For a brief few hours Friday night, it looked like Turkish president Recep Tayyip Erdogan was on his way out, after potions of the country’s military attempted a coup in order to overthrow a strongman they claimed had eroded the country’s secular, democratic order.
But as the story continues to develop, it looks like the quasi-dictator is here to stay, and that things are only going to get worse for Turkey and the Middle East.
Erdogan’s tenure in control of the country began in 2003, when he became prime minister and continues ever since he assumed the office of the president in 2014. During this time, he has gained a reputation as a strongman politician who is cozy with the Muslim Brotherhood, and bent on Islamizing Turkey. Additionally, he’s been roundly criticized for his compliance in the rise of ISIS, stemming from a willful blindness to the insurgent threat. In fact, it’s almost impossible to imagine a rise of ISIS without a poorly-managed Turkish border allowing both the influx of foreign fighters to enter the so-called caliphate, while allowing smuggled oil and antiquities to come out.
The reports Friday night evoked memories of the 2013 Egyptian Revolution, in which the Egyptian military overthrew Morsi’s Muslim Brotherhood-run government in favor or a more secular regime now headed by Abdel Fattah el-Sisi. And while the Sisi’s government is far from perfect, it hasn’t aligned itself with radical jihadists like the “blind sheikh” as its predecessor did. But while Friday night’s attempted coup eventually failed, history repeated itself in another way: President Obama once again sided with a regime friendly to the Muslim Brotherhood rather than a more secularized government .
A statement from the U.S. Department of State issued amidst the confusion stated that Obama and Secretary of State John Kerry, “agreed that all parties in Turkey should support the democratically-elected Government of Turkey.” If by “democratically elected,” you mean “elected amidst criticism from international observers due to election intimidation,” then sure.
Once again, the Obama administration toes the Muslim Brotherhood-approved line while squandering the chance of securing a more valuable ally in the fight against the region’s jihadist infestation. Simply put, a secular regime would arguably be more open to working alongside regimes like Israel and Egypt, forming a more powerful regional alliance against both Sunni and Shia Islamist powers.
The forces staging the coup Friday night were ostensibly secular, at least in their initial messaging, but were put down in a matter of hours. Now Erdogan is blaming a former political ally turned political exile living in Pennsylvania named Fetullah Gulen for the attempt.
Little is really known about Gulen, a mysterious Islamic cleric who lives in “self-imposed exile” and is now involved in the American charter school scene following a political fallout with Erdogan in Turkey.
What we do know is that Gulen may have ties with Hillary Clinton, according to a report at the Daily Caller, and that he has allegedly been using his home base in the Poconos to build his influence against the Erdogan government for years. Essentially, Gulen and Erdogan were once peas in a thuggish pod before things went south and the latter turned on the former. However, Gulen’s influence is primarily over the Turkish police and judiciary, rather than the military. This would leave open the possibility that secular Kemalists within the army, who believe in a separation of Sharia and secular government staged the uprising.
If this coup attempt was the works of Guenists, then it pans out to a power struggle between two old-school thugs. If it was the work of Kemalists, then attempts at re-secularizing Turkey have probably seen their last gasp for a long time. Either way, the fact that the coup failed due to a lack of support of a majority of the military shows how effective Erdogan has proven in purging potential threats to his power from the Turkish government.
But beyond the current accusations and speculations about the origins of the failed coup (both Erdogan and Gulen claim the other staged it), one fact remains: Erdogan is back with a vengeance, and Friday night’s events will only serve to give him the political cover necessary to push his authoritarian, Islamist agenda both domestically and throughout the region.
So now the current regime will hang around, the military will be “cleansed,” and the perpetrators will pay a heavy price,” as the President Erdogansaid after the attempt fizzled out. The Middle East will still have to deal with a de-secularizing regional power and NATO will still be saddled with a strategically-positioned ally that appears bent on becoming a Sunni version of Iran in the long-run. The orchestrators of the uprising—whoever they were--aren’t going to be the only ones who will suffer as a result of this failure.
The whole region will.