Not a ‘Turkish Spring’ but still important

Mustafa Akyol and H.A. Hellyer dismiss the idea that the protests currently sweeping across Turkey should be viewed as a “Turkish Spring,” but Prime Minister Tayyip Erdoğan needs to draw the right lessons.

Erdoğan has certainly attracted the ire of his opponents more prominently recently. He named Istanbul’s new intercontinental bridge after an Ottoman Sultan, who is widely respected among the Sunni majority, but also seen by the Turkish Alevi minority as a bloody tyrant; and he’s implemented limitations on alcohol consumption, which infuriated secularist Turks, who feel that a conservative and intimidating Erdoğan threatens their lifestyle. Erdoğan has other illiberal enemies as well: nationalist groups despise Erdoğan for initiating a peace process with the PKK, the Kurdish separatist guerrilla army, while communist groups condemn him for being “an American collaborator,” & an enemy of the Assad regime in Syria, which they hold dear.

These protests weren’t begun by any of these groups – and Erdoğan’s government made a grave mistake by not restraining the police, resulting in state brutality upon the protestors. Indeed, had the police not responded so viciously, it’s likely the protests would have fizzled out quite quickly. That brutality brought out many Turks without any particular political agenda onto the streets, including those who took seriously the allegations of corruption with regards to the construction projects. Perhaps less than interested in the serious environmental issue that results from the loss of green spaces (which is rare indeed in Istanbul), many political groups then found a locus for their cumulative discontent.

Nevertheless, none of this means that Erdoğan has to resign, as some protestors have demanded: he is the most popular Turkish Prime Minister in the past half-century, and while thousands went on the streets to protest him, millions who support him remained in their homes. Yet that ought not be a reason for Erdoğan to be complacent either. Indeed, it is he who needs to take the greatest lesson from all this. He and his government ought to recognise that the ballot box is not the only thing that counts in truly participatory democracy – and those that govern the largest Arab country on the other side of the Mediterranean sea should acknowledge the same. Here, there are indeed some similarities – as governments in both Turkey and Egypt need to identify that the lack of consensus does come at a price, and causes unnecessary tensions.

A report in The Independent reveals no signs of Erdoğan expressing an interest in consensus building as he contemptuously dismisses his critics.

Turkey’s Prime Minister has rejected claims from protesters, who have taken to the streets across the country over the past two days, that he is an authoritarian leader, as thousands of people marched and reoccupied the centre of Istanbul.

Protesters returned to Istanbul’s Taksim Square on Sunday, the site where a small protest over plans to redevelop a park spiralled into violent confrontations on Friday when police moved to evict the demonstrators.

The heavy-handed tactics of authorities sparked more than 90 demonstrations around the country on Friday and Saturday, officials said. More than 1,000 people have been injured in Istanbul and several hundred more in Ankara, according to medical staff.

In Taksim Square on Sunday afternoon, people were chanting slogans against Mr Erdogan and calling for him to resign. Undeterred, Mr Erdogan used a television interview to rebuke the demonstrators, who he dismissed as “a few looters”.

“[They say] Tayyip Erdogan is a dictator. If they call one who serves the people a dictator, I cannot say anything,” said the Prime Minister during a televised speech. Erdogan insisted the project to revamp Gezi Park would go on despite the protests. “We will build a mosque in Taksim and we do not need the permission of the CHP [Republican People’s Party, the main opposition party in Parliament] or of a few bums to do it.”

Print Friendly, PDF & Email