Post-putsch Turkish democracy still vulnerable


In a dispute between NATO allies, Turkey is demanding that the United States extradite Fethullah Gulen (left), a Pennsylvania-based Turkish cleric, to face charges of engineering a coup attempt. But despite increasing indications that his followers were behind the failed military uprising, analysts say concerns about whether Gulen could get a fair trial complicate Turkey’s bid, the Associated Press reports.

Gulen’s many adherents and admirers have dismissed the allegations, which he has denied, as the ravings of a paranoid Turkish government and an attempt by its president, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, to rid himself once and for all of a former ally whose popularity challenges his increasingly autocratic rule, The Washington Post notes (HT:FPI).

Turkey has much ground to cover if it is to convince the world it can again become a trusted and stable pluralist democracy, says Andrew Finkel, a cofounder of P24 – an initiative to support independent Turkish media.

For the last three years Erdogan (right) has been leading his country down an authoritarian path, he writes for Chatham House, the London-based foreign policy think tank:

He has made no secret of his ambition to transform Turkey from a parliamentary democracy into one in which an executive president has the first and last word. Now, without having to change the constitution, Erdogan’s wish is coming true. His government imposed a state of emergency, initially for 90 days, to root out the coup perpetrators. It is allowing habeas corpus to be suspended for 30 days, and has allowed for the abrogation of Turkey’s adherence to the European Convention on Human Rights.

“Many would argue that Turkey was already in the throes of a slow-motion coup d’état, not by the military, but by Erdogan himself. For the last three years, he has been moving, and methodically… to take over the nodes of power,”  adds Finkel, a former Reagan-Fascell fellow at the National Endowment for Democracy and the author of Turkey: What Everyone Needs to Know.

Even after decades of multiparty political competition, Turkey remains far from being a consolidated liberal democracy and might be best described as a hybrid regime, according to Ziya Öniş professor of international political economy at Koç University in Istanbul. Its hybrid status, moreover, appears less than stable. There is potential for movement in a liberal-democratic direction, but also for degeneration toward competitive authoritarianism, he wrote for the April 2016 Journal of Democracy.

The alliance between Erdogan and Gulen came apart because it’s impossible to reconcile their rival interpretations of Islam — and Islamism, argues Edward Luttwak, a senior associate at the Center for Strategic and International Studies and the author of Strategy: The Logic of War and Peace.

When Erdogan’s Justice and Development Party (AKP) won the 2002 elections, it was able to govern Turkey successfully, remaining in power until now, instead of being forced out or dissolved by military order, as with all previous attempts at forming Islamist governments. It was not Erdogan’s brawlers and provincials who implemented the AKP’s economic policies but rather Gulen’s competent technocrats, achieving good results that dissuaded a military intervention, along with obdurate European pressures in the name of democracy, and the vigilance of disguised Gulenists within the officer corps, he writes for Foreign Policy:

What destroyed the alliance was the exact nature of Gulen’s Islam, which allows the dishonesty of systematic deception, but whose own substance is genuinely moderate — his creed truly accepts coexistence with other monotheists, including non-Sunni Muslims, and totally prohibits any form of violence in the name of religion against polytheists as well (in spite of the Quranic injunction).

But for Erdogan and his core AKP colleagues, such as former Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu, Islam is something else entirely: specifically Sunni and the only religion entitled to exist at all. Its conquest of the planet must be advanced by all means possible, from mandatory religious education in Turkey (achieved by closing more and more secular schools) to the use of any amount of violence by Sunni Muslims fighting non-Sunnis anywhere in the world, from Hamas in Gaza to the al Qaeda affiliates in Syria and the Uighurs in China. That is why Erdogan tacitly supported the Islamic State as long as he could, initially prohibiting the use of the Incirlik Air Base against the group and allowing Turkish dealers to import its oil.

“The US was doomed to be dragged into this domestic drama no matter what,” said Joshua Walker, a fellow with the German Marshall Fund who formerly worked on Turkey issues for the State Department. “This has always been the case where Washington and Ankara have had a difference of opinion, but particularly now, the level of mistrust has never been as high,” he told Buzzfeed:

Washington, Walker said, needs to take this as a warning. It was right that democracy would prevail in Turkey. But with so much on the line, the US can’t be caught off-guard again.

“We were right in the fact that civilians would rise up and defend the democratic process,” said Walker, a Penn Kemble fellow at the NED. “[But] it shows how much we took Turkey for granted, and how few people in Washington are really paying attention to Turkey as closely as other places.”

“It’s a little like earthquakes in Istanbul. You knew it was going to happen at some point. But we were caught waiting around for the big one.”

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