Sunday,23 September, 2018
Current issue | Issue 1304, (21 - 27 July 2016)
Sunday,23 September, 2018
Issue 1304, (21 - 27 July 2016)

Ahram Weekly

Last rites for the Ataturk republic

The attempted coup against Turkey’s Erdogan, far from deterring him, will almost certainly result in a greater push than ever towards single-man authoritarian rule, writes Sayed Abdel-Meguid

Al-Ahram Weekly

True, they have dwindled to a number countable on the fingers of a single hand, but one would have expected such opposition newspapers as Cumhuriyet, Aydinlik, Sözcü and the Meydan not to come out in favour of the coup (none of the political, social or cultural forces voiced any support, even tacitly or implicitly, for the coup) but to utter a word or two of criticism regarding the post-coup purges following the quashing of that aborted insurgency on the part of a small segment of the Turkish armed forces last Friday night.

By noon Monday, which is to say within two days of the event, 7,845 people were arrested, mostly soldiers, and more than 11,000 judges and policemen were fired from their jobs in one of the most extensive sweeps of retaliatory vengeance in Turkish history.

The opposition newspapers opted to keep their mouths shut. And who can blame them, given the jingoistic frenzy, the witch hunts against “traitors” and mob lynching on the Bosphorus Bridge?

In short, terror reigns. A newspaper that breathes so much as a hint of criticism risks avenging mobs and these have proliferated and are ready and waiting for the signal to attack “traitors”. A recent victim was Hurriyet. This newspaper cannot be ranked among the opposition media, but this did not spare it from a gang of hooligans who stormed its offices bent on total destruction. Perhaps the newspaper’s very neutrality is what incurred the wrath of the powers-that-be.

In all events, the gruesome images of the lynching of one of the surrendering rebel soldiers on the Bosphorus Bridge were sufficient to send a chill down everyone’s spine. As though to augment the terror, news reports (albeit uncorroborated) stated that mob “militias” throughout the country received specific instructions to take whatever means and measures they deemed necessary against persons they suspected might present a danger to the state.

In this climate, the Turkish media has been reduced to a single strident voice — that of the ruling AKP and its leader. The president, his latest prime minister and other henchmen only have to open their mouths for the words to be aired live and then re-broadcast around the clock. The “Reis”, himself, must be exulting more than ever in the fruits of this total control over the press, his unlimited power to unleash the media against anyone he points an accusing finger at, and to incite mass hatred against the coup-makers.

In this regard, last weekend occasioned one of those amazing ironies of the Erdogan era. Twitter, Facebook, WhatsApp and other such social networking marvels of the IT revolution have long been the object of his displeasure. He has cursed them, brought them to court and tried to shut them down. Yet, without them, he would not have been able to make his voice heard across the nation, exhorting the people to take to the streets and squares against the rebels. With the magic wand of a “FaceTime” linkup he succeeded in adding to his armies of supporters thousands of people from families across the political spectrum who suffered from last century’s coups and who heeded his call to take a stand against the rebels.

Last weekend’s events threw into relief the increasing role of the official religious establishment and the increasingly pervasive power of Mehmet Gormez, president of the Presidency of Religious Affairs. The highest cleric in the country, Gormez is very close to Erdogan who, in turn, has showered the county’s top imam with a $385,000 armoured Mercedes and other gifts and perks, thereby securing the cleric’s unswerving allegiance and his influence over the country’s 80,000 mosques that he supervises.

Because of their intensive politicisation, mosque pulpits have also been channelled to the service of Erdogan, the pious, the defender of Islam, the champion of Muslim causes in Turkey and beyond. Thus indoctrinated, the tens of thousands of graduates of the imam and preacher schools that have received such munificent support under AKP rule have become another of the president’s weapons against all adversaries he brands as enemies of the faith.

Since last weekend, mosques across the length and breadth of Anatolia have been used as platforms for stoking public fury against “traitor” soldiers and even flagrantly inciting violence. Following evening prayers, imams ascended their pulpits in village mosques and, voices blaring over loudspeakers, exhorted people to report to the headquarters of the local mukhtar. For the past year or more these local officials, the majority of whom are AKP members, have been assiduously cultivated by the “Reis” and they, in turn, have cheered his every move to quash civil liberties and vented their wrath, on his behalf, against all who fell afoul of the ruling party and got it into their minds to exercise their constitutionally stipulated rights.

It is no coincidence that analyses that concertedly appear in the opinion columns of pro-Erdogan dailies predict the immanent end of the Ataturk era, if it has not already met its demise. They are probably right. Even if his remarks stirred an outcry at the time, speaker of parliament Ismail Kahraman’s call, in April, for a “religious constitution” with no place for secularism explicitly voiced what the AKP and its chief founder have had in mind all along. Although those officials distanced themselves from the remarks at the time, it is clear that they were timed and released deliberately in the manner of one of the AKP’s notorious trial balloons. There is no doubt the constitutional conversion will become a dominant theme in the period following the aborted coup, which increasing numbers of people over recent days have begun to cautiously whisper was not just amateurish but faked.

Large segments of the public and secularist-leaning intellectuals above all feel more threatened and isolated than ever. With the media in chains, the government thumb on educational institutions and a neutered military establishment, they feel increasingly helpless as they watch the military being purged and turned into a politicised wing of the Erdogan executive, and the judiciary being overhauled to eliminate the last remains of judicial autonomy and, most crucially, that of the Supreme Constitutional Court.

The coming days are likely to bring more extrajudicial measures and increased tensions, especially following the shooting attack against the deputy mayor of Istanbul’s Sisli district, Cemil Candas, earlier this week. On the same day, a soldier opened fire near the Palace of Justice in Ankara before being killed by security guards.

As for the political parties that rallied behind democracy and condemned all attempts to change government by force of arms, they were lauded by Prime Minister Binali Yildirim. Cooperation between his party and the opposition parties will see a new beginning, he said.

Will his prediction come true? Many observers doubt so.

The opposition People’s Republican Party (CHP) and the Kurdish/human rights-oriented People’s Democratic Party (HDP) have already declared their firm opposition to the reintroduction of the death penalty, which Erdogan has indicated he would happily sign into law if the AKP-dominated legislature approved it.

While Erdogan, himself, sent a thank you note to the political parties for their stance against the attempted coup, he pointedly omitted mention of the HDP in that letter. In all events, the opposition parties, along with a large portion of the public, fear that Erdogan will now accelerate his authoritarian drive and push for early elections, taking advantage of the overwhelming outpouring of public fervour against the attempted coup.

With a sweeping electoral victory, Erdogan’s dreams of “Turkish-style” presidential system will be a shoo-in.

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