Others sentenced included Veli Kucuk, a retired brigadier general accused of running death squads in the country’s southeast, who received a double life sentence; Mustafa Balbay, a journalist and opposition member of parliament, who was jailed for 34 years; and Kemal Guruz, former head of the country’s higher education council, who was sentenced to almost 14 years.“This has become more of a political than a legal case,” said Cengiz Çandar, a prominent Turkish journalist. “It looks like settling scores against an old military authoritarianism by a new civilian authoritarianism.”He argued that the sheer number of guilty verdicts suggested the case had sucked in far more than a central group of people who conspired against the government.
Democracy in Turkey under Erdoğan is a double-edged sword. His efforts to gain control over the military, which was politically powerful and executed coups d’état in 1960, 1971, and 1980, are in principle strengthening democracy in Turkey by solidifying civilian control over the military and discouraging it from ever again trying to take control of the government. But Erdoğan himself is becoming more and more authoritarian. He paints himself as a populist and widely loved throughout the country, which has been stable and prosperous under his 10-year reign, but he silences critics, jails journalists and dissidents (Turkey is the top jailer of journalists in the world, ahead of China and Iran), and led a brutal crackdown on protests in Gezi Park in May and June. He tolerates no threats to or criticism of his vision of Turkey and its future.Today that vision took another step forward, and the military took another step back into the barracks. Seeing their comrades sentenced to life in prison, Turkey’s current military leadership probably has no intention of getting on Erdoğan’s bad side. But as for Turkish democracy—well, it too was on display today. Some 1,000 people protested against Erdoğan’s authoritarianism outside the prison this morning but were blasted with tear gas and water cannons by riot police.With authoritarianism on the rise in Turkey, the military back in power in Egypt, and Butcher Assad still sitting in Damascus, the Obama administration’s attempts to promote democracy in the Arab world increasingly look like a policy in ruins.[Image of protestors outside Silivri prison near Istanbul where Gen. Basbug and others were sentenced in the Ergenekon trial; courtesy Getty Images]