Tuesday, 26 July 2016

Apres moi, le deluge

The crackdown is bad, but the coup would have been worse.

Let me start by trotting out a few numbers - and this is from a week ago, so I'm guessing these figures have increased:
source: Twitter
Upwards of 9,000 people have been taken into custody, while 50,000 have lost their jobs or are being investigated.  The Turkish Bar Association have said that legal processes are being ignored in relation to the detainees, while Amnesty International today reported that prisoners are being 'hogtied, starved, abused and raped' and urged the Turkish government to respect due process.

President Erdogan has also declared a 'State of Emergency' (OHAL) for the next three months. All in all, it appears to be a terrible crisis - yet last night, the main opposition party, the CHP, held a pro-democracy rally, to which came thousands of people from across the political spectrum.

From an external perspective, it seems somewhat bizarre - after all, Erdogan and the AKP have done a good job of dividing the nation, yet now, here was everyone, coming out united against the coup.

They had good reason to: A successful coup would have been a much worse outcome. Now, I'm still suspicious of who was actually behind the attempted takeover, but I'm also no fan of military interventions in politics, be they domestic or foreign. The figures above are bad - particularly in education - but, to glean a little bit of light from a black cloud, at least these people are alive. The number of dead (currently just past 260) would have been far, far greater within days.

All in all, Turkey is in a strange place right now - well, stranger than what usually constitutes 'normal' over there, and I haven't a clue what will happen nexr. One thing I should point out, however, is that Erdogan himself is not the Prime Mover of all these events - rather, he is the symptom of a political mechanism that has rarely been either effective or representative.

The AKP are the outcome of years of abuse by politicians who plundered the economy for their own gain, promised big and did vanishingly little. Erdogan and the AKP appealed to the often-ignored electorate of Anatolia, and rode into power through energising them and claiming to more closely represent the people than the distant, overbearing Ankara politicians.

That's right, Erdogan was the outsider candidate, slugging it out with the Big Boys who didn't want to play fair - remind you of anyone?

In fact, the president makes a big deal of being the Little Boy From Anatolia Who Done Good - it's a narrative that is as appealing as it is untrue, yet it also explains his remarkably thin skin when it comes to even a hint of criticism. It also explains his ever-increasing authoritarian ways: It's a case of the bullied becoming the bully, of the abused becoming the abuser.

The AK bit of AKP stands for 'Justice and Development'. It's also a play on words, as 'ak' also means white, with all the connotations of purity, innocence and honesty that implies. That is what people voted for: justice and development, and for a few years, it seemed that would indeed be the case. Now, however, the party is being devoured by the president's desire for absolute control, by using and subverting democratic conventions towards this end. It's both fascinating and appalling to watch - yet, terrible as it is, it's still not as terrible as the same aim being achieved by war. One is a python squeezing its prey to death, the other is a tiger ripping its victim apart.

It is a dark time, yes, yet there are glimmers of light, here and there, that suggest the game is far from over.

Saturday, 16 July 2016

If it looks like a Thing, it must be the Thing...right?

Last night's attempted coup was swiftly dismissed - but was it all a piece of political theatre?

Military coups are never nice things - you just know hat someone is going to come out of one horribly, whichever way the dice roll.

For President Erdogan, the dice seem to have landed remarkably fortuitously.

Turks are wearily familiar with military takeovers - they've endured four previous coups since the end of the Second World War, the latest being in 1997. The takeover of 1980, which was particularly brutal, lingers long in the collective memory.

This attempt, however, was - well, different.

It looked a bit too much like a coup, for starters. Yet it didn't actually do what coups do. The plotters took over one news agency, and one TV station. They posted tanks outside two airports and across two bridges. They positioned tanks around a relatively small number of public buildings, including the TCBM (Parliament) building. They issued a statement from a group calling themselves 'The Council for Peace at Home'. They had command of a handful of helicopters and, it appears, at least one jet.

In short, they did everything to ensure it looked all coup-shaped.

However, no one told the conscript soldiers that. No one told the police that. No one told the Jandarma (civil militia) that. So what happened? People started dying and getting wounded - as I write, some 90 dead and over a thousand injured.

If this was a coup, why only action in Istanbul and Ankara? Why so few soldiers? And how did they get their hands on just enough equipment to give the impression that it was something bigger? Why were they so inadequate in supressing information and in disseminating their own message? I didn't see a single 'official' coup Twitter handle or any other sign of even basic social media skills.

If this was a coup, why were ministers on the air almost from the beginning? Why had there be no attempt to seize them or the President, who was on holiday, and was able to get on a suspiciously convenient jet? How was he able to land at Istanbul's Ataturk Airport for a suspiciously well-timed press conference?

If this was a coup, why was it that the streets ended up being flooded with AKP supporters so quickly? How did they get their hands on both AKP and Turkish flags of such regular size and shape so quickly?

I am no great fan of conspiracy theories: I believe far more in the infinite human capability to bugger things up without the need for an elaborate plan to do so. in this case, however, it seems the likeliest possibility.

The whole of Turkey has, as the saying has it, been sold a pup.

Everyone has been gamed: The coup leaders who thought they were planning a real coup, their conscripts who were ordered to do their duty, the police and the Jandarma who thought they were doing theirs, and the populace took to their role without even knowing it, and went onto the streets.

And Erdogan now gets this:
No more questions about his fake university diploma.
No more questions about his backhanded dealings, his corruption, his graft.
No more questions about selling weapons to ISIS.
No more questions about his megalomania.
No more questions about changing the constitution in order to change the style of government.
At a stroke, he comes across as both the man of steel and the saviour of Turkish democracy, and he closes in on his long-term goal: Absolute rule.

The great theatrical practitioner of Turkish politics has probably pulled off his greatest show, and his adoring public are happily lapping it up.

Forget the dead, forget the injured, forget the poor conscript on the Bosphorus bridge who allegedly had his head hacked off by a baying crowd of Islamists, forget the arrested, forget the tortures and arbitrary executions to come - they're just the grease that slicks the way to the president's throne.