By Linda S. Heard
4 March 2014
So-called western ‘values’ are taken off the shelf when they’re needed and forgotten when they clash with interests. While U.S and European capitals blast Egyptian authorities for violating press freedoms by arresting Al-Jazeera staff for disseminating false news and having terrorist links, they turn a blind eye to the fact more journalists are behind bars in Turkey than anywhere else in the world.
Egypt, still recovering from serial revolutions, combating terrorism and violent protests, is being held to the highest democratic principles, expected to morph into Sweden overnight, yet virtually nothing is being said about a drive by Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan to crush dissent with an iron fist since environmentalists objecting to construction in Istanbul’s Gezi Park were cleared-out by riot police using brutal methods.
A corruption scandal penetrating the highest echelons of the Turkish government and Parliament has exposed the fact that Turkey’s democracy is gradually becoming a sham. Erdogan has no interest in getting to the truth; he’s gone to great lengths to keep a lid on the facts, sacking prosecutors and reshuffling police chiefs. His recent authoritarian measures and declarations that he is the victim of a conspiracy shriek paranoia. He has accused prosecutors and judges of launching “a coup” against him.
Clearly, Erdogan is determined to keep control over officials and the population at large. A controversial new law, met with protests in Taksim Square, diminishes Internet freedoms by allowing websites to be blocked without a court order and permits the government to access user records for up to two years. Erdogan is also intent on blurring the separation of powers enshrined in Turkey’s constitution. Just days ago, Turkey’s President Abdullah Gul signed into law a bill that gives the government greater control over the judiciary and prosecutors.
Leaked telephone conversations between Erdogan and his son, Bilal, whose authenticity cannot be verified are incriminating. The two men are heard discussing methods of disposing millions of Euros in cash stored inside a house.
A document shown to the media is evidence that three public prosecutors in Istanbul, willing to be Erdogan’s stooges in what looks like a massive cover-up operation, ordered police departments to destroy wiretapped recordings related to investigations into high-level bribery and corruption.
Why haven’t the self-ascribed guardians of global democracy — the US and the EU — been vocal, especially when Ankara is still forging ahead with its EU membership bid? The western media that’s been savaging Egypt’s transition is similarly low-key. Could this have something to do with the fact that Turkey is a member of NATO and hosts a major US Air Force base close to Incirlik that provides the American military ease of access to the Middle East?
US concerns about the direction Turkey is taking have been spelt out in the US State Department’s annual report buried between its judgments of other countries. Turkish authorities “have not established a pattern of investigating, indicting and convicting individuals accused of corruption, and there were concerns about the impartiality of the judiciary in the handling of anti-corruption cases,” it reads. It further attacks press freedoms, freedom of speech and the state’s crackdown on protests.
Erdogan remains defiant and still believes that overall he is backed by the nation. But there’s no doubt his popularity is dwindling; to which extent will be exposed by the results of local elections at the end of this month. Although a growing number of Turks are expressing their anger, he may retain political capital among the population at large that’s greatly benefited from his economic policies.
So far, the West has given Erdogan a free hand to rein-in troublemakers and stamp out opposition because relations with Ankara take precedence over human rights abuses. Such gross double standards are also applied to Israel, which is never held to account in any meaningful fashion. Perhaps the most glaring example of US double standards was mouthed by Secretary of State John Kerry talking about Russia’s intervention in Crimea, which he referred to as a “terrible aggression” adding, “It is really a stunning, wilful choice by President Putin to invade another country.” Does anyone see the irony?
A further example of US double standard is its support for the parliamentary overthrow of a democratically elected president in Ukraine at the behest of around 20,000 in Kiev, coming on the heels of its punishment of Egypt for doing the same.
The message is crystal. Western “values” are nothing but a tool, a pretext to oil foreign policy. Those within its camp are virtually immune from condemnation; non-allies or countries whose usefulness is debatable are battered. Erdogan is well placed to escape a US/EU spotlight but whether he can evade a backlash from the Turkish people is a question that, for now, remains unanswered?