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Useful despots.

ySTANBUL (CyHAN)- Who is democracy for? Who benefits the most from a full-fledged democracy coupled with the rule of law? Is it possible or functional to establish a sustainable democracy consisting of diverse social groups having different expectations in a country which is not fully developed in terms of education and welfare?

In a developed society in which income is distributed fairly, which has a high level of welfare and which consists of well-educated individuals, people know that the best guarantee of their rights and freedoms is the respect they show for the rights and freedoms of others. However, in extremely fragmented societies like ours, where such respect and a sense of empathy have not sufficiently matured, certain prerequisites for democracy such as free elections may turn into simple and ordinary tools for unrestrained political ambitions of certain people who are deprived of a democratic culture. These people see the constitutional system based on checks and balances, universal principles that rely on fundamental human rights and freedoms and even the most fundamental democratic rules as great obstacles to their lust for power and rule. For some people who see elections as a means of gaining more power and domination, democracy is just a "streetcar you take to get off at a suitable station for attaining your goal."

Yet, elections, crowned by the rule of law, equality before the law, respect for basic human rights and freedoms and commitment to universal democratic criteria, are like just a door to the courtyard of a magnificent palace of democracy. Just like a door to the courtyard of any splendid place, elections are of course important. Indeed, you cannot enter the palace of democracy and enjoy democracy without passing through that door. However, if you pass that door and see that insurmountable walls of unlawfulness have been built, that cleverly camouflaged wells of arbitrariness have been dug in that huge garden between you and the magnificent palace or that bandits are hiding in that courtyard and are ready to attack you at any moment, then you have a problem. In such a situation, you must admit that even if you entered the courtyard of the palace of democracy passing through the door of election, you have ruthlessly been prevented from accessing the magnificent palace where you will enjoy democracy.

This is exactly what has been happening in Turkey in recent years. Every day, we see the unpleasant surprise of a new unlawful, unethical, anti-democratic and repressive move from those who view elections only as a means of boosting this hold on power. They know no boundaries in undermining the judiciary; they know no judicial independence or impartiality in subjugating the judiciary to the executive; and in a massive scandal of extrajudicial execution, they reshuffle thousands of public servants whom they had profiled beforehand in a gross breach of the Constitution. They accuse different social groups of committing the most hair-raising offenses. Shamelessly, they try to dishonor and discredit people and civil society organizations (CSOs). They humiliate, otherize, antagonize and demonize people. They resort to unparalleled hate discourses and commit the most obvious forms of hate crime.

They do not remain restricted to the discursive level. With their acts, they push Turkey away from being an open, democratic society to a paranoid, censorship-oriented, prohibitionist and closed regime. The Internet bill, which is a censorship-centered, prohibitionist piece of legislation signed into law by President Abdullah GE-l despite strong objections from the domestic and international scene, a bill on the Supreme Board of Judges and Prosecutors (HSYK) that is pending GE-l's approval, which will subordinate the judiciary to the executive, and a new bill on the National Intelligence Organization (MyT), which will turn the Turkish Republic into a full-fledged Mukhabarat (intelligence-governed) state, are clear evidence that this terrible progress will accelerate.

It goes without saying that democracy and the rule of law are blessings and requirements for people in any country. Does this apply to the external powers and foreign countries who have trade relations with that country? If only we could reply "yes" to this question. Unfortunately, we cannot. Indeed, there are many examples seen in the past and currently. For instance, during the circumstances around the Cold War, the Iranian shah was allowed to violate the rights and freedoms of Iranians and persecute them at will as long as he developed good relations with the West, positioned his country as a reliable energy provider and a profitable marketplace for them and played an active regional role in the fight against Communism. As a matter of fact, the "useful despot" model was a perfect fit for the shah. But his fate proved to be neither beneficial nor useful for himself or those who used him and didn't care what he did at home. The process disrupted the sociopolitical nature of Iran and the country drifted from one tyrannical regime to another in 1979.

We observed the same process in Egypt. The country had effectively moved closer to the Soviet bloc with Gamal Abdel Nasser's coup despite still being a member of the Non-Alignment Movement (NAM). No one cared about the public's need for democracy, rule of law or freedoms. Little changed after Egypt tilted toward the Western bloc in the wake of the Camp David Accords of 1979 made with Israel. During the time of Anwar Sadat and Hosni Mubarak, no one cared about what Sadat or Mubarak did to Egyptians as long as they didn't threaten Israel and they safeguarded Western interests. The Egyptian people's demands for democracy, rule of law, freedoms and welfare were seen as trivialities as long as these dictators continued to serve as useful despots for certain forces. Ironically enough, General Abdel Fattah al-Sisi -- who overthrew Mohammed Morsi with a bloody military takeover after the latter's one-year rule rife with ineptitude and democratic immaturity -- is the living example of the useful despot model.

Does this process differ in any respect in Saudi Arabia and other anti-democratic Arab monarchies and dictatorial regimes in the regime? Who cares how Arab kings and sheiks, who fit nicely into the useful despot model, treat their own people or how they deny them even the most fundamental rights and freedoms? As long as they ensure that the flow of oil and natural gas is maintained without interruption and the billions of dollars earned from this trade are circulated through the Western financial system, no one is interested in how Arab countries are ruled by repressive tyrants who deny their people basic democratic rights.

Everyone remembers how Saddam Hussein was used as a useful idiot who played his part against Iran. Is it a simple coincidence that Saddam was the favored leader for not only other useful despots in the region, but also for Western democracy although he permeated a regime of total oppression on Kurds, Turkmen and Shiites? Who cared about the tragedies and sorrows of Shiites, Turkmen and Kurds? What about today? Doesn't this apply to the Nouri al-Maliki regime, which has emerged as a sectarian dictatorship? Despite the fact that Maliki is sort of a Shiite version of Saddam and he oppresses and represses all other ethnic and religious groups, Western powers, particularly including Washington, frequently sanctify his administration style. Who cares about the full-fledged sectarian dictatorship Maliki has established in place of a pluralistic and participatory democracy as long as he is a useful despot?

What about Turkey? Turkey has made great strides in becoming a true state governed by the rule of law by implementing big democratization reforms as part of its bid to become a full member of the European Union in the last 10 years, but do you think anyone cares whether it has a sustainable democracy or rule of law? Will Turkey's fate be delivered into the hands of a useful despot who will safeguard the interests of these powers? As long as this useful despot safeguards their commercial and economic interests and takes radical steps that are satisfactory to them regarding the Cyprus, Syria, Iraq, Israel and the Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK) issues, will our allies lend implicit support to the anti-democratic process in which this useful despot cancels the rule of law in our already limping democracy?

Net messages from the representatives of EU bodies, if not from the capitals of EU member countries, urge us to be hopeful for the time being. But what about the US, which prides itself on being a model of democracy for the entire world? Will it consent to Turkey drifting towards becoming an anti-democratic regime despite the fact that it is a historic and strategic ally of the US with its unique experience of amalgamating Islam, democracy and secularism? Or will it commit itself to thinking it is better to have a useful despot as this system is a more easily managed form of relations? A letter sent by some 80 opinion leaders to the Barack Obama administration on Wednesday and the warnings voiced by Obama on the phone to Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoy-an still keep alive the hopes of the people who are concerned about the future of this country. We will wait and see if this process will continue without change or not and will try to maintain our hopes.

BE[pounds sterling]LENT KENEE[currency] (Cihan/Today's Zaman) CyHAN

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Publication:Cihan News Agency (CNA)
Date:Feb 21, 2014
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