Faction behind failed Turkish coup botched operation almost from the beginning
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, who remains popular, is pressing his advantage
If you were writing a “how to” textbook for overthrowing a democratically elected government, the curious coup d’état in Turkey would definitely lead in the “doomed to fail” chapter.
Brief, messy, chaotic and bloody, it lacked broad public support and didn’t have a popular figurehead.
With an iPhone and a FaceTime account, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan easily turned what could have been the end of his public career, and potentially his life, into a political bonanza, a “gift from God,” as he said.
In less than 24 hours, he emerged stronger than ever. His government has detained more than 6,000 officers, judges, prosecutors and others over suspected involvement in Friday’s failed coup, and it seems the purge is only just beginning.
He has called upon his followers to take to the streets to show their support, and they’ve responded. The once-powerful Turkish military had been diminished after a series of previous purges, and is now more than ever on the defensive. Its old self-appointed role as protector of the constitution, of secularism, of the legacy of the founder of modern Turkey, Mustafa Kemal Ataturk, is in tatters.
Sharp contrast with Morsy’s ouster in Egypt
And in the “how to do it right” chapter, on the other hand, would be the coup that brought President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi to power in Egypt in the summer of 2013. It was well-planned and executed, had broad public backing and featured a popular leader.
In the months leading up to that July coup in Cairo, discontent was on the rise with the rule of Egypt’s first democratically elected president, Mohamed Morsy. The coup was proceeded by severe fuel shortages, electricity cuts, mounting public unrest and growing suspicion that Morsy wanted to turn Egypt into an Islamic state. Morsy won the election the year before by a thin margin. His base was shaky from the start, and in the post-revolutionary atmosphere, rebellion was in the air.
The powerful Egyptian private sector feared Morsy was favoring businesspeople affiliated with the Muslim Brotherhood. One anti-Morsy tycoon even confided to me he had spent large sums to finance Tamarod (Arabic for “rebel”), the movement to overthrow Morsy. “I don’t make an investment in anything unless I’m absolutely certain I’ll get what I want,” he said.
Privately owned television stations (owned, that is, by wealthy businessmen) agitated against and ridiculed Morsy’s rule. A multitude of brutal Morsy jokes spread around the country.
The Tamarod movement, led by young activists, used social media to mobilize the masses, who on June 30, 2013, filled Tahrir Square and the roads outside the president’s palace, Ittihadiya, with Egyptians demanding Morsy’s ouster.
Sisi, then the defense minister, had primed the population with dire warnings of chaos if Morsy did not change his ways. When the anti-Morsy protests spread throughout Egypt, Sisi issued a 48-hour ultimatum to Morsy to meet the protesters’ demands. When Morsy refused, the army stepped in and deposed him.
Power fell easily into Sisi’s lap. To this day many Egyptians bristle at the suggestion that what happened in July 2013 was a coup. Less than a year later Sisi was elected President, winning with a stunning (and questionable) 93% of the vote.
Message control is nearly impossible today
Turkey’s would-be putschists, on the other hand, were trying to overthrow a Turkish President who is still popular with his conservative, religious base. Erdogan won three successive elections as Prime Minister between 2002 and 2011, and now has turned the once-symbolic position of President of the republic into a commanding role.
The faction that led the Turkish coup botched the operation almost from the beginning. It didn’t take out or otherwise silence the President. It killed dozens of unarmed protesters and conducted an airstrike on the Turkish Parliament in Ankara.
These plotters had no concept about how Turkish society has changed and the changes that social media has wrought. The old coup d’etat playbook of taking over the only state-run television and radio station, broadcasting “communique No. 1” to the populace and surrounding the presidential palace with tanks just doesn’t work anymore. There are dozens of private television stations in Turkey, and every citizen with a smartphone can spread messages to hundreds, who spread them to thousands, who spread it to millions. Trying to monopolize and control the message today is mission nearly impossible.
Erdogan has plenty of opponents and critics who see him as thin-skinned and increasingly authoritarian. But even the opposition parties, without exception, came out quickly in against the coup.
Having survived, Erdogan is pressing his advantage, demanding in undiplomatic terms that the United States hand over the man Turkey accuses of inspiring the coup, Fethullah Gulen, the Islamic cleric who is living in self-imposed exile in Pennsylvania.
Erdogan is strongly suggesting Turkey will reinstate the death penalty to punish those involved in the coup. He may intensity his push to transform Turkey from a parliamentary into a presidential democracy to concentrate power more fully in his hands.
It’s a textbook case of how to survive a coup d’etat, and prosper.