Borrowing from Barack Obama and Saad Hariri, Recep Tayyip Erdogan took off his jacket, unbuttoned his cuff-links and exposed his bare arms, presenting himself as “The Muslim Leader” during the Fourth Ordinary Congress of the Justice and Development Party (AKP) by enumerating, as he’s been known to do, the names of countries and cities throughout Turkey and the Islamic world, helped along by [Hamas leader] Khaled Meshaal’s pledge of loyalty to him in his capacity as leader of the Muslim Nation!
Whilst the Turkish prime minister emulated Hariri, the difference between them was that Erdogan wore a bullet proof shirt similar to the ones usually worn by Obama, the price of which is exactly twelve thousand dollars.
After making the audience weep with his delivery of verses by the Islamic Turkish poet Sezai Karakoch, Erdogan greeted Nicosia, Macedonia, Sarajevo, Cairo, the Caucasus, Ramallah, Nablus, Jerusalem, Suleimaniyah, Baghdad, Mecca and Medina; hailing Syrian dissidents as “heroes” in a “war for independence” when he addressed the Syrian cities of Damascus, Aleppo, Raqqa, Idlib and others. All the while he never mentioned any Iranian cities on his eloquent list.
Throughout two and a half hours, Erdogan talked about Turkish and Ottoman history, keeping to his habit of saluting Sultans Mohammed the Conqueror, Selim I and Suleiman the Just.
While Erdogan did welcome by name the foreign visiting dignitaries, who were few in number and included former Lebanese President Amine Gemayel, it was Khaled Meshaal who received the most applause in the absence of Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas. This leads us to note that notwithstanding the president of Iraqi Kurdistan, Massoud Barzani, the Muslim presence was overwhelmingly characterized by its affiliation to the Muslim Brotherhood, in the form of Egyptian President Mohammed Morsi, Khaled Meshaal and [head of the Tunisian Ennahda Movement] Rachid Ghannouchi, with the notable absence of any prominent official or non-official Shiite figure. It should also be noted that many Shiite officials of the region, including Lebanon, were invited but chose not to attend. This includes Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, who abstained from coming in protest of Erdogan’s decision to offer protection to former Iraqi Vice President Tariq al-Hashemi who was condemned to death in Iraq.
In his speech, Erdogan made it a point to address Hashemi by his official title of Vice President of the Iraqi Republic, singling him out in a clearly provocative move aimed at Maliki.
The conference, which was held under the slogan of “great nation, great power, target 2023,” was nearly transformed into a concert when the audience listened to a song adaptation of a poem by Ashek Faisil titled “we are on a long and delicate road,” during which Erdogan caught his breath for five minutes. But Erdogan’s ambitions did not stop at 2023, which commemorates the centennial anniversary of the founding of the republic, but went further to claim that 2071 would be the target and asking that the Turkish people unite behind their country’s transformation from a Seljuk and Ottoman empire into a republic (2071 being the thousand year anniversary of the Battle of Manzikert when the Seljuks under Alp Arslan vanquished the Byzantines, capturing their emperor, and spread Seljuk rule into Anatolia).
While he did allude to [the first President of Turkey Kemal] Ataturk, he focused his attention on all the leaders of the Turkish Islamic movement, from Adnan Menderes to Turgut Ozal. Despite their feud, Erdogan did not forget to mention Najmuddin Erbakan, in an attempt to attract the latter’s supporters, indicating that he may have returned to Erbakan’s “Melli Gorech” [Islamist] movement. This led the crowd to chant “Erdogan the militant” for the first time ever.
The Turkish opposition was absent from the conference, as was the nationalist movement because it rejected Barzani being invited. Moreover, the Republican People’s Party (CHP) was absent to protest the fact that many newspapers were barred from covering the conference.
Erdogan talked about many subjects without offering anything new. His words lacked any initiatives or new stances. He blamed Turkish secularists for destroying Islam and violating its sanctities; accusing the CHP of being at the core of all previous military coups, saying that the era of coups was forever gone. He attacked the Kurdistan Workers’ Party by claiming that the Kurds could not possibly be the descendants of Saladin, liberator of Jerusalem.
Contrary to expectations, Erdogan did not dwell long on the subject of Syria. He did affirm though that Turkey would maintain its logistical support for the Syrian opposition, and would continue to welcome refugees, describing President Bashar al-Assad’s regime as a killer of its own people. He called on Iran, Russia and China to reconsider their positions regarding the events taking place in Syria.
Erdogan said that the responsibility to lift the siege on Gaza now fell on the new Egyptian President Mohammed Morsi, expressing hopes that that would come to fruition thanks to the latter’s efforts. He affirmed that as long as Israel hadn’t apologized for the Mavi Marmaris [Freedom Flotilla] incident, relations between Israel and Turkey would never return to normal.
He further said that it was not acceptable for the West to be ruled by Islamophobia and Islam disdained in the name of freedom at a time when anti-Semitism was a punishable offense there. He also stated that it was unacceptable to bar women from wearing the veil in Germany, finishing off with a presentation of his government’s economic achievements.
Erdogan’s speech was notable for its lack of reference to the subject of membership in the European Union as a strategic goal for Turkey. And except for former German Chancellor Gerhard Schroder, no European officials attended the conference, while the Ottoman, Muslim and Seljuk heritage was significantly represented. Europe was absent, but the religious heritage was present to the point that Erdogan said that he had “gone to politicize wearing his white robes, just like the Seljuk Sultan Alp Arslan had worn his shroud!”
In the afternoon, foreign guests gave their speeches in front of the conference; among them the head of Hamas’ political bureau Khaled Meshaal, who pledged loyalty to Erdogan in his capacity as leader of the whole Muslim world and not just Turkey. He expressed thanks to Turkey for backing the Palestinian cause, and declared his support for the Syrian opposition until the end; expressing hope of meeting his Turkish brothers in Jerusalem.
The Egyptian president, Mohammed Morsi, reiterated his support for the Syrian and Palestinian people, pointing out the common interests between Egypt and Turkey.
As expected, the conference reelected Erdogan to the party’s presidency and appointed 21 new members to its central committee, including Naaman Kortolmsh, Suleiman Souwilo, Uthman Jan and others.
It is noteworthy that among those whose membership to the central committee was not renewed were some of the party’s founders, such as the journalist Aisha Buhirlir, the Minister for European Union Affairs Egemen Bagisz, Kursad Tuzmen and Interior Minister Idris Naim Sahin.
This would be the last term for Erdogan as president of the party and as prime minister because the rules of procedure dictate that no one can occupy the same post for more than three consecutive terms.
In reality, amending the rules is possible, but Erdogan will be elected president in 2014 and will remain in that post for five years, after which he will renew his tenure for an additional five year term so that he may celebrate — as president — the centenary of the republic’s establishment. These are Erdogan’s plans, and it is inconsequential who would then be the head of the party or the prime minister, as long as Erdogan remains on the political scene where his influence does not emanate from the powers of the presidency or the premiership, but from the fact that he was successful in imposing the rule of a “single leader” upon the party, just as Ataturk and Ismet Inonu had done previously.