Fly me to the moon

As Ol’ Blue Eyes, Frank Sinatra, sang: “Fly me to the moon, let me play among the stars, let me see what spring is like, on a Jupiter and Mars.” Maybe Turkey’s President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan can do just that. 

In a spectacular gesture of one-upmanship, the Emirates have just sent a spacecraft into orbit round Mars. Not to be outdone, the same day President Erdoğan announced that Turkey would go to the moon in its centennial year, 2023. As a gracenote, he added there might even be ladies who want to go.  

Before we get carried away with enthusiasm, there are a number of down-to-earth considerations. First of all, the budget allocated for the Turkish Space Agency, $5.4 million, is hardly likely to go far compared with the $200 million the Emiratis have invested. 

Technologically, there is no doubt that Turkey could do it. For example, its Bayraktar TB2 drones have changed the face of modern warfare and the balance of power in Libya and Nagorno-Karabakh. Turkey’s defense industry has also just launched an unmanned gunboat, ULAQ, which can be a gamechanger in the Eastern Mediterranean and give the Greek navy grey hairs. 

But to return to the mundane matter of Turkey’s economy. Economist Mustafa Sönmez has warned that Turkey’s mega projects, for example, Istanbul’s new airport, the third Bosphorus bridge and the Akkuyu nuclear power plant, not to forget a slew of other power plants, city hospitals, motorways, bridges and tunnels, threaten financial havoc. With a depreciated Turkish lira, Ankara is hocked up to the eyebrows. And this is before mentioning Erdoğan’s “crazy project”, the Istanbul Canal.  

There is also the fact that Turkey is facing severe drought conditions.  

Because of the COVID-19 pandemic there has been an alarming increase in poverty  and horrifying stories of families being driven to suicide. In the first half of last year 1.6 million households had their electricity and gas cut off because they failed to pay their bills and the opposition HDP (Peoples' Democratic Party) has called for a parliamentary enquiry into their claim that 34 million Turkish citizens face the threat of starvation. Mustafa Sönmez has also shown that Turkey’s tax burden weighs heavy on low-and middle-income groups, as two-thirds of the government’s tax revenue comes from indirect taxes on consumption. Another hefty increase in the price of alcohol has also led to an increase in deaths from the consumption of bootleg alcohol.  

At a meeting with bus drivers in Malatya, one of them complained to President Erdoğan that he couldn’t afford bread. His complaint was dismissed as an exaggeration and he was told to enjoy a nice cup of tea.  

Against this backdrop, the conspicuous consumption, including lavish weddings, displayed by government circles can only be characterized as obscene.  

Last June, in an address to the 12th International Conference on Islamic Economics and Finance in Istanbul President Erdoğan stated that the Islamic economic system was the key to getting out of the global economic crisis. 

As he explained, “"Over-financing has created a bloated economic model, which acts only over concern about unearned income, without considering social and human costs.” Furthermore, "Contrary to what has been promised, the distribution of income and wealth is gradually deteriorating all over the world.”

According to former Bloomberg bureau chief Mark Bentley, what Turkey really needs is backing from the West, which is no doubt the driving force behind Erdoğan’s cosying up to the EU and the US. Since his son-in-law and finance minister Berat Albayrak’s abrupt resignation, and the appointment of Naci Ağbal as governor of the central bank, a good old-fashioned rate hike to 17 percent has stopped the slide in the lira.

Nine years ago Erdoğan declared it was his government’s intention to raise “a pious generation”, but the following year with the Gezi Park revolt, which spread to 80 of Turkey’s 81 provinces, it was clear his project has backfired. 

Last year a live video chat between the president and young people ended with remarks of ‘oy moy yok’ (no votes for you)  and 300,000 dislikes, so live comments were disabled. Ahmet Kuru, professor of political science at San Diego State University, has predicted that Turkey’s Islamist regime will create a radical reaction: a staunchly secularist new generation. 

This is what Turkey is again experiencing with the protests against Erdoğan’s appointment, rather than the free election, of a new rector at Istanbul’s prestigious Boğaziçi University. One consequence is the loss from Turkey of its most valuable resource: a well-educated youth. A study published by Ozmangazi University shows that 59 percent are leaving Turkey and 73 percent want to leave, many of them never to return. 

Turkish columnist Burak Bekdil, with reference to the remarkable achievement by two Turks in Germany in developing a vaccine against COVID-19, examines the causes of this decline. Another Turkish columnist, Semih Idiz, in “The dumbing down of Turkey”, has also hit the nail on the head.    

Tesla’s CEO Elon Musk and President Erdoğan have discussed cooperation in space technology. It would be a spectacular achievement if they could celebrate Turkey’s centenary with the construction of a space vehicle that could orbit the earth, so President Erdoğan could wave to the people and enjoy well-deserved applause.  


The opinions expressed in this column are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of Ahval.