They called it the curse of oil, the authoritarian regimes in the Middle East have been able to stay in power despite all the international pressure.
Iran has been the stereotypical example of it. The regime has been constructing its legacy, on how they resist the Western embargo, and survive. It is true that the Iranian regime has been able to survive, trading its oil with different buyers, like China up until now, leading the discourse against the West, and trying to remain the flag bearer of the “anti imperialistic” agenda.
This third world-istic stop has been the latest one in President Erdoğan’s long political career. He has, once as a young politician, described democracy as a train, from which you get off, once you get to your stop. He meant his final target to be an Islamist state back then. Despite his such comments, he has been always perceived as a pragmatist rather than a devoted Islamist. For sure he has deep Islamism, ideological roots, but he is also a politician programmed to survive. One fact that hits Turkish autocrats or autocrats-to-be is that, Turkey does not have either the oil or the gas to sell and be able to bully around. So, Third-Worldism may sound sweet to autocrats but it is likely to be short lived.
Gezi protests were a turning point in contemporary Turkish politics. After Gezi, Erdoğan has been moving away from the West and the Western values step by step. He ended up in a Chavez like discourse with a sauce of Islamism and hardcore Turkish nationalism. Until the latest currency crisis.
Trump’s latest sanctions has sped up the upcoming Turkish financial crisis. Turkey had been borrowing money, spending it on lavishly on bridges and roads, making contractors who are close to the government rich but not producing much for Turkish economy. Now those days are over, money is returning back to the West and leaving Turkey, becoming less and less safe for investors each and every day.
Turkey US relations are on the verge of rupture, Turkey once again turns to EU. The Reform Action Group made up of 4 ministers -interior, finance, justice and foreign- after a long time, 3 years to be exact, gathered with an EU agenda and underlined Turkey’s commitment to the EU. Group promised further reforms in line with EU principles.
EU is yet watching Turkey from a distance. EU bureaucrats understand that Turkey is basically in need of money, so this is the only reason why the Turkish government, all of a sudden, remembered the Union. Until a few months ago, Turkish government has been calling the German and Dutch governments Nazis, now calling the same governments as comrades in the recent “resistance against Trump”
Europe would not want Turkey to go bankrupt, it really is too big to fail. However, it is obvious that the EU would expect Turkey to normalize to get the cash it needs. Going back to rule of law, establishing some sort of checks and balances within the system would be prerequisites. As a pragmatist, it would not be a surprise for Erdoğan to once again change his stance and play the ball as the EU wants. This however might be bad news for some of the people close to him.
The Interior minister Süleyman Soylu has been a “shining star” in Erdoğanist Turkey. He has been showing his harsh stance every chance he gets. He has proven himself solid to Erdogan during the coup of July 15th, and afterward, as a minister, he has never hesitated to take the harshest measures. His latest move has been against “the Saturday mothers”. Mothers who lost their kids under police custody during the 90s, have been gathering every Saturday and demanding answers about the disappearances of their kids from the Turkish state. They have been gathering for 700 weeks. Police under Soylu’s command, forcefully detained mothers, who are mostly older than 60 years. Soylu defended his policies and announced such gatherings will never be allowed.
Soylu openly threatened HDP MPs. He called the chair of HDP and told her “we will not give you a right to exist”.
Soylu has been the only name in Turkish politics who actually speaks tougher than Erdoğan. So where will Soylu stand in this new rapprochement to the EU? Will Erdoğan spare him for his new cause?
Erdoğan has spared many names during his political career without even a blink. So, disappearance of Soylu from Turkish politics for a while would not be a surprise. However, is Soylu that weak to be sacrificed? FOX Tv cameras have caught Soylu shouldering Berat Albayrak, the Finance Minister and the son in law to Erdoğan. Later both Soylu and Albayrak made jokes about that shouldering incident, to satisfy public curiosity, however the video did not seem like a joke at all. Soylu is believed to be very strong within the police department. He is believed to have devoted followers. However, in the case of a tension between Erdoğan and Soylu is highly doubtful that his followers will follow him.
That being said, a soft exit might be possible for Soylu. Local elections are coming up, and Soylu could be the candidate for Istanbul mayor. He would likely be elected, thus would be able to keep his political and financial allies around him, keep the business running! At the same time, he would not be a complication for EU Turkey relations.
Erdoğan is never afraid of sparing names for his means however he is aware that he is going to need allies for his years to come. So, he knows how to feed politicians who remain loyal to him. Erdoğan has been rewarding loyals with new positions, sometimes up close, and sometimes further from the public eye.