Turkey, where goes the future?

Whether Fethullah Gulen was behind the failed coup attempt or if President Erdogan staged it himself is unimportant. What is important is what is happening now. The general impression appears to be that a large part of the population supports Erdogan, if only because it is better to have a bad politician as leader rather than a military leadership. The Syrians I know who live in Turkey support Erdogan, the last thing they want to see is the country slide into chaos after escaping the bloodshed of Syria.

This does not mean the dangers have receded and the country will not yet face fresh instability in the future. With emergency powers in place, actions are happening which I believe to be part of a longer term strategy.

The main consequence so far is the ongoing purge, not only and understandably of the military but also of judges, civil servants, teachers and heads of universities. Leaving the military purge to one side, the purge of civil institutions reminds me of the purges that happened in the USSR under Lenin and Stalin. It also makes me think about what happened in Iraq after the fall of Sadaam Hussein. His Baath party ran all the institutions of the country, the USA decided to remove everybody connected to the Baath party, the institutions that ran the country were hollowed out and is a major reason for the chaos we see in Iraq today. Erdogan is going down the same road, by removing so many people for ideological reasons he is weakening the institutions that hold the country together. Many people are losing their jobs and on a practical level dealing with the civil service will become much harder. With so many judges having been fired, the legal process is grinding to a halt. Any country without a functioning legal system is on a very slippery slope.

We can all see what is happening but more interesting are the potential reasons why. Obviously Erdogan wants all the power for himself, he is authoritarian. But more interesting is how he is using religion, Islam, as an instrument of power and the part it plays in his long term objective. The Turkish constitution is secular, Erdogan is Islamist, for the last two years he has been increasing the role of religion in politics. His ambition is for Turkey to once again be the spiritual leader of the Sunni muslim world as it was during the time of the Ottoman empire. For now, that role is held by Saudi Arabia and Erdogan wants it back. This is the reason for his purge, he is clearing out secularists from the judicial system, education and the civil service. The replacements will be Islamists. In so doing Turkey will be able to promote itself as more ideologicaly pure than the Saudi kingdom, where outside of the elite class many see only corruption in their leaders. Erdogan is also pushing his anti-USA rhetoric as part of the plan, many Islamists have negative feelings about the USA, with its drone strikes and bombings that often kill innocent people and its ‘corruption’ of the muslim world with its military bases, particularly in Saudi Arabia. As a part of that I can see the real possibility of Turkey refusing to allow the USA to continue using its air bases to launch strikes against Daesh (ISIS) in Syria and Iraq. I would go as far as saying that Turkey could well withdraw from NATO, if it isn’t pushed out first, as part of Erdogan’s ideological drive. Turkey is no longer looking west, its gaze is now firmly set on the middle east. Religion is just a tool used to increase power and influence

As part of that strategy it has repaired its relations with Russia and one of the main reasons for this is Syria. If Erdogan can offer Russia something of real value it may well withdraw its support for Bashar al Assad and force him to step down and bring some stability back to Syria. If Erdogan can pull this off he will outmaneuver both the USA and Saudi Arabia and his influence in the middle east would dramaticaly increase. Saudi Arabia is aware of this and is also trying to tempt Russia economically and strategically with influence in the middle east in exchange for withdrawing support from Bashar al Assad. There is now a power race between Turkey and Saudi Arabia, you can be sure there will be a lot of dirty tricks on the road ahead.

Coming back to the situation inside Turkey today, yes a large part of the population are Islamists and support Erdogan but there are also many who are secular and educated, the military has never wanted to see the power of religion increased in Turkey. It is by nature secular. The purges will remove as many secularists as possible but in my opinion I think the seeds for civil war are being sown as we speak and it will be a religious war, for and against.

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