Three Freedoms Erdogan Scorns but Saved His Regime

Hagia Sophia in Istanbul. The world famous monument of Byzantine architecture. View of the St. Sophia Cathedral at sunset.
Hagia Sophia in Istanbul. The world famous monument of Byzantine architecture. View of the St. Sophia Cathedral at sunset.

"Democracy is like a train," claimed Istanbul's 40-something mayor, "when you reach your destination, you get off." It was the mid-1990's, and that mayor was Recep Tayyip Erdogan.

Now as Turkey's controversial, embattled, yet popular president, Erdogan said this past March that "democracy, freedom, and rule of law have absolutely no value" in Turkey. His administration has acted accordingly, often violently suppressing his countrymen's civil liberties over the years.

The great irony is that it's these very liberties and freedoms that Erdogan himself desperately exercised in order to weather this latest challenge to his authority. Here's a look at how...

Freedom of Speech

Famously thin-skinned, Erdogan bristles at insults, filing more than 1,800 lawsuits against those he feels have slighted him. This includes journalists, bloggers, comedians, and ordinary users of social media. He especially dislikes Twitter, a frequent platform for criticism - he even tried to have it banned in Turkey.

But... during this latest coup attempt, Erdogan and his loyal Prime Minister, Binali Yildirim, took to Twitter to denounce the military plotters. So did Erdogan's civilian supporters. Erdogan also turned to iPhone's FaceTime feature to get the word out to the country and get his message to his followers.

He couldn't have accomplished this, though, without help from the media...

Freedom of the Press

Erdogan has systematically cracked-down on Turkey's free press. His lackeys have shut-down independent media outlets, seized control of others, and had journalists arrested, beaten, and prosecuted. Most of the media that remains is either state-run or friendly to his regime.

But... in this latest challenge to his rule, Erdogan didn't use Facebook Live or Periscope to spread his video message to the masses. As previously mentioned, he used FaceTime - in this case, calling an anchor at popular CNN Turk and getting them to broadcast a statement live to the nation. Erdogan seemed only too happy to let the remaining independent media spread his message and help rally his base.

This led to another phenomenon that Erdogan hasn't always embraced...

Freedom of Assembly

Protestors have always frightened Erdogan, and he seems to have little tolerance for them. This past March, Erdogan paid a visit to Washington and gave a speech at the Brookings Institution. When some protestors gathered to denounce the Turkish leader, they were assailed by his security detail and Capitol Police were forced to intervene. Earlier, in 2013, thousands of Istanbul residents protested in the city's parks and squares over then-Prime Minister Erdogan's crackdowns on civil rights. He responded by unleashing police who used tear gas, batons, and water cannons to disperse the crowds.

But... giving his FaceTime interview to CNN Turk, Erdogan called for the people to rise up and take to the streets. He used his cohorts as a tool to stand-up to the military and show the country that he retains widespread popular support. In other words, Erdogan is more than willing to stomach dissent - as long as it's in his favor and on his behalf.

Delivering a speech to the country upon landing victoriously at Ataturk Airport, Erdogan sat before a large painting of Mustafa Kemal Ataturk - founder of modern Turkey and champion of democratic ideals. Erdogan declared that "this is not old Turkey, this is new Turkey."

One wonders what Ataturk would think.