There are four possible spoilers that Erdogan is busy dealing with right now; democracy itself, professional armed forces, independent judiciary and free-thinking intelligentsia
The failed coup of last Friday has not only changed the way Turkey looked a week back, it has shaken the very foundations of the country and shattered the faith of its well-wishers. Those who had pinned their hopes on outcome of the coup and had expected that the failed coup would lead to strengthening of democracy are feeling disappointed at the way the president is dealing with the aftermath.
It gives shudders to see Recep Tayyip Erdogan coming out of closet like a monarch and thus, losing his democratic credentials. It is now clear that he is using the failed coup to realize his dreams of enjoying an absolute power; revival of the “glory” of Caliphate is what his followers believe he’s striving to achieve. The Caliphate that Erdogan seems to have in his dreams is a one-man rule; where he is judge, jury and executioner all put together.
Erdogan has embarked upon a nation-wide crackdown starting from the moment the coup was pronounced abortive in the morning of Saturday. It seems that the government had already prepared the lists of those it wanted to purge and punish at the first opportunity. According to some estimates, nearly 6000 soldiers have been imprisoned while an equal number of judges and academicians has been sacked. Erdogan has slapped the Rule of Emergency on Turkey which would further enable him to achieve his goal of an absolute power with relative ease. According to draconian provisions of this arrangement, all those criticizing Erdogan policies would be deemed to be coup collaborators implying thereby that they would be punishable by death and imprisonment. The people will now taste the fruit of Caliphate during the Emergency.
There are certain aspects of the failed coup which are utterly confusing and the speed with which Erdogan had started to purge and punish the “potential enemies” of his style of democracy leave many to suspect the genuineness of the so-called coup. It seems that the coup was actually an excuse to tighten the grip on the reigns of the government and to ensure that there would be no “institutional spoilers” of the plans of Erdogan, his family and cronies to attain perpetual royalty in Turkey.
To be specific, there are four possible spoilers that Erdogan is busy dealing with; democracy itself, the armed forces, judiciary and intelligentsia.
He has already demonstrated fairly clearly his contempt for democracy by imposing the state of emergency in Turkey and, that he considers the institutions of a functioning democracy as major spoilers. When he was the prime minister, Erdogan enjoyed the powers of chief executive but when he became the figurehead president like in every other parliamentary democracy; he refused to accept this reality. He had plans to become an executive president and absolute monarch but lacked parliamentary support as his ambitions could only materialize after rewriting the Constitution by the parliament. The failed coup may have frightened his political opponents into submission to enable him to do what he wants.
Incidentally, he has few takers in Turkish urban centers as he draws his support from rural areas. People have now started believing that the steps being taken by Erdogan government after the failed coup would threaten the democracy in a more fatal way than the coup itself.
The second spoiler is the armed forces who consider themselves as custodians of Turkey’s secular Constitution. The soldiers are generally secular and would resist any attempt to disfigure the secular face of the country. They have a role in the decision-making under the Constitution. It is important to realize the dream of absolute control only after weakening the armed forces.
The plan was already there to purge the institution of the secular soldiers. Erdogan, without mincing words, has announced to restructure the military, sack old soldiers and induct fresh blood. One can sincerely hope that the president is not looking for an army loyal to him and his family. Sad reality is that by implication it means that the new military machine would be “politicized” and “toothless” meant only to do the royal bidding. Many of those who have been arrested for planning or executing the coup or who simply think differently are facing death or imprisonment.
This will badly demoralize the armed forces and a demoralized forces is not worth anything, not even good for guard of honor for the rulers. It should be kept in mind that Turkey has finely-trained armed forces and defense production infrastructure including NATO-standard shipyards. By virtue of its military might, Turkey is a distinguished member of NATO, a military alliance raised to fight Soviet expansionism during the Cold War. Treating the armed forces as spoilers and destroying them for personal gain would be a strategic blunder. If Erdogan puts his plan to implementation, it would end of Turkey as a military power of the Muslim world.
The third spoiler is the judiciary which could insist to go by the Constitution or simply resist the high-handedness of the regime unleashed on the detractors. It was the first to be taken care of by sacking nearly 3000 members of judiciary immediately after the coup.
The fourth spoiler is free-thinking intelligentsia who are accused of being under the influence of Sufi preacher Fethulla Gulen, a follower of Mevlana Rumi who was an ally during the earlier years of Erdogan rule. He is in self-exile in the US and is running a network of schools around the globe and even in Turkey. A free-thinking intelligentsia spread the virus of freedom of thought and could be a threat to Erdogan rule graver than other threats.
Even before the coup, democracy was under siege in Erdogan’s Turkey where independent writers, journalists and social media activists were jailed for criticizing Erdogan policies. The new wave of draconian laws would pave the way for a more personalized, autocratic and perpetual rule.