Coups work only for autocracies, not democracies

The ongoing purge in Turkey needs to mobilise public opinion against the rogue army faction that attempted the coup.

A man waves Turkey''s national flag as he with supporters of various political parties gathers in Istanbul''s Taksim Square
The purge procedures should be cautiously carried out to maintain the historic national unity that was manifested during the anti-coup public resistance, writes Al-Burai [Reuters]

The government is in control,” Turkey’s President Recep Tayyip Erdogan told a crowd of people gathered upon his call in Istanbul’s Ataturk International Airport in the early hours of Saturday, July 16.

He added “We are not going to compromise … we will continue to cleanse the virus from all state institutions.”

Without hesitation, in the following days, the Turkish government vehemently embarked on an unprecedented massive crackdown to purge the military of mutineers.

Erdogan pledged a conclusive army overhaul. However, the operation toll surpassed 50,000 civil servants, including judges, prosecutors, academics, deans, and journalists.

Some were suspended, others were asked to resign, while the rest were immediately taken into custody.

Moreover, eight top-level officials in the Turkish parliament have been suspended, while two others were rotated.

All are believed to have direct links to the self-exiled cleric in the United States, Fethullah Gulen, who is blamed for orchestrating the foiled coup on July 15.

Maintaining the historic national unity

Indisputably, in the aftermath of such a brutal coup that has claimed the lives of more than 265 innocent people, destabilised a democratic sovereign state, unprecedentedly attacked its parliament and presidential compound, and provoked horror among its citizens, precise deterrent measures have to be decisively taken.

The purge procedures should be cautiously carried out, primarily to maintain the historic national unity that was uprightly manifested during the anti-coup public resistance.

Turkey is not a banana republic, and as far as it holds on to its promising democracy, Fisk and people like him need not worry.


It also needs to mobilise public opinion solely against that rogue faction of the army that instigated the coup endeavour. Otherwise, an excessive operation may backfire and the purge may lead to social unrest against the government.

Robert Fisk, the Middle East correspondent of The Independent, wrote an article titled “Turkey’s coup may have failed – but history shows it won’t be long before another one succeeds”.

OPINION: The West fails the ‘coup test’ in Turkey

Although his deductive reasoning seems to be no more than misgivings about Turkey’s “man who would recreate the Ottoman Empire”, Fisk completely lost his objectivity when he designated Erdogan as one of the “potentates and dictators” who changed the constitution for his own benefit and restarted his wicked conflict with the Kurds” and went on “denying the 1915 Armenian genocide” – one needs to wonder whether this has anything to do with the military coup.

Nonetheless, this shall not preclude one from pondering how realistically Fisk is foreseeing the future.

Double standards

Internationally, the ongoing crackdown has fuelled growing criticism. Amnesty International called upon the Turkish government to show restraint and respect to human rights, as the sheer figures of detentions and suspensions are alarming.

Turkey was also warned by European leaders that it could face international isolation and even a probable suspension of its membership of NATO if Erdogan overplays his hand after the botched coup.

President Tayyip Erdogan reviews a guard of honour as he arrives at the Turkish parliament in Ankara [Reuters]
President Tayyip Erdogan reviews a guard of honour as he arrives at the Turkish parliament in Ankara [Reuters]

On the other hand, Turkey expectedly declared a state of emergency for three months, ignoring the European Union’s warnings, resulting in mounting bashful criticisms against it.

But people forget that it was France which also declared a state of emergency for six months in the aftermath of the November 13 attacks in Paris.

Yet Austrian Foreign Minister Sebastian Kurz was acutely critical of Turkey’s imposing the state of emergency, claiming that it would lead to strengthening authoritarianism.

Division over the death penalty

The straw that will break the camel’s back is Turkey’s mulling over reinstating the death penaltywhich might jeopardise Turkey’s EU accession efforts.

Constitutionally the step necessitates the approval of 367 politicians in the Turkish parliament. Legislators must also approve the enforcement of capital punishment verdicts retroactively.

Article 15 of the Turkish constitution stipulates that even under the conditions of war, martial law or state of emergency, crimes and punishments cannot be imposed retrospectively. Thus, the perpetrators of the purported coup attempt would be legally exempt.

That wouldn’t extinguish the rage of the families of martyrs. Also, it wouldn’t satisfy Erdogan, who is unequivocally determined to severely punish the putschists.

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Even with the promised support of the 40 MPs of the Nationalist Movement Party (MHP), along with the votes of the 317 MPs of the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP), they won’t be able to secure constitution amendment simply because both the main opposition Republican People’s Party and the pro-Kurdish People’s Democratic Party (HDP) proclaimed their reluctance to introduce capital punishment.

The available democratic tool is to call for a national referendum, and that requires the approval of 330 MPs – a figure that seems conceivably feasible.


Should the referendum fail, another snap election would be inevitably the last democratic resort to guarantee the threshold necessary for a constitutional change.

Latest developments in the aftermath of the coup attempt, the expected colossal retreat in the popularity of the HDP, the rift among the leaders of MHP, and the public momentum that is impatiently eager to punish traitors, would possibly secure a landslide victory for the AKP in any coming election.

Turkey is not a banana republic, and as far as it holds on to its promising democracy, Fisk and people like him need not to worry. They are rather advised to change the set of history books they have recently read.

Ahmed al-Burai is a lecturer at Istanbul Aydin University. He worked with BBC World Service Trust and the LA Times in Gaza. He is currently based in Istanbul and is mainly interested in Middle East issues.

The views expressed in this article are the authors’ own and do not necessarily reflect Al Jazeera’s editorial policy.