Last weekend, President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan of Turkey experienced an attempted coup led by members of the military. According to a BBC report, Turkish troops began the coup by blocking off the Bosporus Bridge Friday night, while Prime Minister Binali Yildirim officially announced that a faction of the military was attempting to overthrow the government. As participants in the coup attempted to commence the writing of a new constitution and enforce a curfew and martial law, President Erdogan urged his supporters to protest. By the time Erdogan and his supporters had stifled the coup, over 290 people had been killed and more than 1400 wounded, according to BBC.
There has been a great deal of speculation regarding who was ultimately responsible for the coup. Erdogan believes Fethullah Gulen, a cleric residing in the United States, plotted the coup, while others have blamed the military alone, or even the Turkish government itself. Regardless of who is responsible, there is no question that the failed overthrow has left President Erdogan even more powerful than he was before.
As is the case after many coups, Turkey has found itself in a heightened state of emotion and fear. Erdogan’s supporters, who responded to his call on the night of the coup, have become more vocal and more visible. Therefore, this failed government overthrow has evolved into a door of opportunity for Erdogan, who can use this event to further his political popularity and influence Turkish laws. Such an outcome is not unheard of; many political leaders who triumph against opposition see jumps in their approval ratings. To mention one example, Ronald Reagan saw an eight point jump in his approval rating after an attempted assassination on his life, according Gallup polls at the time.
Consequentially, Turkey has become the perfect recipe for reactive policy spearheaded by Erdogan. He has already begun a purge of the state’s military. So far, over 6,000 people have been arrested for involvement with the coup, many of them members of the military, reported BBC. According to Erdogan, the country will “continue to cleanse the virus from all state institutions, because this virus has spread. Unfortunately, like a cancer, this virus has enveloped the state.”
Erdogan’s growing political strength can also be accredited to prejudices that preexisted the coup. The military has long been known for upholding secular traditions in Turkey, so Erdogan has used this event to address his Islamist Justice and Development Party, telling followers that “we bow only to God,” according to this New York Times report. Islamists have already taken to the streets, while other gatherings, such as those of gay and lesbian organizations and labor unions, have routinely been dismissed by the Turkish government in the past. On another unnerving note, many of the Islamists’ chants endorse Erdogan specifically, not Turkish democracy.
The only question now is how Erdogan will wield his newfound power. It is possible that he will use this opportunity to unite Turkey, but he may also take advantage of a rare chance to root out his opponents and reshape Turkish policy. Already talks have begun about reinstating the death penalty, a practice Turkey abolished in order to join the European Union. The current state of fear in the country makes this possibility more likely.
Regardless, it would be foolish to believe that Turkish politics will resume where they left off. According to the New York Times report, as Erdogan said himself at a funeral for one of those killed in the conflict, “This is not a 12-hour affair.” Other nations should be cautious of Turkey’s future, because if nothing else is certain, it will be reactive and volatile, as is often the case with nations experiencing such an emotional fever. An emotional public opinion is all too easy to take advantage of.
Erdogan could turn this emotion toward unity and strength, or he could treat the conflict as a stepping stone to amass credibility for a government crackdown. Each path provides a wide range of possibilities, but whether they will be for the benefit of Erdogan or Turkey remains to be seen.
Alex Oliveira is a staff writer for the Daily Campus opinion section. She can be reached via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.