A tale for the ages: How Turkey stood up for democracy

In a region which needs far less military power, far less tanks and weapons on the streets, far less violence and far more stability and democracy, why on earth would a coup attempt be in any way welcome or seen to be a step in the right direction?

Photo by: Reuters (Archive)
Photo by: Reuters (Archive)

By Dr Anas Altikriti

Friday night was one which will live long in the memories of the Turkish people as a glorious moment amid many of the immense difficulties in modern history.

By the time dawn broke on Saturday, it became known across the world that a section of army generals had mounted an outrageous coup d'etat to bring down the government, but had failed miserably.

The sequence of events, the main culprits, the internal and foreign networks involved, and the reasons for its failure will continue to be told and retold, with only one fact being unequivocal and beyond question; it was a night when the people of Turkey united in defeating tanks, fighter jets and armoured vehicles from dismantling their democracy.

International reaction

However, amid the inevitable ramifications and unexpected developments which are certain to ensue, one could argue that the most intriguing aspect of the failed coup was and continues to be the international reaction to events that night and since. One would have expected an outcry at such an audacious attempt to destabilise the largest country in a region which is the most volatile, violent and unstable.

Turkey is not only a vital member of NATO, but for the past number of years it has been at the forefront of monitoring and obstructing the movement of ISIS and Al-Qaeda operatives and their recruits across the Iraqi and Syrian borders. It has also taken on millions of refugees, offering them safe havens from the conflicts and violence from which they fled, on behalf of Europe and the rest of the world.

For such a task, it has paid a heavy price in internal security breaches, terrorist attacks against vital locations and installations, the rise in Kurdish rebellion and insurgency as well as a considerable hit on its economic growth. Therefore, the visibly downbeat statements from the US and Western leaders particularly, supporting the legitimate government several hours later and after the coup had conceded defeat, came not only as a surprise but quite a shock to many.

These were rapidly followed by warnings against any ‘purge’ of coup members and supporters and warnings that the failure of the coup did not offer the president or the government carte blanche to do so. With media coverage that was decidedly disappointed that the coup had failed to overthrow the democratically multi-elected AKP government and official statements criticising the mass arrests of the coup leaders and operatives, it was clear that the world at large had much preferred the military to have been in control by Saturday morning.

The freely distributed London Metro carried a headline on Monday stating that if Turkey’s parliament voted to bring back the death penalty against coup leaders, then that would be the end of Turkey’s hopes of joining the EU. In any case, if the former Prime Minister’s claims during the EU referendum debate are to be believed, then Turkey didn’t stand a chance of that ever happening in the next 3000 years anyway!

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan helps carry a coffin with a victim of the thwarted coup after a funeral service in Istanbul.

Regional reactions played out more or less as most observers would have expected. In a region where there are virtually no democratic governments, nor nations offering anywhere as close to the freedoms and rights enjoyed by Turkey’s 90 million citizens and visitors, it is in the best interest of neighbouring countries not to be shown up as authoritarian, oppressive or undemocratic.

Hence, all morning papers in Egypt and many in Gulf countries including the UAE, which went to print early in the night, carried headlines celebrating the Turkish military’s taking over of power in Ankara. Thousands of tweets and posts by official commentators and bloggers, celebrating the coup had to be deleted by Saturday morning and the overall mood throughout Cairo, Damascus and Abu Dhabi was downcast to say the very least.

Whilst the latter did not come as much of a surprise, it was the former international response that continues to raise questions. In a region which needs far less military power, far less tanks and weapons on the streets, far less violence and far more stability and democracy, why on earth would a coup attempt be in any way welcome or seen to be a step in the right direction? Why does Europe and the West in general continue to see Turkey as different despite it being a vital economic, trade, political and security ally?

Voices on social media challenge the West's response

The discussions and debates on social media painted a fascinating picture. The overwhelming response was once again about the West’s hypocrisy, double standards and determination on undermining any democracy which culminates in an outcome disliked by the US and other super powers i.e. a Muslim one. The split in views and positions was not only clear, but quite alarming and one wonders whether policy makers in Washington, London and Paris realise the implications of this, or whether they even care.

The whole premise of democracy, freedoms and human rights as a value-full construct is under threat as those who initially proposed it, seem to have totally abandoned the baby at birth. The Arab Spring in 2011 which brought so much promise and hope, is now a bitter memory and an ugly portrait resembled by a military coup in Cairo which massacred thousands in one day live on camera, Libya which continues to be in a state of civil war, where the unelected rebel faction is backed by the West, France particularly; and Syria where millions have been killed, injured, displaced and forced to become refugees, while the West procrastinates over who’s bad and who’s worse in Syria.

Add to the list, Iraq which is now in its 14th year of abject political failure, sectarian and ethnic division, instability and violence, and one would have thought that Turkey remaining prosperous, stable and democratic is in the best interest of the world.

Not so, it seems.

Already, clearly harmonised media coverage throughout western countries, have begun a campaign intent on demonising the president and the ruling party. Everything Turkish is now Erdogan. All attacks on the Turkish people, who so gallantly defied a military coup and defended Turkish institutions are portrayed as an act against the ever-growing authority of Erdogan. Already, many have published fantastical stories about how all of this was actually orchestrated and set up by Erdogan himself in order to allow him greater authorities and more popularity. Ironic that those same publications and writers wouldn’t hesitate to ridicule identical theories about 9/11 and other major attacks in the West, as crazed conspiracy theories.

My suspicions however, is that on the streets of Istanbul, Ankara, Konya and Izmir, the Turkish people will go about their business with a boosted sense of national pride and unity. On Friday night, when tanks rolled on to the streets and fighter jets flew precariously low, it didn’t occur to them nor to their elected government to call on the help of foreign states. Nor did it occur to any government official or parliamentarian to flee and seek refuge for themselves or their families. The President of Turkey made a 12-second call upon the people whom had elected him president, and his people responded accordingly. The coup failed. Democracy prevailed. They needn’t worry much about what the West and its media thinks.

(Disclaimer: This article is an opinion which does not necessarily reflect the editorial views of TRTWorld.)

(Anas Altikriti is CEO & Founder of The Cordoba Foundation, Chairman of the Muslim Association of Britain and PhD in Political Studies. He is a political analyst and hostage negotiator.)