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Turkey's Elected Dictator

By       Message Alon Ben-Meir       (Page 1 of 2 pages)     Permalink    (# of views)   No comments

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Reprinted from Alon Ben-Meir Blog

Turkey's president Erdogan
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Even before the failed military coup, Turkey's President Erdogan governed like a dictator who had the last word on all state matters. The botched coup was nothing but, as he put it, "a gift from God" to purge what is left of Turkey's democracy and cleanse the army and judiciary in order to ensure the total subordination of all institutions to his whims.

For Erdogan, being elected was akin to being granted a license to trample and dismantle all democratic tenets to consolidate his powers and promote his Islamic agenda.

As a shrewd and highly skilled politician, Erdogan painted the coup as an assault on democracy, which was supported by a chorus of Western powers, knowing full well that Turkey under Erdogan is anything but a democracy.

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His staying power, however, is attributed to his uncanny ability to appeal to the underclass and his success in delivering the "goods" that nearly half of the population was in dire need of, including access to health care, improved infrastructure, job opportunities, and the promotion of Islamic values (in a manner that was unacceptable in the past) with which ordinary Turks could identify.

The nearly 50 percent of the population who benefited directly from these reforms and became ardent supporters of Erdogan were not concerned about the trampling of democratic rule, even though he has systematically robbed them of any rights that a democracy provides. Nevertheless, tens of thousands heeded his call to go out to the streets to confront the military, and did so at grave risk to their lives.

In fact, one of the main reasons behind the coup was to stop Erdogan from completely destroying Turkey's remaining secular and democratic pillars, which were established by Turkey's founder Mustafa Kemal Ataturk in 1923.

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Ataturk sought to establish a Western-style secular democracy and made the military the custodian of Turkey's constitution. The armed forces exercised that prerogative four times before to prevent the country from sliding into disorder.

The first coup, in 1960, led to the overthrow and execution of Prime Minister Adnan Menderes due to his increasing Islamization of the country; the fourth coup in 1997 ended with the forced resignation and banishment from politics of Prime Minister Necmettin Erbakan, also because of his degradation of secular principles of the country.

While affecting regime change through a military coup is certainly not the preferred method, given how Erdogan gradually and successfully pillaged the country of all its democratic substance, a segment of the military felt it had little choice but to stage a coup to change the perilous path that Erdogan is pursuing.

This entire tragic episode could have been prevented had Western powers, led by the US, been more vociferous in condemning the unruly way in which Erdogan exercised his power, especially in the past several years; instead, they kept emphasizing Turkey's strategic importance, which Erdogan fully exploited to his advantage.

Turkey's role in hosting nearly 2.5 million Syrian refugees and its ability to either stem the flow, or open up the gates to allow refugees to flood European cities further strengthened Erdogan's hand.

He successfully exploited the EU's deep concerns over the refugee crisis by making a deal that provides Turkey several major benefits that outweighed its obligations. The keystone of the deal is that migrants crossing from Turkey into Greece will be sent back, and for each Syrian returned to Turkey, a Syrian refugee will be resettled in the EU.

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In return, Turkish nationals would have access to the Schengen passport-free zone while the EU fast-tracked the allocation of 6bn ($6.6 billion) in aid to Turkey to help migrants, and to "energize" Ankara's bid to join the EU.

Although thus far the EU resisted Erdogan's threat to cancel the deal if it were to renege on its agreement on visa-free entry due to his post-coup threat to restore the death penalty, Erdogan remained defiant, believing that he can bully the West with impunity.

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Dr. Alon Ben-Meir is a professor of international relations at the Center for Global Affairs at NYU. He teaches courses on international negotiation and Middle Eastern studies. His dedication to writing about, analyzing, and (more...)
 

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