Turkey: Coup Has Failed, Erdogan More Powerful Than Ever

Izmir, Turkey -- It's a done deal: the military coup has failed. President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and his AK Parti remain in power and vow to take revenge against those behind the coup.

Or, perhaps better said: against those they say are behind it.

Now that the coup has clearly failed, we can conclude that this must have been the most incompetent attempted takeover in Turkey's troubled history. When part of the military launched their offensive last night (Turkish time), I immediately checked news channels supporting President Erdogan. Surprisingly, none of them were taken over. The only broadcaster that was taken over was TRT Haber, the state news channel. But NTV and other channels supporting Erdogan were left alone.

That was remarkable, but what struck me even more was the fact that these channels -- especially NTV -- were able to talk to the president and the prime minister. That's strange, to put it mildly. Normally, when the military stages a coup, the civilian rulers are among the first to be arrested. After all, as long as the country's civilian leadership are free, they can tell forces supportive of them what to do... and they can even tell the people to rise up against the coup.

And that's exactly what happened. Both Prime Minister Binali Yildirim and President Recep Tayyip Erdogan called into news programs and told their supporters to go out on the streets and fight back against the soldiers. A short while later, streets in the big cities (Ankara and Izmir) were flooded with Erdogan supporters, who even climbed on top of tanks. Fast forward a few hours and it was officially announced that the coup had failed, and that Erdogan and his AK Party remained in power. About 1500 soldiers were arrested.

As I wrote on Twitter yesterday, there were three options:

  1. The coup was staged by a small group within the military, which would severely limit their ability to strike.
  2. The coup was staged by the entire military, which meant Erdogan's chances of surviving politically were extremely small.
  3. The coup was a set-up. Think the Reichstag fire.

The main argument against option number three is that there was some very serious fighting taking place, including massive explosions. Dozens of people have been killed. If this was a fake coup, it probably was the bloodiest one ever. That's why many people are skeptical about this option, and believe it was just an incompetent attempt at a military takeover.

The general feeling in Izmir -- a city with 3 million inhabitants who are generally not pro-Erdogan at all -- is that it was a real coup attempt, but that the officers behind it were incredibly amateurish. Friends on the streets and cafés are literally telling me:

It was a real attempt, but they were stupid.

Shortly after the attempted coup, Erdogan and Yildirim immediately blamed a disgraced Islamic scholar, Fethullah Gulen, who now lives in Pennsylvania. Gulen and Erdogan were longtime allies who shared a dream of Islamizing Turkey but had a falling out several years ago. Ever since, Erdogan has blamed Gulen for pretty much every problem in Turkey, including a major controversy about cabinet members (including Erdogan and his family) possibly stealing millions of dollars. In the years after, Gulen became Erdogan's enemy number one, which is undoubtedly why he's being blamed for yesterday's coup.

Proof that Gulen is indeed behind it hasn't been presented, however. In fact, the Gulen group denies any involvement. You could imagine that, if they did support it, they'd call on their followers to support the takeover. They did no such thing.

The same goes for the leaders of Turkey's official opposition parties. The secular CHP and the nationalist MHP aligned with the AKP to condemn the coup. Some in the West have expressed shock at that: if they're opposed to Erdogan, why didn't they support the coup? The answer is, of course, that Turkey has had two military takeovers in the recent past (1960s and 1980s): both were very bloody and absolutely horrendous, not just for the ousted governments, but also for the average Turk. People weren't allowed to leave their homes, not even to buy food and drinks, and many innocent civilians were rounded up by the military. Once in prison, many of them either died or were severely tortured.

It's not very strange that even the country's opposition parties don't wish a repeat of that. No person in his right mind would.

When the coup was still going on, one Twitter user tweeted this:

I'm afraid that Yousef was, and is, right. If the military would've succeeded, Turkey would now be a military dictatorship. Regardless of where you stand on Erdogan, that would've meant major changes for the Turkish people. A lockdown would've been put in place, people would've been imprisoned in their own homes. In fact, I went out at 2 a.m. to a local market to buy as much food, milk, eggs, and so on as I could. I did this because, in past coups, people had to stay indoors for many days. Some people who couldn't take care of themselves actually died from hunger, or so I've been told by Turks. After that first phase, the military always rounded up all those they thought were loyal to the former government. Mass imprisonments, torture and killings were everyday events.

In other words, even if you oppose Erdogan, it's difficult if not impossible to celebrate a military coup.

Of course we now have to see what Erdogan's government will do. More than 100 soldiers involved in the coup have been killed, military commanders were taken hostage, and Erdogan has vowed revenge. As anyone with even a bit of knowledge of history knows, the crackdowns after a failed coup can be as bad as the crackdown after a successful military takeover. Erdogan already wanted to change Turkey's constitution and change the system into a so-called presidential system, meaning most if not all power would reside in his office. Nobody doubts that this is exactly what'll happen now: he'll draw all power to himself and ignite a major cleansing, possibly not only of the military and police forces, but also in politics itself.

The only possible conclusion, then, is: no matter what, democracy will suffer a major setback in Turkey. We can only hope and pray that the consequences will be less severe than I fear.