Turkey and the Rule of a Sultan

Over the last few days the Republican convention, the aftermath of the France terrorist attacks, as well as the officer shootings have cast a shadow over the news to the point that another important event didn’t receive enough of our attention.
 
In Turkey a military coup almost overthrew the government of president Erdogan.
 
There were not really any signs of a military coup. Statistically speaking, it was a highly unlikely event (Fisher & Taub NYT July 16th), despite the fact that president Erdogan has slowly but surely cut down on civil liberties and the power of any opposition (including the military).
 
The increasingly religious undertone of his reign in a country that prided itself of having a secular government, as well as his politics of fear and hatred pointing at Kurds as the enemy (more than ISIS), has done little to stabilize Turkey.
 
Still, no tell-tale signs of a coup existed, and given how poorly it was executed some even suggested that the coup might have been instigated by Erdogan himself. After all, creating enemies (foreign or not) has often been a strategy to distract from internal problems and to purge the civil and political arena from any opposition. Erdogan has done so himself with the Kurdish population.
 
While such a claim is likely the product of conspiracy theory, this doesn’t mean that president Erdogan is not using this failed coup as a platform to achieve the same goal – no matter who was behind the coup.
 
Already a day after the coup had failed, the Turkish president dismissed almost 3000 judges and prosecutors, ridding universities of over 1500 higher administrators, and revoking licenses of over 20,000 teachers. Nearly 35,000 members of the military and security forces were detained (Friedman NYT 20.07.2016).
 
No question, anyone in Erdogan’s shoes would try to bring the perpetrators to justice and reinstall order. Still, some uneasy questions remain.
 
Given how the coup has taken most people by surprise, how could Erdogan and his people possibly know who exactly the enemy was? How could they possibly identify within less than two days 3000 judges and prosecutors, 1500 Deans of Universities, over 20,000 teachers, and 35000 military personnel as part of the coup?
 
The timing and the scale of these interventions suggest that rather than looking for people involved in the coup, the coup was taken as an excuse to apply an already existing list to go after specific people.
 
Not surprisingly, this list focused on what is usually regarded as the pillars of any civil society and the critical voices so desperately needed in a functioning democracy: After having assaulted already the press in previous months, now the independent justice system, the educational institutions, as well as the military who safeguards the country are under attack.
 
Where does this all leave Turkey? Turkey is at an important crossroad. While the civil society did not support a military coup (previous military rule has Turkey’s citizens disillusioned), the country is increasingly divided by the ever more extreme Erdogan rule. His increasingly religious stands represents the opposite of Turkey’s commitment to a secular government.
 
Erdogan’s breaking down of civil society (already before the coup) and the onslaught going on right now seem to be part of the same process that will drive the wedge between the president and the Turkish civil society even further.
 
The coup and the response to it does not only make Turkey’s entrance into the EU more unlikely, but will question ever more the trustworthiness of Turkey as a reliable ally in the area.
 
The internal instability created by Erdogan and evidenced by the failed coup, seems to make Turkey the perfect victim of future ISIS violence pushing it potentially at the brink of failure.
 
Turkey has already one of the highest number of recruitment offices for ISIS, some of them in plain sight. This kind of turmoil and discontent seems to be the fertile ground for more.
 
So what does this all mean for Turkey’s future? Turkey is once more at a pivotal point in its history; further undermining civil society seems to be the worst option and would open the doors to potential chaos, further violence, and ultimate state failure.
 
A failure of Turkey, however, would be disastrous for the Middle East. Let’s hope that Erdogan understands that to prevent that what the country needs is not a strong leader, but a strong civil society.
 
If the Arab spring has taught us anything, it is that a strong middle class can make the difference. In his early years Erdogan strengthened the Turkish middle class as Friedman rightfully states (NYT 20.07.2016). This strong middle class, together with civil rights and liberties is needed to prevent Turkey from falling into disarray.
 
Unfortunately, Erdogan has been taking the opposite course for a while now and seems to be determined to steer his course of weakening civil rights and liberties and undermining the middle class.
 
With those kinds of politics, the next coup, will be statistically much more likely than the one the world has just seen failing.ang 1

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