August 15, 2014

Erdoğan returns to hate speech, drops pledge to ‘embrace all'

Only four days after he promised to embrace all 77 million citizens of the nation in his victory speech, president-elect Recep Tayyip Erdoğan has quickly returned to his hateful rhetoric, again bashing journalists, the judiciary and members of civil society groups that are critical of his divisive discourse and discriminatory policies.

Speaking to the heads of district branches of the ruling Justice and Development Party (AK Party) on Thursday, Erdoğan made harsh statements against the national and international media, members of the judiciary who dismissed defamation lawsuits he brought against journalists, and the Hizmet movement, a faith-based civic movement that advocates corruption-free government in Turkey.

“Numerous attacks were made [against Turkey] here and abroad, in the national and international media, several finance circles, foreign countries and intelligence organizations,” Erdoğan said while describing how his government survived last year's Gezi Park protests and corruption investigations.

He emphasized that his ruling party has been under sustained attack from circles of power at home and abroad using all sorts of instruments.

On Sunday night, Erdoğan delivered a victory speech from the balcony of the party headquarters' building, pledging to embrace all of Turkey's citizens, whether they voted for him or not. He promised to open a new page in Turkey's history, sparking hopes that he would drop his polarizing discourse and the harsh rhetoric he often employs against his opponents.

On Thursday, however, that hope proved to be short-lived.

Erdoğan defended his relentless attacks on the media, which had become his hallmark during the election campaign, and criticized the judiciary for rulings that were not to his liking.

“Don't some media outlets throw all kinds of insults at me, my friends and my party? Yes, they do. This is very clear and out in the open. Some members of the judiciary behave in a biased way here. What do they say? These must be considered as [legitimate] criticisms rather than insults. They [judges] move like this and decide unfavorably [against me],” Erdoğan stated.

He also said those who criticize him on restricting press freedom in Turkey should take a look at what is happening in Gaza.

Erdoğan also claimed that no country in the world has more sensitivity than Turkey toward its minorities. “I say this very openly: All minorities in Turkey are currently at peace,” he claimed, stressing that his government has not targeted its local Jewish minority population or Jews in Israel but rather the Israeli government.

As usual, Erdoğan's harshest remarks were reserved for the Hizmet movement, which he blames for being responsible for the Dec. 17, 2013 corruption probe. He hurled his usual insults against a movement he had formerly praised. Although he did not deny the authenticity of recorded phone conversations implicating corruption, bribery, tender-rigging and media interference, he used Hizmet as a scapegoat for his troubles by calling for a sustained fight against the so-called “parallel structure.”

He asked party officials to continue targeting members of Hizmet after he leaves the government and the party management.

He called the Hizmet movement the “treacherous gang of Pennsylvania,” referring to Islamic scholar Fethullah Gülen, who inspired the movement and now lives in self-exile in Pennsylvania.

Gülen has repeatedly denied any involvement in the corruption investigations conducted by state prosecutors. Meanwhile, Erdoğan has not produced a single shred of evidence implicating Gülen in any wrongdoing to back up his claims.

The Islamic scholar has generally avoided responding to Erdoğan's insults and offensive remarks but made it clear that he will strongly defend his convictions in Islamic teachings that prohibit corruption, favoritism and the peddling of influence. He also said he will continue advocating principles such as accountability and transparency in government, strengthening the rule of law and full respect for fundamental human rights.

No normalization of ties with Egypt

Touching on Egypt, the president-elect again used harsh remarks against the Egyptian government, effectively scuppering the chance to repair ties with Cairo under his presidency.

“Turkey is the only country that stood against the killing of innocent people, the butchering of democracy and humanitarian drama,” he said, while hailing the declaration of Aug. 14 as World Rabaa Day, as declared by The International Rabaa Platform to commemorate the day when hundreds of protesters were massacred in Egypt in 2013.

Erdoğan's government worked closely with the Muslim Brotherhood's Mohammed Morsi and refused to accept his ousting, prompting the new Egyptian leadership to reduce ties with Turkey and expel the Turkish ambassador from Cairo.

On Thursday, Erdoğan emphasized that Turkey will tread its own path no matter what anybody else says. “World Rabaa Day is a day [to celebrate] the heroic struggle of those who are opposed to the military coup in Egypt,” he noted.

Erdoğan aims for presidential system

In a sign that he has not given up his hopes to move Turkey from a parliamentary system to a presidential one, Erdoğan asked his party's members to work hard for a stronger presence in Parliament in next year's national elections.

“I said before that the presidential election would be the starting gun for the 2015 [general] elections,” he said, adding to that “our target should be to acquire at least a [parliamentary] majority to establish the new constitution.”

The ruling AK Party does not have enough seats in Parliament to make a constitutional amendment to create the executive presidency that Erdoğan strongly desires.

Published on Today's Zaman, 14 August 2014, Thursday