Why Erdogan Davutoglu ‘Rift’: Some Reflections

Dr. Abdullah Al Ahsan

The news about Turkish President Recep Erdogan’s rift with his Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu has made headlines around the world. When President Erdogan picked up Dr. Ahmet Davutoglu to succeed him as the leader of his AK Party, many commentators held the view that the latter would be a weak prime minister. But President Erdogan apparently did not want a weak prime minister. This is what Prime Minister Davutoglu said in his last press briefing that he wanted to be strong a prime minister in accordance with the President’s wish. But this did not work. Why – a question many supporters and sympathizers of the Turkish government are asking. While discussing the issue with friends, colleagues and students, I felt that I needed to make my views public. The request to make it public came mainly from some of my former students who are now members of the academia themselves. They were of the opinion that our students at International Islamic University Malaysia need to be educated on this important and sensitive subject. So I decided to pen down my observation on the issue.

A Turkish newspaper came up with 20 “confrontations” between the two in 20 months prime ministry of Dr. Davutoglu. But I don’t view their differences as major row; rather I consider them as differences in methodology which Dr. Davutoglu has explained this in the press briefing last May 5 when he declared his intention not to vie for his party’s top position. I wrote an article congratulating President Erdogan for hand-picking Dr. Davutoglu at a time when most commentators were censuring him as an autocrat. My argument was that “no authoritarian leader would like to opt for an independent academic such as Dr. Davutoglu as his right-hand man.” Now that Prime Minister Davutoglu has decided to move away President Erdogan’s administration, most observers have again begun the same chorus.

In my article I had highlighted some of Dr. Davutoglu’s qualities and said, “now Davutoglu will need to inculcate his personal qualities among the cadre of AK Party.” In his last press briefing he has rightly claimed that he had never sought any position; rather he has always been entrusted with responsibilities which as a citizen he has carried out. Now I repeat what I had said earlier, “ [He decided to] join the government in 2003 in the capacity of an advisor, not as a politician. He clearly loved his career and profession in the academia. Earlier in 2002 he avoided AK Party’s desire to be a candidate in the national election. In 2007 the request to contest in the elections came from the party’s topmost leadership who perhaps felt that he could contribute more to the nation as a politician and as a member of the parliament. However a reluctant Davutoglu maintained distance from day to day practical politics and public relations, and decided not to contest the election. But soon he became heavily involved in all major activities of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. His involvement in everyday activities of the Ministry eventually convinced the government to draft him as the Minister of Foreign Affairs in May 2009. At the time Davutoglu was neither a member of the parliament, nor even a member of AK Party. But now that had to change. He filled the primary membership form and began to rise in the ladder of party leadership. In 2011 he contested the election from his hometown Konya and got elected with a huge majority. In the next party election he became one of the top leaders in the party.”

Has he succeeded in inculcating his personal qualities in his students many of whom are now part of AKP establishment? Perhaps not. In his list of 20 confrontations in 20 months mentioned above the Turkish journalist alluded to the country’s intelligence chief who wanted to join politics by becoming a candidate in the upcoming parliamentary election. This was a major public demonstration of their disagreements and in my view Dr. Davutoglu should have resolved internally before it became public. However, when distancing himself from President Erdugan he reiterated, “Erdoğan’s honour is my honour. I will not accept any speculation concerning my relationship with President Erdoğan. We have always stood shoulder to shoulder.” Isn’t it confusing? When one distances himself from his leader, how can he still stand shoulder to shoulder with the leader. To me this was a very couragious declaration on the part of Dr. Davutoglu. As a student of history and a keen observer of contemporary Muslim world, I strongly feel he has espoused a very principled position and everybody should admire this. However, one should also take into consideration some points of disagreement between the two leaders highlighted by commentators around the world.

America Loses Its Man in Ankara,” was the headline of a leading American magazine. Wouldn’t such a view going to create confusion in Turkey where conspiracy theories formulate significant aspect of political discourse? Can we really blame those who talk about conspiracies against their nation? Are there no conspiracies in world politics? Pointing out to an article published in the Turkish media one UK based newspaper has already suggested that, “The author, thought to be a journalist with close ties to Erdoğan, accused Davutoğlu of conspiring with Turkey’s enemies and western powers to sideline the president.” Was then Davutoglu an American agent? On his track record, one would hardly find any evidence to support any accusation of such a criminal act. That is why one needs to analyze the situation rationally.

President Erdogan has been asking for a constitutional change with more presidential power and he wanted his prime minister to achieve this. However, this was not possible because in the latest election his ruling AK Party was 16 seats short in the parliament for such a change. Dr. Davutoglu seemed to have been doing well with opposition leaders but the President didn’t seem to have been satisfied with the slow progress in the process. But my question is – would it have been good for Turkey to opt for a very centralized system of government at this juncture of history? Again as a student of history I strongly feel that Turkey needed a more participatory system of government now. Even after June 2015 election which resulted in a hung parliament, I held the view that Turkey should have had formed a national government, rather than opting for a fresh election. This would have created a better image of Turkey, President Erdogan and AK Party internationally. Why does Mr. Erdogan need a better international image? This question demands little elaborate discussion.

The other day I was reading an article about how authoritarian rulers are trying to “control” pitches form “militant soccer fans.” The Islamophobic sports journalist had put Egyptian Sisi and President Erdugan on the same basket. This is the general trend in the international press about the Muslim world. Why is the mainstream media so anti-Erdogan? In my humble view it is because Mr. Erdogan’s first achievement was to pay off loans from international agencies such as the World Bank and International Monetary Fund. He has not only rescued Turkey from debt burden, Turkey under his leadership has become a donor nation. He has succeeded in restoring dignity not only for the Turks, but for Muslims all over the world. That is why he has the courage to stand for the downtrodden and oppressed people. In 2009 in Davos he won hearts of hundreds and millions of people around the world when he confronted the Israeli president with facts. His open-door policy toward Syrian refugees also has won hearts of millions. Recently his diplomatic spat against the oppressive government of Bangladesh has won hearts of millions in that country. He was the only Muslim head of the state who has stood against the military coup in Egypt against the only democratically elected president in the country’s history. Why shouldn’t have Prime Minister Davutoglu stood shoulder to shoulder with him? Mr. Erdogan has stood for justice, fairness and dignity like Prophet Muhammad (sm) did in 7th century Arabia and became a model for humanity as the messenger of peace, prosperity and human dignity. Here, however, one is reminded the character of the prophet about his treatment of opponents. Didn’t his adversaries try to demonize him? How did the Prophet respond to his adversaries? Did the Prophet use harsh language for his opponents? President Erdogan and the main opposition leader are already engaged in what has been described as blood politics. Is this going to be good for Turkey? Wouldn’t the Islamophobic international press find more ammunition for attacking Turkey and President Erdogan because of such language?

Let us take a look at the government’s treatment of a domestic issue. The June 2015 election seemed to have raised expectations of both pro-Kurdish HDP and PKK. They not only broke the ceasefire agreement and began subversive activities; they also declared autonomy of the region. However, in recent months they seem to have realized their limitation and are supposedly asking for negotiation. I think the Turkish government is strong enough to give it a try. After all there can’t be any military solution to the problem. In my opinion the issues related to academics and journalists should be handled in a transparent judicial manner. But the question in the mind of Mr. Erdogan, perhaps, was whether or not Dr. Davutoglu would be able to handle it. But this in turn raises another very important question: How important is the role of an individual in accomplishing a common goal? Is Dr. Davutoglu necessary in attaining the mission set by the government to achieve by 2023? Absolutely not. But the same question may be raised about Mr. Erdogan. Here I am not comparing the two personalities, and they are not comparable. Mr. Erdogan is not only founder of the party, he has been the fatherly figure to whatever Turkey has achieved in recent decades; and Dr. Davutoglu took primary membership of the party only when he was picked up by the top leadership to perform a specific task. However, I am only raising this theoretical question as a matter of principle: Are individuals inevitable for achieving any common good?

This question again takes me to the Prophet’s life: Many followers could not conceive of life and the mission of the community without the prophet, and this included the second caliph sayyidina ‘Umar (r). Our history tells us that, when the Prophet died, he didn’t want to believe it. But then sayyidina Abu Bakr came forward reciting the verses of the Qur’an that were revealed during the battle of Uhud. Was sayyidina ‘Umar’s behaviour unique? No, this is the human nature. This is just an evidence of human admiration for their heroes. I don’t think I need to go to details of the event but the lesson I derive from this story is that no human, even the prophet, is not inevitable in achieving Allah’s mission. This reminds me of the episode of Gilgamesh – the first fiction story in human history. Gilgamesh, a king in ancient Mesopotamia, wanted to conquer the whole world. But when his best friend Enkidu died in one encounter, Gilgamesh decided to give up his ambition and decided to tell his story to the rest of the world. According to most historians, Gilgamesh became immortal by telling his story that human beings had limitations. It seems to me, the Qur’an asks its followers to commit to the mission, not to any individual.

However, like Gilgamesh, President Erdogan will set an example in contemporary Muslim world if he doesn’t insist on achieving Turkey’s stated goal by himself. The Muslim world today desperately needs such an example. The Muslim world today needs examples of smooth transition of power. In recent history we have evidenced such an example in the late Nelson Mandela. On the other hand there is a tendency in many Muslim countries to promote the idea that individuals are inevitable for national interest. This must be corrected.

The episode of Erdogan Davutoglu “rift” teaches us one very important lesson on ethics of disagreement. Immediately after the so-called rift became public I read in the newspaper about the wedding ceremony President Erdogan’s daughter. It was pleasing to see that former President Abdullah Gul and Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu were the two witnesses required for the wedding. I hope and pray for such trust and cooperation at personal level continues for the growth and wellbeing of Turkey and of the Ummah. The Ummah and Turkey need all of them. I pray to Allah’s guidance for all of us.