North Africa, West Asia

An Egyptian bystander in Turkey

If we love democracy we should wish it upon everyone, regardless of ideologies. Stand against oppressors whether they are in military uniform, are civil autocrats or Islamists. عربي

Farah Hallaba
9 August 2016
Mohammed Zaatari/AP/Press Association Images. All rights reserved.

Mohammed Zaatari/AP/Press Association Images. All rights reserved.On the historic night of 15 July, as I sat hundreds of miles away from Istanbul, my heart almost skipped a beat when my Dad shouted, “Tanks are blocking the bridge. There is a coup attempt”.

I turned on the TV to see what was happening, everyone was perplexed and holding their breath. But as I watched, I could see beyond the headlines. I saw the streets and squares I crossed, the shops I enter regularly as well as very familiar faces.

As an Egyptian student in Istanbul for two years, Turkey has been a very special place; its welfare is a concern for me, and to be fair, to almost every international student and expat I met.

I anxiously followed the events for six hours as the supposed coup took place then failed – watching TV, following twitter and Facebook. I was in touch with friends who either ran into the streets to protest or were stuck at home because of the military curfew. The final scene of tanks retreating and the coup failing was euphoric. Everyone I know – except those who follow the propaganda of Egyptian media – were happy and relieved.

I live in a district that is considered secular, ruled by the main opposition party CHP, and was impressed with the prevailing notion: “flawed democracy is better than a coup”. On this night Turkey witnessed an unprecedented unity, even though I had noticed by living there, how polarized their society is and how hard it is for them to come to share a common ground.

However, the story never ends happily ever after. This is just the beginning. The comments, analysis, opinions, and predictions came to life, on social and mainstream media, the day after.

The reactions of the Arabs are what vexed me the most. Not even 24 hours had passed and many were claiming that it was a staged coup – and Gülen, whom the government is accusing of orchestrating the coup, was of the same opinion. This was refuted by many Arabs, especially those who support the Turks - who support Erdogan - as they see Erdogan as the hero everyone loves.

Do not get me wrong, not everyone who does not believe it was staged is necessarily a fan of Erdogan. I, for instance, am not his fan, mainly due to the violations of democratic processes committed by his government: yet I do not believe it was staged. However, Arabs celebrating the failure of the coup were chanting for “democracy”. Till this point, we are in agreement. Because everyone knows the aftermath of coups by looking to Egypt post-2013.

What vexed me was that many Arabs, now residing in Istanbul, praised the Turks' unity and love for their country, criticizing its absence in Egypt and insulting Egyptians for not being “democracy-friendly”. To be fair, those criticizing were not only Egyptians; they were Arabs in general: Iraqis, Syrians and Palestinians.

This was not the only double standard that irritated me. It was also the silence towards or the justifications for the Turkish government’s unprecedented actions of detaining thousands of government, military, education workers and the closure of fifteen universities and thousands of schools.  These “guardians of democracy” are predominantly silent yet celebrating the aftermath of “the coup”.

Why can people only see the threat to democracy if it is a threat to the party they support or are affiliated to? Why can people only see the threat to democracy if it is a threat to the party they support or are affiliated to? 

If we agree that it is not staged, then how – in less than one day – did a list of thousands of dissidents come to be? They argue “strong intelligence”. Then how did this “strong intelligence” not predict the coup? If there were at least – as they claim –  50,000 Turks linked to the coup.

I can understand their support for Erdogan, as everyone will suffer from a coup. Many of those in support of Erdogan seek asylum in Turkey, have settled in Turkey, or generally have no other safe place to return to. They are the same people who were equally anxious and concerned about parliamentary elections, praying that the AKP would win. Their concerns are valid, as most of the opposition does not appear to be immigrant-friendly. 

This was not the first time the Arabs justified Erdogan’s actions. They believed the Israeli-Turkish deal was for their well-being, as Erdogan is quite vocal when he speaks about Gaza. However, they fail to see that he is never vocal about violations in the occupied West Bank. 

In conclusion, I do not question people’s love and concern for Turkey, as I am also one of the Arabs living there, and can safely say that we all feel we have a stake in what takes place. For most of us, it is a second home we are deeply attached to – as the quote goes: “A bad day in Istanbul is better than a good day elsewhere”.

This very notion is what made us all – with our different ideologies – decide not to leave Istanbul after surviving at least six bomb attacks, the refugee crisis, election crisis, ISIS-Kurdish issues, and finally a coup.

My only point is, if we love democracy we should wish it upon everyone, regardless of ideologies. Stand against oppressors whether they are in military uniform, are civil autocrats or Islamists. If democracy once saved an Islamist leader, defending democracy otherwise shouldn’t be called anti-Islamic only because it is against an Islamic-oriented party or person.

I conclude with Nervana Mahmoud’s tweet:

Dear Turkey: Coup is a political crime, not a religious crime. Injustices, vengeance, attacking minorities are political & religious crimes.”

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