By Maajid Nawaz
Turkey’s Recep Tayyip Erdogan came to power in 2002, a year after the formation of his AK party. But spending 11 years as prime minister wasn’t enough. In 2011, Erdogan changed the system, clearing the way for him to become the country’s first directly elected president in 2013.
True to all incremental power grabs, he initially sold this move to Turks as merely “ceremonial.”
That facade has now ended.
After this month no one was left in any doubt as to Erdogan’s neo-Ottoman delusions of grandeur, as he pushed out Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu while maneuvering to replace him with a long-time crony. At one point his own son in law seemed a likely appointee.
To use the cliché “palace coup” would not even be metaphoric on my part. Perched atop a hill on the outskirts of Ankara sits Erdogan’s specially commissioned 1,000-room White Palace, or AK Saray. Bigger than the White House and the Kremlin, this Sultan-like extravagance cost even more than the budgeted $615m. And as Erdogan’s sultanate grows, so too does Erdogan’s sultan-like caprice.
Freedom House reports that Erdogan has been eroding freedom of the press in Turkey at an alarming rate over recent years. This unhinged crackdown on journalists culminated last month in the seizure and state takeover of opposition newspaper Zaman, which is now embarrassingly owned and operated by the Turkish state. Such has been Erdogan’s assault on journalists that even President Barack Obama felt the need to warn the authoritarian Erdogan to back off.
But this is all run-of-the-mill for tinpot strongmen, who so often mistake their ability to retain office as a demonstration of popularity and power. The truth is, it’s also a weakness. Power is a weapon. And like a domestic firearm, it is a weapon that is likely at least as dangerous to you as to others.
Nothing highlights this weakness, this manic insecurity, and this puerile obsession with control in a more darkly comical way than the stunt Erdogan just pulled in Germany.
The president of Turkey, this once great leader of that proud and historic nation, filed a criminal complaint against Jan Boehmermann, a German satirist for… writing this poem about him.
The origins of the truly serious offence that was taken are found in the peculiar incident of Germany’s ambassador to Turkey, Martin Erdmann, being summoned to the Turkish Foreign Ministry over an ‘Extra 3’ satirical video about Erdogan. There, Erdmann was asked to explain—yes, explain— the video, and to ensure that it was taken off air. It was this incident that inspired Boehmermann’s poem.
You see, the Great Leader was butt-hurt.
But he won. Due to Germany’s archaic laws against offending organs of “foreign states,” one of Germany’s most intelligent satirists has been ordered by a Hamburg court to censor his song about Erdogan’s brutal assault on Turkey’s press.
Boehmermann responded on Twitter by linking to the iconic Beastie Boys song, “(You Gotta) Fight For Your Right (To Party!).”
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