Ilhan Erdem was arrested in Istanbul on Monday over alleged links to the alleged masterminds of the failed coup attempt in Turkey July 15th. He is the second Canadian national to be swept up by President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s sharp retaliation against the Gulen movement. Canadian authorities are unsurprisingly scant on details.

Erdem has worked for years as an Imam in Ottawa, where he was also a member of the Anatolian Heritage Federation (AHF). A friend of the family says that he has been working as an education consultant in Turkey for the last three years.

He was arrested on Monday in Ataturk airport on what the AHF calls trumped-up charges. According to Turkish press, he is accused of leading the Gulen movement in Ottawa.

The Gulen movement, also known as the Hizmet movement, is a world-wide network endorsing the teachings of US-based cleric Fethullah Gulen. Gulen is a former ally of Erdogan who turned into one of his most popular critics.

The president wasted no time in blaming him for the coup attempt that left 246 people dead earlier this month. This claim provides the government with a justification to crack down on the dissident group – a suspiciously convenient one, according to some. It is nonetheless accepted as accurate by the majority of officials, including the Trudeau government.

The Turkish population has demonstrated both against the coup and against Erdogan’s authoritarian response (namely the imposed emergency state).

AHF has stated that Erdem’s views are “simply aligned with those of Hizmet.” According to the Federation, the Canadian is victim of Erdogan’s persecution of all his detractors, “including peaceful Hizmet participants.”

Concerns for two Canadian Detainees

On Monday, while Erdem was being arrested, the Canadian government was meeting with the Turkish ambassador to discuss the case of Davud Hanci, a Calgarian recently arrested under similar circumstances. Hanci was visiting his sick father in Ankara with his wife and two children when he was arrested for allegedly having a hand in the coup attempt, according to his family.

His relatives expressed concerns over his safety to Radio-Canada, especially after seeing photos of people arrested in connection to the coup being beaten and mistreated on social media. They said Hanci’s wife was able to see him for a few seconds. He reportedly only had time to say that he was okay and anxious.

No one has been able to contact Ilhan Erdem to date.

Canadian officials have been tight-lipped about both cases. In fact, they only confirmed that a second Canadian citizen has been detained in Turkey, but refused to identify him, citing privacy concerns.

They had adopted the same stance in the case of Homa Hoodfar, a Montreal Professor currently detained in Iran, even advising the family against speaking to the media. The information came from relatives in Hoodfar’s case and from the Anatolian Heritage Federation in Erdem’s.

A source not authorized to speak publicly confided to Radio-Canada a few details about the meeting of Canadian authorities with Turkish Ambassador on Monday. They said that the government was trying to know more about the specific motives of Hanci’s arrest and wanted to express official concerns the Turkish government’s increasing resemblance to a military dictatorship.

Late on Wednesday night, Global Affairs Canada assured that they are providing consular assistance to Erdem’s family and that they are in contact with the Turkish embassy.

Can a military coup ever be a good thing? Well, until Wednesday, I didn’t think so. Now, I think that there is one and only one set of circumstances where a country’s armed forces ousting a democratically elected government is both positive and democratic change: when those forces are following the will of the people.

No one can tell what the future will bring in Egypt, so I’d like to clarify that my opinion is based on my current understanding of the situation. My perhaps oversimplified understanding breaks down like this:

1. Fed up with decades of oppression, the people of Egypt rise up and demand dictator Hosni Mubarak step down. The military eventually backs the protesters. Mubarak resigns.

2. The people vote in Mohamed Morsi and the Muslim Brotherhood in the country’s first democratic elections ever.

3. The people are unhappy with Morsi’s performance and even less so with his restrictions on their personal freedoms, despite promises that he wouldn’t restrict freedom of expression (best summation of this I’ve heard comes from The Daily Show).

4. They rise up en masse. Some call it the largest protest in human history, while others deny that claim, they all admit it was damn big.

5. The military backs the people and removes Morsi from office, temporarily putting Adly Mansour, the head of the Egyptian Supreme Constitutional Court, in charge until new elections can be held.

Basically, the people elect someone, they’re not happy with his performance, they want him removed and he gets removed and there will be new elections. I don’t have a problem with that.


Barack Obama has a problem with it, he says he is “deeply concerned.” So do some Republicans in Congress. Some are even urging him to withhold the aid the U.S. sends Egypt every year.

The American response is expected. They were already rattled when the people forced their close ally Mubarak out and now the new guy they also don’t mind working with is gone as well. No one knows who they’ll have to deal with next.

Their response is also quite hypocritical given the number of times they have looked the other way when democratically elected governments fell to armies. There’s also all those times the states engineered coups themselves through the CIA.

Rhetoric aside, this isn’t really about whether or not it’s okay for the military to take power, something that should never be acceptable. Egypt’s military didn’t seize control and install a dictator, they followed the wishes of the masses, removed a leader from office and made way for new elections.

True, Morsi hadn’t served his full term. But Egyptian democracy is still a work in progress, the details will come with time. We just got one procedure of democracy in Egypt.

In some countries, there are highly bureaucratic ways to remove an elected official who has broken the public trust and become autocratic before their term is up. In Egypt the process is simple: get enough people into the streets.

This is an experiment in instant democracy. It sets a precedent and that’s why western leaders are scared.

Say a politician in the west gets elected on the promise of more jobs, but neglects to mention that those jobs will all be prison guards ’cause he’s gonna build more jails and throw a bunch of people in them. Now imagine this is a parliamentary democracy like Canada and this leader has a majority government and can’t be removed for four years.

By then, the damage might be done. What if there was a way to call bullshit and force a new election?

You’d better believe that politicians would think twice about doing something that may cost them their job sooner rather than later. They’d also think twice about gerrymandering or caving to lobbyists, because they can be fired by their real bosses, the electorate, in an instant.

Stephen Harper isn’t afraid of a robocall scandal, Toronto can’t even get Rob Ford out of office. But if what just happened in Egypt inspires a form of instant democracy in the west, minus the military aspect (I don’t for a second believe our armies or police work for the people), then we could be in for some real change.

If political office ceases to be long term contract work and democracy can happen in an instant, politics will change forever. The most important democratic movement yet may have been made possible by a military coup.