The Failed Coup in Turkey - The Road Ahead
It is more than two weeks since the abortive coup on the night of 15-16 July took place in Turkey. Although additional information has become available, it is still not clear who the mastermind behind the failed attempt was. It is, however, possible to piece together the sequence of events with a fair degree of accuracy.
It appears highly unlikely that President Recep Tayyip Erdogan was in any way associated with the plot. While condemnation of the frail and reclusive Turkish cleric Fethullah Gulen by Erdogan and calls for his extradition from the United States where he has been living in self-imposed exile since 1999 have become increasingly louder, well informed Turkish analysts dismiss the charge that Gulen could have been directly involved in the coup attempt. Gulen’s supporters have denied any role and termed the Turkish government’s accusation as “highly irresponsible”.
Gulen has long been an ardent advocate of tolerance, peace and “acceptance of religious and cultural diversity” based on the traditions of Sufism. In a recent op-ed in the Wall Street Journal, Gulen had denounced the Islamic State, called for an end to violent extremism, and advocated equal rights for men and women, and education for Muslims.
Gulen and Erdogan were once friends but split several years ago after allegations of corruption were levelled against senior officials as well as against Erdogan’s son.
The United States has said that it would consider Gulen’s extradition if sufficient evidence of his involvement is presented. It is doubtful whether the volumes of documents presented by Turkey are adequate to satisfy the United States of Gulen’s direct complicity. This could further exacerbate hostility between the two countries.
It is increasingly clear that the coup was an attempt by mid-level officers from the army and some from the air force to usurp power. It had apparently become known to them that the government was contemplating a purge shortly in which they would be arrested or dismissed. The coup was an attempt to pre-empt this move and strip Erdogan of his arbitrary power. The coup attempt came a cropper apparently because it was carried out in a hurry without requisite planning to execute it meticulously. It is also likely that Erdogan had an inkling of what was brewing so that the element of surprise that the plotters had banked on was missing.
The failure of the coup was initially perceived as a victory for democracy, as it was foiled by ordinary citizens pouring into the streets of Ankara and Istanbul on the call of President Erdogan, the constitutionally elected leader of the country. However, as unfolding events have revealed, it was anything but that.
The last few days have witnessed one of the most comprehensive purges to occur anywhere in recent memory. Actions thus far have resulted in the seizure of 114 businesses including newspapers, radio and television channels. Arrest warrants for 47 journalists have been issued. 30,000 educationists, 14,000 government officials, and 9,000 from the interior ministry and military have been dismissed. 16,000 people have been detained, with more than 8,000 still under arrest. Deans of all universities have resigned after being ”invited” by the government to do so. The purge has covered more than 60,000 people in its ambit, many of whom had nothing to do with the coup. Erdogan has taken the coup as a ”gift from God” and could use this to bludgeon through a new constitution to give himself the powers of an executive President which he has been hankering after for some time.
The post-coup purge smacks of a cultural revolution like the one in China in the 1960s. It appears to be designed to remove those members of the judiciary, academia, thinkers, public officials, military, media, etc., who are perceived to be opposed to Erdogan and to stack up the benches and other instruments of power with Erdogan’s loyalists.
Erdogan has threatened that capital punishment, which was abolished in 2004, could be re-instated to deal with the plotters. This will bring down the curtains on Turkey’s bid to become a member of the European Union.
The failed coup will have far-reaching, long-term, implications domestically, regionally and internationally. Domestically, Erdogan’s actions have been deeply polarising and can sow huge mistrust among different segments of society. The purge has divided the army down the middle. Erdogan had a unique opportunity to be a statesman to heal the wounds inflicted on the polity in recent years. He has frittered away the moment and further sharpened cleavages amongst people.
The Turkish economy as well as the tourism sector took a big hit in the aftermath of the coup. Even earlier, the economy was reeling earlier under the impact of frequent and powerful terror attacks by ISIS and Kurdish separatists. The coup has multiplied manifold the wariness of investors and business entrepreneurs.
Relations with the West
Erdogan’s suspicion that the coup was supported by the United States and Europe has brought Turkey’s relations with the USA, EU and NATO to a new low. As a mark of displeasure, electricity to the Incirlik air-base, where US military assets are housed, was cut off and the US Air Force contingent was grounded for some time. The United States and Europe suspect Erdogan of divided loyalties in the counterterrorism fight.
Erdogan has vehemently attacked the West for not standing by him in defence of democracy in his hour of need and instead expressing concern at the treatment meted out to the coup plotters.
Deteriorating ties are also a blow to NATO and Turkey’s fight against terrorism. The decline in the clout of the Turkish Army symbolises its reduced significance as a reliable partner for the West. The Turkish armed forces are the second largest in NATO, next only to those of the USA, have a budget of USD 20 billion and a strength of about half a million officers and men. About 9,000 soldiers have been charged with taking part in the coup attempt.
The failed coup has left Turkey severely bruised and damaged. It has seriously dented Turkey’s image as a stable, secular, progressive and prosperous country. Erdogan’s witch-hunt has tarnished the country’s reputation and credibility. Turkey’s polity and economy will take a long time to recover from the crippling attrition of recent days.