Over the course of the Justice and Development Party’s (AKP) (elected) thirteen-year rule, the government has used its power to place political, judicial and operational limitations on various elements of liberal society. Protests by civil-society are met with police brutality, journalists critical of President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan routinely complain of harassment in the form of state litigation, and editorial boards of private media stations have seen interventions by senior political figures.
And, despite legislating some advances for the country’s Kurdish minority, the AKP has not backed away from using the military to suppress Kurdish majority states.
Not widely discussed is the AKP’s attempt to reshape the Arab Middle East in its own image. When the Arab Spring began in 2011, the AKP became the main political advisor to the various offshoots and chapters of the Muslim Brotherhood party gaining democratic legitimacy throughout the region. The AKP, which is itself an offshoot of the Brotherhood, presented a ready model of a socially conservative and economically liberal party to emulate. The influence over emerging democracies in the Middle East coincided with NATO’s and the Gulf-Arab monarchies desire to overthrow Arab republics run as quasi-dictatorships. Indeed, Turkey’s key position within NATO allowed for the dismantling of Libya and provided a gateway for thousands of fighters funded by Gulf states to dislodge the Asad regime in Syria.
The AKP’s ambitions have gone largely unrealized. Russian air-power coordinated with Iranian backed Hezbollah ground-troops have prevented Islamist parties, many of them apocalyptic extremists, from gaining a strong foothold in Syria; whereas the democratically elected presidency of the Muslim Brotherhood party in Egypt has been completely reversed by the military, supported by the United States, Saudi Arabia and by vast segments of liberals and socialists in Egyptian society.
The result of these failures are now constituting blowback. There is an incredible amount of pressure on the Turkish state to accommodate almost three million Syrian refugees, identify jihadists traveling back and forth from Syria, and contemplate the establishment of an independent Kurdistan.
Of the hundreds of military officials arrested in the wake of the attempted military coup in Turkey, it is worth noting that among them are the Generals whose jobs it is to secure Turkey’s borders with Syria. It is highly likely that the coup attempt was an expression of dissatisfaction with the AKP’s handling of domestic security.
The AKP is an interventionist centre-right political party that deserves to be defeated. However, any defeat secured by non-democratic means, particularly by the hands of authoritarians in the military, will only lead to a curtailing of political choices. Egypt is only the latest example.