Erdoğan at best sees himself as a combination between Russian President Vladimir Putinand an Ottoman sultan, and at worst has become unhinged. He appears above the law, shuttering opposition media willy-nilly to the point where Turkey now rests in the bottom 15 percent in world press freedom, behind such enemies of freedom as Russia, the Palestinian Authority, Zimbabwe, and Venezuela, and only just above Belarus and Egypt. The imprisonment of journalists, generals, and civil society activists has made a mockery of Turkish justice, making Midnight Express look like Turkish courts’ liberal, open, golden age. Erdoğan, who was imprisoned two decades ago for religious incitement, is far more interested in settling scores than he is in reforming or democratizing Turkey.
The problem is few Turkish leaders are as secure as they come to believe. By imprisoning journalists, opposition parliamentarians, and generals for little more than their belief in secularism and Western-style liberalism, Erdoğan is creating a precedent for his own future. Erdoğan—and, according to U.S. diplomatic documents, some of his top cronies like Egemen Bağış and Cuneyt Zapsu—are corrupt; Erdoğan himself has more than a dozen suspended corruption probes against him that, theoretically, will restart once he loses his immunity.