2016-07-16

Turkey’s Attempted Coup in Context

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by Neil Godfrey

rahimIn July 2013 I posted a anthropologist’s analysis of today’s conflicting visions of secularism in Turkey:

Can Democracy Survive a Muslim Election Victory?

That was 2013, exactly two years ago to the month. Then, I wrote of Christopher Houston’s view:

There are other “secularists”, however, who fear the democratically elected Muslim party is attempting to “Islamize” the nation by stealth, and these people are increasingly expressing disenchantment with Western-style democracy on the one hand, and a preference for a military coup on the other. Though a minority, they do have close ties with key military figures who are sympathetic to their views.

We saw what happened in Egypt, and before that, in Algeria, when democratically elected Muslims found themselves removed by the military. Both coups appear to have had significant popular support.

Christopher Houston
Christopher Houston

Further, Houston wrote:

Militant laicists are searching for a revolution geared toward a takeover of state power to reimpose their program of militant laicism from above.

Further, much of their rhetoric suggests that they are not immune to the seduction of political violence or terror; and most of all they are not committed to, or even feel threatened by, “democracy” and legal reform, because it appears to dilute their political and economic domination. (Houston, p. 259, my emphasis)

Robert Fisk has written up a less panglossian (if that’s what it is) portrayal of Turkey’s reconciliation of democracy with an Islamist party in power. Al Jazeera has published interviews with a number of Turkish citizens. It’s all too murky at the moment, at least to me, to know what is really happening right now.


Houston, C. (2013). “Militant laicists, Muslim democrats and liberal secularists : contending visions of secularism in Turkey”, in Rahim, L. (Ed.), Muslim Secular Democracy: Voices from Within, Palgrave Macmillan, New York, NY.


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5 Comments

  • Mark
    2016-07-17 02:19:45 GMT+0000 - 02:19 | Permalink

    Thanks, Neil. Scott Atran has a new piece on the Nice attack. http://www.nybooks.com/daily/2016/07/16/nice-attack-isis-durability-of-chaos/

  • Bob de Jong
    2016-07-17 08:23:49 GMT+0000 - 08:23 | Permalink

    What worries me most in these situations (Turkey, Egypt, Algeria a/o)is the popular support for leadership that violates democratic principles (freedom of expression, religion etc.) as soon as they have come to power – thanks to that democratic system. Apparently, for around half the population in those countries, ‘democracy’ is just a means to grab power, and then abuse that power to eliminate any other views.

    • Neil Godfrey
      2016-07-30 01:43:13 GMT+0000 - 01:43 | Permalink

      The antidote to such prejudiced views towards the orientals is to study the serious history and society of their respective regions and to compare with ours. We have been fortunate with certain historical developments permitted by circumstances absent in places like Turkey. The people are no different from you and me. They want the same things. They have the same villains. The political games are played out in different ways for very identifiable reasons that have to do with institutions. Democracy in the West is very often a sham of a quite different sort and it’s not because Westerners have more democracy-friendly natures.

  • Stuart
    2016-07-18 04:21:20 GMT+0000 - 04:21 | Permalink

    The causes of the Turkish coup are far simpler and more straight forward than the conspiracy or Islamic BS thown out. Erdogan has been bit by bit squeezing his enemies out, be they secular, religious, constitutional focused judges and simply journalists and others who refuse to compromise their integrity to ease things for Erdogan and his friends and family.

    In the last hours literally thousands of officers were sacked, including nearly every major unit commander (https://twitter.com/Ald_Aba/status/754780811312922624). Some of these probably did have a connection to the coup, but most did not – it seems only a few thousand troops (most conscripts just doing what they were told and unaware of what they were doing) and just a handful of units revolted. This list of “spring cleaning” was due to occur in a few months. Erdogan was planning to replace judges (he sacked nearly 2800) and Military officers who were for the most part professionals with AKP loyalist, many hacks.

    That the leader of the coup was the brother of an AKP MP tells you the list of who was to go was probably known, and panic set in. But the Military was already in steep decline under Erdogan’s reign, many professional officers sidelined, and the professionalism of the soldiers greatly diminished by shorter service length draftees than the past. It showed up in the coup as some units were defeated by pistol wielding policemen in firefights. The attack on Erdgan’s hotel was carried out by helicopter rockets, basically infantry support weapons and had no chance to succeed. Any idiot knows if you are relying on air strike to take out the leader you need to hit the building with a couple 2,000lb smart bombs. The incompetence from top to bottom and the compromise of a NATO airbase where Nuclear weapons are stored tells you everything you need to know about the stae of the Turkish army. (But I digress)

    Bottom line those officers panicked. They knew they were going to be canned in a few weeks. Sure Erdogan has created a situation were a coup could happen. But the motives of the plotters appear to have nothing to do with religion. That an AKP officer was the leader says this is more like the Nazi officer attempts on Hitler – they just didn’t like the direction things are heading, not the politics of beliefs of the country.

  • Mark Erickson
    2016-07-19 03:15:32 GMT+0000 - 03:15 | Permalink

    Here’s a good analysis of the situation. http://www.theamericanconservative.com/articles/a-very-predictable-coup/

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