Erdogan, the Machiavellian 'Prince' of Istanbul

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Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan (C) gestures as he leaves the funeral of victims of the coup attempt in Istanbul, July 17, 2016.
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan (C) gestures as he leaves the funeral of victims of the coup attempt in Istanbul, July 17, 2016.Credit: Aris Messinis, AFP

If the conspirators couldn’t even prepare a news reader to read their first announcement, it’s a wonder they managed to last for three whole hours. It turns out that Tijan Karas, the broadcaster from the official Turkish television station TRT, had weapons pointed at her when she read the statement from the coup organizers.

Those who sought to overthrow the regime of Recep Tayyip Erdogan in Turkey indeed followed the doctrine of Third World revolutions, whose first rule is to seize the national TV station. The problem is, they didn’t have what to say. What could they say? That they had come to save democracy, when tanks were patrolling in the streets?

But no less important is the fact that the seize-the-TV-station doctrine worked back in the days when a country had only one television and radio station. Now every boy has a sophisticated “Facebook TV” in his pocket, and every girl has WhatsApp, which competes with CNN.

As fate would have it, the failed coup erupted while I was deeply engrossed in rereading the Arabic translation of “The Prince” by Niccolo Machiavelli. As the hours passed and the coup waned and Erdogan made a semi-heroic return, I understood that the conspirators had probably never heard of Machiavelli while their rival Erdogan knew “The Prince” by heart. Barely had he returned to Istanbul, even before he declared that the coup had been halted, when thousands of soldiers were arrested and some 3,000 judges and prosecutors dismissed, and it’s not over yet.

If Erdogan had taken such steps without the coup, he would have been condemned by the entire world. But now, who’ll notice? By making these draconian moves, Erdogan looks like the ultimate Machiavellian prince – exploiting an opportunity and hitting with full force. One must take violent action at once, says Machiavelli, so that it will be easier for the people to accept it. Today, it’s not just the people, but the whole world accepting this attack on democracy with understanding.

The coup organizers are part and parcel of Turkey’s Islamic stream. After all, Fethullah Gulen, the cleric accused by Erdogan of being the spirit behind the coup, was an ally of Erdogan’s until 2013 and worked for him in the large education and charity enterprise called Hizmet. This was actually an intrafamily coup.

Paradoxically, among supporters of the Islamist camp there are those claiming that members of the democratic camp supported the coup, while in contrast, those whom Erdogan oppressed and banned came out decisively against the coup, even when the situation was still unclear. All the secular opposition parties mobilized to foil the coup. In short, one can say that Islamists rose up against Islamists, secularists defended democracy, and Erdogan is aiming to devour them all.

It’s ridiculous to claim that the conspiracy to overthrow Erdogan’s regime was cooked up in Erdogan’s own kitchen, as Gulen claims, but practically speaking the coup was the best present Erdogan has ever received. In Arabic they say, “The smart ones’ livelihood is provided by the fools.”

What happened in Turkey over the weekend is reminiscent of the events of summer 1991 in Russia, when a few members of the Communist Party’s Politburo tried to turn back the clock. They launched a coup against the secretary general of the Soviet Communist Party, Mikhail Gorbachev, who, like Erdogan, was on vacation. People took to the streets, surrounded the tanks and gave the soldiers’ flowers, attracting them to their side. The winner was none other than Boris Yeltsin, and those who wanted to preserve the Soviet Union intact ended up, in their foolishness, hammering the final nail in its coffin.

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