Erdoğan & Abdülhamid: The resemblance is uncanny

Faced with a vast, decaying empire, the Ottoman Sultan Abdülhamid II ruled with an iron fist, curtailing press freedom, promoting Islam and severing ties with the West. His similarities with Turkey’s current president have not gone unnoticed.

Glorification of the Ottoman past is something that Turkey watchers are frequently exposed to by Erdoğan. But parallels with the reign of Sultan Abdülhamid II become a little too uncanny, if one considers the similarities in their ideals and their regime.

Writer William Armstrong discusses the revisionist neo-Ottoman discourse in current Turkish politics and takes a critical look at the Abdülhamid II period to explain Turkey's decline.

Both leaders used Islam to unite society, or at least to consolidate their base. They both followed technological advances in the West, but they were also against westernization, he said.

In an uncanny parallel, the use of new technologies – the telegraph for Abdülhamid and social media for Erdoğan – were instrumental in the extension of both leaders’ social control, as were the imprisonment of political activists and the gagging of the press.

Even more concerning is that both men surrounded themselves with conspiracy theorists, poisoning their worldview, and were followed by masses who saw in them their ideals and who flattered their "national self-esteem."

Armstrong reminds us that from Putin to Trump, such misleading historical revisionism is not uncommon and is a global trend.