A Turkish national flag behind a broken Twitter logo, March 21, 2014.
Dado Ruvic / Courtesy Reuters

Last week, after Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan pledged to “wipe out” Twitter, state authorities quickly tried to block the social media website. The move, which was immediately -- and rightly -- decried as a sign of Erdogan’s creeping authoritarianism, was an attempt at damage control, an effort to contain the effects of incriminating recordings of telephone conversations between him, his cabinet ministers, family members, and newspaper editors that have started to leak out on the Internet.

For Erdogan, the timing could not be worse. On March 30, Turkey is holding municipal elections, in which the stakes are anything but local. Instead, they are a battle of wills between the prime minister and the Gulenists, followers of the Islamic cleric Fethullah Gulen who have been locked in a showdown with Erdogan, their onetime ally, since last December. The tapes are apparently meant to hurt Erdogan’s Justice and Development

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  • HALIL KARAVELI is a Senior Fellow at the Central Asia-Caucasus Institute and the Silk Road Studies Program, which are affiliated with the School of Advanced International Studies at Johns Hopkins University and the Institute for Security and Development Policy. He is also Managing Editor of the Turkey Analyst.
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