Simon A. Waldman is the author, with Emre Caliskan, of the forthcoming The 'New Turkey' and its Discontents.
Late into the evening of July 15, as many Turks prepared for the weekend ahead, a faction of Turkey's powerful military launched an attempted coup. However, less than 24 hours later, it is clear that the government has regained control of the country.
All the tell-tale signs of a successful coup were there. The military seized roads and bridges. Troops blocked Istanbul's Ataturk Airport, the third-busiest aviation terminal in Europe. It even took control of the means of communication, entering several media outlets, including the state broadcaster TRT as well as Turk Telecom. The plotters even broadcast a message that they were now in control of the country. Military aircraft were heard buzzing overhead, bombing government targets from the sky.
This begs the question: What went wrong for the coup plotters? Why, unlike the three previous coups of 1960, 1971 and 1980 (and a "postmodern" coup of 1997 when the prime minister was told in no uncertain terms that it was time to leave) were the July 2016 coup plotters unable to see their plans to fruition?
Since the rise of President Recep Tayyip Erdogan's AKP party, the power of the military has been eroded. Fearing coup plots, the AKP sought to reduce the army's power. This was especially the case after 2007 and through to 2013 when arrests were made against alleged coup plotters within the military's ranks and led to the later Ergenekon and Balyoz trials and convictions. Although the convictions were later nullified, the case left the military battered, scarred, even demoralized.
But not only were the Ergenekon and Balyoz cases alleged plots against the AKP government, they also represented deep schisms within the ranks of the military. In memoirs by leading military cadres and leaked documents, it's revealed that younger officers had formed cliques and inner circles that challenged the authority of the upper echelons of the armed forces because they were angered that leading generals seemed impotent against the rise of the AKP, considered by some to have an Islamic anti-secular agenda.
Years of European Union-oriented reforms since 2001 also crippled the military's grip on Turkish society. The military once held sway over the country's foreign policy through the National Security Council. However, the military's influence over that body was weakened with civilian politicians having a larger presence and more power in its decisions. Soon, the military saw itself losing control over other civilian state bodies, such as the Council of Higher Education and the Radio and Television Supreme Council.
As the military was losing its grip on state institutions, the AKP and Mr. Erdogan were gaining it. They purged the civil services of its enemies, both secularists and those considered part of the Gulen movement, followers of the preacher Fethullah Gulen who resides in the United States in self-imposed exile. The same was true of the police forces and the judiciary. These crackdowns intensified after the Gezi Park protests of 2013 and the leaking of tapes alleging corruption among AKP politicians. In other words, the AKP had stamped its authority over the state. The media was also targeted to the point where nearly every outlet, with some exceptions, carries a pro-government line.
Friday night's attempted coup was carried out by a clique within the military that consisted of five generals and 25 colonels. While they managed to utilize some aircraft and take key institutions such as the airport, bridges and media outlets, they were few in number. Only around 50 soldiers took one of the Bosphorus bridges in Istanbul. Just dozens captured the airport and Turk Telecom. In other words, the takings of strategic locations were more show than substance. The assumption being that the plotters hoped that they would see an outpouring of public support. Instead, the opposite happened. All opposition parties condemned the coup attempt. Mr. Erdogan managed to appear in the media (initially through FaceTime and then public addresses) to rally the masses. Mosques led calls to prayer that urged citizens to march against the military's presence, and the police forces attacked the military's presence supported by thousands of protesters. Within hours, it was all over.
The decline of the military had already been achieved before this latest coup attempt. The latest developments are the military's swan song. In the coming weeks and months ahead, its cadres will be purged, arrested, put on trial and replaced. Some will face charges of treason. The army is now a spent force in Turkish politics.