It took no time at all for the authoritarian Turkish government to turn the failed coup into a PR victory for the regime. Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s unbelievable claim that Turkey’s ‘democracy’ has won the day is as grounded in reality as Donald Trump’s ideas about Mexicans.
The crackdown has already started. Literally hundreds of judges have been suspended with a cull of military personnel not far off. Turkish citizens’ fragile civil rights face further attacks as Erdoğan and his AKP allies move to prevent any repeat of this challenge to his regime. Just as the Turkish government used the courts and political intrigue to weaken the military – the country’s traditional defenders of secularism – Erdoğan will use this crisis to tighten his grip.
The death penalty will almost certainly return, justified by the ‘treason’ committed by the coup plotters. Erdoğan’s early insistence that exiled cleric Fethullah Gülen was behind the plot is an opportunistic attack on one of the regime’s ideological opponents. In exile in Pennsylvania, Gülen is a vocal critic of the Islamist government. The AKP never misses a chance to attack him. The apparent sloppiness of the coup attempt makes it unlikely any sort of international plot was behind it.
Erdoğan has ruled Turkey for 14 years, first as prime minister and now as president. His AKP party has never let the constitution or the country’s tradition of secularism hold it back. The parliamentary system is moving inexorably towards an executive presidency, with power concentrated in Erdoğan’s person and administered by his appointed lieutenants. As a ‘moderate Islamist’, Erdoğan has moved the country away from the secularism on which it was founded and promoted Islamist causes, from headscarves to changes in the law.
Fully aware that the AKP has historically irked the secular army, Erdoğan’s government has taken steps to restrict its powers in a way reminiscent of Stalinist purges. The failed coup gives the government a chance to intensify these purges. Nearly 3,000 soldiers have been arrested and the justice system is under attack. Mass arrests wkill be followed by mass executions. Millions of Turks loyal to Erdoğan have taken to social media supporting the government’s call to re-introduce the death penalty. Things could not be better for the soon-to-be tyrant.
Most media coverage of the failed coup has completely ignored the Turkish government’s increasingly oppressive programme. There has been no mention of the peaceful anti-government movement prompted by the Gezi Park protests. Foreign governments have been quick to condemn this violent ‘attack on democracy’, utterly ignoring the legitimate complaints about rights violations, electoral irregularities, corruption and abuse of power protesters have raised.
It was no surprise that Turkey’s allies – Qatar, Iran and the terrorist organisation Hamas – praised the coup’s defeat. The coup plotters probably meant what they said when they claimed to act in the name of democracy and civil society. Turkey’s closest friends have no interest in those concepts. Tyrannies, Islamic fundamentalists and cowardly western governments have united to endorse the fiction that Turkey is a genuine democracy.
Erdoğan will be the big winner from this failed coup. He’s been following in the footsteps of Russia’s Vladimir Putin and taking a softly softly approach to authoritarianism. Now the AKP will be able to accelerate the process of turning Turkey into an Islamic dictatorship. Any opposition to the regime, peaceful or otherwise, can now be labelled as treason and met with force. In the name of security and stability, the world will gain one more tyrant.