Turkey: the failed coup and the Sultanate Presidentialism of Erdogan

Monday, 18 July 2016 07:14
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Epos converses with PhD Federico Donelli*

by Nicolamaria Coppola (EPOS)
EPOS Conversations


At least 6.000 people have been detained in Turkey in relation to the failed coup that took place on Friday, July 15. The number of 6.000 arrests includes 29 generals and 2.839 military personnel, a senior Turkish official told Al Jazeera.“The judicial process on this will continue”, Justice Minister Bekir Bozdag said on Sunday, shortly before clashes between security forces and coup plotters broke out at the Sabiha Gökçen Airport in Istanbul on Sunday evening, and at an air base in central Turkey. The top judicial body, the HSYK, dismissed 2,745 judges on Saturday, according to the state-run Anadolu news agency. During the attempted coup, 161 civilians and regular troops lost their lives in Istanbul and Ankara; more than 100 coup plotters were also killed, the military said.

What happen in Turkey? What went wrong? Who was behind the coup? What will be the political consequences? In the aftermath of the failed coup attempt, many questions raise and need to be answered, thus EPOS has interviewed PhD Federico Donelli, expert in Turkish affairs. His research fields are International Relations and Contemporary History of Turkey with particular focus to Davutoglu’s doctrine and Turkey’s opening to different regions such as Africa and Latin America. He is the author of many articles on ‘new’ Turkey’s pro-active and multi-tracks approach, focusing on the gradual involvement of civil society’ s organizations in the conduct of the foreign policy. In the following exclusive interview for EPOS he discusses the failed coup attempt in Turkey, exploring what he calls the Sultanate Presidentialism of Mr. Erdogan with which the executive power will be strengthened as a response to the military golpe.

Nicolamaria Coppola, EPOS: Last Friday night, July 15, a group of Turkish military officers said it was taking over the country in order to restore democracy. It is still unclear who was leading the coup or how much support it held within Turkey’s armed forces. The military has long seen itself as the "guardian of Turkish democracy", which it defines as the staunchly secular state created by Mustafa Kemal Ataturk, the founder of the modern Turkish republic. It has directly intervened three times in Turkish politics, in 1960, in 1971 and in 1980, and in 1997 it carried out what some scholars describe as a "postmodern coup". The 15 July coup was unsuccessful: what went wrong? Why the military did not succeed like the previous time?

Federico Donelli: I’d like to start with the second question. A lot of people, mainly in Western countries, don’t understand that current Turkey is a completely different country compared to what it was before the Nineties. These differences affect the political context as well as society, including the armed forces. If we compare the military force that organized the coup in 1980 and the one that tried to take over on July 15th, we can easily see that the first one was an expression of a Kemalist monolithic society, while today the picture that we have is much more fragmented. Changes occurred in the societythat led to a vast heterogeneity is reflected in the composition of army cadres. Therefore it’s not surprising that the part of the armed forces involved in the coup is not – as it was in the past – the expression of the traditional establishment, but a new Muslim middle class that is close to the gulenist movement. About the first question, I assume officers who tried to takeover hoped for a wider support and coming from the people and, maybe, some foreign offices.

Nicolamaria Coppola, EPOS: "A minority within the armed forces has unfortunately been unable to stomach Turkey’s unity", President Erdogan said after the private television channel NTV showed him greeting supporters. Blaming political enemies, Erdogan added: "What is being perpetrated is a rebellion and a treason. They will pay a heavy price for their treason to Turkey". In your opinion,what will be this "heavy price"?

Federico Donelli: When we talk about modern Turkey I think that we have to consider what is the historical path that precedes and follows the building up of the Republic. In a way that dramatically differs from most of the other national states,Turkey built its national identity on the loss rather than on the conquer of territory. This unusual root of the national identity led to what is commonly known as the Sevres’ Syndrome and implies a constant and profound concerns regarding the existence of both internal and external enemies. Among the greatest fears there is a phobia of a “deep state”. In other words, the threatening idea that some state apparatus could betray the will of the nation. For all these reasons I think that the price to pay is high on two levels.  On the pragmatic one, those who are considered guilt for the coup will probably be condemned to death penalty. Most important, though, is the narration, that will depict the soldiers and officials who took part to the coup with dishonor.

Nicolamaria Coppola, EPOS: Some military officials spoke out against the coup, including the commander of the First Army, Gen. Umit Guler, who issued a statement, carried by a pro-government news channel, saying: “The armed forces do not support this movement comprised of a small group within our ranks.”Leaders of opposition political parties, who have otherwise worked against Mr. Erdogan’s government, also spoke out against a seizure of the government by the military.“This country has suffered a lot from coups”, Kemal Kilicdaroglu, the leader of the main secular opposition party, the Republican People’s Party, known by its Turkish initials, C.H.P., said in a statement quoted by The Hurriyet Daily News. “It should be known that the C.H.P. fully depends on the free will of the people as indispensable of our parliamentary democracy”. What will be the political consequences of the failed coup attempt?

Federico Donelli: Regarding the several declarations coming from Turkish political parties, it is quite intuitive that they dissociate themselves from the military coup that aims to delegitimize the elected institution they represent. What is more interesting, though, is what has happened the “day after”, when there has been no further declaration from the first opposition party.

Nicolamaria Coppola, EPOS: Has the coup attempt demonstrated that President Erdogan is stronger than anyone else in Turkey? Will this encourage him to strengthen his power?

Federico Donelli: The first ad natural consequence of the failed coup (fake or real it was)  is that the executive power will be strengthened. In particular, the decision making process that was already restricted to few, will most probably be narrowed. This tendency that has been accelerated by the coup is a peculiar feature of what I call Sultanate Presidentialism and is sustained by what many observers have  defined a 2.0 plebiscite.

Nicolamaria Coppola, EPOS: A successful overthrow of Erdogan, who has ruled Turkey since 2003, would have marked one of the biggest shifts in the Middle East in years, transforming a major U.S. ally while war rages on its border.However, a failed coup attempt could still destabilize a NATO member that lies between the European Union and the chaos of Syria, with Islamic State bombers targeting Turkish cities and the government also at war with Kurdish separatists. What are your thoughts on that?

Federico Donelli: While a successful coup in a NATO member State would indeed have destabilized the area, the outcomes of this failed attempt appear to be a stabilizing factor instead.  A stronger government in Turkey will be useful for western and non western actors and powers in order to tackle several regional challenges: Syrian civil war, Daesh advance, refugee crisis. This attempt gives the opportunity to the government to tighten the controls on its citizens, providing an extra tool against domestic terrorism.


*Federico Donelli tweets at @SirDedalus


DISCLAIMER: The views expressed in this article are the interviewed’s own and do not necessarily reflect EPOS WorldView’s editorial policy

Last modified on Monday, 18 July 2016 07:37
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