Tuesday,25 September, 2018
Current issue | Issue 1313, (29 september - 5 October 2016)
Tuesday,25 September, 2018
Issue 1313, (29 september - 5 October 2016)

Ahram Weekly

Erdogan’s ebbing regime

Turkey’s Erdogan is still flogging the narrative that the defeated July coup has enshrined democracy under his championship. Fewer and fewer Turks are convinced, writes Sayed Abdel-Meguid

Al-Ahram Weekly

“Democracy” has become a very curious term in Erdogan’s Turkey where it has acquired mystical and magical properties. Ever since the aborted coup on the night of 15 July the word is uttered ad nauseam in Ankara like a solemn incantation as though this would make the government’s quite undemocratic (according to the conventional definition) and certainly unsightly practices disappear from sight.

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan is, of course, a paragon in this regard. Before leaving for New York for the UN General Assembly he declared that he would tell the whole world with pride how the Turkish people defeated the coup-makers and risked their lives in defence of democracy that only began to flourish under his leadership and that of his ruling party. He reiterated all of this for the sake of billions worldwide who— apart from the millions of Turks — he imagined would believe it.

The entire world should offer praises to the Lord on high for that democratic victory in the heir to the Ottoman Empire against those who sought to usurp the will of the people who had elected their leader for the first time in the history of the republic (by which he was referring to himself and insinuating that Ataturk was no longer the model to emulate).

The phenomenon has reached delirious proportions. Observers at home and abroad are so dumbfounded by all the rhetorical excesses that jar so sharply with realities that they can not help but to wonder what is going on. Some seek refuge in sarcasm perhaps as a way to stay out of prison. All of us must be the fascist dictators and Erdogan and his clique the only democrats on the planet, they jibe. Of course, they know that in today’s Turkey no voice can be heard above that of the occupant of the fabulous Ak Saray in the country’s audio-visual and printed media. Dozens of government run or intimidated channels and headlines echo the same news and every word uttered by the Reis with barely an hour per week set aside for the leader of the opposition. Such is the nature of democracy à la Erdogan.

On the other hand, some are brave enough to break the taboo. Nobel Prize laureate Orhan Pamuk, for example, has acknowledged that freedom of thought no longer exists in his country that is rapidly moving away from the rule of law and towards the “rule of terror”. Pamuk’s remarks, which appeared in an article in the Italian La Repubblica, came in response to the recent arrest of the noted journalist and writer Ahmet Altan and his brother, Mehmet Altan, a prominent academic and economist. Both were critical of the government, of course, but neither were even remotely connected to what RTE calls the “parallel entity”, or “FETÖ” — the “Fethullah terrorist organisation” — named after RTE’s friend turned nemesis Fethullah Gulen, whom officials in Ankara claim masterminded the failed coup attempt.

Pamuk said that anyone who spoke freely and levelled so much as a mild criticism against the government in Turkey would be arrested and tossed into jail. He added that this campaign of repression was being driven by a “ferocious hatred.”

This awareness is not just limited to intellectual elites. More and more average Turks are increasingly alarmed by the direction their country is taking under its present leadership and opposition parties together with many civil society organisations are urgently working to caution the public of the looming dangers that will grip Turkey if its president persists in his authoritarian mode.

It would be mistaken to believe all the claims made by the preacher Fethullah Gulen, who would like the world to believe that he is totally innocent. Today, in the many interviews he has given in the international media since the failed coup, he has been particularly keen to defend himself against the lies and fabrications that have been made up against him in Turkey. He has also urged European leaders to take clear and resolute stances against government repression in Turkey that has led to the arrest and imprisonment of tens of thousands and the dismissal from work of an even greater number of Turkish citizens. However, it is important to bear in mind that he worked with Erdogan (and vice versa) for a long time before their rupture in 2013 and, in this regard, one can not help but to ask where Gulen was at the time of the campaign of arrests and purges that affected hundreds of military men, intellectuals, judges, journalists and academics in the context of the Ergenekon and Sledgehammer cases, which also revolved around an alleged attempt to overthrow the government of the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) at the time, when Erdogan was prime minister. Five years after those cases it came to light that the evidence was falsified. Why did Gulen not appeal to Western leaders to intervene and come to the rescue of people who had been wrongfully put behind bars on trumped up charges? The reason is very simple: Gulen himself had a hand in arranging the charges that Erdogan would bring against the alleged conspirators.

The coin, thus, has two dark faces. Both are an integral part of the anarchy that seethes beneath the surface and the escalating polarisation, tensions and violence that are being engineered and manipulated towards an ultimate goal. After all, there is no longer any doubt that Erdogan and his regime, regardless of his claims, are bent on dismantling the secularist democratic order and laying the foundations for an authoritarian system with theocratic underpinnings.

In the face of this spectre we find a growing wave of activists of diverse outlooks who refer to themselves as Ataturkists.

Determined to safeguard the legacy of the modern Turkish republic, they are taking advantage of the growing anger among the general public which has begun to realise the true intentions of their president, especially now that it has become clear that hundreds if not thousands of the victims of the purges were wrongfully accused of being associated with Gulen.

Still, the confusion and turmoil is taking a mounting toll on the economy and standards of living for millions of Turks. The decision by Moody’s Investor Service to downgrade Turkey’s sovereign credit rating to non-investment grade was a telling sign of the economic and political deterioration in the country. Worse is likely to follow in view of the ongoing campaign of mass arrests and dismissals that have obstructed work (let alone reform) in the educational, military, judicial and media sectors. Nor is there any indication that the government will alter its behaviour in light of its chronic determination to insist that the economy is solid and unshakable and that it is Turkey’s enemies abroad and traitors at home that want to destroy the economy.

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