“The house always wins” is a phrase that is well known to visitors to the American city of Las Vegas. It means that the casino or gambling house in question systematically makes sure that the odds work in its favour and that it always comes out as the winner in the end even if the gamblers think they have a strong chance of winning.
This tactic seems very similar to that used by Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan with regard to the Turkish opposition since his first win as prime minister in 2003.
Erdogan’s latest victory in the presidential elections of 24 June in Turkey, securing another five years in power, was as predictable as all the other elections that have taken place in the country since Erdogan surfaced on the political scene.
These elections resulted in one unchanged outcome: the victory of Erdogan’s Justice and Development Party (AKP).
Over the years, Erdogan’s hold on power has enabled him to tamper with the Turkish constitution, as he did in 2007, 2010 and 2017.
The last constitutional referendum in Turkey in 2017 gave the country an executive presidency that favoured him as the incumbent and turned Turkey from a constitutional democracy into an autocracy through carefully constructed clauses granting the president almost absolute power.
Days after this year’s controversial elections took place Erdogan celebrated his ill-gained victory by practicing his favourite hobby of arresting more political dissidents.
This time, on 5 July, 350 soldiers were charged with supporting US-resident Islamic preacher Fethullah Gülen, perceived by Erdogan as his arch-rival.
The massive arrests conducted by the Turkish authorities were a continuation of Erdogan’s brutal purges since the failed coup d’état in July 2016, which have led to the arrests of tens of thousands of Turkish citizens and police and army officers and the suspension of hundreds of thousands of others from their jobs.
Erdogan is banking on Turkey’s strategic position and membership of NATO to avert pressure from the United States and Europe.
He has been blackmailing Western countries by playing cards like Turkey’s relationship with Russia.
Over the past few years, he has sent signals that Turkey may choose to be in the Russian camp instead of the Western one, something which US and European leaders are desperately trying to avoid lest they lose the Turkish army’s major role in NATO.
Turkey has the second-largest army in the NATO alliance next to that of the United States. Furthermore, the country’s strategic geographical location in the proximity of Russia, Iran and the wider Middle East makes Turkey an irreplaceable member of the alliance.
Erdogan is well aware of such facts, and he is counting on the Western exercise of patience in the face of his tyrannical behaviour.
At the moment, the Muslim Brotherhood’s and the Islamists’ ugly face is being displayed in all its brutality in the once-democratic state of Turkey as Erdogan continues to change the political rules in order to shock and awe the opposition while organising smear, intimidation and harassment campaigns against his rivals through the state-owned and AKP-affiliated media.
For decades Turkish citizens have been fearful of the return of Turkish military involvement in political life, especially after the three successful coups d’état of 1960, 1971 and 1980.
That fear has led the majority of Turkish citizens to overlook the Islamists’ manipulation of their emotions and their cracking down on the country’s military commanders with the Erdogan regime’s involvement in their arrests, trials and decimation.
To some it may seem only normal that the Turkish military should not be involved in politics, but the fact remains that the country’s 1982 constitution makes the Turkish army the guardian of secularism, or “Kemalism” as it is known in Turkey, in order to prevent the country falling into the grip of the Islamists as is now the case.
Aware of these facts, it was Erdogan’s first task to weaken the military standing guard over the Turkish state and to turn it into a force of repression in his hands after decimating the secular military leaders who had kept the Turkish state intact.
This happened amidst a naïve silence, if not approval, among the Turkish opposition, which was fearful of military intervention but overlooked the Islamists’ master plan to take over all of Turkey.
The chief mistake of the Turkish opposition over the past decade and a half has been to treat Turkish politics as a democratic game in which it can garner support and win an election.
The sad truth remains that the opposition has been beguiled, and it has beguiled the millions of Turks who believed in its rhetoric.
The Turkish opposition remains in disarray, and it shows little sign of grasping the fact that the political game in the country ceased to be a democratic one the moment that Erdogan and his AKP Party were allowed to step into the fray and then actually take power.
It is time for the Turkish opposition to organise and rally across the country in a bid to force Erdogan to step down even if this takes weeks or months as similar popular movements against Islamist rule took in Egypt and Tunisia.
Erdogan has committed a long list of crimes of corruption and human-rights violations, and this being so he will be anxious not to lose his position.
He will thus use all the vicious means at his disposal to retain it, but the will of the people will triumph in the end.
Even so, with every new election in Turkey the opposition still naively rushes to challenge Erdogan and his Party, aiming to secure an electoral win that will end the Islamist nightmare that has overtaken the country.
The process resembles a gullible gambler who enters a shady casino with the dream of winning quickly, while being unaware that he has just stepped into a trap. Even if the gambler gets lucky and acquires some winnings, the casino will likely ensure that he loses all his winnings in the end.
The rules are fixed in such a way that the house always wins, thus guaranteeing its steady profits.
Erdogan resembles a crooked casino owner who sets the rules for the gullible Turkish opposition while at the same time making sure that the house always wins.
The writer is a political analyst and author of Egypt’s Arab Spring and the Winding Road to Democracy.
*A version of this article appears in print in the 12 July 2018 edition of Al-Ahram Weekly under the headline: The house always wins