Aftermath of the failed coup

Turkey’s internal love-hate swing between the mosque and the military barracks holds no surprise. Externally, however, the emergence of  a stronger  President Recep Tayyip Erdogan after the failed military coup of July 15 has further pushed back the country’s hopes of  joining the European Union or even remaining a dependable member of NATO.

Internally, the coup has thrown the country into unprecedented turmoil because of the sheer numbers of people, detained, jailed, or fired from their jobs. Nearly 60,000 jobs have been put on the line, each affecting a family of at least five or a total of 300,000 (three lakh) lives directly. 

Unlike earlier coups, when the military had emerged as the successful defender of a secular polity, the fallout from the events of July 15 has thrown up the mosque allies as victors led by Erdogan, whatever his claims to democracy. His followers are euphoric that their man has come on top with the resounding chant of “Allahu Akbar” blaring from the mosque loud speaker and the captive civic theatre. Whether Allah is on anybody’s side, nobody can tell for sure.

Erdogan means business and has already imposed a three-month state of emergency, enabling him and his Justice and Development Party (AKP) cabinet to bypass parliament, rule by decree, and suspend rights and freedoms. The first decree, already in operation, extends detention without charge from 4 to 30 days and orders the closure of more than 2,000 private schools, associations, foundations, unions, health institutions, and universities.

The assault on educational institutions, particularly targeting the deans of all universities, is in line with Erdogan’s earlier camouflaged agenda of bringing back pre-Kemalist educational ethos. The strident movement to convert Turkish from Arabic to Latin script is a pointer to the shape of things to come, according to secular forces in the country. A throwback in the name of culture and religion cannot be underestimated, the secularists fear.

Lists of all sorts of “dissenters” -- or “anti-nationals” in the current lexicon of Indian politics -- have gone out. Nearly 60,000 people – including 10,000 police officers, 3,000 judges and prosecutors, more than 15,000 educationists, and all the university deans in the country – have either been detained or fired, according to Can Dundar, the Editor of Turkey’s leading news daily, the Cumhuriyet. “A campaign has been launched to revive the death penalty, which was abolished in 
2002,” he said. “It is the biggest witch hunt in the history of the republic.”

In the latest count, 47 newspapers have been shut down and arrest warrants issued for 47 journalists from the opposition Zaman newspaper which was shut down back in March. As many as 117 general rank military officers, including 30 from the air force and 32 admirals have been detained. The list of civilian staff from various government departments’ sectors under fire is still growing.

Erdogan blames the current upheaval on plotter linked to the US-based cleric Fethullah Gülen, his long-time ally now turned foe, as the mastermind behind an attempted military takeover. He has already branded Gulen’s supporters as Fethullah Terror Organisation (Feto).

He has demanded Gulen’s extradition – a demand unlikely to be met by the US in the absence of any concrete evidence. However, the Erdogan regime has caught hold of the cleric’s nephew, Muhammed Sait Gülen, who was picked up from the Turkish city of Erzurum. Pakistan is perhaps one of the few countries to have accepted the Erdogan line in toto. But Turkey’s powerful Western allies and financial backers seem to be unconvinced by Erdogan’s evidence against Gulen. 

Erdogan’s tirade against Gulen may convince his followers in Turkey but to the outside world, the cleric is just a symbol of opposition. Any advice to show some moderation in his excessive purge of opposition, from American or European friends, seems to make him even more paranoid. He has accused the head of US Central Command of “siding with coup plotters”.  He didn’t name General Joseph Votel, but it was clear he was railing against the American general who expressed his unease about many US contacts or interlocutors, who have been fired or arrested. Both sides have hardened their stand, deepening a rift between NATO’s two largest militaries.

Relations with Europe are not getting better either. Even Germany, which has entered into a $3 billion deal with Turkey to stem the flood of Syrian and other refugees entering Europe via Turkey, refused Erdogan’s request to address  a Turkish immigrants’ rally in Cologne via video-link – a clear signal that Berlin is not siding with any Turkish side.

There has been no approval of Erdogan’s  crackdown on the European press which has been  pretty critical of his increasingly autocratic rule. There is open criticism of his efforts to garner more power for himself by changing the constitution from a parliamentary democracy to a presidential system investing himself with wide executive powers. Equally suspected in European eyes is the president’s tilt towards Islamic ritual and the mosque.

Notwithstanding open or simmering rifts with America and Europe and wide internal divisions, Sultan Erdogan is here to stay for now, with more power to his elbow.

(The views expressed are strictly personal.)

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