And so, with officers being wrenched from the turrets of their tanks and most men in uniform with their hands in the air, it seems that Turkey has just escaped an even worse threat to its democracy than joining the European Union.
By Scheherazade’s standards this was very clean. The story begins and ends over the course of a single night, without any cliff-hanger. And the hero of this story is… well, it’s largely everybody. President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, who had earlier appeared on Turkish television as a genie imprisoned inside a mobile phone, is now a rare example of a world leader who owes his position to uncoordinated people power.
The first thing to note about this coup d’état is that it was incentivised by President Obama’s and the EU’s uncritical response in 2013 to the Egyptian military takeover. This was the ultimate inspiration, possibly even more so than that limerick from the UK’s incoming Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson which mocks Erdoğan for being a goat molester. In 2013, Mohamed Morsi, the only democratically elected President of Egypt, was driven from power by the Egyptian army chief General Abdel Fattah el-Sisi. Barack Obama, David Cameron, and Baroness Catherine Ashton, the EU’s High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy, all commented upon how regrettable they found the coup, without being able to bring themselves to quite call for Morsi to be reinstated.
Even as blood lay in the streets, Baroness Ashton visited Egypt to hobnob with the new regime. UK journalists admired how Ashton’s “soft power” was being used to steer an errant Egypt back towards democracy. Ashton announced that, “the European Union is a long-term partner and friend of Egypt… our support and friendship will continue.” The blind were leading the blind: a completely unelected EU official was patronisingly teaching murderous conspirators about the delectability of the ballot. Likewise, when the Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych was overthrown in 2014, after coincidentally failing to sign a trade deal with the EU, Europe’s politicians did not allow the fact of his democratic election to discolour what they saw as his country’s otherwise inspiring revolution.
So the colonels in Turkey had these encouraging precedents in their favour. Perhaps they hoped that their own coup would be obscured within the general blur. As in Egypt, the Turkish takeover pitched a secularist, supervisory army against an authoritarian President who depended upon Islamist populism for his support. And for the first four hours of the coup, Western leaders remained reliably quiet. Obama, NATO, and the EU were all eyes and no mouth, or at least until it became apparent that the coup was not going to stick. Only then did Obama put out a statement which called for all sides to “support the democratically-elected government of Turkey.”
The second thing to note is the magnitude of the disaster which has been averted. If the coup had enjoyed firmer social support, followed by a serious attempt to quash Erdoğan loyalists, then the death toll could have far exceeded the hundreds who had died after the Egyptian takeover.
Yesterday, it appeared as if eighty million people were about to be ejected from the world’s democracies. Tychy’s articles on the UK’s EU referendum were entitled “Democracy on Trial” because it seemed as if democratic sovereignty, the ambition of the Chartists and the Suffragettes, was being put on trial for its life. The Remain case seemed to be the culmination of a modern prejudice in which democracy is associated with chaos and decline.
The calm economic growth in China, the wisdom of managerial elites wearing grey suits in Beijing and Brussels, is now the clear preference for left-leaning, middle class people in the UK. The alternative is the masses and we are all aware from recent weeks about how this dark, lurid, Guardian-authored fantasy unfolds. Ordinary people are mean, envious, uneducated, and prone to explode into racist attacks if they are excited to rise above their proper station by a Brexit vote. The word “unleashed” has pealed in all of our ears over the last month.
Democracy has to be fought for country by country, it has to be proven example by example, and Turkey is a huge example. A military coup would have confirmed for many that the Turkish masses had got it wrong and that their folly needed to be corrected by their betters. A coup would have been a victory for managers, supervisors, snobs, elitists, and the high and mighty. It would have comforted the gore-caked generals in Egypt and the militaristic thugs in the final enclaves of the so-called Islamic state. A single night of people power in Turkey has struck a greater blow for progress than almost all of the UK Left’s pathetic prevaricating during the EU referendum.