Morning Call: pick of the comment

The ten must-read pieces from this morning's papers.

1. Once again, a nation walks through fire to give the west its "democracy" (Independent)

Robert Fisk discusses the Iraqi election, saying that democracy doesn't seem to work for countries occupied by western troops. This election is likely to enshrine the very sectarianism that flourished under Saddam Hussein.

2. The two faces of Iraq (Times)

The Times leader is more optimistic, saying that although the elections in Iraq were marred by violence, it suggests a brighter future that millions of Iraqis risked their lives to register a vote.

3. Cuts rhetoric won't boost Labour hopes (Guardian)

"Why have swingeing cuts been so widely accepted as necessary?" asks Madeleine Bunting. This is territory long colonised by Thatcherite Tories, and would draw blood among women and the low-paid.

4. Forget the prophets of doom -- I'm proud to be a baby boomer (Daily Telegraph)

The Mayor of London, Boris Johnson, takes issue with the argument of David Willetts's book The Pinch. Johnson maintains that the world is a happier place thanks to his generation, and that the next will look after itself.

5. How banks can help the world's poor (Financial Times)

We need to stop separating investment decisions from philanthropic giving, says Alexander Friedman. Bringing together the building and giving away of wealth will bring about a huge increase in capital flowing to the social sector.

6. Lib Dems should refuse a coalition (Guardian)

The Liberal Democrats are getting boxed in to vagueness about what they would do in a hung parliament, says Jackie Ashley. They should be bold, and say they will back the party with an economic plan closest to their own.

7. The pound will rise as the euro heads south (Times)

Political uncertainty is holding back sterling, says Bill Emmott. But it is certain that the eurozone has a rough time ahead, making the prospects of a British recovery look stronger.

8. Why the euro will continue to weaken (Financial Times)

Wolfgang Münchau agrees that there is trouble in store for the euro -- we have always known a monetary union cannot exist without political union in the long run, but perhaps the long run has arrived sooner than expected.

9. Icelanders deserve our empathy, not bullying (Independent)

The Icelandic people object to the punitive terms of their repayment of £3.4bn to the UK and the Netherlands, rather than the repayment itself. The Independent's leading article says we need a fair settlement that reflects Icelanders' ability to repay.

10. The painful limits of localism (Guardian)

Julian Glover argues that the Tories have taken an important step towards designating the dividing line between national and local. As Labour's high-speed rail proposals show, this is essential.

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Erdogan’s purge was too big and too organised to be a mere reaction to the failed coup

There is a specific word for the melancholy of Istanbul. The city is suffering a mighty bout of something like hüzün at the moment. 

Even at the worst of times Istanbul is a beautiful city, and the Bosphorus is a remarkable stretch of sea. Turks get very irritated if you call it a river. They are right. The Bosphorus has a life and energy that a river could never equal. Spend five minutes watching the Bosphorus and you can understand why Orhan Pamuk, Turkey’s Nobel laureate for literature, became fixated by it as he grew up, tracking the movements of the ocean-going vessels, the warships and the freighters as they steamed between Asia and Europe.

I went to an Ottoman palace on the Asian side of the Bosphorus, waiting to interview the former prime minister Ahmet Davu­toglu. He was pushed out of office two months ago by President Recep Tayyip Erdogan when he appeared to be too wedded to the clauses in the Turkish constitution which say that the prime minister is the head of government and the president is a ceremonial head of state. Erdogan was happy with that when he was prime minister. But now he’s president, he wants to change the constitution. If Erdogan can win the vote in parliament he will, in effect, be rubber-stamping the reality he has created since he became president. In the days since the attempted coup, no one has had any doubt about who is the power in the land.

 

City of melancholy

The view from the Ottoman palace was magnificent. Beneath a luscious, pine-shaded garden an oil tanker plied its way towards the Black Sea. Small ferries dodged across the sea lanes. It was not, I hasten to add, Davutoglu’s private residence. It had just been borrowed, for the backdrop. But it reminded a Turkish friend of something she had heard once from the AKP, Erdogan’s ruling party: that they would not rest until they were living in the apartments with balconies and gardens overlooking the Bosphorus that had always been the preserve of the secular elite they wanted to replace.

Pamuk also writes about hüzün, the melancholy that afflicts the citizens of Istanbul. It comes, he says, from the city’s history and its decline, the foghorns on the Bosphorus, from tumbledown walls that have been ruins since the fall of the Byzantine empire, unemployed men in tea houses, covered women waiting for buses that never come, pelting rain and dark evenings: the city’s whole fabric and all the lives within it. “My starting point,” Pamuk wrote, “was the emotion that a child might feel while looking through a steamy window.”

Istanbul is suffering a mighty bout of something like hüzün at the moment. In Pamuk’s work the citizens of Istanbul take a perverse pride in hüzün. No one in Istanbul, or elsewhere in Turkey, can draw comfort from what is happening now. Erdogan’s opponents wonder what kind of future they can have in his Turkey. I think I sensed it, too, in the triumphalist crowds of Erdogan supporters that have been gathering day after day since the coup was defeated.

 

Down with the generals

Erdogan’s opponents are not downcast because the coup failed; a big reason why it did was that it had no public support. Turks know way too much about the authoritarian ways of military rule to want it back. The melancholy is because Erdogan is using the coup to entrench himself even more deeply in power. The purge looks too far-reaching, too organised and too big to have been a quick reaction to the attempt on his power. Instead it seems to be a plan that was waiting to be used.

Turkey is a deeply unhappy country. It is hard to imagine now, but when the Arab uprisings happened in 2011 it seemed to be a model for the Middle East. It had elections and an economy that worked and grew. When I asked Davutoglu around that time whether there would be a new Ottoman sphere of influence for the 21st century, he smiled modestly, denied any such ambition and went on to explain that the 2011 uprisings were the true succession to the Ottoman empire. A century of European, and then American, domination was ending. It had been a false start in Middle Eastern history. Now it was back on track. The people of the region were deciding their futures, and perhaps Turkey would have a role, almost like a big brother.

Turkey’s position – straddling east and west, facing Europe and Asia – is the key to its history and its future. It could be, should be, a rock of stability in a desperately un­stable part of the world. But it isn’t, and that is a problem for all of us.

 

Contagion of war

The coup did not come out of a clear sky. Turkey was in deep crisis before the attempt was made. Part of the problem has come from Erdogan’s divisive policies. He has led the AKP to successive election victories since it first won in 2002. But the policies of his governments have not been inclusive. As long as his supporters are happy, the president seems unconcerned about the resentment and opposition he is generating on the other side of politics.

Perhaps that was inevitable. His mission, as a political Islamist, was to change the country, to end the power of secular elites, including the army, which had been dominant since Mustafa Kemal Atatürk created modern Turkey after the collapse of the Ottoman empire. And there is also the influence of chaos and war in the Middle East. Turkey has borders with Iraq and Syria, and is deeply involved in their wars. The borders do not stop the contagion of violence. Hundreds of people have died in the past year in bomb attacks in Turkish cities, some carried out by the jihadists of so-called Islamic State, and some sent by Kurdish separatists working under the PKK.

It is a horrible mix. Erdogan might be able to deal with it better if he had used the attempted coup to try to unite Turkey. All the parliamentary parties condemned it. But instead, he has turned the power of the state against his opponents. More rough times lie ahead.

Jeremy Bowen is the BBC’s Middle East editor. He tweets @bowenbbc

This article first appeared in the 28 July 2016 issue of the New Statesman, Summer Double Issue