Sunday, 29 December 2013

Coup in Turkey mirrors Morsi power-grab

This is not likely to end well.

Demonstrations have broken out in Turkey again in response to the latest repressive tactics from a regime looking daily more like a police state.

A massive corruption scandal was unearthed in Turkey in recent weeks, but as the cases were proceeding, the increasingly authoritarian Prime Minister Erdogan intervened to stop further judicial action. Dozens of police and court officials were fired, and police refused to carry out judicial orders in Erdogan’s version of Richard Nixon’s Saturday Night Massacre (which, incidentally, marked the beginning of the end for Tricky D).

This is a creeping coup d’├ętat, similar to the one Mohammed Morsi staged in the months leading up to his ouster when he ignored half the country, cooked up a Brotherhood-friendly constitution, and decreed himself special powers. When courts cannot count on exercising their legal duties, the pretense of the rule of law has collapsed.

Erodgan, who arrived a decade ago as an Islamist-‘lite’, has sounded more and more like an ayatollah as he rode Turkey’s booming economy boomed to repeated election victories. Despite his attempts to look unthreatening to secular Turks, he now looks determined to lead the country into confessional upheaval.

A finance-page commentator pointed out that the earlier demonstrations against Erodgan over the destruction of Gezi Park in downtown Istanbul—to be replaced by an Ottoman-era mega-mosque—looked to we outsiders as a battle between a heavy-handed regime and westernized, liberalish student types, environmentalists, reformers, and the like—sort of an Occupy Asia Minor. But the deeper rift in Turkish society is good old Sunni-Shiite hostility.

Erdogan has been known to use dog-whistle hints to his followers in the past, some of a most disturbing nature. For example, he has recently again referred to the dangers of a repeat of the ‘Karbala tragedy’, which Muslims know refers to the massacre of the followers and family of Muhammed’s grandson, Hussein Ali, 1300 years ago. Given Erdogan’s Sunni background, it’s kind of equivalent to a Blackhawk chief warning about another Custer’s Last Stand.

The Islamist angle puts Erdogan’s enthusiastic support for the overthrow of the non-Sunni Assad regime in Syria and active collaboration with his Sunni opponents in a new light.

Turkey is also notorious for holding the highest number of journalists behind bars (211) of any country in the world, a dubious record it has racked up for two years running.

Turkey is also facing economic crosswinds as it is vulnerable to policy changes among the bigger players. Access to cheap credit has fueled a construction boom (at the center of the corruption allegations). Hints of a monetary policy reverse in the U.S. and elsewhere already has had ripple effects in Turkey where the currency has lost a quarter of its value this year.

With religious war overtaking the democratic ‘Arab spring’ spirit of the first year of the revolution, I am reminded of the lessons I learned during my brief visit to Lebanon during their nightmarish civil war: no matter how bad things are, they can always get worse.

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