"Erdogan is now in a stronger position than he might have imagined early on Friday night"by / July 18, 2016 / Leave a comment
Since Turkey’s failed coup d’état ended prematurely on Saturday morning, over 6,000 military personnel and judges have been arrested or detained. There has been a massive sweep of the “plotters” at the behest of President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and his party, the AKP. These people will face the President’s fury, along with immense public indignation. It is apparent now that only a minor fragment of the military carried out this rather insubstantial coup.
Moderate Islamic cleric Fethullah Gulen, who lives in self-imposed exile in Pennsylvania, was once a close ally of the AKP and a supporter of its policies. But since 2013, when relations soured, Gulen and his liberal socio-religious movement have been blamed every time something doesn’t go according to plan in Turkey. True to form, Erdogan accused Gulen of being behind the coup attempt, though the government has been unable to put forward any evidence for this. Meanwhile, Gulen and his followers vehemently deny any wrongdoing.
Turkey had military coups in 1960, 1971 and 1980. The so-called “post-modern” coup of 1997, in which the military issued “recommendations” without deploying forces, led to the resignation of the then Prime Minister and the incumbent government. Many of the generals involved in that coup were imprisoned in 2013 and then freed in 2014. Some commentators had recently observed that the military had begun to reorganise itself after their release. Yet few predicted the events of the last few days.
Such was the resistance to the idea of the military in charge that opposition groups and vast swathes of the population came together in a tremendous show of will. The people of Turkey clearly felt the status quo was more favourable than the prospect of the suppression that often characterises military rule. The reluctant recruits of the coup were at the mercy of angry mobs who were maddened by accounts of soldiers firing at civilians. By the end, the death toll had reached 265 people.
Erdogan has often reacted to national crises or uproar by asserting control of the media. Paradoxically, this time he used to hold onto power. On Friday night, he used the Apple video app FaceTime to reach a CNN Turk television presenter and broadcast an appeal to the nation. Erdogan’s impassioned call to the people of Turkey to go to the streets and face the putschists gave him the early victory.
What is clear from this coup attempt is that Erdogan is now in a stronger position than he might have imagined early on Friday night. For some, he is now even more of a fêted hero and the man who can save the nation from its enemies, both inside and outside the country.
Turkey has suffered immeasurably in the last 18 months or so. During this period, numerous terrorist attacks in Istanbul, Ankara and a number of smaller towns and cities have rocked the country. Countless tourists have cancelled their visits, hurting the hotels and restaurants who rely upon their custom and putting businesses under acute strain.
Erdogan became Prime Minister in 2003, then President in 2014. He has steered the country from the dark days of the early 2000s, when there was a banking crisis and a huge devaluation of the Lira, and the IMF had to patch things up. Erdogan has grown more and more powerful since then, but is listening less and less to the people or those in his party who show any independence.
Over the last few years, Erdogan has come under criticism for his growing authoritarianism. He has dealt with censure by shutting down television stations, silencing academics or arresting journalists. At the same time, he has had to deal with what is essentially a civil war with the PKK (the Kurdistan Workers’ Party) and its radical offshoot, TAK. The people of Turkey, until recently, were losing their affection for Erdogan—but this event changes everything.
The failed coup should not be an opportunity to reintroduce draconian policies, such as the death penalty, nor should it lead to more religious extremism. These, and many other considerations, are crucial to the future of Turkey and to its relations with the west. Democracy has won the day in Turkey, but there are profound questions about the nature of this democracy and its implications for liberty and equality in contemporary Turkish society that remain unanswered.