August 24, 2014

Erdoğan's trap

Mahir Zeynalov

Mainstream Western media keeps describing the ruthless attacks of the Turkish authorities, the media and its supporters on the followers of Islamic scholar Fethullah Gülen as a struggle for state power.

This erroneous description is exactly what Erdoğan wants the media to say. It helps in many ways to miss the main point. Erdoğan is not struggling with anyone. He is simply building a classical authoritarian system by installing loyalists.

Since a recent corruption scandal that implicated the government, thousands of bureaucrats, members of police and judiciary have been dismissed, appointed to less-influential positions or charged. This process of "cleaning" is the first stage of building every authoritarian state. Backed by massive public support, autocrats basically try to get rid of everyone who is not a loyalist, from journalists to bureaucrats.

To justify his purge of the police, judiciary and bureaucrats, Erdoğan's government has designated the Gülen movement as a scapegoat. They couldn't simply say, "These guys are trying to do their job and we don't like it." They had to prove that the purged officials are part of an organization that gets their orders from outside. Most of the purged officials, fired journalists or intimidated businessmen are sympathizers of the Gülen movement, Kemalists, social-democrats, liberals and others who do not support the government. Erdoğan is just squeezing all of them, regardless of their views, into the same box (parallel structure) and throwing them away. Being a man of law is the new black in the "New Turkey."

Whenever the Western media mentions a "power struggle between Erdoğan and Gülen," it falls in this splendid trap that Erdoğan has built. By frequently lashing out at the Gülen movement, Erdoğan tries to sell to Turks and the world that he is obsessed with Gülen and his followers, not with bureaucrats who refuse to bow to his pressure.

Developments in Turkey are ominous signs of a dictatorship in the making. As has been the case in every authoritarian nation, the Turkish state is also undergoing a massive phase of "cleaning." This is not a struggle between a leader and a cleric, but an elected dictator and his foes of every color. Describing it as a power struggle is helping Erdoğan get away with his purge.

Published on Sunday's Zaman, 24 August 2014, Sunday