How Turkey risks becoming a dictatorial, rogue and failed state

EU and US cannot be expected to anger the Erdogan's government by interfering in its internal affairs.

 |  5-minute read |   24-01-2016
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Think of a country where a woman is demonised merely for saying "children should not die". Think of country where academicians are labelled as traitors, and even detained, just for urging the government to bring about a political solution to an ongoing military conflict. Imagine a country where hospitals and education institutions are closed simply because they belong to the opponents of the ruling party. Imagine a country where in university departments like political science and international relations, political theories that are not in line with those of the government are hardly discussed. Think of a country where high school students are expelled because of their parents' affiliation to a social movement which is critical of the government. And also think of a country where the president of the republic cites Hitler's Germany as a model for what he wants in his own country.

These are the facts not of a Cold War era pariah state but of a 21st century permanent member of the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation (NATO), a crucial ally of the United States and a country hoping to integrate into the European Union (EU) - Turkey.

Turkey's problems are alarming and seemingly intractable. However, all the aforementioned facts, despite being deplorable, are not the real problems Turkey is facing today; they are merely the symptoms of a chronic and grave crisis. The crisis is real and at the very heart of Turkish democracy. The country risks becoming a dictatorial, rogue and a failed state, if it has already not become so.

Also read: Why Syria is the new Afghanistan and Turkey is the new Pakistan

And these problems are extremely difficult to deal with in the country as the majority of the Turkish population don't consider them as problems - at least the last general elections suggested so. One wonders why people would support demonising someone who calls for peace, jailing of academicians, closing of schools and hospitals, restrictions on freedom of thought and speech, arbitrary expulsion of students from public schools, and so on.

True, no one in his/her right mind would endorse such acts in normal circumstances but in extraordinary circumstances many would and do endorse them. In extraordinary war-like situations many would buy the government's argument of the need for such actions.

And if you believe the current political dispensation in Ankara, many Turkish citizens, in collaboration with unspecified international players, have declared war on the Turkish state. These citizens include many prominent journalists, highly qualified academicians, experienced lawyers and judges and also some very talented high school and university students.

What puts them at "war" with the government is their critical stance and unwillingness to toe the government's line on every issue.

Also read: How American client states sponsor terrorism in West Asia

According to the government, these people are traitors who want to oust it by undemocratic means, seize control of the Turkish state and divide the country. All these claims, despite being backed by no real evidence, have been effectively disseminated among the uncritical masses through a large network of media outlets that serve not as a check on the government but as a mouthpiece of the ruling party.

It must be noted that almost 90 per cent of the mainstream Turkish media is directly or indirectly controlled by the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP).

It is true that in an electoral democracy, the majority rules and its choices must be respected. But nevertheless, given the clichéd fact that Hitler too was a democratically elected leader provides a valid ground for a qualified criticism of electoral democracy - especially when his despotic model of governance continues to inspire a leader in the 21st century (Turkish president Recep Tayyip Erdogan).

Silence of the international community

It is interesting to see that Turkey, despite all its faults, remains a crucial ally of both the US and EU. Last year in November, the EU reached a deal with Turkey in which the later was provided with $3.2 billion. This deal was to curb the flow of refugees from the Middle East to Europe as many of them transit through Turkey.

The EU also promised closer ties with Turkey as part of this deal. Meanwhile, the US also continues to disregard the egregious violations of human rights and democracy in Turkey in return for access to an airbase in the southern part of the country. Since July 2015, Turkey is allowing the US to use its Incirlik airbase to bomb the Islamic State (ISIS).

Unfortunately, the EU and US' need of Turkey to deal with the chaotic refugee crisis in Europe and the menace of the ISIS have trumped all the democratic values they are supposed to promote in Turkey.

There are two hypothetical circumstances in which the despicable state of Turkish democracy may improve. First that there is a change in the leadership of the country and a pro-democracy and reformist government comes into power.

Second that the EU and the US manoeuvre to influence change in policymaking in Ankara which they are certainly capable of doing given Turkey's willingness to join the EU and its permanent membership of the NATO.

But unfortunately, both of these possibilities are highly unlikely to become realities under the present circumstances. The leadership of the country is not going to change as Turkey has recently concluded both of its important elections (presidential and general elections) and the next elections in the country are not due until 2019.

And the EU and the US cannot be expected to anger the Turkish government by interfering in its internal affairs until the refugee crisis and the ISIS problem is properly dealt with.

The days ahead are not pleasant for Turkey. What remains to be seen is how worse the situation in the country becomes before there is any sign of improvement.

Writer

Mohammad Behzad Fatmi Mohammad Behzad Fatmi @behzadfatmi

Political writer and commentator. He writes widely in the Indian and international media, mainly on Turkish politics.

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