Erdogan’s chair scandal reflects poorly on Turkey and Europe

Europe today is full of Michels who are obtuse in the face of a challenge and are willing to throw colleagues under the bus

President Recep Tayyip Erdogan caused a diplomatic scandal when, earlier this week, he hosted Ursula von der Leyen, the president of the European Union’s executive arm, and Charles Michel, the president of the European Council, at Erdogan’s 1,100-room palace.

At the initial photo opportunity, Erdogan seated Michel in a gilded chair next to his but left his female colleague standing before waving her to a more distant couch. The episode came just over three weeks since the Turkish dictator unilaterally withdrew Turkey from the Istanbul Convention, the first international treaty to combat violence against women and outlaw spousal abuse. The situation of Turkish women under Erdogan has long been dire: In the first seven years of his rule, the murder rate of women increased 1,400%. One-third of marriages today in Eastern Turkey involve an underage bride.

The idea that the breach of protocol was an oversight is nonsense. Turkey is infamous for fastidiousness surrounding protocol. While protocol means to facilitate diplomacy, Turkey often weaponizes it to derail talks as its military and foreign ministry amplify obsessions over minor issues and sleights, real or imagined. Its presidency takes the issue further: Erdogan has imprisoned thousands for supposed disrespect. Western officials should expect Erdogan’s misogyny and temper tantrums by now.

What is equally scandalous was the reaction of Michel. Witnessing the deliberate slight of his female colleague, Michel should have simply gotten up and walked out. In effect, while European officials had made noise about Turkey’s abuse of women’s rights, Michel signaled that when push came to shove, their rhetoric was empty.

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