Back in 1997, Recep Tayyip Erdogan served four months in jail for reciting a poem about minarets being bayonets. Today, Mr. Erdogan, Turkey's President, is decidedly the master of many bayonets, after overcoming a clumsy coup attempt. In the aftermath, Turkey is still a democracy, sort of. But thanks to the number of scores Mr. Erdogan is now paying off – many of them hard to plausibly attribute to the would-be putsch – Turkey looks to be well on its way to becoming a very illiberal democracy.
Even before the coup, Mr. Erdogan had begun changing his role from being a mere prime minister to a "strong," executive presidency. He wants massive new powers as head of state. And he doesn't want to face the irritations of the opposition's questions, criticisms and jeering in parliament.
The crisis this month has been exploited to sideline opponents, from suspending thousands of schoolteachers, to requiring all university deans to step aside, to removing many judges. All are said to have been somehow part of a grand conspiracy. Even the two air force pilots who last year shot down a Russian fighter jet that wandered into Turkish air space are now said to have done so as part of a plot to undermine Russian-Turkish relations, and thereby destabilize the Erdogan regime. They have been arrested.
In recent years, some Turkish prosecutors and judges appeared to have been overzealous and fanatical in pursuing charges of corruption against the government, in a conspiracy theory they named Ergenekon. Turkish politics seems to be unduly receptive to a belief in a sinister "deep state." But that does not mean that hundreds of judges should be purged.
On its face, the coup attempt last Friday looks like a last gasp, a remnant of a belief in some factions of the military, that the armed forces need to intervene from time to time to correct what they believe are the excesses of civilian politicians.
The good news is that ordinary citizens spontaneously went out in the streets of Istanbul and Ankara to protest against the coup attempt, at great risk to themselves. And all four political parties in the Turkish parliament firmly opposed the putsch. There is, however, no need for any new conspiracy theories, or for the government itself to mount its own coup against democracy.