Tuesday,25 September, 2018
Current issue | Issue 1245, (7 - 13 May 2015)
Tuesday,25 September, 2018
Issue 1245, (7 - 13 May 2015)

Ahram Weekly

Erdogan’s future vision for himself

While May Day demonstrators in Istanbul faced teargas and thugs, Turkey’s President Erdogan was waxing lyrical about how progress will only come with him at the helm, writes Sayed Abdel-Meguid

Al-Ahram Weekly

Turkey has lost much, both materially and morally, from using its police resources to prevent people from assembling in Taksim Square. The square is not only the heart of Istanbul but now the heart of outrage throughout the country at the many forms of repression practiced by the ruling Justice and Development Party (JDP).

It is painful for observers to watch as the nearly century-old republic, heir to the Ottoman Empire, is dragged into the thickets of autocratic rule by leaders who are difficult to differentiate from their Third World counterparts.

Not that long ago, former President Abdullah Gül strenuously objected to those who ranked Turkey among Third World countries. One wonders, is Gül still of the same conviction? If so, perhaps recent remarks by Vasip Sahin would change his mind.

Sahin, the governor of Istanbul province and a close chum to now President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, said that the vast majority of Turkish citizens had not heeded the calls to demonstrate issued by “marginal groups” and “a tiny minority” bent on disruption and sowing instability.

If that was the case then why blockade 14 streets that lead to Taksim Square, close the metro station there, and amass thousands of riot police, fully armed and backed by armoured vehicles, in order to prevent anyone from approaching the square?

Then there are the hired thugs. Vasip omitted mention of this instrument commonly used by dictatorial regimes, and which is tasked with pursuing demonstrators who flee the clouds of teargas into the alleyways that are inaccessible to armoured vehicles and meting out the summary disciplinary measures of kicks and bludgeons.

What is the reason for all these measures? It is panic at the spectre of a sit-in in Istanbul’s iconic square around the time of the anniversary of the famous Gezi Park demonstrations that were staged at the end of May two years ago. The repercussions from the heavy-handed police crackdown on peaceful demonstrators and the tragic deaths that followed are still felt today.

Clearly, the powers-that-be in Ankara have chosen to ignore how starkly the images of government repression in Istanbul contrast with scenes of crowds assembling in many other cities around the world to mark International Labour Day.

Erdogan, of course, is indifferent to the international reactions stirred by images of violence and brutality used to disperse the May Day demonstrators on Friday. He speaks as though nothing ugly were going on under his watch and remains bent on his course. The Turkey he has described as “old” must make way for the other Turkey he calls “new”.

On the very day that Istanbul was reeling under teargas, truncheons and boots, he was in a meeting in Ankara busily stitching together the new gown he is preparing for Turkey, as the old one will not do for the Turkey he envisions.

“Some people are bothered by the idea of the presidential system,” he told his audience. “They do not want to see their country progress. They still run election campaigns as they did in 1970 and 1990. Really, they have no future vision.”

But Erdogan certainly has one. He sums it up in two magic words: “stability” and “confidence”. Without the latter there can be no stability and without stability there can no revival in the country.

If this sounds familiar it is because it echoes the customary rhetoric of dictators and despots. It is little wonder, therefore, that at that very moment thousands of Turkish May Day demonstrators were crying out against the fascism that is tightening its grip over their country and gnawing away at fundamental constitutional principles, the autonomy of the judiciary and the rule of law.

The Erdogan vision of the future sees only one institution prevailing: the presidency, with him in it. He was not exaggerating when he said that his presidential system would make Turkey unique and unrivalled, even if some of his critics had to complete the sentence: “in its race to dictatorship.”

It comes as no surprise that the “old” European continent is very disturbed by the deterioration of democracy in that country that still appears to seek membership in the EU. The prominent German politician Barbara Lochbihler voiced some of this concern in a current events programme aired on the Samanyolu satellite TV station that belongs to the Fethullah Gülen movement.

The general manager of Samanyolu TV, Hidayet Karaca, who was arrested along with other journalists and media executives in December, is still in prison, which adds to the poignancy of Lochbihler’s observations.

The JDP government cannot abide criticism and refuses to acknowledge wrongdoing, she said. The system of justice in Turkey has collapsed and Europe must take a firm stance against Ankara’s authoritarian trends.

Lochbihler, who is vice-chair of the EU Parliament’s human rights subcommittee and foreign policy spokesperson for the Green Party, said that the judicial suits that have been targeting the Gülen Hizmet movement demonstrate the dangers of political interventions in the judiciary.

She lamented the severe attrition on judicial autonomy in Turkey at present and cautioned that large segments of the public will lose their confidence in the government over time. She added that Turkish foreign policy has become a great disappointment and diminished its international standing, and that the image of Turkey as a model for the Middle East has vanished.

Or, as Zaman columnist Ömer Nurettin put it, the gleam has faded and the truth has emerged. “The Turkish model has fallen prey to the personal ambitions of politicians with narrow partisan outlooks and divisive ideologies and to those who reproduced secular guardianship for political Islam from the womb of the military guardianship and fashioned it a loathsome fascist gown.

“This took place under the leadership of the Justice and Development Party, which has deviated from the principles and values of international relations and international law, as well as crushed democracy, civil liberties and human rights.

“Meanwhile, there is Erdogan who sees everything in Turkey as though it all revolves around him alone: religion, the nation, the government, the party, the law, freedom, education, the economy, and politics with everything included.”

The situation looks bleak indeed. Is there hope for change? That is the crucial question.

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