By Ariel Ben Solomon
The idea that Turkey is a model Islamic democracy that "Arab Spring" countries could emulate is in shambles.
The ban that Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan's government placed on Twitter to block recent anti-government postings was extended to Google on Saturday, as the search engine was used as a way to get around the Twitter ban, Turkey's Hurriyet Daily News reported.
"When [US] President Barack Obama portrayed prospering Turkey, ruled by sweet Islamists, as 'a great Islamic democracy' in 2010, he was probably hoping that this strange democracy that comes with a religious prefix would serve a useful purpose: a glittering role model for the Arab countries that lagged behind even an Islamic democracy. Mr. Obama's 'mission: impossible' has failed -- probably for good," Burak Bekdil, a columnist for Hurriyet wrote in an article published Friday.
A big loss for Erdogan's AK Party in upcoming local elections next Sunday could lay the way for a course correction from the opposition.
However, Erdogan still enjoys wide popularity and has not been shy in wielding government power to support his political goals and hold on to power.
"Turkey has been coasting on its reputation for years, but even former US ambassadors to Turkey who traditionally have been apologists for the AKP have woken up to the reality of what Turkey has become," Michael Rubin, a scholar at the American Enterprise Institute and a former Pentagon official, told The Jerusalem Post.
Rubin, author of the new book Dancing with the Devil: The Perils of Engaging Rogue Regimes, said that "once, analysts debated whether Turkey should join the European Union; however, increasingly the debate is about how long Turkey can avoid being labelled a state-sponsor of terrorism."
Rubin said that "the real embarrassment on the American side now is the Congressional Turkey Caucus. The Turkish government uses membership as a sign of support, and it reflects poorly on Congress that for the sake of a few junkets to Istanbul, congressmen are willing to lend their names to a regime that embraces Hamas, busts Iran sanctions, smuggles weapons to al-Qaida affiliates, encourages sectarian strife in Nigeria and takes corruption to a whole new level."
Asked about a possible shift in US policy toward Turkey, Rubin responded that while American policy is always slow to change, "Americans are starting to recognize the new reality: Turkey has almost completed its transition from ally to enemy."
Asked about the chances that the opposition could do well in upcoming elections, Rubin commended the active opposition, but warned against betting on their success. "The age of free and fair elections in Turkey may be over," he said.
Supporting this worry, the AK Party has demanded a list of ballot box clerks, Hurriyet quoted the daily Taraf as reporting. AKP officials requested that the Election Board in Istanbul provide names of the monitors, but the request was rejected.
Upon this rejection, the AKP did not give up, and asked the Istanbul National Education Directorate to get it the names of school employees who would be monitoring the elections.
This, along with the social media bans, demonstrates that Erdogan's regime is using all available means to influence and do well in the upcoming elections. Hence, a good result by Erdogan's AKP should not come as a surprise.