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Erdogan doubling ‘political’ Pharisee, Steward?

It is Saturday morning, 20 August 2022. During our community weekly prayer session starting at 06:30 AM. local time in Tanzania (03:30GMT), we read   St. Matthew’s gospel alert on the contradictory scribes’ and Pharisees’ practices or behavior that are not worthy the modus vivendi of those in leadership positions – be it faith-related or otherwise.  

The real message of the narrative, however, is that in the practice of religion, believers should adhere to what the leaders preach about faith matters rather than look at what they do. Accountability is an individual’s responsibility. God forgive, immediately, the picture of Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan came to my mind.  Could he be a ‘political’ Pharisee?

During our discussion about the subject matter, St. Matthews’ list of condemnations sort of defied time, narrowing the age gap between his gospel’s contemporary circumstances (around 50AD) and Erdogan’s government mode of justice delivery and governance today (2020+ AD). One would tend to think that St. Matthew was writing from dateline Ankara, Istanbul, Damascus, Tehran, Tel Aviv, Kyiv, Baghdad, Libya’s Tripoli, Cairo, Sochi and Moscow.  

As a tax collector, St. Matthews, knew perfectly what went on in government offices. Lots of pretenses and ills, the likes of self-esteem, selfishness, injustice, neglect for others, lording it over others, assigning others responsibilities we cannot undertake ourselves, reluctance let alone.

From President Erdogan mode of rule of law and good governance, here is the leader who has very good ideas about peace building. It is he, who more than a decade ago embarked on a policy of “zero problem with neighbors”. But the product of what he has put in practice to date is to make life at home and abroad, for his real and perceived adversaries, virtually impossible under his regime.

He has preached political solutions to domestic and foreign crises. But his main tool has been the bullet. He has supplied arms to conflicting sides and stood between them to offer mediation facilities and eventually take pride for this. The Ukraine war is a typical example where he has supplied the drones with which Ukraine downs Soviet missiles and taken the front mediation seat. How else does one visualize the picture in which the drone supplier takes a memorial picture with war victim Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky and lead broker UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres offering his country’s help in mediating and ending the war? Turkey ‘sympathizes’ with Ukraine by signing a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) for the country’s reconstruction but refuses to partake in world sanctions targeting the reduction of the aggressor’s strength?

On the day prior to our Saturday session, I had been researching into how Turkey, over the Syrian and Ukraine crises, had acted along St. Luke’s bible parable of the shrewd manager.  The parable runs such that after being told of his termination of employment due to dishonesty, the manager devised a system which could provide him with a fallback position. What prompted me into this study was why Erdogan should be seen as the person assisting Putin in the evasion of international embargoes for his own benefit? This was in perfect alignment with the bible parable.

Neck-deep in domestic and foreign economic troubles and confronted by presidential and parliamentary elections around the corner, it could not be a shot in the dark for Erdogan to rise from a meeting with Putin at Sochi with a strategic message that Turkish banks had adopted the Russian Mir payment system. In the present Turkish circumstances, the U.S. dollar and that of allies in Europe, the Euro, could go hang in the interim. It’s interim economic and pending political survival first.

Then I come across a miracle of its own kind. Something unbelievable. Having stood for the fall of Syria’s President Bashar al-Assad in the one decade plus Syrian civil war, Erdogan is said to prefer mending walls. Turkey Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu reveals this in connection with a meeting he held in October, last year. with Syrian counterpart, Faisal Medkad, about Damascus and Ankara ties. This is something that tactful Russia had, until that far, failed to achieve, despite having facilitated a meeting between Syrian and Turkish intelligence officials.

On his way back from a Ukraine[p1]  meeting, Erdogan sort of partially revisits William Shakespeare when he said: “For us, the issue is not about defeating Assad” adding that keeping dialogue channels open with Damascus is “necessary.  We don’t have such an issue as whether to defeat Assad or not… All the steps we have taken with Russians in northern Syria and the East and West is a fight against terrorism.” Ankara will need to take “higher steps” with Damascus to end the “games” being played in the region.  Which games that Erdogan doesn’t want to mention openly?   

How can this be divorced from the desire to facelift his popularity and that of AKP for the 18 June 2023 polls rather than Syria peace?  How does one take the very recent revelations that the number of Syrians granted Turkish citizenship being seven times more than the official figure?  This cannot be in the love of naturalized Syrians but consequent the ballot numbers for Erdogan isn’t it? After all the public opinion is anti-refugee.

Earlier in the month, Erdogan was reported reassessing his backing to the United Nations supported Libyan National Unity Government. This was after negotiations between the Vice-President of the Libyan Presidential Council Abdullah al-Lafi, and Speaker of the House of Representatives, Agulla Saleh, who is linked to Marshal Khalifa Haftar, raised doubts about Erdogan’s support to the unity government.  

This government is contested between Abdul Hamid Dbeibe who refused to step down after the failed elections and subsequent appointment of Fathi Bashagha by parliament. In between, Erdogan is reported to have lost trust in al-Lafi for allegedly negotiating the fall of the Bashagha government.  The military are anti al-Lafi after his refusal to create a budget vote for them. The Erdogan government is trapped between the two sides. In Africa we say two delicacies burn the mouth cavity.

But the inside of Turkey’s presence or rather interest in Libya is not the country’s unity or peace. It is the protection of the 2019 controversial maritime agreement, packaged with military training which angered Cyprus and Greek governments. Erdogan is on record for having extended military support, training and mercenaries to Libya. With a tongue in the cheek, he praised this memorandum and others as “securing the interest and future of both countries.”

Who can now deny that out of the unexpected, relations between Israel and Turkey have shown signs of ‘brightening up’?  Besides improved ties at the presidential level between Turkey’s Erdogan and Israel’s Isaac Herzoghow, does the imagination of Mossad and Turkish MIT cooperation in the handling of the case of Iranian assassins sent to Turkey to kill or kidnap Israeli tourists raise many questions than provide answers?  Is Erdogan now ready to ditch the Muslim brotherhood spirit? In exchange for or expectation of what?

Ten months to the polls, Erdogan and his ruling party just cannot avoid taking strategic interest in improving their winning chances at the expense of anything, slotting all activities along the Bible’s parable of the shrewd steward and narrative of the scribes and the Pharisees.  All for self-aggrandizement and, just in case, establishing a fallback position, rain or shine.


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Felix Kaiza is a Tanzanian journalist with more than 50 years of experience currently working as an independent media consultant. Learned in agriculture, journalism, political science and international relations, his main fields of consultancy, besides the media, are good governance, nature conservation, tourism and investment. He was the first Tanzanian Chief Sub-Editor of an English daily newspaper in 1970, he has been behind the establishment and growth of the national independent media since the early 1990s. He is UNFAO Fellow Journalist since 1975 and has wide experience on regional integration. He worked on the Information Directorate of the original East African Community on whose ashes survive the current one. His ambition is to brand Tanzania in the inbound market with made-in-Tanzania brands, including information, almost all of which is currently foreign brewed.

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