Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan has emerged as the face of Islamist radicalism. He is doing everything to appease Islamists from waging expensive wars to affirm political Islamism to converting ancient Cathedrals and Churches like Hagia Sophia into Mosques. But Erdoğan wasn’t always like this. The President of Turkey wasn’t always the firebrand Islamist leader that he is now.
The Turkish President turned a full-blown Islamist strongman only after Turkey went into an economic crisis. Ankara’s Forex reserves are dwindling, its currency hitting record lows against the US dollar, dipping tourist footfall, sanctions threat and the COVID-19 Pandemic further destroying the Turkish economy. Erdoğan’s lacklustre fiscal policies are killing what was once a booming economy. Therefore, he is using populist Islamist policies to make up for the popularity that he is losing on in Turkey.
This is not to suggest that Erdoğan was a moderate or liberal leader. But his ideological allegiance has always been untrustworthy. Erdoğan had started off his political career as a soft Islamist with the Islamist Welfare Party.
However, in the 1990s, the Islamist Welfare Party was banned because it went against Turkish secularism. Therefore, Erdoğan founded the Moderate and Conservative Justice and Development Party (AKP) in 2001. Then Erdoğan did not rake up radical Islamism for quite some time before Turkey plunged into an economic crisis that started with a brutal confrontation between Ankara and Moscow.
In 2015, Ankara had shot down a Russian fighter aircraft that had intruded into Turkish airspace. Erdoğan had jumped to take credit for the move and this started the end of the booming Turkish economy.
Russian President Putin had retaliated by ravaging Turkey’s tourism industry that contributes around 12 per cent to the total Turkish GDP and remains the primary source of its Forex inflows. Moscow had reduced the numbers of Russians visiting Turkey and also the number of Turks travelling to Russia. Nevertheless, in 2016, Turkey had apologised for the incident. But the Turkish economy could never bounce back in face of a string of setbacks coming its way.
In August 2018, Ankara had a major fallout with Washington over the detention of an American pastor in Turkey. Trump administration had then slapped sanctions on Turkey. The repercussions on the Turkish economy were visible. There was an imminent currency collapse in 2018 and Turkey was clubbed with Argentina by the International Monetary Fund (IMF) as the worst-performing currency.
It was somewhere around this time that Erdoğan turned into a full-blown Islamist, given the onslaughts that the Turkish economy was facing. Erdoğan’s fiscal policies were not able to resurrect the Turkish economy. Erdoğan therefore became liable for single-handedly murdering the Turkish economy. Consequently, he used hardline Islamist policies to make up for the Turkish economic crisis.
In 2019, Turkey waged endless wars in Syria’s Idlib and started backing the Muslim Brotherhood forces in Libya. This year, Erdoğan has started antagonising the Eastern Mediterranean by encircling the waters and Continental Shelves of Cyprus and Greece.
Turkey’s economy has taken a beating. Ankara is reeling under another currency crisis. Turkish Lira has hit a record low against the US Dollar and Euro. Turkey’s Lira has slipped to its weakest level since May, when the Turkish currency had hit a record low. The continuous depreciation of Lira is forcing Turkish citizens to place their foreign currency deposits in banks, in a sign of growing distrust towards Lira.
At the same time, the Islamist country recorded an inflation rate of 12.6 per cent, going beyond the expectations of economists.
Moreover, foreign investors are not ready to park their funds in the Islamist country. And Forex reserved are bound to dip even further. No one wants to invest in such an unpredictable country. Investors never know which war Turkey might take up all of a sudden, inviting sanctions from powers like the US and the EU.
According to Turkey’s Central Bank statistics, foreign investment in the Istanbul Stock Exchange has decreased sharply from 32.3 billion US dollars to 24.4 billion US dollars this year. Only as recently as 2013, the figure stood at a mammoth 82 billion US dollars. For the first time in the last 16 years, less than 50 per cent of the stocks are owned by foreign investors.
Meanwhile, Erdoğan remains clueless. He refuses to go by what the experts say. It is well-settled amongst economists that interest rates must be raised in order to restrict inflation. But Erdoğan believes that higher interest rates further push inflation. It is expected that Erdoğan will again cut interest rates which would make borrowing easier and create greater liquidity resulting in still higher inflation.
Therefore, Erdoğan is turning more and more Islamist in order to invoke Islamist nationalism and relying on jingoism as opposed to substance. Erdoğan has driven Turkey into a massive economic crisis and he is turning into an Islamist only because Turkish economic crisis doesn’t leave him with an option.