About Erdogan and Turkey's Coup Attempt
17 August 2016
By Eyad Abu Shakra
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
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
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.
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.
Eyad Abu Shakra is the managing editor of Asharq Al-Awsat. He has been with
the newspaper since 1978.