Tuesday, July 19th, 2016

The futile coup and what it bodes for Turkey

Rushda Siddiqui | July 19, 2016 7:17 pm Print
As the coup in Turkey settles down with its failure and the US-Turkish spat starts, it is time to deconstruct the most relevant aspects of the coup, Rushda Siddiqui says


The failure of Turkey’s coup was expected.

This is not the first time Turkey has faced a military coup since WWII, rather this is the fourth.

The coup of 1960 headed by Colonel Alparslan Türkeş was successful. Türkeş, a trained anti-communist under US forces, wanted to stop the Prime Minister Adnan Menderes from going to Moscow for economic assistance.

An alternative government was installed and was put in place. Since then the Turkish army has always made it amply clear that it would intervene whenever there was a breakdown of the constitutional machinery, or the country was spiraling towards a socio-economic unrest.

The most famous coups of 1971 and 1980 took place when the country was going through the most difficult economic and political crises. Inflation, unemployment, social welfare were hitting an all-time low. It is not as if the 1990s did not witness military intervention, but their magnitude and nature were very different.

In 1997 the military leadership issued a memorandum that initiated a process resulting in the resignation of Islamist prime minister Necmettin Erbakan of the Welfare Party and the end of his coalition government.


Former Turkish prime minister Necmettin Erbakan

It was done without dissolving the parliament or suspending the constitution. It was bloodless and ‘post-modern’ in the Turkish understanding.

The Turkish coups have a unique feature. The army is fiercely nationalist and loyal to the Attaturk legacy of secularism and freedom. Unlike coups in other parts of the world, the armed forces in Turkey do not attempt to take over power and the head of the armed forces form the government. Rather it consults with political, judicial and other relevant actors for the replacement and once it feels that the party in power has been replaced satisfactorily, it retreats to the background.

So the questions that arise with the coup attempt of 15 July that went on till the 18th would be: why did the coup, that was doomed to fail in the first place, take place?

why did the coup fail?

what does the failed coup mean? and most importantly, what will the aftermath be?

To begin with, the coup was a planned, but not intensively. Its leadership is yet to be identified. While President Erdogan has targeted Fethullah Gülen, his main ideological rival in Islamic fundamentalism, there are no clear evidences pointing to him being the main culprit, despite the clamour for his extradition.


Hizmet movement leader Fethullah Gulen

More than Gülen it is the US and European dislike for Erdogan that could have more to do with inspiring the rebels. Erdogan came to power at a time when Turkey’s membership stakes in the EU were all but thrown out of the window. The rejection dealt a blow to the Turkish pride and ostensibly drove them from being secular, democratic and progressive to conservative Islamic and regressive.

Since then the Western media has gone on an overdrive to paint Erdogan as a conservative, ultra-orthodox, Islamist, fascist and dictatorial among other attributes. Significantly, it was under him that the disconnect between the armed forces and people reached a peak. As the forces are part of the NATO troops, their interaction with the western world remains at an all time high. It would not be surprising if the rebels had assumed that their information about the state of affairs in their country begged for an intervention.

Understanding why the coup failed is not difficult.

Ideologically Ergodan belongs to the extreme right. His support base is rural, semi-educated, semi-urban masses who have been struggling under governments that sold them capitalist to socialist dreams. What needs to be understood about the man though is that despite his rustic profile lies an extremely sharp brain that excels at reading people, individually and at large.

It is this attribute of his that drew some of the sharpest economists, political analysts and strategists in the country to his rank and file. To take an example, the Turkish foreign policy in the last decade has swung to extremes to ensure that even if neighbours are under siege, Turkey remains the deciding regional power.

Turkey has gone from being anti-Israel to mending fences with it, from distancing itself from Russia to cultivating it and making sure that EU acknowledges its strength as a strategic partner not just in terms of NATO, but as an important economic and political partner in regional affairs. Which is why, this would have been the first coup against a President who had led the country to economic well-being, socially and politically popular and upholder of the democratic heritage of the country.


Turkish president with Israel leaders

Ergodan has redefined the terms patriotism and nationalism for the Turks in a manner that has ensured his grassroot support for decades to come. It is not as if he does not have shortcomings, corruption and nepotism charges, but the overall development of Turkey make his crimes practically invisible.

What the coup bodes for the region is a bundle of bungled foreign policy actions of Europe and the US rebounding with a vengeance. With the street marches, Ergodan has been able to prove to the West that he remains a popular, democratically elected leader who has the support of his people and his state machinery. Typically, all his jibes will now be directed to the US who he partially blames for the fiasco.

The first US blunder came with calling the coup an ‘uprising’ within the first few hours and then came the Senator Kerry’s veiled threat that if Turkey reinstates its death penalty disqualify it from becoming part of Europe. Europe has been voicing humanitarian concerns over the treatment of the rebels and NATO is at a loss trying to figure out who to talk to as nearly the entire top brass of the armed forces has been arrested.
It is a typical case of the West being uneducated about the country and the political dynamics of the region. They seem to forget that rejection of the West was the reason for the rise of Ergodan’s brand of fundamentalism in the first place. They are unlikely to be deterred by threats.

Lack of understanding about the difference between Turkey and the rest of the region is now coming to haunt the West. Turkey remains driven by its own dynamics. Its brand of fundamentalism is unique in that it encompasses the Asian, the Arab, the West Asian non-Arab, the European and the non European of its society. By asserting their identity, by replacing the top brass of the armed forces, by changing the pattern of civil laws to include death penalty and by asserting their regional standing as a power, Ergodan is telling the world that he is aware of the West, but the West has not comprehended the region.


The regional response is most telling of the success of Ergodan. Most of the countries in West Asia are immune to coups and government changeovers with Western powers stepping in at will and waited an appropriate amount of time to either stay silent or express sorrow at the behaviour of the armed forces to force a change of government.

It was Egypt’s decision to not back the US drafted statement in the UN that condemned the coup and was glad that the democratically elected government was back in place, that brought home the reality to the US. It was the financial and physical backing of the US and Europe that allowed the armed forces in Egypt to overthrow the democratically elected government of Mursi and re-write a constitution to elect a new government.


The biggest gainers in the entire saga will be the Turks and the Russians. Turkey is already on sound economic and political footing with most of its neighbours supporting it. Its purges and socio-political changes will only increase its strength. To curb the changes Europe or the US may need to make a military intervention, which would not be feasible.
Whatever the conspiracy theorists say about the coup, whether it was staged by Gulen or Ergodan or anybody else, its biggest beneficiaries will remain the Russians. As a time when the Russian – European/US relations are sinking, NATO’s transformation in any direction would work in favour of Russia. As a key member of NATO, Turkey stands to gain by re-arranging its top order. If NATO disagrees to keeping Turkey it weakens NATO, as does a Turkey not fully appeased.

Turkey 3
The coup has hurled the region and the world into an orbit the contours of which will unravel only with time. It is likely to change the face of geopolitical relations for a long time to come. In brief, the coup has put the largest regional players, including Europe and the US, in a proverbial Catch-22 situation.

Rushda Siddiqui
Rushda Siddiqui
Rushda Siddiqui is the Co-ordinator of Research with the Humanities Trust. Her area of specialization is the socio-political dynamics of change in West Asia and North Africa.