Following a failed coup in Turkey Friday evening, the social media rumor mill was atwitter this weekend as both foes and fans of the autocratic President Recep Tayyip Erdogan tries to make sense of a turn of events that has routinely been described as "surreal."
Erdogan has accused his former ally turned arch-enemy, U.S.-based cleric Fethullah Gulen, of orchestrating an uprising by a faction of the Turkish military that has resulted in at least 265 deaths, more than 1,000 injuries and 6,000 arrests. But from his home in Pennsylvania, Gulen has responded that it was Erdogan himself who staged the coup as a pretext for consolidating his already- autocratic powers.
WATCH: The World Today: State Terror in Turkey
That theory has attracted a wide following on social media, and many have noted reports that in the weeks before Friday´s coup attempt, Erdogan had been planning to purge high-ranking officers who supported Gulen at the Supreme Military Council meeting Aug 1. According to the pro-government Turkish newspaper the Daily Sabah, one of the items on the agenda at the meeting was a pending decision on “more than 1,000 military personnel who have alleged connections to the Gulen Movement and are charged with military espionage.”
Erdogan has long accused Gulen of trying to create a “parallel structure” within state security forces and the judicial system in a bid to overthrow the government.
Many predict the attempted coup and pro-government protests will embolden Erdogan to deepen his crackdown on dissidents. Before the insurrection had even been put down, he called it a “gift from God,” and claimed it provided him with a reason to “cleanse” the military. Authorities have already arrested more than 2,800 members of the army and ordered the detention of more than 2,700 judges and prosecutors.
Critics fear the failed coup will deepen Erdogan’s increasingly authoritarian rule. At a rally Saturday, the president reportedly told supporters that parliament may consider a proposal to restore the death penalty, which was abolished in 2004, twenty years after the last execution in the country.
The opposition pro-Kurdish HD party has condemned the coup attempt, saying such action cannot be the solution to serious problems faced in Turkey.
Meanwhile, the political affiliate of the militant Kurdish resistance movement PKK, the KCK, wrote in a statement that the more dangerous “coup” in the country is Erdogan’s ongoing “fascist” attack on rights and liberties using the rhetoric of democracy.
Turkey’s crackdown on the PKK and other dissidents in recent months, including critical media and journalists, shows that the political challenges plaguing the country run much deeper than the Erdogan-Gulen power struggle, though that’s what dominates the political narrative.
Erdogan’s AK party alliance with Gulen’s movement began to break down in 2013, when the government launched secret negotiations with the PKK without including Gulen followers in the intelligence service and police.
The government has since targeted Gulen supporters with a purge in the police and other state institutions while also cracking down on media outlets with ties to the rival political-religious movement.