Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan had become a perpetual gaff machine. He would be funny if he were not so menacing in his effort to roll back on civil liberties and break down the secular traditions of Turkey in favor of Islamification of the government. He is facing growing criticism internationally and last week responded to allegations that he was trying to establish himself as a new Sultan. No, Erdoğan insisted, he really just wants to be more like Britain’s Queen Elizabeth II. As shown in other embarrassing moments recently, Erdoğan’s’s knowledge of history is even worst than his appreciation for human rights.
Recently, we discussed the arrest of Mehmet Emin Altunses, 16, who allegedly committed the crime of “insulting” Erdoğan. calling people who use birth control “traitors” and saying Muslims discovered America, you are not allowed to be disrespectful or insulting in discussing Erdoğan. The situation is even more dire for journalists who have found themselves threatened or arrested for reporting on Erdoğan or his cronies. Ye, as Turkish police arrested Dutch reporter Frederike Geerdink on terrorism charges, Erdoğan insisted that this is just one more “false” report from Western media since it is about terrorism not journalism. It is his statement about the record of Turkey on press freedoms that truly takes Erdoğan’s menacing comments into the realm of madness.
Erdoğan’s latest absurd statement came after he was confronted over his dismantling of democratic protections, push for a new constitution, and the reconstruction of something that looks a bit like a “Ottoman Sultan.” Oh no, Erdoğan, insisted, think of me as a Queen: “In my opinion, even the UK is a semi-presidency. And the dominant element is the Queen . . . I mean, why is it only a monarchy when an idea like this is floated in Turkey?” Well, because it is a monarchy Mr. President. Moreover, the Queen is no more dominant in the English system than the Ravens of the Tower of London. He also suggested that his system would look like the United States and no one is claiming that that is a monarchy.
It did not help that Erdoğan had just unveiled a grand new presidential palace on the outskirts of Ankara that was bigger than Buckingham Palace as well as the Kremlin and the White House.
Erdoğan seemed miffed that he was getting push back to creating a centralized power in the presidency and could not understand why — despite an array of critics explaining that he is viewed as a threat to basic liberties and the idea of centralizing his power is understandably unsettling. Yet, he seemed either clueless or willfully blind to those objections:
“One has to be able to use the powers invested in you by the national will in the best possible way. But at the moment, I am not able to do that,” he said. “At the moment, you have to ask permission of three different people for each decision, for each appointment. One is constantly being hindered. The judiciary puts obstacles in the way. One cannot run a country like that. For me, that is the biggest flaw of a parliamentary system.”
There may indeed be room for reforms of the Turkish system, but those reforms would include limitations not expansions on the abusive powers wielded by Erdogan and his Islamic allies in cracking down on journalists, activists, and religious minorities. Ironically, many would relish the idea of reducing Erdogan to a largely ceremonial (if not decorative) figure like the Queen of England. However, most expect that the Queen of Hearts is more in line with Erdogan’s royal aspirations.