Putting food on the table

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Speaking of theatre, embattled Turkish PM Recep Tayyip Erdoğan recently decided to block Twitter out of what appears to be sheer pique at the whole Internet for making him look corrupt. Erdoğan is, alas, one of those classic cases of failing to quit while one is ahead, through arrogance having pooped on what might have been his own formidable legacy. The only explanation for the behaviour, which, no matter how it ends, will no longer end with him as Turkey’s next great man of history, is either that he had a brain haemmorhage or (practically certain) the corruption allegations are true — or even worse than known — and the walls were closing in.

Twitter is really popular in Turkey, more so than in many other countries, and the response has largely been one of circumvention, to the point that the Turkish president tweeted critically about the ban. But despite the fact that it’s been now a couple of years into political instability in Turkey, Erdoğan’s AKP is still very popular in many quarters of the country. The truth is, for many Turks, particularly those far away from the wealthy urban centers, Erdoğan is the man who put food on the table. That is the weakness of many of these liberal-populist revolts, and not just in Turkey. As admirable as they may sound, they fail to explain how exactly they’re going to put food on the table for those in the hinterlands, especially for countries that have a lot of hinterland. Russia is another case in point. In fact, the accusation that the leaders “buy votes” translates in the mind of the residents of the peripheral zones that the opponents will not “buy votes” — ie, will increase or, at least, fail to mitigate the immediate suffering of a large portion of the population.

So it should come as no surprise that the AKP, despite all this, is for now still competitive, and that “corruption” in the service of your family’s prosperity translates easily in the mental models of the economically marginal to the normal act of banding together for group survival. The suspicion that the opposition is a stalking horse for Kemalists (read: keeping hijab-wearing girls out of school; now likely only partly true due to the involvement of the Gülen movement) is just the sumac sprinkled on your Adana kebab. Bottom line: liberalism only gets you so far, if it’s economic liberalism.

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This page contains a single entry by Mandos published on March 21, 2014 9:59 AM.

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