After Turkey's Attempted Coup, the Witch Hunt

With three years to go before any further elections and legitimized by the failed coup, Erdogan and the AKP now have free rein to purge their critics and cement an authoritarian regime.

Turkish anti-riot police officers escort Turkish soldiers who allegedly took part in a military coup as they are leaving the courthouse at Bakirkoy district in Istanbul on July 16, 2016.
Ozan Kose

It took just 24 hours for the government to reassert control in the streets of Turkey after an attempted coup failed. Positions taken by the military included Istanbul’s Ataturk Airport, the bridges over the Bosphorus and several media outlets were soon overrun by the police and government supporters. As the dust settles, many in Turkey and abroad are asking what will happen next in Turkey.

There has been much domestic and international concern with the increasing powers and authoritarian nature of President Erdogan’s rule. In addition to his firebrand rhetoric, abrasive style and propensity to charge citizens and journalists for criticising him, his rule has seen attacks against the press, the judiciary and the erosion of checks and balances. This has alarmed many observers of Turkey who see its democratic structure erode. 

Those who hope that the aftermath of the coup, which has left hundreds dead, thousands arrested and untold damage on the country’s infrastructure and psyche, will lead to greater democracy and openness will be bitterly disappointed. If anything, the aftermath of the coup will see greater authoritarianism and attacks against Erdogan’s critics. 

Even before the coup, Turkey had entered an age of unaccountability. In the past two years Turkey has held three different types of elections: local, presidential and a general election. While these were free and fair and, once again gave the AKP and Erdogan political legitimacy, there will not be another election of any kind for the next three years. In other words, in the aftermath of the coup Erdogan and the ruling AKP will have free rein.

Erdogan and the government will use this time to stamp their authority on all aspect of politics and society in a manner which will be swift and severe. Already over 2,700 judges have been removed. Further purges within the judiciary are likely to continue. 

But top of the list will be the military. The coup attempt will no doubt be used as a pretext to purge the ranks of any personnel it considers real or potential enemies. In full view of the public, trials will take place, convictions will be guaranteed. Already thousands have been arrested. Many will face charges of treason. Parliament might even consider reinstating the death penalty. Erdogan has already declared that he intends to ‘clean up’ the military. Meanwhile Erdogan will increase the powers of the more loyal police forces and intelligence services. Their presence will increase in public places, airports, bridges and roads.

Next on the list will be the Gulen movement. Led by Fetullah Gulen, an influential preacher who resides in Pennsylvania in self-imposed exile, his group has been accused by the government of plotting previous coup attempts and infiltrating state institutions. Erdogan was quick to blame a Gulen faction inside the military for this latest coup attempt. No doubt, Gulen institutions will be closed and members arrested. This will include schools, judges and the media. 

Next on the AKP’s witch hunt will be civil servants. Anyone considered critical of the AKP will be fired or sidelined. Meanwhile opposition politicians, despite their condemnation of the attempted coup, will be labelled as coup sympathizers in an attempt to delegitimize them and their criticism of the government. 

The media will also be targeted. Already a source of international concern, more journalists critical of the government will be deemed traitors and media outlets will be coerced to toe a pro-AKP line. Freedom of assembly will be granted to sympathisers of the AKP. Protests against him will be crushed by the police in a similar fashion to the Gezi Park protests which took place in the summer almost exactly three years ago. 

Finally, Erdogan and the AKP will move in full steam to change the country’s constitution and the political structure into a Presidential system. The current constitution, itself a relic of the 1980 coup, will be delegitimized. In replacing it, more powers will be given to President Erdogan with the erosion of the power of the judiciary and an overall erosion of checks and balances. 

The coup attempt was highly undemocratic. In any real democracy the military should be firmly confined to the barracks and not interfere in the political process. The irony is that after this failed coup attempt, Turkey is yet again another step further from being a true democracy and will see a witch hunt against opponents of Erdogan and the AKP. The future is bleak for Turkey. 

Simon A. Waldman is the author (with Emre Caliskan) of the forthcoming "The New Turkey and its Discontents" (Hurst 2016). Follow him on Twitter: @simonwaldman1