Pass the Kleenex...

Saturday, June 11, 2011

The AKP and Today's Zaman sound like spurned lovers the way they're griping over recent editorials criticizing the AKP in the Economist, New York Times, and elsewhere.

Here is an excerpt from a recent piece in Today's Zaman:
...the style and the content of these reports and pieces gives a repugnant impression and the feeling that they do not even consider these priorities and benefits. The authors of these pieces are either unaware of the realities of the country they are reviewing or they are governed by the same center. The second option seems to be more relevant and valid, given that they are repeating the same arguments. It is impossible to conclude that these articles do not have any prior concerns, considering that they are written as if Turkey is not witnessing a bitter struggle against gangs, military juntas and deep state structures whose extensions can be found in politics, civil society and the media.

Meanwhile, Erdogan and other AKP officials have been publicly ranting about the Economist ever since their article came out---look here, here, and here.

Most of this is pretty standard stuff for Erdogan, who regularly sues journalists and cartoonists whom he thinks has insulted him.

But should the Economist should be advising Turkish citizens on how to vote in the first place? In an opinion piece appearing on Al-Jazeera's website the other day, Richard Falk and Hilal Elver say no:
The Economist leader headline in its June 4 issue is revealing: "The best way for Turks to promote democracy would be to vote against the ruling party." It reveals a mentality that has not shaken itself free from the paternalism and entitlements of the bygone colonialist days. What makes such an assertion so striking is that The Economist would know better than to advise US or Canadian or Israeli citizens how to vote. And it never did venture such an opinion on the eve of the election of such reactionary and militarist figures as George W Bush, Stephen Harper, or Binyamin Netanyahu. Are the people of Turkey really so politically backward as to require guidance from this bastion of Western elite opinion so as to learn what is in their own best interest?
Actually, the notion that the Economist and other news organs never editorialize on elections taking place in western countries or Israel is untrue, and this past week is hardly the first time the Economist has weighed in on a country's election. Here, for example, is the Economist endorsing Barack Obama in 2008.

[Note: Falk and Elver have since issued a "retraction, apology, and clarification" with regard to this part of their argument]

More importantly, however, I think the Economist piece and Erdogan's response to it needs to be seen in the context of the Prime Minister's approach to muzzling criticism in the national media more generally.

Yes, yes, I know: attacking a free press wasn't invented by the AKP. But the combination of the Ergenekon trials and the sort of media intimidation that has developed under the AKP in the form of frequent lawsuits and the Dogan group business--has created something novel in recent Turkish history in that, with each passing year, there appear to be fewer and fewer checks on the AKP's power.

Folks like Falk and Elver (and Juan Cole) place a lot of importance on knocking the military out of politics in Turkey, as they should. But I think there's little improvement to be found in replacing authoritarianism with authoritarianism, whether or not the new gang is civilian.

Tayyip Erdogan, as I've mentioned before, has a lot to offer his country and the region. But no one is doing him or Turkey a favor by ignoring his authoritarian tendencies. The man has been Prime Minister for almost ten years. He should, I think, be able to handle the criticism he gets from the Economist without throwing a tantrum, just like he should be able to tolerate domestic criticism without hauling people in front of a judge.

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