Turkish Coup and the Arab World
BY: Andrew Hansen/Contributing Writer
Late Friday night, shock swept through the world as the Turkish military attempted to seize power from President Recep Tayyip Erdogan. As media outlets were shut down and people took to the streets, the world watched with anticipation to see how the attempted coup would play out.
The conflict began on this seemingly normal Friday night when tanks rolled onto the Bosphorus Bridge to restrict traffic flow from the European side of Istanbul to the Asian side. Shortly after, a large number of demonstrators took to Taksim Square to demand answers and show support for Erdogan’s Administration.
The rest of the world was alerted to the true state of events when social media was blocked inside of Turkey. According to reports, Facebook, YouTube, and Twitter were all down for about an hour, leaving the masses in a state of total confusion.
Following the blocking of social media, the Turkish military issued a declaration claiming that, “the political administration that has lost all legitimacy has been forced to withdraw.”
Erdogan’s response was peculiar, if not troubling. Apparently on vacation, Erdogan reached out to his people through FaceTime, calling on Istanbulites to take to the streets and rebel against the coup imposed by the military. It was felt by many that Erdogan unconventionally addressing his people via FaceTime signaled that he might have been on the brink of losing control of the situation.
After this address, the situation turned violent as gunshots and explosions were heard and demonstrators clashed with the military. As a result of the violence, around 250 people were reported dead the next day. In the following hours, confusion was paramount until Erdogan arrived in Istanbul, claiming that the coup was over, and his control of Turkey had resumed. While the chaos from the events of the night before began to relax, world powers remained deeply unsettled, believing that Turkey’s problems were far from over.
The Arab World Reacts
What is most telling about this attempted Turkish coup is the reaction that various Arab actors had to the events that took place on Friday.
In fact, some political adversaries celebrated the coup before it had even come to fruition. In Egypt, multiple media sources confirmed that the military had successfully overthrown Erdogan, and were largely vocal on their jovial feelings regarding Erdogan’s expulsion, stating, “Erdogan got what he deserved.”
While the Egyptian media was incorrect in their reports, they highlighted their bitter distaste for the Erdogan administration, most likely perpetuated by Muslim Brotherhood members being offered sanctuary in Turkey and Erdogan’s condemnation of the 2011 Egyptian Uprising.
Furthermore, whistleblowers and Turkish intelligence agencies alike have since alleged that Turkey’s political enemies might have known about the coup long before it took place. According to reports, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates may have played a role in supporting the coup, if not merely knowing about its existence and failing to report it beforehand.
Meanwhile, many states and groups who support the Erdogan administration immediately voiced their outrage at the attempted coup. According to the Anadolu Agency, on Saturday morning many residents of Lebanon and Palestine took to the streets to celebrate the end of the coup and support for Turkish democracy. This may be explained by Turkey’s recent role in the following actions: defenders of Arabs across the Arab world, their support for Syrian Rebel forces, accepting over a million refugees from Arab countries, and giving monetary and political support to Palestine.
When the United States learned of the coup, President Obama called for all involved parties to respect Turkey’s democratic process, and asked all to avoid violence. Yet, Obama’s reaction may have been strategic as well, considering the American dependence on the Incirlik Air Base in Turkey in their fight against ISIL. Reportedly around the time of the coup, there had been U.S. reconnaissance missions deployed over Syria, and were not allowed to return when the airbase was temporarily closed. While flights from Incirlik have since resumed, many countries fear for Turkey’s future. Its stability is crucial in the fight against ISIL and assistance in the refugee crisis.
Aside from a military standpoint, the attempted coup has had economic and social consequences, as well. According to CNN, the Turkish lira has declined about 11% against the U.S. Dollar. There has also been a plunge in Turkish stocks, which has been a heavy hit against the Turkish economy.
Socially, Erdogan is receiving widespread attention on how he is choosing to deal with members of the coup. Erdogan has terminated the employment of thousands of governmental employees, and arrested a large number of perpetrators who were involved in the attempted coup. Being called a “purge”, Erdogan has publicly stated that the death penalty may be applicable in this instance, as the people involved in the coup directly committed treason. This statement has evoked speculation because Turkey’s long-term goal of entering the European Union will be seriously hindered if Erdogan enacts the death penalty. To be a member state of the EU, the death penalty must be made illegal.
Finally, Arab Americans are also affected by the attempted coup because it reminded them of their past estranged relationship. Many Arab Americans, at the turn of the century, fled to the U.S. to avoid fighting in Turkish wars. The Arab-Turkish relationship is not built on a history of trust, but has been progressive.
The Future of Turkey and the Arab World
Turkey and the Arab world can use this coup as a lesson in governance.
While Turkey has devised a sound democracy, Erdogan has been called to step down on multiple occasions for his policies on media surveillance and censorship, criminal punishment, and dangerous levels of nationalism. Furthermore, while Arab Americans support Erdogan’s leadership since he was voted in democratically, they do not support any violations of human rights as it pertains to the accused conspirators of the coup that have reportedly been occurring.
Arabs have yet to recover from their colonial and Ottoman history, which is why the region is still so susceptible to dictatorships and normalized corruption. However, this is changing as many saw during the Arab Spring.
Both Turkey and the Arab world need to move away from their histories of using nationalism as a tool for force, and instead, move toward progress, democracy, and transparency.