There has been some thought-provoking comment by longtime observers of Turkish politics over the past week, reflecting on what appear to be tumultuous times.
Any of the posts and links on Yigal Schleifer’s excellent Istanbul Calling blog are worth reading, as is Andrew Finkel’s already much-cited op ed in last Sunday’s Zaman.
Also check out a new blog by Aengus Collins, which has a good piece reflecting on the fallout of Israel’s deadly raid on the Mavi Marmara.
All these observers touch in various ways on the fact that the raid appears to have thrust Turkey’s Islamist fringe onto centre stage. The hitherto unknown IHH charity has organized ceaseless rallies around Istanbul, as has the Islamist Saadet Party.
In her Kamil Pasha blog, Jenny White describes the humanitarian aid group as the ‘new gorilla in the room’ of Turkish politics, which the AKP has nurtured at its own peril. Yigal Schleifer has this interesting piece on how the charity came to flourish under the current government.
You can read the article James Hider and I wrote last week for the Times about the IHH here, in which we examine Israel’s allegations regarding its ‘terrorist links’.
While covering the events of the past week I have been struck by a feeling of inertia in the country. The AKP government has torn up its carefully cultivated ‘zero problem’ foreign policy (goodwill to all, trade with all etc), and risks forfeiting the role it covets as a bridge between Islam and the West.
But has the government done this willingly, as some claim? In the face of public fury and anti-Israeli sentiments, it certainly needs to seem willing and able to tear up its ties with Israel, but does it really want to?
Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan and Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu are riding the tidal wave of public anger as if in triumph, but I’m not so sure they know where it’s taking them.
Asides from the recalling of the ambassador and the cancelling of some joint military exercises, Turkey has yet to offer any tangible rebuff to Israel other than fiery rhetoric. Turkish-Israeli military, economic, and political ties are real, and valuable to Turkey’s standing in the world beyond the Middle East.
So here’s the feeling of inertia: no political force has yet to capitalize effectively on the monumental public anger here. The government hasn’t, and the nationalist opposition is looking timid and irrelevant. A poll at the weekend suggested 60 per cent of Turks are unhappy with the government’s response to Israel.
Who will profit from this anger, and where will they take Turkey?