Outmanoeuvred: The troops who rose against the authoritarian government of Turkish President, Tayyip Erdogan failed to follow the first rule of regime change by force: "When you strike at a king, you must kill him." Erdogan alive was not only able to call his followers into the streets, but to persuade those military units not involved in the coup d'état to rally to his defence. The Islamisation of Kemal Ataturk's secular republic can now proceed apace.
WHEN YOU STRIKE AT A KING, you must kill him. This, the first and most important rule of regime change by force, is the rule which the military units rebelling against Turkish President, Tayyip Erdogan, failed to follow. It was their biggest, but very far from their only, mistake. Observing the unfolding debacle through the all-seeing eyes of CNN, an old CIA hand informed viewers that it had all the appearance of a “colonels’ coup” – not one planned and executed by those at the summit of the military hierarchy. The relative ease with which civilian and military forces loyal to the President crushed the uprising proved him right.
The collapse of this attempted coup d’état has been met with many sighs of relief in Western capitals. Had it succeeded, President Barack Obama, in particular, would have faced an extremely difficult choice. To condemn the overthrow of the democratically-elected government of a Nato ally; or, to endorse the constitutionally sanctioned role of the Turkish military as the secular Turkish Republic’s ultimate protectors. Because it was precisely in this guise that the soldiers who rose against Erdogan presented themselves. As the last, desperate hope of all those Turks who still cling to the legacy of Mustapha Kemal – the father of the modern Turkish state.
That it was colonels, and not generals, who ordered their men on to the streets, says much about the state of Turkey. Those who might have struck a more telling blow in the name of the republic, the nation’s most senior military officers, had long ago been arrested under trumped-up charges by Erdogan’s followers, dismissed from their posts and thrown into prison. A similar fate befell the nation’s senior judges and police officers. In the slow-motion coup Erdogan and his Islamist political allies have been carrying out since coming to power 2003, they have been careful to ensure that the secular state they were striking down would never again rise to its feet.
Those who have been issuing congratulatory statements to the Erdogan regime, should ponder the meaning of its first acts upon reclaiming the levers of power. Yes, thousands of rebel troops and their officers have been detained. That is to be expected. But so, too, have upwards of twenty thousand judges, prosecutors and policemen. Is that the response of a democratic government? No. It is the response of a tyrant who described the failed coup attempt as “A gift from God.”
American and European diplomats have taken reassurance from the coup’s failure, citing the crucial role Turkey has been playing in combatting the terrorist Islamic State (IS). Shrewd observers of the Erdogan regime have, however, speculated that part of the motivation for the weekend coup attempt may have been senior army officers’ disgust at alleged behind-the-scenes cooperation between Erdogan and IS. After all, the terrorists’ arms had to come across, and their oil be carried over, somebody’s border.
Those same diplomats should also take another look at the “democratic” crowds who, at Erdogan’s bidding, poured on to the streets of Ankara and Istanbul to confront the rebel troops.
Did they shout: “Long live the Turkish Republic!” Or, “Long live Turkey’s secular democracy!” No. The moustachioed men (there were no women in evidence) shouted “Allahu ekber!” – “God is great!”, and declaimed the shahadah: “There is no god but God – and Muhammad is his prophet!”
Secular Turks disdain the facial hair of Erdogan’s followers – although, with the backbone of their judiciary broken, and the last of their military protectors in detention, it might be wise for secular Turkish men to put away their razors, and for secular Turkish women to cover their heads.
Is this the true import of Erdogan’s jubilant description of the failed coup as a gift from God? Does he now feel justified in speeding-up his party’s progress towards the creation of a Sunni Islamic Republic in Turkey? A fanatical religious regime to rival the Shia Islamic Republic of Iran? And how much in common would such a republic have with the theocratic extremism of the Sunni Saudi Kingdom? Between these two powerhouses of radical Islam would stand only Lebanon, Syria, Iraq, Jordan – and Israel. Of those five states, only Israel possesses the military strength to defend its borders.
Article 2 of the Turkish constitution states: “The Republic of Turkey is a democratic, secular and social state governed by the rule of law”. This reiterates the principle contained in the document’s preamble that: “there shall be no interference whatsoever by sacred religious feelings in state affairs and politics”.
The actions of the Erdogan regime, both before and after the weekend’s abortive coup, make it clear that constitutional government in Turkey has become a fiction. The eternal vigilance Kemal Ataturk enjoined upon Turkey’s soldiers has failed. Europe will soon have an Islamic Republic at its southern gate.
This essay was originally posted on Stuff on Monday, 18 July 2016.