Since the Gezi Park protests in May-June 2013, foreign observers noted a considerable difference between Turkey’s two key leaders: President Abdullah Gul and Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan. Gul, in almost every political controversy, took a more conciliatory tone, while Erdogan excelled in his uncompromising, defiant, combative style. When Gul said that he “received the message” of the Gezi Park protesters, for example, pointing out that “democracy is not just about elections,” Erdogan instead condemned the protesters as “looters” and called everybody to simply respect the winners at the ballot box. With regard to the controversies on “the parallel state,” Twitter and YouTube or foreign conspiracies against Turkey, Gul again repeatedly took stances that can be broadly called liberal. Erdogan, meanwhile, proved consistently authoritarian.
For most Western observers who observed all these differences, Gul’s line looks more appealing and comforting, while Erdogan’s line looks irrational. They just cannot understand how Turkey’s successful prime minister does not see that he needs to introduce moderation to a deeply polarized country. However, in fact, Erdogan’s position is not irrational at all. Quite the contrary, it is based on a very consistent logic, which is much more established in Turkey than the liberal logic. It is what I call “the Turkish doctrine of pre-emptive authoritarianism.”