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Category 2

The Differences and Similarities of the July 15, 2016 Coup Attempt in Turkey and World History (occupation, terror, risk of civil war, etc.)

To Be Or Not To Be: The July 15 Coup Attempt In Turkey

Abdurrahman GÜMÜŞ

Key words: July 15, coup attempt, counter-intervention, Egypt, civil-military relations

After only three years from the July 2013 military intervention in Egypt, Turkey encountered a coup attempt on July 15, 2016. While President Mohammed Morsi, who was the first democratically elected president of Egypt, was overthrown in a successful coup accomplished as a result of a bloody process in Egypt, coup plotters in Turkey were stopped by the heroic initiatives of civilians together with patriotic soldiers and security forces. In both countries, a tradition of coups can be seen as a historical reality. The military intervention in Egypt can be regarded as the last link of the chain in this tradition. However, the Turkish people did not let the putschists win and shattered the latent rule that “the aftermath of military intervention is military intervention.”1 In other words, Turkey experienced a civilian counter-intervention and it has already taken its place as a historic moment not only for Turkish politics, but also for all countries that face coup attempts. Although the military had a traditional role in the political affairs in both countries, these last coup attempts ended in opposite points. In this article, we will analyze the underlying reasons for this path divergence in spite of the similarities in the countries’ civil-military relations and explain why July 15 can be considered a unique case in Turkish and world history.

First, the question of whether a coup attempt was implemented within the chain of command is of crucial importance for the consequences of military interventions. In Egypt, the military acted strategically by controlling the Egyptian political context as well as the roles of internal and external actors. When the military, under the leadership of General Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi, decided to get involved in the political affairs through a “48-hour ultimatum”, they realized the “opportunity to intervene”2 as a result of a combination of factors such as deep polarization within society, security problems and the wait-and-see policy of the U.S. and other external powers. The Egyptian military moved in the hierarchical order in collaboration with other security forces. The July 15 coup attempt in Turkey, however, was an operation by a particular group of soldiers with allegiance to the Gülenist Terror Group (FETÖ). Put differently, they were traitors in military uniforms rather than real soldiers. Some commanders in top positions in the hierarchical order of the military announced on some TV stations that the coup attempt was not an operation within the chain of command of the military. A large number of patriotic soldiers and other security forces were fighting against the coup plotters. Their role was crucial in the suppression of the coup attempt in a short period of time. Consequently, unlike Egypt, the coup attempt in Turkey was not an operation by the military in institutional unity and within the hierarchical order, which was an important reason for its failure.

Second, the role of leaders during the moments of crises comes to the forefront, and President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s charismatic leadership during the July 15 coup attempt emerged as one of the best examples of it in Turkey’s political history. Since Erdoğan was identified with the will of the nation in the international arena and he had the support of large segments of society, he was personally the main target of the coup attempt. His calm, self-confident and courageous attitude encouraged the people and they did not hesitate when he called them to flock to the streets and strategic points. Actually, it was a sign of strong relationship between him and the people as a result of his political career and unconditional trust the people have in him. He ruled the country as the prime minister for many years and was then elected president in 2014. There was no power vacuum or political instability during the coup attempt, and as such, the coup plotters could not reach their goals. In Egypt, it was the first anniversary of Morsi’s presidency when the military intervention happened. Therefore, he never had enough time or a chance to put his program into practice and to consolidate his power by showing leadership. Although he became the symbol for the people who gathered in Rabaa Square, he couldn’t play a decisive role to prevent the military intervention. As a result, the role of leadership was a significant factor in the path of divergence in the two countries’ experiences.

Third, the role of civilians is as important as the military side in all military interventions. The Egyptian military used the deep polarization in the Egyptian society and large protests as a source of legitimacy. Furthermore, scholars point out the importance of civilian allies for military interventions.3 While Sissi announced the overthrow of Morsi, Mohamed El Baradei, the patriarch of Coptic Church, the sheikh of Al-Azhar Mosque and the leader of a youth movement were together with him and proved this factor in the Egyptian context. In Turkey, however, civilians poured into the streets to stop the coup plotters even before Erdoğan’s call to do so, and they made a counter-intervention against them. Additionally, the leaders of opposition parties declared their support for the elected government and the president. In other words, civilians challenged the coup attempt in unity, and this national unity and solidarity was strengthened and demonstrated at the Yenikapı Meeting by millions of people.

Last but not least, some actors or institutions might play critical roles that affect the direction of a military intervention. The media comes into prominence with its special mission and responsibility to present the news with a particular point of view. Whereas there were some TV stations celebrating the military intervention in Egypt, almost all the media opposed the coup attempt in Turkey and took side with the elected government. Apart from that, the Presidency of Religious Affairs and its personnel took initiative and increased the motivation of people against the coup plotters on July 15 in Turkey. Critical moments show the people’s character. Thusly, civilians and institutions in Turkey passed this test during the coup attempt.

In conclusion, the outcome of a coup attempt depends on a combination of different factors both military and civilian. The hierarchical order of the military and security forces, political leadership, the attitude of civilians and the role of the media and other institutions can be considered the most prominent of these. While the Egyptian military benefited from these factors, the Turkish people were able to abort the coup attempt with the help of better conditions in each of them despite similar policies from the external actors. We should keep in mind that the exact goals and plans of the coup plotters were not realized due to the failure of the July 15 coup attempt. As we can understand from the testimonies acquired in different ways after the coup attempt, Turkey was freed from a possible civil war, occupation or being a center of terrorism by overcoming the coup attempt. It was a battle to keep its independence, homeland and democracy. The Turkish people won the “second War of Independence” and raised the flag of democracy that had fallen in Egypt three years ago. We are thankful to those who were martyred and wounded.

Bibliography

Finer, S. E., The Man on Horseback: The Role of the Military in Politics. Boulder, Colorado: Westview Press, 1988.

Hunter, Wendy, Eroding Military Influence in Brazil: Politicians against Soldiers. Chapel Hill and London: The University of North Carolina Press, 1997.

Nordlinger, Eric A., Soldiers in Politics: Military Coups and Governments. New Jersey: Prentice-Hall, Inc, Englewood Cliffs, 1977.

Pion-Berlin, David, Through Corridors of Power: Institutions and Civil-Military Relations in Argentina. Pennsylvania: The Pennsylvania State University Press, 1997.

Footnotes:
1. Nordlinger, Soldiers in Politics: Military Coups and Governments (New Jersey: Prentice-Hall, Inc, Englewood Cliffs, 1977), 207.
2. Finer, The Man on Horseback: The Role of the Military in Politics (Boulder, Colorado: Westview Press, 1988), 20-76.
3. Hunter, Eroding Military Influence in Brazil: Politicians against Soldiers, Chapel Hill and London: The University of North Carolina Press, 1997, 21.
Pion-Berlin, Through Corridors of Power: Institutions and Civil-Military Relations in Argentina, Pennsylvania: The Pennsylvania State University Press, 1997, 16.

Category 2

The Differences and Similarities of the July 15, 2016 Coup Attempt in Turkey and World History (occupation, terror, risk of civil war, etc.)

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