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Is Turkey’s Erdogan a weak strongman or a strong weak man?

Turkey's President Erdogan has had more failures than successes.

Louis XIV ruled France from 1643-1715. During his long reign, he became known as the archetype of western absolutist monarchism. In many ways, it is surprising that his reign lasted for so long as he waged war upon war, the vast majority of which he lost, some of which he lost very badly.

In hindsight, because Louis’ wars bankrupted the French treasury, his reign paved the way for the French Revolution of 1789. Discontent just took several decades to fully boil over.

Looking at President Erdogan of Turkey, one can’t help but see similarities. Erdogan rules as a strongman figure and if he wins his referendum for supreme presidential powers on the 16th of April, the tyrannical autocrat will have cemented his position as the only show in town when it comes to Turkish politics.

But is Erdogan a weak strongman or a strong weak man?

For all of his increasingly absolutist rule over Turkish life, what further battles has he won for Turkey?

In terms of social cohesion, he is a big loser. Turkey which was functionally stable before he came to power is now deeply divided in many directions.

There are Erdogan’s militant supporters, there are those equally militant in their loyalty to exiled Islamist leader Fethullah Gülen (named a terrorist by Erdogan), there are elements within the Turkish state and wider society who are loyal to ISIS, al-Qaeda and like-minded groups, the Kurdish PKK are getting increasingly incensed at Erdogan and the base of Kemalists in the country has not gone away, even though they are increasingly silenced in the media and Parliament.

Most of Erdogan’s foreign ambitions have failed. Perhaps this explains why he tries a different tact in terms of foreign alignments every few years.

His overtures to the EU were rejected, his overtures to the Arab world were also rejected. In particular, his attempt to paint himself as the saviour of Palestine fell dreadfully flat and now relations with Israel are quickly and quietly being normalised.

In both Syria and Iraq, Turkish forces are having a harder than anticipated, struggling against both Kurdish forces and ISIS.

Turkey has already publicly abandoned hopes for regime change in Syria and is increasingly dependent on the good will of Moscow when it comes to any attempts to participate in the Syrian peace process.

Like any absolutist with more ego than imagination, Erdogan’s legacy is one of strength through intimidation, but weakness in terms of results.

Perhaps like with Louis XIV, it will take another generation for Turks to realise that their strong man was quite weak after all.

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