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Modern Turkey Comes to an End

April 20 2017

In a referendum on Sunday, Turkish citizens approved a series of amendments to their constitution that abolish the position of prime minister and grant near-dictatorial powers to President Recep Tayyip Erdogan of the Islamist AKP party. Steven A. Cook sees the results as spelling the end of the Turkish Republic created in 1921 by Mustafa Kemal Ataturk:

Turkey’s Islamists have long venerated the Ottoman period [that ended in 1921]. In doing so, they implicitly expressed thinly veiled contempt for the Turkish Republic. . . When . . . Erdogan and his predecessor Abdullah Gul broke with [the Islamist old guard] and created the AKP, they jettisoned its anti-Western rhetoric, committed themselves to advancing Turkey’s European Union candidacy, and consciously crafted an image of themselves as the Muslim analogues to Europe’s Christian Democrats. Even so, they retained traditional Islamist ideas about the role of Turkey in the Middle East and the wider Muslim world.

Thinkers within the AKP . . . harbored reservations about the compatibility of Western political and social institutions with their predominantly Muslim society. But the AKP leadership never acted upon this idea, choosing instead to undermine aspects of Ataturk’s legacy within the framework of the republic.

That is no longer the case. . . .

With massive imbalances and virtually no checks on the head of state, who will now also be the head of government, the constitutional amendments render the [1921 constitution] and all subsequent efforts to emulate the organizational principles of a modern state moot. It turns out that Erdogan, who would wield power not vested in Turkish leaders since the sultans, actually is a neo-Ottoman.

Erdogan’s ambition helped propel Turkey to this point. But unlike the caricature of a man who seeks power for the sake of power, the Turkish leader has a vision for the transformation of Turkey in which the country is more prosperous, more powerful, and more Muslim, meaning conservative and religious values should shape the behavior and expectations of Turks as they make their way in life. . . . Erdogan needs the legal cover to pursue his broader transformative agenda. And the only way it seems that he can accomplish that is by making himself something akin to a sultan.

Read more at Foreign Policy

More about: Islamism, Politics & Current Affairs, Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, Turkey

Israel’s Success Has Surprised Everyone

April 20 2018

On the eve of Israel’s decision to declare statehood, 70 years ago, the CIA estimated that a Jewish state couldn’t hold off its Arab enemies for more than two years, while the famed Haganah commander Yigael Yadin told David Ben-Gurion that their chances of victory were fifty-fifty. Daniel Gordis describes just how wildly the country has managed to outpace expectations:

In 1948, there were some 650,000 Jews in Israel, who represented about 5 percent of the world’s Jews. Today, Israel’s Jewish population has grown ten-fold and stands at about 6.8 million people. Some 43 percent of the world’s Jews live in Israel; this population overtook American Jews several years ago and is now the world’s largest Jewish community. . . .

Beyond mere survival, the other challenge that the young Jewish state faced was feeding and housing the hundreds of thousands of Jews who were flocking to its borders. At times, financial collapse seemed imminent. Food was rationed and black markets developed. Israel had virtually no heavy machinery for building the infrastructure that it desperately needed. Until Germany paid Holocaust reparations, the young state’s financial condition was perilous.

Today, that worry also feels like a relic from another time. Israel is not only a significant military power, but also a formidable economic machine. A worldwide center for technology that has more companies listed on the Nasdaq than any country other than the U.S., Israel’s economy barely hiccupped in 2008. The shekel, its currency, is strong. Like other countries, Israel has a worrisome income gap between rich and poor, but fears of an economic collapse have vanished.

Israel has become an important cultural center, vastly disproportionately for a country whose population approximates that of New York City. When the five finalists for the Man Booker literary prize were announced last year, two were Israelis who write in Hebrew: David Grossman and Amos Oz. Grossman won. . . . Today, Americans and Europeans alike wait hungrily for new episodes of Israeli shows like Fauda, while others (like Homeland and The A-Word) have been remade into American and British series.

On the occasion of Independence Day, Israelis are fully conscious—and deeply proud—of the fact that their country has exceeded the ambitions of the men and women who founded it seven decades ago.

Read more at Bloomberg

More about: David Ben-Gurion, Israel & Zionism, Israeli economy, Israeli Independence Day, Israeli literature, Israeli society