Newspaper article International New York Times

Democracy in Turkey?

Newspaper article International New York Times

Democracy in Turkey?

Article excerpt

Erdogan has a choice between embracing the opposition or becoming even more authoritarian.

I have lately been a frequent critic of President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and his increasingly authoritarian government. But a military regime, like the kind a group of coup-plotters tried to bring about on Friday night, would have been not only illegitimate but also far more repressive and bloody. The people of Turkey, including many of Mr. Erdogan's political opponents, rightly rejected that.

So has democracy carried the day in Turkey? It's still too early to tell.

There are many lessons to be taken from this astonishing episode. First of all, this is not the old Turkey anymore, where tanks could take the streets and the military could scare people into bowing down, as it did in 1960, 1971, 1980 and again in 1997, when its leaders decided that elected governments were not in line with the country's founding vision. No, this time people took to the streets and confronted the rebellious soldiers. Perhaps more decisive was the fact that a majority of the military, the police and other state institutions didn't go along with the plot.

There was another striking aspect of the long night: It disproved some of Mr. Erdogan's paranoid narratives. For years the president, an Islamist, has accused secular forces of plotting to undermine or overthrow him. But when the tanks rolled out, the opposition parties, business associations and mainstream news media all took a clear stance against the attempted takeover.

In fact, it was CNNTurk, a television channel that belongs to the media group that Mr. Erdogan's supporters attacked two years ago for "insulting the president," that played a major role in helping him. In the heat of the moment, Mr. Erdogan, speaking from an undisclosed location, appeared on CNNTurk screens via his iPhone's FaceTime app. He called on the people to resist and this, many believe, was a decisive moment in averting the coup.

All of this shows that Turkish society has internalized electoral democracy, and Turkey's secularists, despite their objections to the Erdogan government's Islamism, seek solutions in democratic politics. (Egypt's secularists, unfortunately, didn't learn this. They cheered on a military coup three years ago that resulted in a far more violently repressive government.)

At the same time, Friday's coup attempt makes clear that Mr. Erdogan's longstanding worries about a "parallel state" have not been unfounded after all. Yes, most of the conspiracy theories Mr. Erdogan and his supporters have peddled recently -- about Western or Zionist plots -- are more fiction than fact. But as the famous quote says, "Just because you're paranoid doesn't mean they aren't after you."

The attempted coup will also force Turkey to reckon with the Gulenist movement, a secretive Islamist group that the government immediately pointed to as responsible for the insurrection on Friday night. …

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