Sunday,22 July, 2018
Current issue | Issue 1304, (21 - 27 July 2016)
Sunday,22 July, 2018
Issue 1304, (21 - 27 July 2016)

Ahram Weekly

A fragile system

While Turkey’s Erdogan survived a coup attempt 15 July, if he uses this day to aggrandise his powers, it may not be the last coup attempt he faces, writes Hussein Haridy

Al-Ahram Weekly

“The mosques our barracks, the domes our helmets, the minarets our bayonets and the faithful our soldiers.”

These are the words of a poem written in the early 1990s by Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, before his rise to power in the following decade. If you were to look for a definition of what political Islam is all about, I doubt you would find a more accurate definition.

The man who wrote this poem, in power for more than a decade, was on the brink of being deposed by a military coup on 15 July. The coup failed and it is too early to discuss the reasons of such a failure. However, the mere fact that members of the Turkish military tried, unsuccessfully, to seize power says a lot about the deep polarisation that has pervaded the state and society in Turkey. This polarisation started before the so-called “Arab Spring”, but it has become more acute and destabilising during the last five years. These years coincided with aggressive Turkish policies in the Middle East, especially in Syria.

Under the leadership of Erdogan and the rule of the Justice and Development Party, Turkey has embarked on a road whose unannounced destination is nothing but the complete Islamisation of Turkey. In other words, the dismantling of the secular Kemalist Republic that had come into being after the collapse of the Ottoman Empire, or the “sick man of Europe” as it used to be called for almost half a century before its demise in 1924.

Erdogan’s party came to power through the ballot box in free and fair elections, and it seems that those very boxes would never allow a rival political party to win a general election in a peaceful transfer of power. The reason is twofold. One is the fact that Erdogan and all forces of political Islam believe that democracy begins and ends at the ballot box. If you rule in the name of God, even if you do everything possible to say otherwise, how on earth would you ever concede defeat in democratic elections? The second is more structural. Once in power through the ballot box, parties and groups that adhere to an Islamic agenda act as if they are entitled by divine right to equate the state with their rule. In this context, they bring all state institutions and powers under their complete dominance. And the mechanism is always the same. It is enough to sack all your political opponents from key posts in the various branches of government on the pretext that they are “traitors” and “secular”, a word used by all their followers to turn political rivals into “devils”.

Turkey under Erdogan is a crying example of how democracy is maliciously used by some to remain in power perpetually. In the last four years, Erdogan purged the Turkish judiciary, Turkish police, exercised near total control over most news outlets, and even hinted at closing online social networks. If Iran has successfully controlled the use of online social networks, why shouldn’t Turkey?

Erdogan once said that democracy is like a bus ride: It would take you to the destination of your choice and that is it. It is no surprise that another leader of political Islam, in this instance from the Arab world, expressed the same opinion. I am speaking of the former leader of the Algerian “Islamic Salvation Front” upon winning the elections in Algeria back in 1991. The sad story of what took place in Algeria afterwards is history. Luckily, Algeria managed to free itself from the dominance and dictatorship of the “Islamic Salvation Front”, but Turkey is facing a very serious test. The army tried to step in on 15 July in order to save Turkish democracy and the secular republic established by its founder, Mustafa Kemal Ataturk.

The consequences of the failed coup are easy to enumerate. A severe crackdown on political opposition, which some political observers have likened to the “Night of the Long Knives” in Nazi Germany in 1933. On the other hand, the Turkish government will purge all government institutions and install the cadres of the ruling party. The Turkish army will suffer most. Aside from the humiliation of its soldiers on the streets of Istanbul, every commander and officer whose loyalty to Erdogan, and not to the state, is questioned will be fired. The Turkey of the next few years will be a very scary polity where political dissent won’t be tolerated.

In the meantime, the Turkish president will use the failed coup to justify and sell his wish to turn Turkey into a presidential system. If the Turkish parliament amends the constitution to this effect, I am afraid this would be a death sentence to the secular republic that Ataturk founded almost a century ago.

I have no doubt in my mind that this has always been the unstated and ultimate objective of Erdogan. He thinks he has a strong chance now in the aftermath of the aborted coup. If this is the case, it would not be a surprise if Turkey experiences a repeat of the events that unfolded 15 July.


The writer is former assistant to the foreign minister.

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