Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Rajab Tayyab Erdoğan-The Intrepid Son of Islam

Upright Opinion
December 27, 2010

Rajab Tayyab Erdoğan-The Intrepid Son of Islam

By Saeed Qureshi

History is made and nations are built by the individuals with extraordinary traits. Some of these qualities are unflinching courage, bounteous talent, sagacity, genius, blotless character and the ability to take right decisions in face of stupendous crises. In Turkey’s context; it was Mustafa Kamal Ataturk who in 1924 created the modern Turkey with secularism as its paramount anchor and armed forces as its defenders.

After 85 years, the pendulum is swinging towards the other side with Prime Minister Rajab Tayyab Erdoğan (in Turkish language it is Recep Tayyip Erdoğan), reinventing Turkey to conform it to the imperatives of the present day world with Islamic identity. Both these heroes represent two ends of the fulcrum but essentially serve the same glorious purpose of turning Turkey into a modern state.

Kamal Ataturk knocked down the orthodox caliphate to replace it with a state based upon modernism and secularism. Erdoğan is engaged in an historic task of embracing Islam with the essentials of the modern societies. As a teenager, this most illustrious icon, revolutionary, progressive, truly Muslim and a popular prime minister of Turkey, sold lemonade and sesame buns on the streets of Istanbul for a living.

Ever since his advent in politics and now as the prime minister of Turkey (since March 2003), Tayyab Urdegan has been waging a multi-dimensional war at home and aboard, in order to bring Turkey into the comity of developed nations, while retaining its Islamic image, spirit and ethos.

Firstly, he has to cope with the Arab nationalism that historically remained averse to Persian and Turkish leadership role of Islam. Precisely for this reason the Sharif of Mecca sided with imperialist British during the First World War, thus paving way for Turkey’s defeat and disintegration. That subversion tore the much-touted and sought after ideal of Islamic unity. Turkey, of late, is being perceived as an Islamic state that can serve as a model for other Islamic states in terms of both development and adherence to religion Islam.

Secondly, Erdoğan has to move away from Israel that it has recognized and for which Turkey has remained under severe censure and ill-will from certain Islamic states. Erdoğan supports an independent state for the Palestinian nation. He has called for Israel’s nuclear facilities to come under IAEA inspection. Erdoğan berates Israel for turning Gaza into a concentration camp for the brutalized and hard-pressed Palestinians.

At the 2009 World Economic Forum conference, Erdoğan lambasted Israeli President Shimon Peres in response to Peres ‘disparaging jargon used against the Palestinians. Erdoğan also chided the moderator for giving more time to the Israeli president and as a protest walked out of the debate. That was a shining moment of triumph for the integrity and honor of Turkey. It also betokened Erdogan’s moral grandeur.

The Turkish Foundation for human Rights and Freedoms and Human Relief (IHH) sent on May 31, 2010 the "Gaza Freedom Flotilla” of six ships carrying humanitarian aid and construction materials to the beleaguered inhabitants of Gaza. For the first time, it was a demonstration of exceptional courage that not only exposed Israel’s brutality but mounted a defiance to break the stifling blockade imposed by Israel on Gaza.

Erdoğan described Israel’s aggressive response as "state terrorism". In his statement issued after the sad incident, he demanded punishment for the Israeli leaders responsible for attacking the flotilla and killing the Turkish citizens. Consequently, the nature of close relations between Israel and Turkey can never be the same. Interestingly it is Israel that would suffer from this strain and breach caused by the Flotilla incident.

He is also locked in a tussle with the Turkish army that had assumed the guardian angel role to preserve and safeguard the legacy of modern Turkey’s founder Kamal Ataturk. The Turkish constitution gives sweeping powers to the army to overthrow any government that it deems was going against the philosophy of Kamal Ataturk.
As a result the multi-party system of democracy in Turkey has remained hostage to the dictates of the army. Besides, Islam as a religion was made subservient to the super-imposition of secularism. While secularism itself is a popular doctrine, it has been monopolized and exploited by the army to keep at bay the orthodox brand of Islam.

It is for the first time in 85 years that Turkish army seems to be losing its overbearing role. The Turkish army staged four coups to overthrow the popularly elected governments. Besides it forced a popularly elected government of Islamic-oriented Prime Minister, Necmettin Erbakan, to step down in June 1997.

Prime Minister Tayyab Erdoğan has swayed the tilt of Turkey from extreme secularism to the moderate Islam. Although himself a great proponent of Islam and even berated by the army high cadres and secularists, prime minister Erdoğan has skillfully managed to bring a viable equilibrium between the creed of Kamal Ataturk and Islam. With the present political set up under AKP, there seems to be a harmonious blend between modernity, secularism and Islamic creed in Turkey.

Although the Turkish army had been issuing threatening statements and hurling warning salvos to the Erdoğan government and his “Justice and Development Party” AKP, it is not in a strident position to dislodge it as the previous military generals have been doing. On the contrary, since July 2008, the army has come under enormous pressure following the detention and interrogation of a hundred military personnel, including several generals for clandestinely conspiring and hatching plans of revolt against the government of Prime Minister Erdoğan.

In February 2010, more than 40 officers were arrested and formally charged with attempting to overthrow the AKP government. They include four admirals, a general and two colonels; some of them retired, including former commanders of the Turkish navy and air force. Yet three days later, the former commanders of the navy and air force were released. These developments reflect that the military's power in Turkey is diminishing.

Another front of fight for Prime Minister Erdoğan is against the obscurantist, the Islamic extremists and even the superior judiciary. The judiciary in Turkey has been supporting the army and creating legal bottlenecks for the Erdogan’s party AKP to contest elections or come into power. The senior Judges have been openly condemning certain decisions of the Erdoğan government.

The most dazzling achievement is the economic miracle that Erdoğan has performed in his country. When Erdoğan took over in March 2003, Turkey owed a debt of $23.5 billion to the IMF. In 2009 it was reduced to $7 billion. Turkey’s debt to the IMF will be completely paid off in 2013. Prime minister has vowed not to obtain further loans from the IMF.

In 2002, the Turkish Central Bank had $26.5 billion in reserves that swelled to $72.5 billion in 2009. During the same period, inflation fell from 34.9% to 5.7%, the lowest in 39 years. The public debt “declined from 74% in 2002 to 39% in 2009.” “The World Bank lauded Prime Minister Erdoğan for the indispensable critical reforms and bringing the economic stability in Turkey.

Prime Minister Erdoğan has introduced and implemented several watershed reforms that aim at extracting Turkey out of a decadent mould of governance and bring it at par with models prevalent in the advanced and developed societies. For instance, in January 2008, the Turkish Parliament passed a law that places complete ban on smoking in most public places.

In April 2006, Erdoğan brought about revolutionary reforms in the social security system by which Turkey’s three social security organization were merged. As a result now the members receive equal health services and retirement benefits.

In foreign affairs’ domain, Turkey has adopted a policy of peace, moderation, normalization, cordiality and mending fences with the age-old rivals. In this regard, Prime Minister Erdoğan government has normalized relations with Greece thus altering the course of history rooted in perpetual antagonism and tension.

Besides, in March 2009, President Abdullah Gull became the first Turkish head of state to visit Iraq after 33 years. Iraq and Turkey signed 48 trade agreements under the aegis of the Iraqi-Turkish Strategic Council based in Baghdad. The accords signed encompass sectors of security, energy, oil, electricity, water, health, trade, environment, transport, housing, construction, agriculture, education, higher education, defense and other nation building projects.

The diplomatic relations between Turkey and Syria have been improved so enormously that in 2004, President Bashar al-Assad paid an official visit to Turkey. It was the first ever visit by a Syrian President in 57 years which renders it historic. Turkey and Syria have inked a free trade agreement, and for lifting the visa restrictions between the two countries. The economy of both the Islamic countries is booming as a result of increase in the cross border trade.

Prime Minister Erdoğan has particularly focused on normalizing relations with Iraqi Kurdistan, a territory that has remained in perpetual conflict with Turkey. Now a Turkish university is set up in Arbil and a Turkish Consulate in Musil. The Kurdish language is being used in all broadcast media and political campaigns. Kurdish names to the cities and towns have been restored.

Armenia and Turkey that were looked upon as inveterate adversaries are now set upon a reconciliation course. Besides taking other confidence building measures, the most remarkable measure was to open the international airspace between Armenia and Turkey in 2005. Turkish government is also rehabilitating churches and other building in Armenia.

Concerning democratic reforms, Erdoğan gave the European Court of Human Rights supremacy over Turkish courts, and also curtailed the powers of the 1991 Anti-Terror Law. He abolished many restrictions placed on freedom of speech and the press. A partial amnesty has been given to many members of the Kurdish terrorist organization PKK that surrendered to the government.

Defining these otherwise impossible measures, Prime Minister Erdoğan said, “We took a courageous step to resolve chronic issues that constitute an obstacle along Turkey’s development, progression and empowerment.”

Turkey’s quest and endeavor, since 1987, to join the European Union has remained an unrealized dream so far. The flurry of reforms that Erdoğan government injected into Turkish body politic and socio-economic sectors were also aimed at fulfilling certain conditions fixed by the EU for Turkey to become is member. But primarily the white Christian Europe is still not in a mood to allow Turkey with an Islamic stamp to join this fold. Erdoğan government has bent over heavily backward to accommodate the conditionalities of European Union.

But in the wake of the bias that runs in the European content against Turkey especially in Germany and France, it is still sitting with its fingers crossed. To accede to the EU, Turkey must first successfully complete negotiations with the European Commission on each of the 35 chapters of EU law which contains some of the unbridgeable bottlenecks for Turkey to overcome.

Although 2013 has been marked as the year for Turkey to become the EU member, yet the prior unanimous assent of all the member states is a must, which seems doubtful.
For his outstanding services and myriad achievements both in promoting peace in the region and transforming the Turkish society, Erdoğan was named by the European Voice Organization "The European for the Year 2004". He is an alluring, articulate and eloquent speaker.

Erdoğan is the recipient of 15 honorary doctorates, three honorary citizenships and 27 multifarious awards, including the “Profile of Courage Award” from the American Jewish Committee.

It was a unique honor for Turkey when Obama after assuming the presidency of United States made his first overseas trip to Turkey in April 2009. That portrays Turkey’s important position on the world stage with Erdoğan as the prime minister.

(Some of the contents and statistics in this article were picked from other sources)

(The writer is a Dallas-based freelance journalist and a former diplomat writing mostly on International Affairs with specific focus on Pakistan and the United States)
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