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The Guardian view on Turkey: beware an elected dictatorship

Editorial

A brutal and indiscriminate reaction to the failed coup would threaten the values that defeated it

The failed coup in Turkey might have been worse news. It might have succeeded. A military dictatorship is one of the worst forms of government known. But an elected dictatorship is not much less bad and the danger is now clear that Turkey is lurching towards such a state. The arrests of 6,000 people, and the sacking of 2,700 judges, are very bad signs coming from a regime which has already done its best to intimidate civil society through the harassment and persecution of journalists. A purge of the armed forces is inevitable in the wake of a failed military coup, but it was not judges who rose up against the elected government. The attack on the judiciary is especially worrying in the light of Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s contempt for human rights and the rule of law.

Yet this erratic and ambitious man stands in a position of great power, or at least in one where he can do great harm. Although there is a huge gulf between the Islamism of Mr Erdoğan’s AKP party and that of Islamic State, his tacit support was extremely important in strengthening the worst elements of the Syrian opposition forces. At the same time, Turkey is a vital Nato member, with armed forces larger than any other alliance country’s except the US. That elements of the army and air force have been fighting one another is extremely worrying. The determination of the Erdoğan government to pin all the blame for the coup on a rival Islamic network led by Fethullah Gülen, a preacher currently in exile in Pennsylvania, has put US-Turkey relations under considerable strain. Few outside observers believe that the plotters were not for the most part old-fashioned secularists in the tradition of the Turkish armed forces. The US secretary of state, John Kerry, is entirely right to say that demands for Mr Gülen’s extradition should be backed up by the kind of hard evidence, testable in courts, which the Turkish government has so far been entirely unable to provide.

One of the ironies of the coup and its failure is that Mr Erdoğan may have owed his survival to the decentralised social networks he has been trying for years to bend to his government’s will. The plotters, apparently well-prepared for a 20th-century coup, just as generals are usually prepared to win the last war, had seized the state television station but neglected to secure the internet. By using private television stations and the power of social media, Mr Erdoğan was able to rally his supporters and get them out on the streets.

This is only one example of the way in which the institutions of a civil society, functioning under the rule of law, saved a man who so often seems to threaten them. The people who spilled on to the streets to defeat the coup forces were not all there to defend Mr Erdoğan. Many were there to defend democracy itself. The turnout of protesters was high even in cities such as Izmir, where the AKP party is weak. All of the political parties, even the predominantly Kurdish HDP, rallied behind democracy without any hesitation. It was a cause bigger than the president. The question for the future is whether he understands that it is. What comes next will demand moderation from the victorious government, respect for human rights and a reaffirmation of the rule of the law. They have not been the marks of Mr Erdoğan’s rule until now, but Turkey has seldom needed them more.

https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2016/jul/17/the-guardian-view-on-turkey-beware-an-elected-dictatorship

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