Saturday, July 16, 2016

A Coup in Turkey

As I am writing, it looks like the coup attempt in Turkey is failing. I consider this good news; I do not like Erdogan's authoritarian ways or his cult of himself, but he won the election, which makes him much more of a democrat than any military rebel could be.

It puts me in mind to wonder about the mysteries of power. So much is about expectations; if the coup in Turkey fails, it will be because people in Turkey refuse to let it succeed. But which people? This seems to me a hard question, because in these situations some people matter much more than others: army officers, police captains, bureaucrats, newscasters, legislators, people willing to take to the streets in the capital. Yet I think to some extent everyone matters, and we have seen cases in which the actions of ordinary soldiers have been crucial, like those who defended the Russian parliament against the last-ditch coup of the fading Soviets. If enough people have the courage in these early chaotic days to stand up against the plotters, they can be defeated before they get the levers of power in their hands.

People in Turkey like to talk about the "deep state," a mysterious alliance of army officers, spies, rich businessmen, and politicians that rules the country from behind the scenes. If this coup had succeeded, I think many would have blamed these shadowy powers. Its failure means either that these powers do not really exist, or more likely that they are as divided as everyone else in Turkey.

Because Turkey is divided. Over the role of Islam in politics, over the place of Kurds in the state, over the response to civil wars in Syria and Iraq, over terrorism, over refugees, over how close to get to Europe, over Erdogan himself. The coup attempt shows the seriousness of these divisions. In Erdogan's defense, these are hard problems, and no government in the region is really succeeding any better at handling them. But I think his own ambitions and his paranoia are making them worse, and I doubt they will get any better as long as he remains in power. But better him than some conspiracy of random colonels, and better an elected troublemaker than the endless trouble of a military that takes power whenever it feels threatened and gives it up when it gets bored. That has been Turkey's past, but it looks now like it will not be their future.

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