Last Friday’s failed coup attempt in Turkey, which claimed the lives of over 200 individuals, has left a lot of speculation about the causes of the incident and Turkish President Erdogan’s level of collusion. Erdogan has already stated that the coup attempt “is a blessing from Allah, because it will allow us to purge the military[.]” Reuters reports on the current number of detainees or those suspended by Turkish authorities at around 50,000 people – including military personnel, members of law enforcement, court officials, teachers and civil servants. Erdogan is clearly using this division to further Turkey into a more autocratic system of governance with him at the helm. For example, in a 2015 speech Erdogan addressed the issue of altering Turkey’s Constitution to match his expanded presidential role stating:
“There is a president with de facto power in the country, not a symbolic one. The president should conduct his duties for the nation directly, but within his authority. Whether one accepts it or not, Turkey’s administrative system has changed. Now, what should be done is to update this de facto situation in the legal framework of the constitution[.]”
Erdogan paints himself as an ally to the West, but he’s unquestionably an Islamist using the democratic process to transform a once secular-democratic country of the Ataturk tradition to an authoritarian Islamic state that punishes dissenting opinions. Journalists, politicians,academics, military figures, and religious leaders alike have suffered under his rule.
Freedom House, an independent organization that monitors freedom and democracy, labeled Turkey as “Not Free” in 2016 – receiving poor rankings in different categories such as legal environment (26/30 with 30 being worst), political environment (30/40 with 40 being worst), economic environment (15/30 with 30 being worst), and press freedom score (71/100 with 100 being worst). Freedom Houseexplains that constitutional protections such as freedom of press and expression are subverted by “the penal code, the criminal procedure code, and the harsh, broadly worded antiterrorism law that essentially leave punishment of normal journalistic activity to the discretion of prosecutors and judges.” For example, in 2015, Turkish authorities charged three Vice News journalists on terrorism related charges. They have since been released with the help of freedom and human rights organizations.
Erdogan has made it clear that one of his chief rivals in his quest for power is an Islamic cleric named Fethullah Gülen, whom he accused of staging the recent coup attempt. Gülen is often regarded as a ‘moderate’ in the West but shares a similar Islamist ideology to that of Erdogan. Gülen, like the Muslim Brotherhood, goes by the strategy of gradualism or incrementalism to slowly bring about an Islamic state with the implementation of sharia. Gülen has built a vast network of schools and cultural centers around the world to gradually expand Islam’s role within society. This deceptive strategy is revealed in a former Gülen sermon, of which this is an excerpt:
You must move in the arteries of the system without anyone noticing your existence until you reach all the power centers … until the conditions are ripe, they [the followers] must continue like this. If they do something prematurely, the world will crush our heads, and Muslims will suffer everywhere, like in the tragedies in Algeria, like in 1982 [in] Syria … like in the yearly disasters and tragedies in Egypt. The time is not yet right. You must wait for the time when you are complete and conditions are ripe, until we can shoulder the entire world and carry it … You must wait until such time as you have gotten all the state power, until you have brought to your side all the power of the constitutional institutions in Turkey … Until that time, any step taken would be too early—like breaking an egg without waiting the full forty days for it to hatch. It would be like killing the chick inside. The work to be done is [in] confronting the world. Now, I have expressed my feelings and thoughts to you all—in confidence … trusting your loyalty and secrecy. I know that when you leave here—[just] as you discard your empty juice boxes, you must discard the thoughts and the feelings that I expressed here.
Because of Gülen’s influence and following within Turkey he is seen as a major threat by Erdogan. Erdogan officially designated Gülen’s movement a terrorist group and vowed to come after its members. Erdogan is now using the failed coup to try once more to extraditeGülen and clampdown on his followers.
Turkey is not only a strategic NATO ally but also holds considerable political clout with the EU in regards to Europe’s Muslim immigration crisis. For that reason, he is likely to enjoy considerable support from the United States and the EU in spite of his autocratic tendencies. As Erdogan continues to gain power and advances toward his aspirations of another Ottoman empire ruled by Sharia, the EU can either placate Turkish demands or stand up for their European values. Let’s hope they choose the latter.