The constitutional changes, most of which will come into effect after the next elections in 2019, give him vastly expanded powers to appoint ministers, prepare a budget, choose the majority of senior judges and enact certain laws by decree. He will also become the head of the executive, as well as the head of state, while retaining ties to his political party. The role of the prime minister will be scrapped and the new post of vice-president (possibly two or three) will be created. Parliament will effectively lose its right to scrutinize ministers, and Erdoğan could now stay in office until 2029. Many have been quick to liken this new Turkey to a one-man state.
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However, despite this smoothing of tensions, somewhat serendipitously, thawing Turkish-Israeli relations provide both countries with a level of economic insurance in the midst of continued regional turmoil. Part of the initial negotiations between Turkey and Israel included a natural gas pipeline under the Mediterranean, presumably intended as a foil against a total break with Russia. Economics is just as much a driver of this rapprochement as politics, and animosity is a luxury that neither can afford.
The Alevis represent by some estimates up to 20% of the country’s population, a group around 25 million strong spanning local Arabs, Turkmen and Kurds. They have endured centuries of persecution, even being branded heretics by the Ottomans. More recently, in the political upheaval and repression of the 1970s, dozens of Alevis were murdered. Twenty three years ago, more than 30 Alevis were burned alive in a building attacked by an Islamist mob.
Impunity for police abuses, even accusations of torture levelled at domestic security forces, is widespread. A stunning lack of accountability has been the legacy of the mass Gezi Park protests in 2013, with justice still lacking for the killing of a 14-year-old protestor and the severe assault of Hakan Yaman by Istanbul police officers.
As the war in Syria continues and with no end to Kurdish unrest in sight, Turkey’s reputation as a haven of stability and security looks weaker than ever. While Ambassador Karlov’s assassination has captured international attention, to rid itself of the terrorist threat, Turkey has far greater problems to solve.
Since 2013, the Turkish miracle has been fading. The massive ‘Gezi Park’ protests in the summer of that year resulted in an authoritarian drift that also hurt the country’s economy. Turkey’s slowdown is partly attributable to international factors like weak growth in the eurozone, the readjustment of US monetary policy, the Russian recession and the wars in Iraq and Syria. Now, interest rates are spiking, the economy is slowing and dollar-denominated loans are becoming impossible to service. Moreover, housing prices keep rising despite an excess real estate stock, which looks like a bubble. That’s the real risk: if there’s a bubble, and it bursts, that could unleash a chain reaction, political and economic
“Human rights in Turkey are in peril,” said John Dalhuisen, Amnesty International’s Director for Europe and Central Asia, only days after the failed coup on 15 July 2016. “The sheer number of arrests and suspensions is alarming. The coup attempt unleashed appalling violence, and those responsible for unlawful killings and other human rights abuses must be brought to justice, but cracking down on dissent and threatening to bring back the death penalty are not justice.”
For Turkey, reconciliation with Israel comes not just as the region is unravelling, but also as Ankara’s ties with other allies have frayed. But above all, the reconciliation is likely to have positive economic implications for both countries, providing a non-controversial platform for further contact in the coming years.