Turkish prime minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s rule looks especially precarious during a standoff with police and the judiciary and after a falling out with a longtime Islamist ally.
Two members of Erdoğan’s cabinet as well as the sons of the interior minister were arrested last week in a major corruption investigation that had been kept secret from police commanders who might have informed the government in advance.
The prime minister, who was most recently reelected in June 2011, was furious in his reaction to the crackdown, describing the investigation as a “dirty operation” and an attempt to smear his administration. Those involved in the probe were trying to form a “state within a state,” he said, apparently referring to followers of the former imam Fethullah Gülen who has been increasingly critical of Erdoğan’s policies.
The preacher, who lives in Pennsylvania, is probably the most influential Turkish opinion leader. He shares Erdoğan’s moderate Islamism but has been critical of his foreign policy, especially Turkey’s estrangement from Israel and its support for the rebellion against President Bashar al-Assad’s regime in Syria. He further distanced himself from the prime minister this summer when millions of mainly secular Turks took to the streets to protest against what they saw as Erdoğan’s dictatorial rule.
The government deepened the latest crisis when it sacked some seventy of the police officers who had been involved in the graft probe and issued new rules just four days after the arrests were made which required investigators to always share their findings with their superiors. The Council of State, an Ankara court that adjudicates on administrative issues, blocked the implementation of the regulation, however, ruling that it “contradicts the principle of the separation of powers.”
Erdoğan sees the ruling as further proof that a foreign plot is being carried out against him. In a speech to supporters in the Anatolian heartland, his ruling Islamist party’s base of power, he likened an upcoming local election to part of a “war” against his enemies and suggested a “second independence war” was imminent to establish “a new Turkey.”
The economy, which has grown rapidly through Erdoğan’s eleven years in power, looks almost certain to take a beating. The lira has hit a record low, stocks are at their weakest in seventeen months and the cost of insuring the country’s debt — at 35 percent of gross domestic product — against default jumped to an eighteen month high on Friday.