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Updated: Sat, 06 Jul 2013 08:30:38 GMT | By CBC News, cbc.ca

Egypt's 'dangerous precedent' and Turkey's history of coups



Egypt's 'dangerous precedent' and Turkey's history of coups

When a military topples a democratically elected government, what does history teach us about a return to democracy in the immediate aftermath?

"Early presidential elections shall take place" is the promise in Egypt, but historic examples of a hasty return to democracy seem rare.

That did happen in Turkey after a military coup in 1960.

There is another issue, one which British Foreign Secretary William Hague called "a dangerous precedent," when speaking the day after the coup in Egypt.

"If one president can be deposed by the military, then of course another one can be in the future," Hague said.

He could have been thinking about Turkey.

Military coup a 'public service'

In his televised statement announcing the overthrow of Egyptian President Mohamed Morsi, the head of the Egyptian military, General Abdel Fattah al-Sissi, said the armed forces "need to remain distant from political action."

By overthrowing Morsi, Sissi claimed their action was not political but a "public service and to secure essential protection of the demands of [the Egyptian people's] revolution."

He then suspended the constitution and promised early elections.

Déjà vu

After the military seized power in Turkey in 1960, they stated that they acted "to rescue Turkish democracy" and promised to "hold fair and free elections as quickly as possible."

While Morsi had been in power for just one year in Egypt, the Democrat Party (DP) had been in office for 10 years in Turkey.

It was the first democratically elected government in Turkey's history. In its previous 27 years, Turkey had been under one-party rule.

Once in power, the DP pursued authoritarian and repressive policies, suppressing political opposition and media and "exploited religion to influence the public," according to Ozan Varol of Lewis and Clark College in Portland, Oregon.

After winning re-election, the DP government under Prime Minister Adnan Menderes began a full-scale witch-hunt against its opponents. Mass protests followed in Istanbul and Ankara.

Opposition leader Ismet Inonu, a former general, prime minister and president, warned Menderes, "When the conditions are right for it, a military coup is a lawful right of the people."

The DP declared martial law and authorized the military to fire on protesters. The army refused to do so and then overthrew the DP government on May 27, 1960.

For the next two decades, May 27 was a national holiday in Turkey.

The Turkish military chose to run the country during a transition period, more reminiscent of Egypt in 2011 than today.

Prime minister executed

The DP was banned and hundreds of members imprisoned. Menderes and other party leaders were soon put on trial.

On Sept. 16, 1961 Menderes, his finance minister and foreign affairs minister were executed. (In 1990, Turkey's parliament posthumously pardoned Menderes.)

A new Turkish constitution — with language more to the military's liking — was drafted and approved and elections called for Oct. 15, 1961.

Inonu's party got the most votes and he was prime minister once again. Cemal Gürsel, the general who took over as president after the coup, continued to hold that office.

For the next half-century, the military had a strong influence in Turkey's political life, especially through the National Security Council (NSC).

Varol, a constitutional law expert, concludes in a 2012 academic paper entitled, "The democratic coup d'etat," that "the Constitutional Court, created by the military to perpetuate its institutional preferences, has continued to play a formidable role in Turkish political affairs, striking down legislation and dissolving political parties whose agendas are inconsistent with the founding principles of the Republic."

On July 4, the Egyptian military made Adly Mansour, the head of Egypt's Supreme Constitutional Court, the interim president.

Another military coup in Turkey

In the Spring of 1971, Turkey was once again gripped by chaos. Leftwing workers and student movements faced off in the streets against Islamist and nationalist groups. The government seemed paralyzed.

The armed forces issued an ultimatum to the government that if its demands weren't met, it would "exercise its constitutional duty" and seize power.

Following their second coup, the military put a civilian in charge of what it claimed was a national unity coalition government. (In Egypt, Sissi gave Morsi an ultimatum with a 48-hour deadline and after it expired, put a civilian, Mansour, in charge.)

Two years of "guided democracy" under military supervision followed, which amounted to martial law and the ruthless and bloody repression of left-wing political activity.

Elections were eventually held in October 1973 and the pro-military party that took over after the end of military rule in 1961 did so again.

1980: Military coup #3

In 1980, the Turkish military carried out its third coup and what followed was much bloodier than the aftermath of the 1960 and 1971 coups.

The military ran Turkey through the NSC and then staged elections in 1983, with parties requiring NSC approval to take part. Three parties were allowed to do so; two had the tacit support of the NSC.

Turkey's subsequent history includes accounts of covert coups and postmodern coups by the military, as well as coup plotting.

A democratic coup?

Since 2003, Turkey has been led by Recep Tayyip Erdogan. Until the July 3 coup in Egypt, Erdogan had been forging an alliance with fellow Islamist Morsi.

On Friday, he slammed the coup in televised remarks and noted that Turkey's history serves as a "very important reference" for Egypt.

“Each military coup, with no exception, has caused Turkey to lose decades,” Erdogan argued.

Erdogan has moved to curtail the political influence of Turkey's military, and continues to do so. During his rule, hundreds of army officers have been jailed over allegations of coup plots.

“There cannot be such a thing as a democratic coup,” he said.

- Read about world leaders putting Egypt on notice over democracy

External Links

The Democratic Coup d'Etat | Ozan O. Varol | Harvard International Law Journal

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