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A failed coup in Turkey could tip the country into authoritarianism

Elements Of Turkish Military Stage A Coup
People take to the street in support of President Recep Tayyip Erdogan on July 16, 2016.
Chris McGrath/Getty Images

Could the coup attempt in Turkey against President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s government end up empowering ... Erdogan? Some analysts think so:

To see why, go back to this excellent July 5 New York Times story by Sabrina Tavernise outlining the growing fears that Erdogan was moving toward "seizing the title of president for life."

At the time of the article, the concern was that Erdogan sought — and could perhaps achieve — authoritarian power in his office. He was trying to purge hundreds of judges from Turkey’s top courts, cracking down on freedom of the press (the editor of the state’s largest newspaper was forced to flee the country), and forging a closer alliance with the country’s military ("the [military’s] chief of staff was a witness at his daughter’s wedding").

The story paints a picture of a country teetering on the brink of authoritarianism. "Pray for us," Ergun Ozbudun, a constitutional expert, told the Times.

There is a powerful quote in the piece from Hakan Altinay, the director of the European School of Politics at Bogazici University in Istanbul, who told Tavernise, "We have learned that even though we have the hardware of democracy — institutions, elections — our software is not good. We are too attuned to status, too willing to submit to authority."

This is context for the coup against Erdogan: His enemies might have seen this as their last chance to wrest control of Turkey away from a dangerous leader, a perception that has prompted military coups in the country’s not-so-distant past. But if the coup fails, it will give Erdogan a rationale to further consolidate power.

And it may well fail. It looks to have been launched by a small faction in the military, and even the country’s opposition parties are condemning it.

Information remains hazy, and it’s far too early to predict an outcome with any certainty. But there is a real chance that Erdogan’s enemies will unite Turkey’s institutions behind Erdogan and give him the excuse he needed to tighten his control over the country.

If the coup fails, Harvard’s Dani Rodrik writes over email, "it will clear the way for total domination of Turkish politics by Erdogan. It will make it easier for him to make the constitutional changes he wants to make himself essentially the one and only politician deciding everything in the country."