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Opinion: Erdoğan’s Lost Luster | ASHARQ AL-AWSAT English Archive 2005 -2017
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Turkey’s Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan addresses a meeting in Istanbul January 17, 2014. (Reuters/Osman Orsal)

It was not only Turkish public opinion that was shocked by the recent leak of an audio recording of Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, in which he hinted at the direct pressure he exerted on the media.

The Turkish opposition has often warned against the expansion of what it calls the “dark triangle”—the government, businessmen and media—which forestall all attempts to create an independent and powerful media in Turkey.

The disappointment with Erdoğan’s scandals has reverberated in both the East and the West, and those of us who looked up to the Turkish model as an example of harmony between Islam and modernity have been equally disappointed.

The latest scandal concerns the recording, made during the recent Gezi Park protests and available on YouTube, in which Erdoğan is heard asking an official at a prominent satellite channel to withdraw a story because he does not agree to its content. The official agrees immediately and pulls the report.

The recording coincided with a proposal of a new draft bill which extends internet censorship at a time when at least 100 journalists have lost their jobs since the start of the corruption scandals involving Erdoğan and members of his family at the end of last year.

These scandals guarantee that Turkey will remain at the top of the world’s jailers of journalists, even above China. Today, Erdoğan controls around 80 percent of media outlets in Turkey, and his reign has seen the highest rate of dismissals among journalists.

Whoever follows events in Turkey cannot help but be surprised by the rapid and dramatic deterioration of Erdoğan’s once-sparkling image, which appealed to a wide section of Arabs.

The Arab Levant responded to his charismatic personality. During his reign, Arabs rediscovered Turkey and their passion for the Ottoman Empire, which never really ended. In the past decade, Turkey again infiltrated the Arab soul with a booming economy, tourist industry, its process of modernization and a captivating nature, as well as through TV soaps featuring beautiful actors and actresses who occupied Arabs’ imagination and dreams.

In this difficult Arab reality of ours, we were often quite taken by Turkey and its move towards democracy, and saw it as a catalyst, or maybe even as a source of help for other Arabs wanting to take similar steps. However, the recent disappointments have exposed how Erdoğan is now unable to differentiate between public and private, and how Turkey’s march towards democracy is faltering.

Erdoğan’s early days in government were characterized by a turn towards the East at a time when his Turkish adversaries were looking to their Western neighbors. He started to talk to us in our language, causing surprise in Turkey, because successes abroad did not translate into domestic success. He lost large sections of Turkish public opinion, and was unable to achieve actual progress in his relationships with the Kurds, and now the facts about the fragile nature of his regime are finally being exposed.

Now the Turkish secularists who are closer to the West are the ones who are making progress. As for Erdoğan, it is likely that all he has left from his orientalism is despotism.