In times of crisis when violence stalks the land people cry out for a strongman to get a grip on the problem. But what if terrorism spawns chaos in a country already under the thumb of a strong man?
Turkey is in a uniquely awful position. It now has the strongest president since the military coup in 1980, possibly since Ataturk himself ninety years ago.
But President Erdogan’s extraordinary skill in consolidating his power has not been matched by an ability to solve the country’s problems.
While Erdogan was drawing together all the threads of authority in his hands in a still democratic Turkey, random killings, suicide bombings and civil war with the Kurds in the south-east have been spiralling out of control.
Bizarrely, Erdogan is a control freak who is not really on top of the threats facing his society. If anything his capricious style of government has bred them.
By arming and encouraging radical jihadis to fight Assad’s regime in Syria, Erdogan ignored the risks of blowback.
When Assad’s regime was weak, the Kurds in Syria began to assert themselves. Erdogan moved to stop them establishing a Kurdish mini-state south of Turkey but the price demanded by the West for turning a blind eye to that was to crack down in IS.
These two crackdowns set off terrorist attacks in Turkey. Kurdish groups primarily attacked the army and police but IS has targeted civilians.
His foreign policy too has veered from confrontation with Russia and Iran to partnership with them and public allegations that his chief Western ally, the USA, is behind the terrorism afflicting Turkey.
The economy has gone from boom to bust under Erdogan. Once he seemed to have achieved the miracle of successful mixing Muslim politics with the market economy. But the backwash of conflicts in Syria and Iraq plus terrorism terrifying away tourists has tipped Turkey into deep recession.
In the past a military strongman has acted to restore order in Turkey (usually brutally). Back in September, 1980, General Evren launched a military crackdown on the bloody civil war raging between gunmen of the radical left and the radical right.
At a heavy cost the army restored order and even promoted economic development – and a return to democracy. But after the fiasco of the Putsch last July, another military coup – at least a successful one – seems improbable.
Of course it would be desirable if there was a democratic way out of the current impasse. But Erdogan’s opponents in parliament are divided and their support base stuck among certain minorities like the secularists (gunned down on New Year’s Eve) or Kurds under assault as traitors in Erdogan’s eyes.
Is Turkey becoming a sick man on the edge of Europe? A kind of Pakistan with the radical jihadis of Syria providing its own Taliban-threat?
Sadly, after decades of promoting Turkey as a model for it to follow, the country now risks slipping down the road pioneered by Pakistan.
Maybe, inside the ruling party, there are men ready to defy the president’s grip on power and anxious to replace him.
But I doubt if they have the numbers or the courage to take President Erdogan on. Turkey’s agony looks set to continue. But given the country’s sensitive geopolitical location, chaos in Turkey means instability for the West too.
Mark Almond’s ‚Secular Turkey: A Short History‘ will be published by the Crisis Research Institute in Oxford (CRIOx) in 2017