Ghassan Charbel
Editor-in-Chief of Asharq Al-Awsat newspaper

The Turkish Boxer 

The boxer is unashamed of bruises. It pains him to be struck to the ground. It kills him to be thrown out of the ring. For the boxer, retirement means death.

The picture could have been different. The voters could have let him down. He could have made a swift exit from the massive palace after cleaning up its offices and halls of his dreams and delusions. He knows that they were waiting for the elections to tie the noose around his neck and hold him to account before history for his errors. The opposition and media are both merciless and he reviles them both.

The deep regions of Türkiye saved him from a painful destiny. He was never an easy foe or an easy ally. He is fierce in his animosity and demanding in his friendship. He is stubborn in his choices and then shocks his rivals and allies when he makes a sudden turnaround, which he can always easily promote to his supporters.

At a major ceremony, he revelled in his victory. He didn’t forget to attack the opposition, but still called for unity, declaring the launch of “Türkiye’s century.” Voters saved him from a bad fate. Had he lost, his rivals would have attacked him with revenge and gloating. They were expected to condemn him for his poor economic policies that have seen the lira tumble. They would not have hesitated in blaming him for the slow pace in delivering aid to and helping people affected by the destructive earthquake that pained the country.

They could have said that his adventures in the region ended in terrible failure. Neither Mohammed Morsi or the likes of him are ruling Egypt, nor has Bashar al-Assad been forced out of power. The “spring” that he promoted to change the region has turned into an accusation that hounds those who supported it.

Some will not hesitate in claiming that the tzar succeeded in clipping the nails of the sultan by luring him into his arena and convincing him to deploy Russian missiles inside NATO territory. In all likelihood, the US would have been relieved to see this tiring ally go and Europe would have rejoiced at seeing the end of a man who had violently knocked on its door before stepping away and launching a flurry of accusations and crises.

The tale of the Middle East would not be complete without mentioning his role. Recep Tayyip Erdogan was a major influential player. He became involved in very dangerous risks. He did not make do with reshaping the republic engineered by Ataturk, but went beyond that by attempting to reshape the entire region. The strong winds of the “Brotherhood spring” lashed the region, but they encountered two major setbacks in Egypt and Syria. Erdogan deals blows and receives them.

These developments could all have been put on the table had he been defeated in the election. This didn’t happen. The ballot boxes gave him a new opportunity and a new term. The constitution stipulates that his third term will be his last, but we live in a region where constitutions don’t like to cross the “strongman” if they seek yet another term in office. Constitutions could be swept to the side. It is better to break the constitution than break the will of the great boxer.

For two decades, Erdogan wrote Türkiye's story his own way, setting himself apart from his predecessors and neighbors. He acted like a wounded warrior the moment he came to power. He never forgave the world for rejoicing at the collapse of the Ottoman Empire. He never forgave them for confining a country, which used to flex its muscles beyond its borders, to a modest map where it would have to take into account the advice - and sometimes orders - of ambassadors of major powers.

Three years before he came to power for the first time, Russia also threw its fate in the hands of another wounded man. Vladimir Putin will never forgive the world’s celebrations over the collapse of the Berlin Wall and Soviet Union. The Sultan of Istanbul accused the world of breaking up Ottoman glory and the Moscow tzar accused the world of breaking up the Soviet empire. Such painful and humiliating break ups often produce orphaned sons in search of revenge and the great boxer.

Erodgan spent two whole decades on the blazing fire of the miserable Middle East. The fires were many and they were first lit with the US invasion of Iraq. The next decade brought with it the winds of protests and interventions. Erdogan was not the only one looking beyond his borders. With the supreme leader’s blessing, general Qassem Soleimani succeeded in infiltrating and changing the features of several maps.

The second decade of the century was raucous in the Middle East. Erdoagn was an active player in it in spite of the goals that he missed in several fields. He had to take in several shocks, the strongest of which was Putin deploying forces - with the help of Iranian militias - in Syria, effectively ending the dreams of those hoping to topple the Damascus regime. Trading blows with the tzar wasn’t easy. The Turkish boxer made do with a little, but he does not give up. He offers favors to the master of the Kremlin, while his drones faithfully work in Zelensky’s army.

There isn’t enough space in this article to highlight the major events in Erodgan’s career. He has just unveiled his new government. The dignity of his country cannot be saved if its lira continues to be humiliated. He must stop using old remedies to treat the economy. The economy needs experts, not boxers. Erdogan needs to treat the deep division in Türkiye that was exposed by the elections. He needs to build policies that are not based on fearing the Kurds or insisting on persecuting them.

Erdogan named trusted figure Mehmet Simsek as treasury and finance minister. He rewarded intelligence chief Hakan Fidan for his loyalty and protecting state secrets by naming him foreign minister.

Lessons must be derived from the turbulent past decade. The government must tackle inflation in the economy and in dreams. The rise of regional powers does not mean a return of past empires. Bitter pills must sometimes be swallowed in foreign relations. This is demonstrated in Erdogan agreeing to one day meet with both Putin and Assad.

This is how boxing is done. You deal and receive blows, but the most important thing is for you to stay standing and prevent voters from throwing you out of the ring.