Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan declared a three-month-long nationwide state of emergency on Wednesday after back-to-back, hours-long meetings with the National Security Council and Cabinet. The decision follows a failed coup attempt last Friday by a faction of the military, one which Ankara has linked to the influential U.S.-based Turkish cleric Fethullah Gulen. Announcing the state of emergency, Erdogan said it would allow the government to tackle the “terror group” behind the coup attempt, referring to the Gulen network in Turkey.
The state of emergency will drastically expand the government’s powers at the expense of basic civil rights. According to the constitution, declaring an emergency allows authorities to search civilians and vehicles without a permit, confiscate their belongings, restrict freedom of assembly, impose a curfew, and require citizens to carry identification at all times. All media could be monitored; any publication could be banned.
On Wednesday, Erdogan assured citizens that the state of emergency was not aimed at limiting Turkey’s democracy, justice, or freedoms, but “strengthening” them. Critics fiercely disagree, and the main opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP) – which had vehemently and publicly opposed the coup – went as far as to call the declaration a “civil coup.”
Stoking such fears is Ankara’s already heavy-handed crackdown on alleged coup plotters over the weekend. Since Friday, 60,000 members of state institutions – including the police, several ministries, and the Constitutional Court – have been detained, arrested, or suspended for alleged links to the Gulen network. All Turkish academics have been banned from travel. Authorities have reportedly patrolled the streets and on public transportation, seizing cellphones to read citizens’ WhatsApp chats. Once in effect, the state of emergency will make such practices entirely legal, and Ankara has said it is even prepared to temporarily suspend the European Rights Convention on Human Rights.
The government views the Gulen network as the foremost threat to the country’s stability. Two years ago, it declared the movement a terrorist organization, and after the coup attempt, it formally requested Gulen’s extradition from the U.S. and is considering re-introducing the death penalty ahead of his prospective trial in Turkey. It is arguably most telling that although the country has been under continuous terror attacks by Kurdish and jihadist militants for the past year, Ankara declared the state of emergency to combat Gulenists instead.
The planners of last week’s coup should be brought to justice. But Turkey’s leaders appear more interested in using the incident to rally their support base and purge political opponents. Feeling under siege by opponents in and out of government, Erdogan has already made hasty power grabs that have dramatically eroded Turkish democracy over the last three years. Now, he could be leading Turkey even further into the abyss. The coup attempt may be over, but the trials of Turkish democracy are just beginning.
Merve Tahiroglu is a research associate at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies. Follow her on Twitter @MerveTahiroglu