A Case of Failing Democracy or Fading Geo-politics
Jul 25 2016 (The Daily Star, Bangladesh) – The ‘coup’ of July 15 in Turkey failed within hours of its start, and given that it enlisted very limited support within the army itself, some called it not a coup but a ‘mutiny’.
In recent times, there have been many reports, mainly in the West, of unhappiness with Erdogan’s Islamism and authoritarian style of governing, but no one thought that this would translate into a coup. After all, it was not that long ago when the world cheered “The Rise of Turkey”. Under Erdogan’s leadership and with a mix of liberal democracy and neoliberal economic policy, Turkey marched ahead economically. Turkey looked like the poster boy of the Muslim world – modern, progressing and yet Muslim.
However, while the economy was growing, Islamist nationalism also surged unnoticed in the beginning. Islamist nationalism was hailed as Islam’s democratic answer to ‘terrorism’ that in recent times has become the scourge of most Muslim majority nations.
But all of a sudden, the scene changed and the tone became very different – to some, Turkey is now a “failed model” and this is because Erdogan “changed the Constitution for his own benefit and restarted his wicked conflict with the Kurds” (Independent, July 16, 2016) , and yet others argue that “the successful liberalisation in Turkey during the last three decades itself paved the way for Islam’s later authoritarian and conservative incarnations” (The Fall of the Turkish Model: How the Arab Uprisings Brought Down Islamic Liberalism, Cihan Tugal).
So which one of these views is correct?
It is not easy to answer that, but one thing is clear: the way millions poured into the streets at the call of Erdogan to repel the ‘mutiny’, the answer is not the disapproval of Erdogan by his people as their leader nor does it seem to be his governance style, not at this stage at least. Notwithstanding, the fact that there has been a ‘mutiny’ (not coup) indicates that not everything is hunky dory in Turkey these days.
Since its inception as a ‘modern’ state in 1923 under Kemal Ataturk, a post-colonial invention of the West which was built on the ashes of the defeated, humiliated and dismantled Ottoman monarchy, Turkey has rotated between booms and busts, democracy and coups, secularism and Islamism, and this largely depended on the not-so-apparent changing mood of its benefactors. It is no surprise that any effort by Turkey – regardless of whether this is done through a democratic or an authoritarian polity – that pursues nationalistic aspirations at the cost of the hegemon’s agenda in the region is to invite trouble. Like many previous coups, the July 15, 2016 ‘mutiny ‘is no exception and thus, needed to be seen in this context.
Indeed, this ‘mutiny’ is nothing but a culmination of several policy clashes that manifested themselves through Turkey’s resurgent sovereign Islamist nationalist identity that challenged the diktats of geopolitics at different levels, and on many occasions has put Erdogan at odds with the West’s idea of ‘modern’ Tukey – a secularised, de-cultured, de-Islamised ‘lackey’.
In the context of these complex and conflated dynamics, it is difficult to say which of the factors, Erdogan’s authoritarianism or the West’s diminishing control over Turkey, has prompted the mutiny but the picture that emerges – and given that millions poured on the street at the call of Erdogan to foil the mutiny – is that the West’s script that the mutiny has been caused by deficits of democracy is anything but true. The answer lies somewhere else.
Erdogan blames his nemesis, the US based self-exiled cleric Gulen for the mutiny and accordingly, asked the US government to extradite him to face trial in Turkey. In response, the Obama administration asked for evidence of Gulen’s involvement in the mutiny.
Erdogan’s woes started with a number of policy shifts, some good and some terrible, that he initiated lately. Firstly, his move to severe diplomatic ties with Israel in 2013, in the aftermath of the latter’s attack on a Turkish Gaza peace ship, a principled decision, earned him the wrath of a powerful and dangerous foe that many believe to be behind the numerous political and economic unrests that have been plaguing Turkey lately. Secondly, his clash with Russia was unnecessary and proved costly. Most importantly, his government’s alleged patronisation of ISIS has proved to be a grave mistake, and Erdogan has been paying for it since. Thirdly, encouraged by NATO and inspired by his reported personal hatred, Erdogan’s dogged determination to evict Assad in Syria cost Turkey dearly.
However, it is his recent reversals of some of these policies, especially cementing of relationships with Russia and peace overtures to Syria, that have put him at extreme odds with the Zionist/NATO conglomerate, Turkey’s post-colonial ‘nurturer’. Indeed, a delayed and somewhat less-than-strong disapproval of the coup by the NATO is instructive and has prompted speculations that they might have expected a different outcome.
Nevertheless, Erdogan be warned, his adversaries have noted one thing quite clearly that more than the support or non-participation of the loyal faction of his army, it is the people who have foiled the mutiny. They are his main strength and therefore, to ensure that the next coup or ‘revolution’ does not fail, many believe that is quite possible that the hegemon’s nexus will make sure to weaken Erdogan’s support base, the people, by alienating them through the engineering of a false economic crisis (remember Iran’s Mosaddek, Chilli’s Allende!).
Therefore, for Erdogan, the journey ahead is fraught and as he has found out already, a stricter form of authoritarianism and purging of critics is not the solution. The people are his answer and thus the way forward is not to shrink that base but expand it by engaging people to build a Turkey that is economically progressive, politically inclusive and spiritually nourishing.
The writer is a former senior policy manager of the United Nations.
This story was originally published by The Daily Star, Bangladesh