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Friday, March 4, 2011

Erdogan's Turkey a Model for Fledgling Democrats in the MENA Region ? Updated

That's what Abdullah Bozkurt suggests recently in Today's Zaman :

Turkey can certainly be an inspiration for a lot of people in these countries and can rise to the occasion to help these troubled regimes make the transition as smoothly as possible. The men and women on the Arab streets look to Turkey and feel close affection for what Turkey represents today. The increasing popularity of Turkish soap operas across the region is a testament to that fact. If the new and existing regimes in the region are in a desperate search for a boost to their legitimacies, Turkey could assist them in building a platform for channeling the aspirations and expectations of people to reflect better governance and transparency.
But as Dani Rodnik of THE FINANCIAL TIMES reports, the Erdogan regime is anything but a model of better governance and transparency, let alone adherence to democratic ideals.

Some excerpts from Rodnik's compelling FT piece :

Signs of repression are increasingly abundant. On Thursday police launched a wave of raids, detaining 10 journalists and authors – including an award-winning reporter who had investigated official negligence in the 2007 assassination of the Turkish-Armenian journalist Hrant Dink. Last month three journalists from a website critical of the government, OdaTV, which specialises in exposing prosecutorial and police misdeeds, were also jailed.
At the root of this lies the government’s drive to consolidate support and demonise the opposition, in particular using a series of political-military trials revolving around the so-called “Ergenekon terror organisation”. Prosecutors appear to have concocted a series of bizarre plots to entangle an unlikely cast of characters, from military officers and journalists, to lawyers, academics and even a former mayor of Istanbul – all of whom are alleged to be involved in a conspiracy to topple the government. The journalists detained last month and on Thursday were charged with being the media arm of this plot.
Many of these cases require total suspension of common sense. They presume a bumbling ensemble of conspirators – sometimes unknown to each other – who never manage to carry out their garish plans yet leave detailed documentary evidence behind, and who are exposed thanks to anonymous informers animated by patriotism. The evidence against the defendants is typically paper-thin.
The apogee has come with a case known as Sledgehammer. Here 195 military officers are being charged with plotting a coup in 2003. The case rests on reams of digital documents describing the coup preparations, containing some glaring anachronisms which leave little doubt that they are forgeries. Among many examples, documents supposedly from 2003 refer to a company that changed its name in 2009 by its new name, and also show a frigate in service that joined the navy only in 2005. Prosecutors have disregarded such inconsistencies.
...Mr Erdogan had a choice. Having won a constitutional referendum in 2010 he could have rebuilt his democratic credentials and stood more firmly for the rule of law. Instead, more than 100 officers have already been jailed on account of the improbable Sledgehammer coup plot, while other past coups have yet to receive legal scrutiny. The European Union’s latest progress report on Turkish accession also notes concerns about press freedom.
A turn towards real democracy would have required Mr Erdogan to reconsider his alliance with the Fethullah Gülen movement, named after the influential Pennsylvania-based Turkish preacher. The Gülenists, who provide the AKP with crucial support, have been loud cheerleaders for the trials. Their sympathisers within the police and legal system are, by all indications, doing much of the heavy lifting.
Turkey is not about to become an Islamic state. But on current trajectory, the country is headed towards becoming a Middle Eastern version of Russia, with the media and courts increasingly becoming tools of political manipulation. Having only recently emerged from the military’s sway, Turkey faces a future clouded by the threat of a different, civilian kind of authoritarianism [emphasis mine].

March 5 Update :  For more on the Erdogan regime's crackdown on the press, check out these articles on the Hurriyet Daily News and Economic Review website.

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