Sunday,17 June, 2018
Current issue | Issue 1342, (27 April - 3 May 2017)
Sunday,17 June, 2018
Issue 1342, (27 April - 3 May 2017)

Ahram Weekly

Erdogan’s constitutional tyranny

While Erdogan may imagine he has secured his own dynasty, in truth he has sealed his own fate, writes Hany Ghoraba

l’etat c’est moi — Louis XIV (1638-1715)

“I am the state,” said the famous French king Louis XIV who consolidated his power as absolute monarch for many decades. Louis XIV’s spirit seems to have passed to Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan who applies the same concept as he continues to turn Turkey into an absolutist constitutional tyranny.

Judging by late events in Turkey, the 16 April 2017 sham constitutional referendum had one possible ending: a “yes” result in favour of constitutional amendments that provide a constitutional frame to legitimise decades of future tyranny under Erdogan. The once prime minister now president has been turned overnight into a caliph of sorts, unprecedented powers being granted to the Turkish president.

The unprecedented powers granted to Erdogan not only secures his position as president until the 2019 elections, but also near guarantees it till 2029, whereby if he is still alive, he will likely either modify the constitution or pass the torch to one of his sons. Article 104 of the approved constitutional amendments provides that the president becomes both the head of state and head of government, with the power to appoint and sack ministers and the vice president. The president can issue decrees and declare martial law and preside over the cabinet as chairman at will. While the legislative authority can overrule executive decrees in some circumstances, this last section of the article is rendered useless when the ruling party, the Justice and Development Party (AKP), controls parliament and is headed by Erdogan.

Moreover, in Article 21, presidential elections are delayed for some odd reason till 2019, securing another two years in power for free for Erdogan. Also, the preposterous Article 159 effectively ends the independence of the Turkish judiciary system by reducing the Supreme Board of Judges and Prosecutors number to 13 from 22. Of these 13 members four will be chosen by the president and another two members to be chosen by the Justice Ministry. Both of the minister of justice and his undersecretary will likely be chosen by President Erdogan according to the new constitution. Thus he gets to choose six judges out of 13. The board will also be renamed the Board of Judges and Prosecutors, demoting it from being a “Supreme Board” as in the new Turkey nothing seems to be supreme but Erdogan.


MASSIVE RIGGING OF THE REFERENDUM: For many decades, Turkish people always took pride in their democratic process and considered it among the finest in the world. Nevertheless, during past decades, the activities of the Islamist ruling AKP have eroded that pride and confidence as a result of constant riggings of elections in favour of the party.

A few hours from the beginning of the referendum, all indications and reports from Turkey pointed towards mass rigging operations. There is an overwhelming amount of evidence that if presented to any impartial court of law in Turkey it would annul the entire referendum process. However, since Erdogan has purged most of the impartial judges following the alleged coup attempt in 2016, any evidence presented by the two main opposition parties — the Republican People’s Party (CHP) and the People’s Democratic Party (HDP) — or others may find itself tossed out of court by a pro-Erdogan judge. That is exactly what took place after the opposition appealed the result of the referendum to Turkey’s High Election Board.

The narrow percentage of the “yes” vote, at 51.41 per cent against 48.59 per cent to “no”, displays the inability of the Turkish president to sway a landslide majority towards his preposterous constitutional amendment. The rigging methods included all the classic methods, such as pre-marked ballot papers, switching of official ballot boxes with unstamped forged ones, and getting rid of entire ballot boxes containing “no” votes. Moreover, the entire process was marred by abuse, verbal and physical threats by Erdogan’s supporters (Erdogoons) towards the Hayir (No) campaigners. The intimidation tactics used on public and social media against the “No” campaign were unprecedented and leave not a shred of doubt that the entire process was conducted under duress.

The 51.41 per cent result of referendum is a far cry from the 91.4 per cent for which the Turkish nation voted for the same constitution in 1982. That constitution witnessed 18 amendments including eight during the reign of the AKP, which altered 108 articles in it. Nearly all of the eight amendments that took place under AKP rule were in favour of the Islamicisation policies of Erdogan, which served as a prequel to the grand finale that took place 17 April 2017.

IGNORED SIGNS OF CHANGE: During the early 1930s, if Western political analysts cared to read carefully the fascist literature of the Nazis, including Hitler’s own biography Mein Kämpf, they could have easily deduced and predicted his plans for a European and global domination. Similarly, if the same Western analysts who supported vehemently and ignorantly the rise of Islamist parties to power in Turkey and other Middle countries bothered to read Islamist literature by the Muslim Brotherhood and other Salafist denominations on the imperative of establishing a Caliphate, they would not have supported Erdogan’s ambitions for nearly two decades till he became the uncontested supreme ruler of Turkey.

At the moment, Erdogan has political powers befitting a mythological ancient Greek demigod more than a 21st century president.

For two decades, Western pundits — especially the liberals among them — deluded themselves along with their readers on the importance of inducting Islamists in the democratic process in Middle Eastern countries. They have believed the lie they propagated that Turkey is the model country in the image of which the rest of the Middle East should be formed. Indeed, it could have been that model, if the basis of secular governance was maintained and Islamists didn’t abuse the democratic system to infuse their venom on the whole of society, thus eventually creating a modified version of the Iranian regime in Turkey. The wishful thinking displayed by these pundits, ignoring all the red flags that were evident during the Islamicisation period between 2000-2017, is reflected in how shocked they were after their “democratic Islamist” pet project failed miserably.

The political myopia of the likes of Steven Cook, who is supposedly a Middle East expert, contributed to the rise of such disastrous phenomena in Egypt and all across the Middle East. He and many of his ilk went further, defending the rule of the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt and angered at their ouster by the Egyptian people in June 2013. The same writer has written an article “RIP Turkey 1921-2017”. It is an obituary about the death of the Turkish Republic, a fate that the Egyptian republic would have met if Egyptians followed his advice about the Muslim Brotherhood, a group Erdogan happens to be a member of, following its agenda to the letter.

Other parties to blame are the United States and European Union governments who supported Erdogan’s endless ambitions till very recently to secure a Turkish army presence in NATO in face of Russia. These very governments are now reaping what they sowed as Erdogan is more dangerous than any dictator that could have risen from the Middle East.

The way Turkey is sliding towards political chaos indicates that it won’t be too long before the AKP joins the infamous list of single parties that destroyed nations from within, including the German Nazi Party, the Soviet Communist Party and the Iraqi Baath Party. All of the above contributed to the demise of their countries, and even in some cases neighbouring countries as well. If not stopped immediately, the AKP is moving to become that single party that will destroy what is left of Turkey’s once democratic life.

As a result of the sham referendum, thousands of Turkish protesters have taken the streets and are adamant to not stand down or let Erdogan enjoy the fruits of a rigged referendum. As per Erdogan’s modus operandi, protests are met with brutal security force to instil fear in the hearts of millions in Turkey who feel betrayed by Erdogan.

CONCLUSION: First they came for the Socialists, and I did not speak out —
Because I was not a Socialist.

Then they came for the Trade Unionists, and I did not speak out — 
Because I was not a Trade Unionist.

Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out — 
Because I was not a Jew.

Then they came for me — and there was no one left to speak for me.

  • Martin Niemöller (1892-1984)

In this poem German Lutheran Pastor Martin Niemöller expresses his deep regret for the complacency he has displayed towards the Nazis’ crimes towards different factions of the German nation before World War II and during Hitler’s rise to absolute power. The Nazis seemed to take down one German faction after the other and filled concentration camps with all sorts of dissidents, opposition and millions other of ethnic groups such as Roma (Gypsies) and Jews.

The repenting pastor’s poem seems to resemble the same sentiments of the opposition who watched for decades as Erdogan became the master of the land and dismantled the democratic institutions piece by piece.

Hardly any democracy ends by abrupt means and in the case of Turkey it took nearly two decades of Islamist rule to put the last nail in the coffin of Turkey’s once prosperous secular democracy.

Dissidents against Islamist rule have to choose between two hard choices; either continue an endless stream of demonstrations while facing Erdogan’s persecution, to pressure the government to step down or accept their repeal for a new referendum; or wait for another army intervention or coup, which seems more far fetched since Erdogan already incarcerated and sacked almost all secular military commanders who would have stepped up to save the constitution.

There is a lot of blame to be shared in this situation and especially aimed towards the terribly organised opposition who seem to always act in favour of Erdogan who pits them against one another while they usually settle for the crumbs he throws at them. After all, they are the ones who accepted an Islamist party disguised as a modern secular one as the dominant party of Turkey. They have been complacent for two decades against infringements on the human rights of many groups and opposition leaders in Turkey.

Luckily, the Turkish nation and republic is too great to be dissolved and to die, as Steven Cook suggests, at the hands of one man, no matter how powerful he has become. However, without a shred of doubt there are darker skies ahead as concerns Turkey’s short-term future. The fight to regain Turkey back from the Islamists just got harder, but it is a fight that has to be undertaken. Now is a moment of truth for every patriotic Turk around the world to stand and fight the tyranny, or watch as the Ataturk republic fades away.

Most importantly, these results debunk any naïve theories that Islamists — even in countries possessing modern economies and educated populations — could ever run a healthy democratic system. In fact, they usually work on ruining any existing democratic process and institutions while abusing that process to guarantee eternal rule for their party. Once an Islamist party heads the government, it will be quite hard to topple by democratic means.

Erdogan may have sealed his fate and secured a place among the historical tyrants that dragged their countries into chaos and misery instead of prosperity. Nevertheless, the descendants of Mustafa Kemal Ataturk will not put up with his tyranny no matter how it costs them. He can take pride in coining a new political term for a new form of governance patented in his name: constitutional tyranny.

Through that system of governance, he believes he secured a lifetime as a president and possibly initiated a ruling dynasty that would be followed by his corruption-tainted son, Necmettin Bilal Erdogan, or Ahmet Burak Erdogan. Erdogan believes he will rule Turkey forever and his legacy will be followed by his sons. Unfortunately for him, so did Saddam Hussein and Muammar Gaddafi.

The writer is a political analyst and author of Egypt’s Arab Spring and Winding Road for Democracy.

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