Tuesday,17 October, 2017
Current issue | Issue 1305, (28 July - 3 August 2016)
Tuesday,17 October, 2017
Issue 1305, (28 July - 3 August 2016)

Ahram Weekly

Gift or curse?

Turkey’s Erdogan has declared the attempted coup against him a “gift from God”. As purges proceed at full pace, many are waking up to the meaning of that pronouncement, writes Sayed Abdel-Meguid

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Al-Ahram Weekly

No sooner had that “shocking” military coup attempt been laid to rest than the world at home and abroad stood agape as Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan declared, in a fit of euphoria, that that event was a “gift from God”. It was not long before observers fully appreciated the full depth of that proclamation delivered so triumphantly by the man who controls everything that moves in Turkey and who has relentlessly turned against and discarded every person who helped his political ascent and took part in the schemes to eliminate all rivals and tighten his exclusive grip on power.

Events moved very swiftly as Erdogan cashed in on that divine gift. Hundreds of lists, thousands of names long, suddenly surfaced as though prepared long in advance for just this occasion. The drafters had clearly not been pressed for time, as the lists were extremely precise in identifying not just the “Gulenists” who Erdogan claims had masterminded the most amateurish coup attempt in Turkish history, but every single adversary and potential adversary. As all were labelled “enemies and traitors” they were tossed behind bars. The scope of the sweep was unprecedented. The most violent and brutal of Turkey’s coups of the 20th century, namely that led by General Kenan Evren in 1980, paled in comparison. The Italian prime minister at the time remarked that Evren had “put [Turkey’s] future in prison”. One wonders what he would have to say today.

The purges certainly accelerated Turkey’s slide back into the Third World and the repressive practices that are associated with countries so labelled, and that many thought had been safely consigned to the past in Turkey. Unfortunately, now, along with the arbitrary arrests there are reports of grave human rights abuses including torture, according to Amnesty International, and this in a country that presumably aspires to membership in the EU. The wrath, moreover, was not just unleashed against the coup-makers. Post-coup Turkey has turned into an orgy of revenge so systematic in nature and so ready to be put into effect that the very least that could be said was that the opportunity for this had been handed to Erdogan on a jewel encrusted silver platter.

A new country has emerged in the wake of 15 July, that watershed date that, as of next year, as Erdogan proclaimed, would be a national holiday to commemorate the victory of popular will over the coup and in defense of democracy.

So democracy must exist and the events that took place on that nerve-racking day, in which “dozens of martyrs” died, aimed to protect its proud banner. Such is the nature of the rhetoric that reverberates across the televised media, most of which are now private sector in name only having been reduced to pro-ruling party and pro-Erdogan mouthpieces by means of a long and persistent campaign of intimidation and harassment with the occasional carrot thrown their way (the Islamist pundit Fethüllah Gülen was one of the architects of this campaign during that distant era of friendship and harmony between him and Erdogan). The result is that they no longer need the presidential nudge for them to chant the Erdogan slogan, “One heart for the sake of democracy,” and to adjust their pitch to the required frenzied fervour as they praise the freedom that was nearly uprooted by “terrorists in military uniforms”.

Other media, so far still available on the Internet and social networking sites, tell another, much grimmer story, punctuated with gallows humour. Their voice, however, is drowned out by the raucous fanfare trumpeting the refrain, set by Deputy Prime Minister Mehmet Şimşek, “Democracy in Turkey is experiencing its brightest era.”

To drum up the appropriate atmosphere for this theme, the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) has instructed its officers in the various municipalities it commands to mobilise the people to march and demonstrate in central squares to “champion and safeguard democracy”. Mosque pulpits have also been called into service and local imams have enthusiastically mustered up the appropriate Quranic verses, Prophetic sayings and glorious moments of Ottoman history in order to the drive home the central point: People must rally around their leader, the Zaim, the conqueror of the coup and the symbol of democracy.

Yet, the spectacle did not turn out as grand as the powers-that-be in Ankara had hoped for.  They had imagined the thudding feet of millions of marchers causing the earth to quake across Anatolia and beyond. The sit-ins in Istanbul and Ankara, largely consisting of AKP rank and file plus some dozens of Syrian refugees to fill in the gaps, soon began to dwindle. In spite of the president’s daily appeals to remain in the streets and squares, it appears that many in the crowd had better things to do.

As for other parts of the country, the turnout was next to zero. The AKP propaganda machine exerted great efforts to bring out the crowds and to furnish the necessary half-bed trucks decked out with flags and banners, and to supply the thousands of required placards with Erdogan’s picture on them. But there were precious few to carry them.

Moreover, down south in the Mediterranean coastal city of Antalya, the people openly denied official statements to the effect that their city’s squares were packed with jubilant crowds. They pointed out that Antalya was too deep in mourning over the unprecedented slump that has hit its tourist industry. In fact, some circles in that city have remarked that if there are to be demonstrations and sit-ins there at all they should be in protest against government policies that led to their dire economic straits.

Meanwhile, in the midst of all the hype surrounding that brightest ever era of democracy, did Erdogan and his dwindling clique stop to ask what might have motivated that aborted coup? Perhaps Istanbul’s iconic Taksim Square answered that question Sunday. That day brought out throngs double in size to the previous sit-ins of mustered up AKP supporters and its militias. The crowds that turned out Sunday had answered the call of the Republican People’s Party (CHP) and its leader Kemal Kilicdarogul for a demonstration in support not just for democracy as a catchword, but for an immediate return to the Turkish republic’s fundamental secularist principles that have been abused and eroded by Erdogan as well as by his former colleague and mentor Gülen at the time when the interests of these two politicians coincided.

The time has come to return to the separation of powers in government and to prevent the employment of members of religious organisations in state institutions, Kilicdaroglu told the crowds who were carrying placards stating “We defend the republic and democracy”. There were also chants protesting the state of emergency that has been declared across the country. But above all, the crowds that turned out that day were there to demonstrate their opposition to Erdogan and the disasters his policies and attitudes have inflicted on Turkey during the past five years in particular.

The attempted coup followed by the waves of purges to the accompaniment of an AKP engineered “democratic” soundtrack have nothing remotely to do with democracy, which in Turkey had been reduced to the point where it was awaiting its death blow. Rather, those events had everything to do with a feverish conflict between rival Islamist camps over power. Turkey would be better off without both Erdogan and Gülen.

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