The Irish Times view: A failed coup in Turkey that has strengthened the hand of a ‘non-democratic’ leader

Erdogan’s survival is vital to western powers who were both astonished by the unexpected coup and relieved at the ease with which it was put down

The abortive coup against the government of Turkey's Recep Tayyip Erdogan will hardly have come as a surprise, despite what he may say, to a leader who has regularly, unconvincingly, insisted that the Turkish state is under constant existential threat from conspiracies of soldiers, Kurdish separatists, secularists, nationalists and followers of exiled Muslim cleric, Fethullah Gulem.

To the concern of western allies, who have warned against overreaction, the increasingly autocratic Erdogan has made it plain that he sees the poorly planned military uprising as a vindication of his ongoing crackdown against oppositionists, the press, and the army old guard.

Not only did the conspirators expose the weakness of their own hand in the limited support extended by fellow soldiers, but they have strengthened Erdogan’s. The crowds on the streets supporting him, and the unanimous denunciations of the coup by opposition parties and the military high command, emphasise his democratic credentials and play into his political agenda, not least the strengthening of his presidential powers.

He has already spoken of a "God-given" opportunity to cleanse the army and warned rebels they will pay a heavy price – some 2,893 rebel soldiers had been arrested, including at least two senior generals, and 2,745 of the country's judges had been dismissed. His prime minister Binali Yildirim has even spoken of the restoration of the death penalty, a move that would require Turkey to leave the Council of Europe.


Erdogan's insistence that the plot emanated from Fethullah Gulem's supporters and his demand for the extradition of the cleric from exile in Pennsylvania has a familiar and implausible ring to it. Gulem, a moderate Islamist who has many followers in the state apparatus and who broke with ally Erdogan after the latter accused him of being behind investigations into corruption in his AK Party, has become a useful scapegoat He has vehemently denied involvement.

Erdogan has been involved in long-running attempts to purge elements of the judiciary he sees as Gulemists involved in politically motivated attacks on him, and the coup has provided him the opportunity he was looking for for a further purge. It would be impossible to tell within 24 hours of the coup whether any , let alone all, of those judges he has dismissed were genuinely implicated in it.

And, quite rightly, US Secretary of State John Kerry, has insisted that Erdogan must produce hard evidence before Gulem can be extradited.

For western allies the coup attempt represents an embarrassing dilemma of realpolitik. Erdogan's autocratic tendencies have been of deep concern but as Richard Haass, president of the US Council on Foreign Relations observed "do you support a non-democratic coup…or an increasingly non-democratic leader?"

The answer is emphatically the latter when he provides an important pole of stability in a region in constant turmoil, a key Nato ally in the battle to unseat Syria's Bashir al Assad, a lukewarm ally against IS, and a €7billion answer of sorts to stemming the EU's refugee flow.

Erdogan’s survival is vital to the western powers who were both astonished by the unexpected coup and relieved at the ease with which it was put down.