Analysis

Turkey’s Erdoğan Sees Foreign Plot in Corruption Probe

The Turkish leader calls for a “second independence war” to defeat his enemies.

Turkish president Recep Tayyip Erdoğan attends a conference in Saint Petersburg, Russia, November 22
Turkish president Recep Tayyip Erdoğan attends a conference in Saint Petersburg, Russia, November 22 (Kremlin)

Turkish prime minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s rule looks precarious in 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, 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 become increasingly critical of Erdoğan’s policies.

Gülen

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 in Syria.

Gülen 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.

“War”

The government deepened the crisis when it sacked some seventy police officers who had been involved in the graft probe and issued new rules just four days after the arrests were made, requiring investigators to always share their findings with their superiors.

But the Council of State, an Ankara court that adjudicates on administrative issues, blocked the implementation of the regulation, ruling that it “contradicts the principle of the separation of powers.”

Erdoğan sees the ruling as proof that a foreign plot is being concocted against him. In a speech to supporters, he likened the upcoming local election to a “war” against his enemies and suggested a “second independence war” was needed 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.