Monday, August 8, 2016

Business Recorder Column Aug 9, 2016

Erdogan’s counter-coup Hundreds of thousands of supporters of Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and his ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP), including the opposition (except for the pro-Kurdish People’s Democratic Party), turned out for a ‘Democracy and Martyrs’ rally in Istanbul on Sunday, August 7 to celebrate the overcoming of an abortive coup by a faction of the military on July 15. Similar, albeit smaller rallies were also held in the capital Ankara, tourist destination Izmir in the west of the country, Antalya in the south and Diyarbakir in the Kurdish southeast. These rallies bring to an end the daily manifestations of support for democracy and against the foiled coup for the last three weeks. Although no one in their right mind in today’s day and age would support the ‘Man on Horseback’ syndrome, the failed military coup that claimed at least 273 lives, including 34 coup plotters, has spawned even uglier consequences than the condemnable putsch itself. The reasons for the attempted overthrow of President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and his AKP government are not hard to seek. In power since 2002, 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 from the prime minister, hitherto the chief executive, to the presidency. The coup attempt may have been triggered by such trends. 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 from the US to face trial at home, but has yet to move a formal request for the same since that would require substantiation and evidence for the charge. Gulen also stands accused of earlier trouble making through the alleged influence of his followers in the police, bureaucracy, judiciary and the media. Ironically, till 2013, Gulen was an ally of Erdogan against Turkey’s traditional secularism and to clip the military’s wings. After they fell out over Gulen’s criticism of Erdogan’s increasingly authoritarian tendencies and the latter’s suspicion that Gulen was behind leaks on the social media linking Erdogan’s family and colleagues to massive corruption, many police, prosecution and intelligence officers were sacked, but this purge was small compared to the ongoing wholesale witch-hunt. What has cut little ice with Erdogan is the denial of responsibility and condemnation of the coup attempt by Gulen. The collapse of the putsch by a section of the armed forces (the conspirators did not even have the backing of the entire military) has been followed by a wide-ranging purge that 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 150 Generals and Admirals, nearly half of Turkey’s High Command, not to mention 10,000 members of the armed forces. Add to these the sackings and arrests of 9,000 policemen, 2,475 judges, 21,000 private school teachers, journalists and other alleged ‘Gulenists’, including 1,700 education ministry, 1,500 finance ministry officials and 1,500 university deans being forced to resign. Amnesty International has reported the beatings, severe torture, rape of the accused 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 Turkey of 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 Euro three billion migrants deal with the EU may unravel amidst the latter’s reservations regarding Turkey’s present course and Erdogan’s accusation that his country has only received one third of the promised amount. Even the Pak-Turk 26 schools educating 10,000 children in Pakistan are threatened with closure because of Ankara’s linking them with Gulen. 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 turning its guns on its erstwhile covert supporter, the war against the Kurds escalating in the southeast 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, particularly because of his increasing public attacks on the US for being behind or at least complicit in the abortive coup and on the west generally for allegedly being more sympathetic to the coup plotters than his regime.

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