A week is a long time in politics, but a year is an eternity. For Turkey’s embattled prime minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan, it must seem like another era.
A year ago, Mr Erdogan was riding high. He had led Turkey for a decade and showed no sign of stopping. In that time, he had transformed the country: its economy was rocketing along, it was a regional power and a model for other countries. Unlike Greece, its economy was strong; unlike Israel, it had good relations with its neighbours; unlike Egypt, its institutions worked. The Arabs loved him (he was voted the most admired world leader) and the West feted him (he topped Time magazine’s 2011 Person of the Year poll).
Now however Mr Erdogan looks vulnerable. With a presidential election scheduled for late 2014 – which Mr Erdogan is widely expected to contest – he is beset by trouble. He mishandled protests in his capital city this summer. His liberal opponents charge that he is taking the country down too Islamist a path. A still-running corruption scandal has destroyed the moral authority of his government and led to calls for Mr Erdogan, once the most popular Turkish leader since Ataturk, to resign.
And yet, despite Mr Erdogan’s current political woes, the country remains as strong as it was a year ago.
The economy has slowed since the summer, although it is expected to grow by around four per cent this coming year, which is still far better than the stagnant eurozone that surrounds Turkey. It is better even than Germany, Europe’s strongest nation. Unemployment is also at relatively low and manageable levels.
Regionally, Turkey’s influence has fallen after the removal of Egypt’s Islamist president and the Islamist-led Tunisian coalition. Mr Erdogan’s forceful approach to Syria has quieted as it became clear there was no Western appetite for intervention. But the country remains courted by allies – Baghdad is keen to preserve good relations, despite Turkey’s overtures to the Kurdish region. And as the best run democracy in the region, the country, if not Mr Erdogan, is still a model for Arab countries as they transition through the Arab Spring.
The case for Turkey remains strong, even if Mr Erdogan’s political future is in doubt. Whoever leads the Middle East’s powerhouse in 2014 will inherit a country very different from the one a decade ago.