On the nuts-and-bolts level, we’ll leave it to the economists to sort out the causes and solutions to Turkey’s currency crisis. There is no doubt, however, that on the macro level it is perfectly clear what’s happening: the deficiencies of dictatorship.
OK, so Turkey’s President Erdogan is not fully a dictator — yet. But he’s close, and that’s the direction he is very intentionally moving in. He has taken over more and more arms of government; he extends his term of office; he badgers the political opposition; he controls the press; he arrests people (including an American pastor) without foundation; and perhaps most tellingly he nurtures his paranoia.
We would like to point out one small example of Erdogan’s failings on both the micro and the macro level. No doubt, this example does not constitute a major reason for the fall of the Turkish lira or a major manifestation of Erdogan’s autocratic mismanagement. But it does symbolize Turkey’s decline.
We refer to the end of most Israeli tourism to Turkey, a response to Erdogan’s irrational embrace of the anti-Israel cause — a major turnaround. It may be hard to remember, but once the ties between Israel and Turkey exemplified the beautiful exception to the rule of hostility by Islamic nations to Israel. Israel-Turkish ties were held up by both sides as proof that Muslims and Israelis can live in peace and enjoy each other’s company. Israelis flocked to tourist destinations in Turkey and were made to feel at home there. More broadly, Turkey once exemplified the idea that Islam and democracy were compatible.
No more. One fine day Erdogan got it in his head that Israel was an oppressor country. He went so far as to send a ship to break the blockage of Gaza, desite warnings in adance that the ship would be intercepted. The blockade was instituted to stop weapons of terror from reaching the terrorists who run Gaza. Erdogan broke off relations with Israel because Israel intercepted the ship. As if all this were not hostile and irrational enough, Erdogan even rejected Israeli offers of help when Turkey suffered an earthquake. Talk about letting an anti-democratic impulse damage one’s own self-interest!
OK, so Turkey can live without the relatively small benefit to its economy that Israeli tourism represented. Actually, however, maybe not.
Maybe Turkey cannot live without Israeli tourism, not because it was economically significant, but because it was symbolically significant. Its rejection by Turkey represented an autocratic turn that alienated many other constituencies. Turkey, to this day, has never acknowledged the Armenian genocide, and thus alienated not only Armenians but a good portion of the EU, which has not admitted Turkey in part because of its stonewalling against historical truth. Then there is the political opposition in Turkey, which Erdogan has demonized and suppressed — why? Because it objects to the constriction of democratic rights under Erdogan.
His high-handedness flowed into his mismanagement of the country’s economy through his rejection of professional economic counsel in favor of the less than professional counsel of his untrained political friends and relatives.
Erdogan’s turn against Israel acquired a symbolism that convinced Erdogan, if no one else, that Turkish chauvinism was his personal right and national patrimony. Now the Israeli tourists are gone — and so is much of the goodwill that countries around the world formerly extended to this unusual, once predominantly secular, moderate, bridge-building Islamic nation.
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