Thursday, October 21, 2021

As Turkey Faces Lamentable Political Crisis, Economic Woes Take Over

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The news of the day was not all that good. The strike on Turkey’s vital supply line to Syria that some analysts believe has laid the ground for regime collapse is only the latest and most tangible sign of the country’s economic crisis, which has itself fed rising tensions with its NATO ally, the United States.

The crisis has been gathering momentum since a currency collapse last year caused by overvalued economic policy. But it has recently grown, in some parts of the country, to the point where entire families are going without food.

A former Turkish prime minister said in a BBC interview over the weekend that the crisis was close to reaching “zero points zero”—that is, an equivalent point to the crisis of the 1970s, when hunger engulfed Turkey. (Yes, this is something you might want to imagine if you ever wake up on a bad day and want to go into lockdown.)

In the capital Ankara, crowds were penned into shopping malls by riot police to keep them away from banks that were going through withdrawals. Banks have already been hit by an explosion of withdrawals, and the government has prepared its response by dramatically devaluing the lira.

The economic collapse is the result of efforts by the populist president, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, to squeeze money out of the economy and finance a massive populist spending spree as Turkey’s economy struggles. Mr. Erdogan is trying to turn Turkey into a major player in the Middle East. He turned a corner last week with a series of major foreign visitors, including Donald Trump, Vladimir Putin and Francois Hollande.

But Mr. Erdogan’s economic agenda has run into hard reality. He has ordered a partial withdrawal of Turkish troops from Syria, but has expressed interest in keeping troops around the border.

On the eve of Christmas, his government is finalizing new export controls that are threatening to weaken the lira even further and hurting companies that have supported him politically. Mr. Erdogan is also pushing an income tax reform to raise revenue, and it is a top priority for the people of Istanbul, the country’s economic powerhouse.

Concrete headwinds coming out of Turkey are far more profound than those that rocked the country during the mid-1970s when the economy was in freefall and people resorted to cannibalism. But the sudden economic crisis is confusing for Turks, showing up everywhere, and reminding them that their president seems out of touch.

“Why don’t they care about the Turks?” asked an employee at a foreign-owned café in the capital Ankara, in what could be a symbol of what the government has failed to understand. “I have one job and a family, and there’s nothing I can do about it. I don’t know what’s going to happen in Turkey, and I’m sorry, I’m just trying to live my life.”

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