There is no point of being a legitimate president these days – Lessons from Syria and Turkey

I’ve been watching the events folding in the Middle East with a lot of interest. Not only because I’m a quasi-student of global affairs but also because the precedents that these events are setting might come and bite us in the behind.

Sen.McCain visited the rebel-controlled zone in Syria. He's now agitating for overt US involvement in the civil war

Sen.McCain visited the rebel-controlled zone in Syria. He’s now agitating for overt US involvement in the civil war

The ongoing civil war in Syria has been on our screens for over a year now and it doesn’t seem to be getting better. In fact, just a few weeks ago, the maverick of the US Senate, former Republican presidential nominee John McCain, travelled to the rebel-controlled zone where he met with their leaders.

Senator McCain’s visit, while political theatre, makes one wonder what it means it terms of international policy and law. Say what you want about President Bashar al-Assad, the fact that he is the legitimate president of Syria isn’t in dispute. At least according to international law. However, we are now witnessing circumstances where he’s being treated like a pariah despite the fact that the other side isn’t exactly a collection of angels.

Recently the European Union, which had earlier placed an arms embargo on Syria, rescinded that ban. The new decision will allow the rebels access to expensive weaponry in their fight against the government troops.

President Assad

President Assad

How the EU came to such a decision is beyond me; does it expect that giving them arms will push them over the line? If they did, and do, then those guys in Brussels are more naïve than I thought.  Any student of history will tell you that it is never a good idea to hand over high-tech weapons to rebels whose aims you don’t really understand. Especially when those rebels have links to militant Islam. Remember who gave Al-Qaeda members its first ground-to-air missiles? It was the CIA who armed them during their guerilla war against the Soviet war machine in Afghanistan and we all know how that experiment with Bin Laden ended for all concerned. What makes those who want to arm the rebels’ think that this will go differently? Regime change is a very tricky business, especially in the Middle East. Better the devil you know.

Funny enough, one of the most anti-Assad leaders in the region, Turkish prime minister, Recep Tayyip Erdogan is facing a similar challenge to his authority for a week now.

Under the pretext of going against his government’s decision to convert Istanbul’s Gezi Park into a shopping mall an amalgamation of liberals, university students, members of the middle class and football fans who hate the direction Erdogan’s AK Party, an Islamist party, is leading the country, have erected barricades around the area and sworn not to move.

They don’t only oppose his construction plans; they hate the fact that he’s introducing Islamic practices into the formerly fiercely secular country. The

The United States and the European Union as well as human rights groups have expressed concern about the actions of Turkish police against protesters. Oh course.

The United States and the European Union as well as human rights groups have expressed concern about the actions of Turkish police against protesters. Oh course.

problem is, he’s only doing what the people want. Since 2003, his party has won the general election three times with increasing majorities. What the government is facing is NOT a manifestation of democracy but rather a sneaky coup d’état. His opposition, hitherto unable to beat him in a free and fair election, is now using underhand methods to nullify the wishes of the people who voted for him; all this under the guise of civic disobedience and freedom.

What bothers me the most is that this undemocratic move isn’t being scrutinised by the media and western politicians the way it should.

PM Erdogan

PM Erdogan

Instead of questioning the motives of the demonstrators, there is unmitigated excitement on the part of the media and weak statements from the western governments. It is as if they wish PM Erdogan’s government to fail. Is it because it is Islamist in nature? I wouldn’t be surprised. Just look at how long its taken Turkey to get into the EU. Smaller, less strategic nations have got in. But Turkey? No.

The situations that Assad and Erdogan find themselves in have made me ask myself, does it matter whether a government is legitimate anymore? Especially when it is  ‘unpopular’ to the powers that be? How can some of those so-called ‘powerful’ countries preach democracy to us when they change tack whenever it suits them? It seems to me that whenever interests come in the way of democracy and legitimacy, the latter always lose out.

What lessons can we take from this? The only way that our countries can survive and thrive is to act out of self-interest. We cannot please anyone except ourselves. We shouldn’t think that international rules and norms will help us because they will not. Those norms only apply to the strong. Not all of us. C’est la vie, as the French say.

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4 thoughts on “There is no point of being a legitimate president these days – Lessons from Syria and Turkey

  1. Rwamujuga Batwale says:

    you are very right,today Democracy means you either with us(powerful nations)or we divide you into classes and use your own people to throw you.

  2. Yaz says:

    Legitimacy in itself is not enough. It is what leaders to with the power that has been bestowed on them that matters. Clearly both Assad and Erdogan are overstepping the boundaries of their executive powers without consulting their people and it both instance waging violence. You have to look at the brother picture

  3. Mika Inamahoro says:

    Being a legitimate/elected leader does not spare you from respecting (the rights and views) of your people… Legitimacy is grounded in the conviction that the “elected leader” will not become an “elected killer” (Assad)…. Winning elections is not a free ride to killing your own people… The fact that western medias take sides as it suits their interests, should not stop citizen like us to think further about the issue of legitimacy. Respect of basic rights is compulsory

  4. Michael says:

    The events of late do raise a lot of questions about legitimacy. However, I disagree with your assessment that an election is essentially “only doing what the people want”. A more nuanced reading of a very complex context is necessary to get closer to the truth (can I recommend the work of Richter & Kruglanski on the crisis and the dynamics of group behavior?). What is telling as a pattern is that in times of uncertainty (economic collapse, poverty, war, threat), people tend to congregate around an autocratic leader for security. They may even democratically elect them, as an expression of their political fears, but when fear subsides, and the weather calms, common sense returns. With the cultural climate change also comes the desire to retract undemocratic powers given under what now seem like the false pretenses of fear and often to regain lost rights (that one could argue were given away freely but surely under duress). I think most pointedly of the election of W. after 9/11 and the fear-driven injustices that followed. It doesn’t take much thought to pick a bad guy and ascribe blame or right to one side, but the world is not a spagetti Western with the bad guy and good guy clearly labelled with different colored hats. When we try to oversimplify the world that way, because of an extreme need for closure (or our need to be right) we often create a self-fulfilling prophecy, and indeed reinforce a polarized world. Extremes generate counter extremes.

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