ISTANBUL — The unpredictable roller coaster that has become Turkish politics was on full display this past week after 104 retired admirals publicly challenged President Recep Tayyip Erdogan in an open letter — and 10 of them ended up in jail, accused of plotting a coup.
It was no accident that the episode came as Mr. Erdogan finds himself in the midst one of the most intense political passages of his career, as the worsening pandemic and economy have left the president sliding in the opinion polls even as he amasses more powers.
To inspire the party faithful, Mr. Erdogan has returned again to herald one of his favorite grand ideas: to carve a canal, through Istanbul, from the Black Sea to the Marmara Sea to open a new shipping route parallel to the narrow Bosporus.
For now, the use of those natural waterwaysis governed by the Montreux Convention, an international treaty forged in 1936, between the two World Wars, in an attempt to eliminate volatile tensions over one of the world’s most vital maritime choke points.
blog, the Yetkinreport, “shifts the current agenda from the pandemic and the economy to fields that the A.K.P. likes.”
The pandemic’s toll is now worse than ever in Turkey, with more than 50,000 new cases recorded daily. An increasingly sharp economic crunch looms, too, as the government’s pandemic support for businesses is scheduled to end and inflation and unemployment remain alarmingly high.
In the midst of the troubles, Mr. Erdogan’s party has slipped to below 30 percent in a recent opinion poll, and his political ally, the Nationalist Movement Party, has fallen as low as 6 percent, making his re-election to the presidency in 2023 seem increasingly difficult.
Even his own supporters recognize that a bruising fight lies ahead. “We have entered the long two-year election process leading to the 2023 elections,” Burhanettin Duran, the director of SETA, a pro-government research organization, wrote in a column in the Daily Sabah newspaper this past week.
“Due to the recent declaration,” he said, referring to the admirals’ letter, “now there is a possibility that the process will be painful.” He predicted a combined domestic and international campaign against Mr. Erdogan’s government.
Mr. Erdogan has promised that his multibillion-dollar canal plan would create a construction and real estate boom and bring in revenue from an increase in shipping traffic.
Investigative journalists have exposed real estate deals in which prospectors from the Middle East have bought up much of the land along where the canal will be built.
Yet Mr. Erdogan said at a regional party congress in Istanbul in February that the project would go ahead, despite opposition.
“They don’t like it, do they? They are trying to prevent it, aren’t they?” he said in his keynote speech. “Despite them, we will build the Istanbul Canal.’’
The admirals are far from the only opponents of the canal. Others include the popular mayor of Istanbul, Ekrem Imamoglu, along with environmentalists, ecologists and urban planners.
But the admirals raised particular ire from Mr. Erdogan and his fellow Islamists by including in their letter criticism of a currently serving admiral who was caught on video attending prayers with a religious sect.
The retired admirals made a point of reaffirming their adherence to the secular ideals of the Turkish republic’s founding father, Mustafa Kemal Ataturk.