist businessmen.  One of the common features of the neoliberal program is that it redistributes wealth and power within a society disproportionately to a small handful of locals who collaborate with the reform process and reap its benefits.  When the AKP took over the government, this altered the direction of patronage and has led to the creation of a new class of Islamist financial elites in Turkey, aided by the already skewed effects of neoliberal reforms.

Throughout the rise of Erdogan and the AKP, the Gulen Movement (Hizmet) played a key role.  In fact, it would not be inaccurate to say that the AKP harvested the political crop planted by the social and educational work of Hizmet in Turkey. Erdogan and Fethullah Gulen were essentially allies in the effort to loosen the grip of religious intolerance and to revive Islamic feeling in the society. As long as this was the case, the AKP had no objection to Hizmet members moving up the ranks in state institutions, replacing hardline anti-religious elements in the army, the police, the judiciary, and in higher education and the media.  Tensions between Erdogan and Gulen began when it started to emerge that Gulen had political ambitions himself, and that placing Hizmet members in key state institutions was actually part of a coordinated plan to seize power and declare his version of an Islamic state in Turkey, with himself as supreme leader.

Both because Erdogan is a democrat and because the sincerity of an Islamic state is questionable when its leader is living in luxurious, self-imposed exile in the United States, the tacit alliance between Hizmet movement and the AKP was broken.

Just prior to the split, in 2013 Erdogan successfully completed full repayment of the IMF loans because of which the government had subordinated its economic policy for a decade; and almost immediately, Erdogan’s attitude towards neoliberalism appeared to change. He rails against the IMF, relentlessly criticizes the Central Bank, advocates a zero percent or a negative interest rate, advocates much more populist economic policies, and wants greater economic sovereignty for Turkey. International business suspects that Erdogan is not the committed neoliberal they thought the was.

Within the AKP, there are at least two factions now; the neoliberals, and the populists.  Erdogan’s neoliberal advisors talk about “restructuring the industrial sector to boost value-added exports”, which is a complicated way of saying “suppress wages”, while the populists talk about trying to increase household savings and grow domestic consumer activity, which is another way of saying “raise wages and improve the quality of life”.  Whenever Erdogan does something politically which is perceived as consolidating his personal power, foreign investors get nervous, and this can only be because they are dubious about whether he will use that power to serve their interests or instead the interests of Turkey.  In fact, you can almost trace when Erdogan started to face criticism in the international media to the moment he released Turkey from IMF bondage and started to express a different economic vision.

All of this is important background to understand what happened on July 15th, the failed coup attempt by Gulenists, and the subsequent crackdown on their members within state institutions.

Fethullah Gulen is being hosted by the United States, living in a compound in Pennsylvania; and the popular perception in Turkey is that he has become an asset to American intelligence.  When the coup attempt was underway, the US embassy in Turkey issued an emergency warning to Americans in the country under the title “Turkish Uprising”; a rather conspicuously premature description of a strictly military attempt to overthrow the government.

It would seem to indicate that US intelligence anticipated that Gulenist  civilians would turn out in support of the puschists, to make the seizure of power appear like a popular uprising. It was reported on CNN during the night of the coup attempt in an interview with former CIA agent Bob Baer, that he had actually discussed the possibility of a coup in Turkey with Turkish military officers just a few months earlier. So, it appears that something of a consensus may have emerged regarding the desire to remove Erdogan from power because of the increasing doubts about his commitment to neoliberalism’; and it was believed  that the sprawling Gulen network would be able to deliver this result.

الخلفية الاقتصادية للانقلاب الفاشل             Economic background to the failed coup

هناك أمر هام لابد من إيضاحه فيم يتعلق بحزب العدالة والتنمية وأردوغان، لقد قلت في الماضي أنهم في الأساس نيوليبراليين (مثل جماعة الإخوان المسلمين عمومًا)، ولكني أخشى أن أكون قد أفرطت في تبسيط هذا التوصيف. لقد تطور حزب العدالة والتنمية على مر السنين، وكما كتبت في الآونة الأخيرة، فإن أردوغان نفسه يعارض بشدة صندوق النقد الدولي، وهذا يعكس تطور الحزب، بل والمواقف المختلفة داخل الحزب.

محاذاة الاقتصاد مع النيوليبرالية بدأت في السبعينات من القرن المنصرم، ثم تسارع الأمر في الثمانينات في أعقاب الانقلاب العسكري الذي حدث في عام 1980.  تركزت العناصر الرئيسية للبرنامج على تقليص الأجور وترويج الصادرات، وأعقب ذلك التحرر المالي الذي حدث في التسعينات… أما في عام 2001، فقد بدأت تركيا تسير بأقصى سرعة على طريق الإصلاحات النيوليبرالية تحت عنوان “البرنامج الوطني” لوزير الاقتصاد كمال درويش.

وتراكمت الديون على البلاد لصندوق النقد والبنك الدولي، وتعهدوا بخصخصة البنوك العامة، وإنهاء دعم المزارعين، وتجميد الأجور في القطاع العام، وخفض الإنفاق الاجتماعي، وخصخصة جميع الشركات الكبرى المملوكة للدولة في كل قطاع وأتاحتهم للمستثمرين الأجانب. وعندما جاء حزب العدالة والتنمية إلى السلطة، سار على خطى خطة درويش بشكل أو أخر.

وتقريبًا مثل الإخوان في مصر، فقد قبلوا فكرة النيوليبرالية بدون أي أسئلة، وأدى هذا إلى “المعجزة الاقتصادية” التي تحدثت عنها النخب، ولكن تحت القشرة الخارجية كان الوضع بالنسبة للشعب التركي يتدهور، وأصبح الاقتصاد الحقيقي أكثر ضعفًا من أي وقت مضى.  معدل النمو الاقتصادي على مدى السنوات الـ 10 الماضية كان يعتمد إلى حد كبير على الاستثمار الأجنبي ومشاريع البناء، وراحت القوة الشرائية تتناقص باطراد، وارتفعت الديون الشخصية على نطاق واسع، وانخفض التصنيع المحلي، وأخذت الفجوة بين الأغنياء والفقراء في الاتساع.

قبل صعود حزب العدالة والتنمية، احتكرت النخب المعادية للإسلام السلطة السياسية والاقتصادية، وكانت رعاية الدولة دائمًا عاملًا رئيسيًا في القطاع الخاص التركي، ومع صعود حزب العدالة والتنمية إلى السلطة، أوجد هذا الأمر شبكة تجارية إسلامية جديدة من النفوذ.  بعبارة أخرى، فقد استخدم أردوغان وحزب العدالة والتنمية برنامج النيوليبرالية، التي يستفيد منها دائما حفنة صغيرة من النخب المحلية، لتشكيل كوادر من الرأسماليين المسلمين يملكون المال والنفوذ للتنافس مع العلمانيين. وبعد أن حقق ذلك، على مدى السنوات الثلاث الماضية أو نحو ذلك، أصبح أردوغان يأخذ مواقف كثيرة تعكس شخصيته الحقيقية، كشعبوي، كإسلامي، وكمستقل، وبطريقة واضحة كمعادي للنيوليبرالية.  فعلى سبيل المثال، أصبح يدين صندوق النقد الدولي الآن كمؤسسة لها هيمنة سياسية، ويريد كبح جماح البنك المركزي، وخفض أسعار الفائدة، كما أنه رفض بدون أي مواربة “إصلاحات” التقشف.

لقد أصبح أصحاب رؤوس الأموال العالمية متشككون على نحو متزايد في الطريق الذي ستسلكه تركيا تحت استمرار قيادة أردوغان وحزب العدالة والتنمية، مما قد يخبرنا الكثير والكثير عن القصة وراء محاولة الانقلاب الفاشلة يوم الخامس عشر من يوليو.

 

تنويه: هذه النسخة منقحة ونهائية!  

 

It is important to clarify something about the AKP and Erdogan.  I have said in the past that they are essentially neoliberals (like the Muslim Brotherhood generally), but I’m afraid that I may have been over-simplifying in that characterization.  The AKP has evolved over the years, and as I wrote recently, Erdogan himself is strongly opposed to the International Monetary Fund; and this reflects the evolution of the party, and indeed, differing positions within the party.

Aligning the economy with neoliberalism began in the 1970s, and accelerated in the 80s following the 1980 military coup.  The main elements of the program focused on wage suppression and export promotion. This was followed by financial liberalization in the 1990s.  In 2001, Turkey went full-throttle into neoliberal reforms under the “National Program” of economic minister Kemal Dervish.

The country went into debt to the IMF and World Bank, pledged to privatize public banks, end subsidies to farmers, freeze public sector wages, slash social spending, and privatize all major state-owned enterprises in every sector and open them up to foreign investors. When the AKP came to power, they more or less followed Dervish’s plan.

Rather like the Ikhwan in Egypt, they accepted the neoliberal idea with no questions asked.  This led to the “economic miracle” elites talk about, but below the superficial data, the situation for the Turkish people has been deteriorating, and the real economy has become more vulnerable than ever before. Economic growth over the past 10 years has been largely dependent on foreign investment and construction projects.  Purchasing power is steadily decreasing, personal debt is widespread, domestic manufacturing has declined, and the gap between rich and poor is widening.

Before the rise of the AKP, the anti-Islamic elites monopolized political and economic power.  State patronage has always been a major factor in the Turkish private sector, and with the AKP in power, this has created a new Islamist business network of influence.  In other words, Erdogan and the AKP have used the neoliberal program, which always benefits a small handful of local elites, to form a cadre of Muslim capitalists with the money and influence to compete with the secularists.  Having achieved this, over the past three years or so, Erdogan has been increasingly taking positions that must reflect his true character, populist, Islamist, and independent,  and in some important ways, anti-neolibberal.  For instance, he now condemns  the IMF as an institution of political domination, wants to rein in the Central Bank, lower interest rates, and he flat-out rejects Austerity “reforms”.

Global owners of capital have become increasingly dubious about the path Turkey will go under the continued leadership of Erdogan and the AKP, and this may tell us more about the story behind the July 15th cooup attempt than anything else.