After Failed Coup, Erdoğan Will Further Polarize Turkey

After surviving a military putsch, Turkey’s president is doing the opposite of what his country needs.

Presidents Recep Tayyip Erdoğan of Turkey and Enrique Peña Nieto of Mexico greet an honor guard in Mexico City, February 12, 2015
Presidents Recep Tayyip Erdoğan of Turkey and Enrique Peña Nieto of Mexico greet an honor guard in Mexico City, February 12, 2015 (Presidencia de la República Mexicana)

If anyone still thought President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan might interpret this weekend’s attempted coup as a warning to govern more inclusively, the arrests of thousands of alleged plotters in the judiciary and military should put such hopes to rest.

By detaining so many previously-identified opponents of his government, Erdoğan is clearly using the failed putsch to purge the vestiges of Turkey’s secularist establishment.

The result is likely to be an Islamist party in full control of NATO’s southeastern flank and a president in full control of his party and the state — despite lacking the constitutional authority for either.

What Turkey needs

The Brookings Institution’s Kemal Kirişci argues in The National Interest that Erdoğan must now rise above his majoritarian understanding of democracy and do justice to the aspirations of a public that stopped the coup before it could succeed.

Many of the Turks who took to the streets in the early hours of Saturday to defy the soldiers were not Erdoğan supporters.

All three opposition parties denounced the attempted military takeover, as did nongovernmental and media organizations that have criticized Erdoğan for his increasingly autocratic tendencies.

Turkey’s neighborhood could use a respite from the turmoil resulting from the war in Syria, writes Kirişci; from the instability in Iraq, Russia’s territorial ambitions and an inward-looking Europe.

This is the moment when a stable, democratic, transparent, accountable and prosperous Turkey needs to come to the fore on the world stage.

He’s right. But that’s not what’s happening.


Erdoğan’s understanding of democracy is majoritarian, as I have argued here.

To him, democracy means little more holding and winning elections. When he doesn’t win an election, like his Justice and Development Party (AKP) did last year, he will arouse voters’ desire for a strongman, call a second election — and win.

He has bullied the nominally independent central bank into adjusting its policy, locked up critical journalists, purged political opponents from the media and the judiciary and far exceeded the constitutional limitations on his office. And that was before Friday’s coup attempt.

Erdoğan’s uncompromising attitude has alienated early and longtime supporters, including the two co-founders of the AKP, Bülent Arınç and Abdullah Gül, his former prime minister, Ahmet Davutoğlu, and the preacher Fethullah Gülen, whom Erdoğan now accuses of orchestrating the putsch.

The military won’t put an end to Erdoğan anymore. But someone will. A country cannot forever tolerate this level of deliberate polarization from its leader.

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