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Erdogan and Hagia Sophia... The Failed Populism

Erdogan and Hagia Sophia... The Failed Populism

Thursday, 23 July, 2020 - 08:30
Salman Al-Dossary
Salman Al-Dossary is the former editor-in-chief of Asharq Al-Awsat newspaper.

One day, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan responded to his critics, “We are the people, who are you?”


According to this absolute populist rule, which supports most of Erdogan’s positions, policies, and statements, the Turkish president planned to transform the Hagia Sophia Museum, which was essentially a church, into a mosque, expecting to kill through this step several birds with one stone.


He was seeking to restore his declining popularity internally, blackmail Europe as he did with the refugee file, and to find millions of applauds from the Islamic masses deceived abroad.


Today, two weeks after his controversial decision, it was proven that his birds fell before they flew and his stone bounced back on him. This populist decision was met with an internal disregard and more external discontent. He is now trying to deal with an act that deserves the title of the worst public relations campaign in 2020.


If his opponents at home and abroad paid hundreds of millions of dollars to carry out a campaign to defame his image, they would not have been able to equal the outcome of his miserable populist decision.


As the spearhead of the populists in the world, Erdogan usually focuses on people’s emotions and instincts to boost his popularity. Sometimes he manipulates slogans and humanitarian issues for political ends, and other times, he raises controversial issues pertaining to domestic or foreign policy to divert his citizens’ attention and the world’s public opinion from the real crises facing his country.


Even if he initially succeeded to deceive millions of his people and his supporters outside Turkey, today, Erdogan finds himself alone without real supporters, who would protect him from the populism that has rebounded upon him.


Rather than facing his country’s many crises and the internal political turmoil, he went to raise an already failed cause, by stirring a religious debate between Christians and Muslims.


In fact, Erdogan did not realize that his supporters, before others, became well aware of his political tricks and his efforts to incite emotional religious feelings at every position he takes or promotes. He is confident that he represents the true will of the people, and that God stands by him in his battle against the conspiracies against him, as he is a fierce and lone defender of Islam.


French Philosopher Pierre-André Taguieff says: “The demagogic aims to mislead others, while the populist starts with misleading himself.” This saying perfectly applies to Erdogan.


Erdogan said in a public speech, after the decision of the US administration to recognize Jerusalem as the capital of Israel: “If we lose Jerusalem, we will not be able to protect the city and Makkah, and if Makkah falls, we will lose the Kaaba.” He secretly extends his hand, economy, and arms to the Israelis, while in public, he uses the same old religious rhetoric.


He did the same thing in the Hagia Sophia case. Even that opportunity of popularity that he awaited did not bear fruits. On the contrary, it further undermined Turkey’s image on the international scene. Instead of being an open, majority Muslim community living in peace with its Christian heritage, the Turkish regime turned into an exclusionary state that even opposed its own citizens in order to consolidate political gains.


Even in this attempt, he failed miserably, after he mistakenly thought that he would produce a storm of internal and external populism. How many are Erdogan’s miscalculated accounts!


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