The New Sultan by Soner Cagaptay

The New Sultan by Soner Cagaptay

‘Erdoğan has become the most powerful leader in the country, and he wants to shape it in his image.’
I finished reading this book on the 16th of April, 2017: the day that Recep Tayyip Erdoğan won the Turkish constitutional referendum. The 18 proposed amendments to the Turkish constitution were brought forward by the governing Justice and Development Party (AKP) and the Nationalist Movement Party (MHP). Approval means that the office of the Prime Minister will be abolished and the existing parliamentary system of government will be replaced with an executive presidency and a presidential system. The referendum was held under a state of emergency declared after a failed military coup attempt in July 2016. Other amendments include raising the number of seats in Parliament from 550 to 600 while the president will be given more control over appointments to the Supreme Board of Judges and Prosecutors (HSYK).

So, who is Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, and how has he risen to be the most powerful leader in the Turkish republic since Mustafa Kemal Ataturk? What does this mean for both Turkey and the rest of the world?

In this book, Dr Cagaptay writes of the factors that shaped Erdoğan’s early life, his introduction to politics, his rise in the AKP, and how he has consolidated his power over the last 15 years. The contrast with the direction in which Ataturk wanted to lead Turkey couldn’t be greater: Ataturk’s vision was for a secular, Westernised nation, while Erdoğan seems to want a conservative, Islamic state. The crisis of modern Turkey is the culmination of a number of different issues: Turkey has become polarised. Erdoğan has played off different groups against each other to achieve his political aims while consolidating Turkey as a regional power. But can Erdoğan’s approach work in the longer term? And at what cost? Turkey is a diverse country, with a number of different ethnic, political and religious groups. In the meantime, journalists and some high-ranking military officers have been arrested, and some academics have been banned from leaving the country.

One of the reasons why I chose to read this book was to try to understand how Turkey has changed in the past 20 years. This book gave me some answers, while raising more questions and issues to consider. Not all that long ago, Turkey was considered to be a wonderful (albeit somewhat flawed) example of a middle eastern democracy. Is it possible to still consider Turkey as a democracy? Of what value are democratic institutions if a president has (almost) unfettered power?

What will happen next?

Note: My thanks to I. B. Tauris and NetGalley for providing me with a free electronic copy of this book for review purposes.

Jennifer Cameron-Smith