Since becoming Prime Minister in 2003, Recep Tayyip Erdogan has contributed to calming Turkey’s military, strengthening its political parties, and increasing the personal freedoms of its citizens. United States Presidents George W. Bush and Barack Obama both held Turkey on a pedestal as an example of the ability for Islam and democracy to coexist.

Yet the Justice and Development Party (AKP) has faced little to no opposition strong enough to challenge Erdogan’s position, for which he has won three successive elections. At over 11 years in office, Erdogan is now the second longest reigning Prime Minister in Turkey’s 94-year history. The nation is falling from its democratic grace.

When thousands of Turkish citizens protested the one-party state in the spring of 2013, Erdogan’s authoritarian power was evident. Tear gas, water cannons and mass arrests asserted the Prime Minister’s authority over those who wished to speak out. The in December parliament, led mostly by the AKP, presented a proposal to make protests against public services illegal.

Such actions, in addition to Erdogan’s attempts to limit and control social media, emphasize worrisome threats to basic human rights and democracy in Turkey. But the next set of elections is coming soon, and the simple fact that people continue to look towards it brings hope. Despite unfortunate actions resulting from Erdogan’s hoarding of power, Turkey formally remains a functioning democracy. If all goes as planned, the upcoming elections will take place in as free and fair an environment as ever.

Movement away from democracy in Turkey poses risks to the nation’s future political and economic security. With such tumultuous circumstances taking place in the nations bordering Turkey and in the Middle East in general, Erdogan arguably cannot afford to throw away its alliance with the United States and the Western world. Likewise, undemocratic actions take away from any chances Turkey has of being admitted in the European Union, whose membership requirements include a free market and democratic freedoms.

So while many may claim that Turkey, as a result, could not possibly move far enough from democracy as to put these alliances in true jeopardy, recent events have not sparked much confidence. Elections, however, will likely outline what the world can expect from Turkey in the near future.

Jaclyn Stutz

Sources: Carnegie Endowment 1, Carnegie Endowment 2, Al Jazeera, Politico
Photo: Business Insider

Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan ordered access to Twitter to be cut off for citizens in the early hours of Friday, March 21st. The shutdown came just a few hours after Erdogan publically threatened to cut off access to the social media platform, calling it a ‘scourge’ and claiming it is being used against him by his political enemies.

Erdogan is currently embroiled in a political scandal which was furthered when an audio clip was anonymously released via Twitter. The tweet contained a link that implicated widespread corruption in Erdogan’s administration. Users that attempted to access Twitter were redirected to a webpage with a statement from the telecommunications regulator in Turkey that cited several court orders for the reason the site was blocked. The court orders from the government asking Twitter to remove the tweets with the incriminating audio clips have gone unanswered by the company.

Twitter, a website widely used by celebrities, also found another use during the Arab Spring. Activists and protestors utilized the social media platform to spread up- to- the- minute information to the world. Twitter provided people who may not have had a voice through official channels or media with a way to tell their story about what was happening in their country. Twitter was used in Turkey last year to spread the word about protests against the government which ended in Erdogan requesting that Twitter establish an office in the country so the company can respond more quickly to the government’s requests. That request also went unanswered.

Twitter is only the one of the social media platforms that the Turkish government has bumped heads with. Facebook, Google and YouTube have all been criticized by Erdogan for their content that is unflattering to him. He has also threatened to extend the ban to these companies and others unless they comply with requests from the Turkish government. With Prime Minister Erdogan threatening to shut down access to these companies ‘no matter what the international community thinks’ it sets up a potentially troubling situation blocking the access for the citizens of Turkey during a time of political unrest.

This situation will continue to evolve in the coming weeks. Whether or not other social media websites will go down or if Twitter will come back online in Turkey remains to be seen. Erdogan seems eager to show power in the face of the international community saying, “The international community can say this, can say that. I don’t care at all. Everyone will see how powerful the Republic of Turkey is.”

– Colleen Eckvahl

Sources: NPR, Haaretz
Photo: Amnesty