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Turkey, and the Real Coup Is?

18/07/2016 13:26 | Updated 18 July 2016

An attempted overthrow of a democratically elected government on the border of Europe. Military tanks on the streets blocking access to main arteries, international airports brought to a standstill and the sonic sound of jets flying low over a city of seventeen million, Istanbul. The seizure of state TV by soldiers and then Turkey's president broadcasting via Facetime on the more popular private channels in which he tells his supporters to take the streets and reverse the 'coup' as it was happening.

Reads like a Hollywood block buster doesn't it? It certainly captured the imagination of the global community and spread real fears in Turkey that the country was slipping back to a period of military intervention in politics.

While the dust settles in Turkey over what has been an extraordinary weekend, many people are now asking what kind of coup was this? Was it staged? Was it real? Who were these rogue elements of the military who took their own chief-of-staff hostage? A friend and broadcaster based in Istanbul described on the phone to me as it was in full flow: 'It's too real to be staged, but yet too surreal to be real.'

The government blame Fetullah Gulen, an exiled cleric living in the US. He stands accused of plotting the whole thing to overthrow President Erdogan and bring an end to his autocratic rule. Gulen a victim of a military coup himself has condemned the action and says he feels insulted by the government's accusations. Gulen and Erdogan were once allies and worked together to curb the military's influence in Turkey, long seen as the protectors of the secular state, but in the new Turkey any opposition to Erdogna is unwelcome even if it is Islamic, and the once allies are now enemies.

Gulen's influence is far reaching as an Islamic scholar who is pro-business and pro-Israeli. Yet, his influence is no longer needed by Erdogan or no longer wanted if truth be known. Erdogan is seeking to consolidate his power over the Turkish state which means cleansing it from any alternative power, enter the Gulenist movement.

So what did happen? Well, it's hard to know exactly. There are reports by ordinary citizens saying that soldiers thought they were taking part in a military exercise. Within twelve hours of the 'coup' having been quashed by the government and its people, thousands of judges were suspended from their jobs. I put it to you that this is the real coup in Turkey as Erdogan seeks the ultimate control, a presidential system, not unlike his neighbour Putin of Russia.

Erdogan already has a tight grip on most of the media, as seen by how he was quick to manage the unfolding situation via Facetime in collaboration with private broadcaster CNN, an outlet that was once in opposition to the president but can no longer afford to be financially speaking. The Dogan Group has come under heavy tax penalties under Erdogan's rule, which one might describe as crippling.

Images of soldiers being beaten with belts and having their throats slit by pro-government thugs are terrible for any democratic country and culture to experience. There are real fears now that there will be a cleansing via a lynching campaign. Residents in Istanbul who lived through the past coup and watched their friends be carted off by the police for their opposing views were removing their names from the doorbells on apartment blocks within hours of the 'coup' coming to an end. Sixty year old men wept at what was going on, the fear and trauma is real.

So Erdogan has emerged victorious like a Phoenix rising from the flames. He now has complete legitimacy to continue his cleansing of all democratic institutions including the judiciary of any opposition he may face as he shapes Turkey in his image, a more Islamic pious one where women should stay home and make babies. He will go on chipping away at the secular culture that has been part of Turkey's cultural fabric since the republic was founded in 1923.

All parties rallied around their president yesterday in a united front with an extraordinary parliamentary session in which the chief-of-staff attended and was applauded. But what else could they do? There is a culture of oppressing any opposition, and lynching too as we have seen over the weekend.

Who wins in all of this? The president. He will now have an even stronger mandate as the saviour of Turkish democracy to push on with his agenda transforming Turkey from a parliamentary democracy to a presidential one, securing his grip on power as the commander in chief. He may play the Putin game, one where he flutters back and to between the prime ministry and the presidency allowing him to remain in power for the foreseeable future.

What does this mean for Turkish democracy? Well look north across the Black Sea to get an idea. A public referendum on the presidential system looks more an more likely than it ever has with the country and all political parties rallying behind him. I feel for those removing their names from the doorbells on their apartment blocks and the delivery drivers who will have a tough time just doing their job.

The military coup, if we can call it that was an elaborate and dramatic development that benefits one man and his supporters. When will he learn to include the other fifty percent of the country, the one that supported his rise to power because they viewed him as the best of a bad bunch believing his promises of peace and security. It is sad to watch Turkey's secular democratic culture being repeatedly punctured the way it is and I fear that this voice which was once such a vibrant part of the country is being stifled to the point of no return.

What we do know, 265 people died, 161 of them are soldiers. 1440 people were wounded and 2745 judges have been dismissed. Pro-government supporters celebrate on the streets while the opposition stand still paralysed by fear. Turkey is a country divided that can be brought together by one man, but whether he chooses the path to unity or divide and conquer remains the questions swirling around most people's intellects and hearts. If the events of this last weekend are anything to go by, we know the answer, I most certainly hope we do not.

The Movement by Jody Sabral is an award winning political thriller about the struggle for the Turkish democratic movement.

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