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Peter Hitchens @ Daily Mail
It is very fashionable to sneer at Russia’s President, Vladimir Putin, and to sympathise with his (often equally dubious) opponents. At the same time it is modish to make excuses for Turkey’s Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan, and to dismiss his opponents. In the world of London think tanks, the self-important, frequently wrong and always bumptious Economist magazine and the BBC, Putin is bad and Erdogan is good. Actually they are very similar, except that Erdogan locks up more journalists, is more intolerant of criticism and holds more political trials. I am not sure how to measure which of the two countries is more corrupt. It is a close-run thing.
But in one thing, Erdogan is far more worrying than Putin, who is a simple autocrat. Erdogan is also a cunning and subtle Islamic fanatic, who knows he will get further if he pretends to be moderate, and in an unguarded moment said that democracy is ‘a tram you ride as far as you want to and then get off’. I have been pointing this out for years, and so I was amused when at last the liberal elite were forced (reluctantly) to acknowledge it. Erdogan’s unpleasant state machine showed its real face when citizens of Istanbul tried to save one of that city’s few remaining green spaces from tasteless redevelopment.
The stupid, thuggish and unprovoked gassing of one such citizen – the now-famous ‘Woman in the Red Dress’, Ceyda Sungur – should tell us all we need to know about the ‘mildly Islamist’ Turkish state – but only if we want to listen. Once again, our outrage is selective. And selective outrage is always a fake.
"[...] It was the proposal to put a shopping mall — Istanbul’s 93rd — over that small central park that ignited the present protests. The government overreacted absurdly, showering tear gas on to side streets and beating up harmless do-gooders. But all this concrete reflects something more: the Arab presence. Arabs have replaced Israelis in the tourist market, partly because Mr Erdogan has been very popular for adopting the Palestinian cause. Arab money is behind the shopping malls and is underpinning the Turkish current-account deficit. The Saudis and Qatar seem to be mainly involved, and now they buy up land in Yalova, over the water from Istanbul, as well. [...]
Erdogan has abandoned traditional co-operation with Israel, and enjoyed being lionised by Arabs. But that policy has come badly unstuck over Syria. The Assad government has not fallen, and its spokesman has been rubbing his hands at Erdogan’s discomfort: he recently recommended Erdogan take up exile in Doha, ‘with Ali Baba and the 40 shopping malls’. Meanwhile, Turkey has some 400,000 Syrian refugees, who are far from popular — loathed, in many places.
Interviewed last Saturday, Erdogan obviously had learned nothing from his discomfiture. He began to lecture again (social media is a terrible evil, anyone who has a beer is an alcoholic etc) and said that the troubles were the work of foreign agents. He blames the print media too and has tried to control it by imprisoning journalists — 800 of them — on trumped-up charges, and by threatening their owners with punitive taxes (a tactic also tried on the most intrepid of the foreign journalists, Boris Kalnoky of Die Welt).
To Kalnoky we owe a curious fact. The present crisis in Turkey really began a month ago, when the main square of a town called Reyhanli, on the Syrian border, was badly bombed — 50 killed. No one took responsibility. The Turkish government at once blamed the Syrian one, and arrested some dozen people without obvious evidence. It then laid down a ban on reporting, and to this day what happened is not clear. It is not obviously in the Syrian government’s interest to provoke further trouble with Turkey; on the other hand, it is indeed in the rebels’ interest, since they are now losing. As it happens, a left-wing organisation called Redhack was able to read the Turkish police records, and found that Turkish intelligence knew in advance of the bomb plot and warned the local authorities, to no effect. Everyone assumes that the Erdogan government banned news reports because it wanted to conceal this. Its involvement in the Syrian civil war is very widely condemned — I have not met a single defender of it — and it has obviously gone off the tracks. What is very odd about the present demonstrations in central Istanbul is that the names of the 50 dead at Reyhanli were pinned to separate trees in the little park where the demonstrations started. Erdogan gets the blame for that bombing because of his failed Syria policy.
What next? Erdogan has eclipsed his own party, and the knives are out, no doubt discreetly encouraged by the Americans. He has lost the support of the newspaper Zaman, which cancelled its contract with the government news agency because of expense and inefficiency. The President, his one-time associate Abdullah Gül, is obviously uneasy; the hot Arab money is moving out. Erdogan must have thought until quite recently that everything was going his way. But it may be Assad who will have the last laugh."