Foreign Policy Research Institute A Nation Must Think Before it Acts Erdogan’s Turkey Is the Real Turkey
Erdogan’s Turkey Is the Real Turkey

Erdogan’s Turkey Is the Real Turkey

In the aftermath of the failed military coup against the government of Turkish president Recep Tayyip Erdogan, many observers have been wondering whether the defeat of the plotters will allow the president to expand his already significant control of the country, or whether the coup, even if it failed, has weakened his authority. There is little about which to wonder. Erdogan has a golden opportunity to tighten his control over Turkey, and he is unlikely to let it slip by.

Turkey is no longer the country that joined NATO, or that was a close ally of the United States until the end of the last century. It is an increasingly Islamic state, with a shrinking secular minority that is having ever greater difficulty keeping the Kemalist flame alive. Because that minority happens to be Westernized and to speak Western languages (especially English), it tends to be the source of interviews and analyses by Western journalists and to mix most freely and often with Western elites. As a result, many in the west continue to believe that Erdogan’s authoritarian, indeed repressive policies, and his witch-hunts against both journalistic critics of his regime and suspected supporters of the exiled cleric Fethullah Gulen, do not reflect the “real” Turkey. In fact they do.

As the George W. Bush administration, particularly its senior officials who had dealt with Turkey during the Cold War, learned to their surprise and regret in 2003 when they failed to obtain parliamentary permission to deploy the 4th Infantry from Anatolia into northern Iraq, Turkey is not the ally it once was. This is even more the case today. A visitor to Turkey, even to the supposedly Westernized Istanbul, will find far more women wearing headscarves or veils than was the case as little as two decades ago. More men attend Friday prayers. Imams are more powerful than they have been in years, indeed, since the fall of the Ottoman Empire. And it was all of these people who spearheaded the resistance to the coup plotters.

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