No end in sight to Er­do­gan’s hubris

Daily Trust - - SPORT -

Three Wed­nes­days ago I wrote a cau­tiously optimistic piece on these pages ti­tled “An end to Er­do­gan’s hubris?” It was about what I thought could be the be­gin­ning of the end of what I de­scribed as Turk­ish pres­i­dent, Re­cep Tayyip Er­do­gan’s, hubris.

As ar­guably the most suc­cess­ful politi­cian in mod­ern Tur­key, the man has pulled all stops to make him­self the coun­try’s first ex­ec­u­tive pres­i­dent since he stepped aside in 2014 as prime min­is­ter af­ter serv­ing for three suc­ces­sive terms from 2003. Dur­ing that pe­riod he trans­formed Tur­key into one of the world’s lead­ing economies and sta­ble democ­ra­cies.

That im­pe­rial am­bi­tion, ap­par­ently born out of his un­ten­able, al­beit un­der­stand­able, pre­sump­tion that only he knows best what’s good for his coun­try, has been the source of his coun­try’s re­cent eco­nomic and po­lit­i­cal tra­vails.

It was this hubris that led him to his un­suc­cess­ful openly par­ti­san cam­paign for his rul­ing Jus­tice and De­vel­op­ment Party (AKP), which he co-founded in 2002, to win the two-thirds ma­jor­ity it needed to change the coun­try’s par­lia­men­tary sys­tem into a pres­i­den­tial one dur­ing the June 2015 lec­tions. It was the same hubris that, along the way, led him into crack­ing down hard on all op­po­si­tion to his am­bi­tion, real and imag­ined.

It was also what led him to re­verse the con­struc­tive en­gage­ment he had en­tered with the Kur­dish mi­nori­ties in the coun­try’s south-east in his years as prime min­is­ter to bring an end to their vi­o­lent re­bel­lion. The list goes on and on. But it cul­mi­nated in sack­ing his faith­ful prime min­is­ter, Pro­fes­sor Ah­met Davu­to­glu, last June, es­sen­tially be­cause the man had re­port­edly not shown enough en­thu­si­asm in his sup­port for his boss’s im­pe­rial am­bi­tion.

Then ter­ror­ists struck the Atatürk In­ter­na­tional Air­port in Is­tan­bul, the coun­try’s busi­ness cap­i­tal, on June 28. It was not the first such at­tack and, as ca­su­al­ties go, it was also not the high­est. How­ever, the at­tack on the air­port as a great sym­bol of the coun­try’s trans­for­ma­tion into a sta­ble, thriv­ing and mod­ern po­lit­i­cal-econ­omy, at­tracted the widest global me­dia cov­er­age.

In the wake of the at­tack, Er­do­gan an­nounced that he was restor­ing his coun­try’s ties with Is­rael, sev­ered over a decade ago. He also apol­o­gized to Rus­sia over his down­ing this year of one of their fighter jets that he claimed has crossed into his coun­try on a bomb­ing raid against the Is­lamic State in Syria.

My ar­ti­cle of three weeks ago was to ex­press the hope that, for Tur­key’s case if noth­ing else, Er­do­gan would ex­tend the same soft­en­ing of his bel­liger­ence to­wards his per­ceived en­e­mies out­side to those in­side. Af­ter the July 15, hap­pily un­suc­cess­ful, mil­i­tary coup at­tempt against him, it is now ap­par­ent that my hope was for­lorn.

Since that coup he has cracked down even harder on his en­e­mies within, real and imag­ined. So far he has sacked or sus­pended more than 60,000 work­ers, sol­diers, po­lice, judges, univer­sity lec­tur­ers and jour­nal­ists right across the pub­lic sec­tor on mere sus­pi­cion of their in­volve­ment in the coup. He has sworn to crack down even harder.

Top of the list of his self-de­clared en­e­mies has been his erst­while ally in his long-drawn fight against the coun­try’s Ke­mal­ist mil­i­tary and civil­ian sec­u­lar­ists, the self-ex­iled cleric, Fethul­lah Gulen, whose His­met (Ser­vice in Turk­ish) Move­ment, the pres­i­dent had long ago con­demned as “crim­i­nal.” In­deed the pres­i­dent has been quick, too quick some would say, to ac­cuse his for­mer ally as the num­ber one cul­prit and in­ten­sify his de­mand for Gulen’s ex­tra­di­tion from his self­ex­ile home in Philadelphia, United States.

As al­lies, Er­do­gan and Gulen worked hand-in-glove to purge the mil­i­tary of Ke­mal­ists and re­store “mildly Is­lamist” val­ues and sym­bols, like the ban on al­co­hol and the wear­ing of hi­jab, into pub­lic life. The al­liance started falling apart from 2013 partly over Er­do­gan’s am­bi­tion to trans­form him­self into an ex­ec­u­tive pres­i­dent and partly over a 100-bil­lion-dol­lar cor­rup­tion scan­dal which broke out in De­cem­ber of that year in which sev­eral of Er­do­gan’s min­is­ters and re­la­tions were im­pli­cated and which even­tu­ally led to the res­ig­na­tion of some of the min­is­ters.

Since the falling apart of the two, Er­do­gan has spared no op­por­tu­nity to purge all sec­tors in his coun­try, in­clud­ing the ju­di­ciary, the po­lice, the mil­i­tary and the me­dia, of those he per­ceives as Gulen dis­ci­ples and sup­port­ers. Abroad he has also spared no op­por­tu­nity to per­suade other coun­tries to shut down busi­nesses and in­sti­tu­tions be­long­ing to or af­fil­i­ated to the His­met Move­ment, sev­eral off them well en­trenched in Africa, in­clud­ing here in Nige­ria.

I was spend­ing the week­end of the coup in Tur­key at home in Bida, bliss­fully unaware of go­ings-on in the In­ter­net world when Sarkin Karshi, Al­haji Is­maila Mo­hammed, called me on the phone and said I must be happy at the un­fold­ing events in Tur­key, con­sid­er­ing my seem­ing an­tipa­thy to­wards Er­do­gan. Not know­ing what he was talking about, I asked him what was go­ing on. He said he was sur­prised I didn’t know a mil­i­tary coup was tak­ing place in Tur­key, as if in re­sponse to my July 6 ar­ti­cle.

I told him a coup may be bad for Er­do­gan but it cer­tainly couldn’t be good for Tur­key, cer­tainly not af­ter none of the six coups the coun­try had suf­fered be­tween 1960 and 2007 ever brought any good to the coun­try.

As things turned out the coup failed, iron­i­cally thanks in the main to the very me­dia, in this case the so­cial me­dia, which Er­do­gan has done his best to crack down hard upon; as we have since been told, it was his use of an iPhone to urge his fel­low coun­try­men to rise against the coup which turned the tide in his favour.

That peo­ple heeded his call is ob­vi­ously a re­flec­tion of his sup­port in the coun­try, in spite of his au­thor­i­tar­ian ten­dency. But with­out the me­dia he would never have had the weapon to rally his coun­try­men against the coup.

There are peo­ple in­side and out­side the coun­try who be­lieve the pres­i­dent stage­m­an­aged the coup to have a pre­text for fi­nally get­ting rid of all those op­posed to his im­pe­rial am­bi­tions. One such per­son is Cemil Yigit, a spokesman of Ufuk Di­a­logue, an af­fil­i­ate of the His­met Move­ment in Nige­ria which pro­motes in­ter­faith di­a­logue and among whose pa­trons are the Sultan of Sokoto, Al­haji Sa’ad Abubakar and the Catholic Arch­bishop of Abuja, John Car­di­nal Onaiyekan.

In an in­ter­view in Daily Trust (July 24) he said, “Many an­a­lysts be­lieve that this coup at­tempt was stage-man­aged by the Er­do­gan ad­min­is­tra­tion to con­sol­i­date power. When you look at events of the past days there is a lot of ev­i­dence that it might be true.”

One of the events Yigit men­tioned was the fact that even as the coup was still un­fold­ing the pres­i­dent was al­ready cer­tain that Gulen was the main cul­prit. An­other was the fact that Gulen was among the first to con­demn it even when it was un­cer­tain where the chips would fall.

There are, on the other hand, oth­ers who be­lieve Gulen may in­deed be the main cul­prit. One such per­son is Dani Ro­drik, a Turk­ish economist and Ford Foun­da­tion Pro­fes­sor of In­ter­na­tional Po­lit­i­cal Econ­omy at the John F. Kennedy School of Gov­ern­ment at Har­vard Univer­sity.

“All of this,” he said in an ar­ti­cle on his blog on July 23, “points to the Gulen move­ment as the im­me­di­ate cul­prit be­hind the coup at­tempt. Gu­lenists had both the ca­pa­bil­ity and the mo­tive to launch the coup,” his “all of this” re­fer­ring to what he said went “much be­yond the schools, char­i­ties, and in­ter-faith ac­tiv­i­ties with which it presents it­self to the world.”

The move­ment, he said, “also has a dark un­der­belly en­gaged in covert ac­tiv­i­ties such as ev­i­dence fab­ri­ca­tion, wire­tap­ping, dis­in­for­ma­tion, black­mail, and judicial ma­nip­u­la­tion.”

Who ever is right be­tween Yigit and Ro­drik, the greater con­cern should be Er­do­gan’s re­sponse to the coup. For me his great­est en­emy re­mains his im­pe­rial am­bi­tion, not the Gu­lenists, or the Kurds or all those op­posed to his am­bi­tion.

The right les­son for him to learn from the coup at­tempt there­fore is to aban­don his am­bi­tion and re­turn to the ac­com­mo­da­tion he had with the Gu­lenists and the one he sought with the Kurds in his days as prime min­is­ter.

Per­haps not be­ing knowl­edge­able about the mys­te­ri­ous ways of Turk­ish pol­i­tics I fail to see, like Ro­drik, what mo­tive Gulen, who seeks to pro­mote peace be­tween the world’s re­li­gions and whose creed is re­li­gion in the ser­vice of hu­man­ity, re­gard­less of any­one’s faith, would have in worldly po­lit­i­cal power and ma­te­rial wealth.

Of course, we’ve seen a sim­i­lar thing hap­pen be­fore in Iran when the late Ay­a­tol­lah Khome­ini liv­ing in ex­ile abroad, re­turned home to ultimate po­lit­i­cal power in his coun­try af­ter the Shah was over­thrown. But then Tur­key is a coun­try of Sunni Is­lam and there­fore has no cler­i­cal hi­er­ar­chy sim­i­lar to Iran’s that can pro­vide Gulen with a plat­form to claim any crown.

Alas!, all in­di­ca­tions so far is that the prospects that Tur­key may see an end to their pres­i­dent’s hubris is bleak - very bleak.

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