Let me start by saying that even those who dislike Turkey’s Recep Tayyip Erdogan and are not fans of his style of government, like me, did not support the coup attempt against a democratically elected government.
Erdogan, in fact, has never enjoyed a ‘carte blanche’ support; something proven by disagreements with his closest allies like former president Abdulla Gul and former premier Ahmet Davutoglu. Moreover, given the fact that his avowed enemy is the Islamist authority and entrepreneur Fethullah Gulen – now living in the USA – one may say that he is not entitled to claim a monopoly of ‘Political Islam’. Last but not least, if one looks at the latest Turkish general elections’ results, one notices that his victorious AKP achieved an absolute parliamentary majority (317 out of 317 seats) by winning 49.5% of the votes; which means that 50.5% voted against him and his party.
These facts are worth keeping in mind as Turkey slowly forgets its shock, and its political establishment begins containing the volatile situation, prosecuting the adventurers and those implicated in the coup attempt against democracy. However, if Erdogan has every right to cleanse the security agencies of elements found guilty of conspiracy against a freely elected government, he has no right of exploiting this conspiracy to amass more personal and partisan powers on Turkey’s security agencies, and pursue political revenge against his opponents.
Actually, Premier Binali Yidirim did well, the other day, when he praised and thanked the leaders of the opposition parties for standing against the coup plot. If president Erdogan follows suit, a proper relationship may develop between the government and the opposition in a healthy democratic environment; which is crucial as one of the most dangerous threats threatening Turkey is that of sliding into civil war that would tear the nation’s fabric apart. Thus there is no alternative other than consensus on democratic processes, including the political accountability, devolution of power, and respect of freedoms and rights.
Some may claim that the Turkish electorate were wrong to trust the AKP’s elections agenda and promises, but this may be argued against British voters who may have been wrong to opt for leaving the European Union, or American voters who twice elected Ronald Reagan the president of the world’s greatest power.
For the electorate, anywhere, to be wrong is not entirely strange, because democracy does not automatically mean one makes the ‘right’ choice; but what it does is that its mechanisms allow for ‘correcting the mistakes’ as it were, if properly exercised. What I mean is that any election result may be turned upside down in the following elections within four or more years, based on the principle of ‘trial and error’ which is the core of science as well as natural human interaction.
Furthermore, there is no guarantee that an individual or the population as a whole will not suffer from a misplaced democratic vote, however, this will be far less damaging, less costly and of a shorter duration than suffering under insatiable dictatorial ‘police states’ that respects no rights, no thought and no privacy. The Middle East has experienced several versions of such ‘police states’, and it is not difficult to see the outcome in the shape of disasters, backwardness, extremism, frustration and terrorism.
Erdogan has never enjoyed a ‘carte blanche’ support; something proven by disagreements with his closest allies.Eyad Abu Shakra
In some Middle Eastern countries – Arab, in particular, state apparatus and institutions have totally collapsed; ‘imported’ glittering progressive, liberal and nationalist slogans have become illusions, indeed, masks that cover the most parochial tribal, sectarian and local loyalties. The role of the armies has changed from being ‘defenders of the homeland’ to becoming murderous militias using the most lethal prohibited weapons against innocent unarmed civilians, and displacing millions.
On the other hand, in other countries in the Middle East that have chosen the path of ‘revolution’, in the name of the ‘downtrodden’ against the forces of internal corruption and foreign ‘arrogance’, religious mottos have become a cover for financial and militaristic ‘mafias’ expanding everywhere, creating regional militias, and inciting civil wars that are sowing the seeds of hatred and reaping conflicts.
Turkey is today watching frightening examples throughout the Middle East. It fully understands how tenuous its position is, beginning with Washington’s regional bet on Kurdish ‘nationalism’, including the position of an aggressive and expansionist Iran that claims control of four Arab capitals, three of which – Baghdad, Damascus and Beirut – are close to Turkey, and culminating in Moscow’s political and military pressures, along with uneasy relations with Israel and Egypt.
In fact, despite the fact that Ankara has received many messages expressing support for ‘Turkish democracy and legitimacy’, it would be naïve to believe that these messages reflect the real strategic positions of the senders. I personally reckon that Erdogan does not believe those who were claiming solidarity with him would not have sided with coup plotters had the Turkish streets been lukewarm, and had opposition party sensitivities not declared their strong rejection of the return of military dictatorship.
One thing that must be beyond doubt is that the regional and international justification for the failed coup was ready for marketing in several capitals, which would love to see a different leadership in Turkey, and do not believe that ‘some’ people deserve liberty and democracy.
This is why I say the Turkish regime won its fights a couple of days ago thanks to the backing of the Turkish people who refused to go backwards. However, this difficult experiment is bound to teach valuable lessons; and this is an opportunity for the Turkish leadership to draw the right conclusions, shield itself with its people’s trust, and develop a wise strategy for a cohesive state and effective regional and international power.
This article was first published in Asharq al-Awsat on July 23, 2016.
Eyad Abu Shakra (also written as Ayad Abou-Chakra) began his media career in 1973 with Annahar newspaper in Lebanon. He joined Asharq Al-Awsat newspaper in the UK in 1979, occupying several positions including: Senior Editor, Managing Editor, and Head of Research Unit, as well as being a regular columnist. He has several published works, including books, chapters in edited books, and specialized articles, in addition to frequent regular TV and radio appearances. Eyad tweets @eyad1949