After coup-making soldiers made an old-school gambit to seize control of Turkey’s state television stations on Friday, the country’s president found a novel way to assure an anxious nation that its government was still in control: FaceTime.
Speaking from an undisclosed location, President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan vowed that the coup attempt would fail, as a reporter from CNN’s Turkish affiliate held him up for viewers on her iPhone.
Erdoğan also took to Twitter, calling on Turks to take to the streets in defiance of the attempted putsch.
The moves struck an ironic tone for a president who has railed often against social media, overseen periodic blocks on Twitter, and once told a press freedom watchdog that “I am increasingly against the internet every day.”
But in the critical early hours as the coup attempt developed, many of the things that Erdoğan has cracked down — social media, protesters, local journalists and the political opposition — helped to save the day.
The narrative on social media, aided by Erdoğan’s interview, outpaced the one the coup-makers were rushing to present to the nation — that they were seizing power from the government and, ultimately, in control.
Protesters undermined them further, swarming tanks and soldiers in the streets and even reportedly performing citizen’s arrests. Many of the protests were streamed on Periscope and Facebook Live.
Local journalists — who increasingly work in a climate of crackdowns that sees journalists intimidated and arrested — fought back against attempts to seize their outlets and rushed to present a clear picture of the news.
And Turkey’s opposition leaders, who have no love for Erdoğan, were quick to condemn the coup attempt as an assault on the country’s democracy. Even the pro-Kurdish HDP party — which in recent months has seen Erdoğan vow to throw many of its parliamentarians in jail — joined the chorus in a striking show of unity.
“This country was wracked with coups,” Kemal Kilicdaroglu, the leader of the country’s main opposition party, said in a TV appearance, referencing Turkey’s long history of military takeovers — it has weathered three coups in last three decades. “We will protect our republic and our democracy.”
As Erdoğan has become increasingly authoritarian in recent years, he has faced criticism for working to erode the country’s democratic institutions in order to strengthen his hold on power.
Yet they were still strong enough to see Turks stand up for democracy and withstand the coup attempt, which appeared to have failed as a new day broke on Saturday, with soldiers coming under arrest and the government blaming the effort on a faction within the military.
Now Erdoğan and his government are working to root out the coup plotters and end the crisis — a goal that, given the acts of defiance on Friday, most Turks seem to support.
Turkey reportedly detained more than 2,500 military personnel in the aftermath of the coup attempt, while more than 2,500 judges were dismissed.
But Erdoğan’s critics worry, as ever, that he will use the current unrest to grab still more power. “Expect Erdoğan to go after coup plotters, a legitimate move, but also to crack down on all dissent and opposition,” wrote Soner Cagaptay, a DC-based Turkey analyst.
In the wake of the attempted coup, then, a key question for Turkey will be the fate of those same tools of democracy that helped to defeat it.