A song of Law and decree

In Middle East on 26. July 2016 at 23:17

The struggle for strategic deterrence President Erdogan tried to create during his latest stint – before the attempted coup – failed miserably. The whole façade ended up in confirming his shortsightedness, one that will cost a nation of 75 million people the stability and development it need.

The powerful man at center of this theatre has his wishes at currently at odds with that of the Republic – more explicitly the Law is not in harmony with Presidents decrees – this song between law and decree is yet not on its last line, attempted unsaddling was merely the beginning of a new verse.

Uten navn

What brought the Cumhurbaskani (President) to his position today, how did the attempted coup happen with its following failure and what are the prospects for this nation that is important for the stability for the entire region?

Change of horses

Recep Tayyip Erdogan came to power with the backing of economic populism, tied to the big business in Istanbul and Ankara. His second pole of power became the socially conservative masses who dominate the now emerging middle-class. A mixture of these two forces made him the strongman he is today, but only one in many.

Along the road he had to deal with contenders, and those allies who now demanded their share in power. He first purged the guardians-of-the-nation by aligning closer to European Union’s demands for increased democratic reforms. The Ergenekon trial crippled the “deep state”, and further on he used the court with the help of (now officially notorious) Gulenists to cut the feathers of this unruly bird in the famous Sledgehammer investigation. Both had flimsy and fabricated evidence, but end goal justifies the means. Recent coup attempt proves exactly that, an overall Army that will no longer operate out of its constitutional mandate, with the exception of a close-knitted group of mutineers.

Harvesting the results of economic reforms of late 80s and 90s, he stood there more popular than ever to dare to speak the unspoken – He sent his birds to the prisoner in Imrali who gave out a song of reconciliation, and thus the mountain Turk was called by its respective name, the Kurd. Appealing with same prospects as he delivered in Ankara and Istanbul he stood strong – taller than any rival, and then he even dared to condolence the Armenian massacre, with words well chosen.

But they were lurking in the nooks and corners of his realm, these allies who he used to cripple other foes with. Now it was their turn, Erdogan had to react before they reacted – such is the rule in this game. And he played it well. He had the wings of the cleric from Pennsylvania cut-off when he made too much noise regarding misuse of public funds. An official controlled media narrative loved this great leader for that.

Not everyone though. As zero problems with neighbors policy started to erupt as zero neighbors without problems, Erdogan had to figure out his role – to leave a legacy, to be the man at top when the Republic turns its century. His good friend the eye surgeon of Damascus betrayed him, and he found equally likeminded strongmen in Tel-Aviv and Moscow who would not flinch by some small barks from the palace in Ankara.

Formally, he boycotted Israel after Mavi Marmara incident, de facto actually increasing his trade with the country. It was all semantics for his islamist constituency, in and outside Turkey. Erdogan though mended ties with Israel, he got a formal apology, and in the same turn, he apologized to the bear in Moscow who had called his bluff long ago. Case settled, rapprochement again achieved.

Not enough with that, his new protégé in the guise of Prime Minister recently told of diplomatic relations with Assad Jr. – a remarkable and unprecedented shift if given substance. These moves run counter to Erdogan fans claim that the man is a savior and strongman of the Sunni-sentiments – but conversations run quiet for then again to erupt on other statements that confirm wishful narrative. PR-machinery is not needed, as die-hard fans tend to be selective in what to believe and what not. Erdogan’s investment in Sunni constituency has paid well off.

Hold your reins

In comes the attempted putsch, the effective counter-punch, and Erdogan lands safely in Istanbul. A God’s gift, he says in a moment of joyous and victorious rouse, after the death of 300 or so – and by that reveals what he long has been waiting to do. Army will be cleansed of elements who allegedly stood behind the coup-attempt, and Erdogan had already – merely hours after the whole showdown managed to identify the culprit.

First on the coup itself – it was not poorly planned, rather poorly executed. MIT (Turkish intelligence) got to know irregular movements several hours before. The plotters decided to react earlier, and thus missed taking out Erdogan from his holidays in Marmaris. Two of the six insurgent jets followed up with failing to identify his plane and thus the President had escaped death by seconds. Any other outcome and Turkey would have been in flames right now.

The plotters failed on several fronts. Sure they failed to eliminate head of state, and the Cabinet, but they did not have any grasp of media narrative – the state TV-channel, one minister quipped after a nervous meeting with Cabinet, is not even watched by him. Power relied in the free media. That is where President and Prime Minister Binali Yildrim showed their faces.

Those precious minutes of speech must have been a giant irony to Erdogan’s latest rule over Turkey. His role in countering this coup was to support people in their struggle, and he had to appear on national TV. Erdogan called from an undisclosed location, far away from his almost half a billion dollars’ worth of palace in Ankara, on a social media application the like he cursed and banned, through a TV channel his followers had attacked, and the whole event broadcasted by a woman – one who was supposed to be a baby factory staying at home.

His few words turned the tide. Most of the insurgent soldiers did not knew what even was in the process, they did not fire their weapons. Some tanks run over civilians, and the combat gunships did the rest of the damage. However, public and police had stood afoot. Police, loyalist Army under an interim head of staff as General Akar was under insurgent custody, took control of situation. By midnight, the plot foiled.

The victor paid back by making it all about him, as if Turks in majority fought against putsch because of him. It did not occur that it was despite of him that people had taken to the streets. Brave democrats, many of whom had rallied against him in Gezi Park protests, fought the fight. The celebration though was led by those who considered his word above the law.

Fire and gallop

There was a consensus from all political holds against the coup, opposition leader Kemal Kilicdaroglu stood firm on these principles. The alleged Kurdish face in Parliament Selahattin Demirtas too stood equally strong on this, and PM answered with a tone of reconciliation, one which gave some small sparks of a more enlightened and cooperative future – only to be dismissed by victors at stage with their rants, and more importantly the already started purge.

The coup failed, good, only few Turks supported it at all (18% according to StreetBees poll). Such acts do raise questions of who the plotters were. It is a treacherous act, which should be punished. Turks have the right to know, through a fair trial.

This is not what is happening in the country rights now. With close to 70.000 people, from the army, police, judiciary, different departments, bureaucracy and almost every field in the society has been arrested. Deputy Prime Minister Simsek admitted that the lists were preplanned, indicating that a purge was already ongoing.

But the snake charmer had his chance now, the purge was to be expected, why not take advantage of it. His lawmakers had on the night of the airport attack tried to pass legislations for a purge within the judiciary, crippling that control on his de facto rule that collided with the Constitution. At the same time, he was to purge the Army leadership in August of the remnants of Gulenists who he had helped install after earlier purge.

This the Army resented. They did not wished for a heavy political control within their own dominion. But this game of paranoia and détente in addition to the fault lines between the given law, and the Presidents decrees, had to have a solution somewhere. Days before the attempted coup there was a breakthrough.

Erdogan gave Army immunity from prosecution for domestic operations. Army was already taking over the role of police in the now war-like regions of southeast Anatolia, why not protect the guardians of the nation from human rights abuses? The Government in addition blocks probes for killing of civilians according to Human Rights Watch, things were going good for Erdogan, but then paranoia of an incoming coup was still there.

It was a lot of them – not the majority or entire armies, but elements from each of the services. Some former and central leaders were involved in this attempt. Currently Former General Akin Özturk, General Mehmet Disli (Brother of AKP Lawmaker), Adem Huduti commander 2nd Army and General Muharrem Kose are the high-ranking officials charged for treason. In total 103 admirals and generals have been arrested, a 28% of the total in Turkish Armed Forces. This will affect the efficiency of the Army for a long time.

Several thousand teachers are also in this list, including a temporary ban on academics and intellectuals for not travelling outside the country. The purge did although not end there, 60 children were detained for attempted links with the plotters – the absurdity in this is evident, but at the same time, the aim of the purge does exactly that.

Already people are hiding or getting rid of books by Gulen and his spiritual role model Said Nursi, whose books are read by far more than just the Gulenists. If a police raid finds these books, any pictures or anything linking it to this movement, then one is already doomed to a trial. Thus is the will of the victors who have already settled for a conclusion, they just need evidence.

The problems with this is not something Erdoganists wants to elaborate on, they still use the coup attempt to prove that their strongman was 1. Right in his paranoia when he lamented Taksim protestors and coal miners for plotting coups, and 2. That such a purge is to be expected in any country. The fault in this is that a majority of Turks do not support Erdogan (58% according to StreetBees), yet they opposed the coup – they opposed so because of democratic principles, and they will not shed them away in the aftermath which is just as important. Everyone knows the trials that would have happened under a military dictatorship, you have them in Egypt, and they are not fair by any standard, but that does not excuse a wider purge to fulfill other goals.

We already know of a strong Gulenist presence in the military. This might have been the only institution where they had a sizeable presence left and could wield some form of influence.

Writer Mustafa Akyol, formerly close to both Erdogan and Gulen have some harsh words to share these days regarding the alleged main culprit. He wants an extradition of Fethullah Gulen from US to Turkey, with the precondition of a fair trial. For Akyol there is a credible evidence, based on his source of a shadowy part of Gulens movement, which indicts Fethullah.

Dani Rodrik, an academic, is in the middle ground and thinks of Gulenist elements within the Army, alongside others to be behind this attempt, but how centrally directed it was is of yet a bit uncertain. Former Vice-Director of CIA Graham E. Fuller and analyst Mahir Zeynalov have only good words for the movement and its leader – truth is in between what Akyol and Fuller/Zeynalov says, and might be close to Rodrik – but the narrative is already settled in Ankara.

What is worrisome even more is the reports of Amnesty International on torture and even rape. A purge has become a persecution of members and alleged members of a social movement that has done a lot for the betterment of the weaker sections of society. This kind of persecutions are destroying families, and criminalize non-political work related to humanitarian activities.

The unruly horses

If noticed in recent weeks of why a symbolic head of state has so many calling him a beloved leader, then look at the arguments laid forth. Too many try to brag of economic indicators that first are not true, and secondly poorly understood. But it is a fact that the man in question has opened up Turkeys closed bureaucracy, and the country to invite more foreign investments.

This has hardly gone unnoticed. A boom in construction sector has moved the growing middle-class from rural areas to the bigger cities – increasing his voter’s bank in strategic important electoral circles. However, the growth of Turkey has been, according to Dani Rodrik, less than for example, China, India, Indonesia, Bangladesh and Ghana in the same period. What this indicates is that a growth in middle-class was bound to happen to countries mentioned, this is a natural cycle in where middle-sized regional economic hubs takes over the refinery process of raw material. However, Turkey has a problem, which is linked to man-in-charges economic strategy, and that is interest.

Income has stagnated in recent years, and so has foreign direct investment. Unemployment has increased and will not turn as he continues to arrest people on charges of treason. His handshakes with Netanyahu and Putin suggests a realization that Erdogan is dependent on tourism and investments.

But the major problem, which has been entrenched in the society, is the lack of savings, especially in the private sector. Upcoming middle-class finance their needs through loans, which is good as long as the interest rate is tolerable. Same goes to growth, where one percent increase in GDP gives a budget deficit of 0,45 percent – these indicators tells of a loan based economy and that its stressed. It is no surprise that Erdogan’s pastime nemesis after Gulen is the “rent lobby” which he blames the ills in economy. His meddling in the central banks interest policy indicates a desperate need to control anything that can popularize bad economic trends.

But that’s too late. Even though StreetBees poll was hours past the attempted coup, it tells in the midst of a euphoria that AKP supporters look at economic development for the next few months as bleak. Almost 60% of his supporters thinks the economic situation will be the same, and about 30% thinks it will get worse – national average is 60% on those who think conditions will get worse. A fixed finger pointing at Pennsylvania cannot fix these issues. What hurts the wallet, will inevidently hurt at the ballot box.

Another thing the President is sowing is a culture of nepotism and yes-men. Erdogan wants rule of law – he is genuine about it – just as long he is above the law. Police did its investigation back in 2013 and found financial irregularities in his cabinet, yet consequences of such honest work will be devastating now. Bureaucracy and Army knows this for now, do your work according to Constitution, but if it conflicts with my decree, you know what to choose. This kind of culture makes a confused setup that decreases quality in work, politicizes neutral institutions and harms services to people.

Army is in tatters and Government wants a reorganization of its structure, if conscription is ended a culture of loyalist recruitment will make the Army not only loyalist to Constitution, but also to a specific party – this could have caused outcry had the secular-leftist CHP done the same in power.

Mr. President is also setting standard for what some people can get away, i.e. himself. Considered a nuance, and an unfair requirement, but still a part of the law, he still has not managed to show a valid educational degree on which he can stay the President. And if there is any question as to who is steering the country, then just look at whom we are talking about, and who we were supposed to talk about. According to Constitution the Prime Minister is the head of the executive branch, he is also the leader of the Governmental party. During the attempted coup his name was a nuance, while the symbolic head of state was mentioned everywhere.

Soar hooves

Saying the man gets unfair amount of criticism is like saying Israel – a democracy – should at least be exempted from critique because its neighbors are much worse. Turkey is not only an important nation for its immediate neighbors, it’s a regional superpower and its stability and deterrence is important for both Europe and the balance of power in Middle East – risking it all is not what a sound person would like. It being on the correct path does good to the region.

Turkey, and Erdogan, has two options right now, and it seems that the few weeks since the attempted coup President has been trying to ride along both of them – both the horses will soon part ways as time will come, and one rider alone cannot be on both of them.

He can take the bulldozer path, one in where he can either call fresh election, gamble on public support and achieve enough majority to get a constitutional change from parliamentary Republic to a Presidential one. Alternatively, to indict HDP lawmakers of treachery, fill their seats with loyalists and do the same. Moreover, he can align even more with nationalist sentiments, at the cost of racism and ill-treatment of refugees. In this scenario he will have become more a face of power, than a man of people, and when the wallet hurts, his blames on interest lobby will fall to deaf ears – this is a cycle which will pave way for a dictatorship.

His other option, which is the obvious, and despite critics actually has a chance of materializing, is to cooperate on all stages. He has already changed his approach beyond Turkey, he needs to do that within the country. The opposition led demonstration against the coup in Istanbul, in where AKP lawmakers were also present is a nice opportunity to symbolize this shift.

After the joyous celebration is done with, PM will have to settle down and say death penalty is nowhere to be implemented, that several of those arrested will be freed, and that trials will take out only those in charge of the attempt. Erdogan had his will with the purge, his thirst should have quenched by now.

The war against Kurds needs an immediate end. He also needs to include the sizeable Alevi minority within the mainstream, as to give them their due share within the constitution. Erdogan knows how to dance this dance, he has just not put on his dancing shoes for a long time. And when time comes, he needs to admit that his dream of an executive Presidential Republic will not materialize, that he one day has to give away power and that a legacy is still possible to write of a Turkey where he helped it out of a previous mess, and the mess he himself created.

This last verse will end when the Republic celebrates its century, what comes victor in between the decrees and law is in the hands of the fiddler.


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