Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s time as Turkish president since he altered the country’s constitution in 2017 in order to give more power to the presidential office has been less successful than he expected it to be. He is facing unprecedented challenges to his position as a strongman who has torn down the formerly democratic political system in Turkey that ironically helped him reach his position of power.
As a radical Islamist, Erdogan believes in his God-given right to rule and in the perfectionist picture he presents to the millions of his brainwashed followers. However, a recent challenge to this immaculate picture has come from his own camp and one of his closest allies in comments made by former prime minister Ahmet Davutoğlu.
Davutoğlu is an Islamist himself and a believer in all the tenets of Islamism, but he is still feeling the anguish of being forced to resign from his position in 2016. This occurred even after Davutoğlu helped the ruling AKP Party to regain control of the Turkish parliament in the snap elections of 2015. Documents were leaked at that time indicating a feud with Erdogan, and though this was largely kept from the public it surfaced as a result of the leaks and meant that Davutoğlu was forced to resign.
Now Davutoğlu has once again fired shots at Erdogan and unnamed aides and members of the AKP Party, accusing them of having ties to terrorism and saying that if these were revealed in full some members of the AKP would not be able to face the nation. What he has said is not a novelty, however, as Erdogan and his gang have been and still are involved in acts of terrorism, many of which have been executed in foreign countries including Egypt, Libya and Syria, among others.
What is new is that Davutoğlu has confirmed a report by the European Union’s official Intelligence and Situation Centre that accuses elements of Erdogan’s AKP Party of being involved in the horrific bombing of Istanbul on 10 October 2015 that killed 109 civilians and injured over 500 others. The report suggests knowledge of the attack on a peaceful march in what was the most horrific terrorist attack in Turkey’s history.
After the challenge issued by Davutoğlu, many voices across the Turkish political spectrum have called on him to come clean and inform the public of his knowledge of such attacks, adding that if he does not do so he will be effectively hiding terrorists himself and simply making a move for political gain.
Meanwhile, the EU report, repeated by Davutoğlu, has confirmed AKP involvement with terrorists across the region from the Muslim Brotherhood to Al-Qaeda and the Islamic State (IS) group. All of these groups have received some form of support from Erdogan’s regime, whether political and financial, as in the case of the Muslim Brotherhood, or logistical and military, as in the case of IS, particularly during the terrorist operations in Syria and Iraq.
Davutoğlu’s shocking admission may be news to some in the region or in Turkey, but it is common knowledge to counter-terrorism analysts who have tied Turkey’s Islamist regime with many jihadist groups in the region. Even so, Davutoğlu’s accusing his former party of being in cahoots with terrorist attacks on Turkish soil against Turkish dissidents takes matters to a whole new level. He has also conveyed the message that he will expose more if need be. He has done this while preparing the launch of his own new Islamist party that is set to rival the AKP and thus challenge his former ally and rival.
However, Davutoğlu, despite being seen as a more timid version of Erdogan, was in fact an eager partner in everything that has led to the current situation in Turkey. He cannot simply wash his hands of the crimes committed by the party he helped to develop over the past decade and of which he was leader from 2014 to 2016.
Davutoğlu is also a critic of the 30 June Revolution in Egypt, which saw the fall of his staunch ally Mohamed Morsi, and his views have been in sync with the hostile stances taken against Egypt by the Turkish regime that have included support for the terrorist activities of the Muslim Brotherhood. His political facelift will not change the fact that he is a staunch Islamist who has supported jihadism and is still hiding information regarding the deaths of innocent Turkish citizens. Since this is the case, his knowledge of the Turkish regime’s hostile and terrorist activities across the region will be critical and condemning.
It is astonishing that the world’s political leaders and many observers have ignored the statements coming from a man who has worked at the heart of Turkish politics for decades. His statements are highly incriminating even if he has not yet named those involved in terrorist activities.
They are also the latest crack in the house of Erdogan, which now seems to be crumbling slowly. However, his own new party is the last thing that Turkey needs, since it is just another face of the same coin and of the Turkish Islamists. Davutoğlu could easily be described as “Erdogan light,” someone who provides an alternative, smiling face to the grim one Erdogan has put on for decades.
It will be interesting to see how far Erdogan will go to stop his new enemy and whether he will attempt to treat him as he has his former mentor, the Islamic scholar Fethullah Gülen who is now considered as a terrorist in Turkey and has taken refuge in the United States. Part of Erdogan’s purge in 2016 was aimed at eradicating dissidents to his regime under the pretext that they were Gülenists, even if in fact they had nothing to do with the Islamic scholar.
Gülen was instrumental in leading Erdogan to the highest echelons of power in Turkey through an alliance that included Gülen’s movement and Erdogan’s AKP, both of which worked against the nationalist and secularist Kemalists who are the followers of modern Turkey’s founder Kemal Ataturk. Later, Erdogan decided that Gülen was gaining too much power, and so he decided to oust him and even pinned the failed coup d’état in Turkey on him, allowing the purge of many Gülenists along with other dissidents.
The question of whether Erdogan will now launch a similar attack against his former friend and political ally Ahmet Davutoğlu is still open. Various factors are in play, including how much support Davutoğlu can garner and how far the rupture within the AKP will expand. Erdogan, feeling cornered internationally and now domestically, will not be able to start a full-scale political war without losing more members of his own party, and this could hasten his own fall. They may finally realise what has been obvious for over a decade, namely that Erdogan is a liability to the AKP Party and to his country.
Nevertheless, Davutoğlu will now have to face his former ally and the secular opposition in Turkey led by the CHP Party, which is unlikely to treat him any differently from Erdogan. However, the party may well be willing to exploit the rift in the Islamist ranks in the hope that Turkey can now rid itself of Erdogan and the Islamist plague that has afflicted it for decades.
The writer is a political analyst and author of Egypt’s Arab Spring and the Winding Road to Democracy.