News & Politics

Anatomy of a Coup: What Went Wrong and What Comes Next

(AP Photo/Cavit Ozgul)

The failed coup in Turkey on Friday never had much chance of success. The rebels were too few and they made several amateur mistakes — including failing to take President Erdogan prisoner.

But the night was bloody nevertheless. More than 200 were killed with hundreds more wounded. At least 3,000 military personnel have been arrested.

The Jerusalem Post sums up the mistakes made by the plotters:

Erdogan broadcast from his smart phone a statement to the people, tweeted to his supporters and relied on the media, even those whom he deathly hates, to spread his message in the critical first hours of the coup attempt when uncertainty gripped the country.

In this respect, the attempt was reminiscent of the failed coup by the national guard and the Greek military junta in 1974 against the rule of Cyprus President Archbishop Makarios III. Makarios succeeded in sending out a weak radio signal saying that he was alive. Voice of Israel radio monitor Miki Gordus received the signal and broadcast the message to the whole world. As a result of that failed coup, the Turkish army invaded and partitioned Cyprus into two parts.

In the case of Turkey, it seems that those involved – apparently relatively low-ranked officers – would not have succeeded in their operation even if Erdogan would not have been able to deliver his broadcast.

The rebellion initially appeared to be going by the book. The rebels gained control of the bridges over the Bosphorous Strait in Istanbul, which connect Europe and Asia, as well as major junctions. Pilots involved in the plot bombed the parliament building in Ankara, the MIT intelligence agency’s headquarters and military forces, including tanks near the presidential palace. They even took control of the Turkish broadcasting authority and forced the newscasters to read their statement that they had taken over the government of the “traitor” Erdogan and were changing the Constitution.

However, it appears that the number of soldiers in their command – only a few thousand – was insufficient to complete the job.

In Turkey’s previous four military coups since 1960, tens of thousands of soldiers took part, if not the entire army. This time, the rebels kidnapped the chief of staff and a number of other senior commanders, who have since been freed, but most importantly they failed to capture Erdogan, who was vacationing at a Marble Lake resort. Capturing the Turkish leader was possibly the first thing they should have done.Erdogan succeeded in broadcasting his remarks to the people, calling on his supporters to take to the streets, and they answered his call. They blocked the rebel soldiers’ path and together with the police, which remained loyal to Erdogan, fought them and took many of them prisoner.

There’s no doubt many Turkish citizens are angry and upset at Erdogan. But was there ever enough popular support for a coup? It’s probable that the coup plotters totally misread the mood of the country, given the huge turnout that appeared after Erdogan’s call for street protests. In the end, that’s basically what doomed them — misreading the public mood, the attitude of most of the military, and the ability of the government to hang onto power.

The failed coup will only accelerate Erdogan’s planned assault on the constitution to turn Turkey from a parliamentary democracy to a presidential one. He will weaken the parliament while acquiring more power over Turkey’s key institutions. For more than a decade he has transformed society from a secular, marginally democratic country into an authoritarian nightmare with increasing pressure on the media, the courts, and the political class to bend to his will.

The coming army purge promises to be bloody. At the very least, it will weaken the military so that they can’t challenge Erdogan again any time soon.

That means that the last obstacle to Erdogan taking total control has been neutralized. The army — traditional guardians of secularism in Turkey — will be castrated and Islam will be in the driver’s seat.