Abdulateef Al-Mulhim
Abdulateef Al-Mulhim
Commodore, Royal Saudi Navy (Retired)

Political winds in the Middle East change fast and in a violent manner with unpredictable consequences. Were the events that unfolded in Turkey last Friday a military coup or a revolt? Actually it was both.

Ironically many people had predicted these events some months ago. Interestingly, when the political heat started to rise in Turkey a month ago it turned out that the world famous democratically elected Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan wasn’t home. He was thousands of miles away from home trying to score some points with the masses in the Muslim world by a clear funeral crashing in the United States. He was there to attend the funeral of the boxing legend, Muhammad Ali. Turkish president wanted to address the participants of the funeral but he was denied the opportunity. What added salt to the injury was that Ali’s family chose a US-based Muslim cleric, Fethullah Gulen to attend the funeral. Now, this was a serious matter that many around the world didn’t notice. Gulen, after all, is not just any cleric. He is part of the history of modern-day Turkey that changed the course of many events and contributed to the many achievements in Turkey and now he is accused of being behind the last Friday’s military coup. Many people would like to ask whether or not Erdogan has any prior knowledge of the military coup?

Turkey’s political and military position is unique. Turkey is a member of the NATO military alliance. But it is the only NATO member that can have a military coup. Turkey has experienced military takeovers more than once but this time it was different. The latest coup might have failed but most likely it would have long-term impacts on Turkey and the Turkish people. In the past six weeks that followed Erdogan’s trip to the US many analysts have seen dramatic foreign-policy changes such as the restoration of the Turkish- Israeli relations, readiness to change course regarding the Syrian regime, solving the refugees issue with Europe and putting the Russian-Turkish relations back on track.

During the past two decades Turkey came a long way with its massive development but Erdogan didn’t match these developments and did little to improve the political system. He began eliminating his opponents and many Turks did not like his strongman’s approach. Things came to a head a few years ago when he and his party were in the middle of a probe about alleged misconduct and corruption charges. Erdogan had hit back hard on the media and the judiciary. His reading of the so-called Arab Spring was also contested. Instead of looking inward, he tried to shift his focus on the wider Muslim world.

Erdogan and Turkey appear to be torn between Europe in the West and the Arab/Muslim world in the East. Since the fall of the Ottoman Empire, Turks have been so secular that they consider themselves closer to Europe but the Europeans don’t appear to agree with their views. Europe sees Turkey as a stable country but very volatile and susceptible to changes without warning. Many Europeans see Turkey as a country that builds it western part with one hand but destroys its eastern part with the other. Turkey never seized attacking its Kurdish populations. Now, let us go back to the failed coup attempt.

Now, it is declared that the coup had been foiled. So, why thousands had been jailed or dismissed from the military, judiciary, education sector and the police. How did they come up with the names of thousands of participants and collaborators in such a short time? And now Erdogan is talking about death penalty, which is an issue that took a long time to get resolved with the Europeans until it was abolished. And if reinstated then all hopes of Turkey becoming a part of Europe will evaporate.

Bloodshed had been avoided for now in Turkey but if Erdogan continues with the idea of collective punishment then the situation might aggravate. We wish Turkey and the Turkish people peace and harmony but Erdogan should bear in mind that revenge and counter revenge destroyed Syria. The Middle East midnight express doesn’t only make noise it always leaves destruction behind.

Written by Abdulateef Al-Mulhim. What’s Happening in Turkey? reprinted with permission of Arab News and Abdulateef Al-Mulhim.