A state of emergency forever?

A state of emergency forever?

After Turkey’s failed coup on July 15, the Turkish government declared a state of emergency.  I was among the supporters of this move, for as I publicly said, what could be a bigger emergency than a coup plot that killed 240 innocent citizens? 

Yet as time went by, the state of emergency created bigger and bigger concerns. A very widespread campaign of detention began, with the police having the right to detain people for a month, rather than just a few days as normal. Some 30,000 people were put in jail, for suspected links with the Gülenists, who are nationally seen as the masterminds of the coup. Meanwhile, more than 100,000 people have been suspended from their public jobs, again with the same suspicion. 

The ferocity in all this made it inevitable that many innocent people have been targeted along with some real criminals. No wonder even the government itself began to acknowledge that “mistakes” were being made and that “the wet is burnt along with the dry,” as the Turkish saying goes.

One of the defining features of the state of emergency has been the “executive orders” of the government, which acted as laws although they have not been ratified by the parliament. Thanks to his unusual power, the government confiscated an incredible number of properties owned by members of the Gülen group. Major companies, schools and NGOs have been taken over by the state, crushing what we normally would honor as “property rights.” 

In other words, things have gone so far and that is why the state of emergency must end. The government must rather calm down, take a step back and repair some of the damage it has done while responding to a real threat. 

Yes, the threat – Gülenist infiltration of the state, which ultimately led to the coup – is real, and we should not forget that. I see that lots of people, especially in the West, rather believe that this must be just a myth made up by the government to deepen its authoritarianism. Gülenists themselves, understandably, are pumping this narrative. I also see that there is a certain sexiness in that perception, because liberal minds are poised to think that threats to human rights come from states but not non-state actors, which usually is really the case. Yet Turkey is an unusual place, where real threats by non-state actors help deepen the state’s authoritarianism in a never-ending vicious cycle. 

To stop this vicious cycle, or at least to stop it taking us further down the road, the government must end the state of emergency at the end of the three-month period in mid-October. It was notable that former President Abdullah Gül, the very founder of the governing party, also made that call the other day, while calling for the building of “strong democracy.”

Current President Tayyip Erdoğan, however, in his usual hawkishness, signaled that the state of emergency could be extended. “Thanks to the state of emergency,” he added, “we achieved the power to do things we would not normally be able to do.” Well, that is precisely the point, I would say. 

So, what will happen? Maybe the government will extend the state of emergency once or twice more. That would be bad. But what would be even worse is to extend the state of emergency, not as a legal category, but as a political mentality for years to come. When will we know that the Gülenist threat is over and life can go back to normal? And even if it is really over, would the government prefer to declare that, or keep using it to justify things that “we would not normally be able to do?”