Saturday, 16 July 2016

If it looks like a Thing, it must be the Thing...right?

Last night's attempted coup was swiftly dismissed - but was it all a piece of political theatre?

Military coups are never nice things - you just know hat someone is going to come out of one horribly, whichever way the dice roll.

For President Erdogan, the dice seem to have landed remarkably fortuitously.

Turks are wearily familiar with military takeovers - they've endured four previous coups since the end of the Second World War, the latest being in 1997. The takeover of 1980, which was particularly brutal, lingers long in the collective memory.

This attempt, however, was - well, different.

It looked a bit too much like a coup, for starters. Yet it didn't actually do what coups do. The plotters took over one news agency, and one TV station. They posted tanks outside two airports and across two bridges. They positioned tanks around a relatively small number of public buildings, including the TCBM (Parliament) building. They issued a statement from a group calling themselves 'The Council for Peace at Home'. They had command of a handful of helicopters and, it appears, at least one jet.

In short, they did everything to ensure it looked all coup-shaped.

However, no one told the conscript soldiers that. No one told the police that. No one told the Jandarma (civil militia) that. So what happened? People started dying and getting wounded - as I write, some 90 dead and over a thousand injured.

If this was a coup, why only action in Istanbul and Ankara? Why so few soldiers? And how did they get their hands on just enough equipment to give the impression that it was something bigger? Why were they so inadequate in supressing information and in disseminating their own message? I didn't see a single 'official' coup Twitter handle or any other sign of even basic social media skills.

If this was a coup, why were ministers on the air almost from the beginning? Why had there be no attempt to seize them or the President, who was on holiday, and was able to get on a suspiciously convenient jet? How was he able to land at Istanbul's Ataturk Airport for a suspiciously well-timed press conference?

If this was a coup, why was it that the streets ended up being flooded with AKP supporters so quickly? How did they get their hands on both AKP and Turkish flags of such regular size and shape so quickly?

I am no great fan of conspiracy theories: I believe far more in the infinite human capability to bugger things up without the need for an elaborate plan to do so. in this case, however, it seems the likeliest possibility.

The whole of Turkey has, as the saying has it, been sold a pup.

Everyone has been gamed: The coup leaders who thought they were planning a real coup, their conscripts who were ordered to do their duty, the police and the Jandarma who thought they were doing theirs, and the populace took to their role without even knowing it, and went onto the streets.

And Erdogan now gets this:
No more questions about his fake university diploma.
No more questions about his backhanded dealings, his corruption, his graft.
No more questions about selling weapons to ISIS.
No more questions about his megalomania.
No more questions about changing the constitution in order to change the style of government.
At a stroke, he comes across as both the man of steel and the saviour of Turkish democracy, and he closes in on his long-term goal: Absolute rule.

The great theatrical practitioner of Turkish politics has probably pulled off his greatest show, and his adoring public are happily lapping it up.

Forget the dead, forget the injured, forget the poor conscript on the Bosphorus bridge who allegedly had his head hacked off by a baying crowd of Islamists, forget the arrested, forget the tortures and arbitrary executions to come - they're just the grease that slicks the way to the president's throne.

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