Henry Kissinger once said…

A little uncertainty is good for everyone!

When during a night road trip I first heard the news regarding the attempted coup in Turkey I thought that either somebody was pulling my leg, or that someone was misreading an article’s title discussing the coup that the Athenian junta had staged in Cyprus in July 1974. Needless to say, it was not long before I found out that the so unexpected story about the Turkish coup resonated reality. Now that it is clear who is in control in Turkey a bunch of “specialists” has hastened to offer explanations of the recent events. Among them are my “favourites”, those who claim that everything was orchestrated from the beginning by Erdogan himself. Neither am I omni-present, nor am I aware of any mortal who enjoys this charisma. Consequently, I am not in position to present undisputed evidence in support of any theory. Does this mean that it is impossible to comprehend what had happened? Alas, no. All I am saying is that in order to reach sound conclusions we need something more than intuition. That being said, a very old and effective method of understanding is through comparing. Hence, so as to see what went wrong for Turkey’s coup masterminds, it would be useful to measure their attempt with something similar, albeit successful. Such a case is that of the coup that caused Morsi’s downfall in 2013. That is not only because this attempt achieved its goal, but also because, from a technology evolution perspective, it took place under very similar conditions.

Many rightly point out that those who staged the coup failed to undermine communication services in a national level. No doubt, the ability to access phones and internet offered Erdogan an exodus from what initially seemed as an impasse. Yet, the control over communication networks is not today as vital as it was, say, for those who toppled Iran’s Mosaddegh and Egypt’s Farouk during the 1950s. In 2013 Egypt the army, although it took over national television headquarters, did not shut down internet and telephone services. On the contrary, the coup unfolded almost live on TV and Facebook timelines. In the view of this, it is difficult for one to claim that this particular mistake was the fatal one.

Another good remark pertains to Erdogan’s plea via facetime. The fact that the very individual that the coup was targeting was not neutralised or isolated was indeed a great mishap. The political weight that an embattled leader enjoying free movement carries can be truly immense. To corroborate this claim I will remind that after Napoleon’s escape from the isle of Elba it was merely his presence that guaranteed the following: the surrender of the regiment that had undertaken the task to arrest him, the fleeing of Louis XVIII, the bloodless takeover of Paris and the gathering of the troops for the final showdown with the allies at Waterloo. In 2013 the Egyptian president was arrested almost immediately. Yet, not only a significant number of Muslim Brotherhood leaders remained at large, but also Morsi’s Twitter account was active for a limited period of time after his detainment. This is how his last speech, which he had been filmed in advance, went out in public. In the face of the above it becomes clear that solely the ability of a leader in the brink of violent overthrow to address the public does not suffice to tip the scales of his / her future either towards political survival, or demise. What does really matter after all is the political weight of the leader in concern. Erdogan is hardly Napoleon. Yet, by holding the grip of power in Turkey for more than a decade, he had managed to accumulate considerable political capital. Hence, he clearly outweighs Morsi who was president only for a year and before assuming office was largely unknown.

The area where also others focus on relates to the power of the people and its alleged resistance to any efforts aiming to usurp its sovereignty. Sadly, this particular narrative, no matter how convenient it is for Erdogan and his associates, hardly reflects the facts on the ground. The images of angry Istanbul residents defying the curfew and armoured vehicles alike, although they speak volumes for the braveness of the concerned individuals, they clearly do not refer to massive popular mobilisation that a city of more than 10 million souls can produce. The Muslim Brotherhood in 2013, which had seen what was coming, organised sit-ins and rallies with dozens of thousands of participants. Needless to say these initiatives did not unite, but instead divided and polarised the Egyptian society. It should not be forgotten that what triggered the 2013 coup was a series of strong anti-government protests. What should also be remembered is that when it became clear that Morsi’s supporters did not plan to stop protesting their leader’s removal, the interim government chose to use extensive lethal violence against them. This reaction not only underscored the cynic truth that determined armed soldiers possess more power than unarmed citizens, but also showed which path Turkey would most probably have taken had the coup been successful.

Some claim that the coup’s failure is an outcome of the shortage of sufficient support from abroad. This argument is rather thin for two reasons. First, the initial reactions expressing concerns for the situation and calling for the stability of the Turkish state implied that the international community might tolerate a status quo change in Ankara. Second, the government that succeeded Morsi in Egypt managed to survive although the White House did not endorse it and Obama froze the aid that Washington dispatches annually to Cairo.

The crucial difference in the tale of the two coups is showing when one looks at how and by whom the mutineers were arrested. The soldiers who came out of their barracks with their weaponry to topple Erdogan surrendered mostly to armed policemen. Erdogan’s long stay in power has resulted in him acquiring sufficient control over Turkey’s armed forces and security apparatus. In this regard, when he made his public address, the forces which were loyal to him gained momentum and thus quickly reversed the situation. Conversely, the mobilised soldiers, who, unlike their Egyptian counterparts in 2013, could not rely on the unity of the armed forces under the leadership of a well-known figurehead like general Al-Sisi, were quickly demoralised. Under these terms, Erdogan’s reinstatement was accomplished within just a few hours.

There is no doubt that many in the western world, who do not endorse Erdogan’s foreign policy and oppose the methods he applies against his domestic foes, have little reason to cheer with the path that things have taken. Almost certainly, as the expert on Turkish affairs Simon Waldman stresses, a witch-hunt in Turkey is already under way. However, as far as the interests of the average Turk are concerned and contrary to Kissinger’s “wisdom”, it is really fortunate that the coup failed. Had this not been the case, Turkey would most probably descend into a quagmire of internal unrest worse than the one Egypt entered in July 2013. This would happen because a sufficient number of Erdogan’s supporters would have good reason to radicalise and these people’s access to guns and explosives could be eased by cadres of the security apparatus opposing the removal of the Islamist president.

PS Due to the rivalry between Al-Sisi and Erdogan there was a funny collateral effect of the attempted coup in Turkey. The United Nations Security Council failed to produce a resolution condemning the events in Turkey because of an Egyptian veto. Moreover, it is worth mentioning that the leading Egyptian daily Al-Ahram on its issue on July 16 describes events in Turkey not as they occurred, but as its editor in chief would desire to have occurred. To be precise, it announces Erdogan’s removal by the military!

061 EnSee you soon

Henry Kissinger

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