Center for American Progress Acknowledges Erdogan's Authoritarian Rule

Panel slams authoritarian Turkish head of state

Recep Tayyip Erdogan
Recep Tayyip Erdogan / AP
June 10, 2015

A group of regional experts criticized Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan at a June 9 panel discussion at the Center for American Progress (CAP).

"The last two years have been a time of growing difficulty with Turkey, much of it caused by the Erdogan personality," Alan Makovsky, a senior fellow at CAP, said. "I think there is great concern about the authoritarian nature that Turkey was taking on, and more than concern, embarrassment. Because Turkey was held up by this administration, and I would hasten to add the previous administration, as a model for the region."

Suat Kiniklioglu, a former Justice and Development Party (AKP) official and current senior fellow at CAP, offered partial criticism of Erdogan.

"Turkey is still a democracy despite the authoritarian tendencies that Mr. Erdogan has been showing over the past three years," Kiniklioglu said.

These criticisms mark a sharp deviation from CAP’s previous attitude towards AKP’s government. CAP has been criticized in the past for its ties to a Turkish business group and its soft take on the censorship and imprisonment of journalists in Turkey.

"CAP also presses for closer ties between the U.S. and Turkish governments, just as Ankara’s lobbyists do," the Nation reported in 2013. "[CAP President and CEO John Podesta] gave the keynote address at a TUSKON conference in Istanbul. In his speech—titled ‘The Unique Importance of the Turkish-American Relationship’—he praised CAP senior fellow Michael Werz for his work on ‘strengthening the US-Turkey relationship.’"

Werz, who gave the welcoming remarks at CAP’s panel discussion, authored a May 2010 CAP report titled "The New Levant: Understanding Turkey’s Shifting Roles in the Eastern Mediterranean," which said "Turkey is becoming the West of the East."

"Some Turks compare Erdoğan’s Turkey less to the democracies of the West than to the Russian and Chinese models, in which free-market economics are championed and domestic dissent is repressed," the New Yorker wrote in 2012. "Erdoğan’s rule has another, darker side, which the West seems intent on ignoring: an increasingly harsh campaign to crush domestic opposition."

While CAP appears to be changing its assessment of Erdogan, the panel discussion mostly focused on the implications of Turkey’s June 7 parliamentary elections.

The Kurdish-backed People’s Democratic Party (HDP) secured 13 percent of the electorate, surpassing the 10 percent threshold for electoral representation. The Justice and Development Party (AKP), Turkey’s ruling political majority since 2002, lost 53 parliamentary seats in a "watershed election."

With no clear majority, Ankara has 45 days to form either a coalition or minority government. Kiniklioglu criticized the international media’s coverage of the election’s results in his opening remarks.

"This sort of alarmist ‘uncertainty, chaos in Turkey’ is I think a little bit too over stretched … I think there needs to be a bit more patience on how to interpret the outcome. It’s too soon that people are talking about chaos and uncertainty," he said before launching into a conversation about Turkey’s uncertain future with the panel.

The panel outlined the potential coalitions that could be formed between some combination of the Republican People’s Party (CHP), the Nationalist Movement Party (MHP), HDP, and AKP.

"In the short term, I agree with Suat, we have a scenario of uncertainties. Turkey is entering a terrain of coalition or minority government and no coalition or minority government has ever finished their term so that means political instability unfortunately," Soner Cagaptay, director of the Turkish research program at the Washington Institute for Near East Peace, said.

Published under: Turkey