Saturday,21 October, 2017
Current issue | Issue 1304, (21 - 27 July 2016)
Saturday,21 October, 2017
Issue 1304, (21 - 27 July 2016)

Ahram Weekly

Commentary: Why stage a coup now?

Not everyone in Turkey is taking the events of last Friday at face value, writes Sayed Abdel-Meguid

Al-Ahram Weekly

Any insult — the common label these days for criticism of a certain hypersensitive Turkish political character — will automatically press the on button of a sleek and well-greased machine of prosecutors, press and courts that will efficiently process offenders and render them imprisoned, encumbered with fines, out of work and even dispossessed of their children. This machine operates according to an article of the constitution on insulting the president.

Meanwhile, another law on the books — prohibiting insults to the founder of the Turkish republic, Mustafa Kemal Ataturk — is now totally ignored under AKP rule that is overtly hostile to the Kemalist order and its secular values.

As the AKP consolidated its power, offences against Ataturk have grown frequent and increasingly flagrant. While observers were not surprised that the AKP government failed to act against these offences, they were startled as to why the military turned a blind eye to them too. The military is the guardian of the Kemalist heritage, women’s rights and secularism, as retired General Çevik Bir put it — days that are quickly fading to a distant past.

Nor does it stop there. Since Bir’s day, the general staff, under former chief-general Necdet Özer, who retired last year, sent a condolence letter to the staunchly Islamist Yeni Akit newspaper following an attack on some of its staff. This newspaper spares no occasion to denigrate Ataturk and to heap scorn on what they call his coup against the caliphate. The situation reached the stage that, in the opinion of one academic, “the army and the government have agreed on the composition of ‘Turkish Islam’.”

At the same time, the army is no longer disturbed by assaults against democrats, liberals, writers and journalists. Nor is it fazed by the types of measures being taken against the Hizmet movement, founded by Islamist cleric Fethullah Gulen, and all suspected of being associated with it. In fact, this drive has the army’s blessing because it believes that Gulen was responsible for the manufacturing of the charges that were brought against dozens of officers in the Ergenokon and Sledgehammer cases. Though the guilty were acquitted years later, the notorious cases proved useful in Erdogan’s drive for power.

The noticeable and unprecedented concord between a zealously Islamist civilian authority and an army brass that appears unconcerned by the erosion of secular and democratic values led many to conclude that the era of military coups had passed.

Evidence can be found the discussions in ruling party circles of what is essentially a civil war scenario in the event that Erdogan does not get satisfactory results from parliamentary deliberations over a new constitution, in which case he would call for early elections again, taking advantage of vacancies opened up by prosecutions of Kurdish MPs whose immunity was lifted. At that point, no obstacles will stand in the way of producing a constitution tailored to Erdogan’s vision of a presidential system in his service.

Against this backdrop, some are sceptical regarding last week’s events.

“Remember the Reichstag fire in Germany in the 1930s. The same is happening here, bar a few details,” said one source, who added: “It is unlikely that a scheme like that could be carried off by those allegiant to Erdogan and the AKP alone. It requires the assistance of the deep state, inclusive of the military establishment. That same deep state would be equally keen rid parliament of the Kurdish MPs and the support they receive from Kurdish voters, whom it regards as a threat to the regime.”

The Kurds will remain an obstacle to the ruling party in elections, if conducted in a fair and transparent environment. Therefore, the only way to eliminate that obstacle permanently is to usher in a presidential system of government.

If indeed the army thinks like Erdogan, or sympathises with his gripes against two-headedness in government, why would it stage a coup against him?

Last week’s events undoubtedly mark a watershed. Moreover, it is noteworthy that the military establishment cautioned Erdogan of the possibility, and urged him to take precautions. Perhaps this was a critical factor in the rapid quashing of the attempted coup, if that is what it was.

Regardless, the army has once again become the target of a systematic campaign to erode its prestige. It has received a heavy blow, said a senior government official. On top of this came the horrifying Daesh-like bloodletting by pro-Erdogan lynch mobs against uniformed soldiers, adding insult to injury inflicted against that patriotic symbol of Turkish collective consciousness.

What the forthcoming days will bring is open to question. Will the military be galvanised into an initiative it has so far been reluctant to take?

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