Magazine article Washington Report on Middle East Affairs

Turkey's Corruption Scandal

Magazine article Washington Report on Middle East Affairs

Turkey's Corruption Scandal

Article excerpt

The December arrests of several officials close to Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan on corruption charges have rocked Turkish politics. Once viewed as a model for democracy in the region, many are now questioning the viability of Turkish democracy under the now scandal-plagued Erdogan. To discuss the ongoing corruption scandal and its ramifications for the country, two think tanks held events in Washington, DC in January.

At a Jan. 10 Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars event titled "Of Plots and Corruption Scandals: The Crisis of Turkish Politics," speakers agreed that the current scandal is part of a wider political battle taking place in Turkey.

"Democracy is still not the only game in town," said Ihsan Dagi, a professor at the Middle East Technical University in Ankara. Those with power in the country want to change the rules in order to ensure their perpetual victory, he stated. Democracy and the rule of law "are tolerated to the extent that they perpetuate the authority of the government," Dagi charged.

By firing public prosecutors and police officers investigating the corruption scandal, Dagi said, Erdogan revealed his true authoritarian colors. An open, transparent government, he reasoned, would take accusations of corruption seriously and vow a full investigation.

Instead, said Lehigh University professor Henri Barkey, Erdogan and members of his ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) have accused everyone from the United States government to the German airline Lufthansa to Pennsylvania resident Fethullah Gulen (founder of Turkey's powerful Gulen religious movement) of creating the scandal in an effort to weaken Turkey.

The AKP's refusal to take ownership of the scandal is an indication that the party suffers from a confidence deficit, Barkey said. He described the scandal as "really a crisis of confidence....It's still a very fragile, very unsure political party and leader."

At a Jan. 17 Emerging Democracies Institute (EDI) event titled "Beyond the State: Turkey's Political Crisis and Challenges to Democracy," National Endowment for Democracy senior program officer Richard Kraemer urged Turkish civil society to use the corruption scandal as an opportunity to advocate for constitutionalism and the separation of powers. Turks "need recognition that citizens don't exist for the state, it's the other way around," he stated. …

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