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The Nexus of Leadership, Political Empowerment, and Social Mobilization: The Case of the July 15 Coup Attempt in Turkey

This study analyzes the mutually empowering relations between Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan and his followers, and how Erdoğan’s charismatic leadership and image functioned to galvanize his followers on the night of July 15, 2016, when large numbers of them mobilized against the attempted coup. The article has three sections. The first is a theoretical discussion which sheds light on the concept and the underlying mechanisms of political empowerment and its effects on the relationships between leaders and followers. The second section evaluates Erdoğan’s characteristics and ruling style, which was instrumental in motivating resistance to the abortive coup. Finally, the third section analyzes the various means by which Erdoğan was able to inspire the masses to mobilize against the armed junta through interviews and observations.

The Nexus of Leadership Political Empowerment and Social Mobilization The
In the Democracy and Martyrs’ Rally people hold Turkish flags to protest against the July 15 coup attempt orchestrated by the FETÖ, at Yenikapı in İstanbul, Turkey on August 7, 2016. KAYHAN ÖZER / AA Photo
 

Received Date: 18/06/2019    Accepted Date: 26/12/2019

 

 

 

Introduction

 

On the night of July 15, 2016, Turkey witnessed a failed coup attempt headed by a small group of soldiers who were allegedly linked to a transnational Islamic sect –the Fetullah Gülen community, also known as the Fetullah Terror Organization (FETÖ) within the Turkish security discourse. Although this coup was not the first to occur in Turkish political history, the street demonstrations which began immediately after the onset of the attempted coup, and the dynamics that made the attempt possible in the first instance, were quite novel in the socio-political context of the country. The telephone appeal on the part of President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan on CNN Türk on July 16 at 00:24 a.m. to his followers to resist the coup d’état resulted in a significant outpouring as thousands of people mobilized to rally against the military junta. Many civilians stood up against the guns, tanks, and bombs, and many of them braved bullet fire as well. As a result, 248 people died and 2,196 were injured during the abortive coup.1

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