Corruption, the deteriorating economic situation and the president's expansionist foreign policy have heated up the mood in the Eurasian nation

The internal crisis in Turkey adds a new problem to Erdogan

PHOTO/REUTERS - Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan during a press conference in Istanbul, Turkey, on February 3, 2020

"It's time to go. We tell those who haven't been able to do their jobs for 17 years that enough is enough". With this message, Turkish opposition leader Kemal Kiliçdaro referred to the country's president, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, and his political formation, the Justice and Development Party (AKP). "I ask the regime, which claims day after day that it has put Turkey on the path of civilisation, to name one crisis or one problem that it has solved," the opposition authority defiantly said. 

Critical voices against the Turkish president have exploded at a critical time against the Eurasian nation. Firstly, there is political instability that seems to be looming within his own party. On Wednesday, the Republican opposition revealed a deep rift between the members of the party, caused by a strong disagreement over the proposed reorganisation of the cabinet, which is planned for this spring-summer. Thus, on the one hand, there are the "old names" who are part of the current government and aspire to remain in the Cabinet, and on the other hand, there are those who support the idea of signing up "new names" to restore the people's confidence in the party. 

The president's roadmap contemplates "the sacrifice of several ministers", with the aim of "calming public opinion, which is agitated by the deterioration of the Turkish welfare system", as explained by the Al-Ain media. However, the experts cited by this publication assure that Erdogan's new plan will not satisfy public opinion, since the people are upset about other issues, such as corruption.

El presidente del Partido Popular Republicano (CHP), Kemal Kilicdaroglu

In fact, the People's Republican Opposition Party (CHP) this week submitted to the Sixth Civil Court of First Instance in the capital, Ankara, evidence that would allegedly prove the involvement of the president and his family in the looting of public money. According to Al-Ain, there are three phone calls that illustrate different episodes of corruption involving Erdogan and his son, Bilal. The first reveals the purchase of a private apartment worth $25 million, as part of a state-owned real estate project in the capital, Istanbul. In the second, the president and Bilal discuss a plan to avenge Fethullah Gülen, the cleric whom the president's circle accuses of orchestrating the 2016 coup attempt. The third and last one offers a sample of Erdogan's strategy to interfere in Turkey's judicial affairs. 

It should be recalled at this point that the clan headed by the president has been involved in corruption and nepotism scandals for almost two decades. One of the most notorious is that concerning his third daughter, Esra, who is married to an energy entrepreneur, Berat Albayrkar. In addition to being the president's son-in-law, he currently holds the position of finance minister. Previously, he was responsible for the Energy portfolio. During that period, Russia linked him to the purchase of oil from Daesh terrorists, who were stealing the liquid gold in Iraq and Syria to finance their activities. Other family members such as his father and brother have also been involved in the scandals. 

"The presence of Erdogan and his party at the head of power, 17 years ago, facilitated the process of plundering public funds and the creation of large fortunes for the benefit of his family, through suspicious trade agreements under the protection of the AKP", Al-Ain explains, citing reports from the Turkish opposition.

El presidente turco, Recep Tayyip Erdogan y su hijo, Bilal Erdogan, durante el Festival de la Juventud de Estambul el 4 de mayo de 2017

As for the economic situation, it should be noted that Ankara is heading towards a new crisis, similar to the one it already faced in 2018. Among the data that has contributed to this new direction, it is worth noting, for example, that the lira last week registered its weakest level since last May, the increase in the foreign trade deficit to reach 402 million dollars or the collapse of Foreign Direct Investment (FDI) by 30% in 2019, registering the lowest figure since 2004.

Other figures that directly affect Turkish citizens include the stagnation at 15% of the unemployment rate, inflation at levels close to 13% or the increase in the number of companies closed - almost 10% between January 2020 and the same month last year.

This scenario led to the AKP losing the two power centres in Turkey, Ankara and Istanbul, in the municipal elections of 9 April last. The latter case was especially "flagrant", because Erdogan began his political career there and had made it his personal fiefdom for the last 25 years. 

Un cambista cuenta billetes de liras turcas en una oficina de cambio en Estambul
The disturbing foreign policy 

Syria and Libya. Libya and Syria. These two countries are at the top of the Turkish Presidency's foreign policy agenda. In the case of the nation led by Bachar al-Asad, Idlib stands out as a battleground between the Syrian Arab Army and the troops chartered by Ankara who, on the ground, support the insurgents and militia rebels against the Syrian government forces, backed by Russia. The latest episode in this war, which took place on Thursday night, seems to mark a turning point in Erdogan's strategy in the Arab country: at least 33 Turkish soldiers have been killed and another three dozen wounded in a bombardment for which the responsibility is still unknown, although everything points to the Syrian Army as being responsible. 

This hard blow against the Turkish Armed Forces has provoked the reaction of Ankara, which decided to put under its attack radar all the Syrian positions located in Idlib. Other consequences that have already taken place in the international sphere are that NATO has called an emergency meeting and the European Union is seeing a new episode in the refugee crisis looming: the Turkish authorities have offered the Syrian displaced persons in their territory a free passage for 72 hours to reach the border with Greece.

Meanwhile, in Libya, 10 more Turkish soldiers were killed on Thursday after an air offensive launched by the National Liberation Army (LNA), led by Marshal Khalifa Haftar. Ankara supports the rival faction, the Government of National Unity (GNA), led by Prime Minister Fayez Sarraj, to whose ranks it has contributed by sending both troops and military equipment and Syrian mercenaries, among whom, according to various sources, are even terrorists from Jihadist organisations such as Daesh and Al Qaeda. Erdogan's plans in this fight are also very ambitious: according to Al-Ain, he is considering deploying a total of 11,000 "volunteers" in Libya to counteract the LNA, which has the support of Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Egypt and France.  

Soldados turcos se reúnen en el pueblo de Qaminas, a unos 6 kilómetros al sureste de la ciudad de Idlib, en el noroeste de Siria, el 10 de febrero de 2020

The question that arises, then, is how the president can sustain all his ambitions in these two scenarios, taking into consideration the damaged situation of the economy. In fact, Thursday's attack on Turkey's positions in Idlib has caused the lira to plummet to its lowest level in 17 months.

While in the case of Libya it is virtually confirmed that it receives aid from Qatar to finance the flow of militiamen, in Syria it seems, for the time being, that Turkey is rather alone. But even in this hypothetical case, where in economic terms his plans would be possible due to foreign contributions, the next question to be asked is what price Erdogan is prepared to continue paying to maintain his expansionist strategy, which has already included the loss of human lives, those of his own soldiers. 

Thus, the domestic political crisis, the precarious state of the economy and a foreign policy that is increasingly exorbitant in terms of both means and resources could lead to the awakening of the Turkish people with demonstrations all over the country, but, if they did, they would not last long, since precedents indicate that the security forces have always been able to quell protests with intense repression. Critical figures, moreover, risk being arrested simply for displaying an ideology that runs counter to the presidential one. According to a report published by Bold Media this week, in the 17 years of the AKP's mandate - Erdogan spent 11 years as prime minister between 2003 and 2014 and, since that year, as president - the number of prisoners has reached 300,000 and more than 194 prisons have been built.

Nor is it likely that the president will take a step back. His strategy seems to be based on a "flight forward", i.e. continuing with his plans without taking into account signs - such as economic ones - that might be warning him that another course is needed.