August 17, 2016

What does Uganda learn from Turkish coup?

Asuman Kiyingi*

On July 15, 2016, a group of middle-ranking Turkish soldiers took over several institutions including bridges, airports, parliament and some police stations in an attempted coup.

Aided by huge public support, the police successfully thwarted the coup but after hundreds having been killed and thousands wounded. A month after the coup, anxiety remains and the Turkish government’s actions to handle the coup aftermath could well blow up all hopes for a free democratic Turkey that had stood out as a model Islamic country in Europe.

The coup was unjustified and has been rightly condemned globally. However, the indiscriminate purge of all political opponents including those that cannot reasonably be said to have played any role appears cruel and uncalled for. It raises serious questions as to whether the coup is not just an excuse to settle unresolved political questions arbitrarily.

By the end of July 2016, dismissals and detentions following the failed coup stood at 60,000, including 20,000 teachers and 1,500 university deans. Some 118 army generals and admirals were detained.

Another 24 television and radio companies have had their licenses revoked; by decree, 1,043 private schools, 1,229 charities and foundations, 19 trade unions, 15 universities and 35 medical institutions have been closed, all allegedly for having links with US-based cleric Fethullah Gulen whom Turkish authorities accuse of masterminding the coup, a claim Gulen denies.

President Tayyip Erdogan has taken advantage of the coup to strengthen his position domestically and reclaim all political territory and ground lost since 2012 when his Justice and Freedom party (AKP) broke ranks with Gulen over a corruption scandal.

Erdogan had then been forced to give up a bid to seize and develop Istanbul’s green space, the Gezi Park, for private purposes following popular demonstrations. Soon after prosecutors brought charges against the president’s associates for corruption, Erdogan angrily dismissed both the prosecutors and judges blaming “Gulenists” for trying to overthrow his government and started the purges that have only increased since then.

A June 2015 referendum rejected President Erdogan’s proposal for an executive presidency that would see more powers concentrated in the office he now occupies. Since the coup collapse, President Erdogan has instituted a three-month state of emergency, announced plans to resume construction of the Gezi Park and has proposed reintroduction of the death penalty for those he accuses of sedition.

The executive presidency rejected in a referendum has now become a reality. With schools and universities closed; judges, teachers, professors, civil servants, nurses, doctors and policemen laid off; soldiers of all ranks arrested and detained; coupled with his plan of introducing the death penalty, Turkey is getting off-course.

By using the attempted coup to violate basic democratic rights, President Erdogan is slowly moving Turkey away from the core values represented by the European Union and the Nato defence alliance that have helped Turkey’s recent economic resurgence and development. Hopefully he does not totally abandon the idea of getting Turkey into the EU.

Turkey has been a strong member in the fight against ISIL but it’s commitment in this direction is now questionable. President Erdogan’s call for the extradition of Gulen and cracking the whip on the Hizmet Movement’s civic, charitable and humanitarian work in Turkey and abroad betrays an intolerant and high-handed streak typical of other Middle East’s regimes from which Turkey had distinguished itself.

Hizmet, a Turkish name for the Gulenist movement that has a network of businesses, and non-profit organisations, schools and hospitals in over 100 countries including Uganda, had helped give Turkey a very positive image of an enlightened Islamic country that stands for peace and other universal values such as democracy, rule of law and respect for human rights.

This image seems to be threatened by the indiscriminate purges and apparent paranoia that is creating uncertainty inside Turkey and among her allies. Gulen, a former close friend of President Erdogan, leads the Hizmet Movement.

He vehemently denies involvement in the coup and has called for an impartial international investigation to get to the bottom of the crisis that is threatening Turkey with an implosion that has wider implications for regional and global security, especially in combating ISIL and other terrorist organisations.

A stable and democratic Turkey has seen many investments come to Uganda and trade boosted between the two countries. The Turkish government should be encouraged to proceed with restraint in the circumstances and revert to the democratic path that respects the rule of law and human rights for all.

*The author is a former Bugabula South MP and state minister for Works and Transport.

Published on The Observer, 17 August 2016, Wednesday