Erdogan’s failed policies are the real motivation behind coup

Now, after attempted coup, only thing that is the same is that Erdogan is even more inclined to give himself additional control.

2016/07/24 Issue: 65 Page: 13

The Arab Weekly
Tom Regan

A month ago not many people would have bet there soon would be an attempted military coup in Turkey. Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan seemed solidly in control and on his way to giving himself even more power.

The belief was he had tamed the Turkish military through a series of purges and trumped-up arrests and largely silenced critics in the government, the police, the judiciary and the media with similar tactics.

That, however, was a month ago. Now, after the attempted coup, the only thing that is the same is that Erdogan is even more inclined to give himself additional control.

Yet it is obvious that Erdogan has no one to blame but himself and his autocratic style of governing and his many failed policies for the attempted coup. It is hard to know where to start because his numerous mistakes have had negative effects in a variety of areas.

Take his foreign policy. Erdogan, who it has to be said had a promising start and seemed on the way to creating a new vision of Turkey, once promised that the country would have a foreign policy of “no problems with its neighbours”. Instead, he seems to be at odds with almost everyone in the region.

His mishandling of incidents with Israel and Russia in particu­lar led to devastating losses to the tourism sector, perhaps as much as $15 billion in 2015-16.

Recent attempts to patch relations with those countries show that even Erdogan’s arrogance can only go so far.

His other major foreign policy gaffe is the nightmare situation in Syria. In an effort to dethrone his former ally, Syrian President Bashar Assad, Erdogan looked the other way as thousands of Islamic State (ISIS) supporters from across the globe used Turkey as the main stop on their journey to join the terrorist group in Syria and Iraq.

His gamble failed miserably as ISIS was not so much interested in getting rid of Assad as it was in ruling large areas of his country. By the time Erdogan realised this and acted against it, it was too late. Now ISIS is regularly targeting Turkey for attacks.

Then there is his habit of turning viciously on those who were either once friends, such as cleric Fethullah Gulen, whom Erdogan accuses of being behind the coup, or who did not do what he wanted — after peace over­tures to the Kurds, when they did not support his bid to gain executive powers, Erdogan restarted the conflict. Or his petulant habit of attacking those he believes have insulted him, even in foreign countries.

Taken all together, it is not surprising that members of the military, perhaps expecting more purges or perhaps genuinely worried about the direction of Turkish democracy, decided to act against Erdogan.

And yet, for all his failures, the coup has fallen like a gift from God into Erdogan’s hands.

In a ruthless fashion that justifies his nickname of “the Sultan”, Erdogan and his allies are using the attempted coup as a way to solidify power, silence critics and settle old grudges.

Even in this, he may once again overplay his hand. His threats to reinstate the death penalty and the arrests of many who seem to have little or no connection to the coup threaten to undermine Turkey’s relations with the European Union in particular. It may be the one region that Turkey and its battered economy cannot afford to alienate.

The result? Turkey’s democ­racy, once suggested as a model for other countries in the region, is on the verge of disappearing and existing in name only.

Tom Regan, a columnist at, previously worked for the Christian Science Monitor, National Public Radio, the Boston Globe and the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation. He is the former executive director of the Online News Association and was a Nieman Fellow at Harvard in 1992.

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