Can Turkey’s Election Inspire Harmony? – OpEd

Before delving deeply into what The Economist magazine called ‘The Most Important Election of 2023’ in support of the opposition, allow me to digress a little with this observed disclosure: though party names and opposition coalition does not indicate, I believe Turkiye’s election is ultimately between Erdoganites and Gulenites. Therefore, I would refrain from investing much analytical energy in the various parties on the ballot.

At a personal level, I had the honor of being friends with both sides for more than a decade. I was hosted by President Erdogan’s side twice in Istanbul. And I was hosted by Fethullah Gulen’s side once at a scenic rural Pennsylvania compound where the Islamic cleric lives and the Hizmet movement is centered. That said, ever since I wrote (Turkiye’s) Test of Wills my relationship with both sides turned cold. Each side became adamantly disappointed because I did not support their side. This got worse when I wrote another article right before the failed coup in 2016 titled Can (Turkiye) Steer Away from Catastrophe?

Though recently we mended fences, I thought it was important to share this personal account to underscore the raw emotions justifying each side’s cut-throat politics against the other. Between these two groups, there is profound distrust that must be overcome.

Erdogan and Gulen were once allies, but they became sworn enemies once the former blamed the latter for using widespread influence to run a “parallel state” and for haven orchestrated the 2016 failed coup. Gulen rejected the accusation in a NPR interview: “To this day, I have stood against all coups…. My respect for the military aside, I have always been against (military) interventions.” And “if any one among those soldiers had called me and told me of their plan, I would tell them, ‘You are committing murder’ ” he added.

Whenever those in power resort to using the state apparatus to crackdown opposition, the former ultimately loses. There are ample examples in history.

Erdogan’s Likely Win

If it was fact-based that “most polls show Mr Erdogan trailing by a small margin” you would not have known that from the multitudes of supporters showing up at outdoor rallies in various cities such as Izmir, and the breathtaking multitude of supporters that showed up Sunday in Istanbul. Both cities were being counted as opposition strong hold. This turnaround, despite relentless Western media attacks, did not come without strategic planning and tangible accomplishments that no objective observer could deny.

In addition to the Istanbul Canal that is under construction, this year Turkiye is set to gain full sovereignty over its waterways- Bosporus straights. This would not only boost its economy by charging passing vessels, but it will also raise Turkiye’s geopolitical clout in the Black Sea by being able to restrict certain vessels for security reasons and ban military ships. Those who want

to maintain the old hegemonic order may consider this as a serious strategic disadvantage, but they are well aware that Tukiye is not Panama, and Erdogan is not Manuel Noreiga. 

Last month, Turkiye’s first domestically built aircraft-carrier was commissioned into the Bosporus. Already having the largest military in Europe, developed one of the most sought-after battle tested drones in the world, and purchasing the S-400 missile system from Russia despite U.S. and NATO objections, Turkiye’s now projects military might to reckon with.

Extraction of recently discovered natural gas in the Black Sea. To provide certain level of economic relief, Erdogan is giving away free gas for a year. According to the Turkish Natural Gas Distributors Association, “households and places of worship will not be required to pay for natural gas for one month and that 25 cubic meters will be provided free of charge to citizens for the following 11 months.”

Though initially blamed for slow response in the early stage of the massively devastating earthquake, Erdogan took ownership of poor efficiency in delivering essential services, made swift adjustments, and won hearts and minds.

Today, Turkiye is advancing technologically. It started producing electric cars and autonomous or driverlessbuses. It is not entirely surprising that Turkiye is being courted by the BRICS economic order, and, in the foreseeable future, it may become the first country to leave NATO in favor of the China-led order.

As a newly elected president, Erdogan’s priority is to make Turkiye a nuclear nation. He made this clear when he recently said “Several countries have missiles with nuclear warheads, not one or two. But we can’t have them. This I cannot accept.” So, the natural first step is to leave the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty (NPT).

Undoing the Overreaction

That said, I will be remiss if I don’t mention that on his pursuit to purge all Hizmet movement members or affiliates of his government, Erdogan designated that unarmed group as a terrorist organization that is ‘more dangerous than ISIS’. Subsequently, Erdogan pursued a draconian policy that justified collective punishment that included shutting down their schools, mass arresting suspected members of all ages, professions, genders, and confiscation of their assets. Ironically, Hizmet movement provides educational services in more than 180 countries across the globe, and it is the global image of Turkiye.

Gulen is now an eighty-two-year-old man who is in poor health condition. Though his intellectual and spiritual faculty is still intact as he continues to edit the Fountain Magazine—something that he has been doing for decades—his frailty is undeniable. The old man sat in front of us running the last edit on every paragraph and every page, slowly and methodically, before approving it for next day publication.

Unless the current Erdoganist/Gulenist dichotomy comes to an end, Turkiye will never maximize its potential. Unless these two leaders reconcile their differences or let-go of their grudges, millions of Turkiye’s citizens will remain alienated, the nation will remain divided and partially brain-drained. And a divided nation is a dying nation. All one has to do is to look around the region. It is not hard to find evidence.

As men of faith whose Islamic belief shapes their world views and individual lives, Erdogan and Gulen know the value of al-hilm (forbearance). Yet the greater responsibility falls on Erdogan’s shoulders. If he were to win, he would be the one with the authority to extend amnesty to remove Hizmet out of the terrorist list, to grant amnesty to all imprisoned and exiled members. Granting such humane and wise gesture will only make the newly elected President an exemplary leader.

If a member of that movement has committed a specific crime, that individual’s case should be tried in the court of law.

That Which Matters Most

Though devotees on both sides may not like reading this, I admire both Erdogan and Gulen for what they have done for their country, for the Muslim world, and for humanity. As a Muslim, one should never sign on to a party or give allegiance to an individual vowing to give them blind support, such allegiance suppresses the capacity to think critically and to see the big picture. The individual, or the leader, is not infallible in his or her decision-making or judgement. The individual could be right most of the time and wrong at times. Or the individual could be wrong most of the time and right at times.

Leaders should be supported when they are right, advised when they are wrong, and opposed when they transgress.

Sure, Erdogan could lose. But, only through Divine intervention. As affirmed in the Qur’an authority or power is ultimately granted by The Sovereign One—God—who is the absolute possessor of dominion. He could also face what is Islamically known as ‘destroyer of worldly pleasures’ or the inevitable fate that every living being must face at one point or another during their lifetime.

The biggest problem facing the Muslim world today is their widespread disregard of history. Should Erdogan lose, it is very likely for Turkiye’s military elite to take a drastic measure and take the matter into their own hands. They are mindful of the rapidly changing global order, balance of power, and ever-growing threat of wars. They know the importance of projection of power, so they could invoke that familiar adage: you do not change horses in midstream.

There is too much at stake. Therefore, all stakeholders must not forget that Turkiye is more important than any individual or party.


Abukar Arman is a former diplomat, an author and a geopolitical analyst.


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