The prime minister and president of Turkey, who recently have been at odds, found themselves on the same political page Sunday as they applauded the downing of a Syrian warplane that, uninvited, had entered Turkish airspace.
Actually, two Syrian aircraft had crossed into southern Turkey but one turned away after their pilots were warned by the Turkish Air Force, according to a military website.
When the other Syrian plane ignored the warning, it was shot down by a Turkish F-16 fighter jet, the website reported.
Recep Erdogan, the prime minister, and Abdullah Gul, the president, were in opposite camps late last week over Erdogan’s attention-grabbing ban on public access to Twitter, the popular social media service that has an estimated 10 million to 12 million subscribers in Turkey.
Erdogan’s objective was simply to make it more difficult for his many critics to use Twitter to spread their messages of blame — and, yes, hate — for the corruption he and his cronies have been denying so vigorously for many months now.
When the prime minister tried to cripple Twitter, the president publicly sided with the people and criticized Erdogan, thus further isolating him from the increasingly restive mainstream.
In March 2011, when the Arab Spring was blooming, Gul had drawn applause when he had said: “Given the power communications technologies have reached today, no closed regime can survive in the long run.”
In saying that, Gul no doubt was remembering that for two years Turkey had blocked YouTube on grounds it had offered videos the government considered insulting to the country’s founder, Mustafa Kemal Ataturk. That ban was lifted in 2010.
At first, Erdogan’s Twitter tactic didn’t work, and that only made him look foolish as technology-savvy Turks quickly found electronic paths to neutralize the ban. Also, freedom-of-speech advocates around the world roundly denounced him for his anti-democracy strategy.
But the embattled prime minister is nothing if not tenacious, and his ban on Twitter was finally validated when Turkey’s courts agreed to enforce the ban.
“Twitter-schmitter, we will wipe all of them out,” Erdogan crowed. “I do not care what the international community would say. This has nothing to do with freedom. Freedom is not encroaching on somebody’s privacy. We will not let this happen.”
Erdogan may protest that he doesn’t care about the opinion of the international community, but there is one man in America he is surely watching closely.
He is a man most Americans may never have heard of, an Erdogan foe who lives in self-imposed exile here in the United States, and he is widely expected to become a major factor in determining the future direction of Turkey’s newly fragile democracy.
Fethullah Gulen lives in Saylorsburg, Pa., and from his home there he heads one of Turkey’s two most important Muslim political parties (it is known simply as The Gulen Movement and supports science and multi-party democracy).
“Previously, most observers had wrongly assumed that these groups (the two Muslim parties) were inherent allies because of their faith-based worldview,” Berna Turam, who teaches at Northeastern University in Boston, wrote last week.
In fact, the professor explained, the two groups are from “entirely different pasts and political orientation, although they share a common interest in free market economy and cherished upward socio-economic mobility.”
Meanwhile, the White House, which regards Turkey as a critical bulwark against radical expansionism in the Middle East, needs stability in Istanbul.
Erdogan, who stands accused of placing his own interests ahead of his country’s, will be grateful if that downed airplane gives his popularity a needed boost.