To Coup or Not to Coup

As I waited in my living room to go on Sky News (via Skype on my laptop!), with the attempted military coup in Turkey in full swing, an image popped up on my TV screen of Turkish President Erdogan speaking to the Turkish people through the FaceTime video call function on his iPhone. 

It was an image that in many ways summed up the world in 2016,  and the huge role that technology and instant communication tools play in every aspect of modern life - but it was also the first evidence that the coup plotters were seemingly oblivious to these realities!

The coup was run on a classic mid 20th century playbook, reminiscent of a bad Cold War novel or stereotypes of South American juntas of years past - el Presidente goes on holiday, and some of the army send in the tanks, take roads and bridges and the radio and TV stations, and that's that. 

But this playbook is very, very out of date. By not starting the coup by securing the President they were doomed to failure - anyone who has seen the film Valkyrie (the true story of the plot to kill Hilter and take control of Nazi Germany in July 1944) could have told them that, but in the age of social media the consequences of not doing so were so much quicker and even more dramatic. 

Within minutes of his appearances, disseminated instantly by millions in text and tweet, Turkish citizens actually took on the soldiers and tanks. Many died, but this wave of public support, for a President they had seen alive and well, crippled any chances of the coup succeeding. 

The power - real power - of social media in the post Arab Spring world. 

Erdogan, ever the political opportunist, quickly hailed a "victory for democracy" - which involved swiftly consolidating his power, crushing opposition to him, purging state institutions of anyone who has not publicly professed their undying love for him, and likely killing Turkey's democracy in perpetuity. 

But the image of Erdogan on that phone, being held up to the TV camera, is likely to become a defining image of this century - political actors across the globe, both well-meaning and nefarious, will be paying close attention to the lessons learned!