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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.Logo




7 Comments on "The What and the Why of the Turkish Coup"

  1. Tim thanks for the analysis which gives me some context I was missing .Do you think the recent wave of Terrorist attacks in Turkey had any destabilising influence on the Government and may have been a factor in the coup or was it simply the autocratic nature of the regime? If Erdogan centralises and concentrates power and cracks down on all opponents will this make Turkey ripe for chaos further down the line, when one day there will inevitably have to be a change when Erdogan goes.? For me we had a change of Government in the UK last week that only involved removal vans, the fact that in Turkey they tried to use Tanks shows starkly the difference between Western Europe and a country that has ambitions to join the EU. As you say this makes the possibility of Turkey joining the EU even more unlikely.

  2. A lot of attention is currently on what Erdogan is doing in response to the coup. It is worth reflecting on what might have been happening had the coup succeeded. The last successful coup in 1980 saw the military arrest over 250,000 people, execute 50, blacklist over a million and ensure many thousands lost their jobs.

    • Agreed Rob whatever measures Erdogan is imposing now if the Military coup had succeeded it would have meant an even worse back lash and more severe repressive measures. Maybe the devil you know is sometimes better but not great alternatives .I wonder though how many will be executed this time.

  3. mahatmacoatmabag | 19th July 2016 at 2:51 pm | Reply

    We must thank president Erdogan for single handedly ensuring that Turkey cannot become an EU member state & having Europe being overrun by 75 million mostly illiterate & unskilled Turks . The Socialist powers that be in Brussels are no doubt annoyed that Erdogan has upset their desire to have Turkey in the EU ASAP & exposed their common purpose policy of cultural & religious diversity as fraught with danger for future of Western democracy in Europe & the personal safety of its ordinary law abiding tax paying citizenry

    • TURKISH LITERACY RATES. Adult literacy rate (15 years and over, 2011) Total: 94.1% Male: 97.9% Female: 90.3%
      Statistical sources UNICEF
      World Bank: World Development Indicators database, June. 2013
      UNESCO Institute for Statistics

  4. Peoplearepeople | 26th July 2016 at 8:09 pm | Reply

    Your comment on “why did it fail”, “they failed to get to Erdogan and shut down private broadcasts and social media” is extremely disgusting. This is 2016, you are a journalist, a supposedly open minded person, how can you express a thought, like a wish, that a legitemate president to be killed brutally, by a terrorist attack? people of turkey do not die for being a member of eu. We want to live on a better life like every one on the planet. And we deserve it too.. Literacy rates have increased since 2011 by the way, we are not an ignorant group of people, ones who underestimates us are ignorant themselves.

    • However, it is true that those two reasons were among the reasons the coup failed. Stating that does not support the coup, or change anything. It simply explains two of the reasons why it failed. Are you suggesting that those two things did not happen? if they did happen what is the problem with saying they happened?

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