His Middle East Orientation Threatens Turkey’s Economic Boom, Says a Growing Opposition
On Sunday, December 12, President Barack Obama was on the phone to Turkish Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan advising him to pay no attention to the WikiLeaked State Department documents running him down as a leader with "an authoritarian loner streak," maintaining that his drive for authority in the region had not achieved any success of note and accusing him of embezzling state funds and maintaining at least eight secret accounts in Swiss banks.
Erdogan hit the ceiling over the last charge and swore to sue the American diplomats responsible for putting it into their reports.
But both leaders kept the conversation polite.
Obama did not mention the aspersions the US media were casting on Erdogan's tactics (that the power of popular support has given him the confidence "to undercut US policy in Iran, cultivate anti-American Muslim dictators in Sudan and Syria and make Israel a near-enemy – Washington Post, Dec. 6.)
Erdogan, for his part, stressed the importance of not letting an artificial agenda "change the course of our relations." We are ready to work with you, he said, to do what needs to be done in this process.
The Turkish prime minister did not say what process he had in mind.
Not only does Washington eye Erdogan and his policies askance; so does Moscow. The Russians regard him as extremely dangerous and, his denials notwithstanding, are certain he is leading Turkey down a steep slope to radical Islam a la Iran and Hizballah.
Erdogan accused of fostering Iran at the expense of Turkish economy
The Turkish prime minister may think he can live with the disapproval and suspicion of Washington and Moscow. After all, his new friend, Syrian President Bashar Assad, has never been discommoded by a decade of this treatment. But domestic disaffection is another matter. According to our Ankara sources, his own ruling establishment, the pro-Muslim Justice and Development Party – the AK, is turning against him.
The opposition is headed by two powerful figures, President Abdullah Gul and Deputy AK Party Chairperson Dr. Abdulkadir Aksu, posing the Turkish prime minister with the most acute challenge to his authority since he assumed power seven years ago.
His two leading opponents contend that the policies forged by Erdogan and his chief ideologue and strategist Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu are driving Turkey away from Europe and the West and orienting the country towards Iran and the Arab world. They predict such policies will eventually drive the Turkish economy, one of the world's strongest and fastest growing, into the ground.
By the end of 2010, growth in Turkey is estimated to rise to 6 percent, making it the world's 16th largest economy. Its GDP is tipped to reach US $932.2 billion. Gul and Aksu maintain that by pinning the Turkish economy on Middle East markets rather than Europe and Asia, Erdogan and Davutoglu will lose the primary engine driving it forward and bringing in wealth, namely its penetration of Western markets. Dependence on the Middle East will cause its decline, because the markets there are limited in scope and technological sophistication.
Without going into the nuclear issue, both Gul and Aksu are vehemently against the focus the Erdogan administration places on cultivating economic ties with Tehran and siding with Iran in its disputes with Washington.
Turkey faces unemployment from a million Syrian and Lebanese job-seekers
Quite surprisingly, DEBKA-Net-Weekly's sources find close parallels between the arguments Erdogan's opponents advance with regard to Iran's political and economic future and those heard from Russian leaders. (See separate article on Vladimir Putin's plans.)
Gul and Aksu share Moscow's view that in the long term, perhaps in consequence of internal upheaval or a military coup, Iran will go back to its old ties with the West. It would then take Western markets by storm, leaving Turkey lagging behind and stuck with its Middle East markets.
For now, the Turkish economy is three times the size of Iran's. If the Islamic Republic turns to the West, Dr. Aksu and his followers predict a role-reversal: the Iranian economy could swell to four or five times that of Turkey. Therefore, say the prime minister's critics, Erdogan is pursuing a policy which fosters Iran's economic development and will eventually push Tehran into the arms of the West, while driving Turkey into decline.
The ruling party's anti-Erdogan movement has been substantially boosted of late by the flooding of Turkey's job markets with hundreds of thousands of Syrian, Lebanese and Palestinian laborers.
In October 2009, the Turkish Foreign Minister signed an open borders treaty with his Syrian counterpart Walid Muallem, followed four months later by a similar agreement with Lebanese Minister of Foreign Affairs & Emigrants Ali al-Shami.
At first only a trickle of curious tourists took advantage of the lifting of restrictions on traffic to Ankara from Damascus and Beirut. But, as the months went by and economic conditions deteriorated in Syria and Lebanon was beset with security problems, the stream grew into a river. Today, more than a million Syrian and Lebanese and Palestinian job-seekers from both countries have entered Turkey.
The anti-Erdogan faction in the AK blame the extreme Middle East orientation of his policies for opening the door to the impoverished labor force of the region to mob Turkey and threaten it with severe unemployment.