Saturday, July 30, 2016

Business Recorder editorial July 30, 2016

Erdogan’s counter-coup The failed military coup in Turkey of July 15 has spawned even uglier consequences than the condemnable putsch itself. First, the reasons for the attempted overthrow of President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and his AKP government are not hard to seek. In power for the last 13 years, Erdogan must be credited with transforming Turkey into a modern economic powerhouse. And this was achieved during his two stints as prime minister while allaying apprehensions about his and the AKP’s Islamist roots by adopting a moderate stance that would not disturb Turkey’s fundamental status as a secular state. However, signs of trouble began appearing after Erdogan was elected president three years ago. Observers noted his increasing bent towards authoritarianism, with accompanying expressed intent to shift power to the presidency. The coup attempt may have been triggered by such trends. However, the main suspect behind the coup attempt in Erdogan’s eyes was self-exiled cleric Fethullah Gulen, now residing in the US. Turkey insists Gulen must be extradited, but has yet to move a formal request for the same, since that would require substantiation. Gulen also stands accused of earlier trouble making through the alleged influence of his followers in the police, bureaucracy, judiciary and the media. What has cut little ice with Erdogan is the denial of responsibility and condemnation of the coup attempt by Gulen. While no right minded person could support the putsch by a section of the armed forces (the conspirators did not even have the backing of the entire military), what has followed its collapse has alarmed even Turkey’s friends. US Central Command chief General Joseph Votel had the ‘temerity’ to suggest the other day that the turmoil surrounding the coup bid and the subsequent round up of dozens of Generals could affect US military cooperation with Turkey. Despite Erdogan taking umbrage at this statement, was this an idle thought? Turkey’s critical position as a member of the US-led coalition fighting Islamic State (IS) in Syria and the strategic Incirlik air base from which strikes against IS are launched cannot but be affected by the purge of nearly half of Turkey’s 358 Generals, not to mention the sackings and arrests of judges, teachers, journalists and other alleged ‘Gulenists’. Amnesty International has reported the beatings, severe torture, rape of coup plotters in detention. This does not behove a democracy wedded to the rule of law. The media has received more than its due share of unwanted attention too, including the shutting down of 130 media outlets amongst whom can be counted 45 daily newspapers and 16 TV channels. Besides this, arrest warrants have been issued for nearly 50 former staffers of the Zaman newspaper. Earlier, 42 arrest warrants were issued for journalists, 16 of whom have been detained. Amidst the wider crackdown against Gulen’s alleged or actual supporters, the witch-hunt in progress seems to be Erdogan and the AJK government’s seeing an opportunity to purge all political rivals, dissidents and the critical media. Although Erdogan in his paranoia has rounded harshly on General Votel for his remarks, his crackdown promises the opposite of what is intended: further polarisation of Turkey amidst the country’s backsliding on human rights, the right to information, imposition of a state of emergency, partial withdrawal from the European Convention on Human Rights, and contemplation of the restoration of the death penalty. The shock of the attempted coup notwithstanding, nothing justifies this response and this trend. No democratically elected ruler/s, no matter how solid their majority and the demonstrated support against the attempted coup by even the opposition, can simply throw all restraint to the winds and ride roughshod over the rights, even existence, of all dissident opinion. Turkey, beset by a full plate of problems with IS’s turning its guns on its erstwhile covert supporter, the war against the Kurds and now the attempted coup, is not being well served by Erdogan’s turn towards what increasingly is looking like a ‘fascist’ state. For that matter, in the long (or perhaps not even that long) run, neither are Erdogan’s own interests or future.

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