Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan has finally “fulfilled” his dream of shutting down social media site Twitter. When defending the ban, he said: “No matter what the rest of the world says, we will root out Twitter. They will see the power of the Turkish Republic.”
President Abdullah Gül has said the Turkish presidency is in talks with Twitter for a speedy resolution to the block on the website in Turkey. “I instructed my staff to contact [Twitter] when this problem started to put an end to this bitter situation,” Gül told reporters in Ankara before his departure for an official visit to the Netherlands on March 23, Turkish daily Hurriyet reported.
“It is not legally possible to shut down the Internet and platforms [like Twitter]” he added, remarking on the fact that the number of tweets had doubled since the government blocked access to Twitter. “This is of course an unpleasant situation for such a developed country as Turkey, which has weight in the region and which is negotiating with the European Union. Therefore, it will be overcome soon,” he said.
He also confirmed that the U.S.-based social media giant had hired a lawyer in Turkey for negotiations with the authorities. “Twitter did not have any representative in Turkey. There should be good communication channels with such… giants. They now have a lawyer here acting for them,” he said.
Gül, an enthusiastic social media user, took to Twitter on March 21 to criticize the government’s ban hours after the network went dark, becoming the highest-level leader in the country to circumvent the block, along with some ministers.
It is also a good way of showing Turkey’s “power” to Turkish citizens who have limited technological knowledge to bypass the state ban by using DNS settings or VPNs. It could be a good way of showing off to my 70-year-old uncle who has no idea how computers work but it is a foolish way of showing off to his 15-year-old grandson.
However there is also a reason for Erdoğan to “challenge” the rest of the world by shutting down Twitter. He is no longer a leader who is willing to establish good relations with the rest of the world based on democratic values such as human rights, freedom of speech, advanced democracy, etc. Instead, Erdoğan, like his old enemies, Kemalists, has realized the “strategic” importance of Turkey and is bargaining Turkey’s position with the rest of the world instead of establishing good relations.
In other words, Erdoğan has viewed the world differently in recent years. He has always asked: What benefits can I get when I establish good relations with the West? He no longer thinks about the benefits Turkish citizens gain when Turkey establishes good relations with the West. Therefore, “bargaining” for “strategic benefit” has always been more important than having good relations over democratic values in recent years.
Most recently Erdoğan has realized two important “strategic” developments that he could use to “bargain” with the West: the never-ending Syrian crisis and the crisis in Ukraine.
Erdoğan believes that if he wins a large chunk of the votes in the upcoming election, Western powers will come to Turkey and will want to establish good relations with him anyway. Therefore shutting down Twitter and limiting democracy are not important thing to him so long as he finds a way to bargain with the West.
He further calculates that the crisis in Ukraine will make Turkey a very important strategic country to the US and the West. Therefore, he believes, shutting down Twitter and limiting democracy will not weaken his position in the eyes of the West and the US.
Unfortunately he is right when he believes there is no standard for the West when it comes to choosing their national interests over democratic values. For instance, they see no problem with democratic standards when it comes to establishing good relations with Saudi Arabia.
The West did not hesitate to establish good relations with the old Kemalist Turkey so long as the Kemalist elites offered them lip service. Erdoğan also knows the West will not see any problems as long as Erdoğan does not harm their national interests in Turkey.
Thanks to the crisis in Ukraine and Syria, Erdoğan is challenging the rest of the world when he shut down Twitter and limited Turkey’s democracy.
Turkish citizens should realize this simple fact: When it comes to national interests, the West and the US do not care about Turkish democracy. Therefore, it is necessary for Turkish citizens to establish a good democratic system without waiting for messianic support from the West…
This article first appeared in Today’s Zaman, a leading Turkish newspaper.
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