Mr Erdogan became increasingly irascible, authoritarian and "paranoid", to reuse a familiar expression. He engaged Turkey in a new war, first on national territory and then in Syria, against the Kurds of the PKK. Attacks multiplied throughout the country. It was, first and foremost, an attack on the West. Was he a dictator besieged from all sides, whose difficulties blurred his vision? Or had the political strategist decided to take all the necessary risks to launch a counter-offensive?
Thanks to his strategy of tension, he won the new elections he called for in November 2015. In March 2016, he agreed to make a deal on refugees with Europeans, whom he treated with contempt because they needed him.
He welcomed the attempted military coup on 15 July 2016 as a "gift of God", according to his own words. This episode allowed him to imprison thousands of opponents or simply people who did not support him, to purge the army, to further restrict freedoms, to lead a fierce struggle against the Gülenist circles, presented (and probably rightly so) as the great puppeteers of the failed putsch. Given that it led many memories to resurface, the Turkish population was necessarily very shocked by the attempted coup. Obama, Hollande and other Western leaders did not understand that in a moment of such intense emotion, an opportunity could have been seized to reconnect with the Turkish President. Vladimir Putin did, and the two authoritarian leaders reconciled in the weeks that followed. This led Mr Erdogan to change his strategy in Syria and to cooperate with Russia.
In April 2017, RTE engaged in a new electoral gamble and yet again narrowly succeeded in having a new Constitution endorsed by universal suffrage. The latter centralizes all powers in the hands of the President. All big cities, including Istanbul, were against him. He nonetheless pursued his high-risk game, sent his army to Syria for the second time, and provoked early elections, which he won in June and which pave the way towards an almost boundaryless presidentialism, this time legitimized by votes.
Although he has achieved his goals, it is highly unlikely that a new Erdogan, both magnanimous and pragmatic, will appear, and take a bet on national reconciliation, thus reversing all his previous choices. On the international level, on the contrary, given the fragility of the Turkish position, Mr Erdogan could adopt a “swing” approach that would bring him closer to NATO. Yet the Court decision’s last week not to release the American pastor Andrew Brunson, detained by the Turkish state, is not too encouraging.
RTE stopped reading books a long time ago. He watches television and tries never to miss the episodes of the famous historical series "Payitaht: Abdülhamid". He admired Abdülhamid, the last leader of the Ottoman Empire who tried to save the empire by ruling with an iron hand. What is left of Turkish democracy? Elections, one would be tempted to respond. They are irregular, they take place in a country very strongly conditioned by the government in power, and yet President Erdogan's democratic credentials are indisputable. His opponents recognized the results of the last election. On the other hand, Recep Tayyip Erdogan has been ruling over Turkey for almost two decades, yet the secular, urban, coastal, and economically productive Turkey still stands. Mr Erdogan has not managed to overcome this challenge yet.
Illustration : David MARTIN for Institut Montaigne