The very tools that Erdogan has used to make himself into a sort of modern day Ottoman sultan are backfiring.
Viewed one way, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan looks unassailable.
He weathered last year's coup attempt, jailed more than 50,000 opponents, fired more than 100,000 civil servants, beheaded the once powerful Turkish military, eviscerated much of his parliamentary opposition, dismissed almost half of the county's elected officials, and rammed through a constitutional referendum that will make him an all-powerful executive following the 2019 election. In the meantime, a seemingly never-ending state of emergency allows him to rule by decree.
So why is the man running scared?
Because the very tools that Erdogan has used to make himself into a sort of modern day Ottoman sultan are backfiring.
The state of emergency is scaring off foreign investment, which is central to the way the Turkish economy functions. The loss of experienced government workers has put an enormous strain on the functioning of the bureaucracy. And the promises he made to the electorate in order to get his referendum passed are coming due with very little in the till to fulfill them.
"No Neighbors Without Problems"
Part of the problem is Erdogan himself. In that sense he's a bit like U.S. President Donald Trump, who's also alienated allies with a combination of bombast and cluelessness. The Turkish president is in a war with Washington over a corruption trial, at loggerheads with Germany (and most of the European Union) over his growing authoritarianism, and -- with the exception of Russia, China, Qatar, and Iran -- seems to be quarreling with everyone these days.
It's certainly a far cry from a decade ago when the foreign policy of Ankara was "zero problems with the neighbors." As one Turkish commentator put it, it's now "no neighbors without problems."
What's thrown a scare into Erdogan, however, isn't so much the country's growing diplomatic isolation, but the economy -- and how that might affect the outcome of presidential elections in 2019.
Hot Money, Cold Corruption
In the run-up to the constitutional referendum last year, the government handed out loans and goodies to the average Turk. Growth accelerated, unemployment fell, and the poverty rate was reduced.
But the cost of priming that pump has come due at the very moment that international energy prices are on the rise. Turkey imports virtually all of its energy, but when the price of oil was down to a little more than $30 a barrel, the budget could handle it.
The price of oil in December, however, was close to $60 a barrel, and a recent agreement between Saudi Arabia and Russia to curb production will drive that price even higher in the future. Rate hikes for gasoline and heating will be up sharply in the coming months.
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