Erdogan's Coup

The True State of Turkish Democracy

Supporters hold up a portrait of Erdogan during an election rally in Istanbul, March 23, 2014. Murad Sezer / Courtesy Reuters

Western depictions of Turkish politics have finally begun to catch up with the authoritarian reality. As late as May 2012, Steven Cook, senior fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations, could state confidently that “the Justice and Development Party has done everything that it can” to forge “a more democratic, open country.” A year-and-a-half later, Cook would bemoan Turkey’s “democratic mirage,” citing Erdogan’s penchant for “using the institutions of the state for retribution and political intimidation” and manipulating the judiciary for “his own political ends.”

Given Erdogan’s behavior, the course correction is fully justified. But unfortunately, the West’s new narrative suffers from several weaknesses and omissions of its own. Turkey’s authoritarian turn is typically portrayed as a recent one, following on the heels of what are commonly described as significant democratic reforms in the last decade under Erdogan. With the latest turnaround blamed squarely on Erdogan,

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