The most significant event of the weekend, I would argue, occurred in Turkey. There, voters approved a sweeping package of constitutional reforms and, in the process, gave Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan a vote of confidence. Erdogan’s party has deep Islamic roots but, as J.E. Dyer points out, has been stymied to some degree in carrying out its Islamic vision by a combination of the courts and the military.
The reforms will seriously reduce these checks (for example, the constitutional court has been expanded from 11 to 17 judges, with the Prime Minister to select 14 of them). They are thus democratic in a sense, but they are also ominous given Erdogan’s lack of respect for free speech, a free press, and women’s rights. Dyer is thus correct in wondering why the U.S. government hailed the results of this referendum.
The referendum results are particularly ominous for Israel. First, although this weekend’s vote was not explicitly about Erdogan’s foreign policy, it was to some extent a referendum on all of his major policies. And one of his signature policies has been to break Turkey’s traditional ties with Israel and to replace them with a belligerent posture (the Turkish government effectively supported the Gaza flotilla campaign, for example). Second, the Turkish military has been a major force in favor of these ties. By diminishing the military’s role in Turkish politics, Erdogan helps clear the way for a break.
There will be general elections in Turkey next year, and it’s possible that Erdogan will be defeated. But the results from this weekend are not encouraging in this regard.
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