By Lale Kemal
May 28, 2015
Neo-Ottomanism is a Turkish political ideology that President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan and his ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) have sought to pursue, with the aim of promoting greater political engagement of the modern Republic of Turkey within regions formerly under the rule of the Ottoman Empire, its predecessor state. Neo-Ottomanism has been asserted more in the Muslim Middle East, where Ottomans ruled for around 400 years, rather than in the other lands ruled, including the Balkans.
The AKP's search for the revival of Ottomanism has been unwelcome in the Muslim world; hence, it has not succeeded. On the contrary, Turkey's many ill-conceived policies on the affairs of the Middle East have resulted in the country losing its credibility as a model to Muslim countries with its secular, democratic type of governance.
Yet President Erdoğan, whose internal critics accuse him of acting like an Ottoman sultan, appears to still be dreaming of a Turkey representing the Muslim world. His recent remarks over a controversy surrounding a costly official Mercedes car of Mehmet Görmez, head of Turkey's Religious Affairs Directorate, stand as evidence that Erdoğan believes in Turkey's Muslim leadership, although it is only he who believes in it.
This is because Erdoğan has established similarities between Turkey's top Muslim cleric and Pope Francis, who represents 1.2 billion Roman Catholics in the world.
In an interview with local TV station NTV on May 26, Erdoğan promised a private jet to Turkey's top cleric, claiming that Pope Francis has one, too.
“[Religious Affairs Directorate President] Mr. Mehmet Görmez is not only the religious leader of Turkey. In fact, he is the respected religious leader of this geographical area in the Islamic world,” Erdoğan said, believing what he was saying, even if it is not true.
He went on to say that Görmez, thus, deserved the same conveniences as Pope Francis of the Vatican, whom he claimed has a private jet, private cars and armored vehicles. The Vatican, however, denied Erdoğan's claims.
Erdoğan said he would ask the government to provide a private jet to the country's top Muslim cleric, Görmez, also ignoring criticism caused by his earlier promise to give him an armored Mercedes. Erdoğan's promise to provide Görmez with luxury vehicles came after this top Muslim cleric was obliged to return his official Mercedes, which cost about TL 1.3 million, in response to mounting criticism. Internally, controversy surrounding a posh official car of Turkey's top religious leader demonstrates the Turkish government's recklessness in spending Turkish taxpayers' money on luxury goods, even though the poverty level of Turks has been increasing. One in every 10 families lives below the poverty level, says the Turkish Statistics Institute (TurkStat) in its May report.
Against this background, it is tragic and unfortunate that Finance Minister Mehmet Şimşek earlier said the money paid for official cars used by top state leaders and bureaucrats is peanuts within the Turkish economy. His comments came in response to criticism leveled by critics about Görmez's luxury car that it was a misuse of taxpayers' funds.
Şimşek said official cars cost the state TL 3.3 billion in 2014, while Turkey's overall budget was TL 473 billion. Yet TL 3.3 billion is higher than the money allocated for each of several ministries, including the Ministry of Health, for this fiscal year.
Erdoğan, who promised to allocate a private jet to the country's top religious leader, has himself been criticized for moving into a 1,150-room palace that was constructed despite a court injunction. According to the Finance Ministry, its cost is around TL 1.37 billion, although critics say the total cost could be at least three times higher. The AKP's style of governance, which describes citizens' money allocated for posh official cars as peanuts while believing in a Muslim leadership role, though it is unwelcome, is not sustainable.
We will see how the Turkish voters will respond to Erdoğan and his ruling AKP's unsustainable policies when they cast their votes at the ballot box in the June 7 national election.