Monday, July 18, 2016
Major Turmoil in Asia Minor
It is indeed ironic that a leader who came down hard on the use of smart phone connectivity among young protestors demonstrating against his creeping insertion of Sunni religiosity into a long-standing secular nation, was rescued and allowed to maintain his grip precisely because of social media following what was a seemingly well-organized military coup against him. As the military insurrection was rising all around him, blocking key highways, seizing the local telecasters, blasting pockets of police and civilian resistance, death toll rising, Turkey’s 12th president, Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, hidden away, rallied his constituents to rally, through a FaceTime app on his smart phone, to take to the streets in masses, making it exceptionally difficult for the army to take over without completely aliening the entire nation with a bloodbath.
The coup failed, but not without casualties. The Turkish government “put the death toll in the clashes at 265, including civilians, pro-government forces and troops involved in the coup attempt, and said 1,440 people had been wounded. He added that 2,839 military personnel had been detained…
“Turkey has a long history of military involvement in politics — there have been three coups since 1960, and the military forced another government to step down — and as the country became deeply polarized in recent years between supporters of Mr. Erdogan’s Islamist government and those loyal to Turkey’s secular traditions, many wondered if the military would intervene. Some, quietly, had even hoped it would.
“But once the coup was attempted, people in the country, even those bitterly opposed to Mr. Erdogan, seemed to have no desire for a return to military rule. Turks across the political spectrum, including the main opposition parties that represent secular Turks, nationalists and Kurds, opposed the coup. So did many top generals, highlighting that the attempt apparently did not have deep support even in the military.” New York Times, July 16th. But the odds-makers thought that the new Turkish government was one of the least likely places for a coup in 2016.
“Jay Ulfelder, who works in the area of political forecasting, has developed a mathematical model that synthesizes this data to predict a country’s level of risk… Turkey, said Mr. Ulfelder’s research, done in conjunction with the Early Warning Project, was a ‘very unlikely’ candidate for a coup, he said in an email. It had only a 2.5 percent probability of an attempted coup, based on 2016 data. That placed it 56th out of 160 countries, between Laos and Iran, and was within a range considered stable. At-risk countries tend to have high rates of infant mortality, a common measurement of poverty, and poorly performing economies. Turkey’s economy has been growing, and infant mortality has been rapidly declining…
“While Turkey has a history of coups, the country has changed considerably since its last, in 1997, and Mr. Ulfelder stressed that what mattered more was its nearly 20 years without one.
“Another crucial factor is what experts call elite fragmentation. If divisions open up among powerful elites — elected officials, business leaders, generals, judges and so on — their competition for resources and control can culminate in a coup.
“There is, as yet, no sign of such a split in Turkey. The growing economy gives elites reason to maintain the status quo. And while state institutions are imperfect and rates of corruption could be better — both factors that can lead elites to compete for resources — neither is bad enough to cause a crisis.” NY Times. Unfortunately for those mounting the coup, they did not get the full support of the entire military and failed to capture Erdoğan and his senior staff at the outset. If there is such a thing as “coup malpractice,” the military officers who organized this effort committed it in spades. The coterie of military coup organizers were put down very quickly.
The United States issued statements of full support for the “democratically-elected” incumbent government almost immediately, even as the FAA banned all U.S. carriers from flying the Turkey. Erdoğan took direct control of the military and immediately began placing the blame on his main opponent, oddly a Muslim cleric, Fethullah Gulen, living in Pennsylvania, who even more oddly, stated his immediate opposition to the coup. American authorities indicated that if Turkey could provide tangible proof of Gulen’s culpability, they would consider extradition in good faith.
Will it be a short clean-up followed by business as usual or will Mr. Erdoğan use the coup as an excuse viciously to purge his opponents? Experts believe he probably will clamp down on any and all signs of contrary views, crush democratic institutional checks and balances and move forward with an iron hand. Aside from the obvious arrest of key military leaders, including the military commander of the Incirlik air base from which U.S. airstrikes against ISIS forces are launched, there are other signs that it will be Mr. Erdoğan and his people who will call all of the shots, side-stepping democratic restraints.
One particularly bad sign: Erdoğan’s personally-appointed High Council of Judges and Prosecutors announced that 2,745 judges had been dismissed, although it appears unlikely there were any connections between the military rebels and these judges… and 8,000 police officers suspended. So the world will watch as additional details about the coup are unveiled and as Erdoğan solidifies his power.
“What happens next is unclear, but experts are concerned that Turkey's already troubled democracy is in for a rocky ride… ‘There was no good outcome,’ said Soner Cagaptay of the Washington Institute for Near East Policy. ‘If the coup had won, the state will be oppressive. If Erdogan wins, it will still be oppressive, because now there’ll be a witch hunt.’
“As Erdogan's critics point out, the Turkish leader and his allies in the ruling Justice and Development Party, or the AKP, have presided over a grim consolidation of power in recent years that has seen journalists arrested, critical newspapers and TV stations shuttered or taken over, social media censored and opposition politicians stripped of their legal immunity from prosecution.
“‘Erdogan will most certainly weaponize this coup attempt,’ says Burak Kadercan, a political scientist at the U.S. Naval War College, subdue more of his opponents and move toward building the ‘absolute presidency’ he has long sought. Kadercan expects ‘a further deterioration of Turkish democracy or whatever is left it.’” Washington Post, July 16th.
Think this is far away and of no immediate concern to us? This NATO nation, bordering the most problematic areas in the Middle East – Syria, Iran and the major ISIS holdings – remains of the most critical importance in the battle between the Western world and large parts of the Islamic world, on the one hand, and the Muslim extremists who have mounted the cruelest violence against them, on the other. It is a nation that we will all watch… carefully.
I’m Peter Dekom, and regional instability in the Islamic world is one of the greatest challenges within the current conflict against the global spread of violent extremism.