From Coup to Countercoup

From Coup to Countercoup
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Dictatorship in Turkey isn’t such a far-fetched idea any longer

LESS THAN A week after a botched coup by a section of the Turkish armed forces, emergency has been imposed by President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan. A counter-coup is now in effect. To begin with, the coup attempt on 15 July was so inept that it bordered on a Potemkin show of sorts. A bunch of soldiers rammed into broadcasting stations, tanks ran around with no aim, and a host of other inexplicable mistakes—from a coup planner’s perspective—made it a non-event.

That performance was no match for what Erdoğan unleashed. With his huge mass of supporters in Central Anatolia behind him, the president had something else in store. Over the past week, close to 50,000 employees in different government departments have been sacked, including that of education, Erdoğan’s chief target in ensuring the long-term Islamisation of what was until recently a secular society. The purge in this department is telling. In case a coup is suspected, the logical place to look for plotters are defence and police establishments. Clearly, the best is being made of an opportunity.

With the emergency that was declared on 20 July, the stage has been set for a complete overhaul of the Turkish government. The emergency is to last three months. In a way, the ‘coup’ was a godsend for Erdoğan.

Prime Minister from 2002 to 2014 and president since then, he has had to soft-pedal many of the cherished Islamisation goals of his Justice and Development Party. Two factors constrained him for long. In the initial phase of his rule, Erdoğan was set a line that he could not cross. The country’s secular armed forces prevented any reorganisation of the defence and education ministries. At the same time, a friend turned foe, Fethullah Gülen, held influence over other institutions of the Turkish state, the judiciary in particular. With Gülen operating from far-away Pennsylvania through phone and mail, and secular generals just around the corner in Ankara, all Erdoğan could do was bide his time.

The danger, which was apparent even before the coup, was that Erdoğan was no longer a first among equals even within his group of allies. The recent downfall of his erstwhile confidant, the much-respected Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu, provides ample reason to fear that dictatorship in Turkey is not a far-fetched prospect now.