Why was there a coup attempt?
President Erdogan has become an authoritarian figure. His Islamist rooted party, the AKP, has purged state institutions of opponents, cracked down on free speech, and increased the role of religion in public life. Elements in the army, which is sworn to uphold Turkish secular democracy, and many secular civilians have become increasingly concerned that the country is becoming a dictatorship.
Who was behind it?
The coup leaders appear to be senior military officers from a limited number of units, but not at the level of the High Command. Erdogan accuses them of supporting an exiled religious/political leader Fethullah Gulen, a former ally who now lives in the USA. The Gulen movement says it had nothing to do with the coup but it is known supporters have infiltrated sections of the military.
Why did it fail?
The coup was wide but not deep – it had members of the army, navy, and air force but too few to flood the streets. The coup leaders controlled thousands of troops beneath them, but had no support above them in the High Command and the Chiefs of Staff control hundreds of thousands of troops. The plotters seized bridges, airports, buildings, and the state broadcaster, but crucially they failed to get to Erdogan or to shut down private TV and some social media. When the President called on people to take to the streets, via an iPhone on private TV, the tide began to turn. The mosques began to call people onto the streets to support him. As the crowds gathered the establishment quickly closed ranks. If it is true that the Gulen movement was behind the coup it is unsurprising that the secular leadership of the military did not support it.
Why did people support the President?
The President’s party holds the majority in Parliament with 50% of the vote in the 2015 election. Even many opponents who want to get rid of him do not believe the solution is a military takeover, they were not demonstrating for Erdogan but against the coup. Turkey has had 4 coup-d’états in 50 years and the public wants to put those days behind them.
Who’s in charge now?
The President is in control. The military High Command is standing behind him, as are the intelligence agencies, his party and even opposition political parties.
What happens to the coup leaders?
Erdogan said “They are going to pay for this in the harshest way”. Turkey abolished the death penalty in 2004. However, there are now calls from within the AKP party to re-introduce it for the coup leaders.
What effect on the EU?
On the political front the instability in Turkey, and potential re-introduction of the death penalty, pushes even further away the possibility of Turkey joining the EU. This will play a minor role in the UK’s Brexit negotiations and the government’s concerns about free movement of labour. Holiday bookings to Turkey, already down, may decline further.
How does this affect Turkey’s role in the Middle East?
The image of a politically unstable Turkey undermines its efforts to be the leading player in the Middle East.
Is it safe to go to Turkey?
The UK’s Foreign Office regards large parts of south eastern regions of Turkey as unsafe due to both the war in Syria and the renewed civil war in the Kurdish regions. Terror attacks in Istanbul and Ankara have increased this year. The Mediterranean coastal resorts are considered safer but the FCO advice is “It’s generally safe to travel but you should take additional safety precautions…and remain vigilant in crowded places popular with tourists.”
What happens now?
President Erdogan will round up anyone suspected of supporting the coup, crack down even harder on dissent, introduce new security laws, and accelerate the drive to pack the police, justice and education systems with supporters. Already almost 3,000 members of the judiciary have been dismissed. He is taking the opportunity to remove anyone who might oppose his future plans from positions of authority. Western powers are supporting his legitimacy while calling on him to respect democratic norms. He is likely to ignore them, especially when dealing with the media and the Kurds. Last year he narrowly failed to increase his powers, he will not miss this opportunity to try again. Another coup attempt is unlikely in the short to midterm future as the top brass have seen the response of the people to tanks on the streets, and also because Erdogan will be watching them like a hawk whilst maneuvering his men into all the top positions. It’s going to be rough.