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World Once again, army rises up against pro-Islamic government in Turkey

Turkish solders stay with weapons at Taksim square as people protest against the military coup in Istanbul on July 16, 2016.

OZAN KOSE/AFP/Getty Images

In the wake of Friday night's attempted coup in Turkey, many Turks were wondering why it took the military so long to rise up against President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and the government he appointed.

Mr. Erdogan's Islamic-oriented Justice and Development Party won three elections in 2002, 2007 and 2011, with an increase in voter support each time. But the party failed to garner an absolute majority, which would have allowed him to amend the constitution in certain ways.

Required by party rules to relinquish the prime minister's office after three terms, Mr. Erdogan sought and won the position of president, heretofore a largely ceremonial role. It is the presidency that he would like to see changed in the constitution, to give it full executive powers.

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However, the absence of this reform has not prevented the autocratic Mr. Erdogan from running the country as if he had such powers.

The Erdogan governments certainly advanced the right of the people to more openly practise their Islamic faith, but it is a liberty not everyone appreciates. Indeed, a large part of the country favours the absolute secularism prescribed by the republic's founder, Mustafa Kemal Ataturk. And it is Turkey's military that has seen its role as safeguarding that secular constitution.

As well, the Erdogan years have been notable for mercurial policy-making, for great swings in foreign policy and for credible accusations of corruption that were swept under the rug.

Mr. Erdogan pledged to have "no problems" with Turkey's neighbours, but quickly made enemies of two of its closest friendly states – Israel and Syria – and with its most powerful neighbour, Russia.

INTERACTIVE: A guide to the Middle East's web of relationships amid the battle against Islamic State

During his watch, Turkey has had to accommodate almost three million Syrians seeking refuge from the never-ending civil war in that country, and has suffered bombing attacks from Islamic State supporters.

He has favoured the establishment of an independent Kurdish state in Northern Iraq while returning Turkey to a state of near civil war with its own Kurdish population and the militant Kurdistan Workers' Party.

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And he has declared political war on the Gulen movement, a popular and moderate Islamic group led by a preacher named Fethullah Gulen, who lives in exile in the United States. The movement, which has followers in many parts of Turkey's bureaucracy and military, has dropped the support it once gave Mr. Erdogan, accusing him of corruption and excessive autocratic behaviour.

It is the Gulen movement that Mr. Erdogan blames for many of his problems, including Friday's attempted coup.

However, as much as many people in Turkey and around the region may dislike Mr. Erdogan and his ambitious nature, Turkey also is a member of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization, the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development and the Group of 20 and is in the process of being approved as a member of the European Union.

Coups d'état are not the means of government change favoured by these political and military partners.

Turkey plays important roles in the region. It is on the front line of the battle against the Islamic State and of the exhausting Syrian civil war.

Within NATO, Turkey, with half a million troops, has the second-largest standing army in the alliance (behind the United States) and is one of the countries in which nuclear weapons are stored; this means 90 nuclear bombs, 40 of which are for the use of Turkey's air force in a major conflict.

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Four times in the past – in 1960, 1971, 1980 and 1987 – Turkey's military has stepped in to remove a government, usually when it did not like its pro-Islamic nature. It always relinquished power quickly.

This time, too, the military leaders behind the putsch said they were acting to return the country to democracy.

On those past occasions, Turkey's status as a NATO member was unaffected. But the country's allies expect a more democratic means of political change today.

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