Turks head to the polls today and all indications are that Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan will win the presidency, most likely in the first round. The campaign has been anything but even: Erdoğan refused to resign from the premiership after declaring his candidacy for the presidency, effectively allowing him to use the resources of the state to campaign. State television began the campaign by giving Erdoğan a more than 400-to-one advantage in airtime over his competitors and ended by giving the prime minister an only 25-to-one advantage in coverage over his opponents.
But with votes counted, Erdoğan will claim a popular mandate, no matter how shady his path to the presidency. How ironic it is, then, that Turkey has effective elected a pariah to be president. Erdoğan began his tenure as prime minister committed to neo-Ottomanism, the idea that Turkey should lead a community of nations that once had the commonality of being in the Ottoman Empire. And his foreign minister, Ahmet Davutoğlu, promised a policy that would lead to good relations with all Turkey’s neighbors.
Consider the reality: Turkey seeks to be a big player in the Middle East, but as Turks wryly noted during a visit last month, Erdoğan is now unwelcome in Syria, Egypt, Iraq, Israel, and the Palestinian Authority, something no previous Turkish statesman had ever achieved. So much for the role of respected mediator. Nor is Erdoğan anymore welcome in the White House; even the Turkish government acknowledges that Erdoğan and President Obama no longer talk directly on the telephone, quite a status change for the man Obama once described as one of his most trusted foreign friends.
True, Erdoğan is not completely isolated. He might still receive a hero’s welcome from Hamas’s leadership, and in Iran. Russian strongman Vladimir Putin will embrace his Turkish counterpart not only as a friend but also as a business partner. And Qatar, of course, will always lay out the red carpet for any supporter of the Muslim Brotherhood, and Erdoğan has been one of its key investments.
Erdoğan is not completely isolated, but the fact that his most trusted friends and allies are Hamas, Iran, and Russia confirm the facts: Turks have elected as their president not a statesman, diplomat, or respected representative but rather a pariah, one who has contributed not to peace and stability, but rather to war, unrest, and insecurity throughout the region. He has become not a symbol of progressive Turkey, but rather one of backwardness, misogyny, corruption, and dictatorship.