Crackdown in Turkey shows why coup was 'gift from God' for Erdogan

Bassem Aly , Friday 22 Jul 2016

Almost 50,000 people working in state institutions, including police and public schools, have either been detained or lost their jobs as Erdogan reasserts control

Tayyip Erdogan
Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan attends an interview with Reuters at the Presidential Palace in Ankara, Turkey, July 21, 2016

Following the failure of a military coup in Turkey—which saw the death of 246 people and injury of 1,500 in street clashes—Islamist president Recep Tayyip Erdogan gave a statement that implied that he was not completely angry about it.

“They will pay a heavy price for this”, stated Erdogan. “This uprising is a gift from God to us because this will be a reason to cleanse our army.”

But he went far beyond that.

The ruling government of the Justice and Development Party (AKP)—founded and controlled by Erdogan—has enjoyed the backing of most governments in the world since the coup attempt.

Even the other Turkish political parties, usually not on good terms with Erdogan and the AKP for many reasons, adopted the same position.

The reason behind this situation was simple: they wanted the democratic process to remain in place, especially in a country with a long history of military interventions in political affairs.

But the measures—such as mass arrests and detentions of people within different state institutions—taken by the government in the aftermath of the coup has put the future of democracy in Turkey in question.

Moreover, according to analysts, the opposition can do little about it.

So far, almost 50,000 people working in state institutions—including police and public schools—have either been detained or lost their jobs, according to figures revealed by CNN Turk and Hurriyet daily newspaper.

On Tuesday, the government issued a suspension order for 15,200 state education employees, in addition to demanding approximately 1,600 deans from private and state universities resign from their positions.

On Wednesday, the Turkish High Board of Education decided to ban all academics from travelling abroad “until further notice”, state-run TRT broadcaster announced.

The licences of 21,000 teachers working in private institutions were also revoked by the government.

On the military level, around 118 generals and admirals were detained, accused of treason and allegedly planning the coup. Other soldiers, police officers and judges faced the same fate.

“Erdogan said that the failed coup attempt was a gift from God. He is using the opportunity to crack down on the dissidents and purge the bureaucracy. The Turkish president sees this as a chance to consolidate his power further and to bolster his one-man rule,” Aykan Erdemir, a senior fellow at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies, told Ahram Online.

“The coup plotters have provided him with a golden opportunity. Erdogan is too smart and too power-hungry to miss this,” the ex-parliamentarian for the Republican People's Party (CHP) added.

The Turkish government has accused preacher Fethullah Gulen, who lives in the United States, of planning the coup. The crackdown campaign is partially linked to removing Gulen’s supporters from state institutions.

This is not the first such incident related to Gulen. In December 2014, police forces raided Turkey's Zaman newspaper and Samanyolu (STV) channel, detaining dozens of journalists and workers. Those detained were charged with conspiring to overthrow Erdogan.

Gulen used to be a strong backer of Erdogan, providing him with the support of his Hizmet Movement in consecutive electoral races. The Erdogan-Gulen relationship started to sour after a corruption scandal in December 2013 that led to the resignation of three ministers.

A similar crackdown against pro-Gulen elements in state institutions has taken place in the last few years, though to a lesser extent.

In a phone conversation this week, US President Barack Obama told Erdogan that Turkey must provide evidence that Gulen was behind the coup attempt in order for Turkey’s extradition demand for the preacher to be considered.

Turkey took its extraordinary measures one step further on Thursday as parliament approved a bill declaring a three-month state of emergency by 346 votes to 115. Members of the CHP and the pro-Kurdish People’s Democratic Party had voted against it.

Ankara also informed the Council of Europe that it will partially withdraw from the European Convention on Human Rights.

Amnesty International issued a report on Thursday, stressing the fact that the state of emergency allows the prime minister along with his cabinet the power to rule by decree and “bypass the parliament.”

The rights organisation pointed that “arbitrary restrictions” on freedom of expression and assembly can take place under emergency laws, in addition to denying “civil servants the right to appeal their suspensions and dismissals.”

“Amnesty International fears that the move could be used as a pretext for the authorities to extend the period of pre-charge detention which currently stands at four days. Under the current circumstances such an extension could further undermine protections against ill-treatment as well as the right to a fair trial,” the report said.

Erdogan, speaking to Al Jazeera shortly before the announcement of emergency measures, said that the bill aims to tackle “the terrorist threat the country is facing.” 

In light of these conditions will Erdogan face a backlash from the opposition, as happened before with the Taksim protests in 2013?

The answer is no, at least not so far.

Bessma Momani, political science professor at the University of Waterloo, told Ahram Online only supporters of Erdogan “would be brave enough to go to Taksim.”

“The country was already polarised well before the attempted coup d'état. Half the population of the country are fearful of Erdogan and would likely want to protest his autocratic rule and continued repression of political opponents, but they will be highly fearful of going to the streets at this time,” Momani argued.

Erdemir seemingly has a similar viewpoint, believing that “Erdogan’s loyalists seem to have full control of the streets for now.”

Erdemir argued that, since there doesn’t seem to be law and order on the streets, any dissident protesting AKP's authoritarianism risks “lynching and attacks by mobs.”

Erdogan, Erdemir said, knows that such chaos and uncertainty allow him to dominate the street and suppress the dissidents, a reason why he has been “so keen to invite his supporters to the streets day after day.”

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