‘We’ve lost democracy’: on the road with Turkey’s justice marchers

Written by Kareem Shaheen.
Read the original article on the Guardian.
Image credit: The Guardian.

Hıdır Aydur rested his blistered feet under the shade of a tree on the side of the highway that runs between Ankara and Istanbul. The 57-year-old, from Erzincan in Turkey’s north-east, who has diabetes, had been marching for 15 days. He is one of thousands journeying by foot from Turkey’s capital to its largest city, many carrying banners that say “adalet” or “justice”.

“We lost democracy in our country, and we want it back,” Aydur said, his shirt bearing the images of Nuriye Gülmen and Semih Özakça, two teachers who were jailed last month after more than 70 days on hunger strike over their arbitrarily dismissal in a government decree.

Tens of thousands of people have been dismissed or detained in a broad government crackdown in the aftermath of a coup attempt last July that left more than 250 people dead and 1,400 wounded. After declaring a state of emergency, the government’s purge went beyond the direct perpetrators of the coup to encompass a large swathe of civil society, the political opposition, academics, journalists and civil servants, squandering a rare moment of unity to solidify its hold on power.

In April, President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan narrowly won a referendum that vastly expanded his powers, while the country’s judiciary has been reshaped in his image, with a quarter of the nation’s judges and prosecutors dismissed or jailed over alleged connections to Fethullah Gülen, an exiled preacher whose grassroots movement is widely believed in Turkey to have orchestrated the putsch.

Senior opposition politicians have also been imprisoned. Earlier this month Enis Berberoğlu, a lawmaker with the People’s Republican party (CHP), was jailed for 25 years after leaking information to the press on Turkish intelligence’s transfer of weapons across the border to Syrian rebels.

That arrest sparked the Adalet march, a 280-mile (450-km) walk led by the CHP’s chairman, Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu, which set off from Ankara on 15 June. Organisers hope it will culminate in a large rally in Istanbul’s Maltepe neighbourhood on 9 July. It has drawn supporters along the way from across Turkish society despite the scorching summer heat, as it covers nine miles a day.

The protesters, dismissed as Gülen supporters by the government, have given a variety of reasons for their involvement: the country’s slide to authoritarianism, the authorities’ abuse of the state of emergency, the arrest of journalists and politicians, the crackdown on dissent, and even opposition to retirement laws.

“Academics and teachers are being wrongfully dismissed, losing their jobs and food and they’re being deprived of their constitutional rights,” say Aydur. “The only thing left for them is to resist, and I wanted to give a voice to their resistance. We want independent courts, not one-man rule, and we want this justice for everyone including those on the opposite side.”

The atmosphere on Thursday was relaxed, belying the deep fissures and polarisation that run through a nation yet to come to terms with the coup attempt.

A year ago hundreds of thousands of Turks gathered in Yenikapı square in Istanbul to celebrate victory over the coup plotters. But the euphoria quickly turned to alarm and then despair in the weeks and months that followed.

“There is a reign of fear,” Kılıçdaroğlu said in an interview conducted during the march. “Journalists and citizens, the people, cannot speak. This is what we want to get rid of.”

“When the 15 July coup happened every party was against it, but on 20 July there was a civil coup and its main plotter was Erdoğan,” he said. “The state of emergency gave him all the power, and with all the dismissals and investigations against thousands of academics and journalists and civil servants, there are ordinary citizens who cannot even talk to their lawyers. There is oppression against the opposition, and lawmakers are being arrested. This justice march is against this civil coup.”

Many of Erdoğan’s religiously conservative supporters look upon the country’s secular opposition as elitist “White Turks” who used to dominate the upper echelons of the state and oppress the poor. In their eyes Erdoğan’s rise can be interpreted as a rebuke to the excesses of the elite.

Namik Akbas, a 32-year-old from Amasya who joined the march, said the Erdoğan government was using religion to divide people.

“Turkey has been ruled for a long time by this mentality of manipulating the public,” he said. “Adalet to me means unifying the country under secular, enlightened values. Secularism is not against religion.”

For Borga Budak, a 36-year-old CHP member from Ankara sporting a Che Guevara cap, the march is an attempt to give succour to the Turkish opposition’s cowed base.

“The idea of this protest isn’t geographical,” Budak said. “It doesn’t stop in Istanbul. People need hope, and this walk gives them hope.”

How to Hate Each Other Peacefully in a Democracy

Written by Shadi Hamid.
Read the original article on the Atlantic.

Photo Credit: the Atlantic

It is difficult to imagine it now, but continental Europe struggled with foundational divides—with periodic warnings of civil war—as recently as the 1950s. Belgium, Switzerland, Austria, and the Netherlands were divided into ideologically opposed subcultures, sometimes called “spiritual families” or “pillars.” These countries became models of “consensual democracy,” where the subcultures agreed to share power through creative political arrangements.

If we have learned anything, though, it is that lessons learned in Europe are not easily applied to the Middle East. Consensual democracy works best when there are multiple centers of power in society, none of which is strong enough to dominate on its own. While this more or less holds true in Lebanon, and even then precariously, it is not applicable in much of the region. In countries like Egypt, Turkey, and to a lesser extent Tunisia, the perception that Islamists are too strong and secularists too weak makes polarization significantly worse than it might otherwise be.

In continental Europe, the lines were also drawn more clearly. In Belgium, for instance, there were distinct groups of Flemish and Walloon that could be plainly identified. Egypt, Turkey, and Tunisia, however, relatively homogenous. More homogeneity is almost always viewed as a positive factor in forging national identity, but it can also have its drawbacks. Islamists and non-Islamists are different, but not different enough. They live in the same cities, go to the same schools, visit each other on holidays, and sit together at family dinners. This can make it better. It can also make it worse.

Despite this surface-level homogeneity, the underlying principles of consensual democracy—that power should be shared, dispersed, and restrained—can still be useful. A “pure” parliamentary system with only a ceremonial president could have helped alter Egypt’s course. But this is not what Egypt had. From independence onwards, the Egyptian president had always been a towering figure in the country’s politics, casting a shadow on everything else. As the first elected, civilian president in 2012, Morsi was, in fact, weaker than all of his predecessors, yet he still enjoyed disproportionate powers in Egypt’s centralized, top-heavy system. Not surprisingly, then, he became a lightning rod for the opposition. The fact that presidential contests are all or nothing—only one person, after all, can win –heightened the existential tenor of political competition. These dynamics allowed the military to capitalize on the anger that had coalesced around the person of President Morsi.

A parliamentary system, on the other hand, would have put power in the hands of a strong prime minister, who could have more easily been replaced, without necessitating a rejection of the democratic process Egyptians had agreed to less than a year prior. Early elections and no-confidence votes are regular features of parliamentary democracy. Presidents, on the other hand, are generally difficult to impeach, requiring voters to wait four years or longer to express their buyers’ remorse. Despite their claims to the contrary, presidents invariably represent one party—their own. A prime minister is more likely to govern in coalition with other parties, making him accountable to a larger number of stakeholders. All other things being equal, parliamentary systems also make coups against elected leaders less likely. Of course, coups can and will still happen, but here, too, parliamentarism is the better option. Ousted parties can more easily reconstitute themselves in parliamentary systems, as Turkey’s recurring cycle of military intervention followed by Islamist success suggests.

“Designing” better political systems can only take you so far, however. At some point, parties and politicians must work in good faith to lower the political stakes. There are any number of creative possibilities. Parties, for example, can agree to “postpone” debates on the divisive issues that are likely to fracture the unsteady, diverse coalitions that toppled the authoritarian regimes in the first place. This, though, is anathema to how we like to think about democracy’s development. After 30 years of Hosni Mubarak’s rule, it was only natural to expect Egyptians to want to debate anything and everything among themselves; discussions over the role of religion had been suppressed for far too long.

But by instituting an “interim period” before contending with the most divisive issues, democratic competition can be regularized—both sides could, potentially, gain enough trust in each other. Of course, the ideological polarization—over perennial touchstones like alcohol consumption, sex segregation, women’s rights, and educational curricula—would still inevitably come. At least then, though, Egyptians would have had a fighting chance.

* * *

One way to address foundational divides is to build “liberal vetoes” into the political system from the beginning. The most effective way to do this is through permanent guarantees in the constitution. The U.S. Bill of Rights is, in this respect, a towering achievement, imposing clear limits on the desires of the majority. If members of Congress wanted to issue legislation prohibiting Muslims from holding cabinet positions, for instance, they wouldn’t be able to, however large their majority. The constitution wouldn’t allow it. But this raises its own set of difficult questions. After a revolution, who gets to write the constitution?

There are two main possibilities. Historically, elite commissions and committees often drafted constitutions, the most notable example being the United States in 1787. The post-war Japanese constitution, meanwhile, was commissioned by General Douglas MacArthur and drafted by “approximately two dozen Americans during Japan’s postwar occupation, with relatively minor revisions made by Japanese government officials and virtually no public consultation,” writes the legal scholar Alicia Bannon. When Corazon Aquino, Asia’s first female president, led the Philippines’ democratic transition in the 1980s, she appointed a fifty-member commission which drafted a constitution that continues to govern the Philippines to this day. Such top-down approaches have generally fallen out of favor.

Today, the most common approach, adopted by both Tunisia and Egypt in 2011, is to do it democratically. Tunisia directly elected a parliament which doubled as a constituent assembly, while in Egypt, the elected parliament selected the 100 men and women whose sole job was to draft a new constitution. This is the most obvious—and I would argue fair—approach. To the extent that societies should be able to chart their own course, why shouldn’t the population have a say on the basic framework of their political system-to-be? To shut ordinary citizens out is to undermine the legitimacy of any constitutional document, particularly in polarized societies where one group is likely to dominate any appointed body to the exclusion of others. There is simply no way to achieve “fair” representation except through some kind of democratic selection process (which is precisely why we have democracy in the first place). To appoint, rather than elect, a committee also raises the question of who exactly is doing the appointing.Tunisia and Egypt’s constitution-drafting processes were reflective of the international consensus around the need for popular participation and buy-in. The democratic approach to constitution-drafting, however, is problematic for the same reasons that democracy is problematic—it can lead to illiberal outcomes in societies where a large portion, perhaps even a majority, of the population espouse illiberal beliefs and attitudes. If Egypt had directly elected its constituent assembly, close to 75 percent of the members would have been Islamist. As it turned out, 50 percent were—nearly 25 percent less than their actual electoral weight would have suggested. But while Islamists may have seen this as a “concession,” liberals, rightly, saw the constituent assembly as what it still was: an Islamist-dominated body.

In her study of Kenya’s early-2000s constitution drafting process, Alicia Bannon labels the presumed need for broad participation “the participation myth.” Certain conditions, she argues, can “make broad participation either helpful or undesirable in light of an individual country’s circumstances.” While also citing negative experiences in Nicaragua and Chad, Bannon notes that the broadly participatory process in Kenya was not only expensive, in terms of “expense, time, and opportunity cost,” but also divisive, leading to “ethnic pandering and polarization.”

Lastly, instituting a democratic selection process while, at the same time, agreeing on a limited number of “supraconstitutional principles” is a third, alternative path. Islamists and secularists, however, are unlikely to agree on nonnegotiables. (If they could, then the ideological divide wouldn’t be nearly as large as it is.) In the end, something—or someone—has to give. Either Islamists voluntarily concede some of their preferences, agreeing for example to include only mildly Islamic language, or a supreme body, perhaps one where Islamists are underrepresented, formulates something resembling a “bill of rights” binding on all participants.

This third way would loosely mirror the constitution-drafting process in post-apartheid South Africa. Nelson Mandela’s African National Congress initially wanted to elect a constituent assembly to draft the constitution but gave in to the objections of F.W. de Klerk’s National Party, which feared a new constitution would not adequately protect the white population. In 1993, 26 parties negotiated a set of supra-constitutional principles, similar to the United States’ Bill of Rights, before directly electing a constituent assembly. Mandela and de Klerk soon shared the Nobel Peace Prize.

Practicality aside, the South African model—in part because we know, after the fact, that it was successful—sounds appealing. I should include a major caveat here, however. As a “small-d” democrat, I am deeply uncomfortable with non-democratic solutions that circumscribe self-determination. Democracy is about representing and reflecting the popular will, and to limit or subvert that on something as fundamental as a constitution sets a troubling precedent. Why shouldn’t Egyptians, Jordanians, or Turks have the right to try out an alternative ideological project outside the confines of liberal democracy, however much we might disagree with it? That should be their choice, not anyone else’s. That conversation, however, is moot if democracy fails to take hold in the first place. A democratic approach to constitution drafting in Egypt ended up fueling polarization and pushed liberals to consider—and then support—extra-legal regime change. If we wish to prioritize the survival of democracy in hostile conditions, then some things, at least in the short run, will need to be prioritized over others. These are necessary evils.

Erdogan’s real opportunity after the failed coup in Turkey

Kemal Kirisci

Kemal Kirisci

The history of Turkish politics is littered with coups and coup attempts that have occurred in roughly ten-year intervals. It is almost a genetic defect.

  • The nascent Turkish democracy experienced its first coup in 1960 when it was barely into its tenth year—led by a group of left-wing “young officers,” who had also forced the General Staff into its ranks. Administrative authority was returned to civilians in October 1961, after having cost the lives of the then-Prime Minister, Adnan Menderes, the Minister of Foreign Affairs, Fatin Rüştü Zorlu, and the Minister of Finance, Hasan Polatkan.
  • The second military intervention took place in 1971 against the government of Süleyman Demirel—this time around, though, through a “coup by memorandum.” The military issued to the prime minister an ultimatum—to step aside and be replaced by a technocratic cabinet.
  • Less than ten years later, in the midst of endemic violence between left- and right-wing radical groups, the military’s top brass carried out another intervention. This was bloodier than the previous two interventions, costing hundreds of lives and leading to massive human-rights violations. After rubberstamping a suffocating constitution on the country, the military handed the government over to a semblance of a democratically-elected government in 1983.
  • Surprisingly, Turkey broke this pattern of ten-yearly military interventions, and civilian authority continued until 1997, when there was what was termed a “post-modern coup.” The army rolled out a convoy of tanks into the streets of Ankara, and in a repeat of the coup of 1971, demanded the resignation of the coalition government led by Necmettin Erbakan.
  • The next coup occurred a decade later (almost to the day) in April 2007, when the Chief of Staff staged an “e-coup” by posting a set of demands on its website. The coup was a reaction against a long list of democratic reforms that were introduced as a part of the leadership’s pro-EU agenda and were seen as a departure from the staunchly secularist, restrictive mode of governance. Bolstered by the public support for these reforms, however, the incumbent Justice and Development Party (AKP) led by Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, now the current president of Turkey, successfully withstood the “e-coup,” and for the first time, pushed the military back “into the barracks”.

The latest coup attempt—which took place on Friday, July 15—has widely been attributed to a large Gülenist faction within the military and the judiciary that circumvented the established chain of command and held the high command hostage. Gülenists are the followers of the Islamic scholar Fethullah Gülen, who leads a worldwide movement that claims to advocate a moderate form of Sunni Islam with an emphasis on tolerance and interfaith dialogue. Formerly allies with Erdoğan, the Gülenists were blamed for spearheading the corruption scandal in December 2013 that engulfed several government officials, ministers and people in Erdoğan’s intimate circle. Since then, Gülen and Erdoğan have been locked in a power struggle.

Back from the brink

Turkish democracy survived a major test, and Turkey turned from the edge of a precipice. The credit for the coup’s defeat goes to the Turkish people, who heeded Erdoğan’s call to resist this intervention “by any means possible and necessary” and filled the squares. TV reports were filled with eye-to-eye, tense, agitated confrontations between civilians and armed soldiers on the two bridges that connect the Asian and European sides of Istanbul. Public restraint and sobriety helped to prevent escalation of violence. There were nevertheless senseless causalities resulting from fire opened by the mutineers and especially attacks mounted on the parliament building as well as the Headquarters of the General Staff. It could have been a lot worse.

Erdoğan needs to rise above a majoritarian understanding of democracy and do justice to the aspirations of a public that heeded his call by pouring into the streets and squares to defeat the coup attempt.

Clearly, Turkey’s democracy has taken a severe blow—cushioned only by the unequivocal stance of the opposition leaders and the media against the coup. Once again, the nation managed to break this pattern of ten-year coups. This offers the country a matchless opportunity for reconciliation. Granted, Erdoğan has had an exceptionally rough weekend and his frustration with those responsible for or implicated in the coup is understandable. He is correct in calling “for their punishment under the full force of the law of the land.” It will, however, now be critical that he ensure that the rule of law is upheld and rises to the challenge of winning the hearts and minds across a deeply polarized nation. He has the tools for it in his repertoire and had successfully wielded them in the past—especially between 2003 and 2011, when he served as prime minister. In hindsight, this period is often referred to as AKP’s “golden age,” when the economy boomed, democracy excelled, and Turkey was touted as a model for those Muslim-majority countries aspiring to transform themselves into liberal democracies.

As he steers the country from the brink of civil war, Erdoğan needs to rise above a majoritarian understanding of democracy and do justice to the aspirations of a public that heeded his call by pouring into the streets and squares to defeat the coup attempt. This is the least that the Turkish public deserves. This would also be a move in the right direction for Turkey’s neighborhood, which desperately needs a respite from the turmoil resulting from the war in Syria, the instability in Iraq, Russia’s territorial ambitions and now Brexit. This is the moment when a stable, democratic, transparent, accountable and prosperous Turkey needs to come to the fore on the world-stage. The United States needs it too. As much as the White House declared its faith in the strength of Turkey’s democracy and its support for the elected leadership, there is a clear chance for forging closer cooperation between the two countries. The first step in cooperation should be in bringing to justice the perpetrators of this coup, followed by measures to enhance Turkey’s capacity to address and manage the many challenges facing Turkey and its neighborhood.

Botswana: An African Lesson in Freedom


Josh Gelernter

Josh Gelernter

Botswana is a true rarity: a free and prosperous post-colonial African country. Fifty years ago this month, Britain surrendered its Bechuanaland protectorate to self-rule — just as it had Northern Rhodesia (now Zambia), Tanganyika (now Tanzania), Basutoland (now Lesotho), Kenya, Uganda, Swaziland, Nigeria, Somalia, et cetera. Each of those countries ended up unfree (like Kenya), grossly unfree (like Swaziland), or a hell on Earth (like Somalia). But not Bechuanaland. Bechuanaland held free and fair elections and became Botswana, a country with free elections, a free economy, and a free press. It is a triumph of democracy — and National Review readers, the United States, and the free world should join in celebrating its 50th birthday.

The best way to understand how remarkable Botswana is is to consider its neighbor Zimbabwe, formerly Rhodesia, which became independent of Great Britain just a few months before Bechuanaland. Rhodesia declared itself independent in 1965, under an apartheid-style system of white minority rule. In anticipation of independence, a sub rosa civil war had broken out between the white minority government, the Soviet-backed Zimbabwe African People’s Union, and the China-backed Zimbabwe African National Union. After independence, the civil war intensified considerably, and it lasted until 1978, when a compromise was reached, first to include black participation in government, and then later — under British and U.N. pressure — to allow the participation of the Communist guerrilla leaders Joshua Nkomo and Robert Mugabe. International sanctions — which had been imposed in opposition to minority rule — were lifted for the newly renamed Zimbabwe’s first general election. For a moment in Zimbabwe’s difficult history, it seemed that things were looking up.

Remember: South Africa wouldn’t abolish apartheid for another decade and a half. But then — despite a large international “observer force” — Robert Mugabe began a massive campaign of voter intimidation. He won in a landslide. Among opponents of Mugabe, of corruption, and of Communism, there was an outcry. Mugabe’s response was to murder thousands of Zimbabweans. His Fifth Brigade, which had been trained in North Korea and answered directly to him, was sent to Matabeleland — western Zimbabwe, where anti-Mugabe sentiments were strongest. Over the course of a five-year anti-dissident campaign, the Fifth Brigade murdered between 20,000 and 30,000 people. Afterwards, a new constitution was written, Zimbabwe’s senate was abolished, and new parliamentary elections were held — in which Mugabe’s party won 117 of 120 seats. Mugabe matched his brazen suppression of dissent with Marxist economic reforms. When Zimbabwe’s civil war ended, its future looked bright, and its GDP growth spiked from an annual average of 5 percent (through the civil war and international sanctions) to 10.6 percent in 1980 and 12.5 percent in 1981. Under Mugabe’s leadership, it crashed to an annual average of 2.7 percent. Hoping to distract from the country’s new woes with memories of its old woes, in 1992, Mugabe instituted a mandatory land-reform program, wherein land was confiscated from white farmers and redistributed. Unfortunately, Mugabe didn’t bother to make sure the people he gave farms to were farmers. Thus Mugabe destroyed one of Zimbabwe’s last functional industries.

For the first time since the civil war, the economy dropped into negative growth: – 9 percent for the year 1992. And with agriculture ground to a halt, people began to starve. Of course, even if there had been food to buy, everyone’s money was becoming worthless. For the rest of the decade, Zimbabwe’s annual inflation rate averaged 35 percent. In 2001, it jumped to 112 percent. In 2002, it jumped to 200 percent. In 2003, to 600 percent. By 2007, it was 66 thousand percent. By the end of 2008, the inflation rate was 80 billion percent. At that point, one American dollar was worth 2,621,984,228,675,650,147,435,579,309,984,228 Zimbabwean dollars. (If you’re wondering how that number’s pronounced, it’s about two-point-six decillion.) At the 80-billion-percent inflation point, and after another grotesquely fraudulent election, in 2008 Mugabe agreed to start sharing power with some of the remaining opposition. And things stabilized somewhat. Growth is still low, but Mugabe is 92 — so maybe there’s light visible at the end of the tunnel. Of course, what difference does money make, when the police can pick you up, hold you, torture you, and kill you whenever they feel like it? In Zimbabwe, political rights are more or less nonexistent. And that’s if you’re a member of the majority.

Things are — somehow — even worse if you’re not. Mugabe has said, “no white person will be allowed to own land” in his country. He has said some white farmers were so bad, “you would think they were Jews.” (There are only 120 Jews in Zimbabwe.) He says that gay people are “subanimal”; that they “behave worse than dogs and pigs.” “If you see people parading themselves as Lesbians and Gays,” said Mugabe, “arrest them and hand them over to the police.”   But let’s leave Mugabe’s Marxist paradise behind and hop back across the border to Botswana. Despite having to make its own way after escaping colonialism, like so much of Africa and the world, Botswana has a higher GDP per capita than several countries in Europe. (Zimbabwe has a GDP per capita only slightly higher than Afghanistan’s.) Botswana’s GDP has grown steadily ever since independence — during which time its people have enjoyed both the presence of a free market and the absence of corruption.

According to the Heritage Foundation, Botswana has a freer economy than Norway, Spain, and Belgium. (Zimbabwe’s economy is freer only than Venezuela’s, Cuba’s, and North Korea’s.) And, more importantly, if any citizen of Botswana objects to any of that — if he’d like, say, a Botswanan Bernie Sanders in office — he could write an op-ed, hold a rally, or go vote. All without fear of arrest or reprisal. Botswana is a free country in a tragically unfree world. It’s not perfect (if you’re reading this, Botswana — you could treat your Bushmen better); nonetheless, in its own way, it’s a light unto the nations: a testament to democracy’s power to overcome any challenge — even the adversity that accompanied the birth of most modern African nations. Perhaps even more acutely, it’s a testament to every Botswanan leader — every Botswanan George Washington — who could have seized power like Mugabe and destroyed his country, but chose instead to respect the rule of law and let his country thrive. Happy birthday, Botswana. And many more.