Erdogan’s error

March 22, 2014 - 6:15:30 am

Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s handling of the crisis caused by recent revelations of graft against his office has been shoddy and immature. Erdogan has been accused of intolerance, subversion of the country’s democratic principles, nepotism, suppression of dissent, and all such things by the opposition and Western countries. Though the prime minister can claim that all of these are motivated by ulterior motives and plotted by his enemies within and outside the country, there is no doubt that some of the accusations will stick. And he himself has to take the blame for this.

The latest development that has tarnished Erdogan’s image among his own people is the ban on Twitter in Turkey. The government in Ankara blocked access to Twitter nine days before local elections. The prime minister had earlier vowed to shut down leaks targeting his government amid the corruption probe. 

The move was widely criticized both within Turkey and overseas as users accessed Twitter via proxies and other work-arounds. President Abdullah Gul was one of the critics, posting to his Twitter account that the total ban of a social media platform “can’t be condoned” and that he hoped it wouldn’t last. Gul has been very active on Twitter, with a huge number of followers, and his criticism of Erdogan will only make the ban unpopular. European Commission Vice President Neelie Kroes called Erdogan’s ban a ‘groundless, pointless, cowardly’ act of censorship. European Parliament President Martin Schulz said the premier is ‘waging a campaign against all the media and press that he cannot directly influence or control.’ 

Twitter is an inseparable, seminal part of the social media and nothing can be more damaging than muzzling this medium. This is the medium which is used in the entire Arab world, and other countries where there are curbs on freedom of expression, for expression of views and for mobilization of the masses against regimes. No government has succeeded in banning Twitter and the Turkish ban too is likely to wither under the weight of criticism.

Erdogan said the San Francisco-based Twitter had ignored court orders to remove content related to the corruption investigation. He has also threatened to block Facebook and YouTube, where users have shared material including videos, recordings and transcripts that were first leaked via Twitter. Some of them are tied to a police investigation of government corruption which has cost four cabinet ministers their jobs and roiled markets.

There could be some truth to the charge that all enemies of Erdogan have united to eliminate him politically, and some of the revelations that are likely to be made could be of personal nature. But that’s the risk involved in politics. Banning Twitter is no medicine, but will only compound the problems.