Events in the Middle East are moving at a dizzying pace, and Turkey’s President Recep Tayyip Erdogan is in the midst of all these movements like a medieval juggler pulling tricks out of his sleeves to the amazement of his audience. All the observers wonder when his tricks will fail, but in the meantime, the master magician is still at center state, busy churning out tricks.
All along, pundits believed that Erdogan will run out of tricks and fall flat on his face. One reason that the anticipated fall is being delayed is that Middle Eastern politics are fueling his game with new developments every day.
Domestically, he is engaged in a massive purge and witch hunt, eliminating suspected army and police officers, jailing academics and journalists at an alarming rate, accusing them of being the spies of Fetullan Gullen, an Islamic cleric living in exile in the US. Many not under arrest are worried about the prospect and are thus leaving their homeland. Allies and enemies in the West believe that Turkey will come to a grinding halt with the loss of its intellectual capital. But Erdogan is not worried; he knows that he does not need academia, an independent judiciary or press, because they will be asking questions, which the Sultan is in no mood to answer. He is solely depending on the 51 percent of the population who supported his referendum, and who are ready to waive the flags and follow the instructions of the mullahs loyal to Erdogan. They are Erdogan’s power base as he persecutes the intellectual elite and slaughters the Kurds.
He believes that once he has the backing of that fanatical constituency, he can deal with foreign threats and international and domestic challenges.
Thus, Turkey last week detained Metin Topuz, a US consulate worker on charges of having links to Fetullah Gulen’s organization. An American pastor, Andrew Brunson, has been in a Turkish jail for more than a year, following the massive arrests that took place after the botched coup attempt in July. He has been arrested on trumped up charges and remains a hostage to be exchanged with Fullen if and when the US authorities extradite him. As a reprisal, the US cancelled the non-immigrant visa regime, to which Turkey reciprocated. And the tension continues rising.
These arrests have been reckless politically, as they taunt a longtime ally, and yet they are deliberate, as Turkey wants to thumb its nose at the US. In addition, Turkey, the NATO pivot, has struck a deal for military hardware with Russia, giving rise to louder voices to abandon the Incirlik base in Turkey. The German fleet did just that, leaving for Jordan, following the restriction of access imposed on them in Incirlik.