A Failed Putsch in Turkey

  • Middle East Policy

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Views from the Region

Last week’s failed coup-d’état in Turkey has been roundly condemned in the regional media. According to most observers, the defeat of the coup is a victory for Turkish democracy. But questions still remain about the identity and the motives of the coup organizers, and about how far the government will pursue purges of the military, police and judiciary. Some commentators have openly expressed concerns about the handling of the aftermath by Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan. There is fear that a heavy-handed response might only exacerbate an already delicate situation rather than create the harmony and stability Turkey needs.

According to a recent Gulf Times (Qatar) editorial, the failure of the coup is a testament to the power of democratic forces in Turkey: “Democracy and [the] people have won in Turkey with the defeat of the coup attempt. World leaders have unequivocally condemned the attempted military coup….The Organization of Islamic Co-operation (OIC), expressing its support for the elected government under Erdogan, reiterated its ‘rejection of any attempt to destabilize Turkey, the security and stability of which is the mainstay of security and stability in the region and the Muslim world.’ Turkish forces crushed the attempted coup after people answered President Erdogan’s call to take to the streets in support of the government and dozens of rebels abandoned their tanks. The Turkish people have come out victorious in the battle against ant-democratic forces. But they still need to remain vigilant.”

The failed coup, according to this Khaleej Times (Dubai) editorial, is an opportunity for Mr. Erdogan to stabilize the country: “The question is where does Turkey stand after this act of treason? From a political perspective, one thing is clear — the powerful military is yet to come to terms with the assertive dispensation of Erdogan. Attempts to clip the powers of the army have proved to be short-lived. Moreover, this coup has come at a time when Turkey is in a state of war with itself. It confronts enemies at home and abroad in the form of the separatist Kurds and the militant Daesh, respectively…. The post-putsch period is an opportunity for the strife-torn country to recollect itself and defeat the tides of extremism and revulsion. Political stability in Turkey is sine qua non to the region. Which is why the West and the regional states, who may otherwise have reservations with the state of affairs in Ankara, denounced the military intervention, and stood behind the elected dispensation. Erdogan should relive this new lease of political life to pull Turkey out of the abyss of political and institutional discord, and defeat terrorism with full might.”

Hassan Barari, in an op-ed for the Arab News (Saudi Arabia), is keen to point out that the victory belongs to the people rather than to Mr. Erdogan and the Islamists in Turkey: “Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has become a source of inspiration for many Islamist parties and movements across the Muslim world in their attempt to assume power in key countries. But that is easier said than done, Islamists have been on the decline in the wake of the so-called Arab Spring uprisings….Of course, there is no love lost between President Erdogan and some of his subjects. Indeed, the society is divided between those who loathe him and those who adore him….the winners are the supporters of democracy. It is as if the Turkish people sought to speak out loud that any change in the future has to be through the ballots rather than bullets. In other words, the era of the military coups has come to an end and the people will only accept whoever gets elected.”

The Jordan Times editorial joins others in praising the determination of the Turkish people, while subtly suggesting that Mr. Erdogan ought not to interpret this victory as a mandate for trampling on the rights of minorities and his political opponents: “Turkey managed to overcome one of the toughest challenges facing it in its recent history by thwarting Friday evening’s military coup. Foiling this coup attempt was not only a triumph for Turkey’s political establishment, but for democracy, the Turkish people, and the stability and prosperity of this country as well as the region….First and foremost, no army can defeat the free will of a people and political forces have to keep in mind that any sought changes should take place through democratic means. Governments around the world also have to keep in mind that democracy should in no way mean disregarding the opinions, fears and rights of the minority, nor in any manner turn the majority into a tyranny intimidating or depriving the minority of any rights. Reasons for Friday’s coup attempt have to be well studied by the Turkish government, particularly fears that the secular foundations, rule of law and rights of individuals against the state are in any way threatened.”

However, in a recent editorial the National (UAE) does not mince any words when it cautions the Turkish president against misinterpreting the reason for the support he has received in the aftermath of the coup: “The political parties that backed him and the thousands of individuals who took to the streets against the plotters were motivated principally by a desire to support Turkey’s democracy. They turned out in support of the still-developing democratic tradition — hoping that orderly transfers of power by the ballot box would, indeed, become solidly entrenched; and for the institutions of government. Mr Erdogan would be wise to understand that they are larger and more important than any individual politician. This is a crucial test for Mr Erdogan….support for him is predicated on respect for the institutions of the country. Should he see this as an opportunity to clamp down on critics in a manner deemed imprudent, it would serve only to fray the very virtues that people came out to support and defend in those early hours of Saturday. The attempted coup, however amateurish, was a real test. Dealing with it will be an even harder one.”

Meanwhile, Israel’s main daily, the Jerusalem Post, wonders in one of its editorials what could have been had the coup succeeded, noting that, among other things “[the] takeover by groups claiming allegiance to Turkey’s secular Kemalist principles would have radically changed the balance of power in the Middle East. The Muslim Brotherhood and its fellow travelers in Syria, Egypt, North Africa and Jordan would have been dealt a major blow. Hamas would have lost a major backer….Turkey’s turning away from the West — including the deterioration of relations with the U.S. and its move away from joining the European Union — would have been reversed. Relations between Israel and Turkey would have returned to what they were in the 1990s, with strong military and economic cooperation between the countries….The failed coup attempt will further strengthen the Islamists and make another such attempt unlikely. Unchecked by the Kemalists, Erdogan will be free to pursue his Islamist agenda. And in the long-run this will have a detrimental impact on Turkey’s relations with the West — including Israel.”

As for the Turkish media, there has been universal condemnation of the coup. The Daily Sabah editorial goes a bit further than most by suggesting the United States effectively aided and abetted the coup plotters by sheltering Fethullah Gülen, an erstwhile ally of Mr. Erdgogan, now turned enemy: “The Obama administration’s ambiguity about the situation in Turkey encouraged policy experts to side with the putschists…. No, we are not saying that the United States government tried to overthrow the government. But Washington will have to prove its loyalty to the Turkish people, many of whom are openly questioning the nature of Turkish-American relations. Needless to say, the above-mentioned facts only added to existing suspicions about the alleged cooperation between the U.S. government and the secretive movement led by Fethullah Gülen, who operates out of the U.S. state of Pennsylvania….Until now, Turkey has acted in good faith by tolerating the Obama administration’s shady partnership with the Syrian Kurdish Democratic Union Party (PYD), the Syrian affiliate of the PKK, an armed group that the United States, at least on paper, considers a terrorist organization. But protecting Gülen is a step too far.”

Others, like Mr. Aykan Erdemir writing for Hurriyet Daily News, are calling for a “new social contract” aimed at healing a society that is divided and polarized: “Today the country is making headlines for different reasons: Frequent terror attacks, rising polarization, deepening diplomatic isolation and a flagging economy. Ankara urgently needs to reverse course. This requires, first and foremost, a new social contract. Unfortunately, Turkey’s failed attempts for a new bill of rights seem to have eroded enthusiasm for any further effort. Much of the Turkish public still recognizes the need to amend the current constitution, but there are no viable strategies to overcome the political and social constraints that have thus far prevented a compromise….What further undermines attempts at finding common ground is Turkey’s transition to a de facto presidential system, amid President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s refusal since 2014 to be an impartial president as stipulated by the constitution….As a deeply divided society, Turkey needs an incrementalist approach to overcome social polarization and political impasse. Instead of a new constitution drafted from scratch, Turkish citizens need to gradually build a new understanding, by laying out the fundamental principles that will allow them to coexist peacefully despite differences. This, however, is only possible through deliberation, compromise, and the building of trust.”

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  • Middle East Policy

    Middle East Policy has been one of the world’s most cited publications on the region since its inception in 1982, and our Breaking Analysis series makes high-quality, diverse analysis available to a broader audience.

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