Feb 19 2018

Turkey’s authoritarian slide unremitting - opinion

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan has gone from being a democrat to being a dictator, journalist Alice Beale wrote in a blog for British political magazine the Spectator.

Focusing on the fate of journalists in Turkey, which according to the New York-based Committee to Protect Journalists has more reporters in jail than any other country, Beale was sharply critical of the Turkish government.

“No-one is in jail for practising journalism, we are always told – though last year Erdoğan himself said in an interview that any writer who publishes the words of terrorists can be considered a terrorist themselves. That doesn’t leave much space for publishing anything other than the government’s own line.”

Beale described how describes how Erdoğan, who once himself spent time behind bars for reading a religious poem has transformed from a democratiser and a model for the rest of the region, into a virtual dictator.

“He travels everywhere in a huge motorcade, surrounded by men in shades and earpieces. Once the scourge of the military, he has now, since the post-coup purge which has seen more than half of the top tier of officers dismissed, recast himself as commander-in-chief. Earlier this month, he appeared in the operations room dressed in a camouflage jacket, peering over tactical maps with his generals. And although officials will insist that it is the judiciary, not Erdoğan, that makes the decisions on legal cases, it is now a given that if the president fingers someone in one of his near-daily speeches, they will be immediately detained and put on trial.”

Beale also speculated on factors contributing to Turkey’s descent into authoritarianism. Amongst them are the difficulties of establishing a functioning democracy in a country as large and volatile as Turkey, Erdoğan’s fears about his future should he lose power, and the intoxication that comes with power.

“Ahmet Altan’s latest novel, Endgame, tells the story of an anonymous Turkish town that tears itself apart. There are rumours of great riches buried underneath the hillside and the residents are willing to kill, cheat and betray each other to get their hands on it. In doing so, they destroy themselves and the beauty of the land they have inherited. It is difficult not to draw parallels.”