Turkey’s President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan has repeatedly condemned coups. Certainly, he had skin in the game: The 1997 “soft coup” led to the fall of his mentor, Necmettin Erbakan, Turkey’s first Islamist prime minister and the forced dissolution of his parties. Earlier military regimes imprisoned dozens of Erdoğan’s friends. Anti-Islamist sentiment also cost Erdoğan his mayoralty, briefly, his freedom.
Erdoğan infused his initial rhetoric of democracy with a desire to right historical wrongs. In 2014, for example, he jailed the leaders of the 1980 coup for life.
The president’s anti-coup rhetoric increased after the abortive putsch in 2016, for which he blamed both followers of his one-time ally, theologian Fethullah Gülen and the United States, even though much evidence points to Erdoğan’s own supporters. Indeed, he used such accusations—amplified by the media he tightly controls—to pursue a purge of domestic opponents and critics which remains ongoing.
Erdoğan long ago shed any pretense of valuing democracy, the rhetoric of his first years notwithstanding. But, events in Africa show him to be a hypocrite when it comes to coups.
Consider events of the last few days in Sudan. Once among the most rejectionist of Arab countries, a 2019 people-power revolution overthrew the quarter-century rule of Sudanese dictator Omar al-Bashir. Sudan subsequently came in from the cold. It froze Bashir’s lease of its territory for a Turkish military base, renounced terrorism and even established relations with Israel.
Earlier this week, allies of Bashir and proponents of the Muslim Brotherhood attempted a coup to oust Sudan’s transitional government and return a Muslim Brotherhood-oriented regime to power. The reaction from Erdoğan? Silence. It seems that for Erdoğan, coups are not a problem so long as their results further his worldview.
The same is true in Somalia. President Mohammad Farmaajo has brought his country to the brink of civil war first by illegally seeking to extend his presidential term and then, in recent days, by trying to fire the sitting prime minister. Rather than condemn Farmaajo’s actions, Turkey rushed his chief ally, intelligence chief and virulent Islamist Fahad Yasin, back from Turkey into Mogadishu onboard a private jet allegedly belonging to the Turkish air force. In effect, Erdoğan has ordered Turkey to intervene to empower a would-be dictator sympathetic to it over the hopes of all Somalis for a better, federal, more democratic future.
Erdoğan may continue to say he opposes coups but the reality is he does not. It is time the world calls him on his hypocrisy.
Now a 1945 Contributing Editor, Michael Rubin is a Senior Fellow at the American Enterprise Institute (AEI).