The West made a big mistake by glorifying Recep Tayyip Erdogan, Turkey’s current president, when he came to power 14 years ago. Despite his well-known fundamentalism, nobody worried about what harm he and his then-very-close ally Fethullah Gulen, now “the man in Pennsylvania”, could do to Turkey’s fragile democracy and social fabric.
Neither man has ever concerned himself with democracy — this is against the nature of political Islam, just as Erdogan declared, when he said: “You cannot be both secular and a Muslim!” . He and Gulen are two faces of the same coin; pro-capitalism, pro-sharia, power-thirsty, against women’s rights, enablers of child sexual abuse, brutal when needed, and ingeniously cunning. Erdogan’s infamous statement from early in his political career says it all: “Democracy is like a train: when you reach your destination, you get off”.
Don’t the intelligence agencies of the West know that it was none but Erdogan filling the police forces and judiciary in Turkey with Gulen followers when Gulen was Erdogan’s master and mentor? Don’t they know the military academies were opened to parochial Islamic middle-high school graduates to Islamize the Turkish military? Don’t they know of Erdogan’s electoral fraud, corruption, hypocrisy especially in regards to ISIS and the Kurds? If yes, why is this lack of willingness to expose him for what he and his movement are?
Political Islam started showing its face through “tarikats” after World War II in Turkey and evolved gradually. The military coup in 1980 was a turning point in the conversion of Turkish society to a political Islamist one. Erdogan’s party manipulated its way to power with support and guidance from Gulen, but by 2012 Erdogan had “matured” enough to shut down Gulen’s schools, which generated important revenue for Gulen’s enterprise. Police forces and state prosecutors loyal to Gulen arrested scores of Erdogan loyalists in retaliation. Erdogan replaced them with his own loyalists and blocked the way to a transparent investigation. Last week’s attempted military coup was the last battle staged by Gulen followers, knowing they would have been expelled from the military during the upcoming annual military convention.
Erdogan is not pro-democracy, he is a monarch, perhaps a caliph in the making. He pretends to be a secular and uses democracy to reach his own goals. Remember America: during the Gezi Park clashes in 2014, Erdogan unleashed police forces on young people who simply wanted to protect the park. The entire world saw that Erdogan did not have a shred of respect for democracy; he still does not.
He will be known as the most famous Machiavellian Turkey has raised, who will use all opportunities democracy gives to everyone until he gets the police forces, the military, and jurisdiction under his control. Pay attention to the rapid cleansing of his opponents in the military and the judicial ranks, which already has led to thousands of people being arrested or expelled.
I am expecting he will soon find a way to change the constitution to establish presidential system in Turkey. Can you imagine with finally executive powers back in his own hands, with his dangerous dance with ISIS, what he can do to Turkey — especially to the liberal and secular segments of the population who have resisted political Islam? Then will be the time to get off the democracy train for Erdogan. The two elephants, thanks to the corrupt, nationalistic past governments of Turkey have already crushed a lot of grass in Turkey and much more is to come. Erdogan is not pro-democracy, and should be treated as such in the world’s conjuncture.
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• Dr. Resmiye Oral, a dual citizen of the United States and Turkey, is a clinical professor of pediatrics and director of the Child Protection Program at the University of Iowa, Carver College of Medicine. Comments: firstname.lastname@example.org