Turkey’s Erdoğan – the pious dictator

September 7, 2016

From the September-October 2013 issue of News & Letters

by Mohammed Elnaiem

On July 17, an ill-advised, indefensible and bloody coup attempt failed miserably in Turkey. Like many militaries, the Turkish Armed Forces claim to be a supreme vicegerent of Turkish republicanism, sworn to protect democracy and secularism from its own “infantile” citizenry. It is of course no wonder then that the Justice and Development Party (AKP)—the Islamist party in power—did what it could to entrench its rule and defeat the invasion closing in on the Bosporus Straits.

The AKP needed only to recollect their own country’s history to imagine what could come out of this coup attempt: blood on the streets; a purge of the Islamists and a hyper-secularist agenda that would take religion out of the civic sphere. Knowing what awaited Turkey, they did everything they could to ensure that the coup be defeated.

In the Middle East, the Islamists and the militaries are in a perpetual, but silent, protracted war. Gone are the days of both secular republicanism and nationalism, discarded in favor of the so-called “moderate Islamists” of the region.


Today Islamists believe that it is their time to shine and so they have sought to protect their hegemony by suppressing all dissident groups. By stark contrast, the militaries of the region believe that citizens are incapable of thought, Islamists are weak, and only they are fit to rule. In practice this has translated into maneuver warfare occurring within the governing institutions, with each faction attempting to incapacitate the other. The public is supposed to believe that both institutions are to act in their interest. Both parties engage in an intricate silent dance.

Across the Mediterranean, it was in this power struggle (gone awry) that Mohamed Morsi saw his demise. The then leader of the Muslim Brotherhood and democratically elected President of Egypt, knew that he had to provide a counterbalance to the military. But when he decided to expand his own executive powers via constitutional decree, the Egyptians responded by demanding the downfall of the regime, again.

Fearing that their revolution had been hijacked, many Egyptians desperately cheered when the secularist armed forces suspended their short-lived democracy to install their own pharaoh—General Abdel Fattah el-Sisi. The revolutionaries of the world have yet to fully comprehend this populist defeat.


The AKP, and Recep Tayyip Erdoğan in particular, have been engaging in a similar anti-democratic struggle with the military. For the past two years, Erdoğan has had an unwavering commitment to transforming Turkey into a presidential system. Erdoğan himself transitioned from being the prime minister to the president so that he could secure AKP hegemony in the executive and legislative branches of government. But since the Kurdish movement was able to move into formal politics and its party, the Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP), was able to compromise his party’s mandate to govern alone, Erdoğan has never been more insistent on protecting his rule.

The blossoming progressive movement is nothing but a nuisance to both the military and the ruling party. It is in fact only on this point that both factions are willing to unite. Together they have brutally attacked Kurdistan, mandated the existence of Islamist brownshirt organizations and created conditions that have resulted in the deaths of LGBTQ peoples. In previous years, Erdoğan has compared democracy to a bus: “When you arrive at your destination, you step off.”

Late last year, the AKP called a secret ballot for a law meant to suspend democracy by lifting immunity from members of Parliament. Under the guise of attacking the HDP for harboring Kurdish terrorists, they have sentenced critics to jail time and embedded their domination in the legislative branch of government. With Erdoğan seated in power, all that is needed for the full reign of AKP authoritarianism is the judiciary and the military.


The coup has been Erdoğan’s Reichstag of convenience. It is essential to understand that since Hitler was ushered into power to suppress students, Communists and all those deemed as part of the “danger from without and within,” tyrannical statecraft has been justified as an “emergency measure.”

At the time of writing, Turkey is undergoing one of the biggest purges in its history. As of Aug. 28, 15,846 have been detained and 8,133 of the detained have been arrested. According to Amnesty International many of the detained have been force-fed and possibly raped. Fifteen universities, over 1,000 private schools, 19 trade unions, and 35 medical institutions have been shut down. AKP members have publicly gone after the educated stratum of society, and a situation of lawlessness has triggered a backlash against the most marginalized in Turkish society, including Kurds and martyrs like Hande Kader, a Transgender sex worker, and liberation activist who was brutally raped and burned to death.

Hande Kader being brutally hauled out of a gay rights parade by police. Photo: http://sendika10.org/

Knowing that to attack the Kemalist faction of the military would be political suicide, Erdoğan has constructed a false narrative to attack a competing Islamist faction—the Gulenist movement—and finally clean up the military and the judiciary. He has even asked for schools in over 50 countries to be shut down. Over 5,267 academic staff have been targeted by the purge, 4,225 of them have been expelled. The latest danger confronting contemporary Turkey is brain drain as other academics are leaving the country.

So what is to be done? The answer is simple: material support to the progressive movement in Turkey. They are the last bulwark against AKP authoritarianism and the only hope we have in the struggle for human liberation.

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