Turkey: Erdogan’s Blindness to People Power will Diminish Him (IslamiCommentary)

Julie Poucher Harbin, EDITOR, ISLAMiCommentary, interviews two scholars on Turkish Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan:

A small demonstration against bulldozing a park in Turkey escalated into nationwide political unrest over the past week — reaching its peak over the weekend when police used unnecessary and excessive force against protestors…

“The first round of popular protests in Turkey knocked the AKP flat on its back. Round two of the ongoing protests will begin when Prime Minister Erdoğan returns Thursday,” said Duke University Assistant Professor of Turkish & Middle Eastern Studies and Turkish-American Erdağ Göknar in an interview with Julie Poucher Harbin, Editor, ISLAMiCommentary, following-up on his commentary on the situation published late Tuesday.

As Göknar explained, during Erdoğan’s absence — “he saw no need to reschedule his four-day diplomatic trip to Morocco, Algeria and Tunisia” — Turkey had “erupted into a full-scale state of revolt.”

There has since been conciliatory gestures made by Turkey’s president and deputy prime minister.

“President Gül and Deputy Prime Minister Arinç, tripping over themselves in a fit of damage control, acknowledged mistakes, apologized for the excessive use of force, and agreed to negotiate with protestors,” said Goknar. “Oddly, they were trying to turn the protest into something of a celebration. The police were even handing out roses to some protestors in some locations of Turkey.”

But many of the protestors want more, including the resignation of the governors of Istanbul, Ankara and Antakya, as well as the chiefs of police of those cities. There have also been vocal calls for Erdoğan’s resignation.

“On Thursday, the prime minister returns to a country forever transformed, one that is demanding profound political changes from the ruling — and reeling — Justice and Development Party (the AKP),” said Goknar. “However this is not an Arab Spring moment. The government and the protestors are trying to work out their differences through the democratic process.”

Meanwhile, Göknar said, the protests are having their intended effect by hitting the Turkish economy hard, an economy that has climbed to 16th in the world over 10 years. There has been a 30 percent cancellation in planned tourism, a 10 percent drop in the stock market — the largest in 10 years, and union workers’ strikes were expected to continue through at least Wednesday.

Bahar Leventoglu, Assistant Professor of Political Science and Economics at Duke and a native of Turkey, told senior editor at Duke’s Office of News & Communications Steve Hartsoe that she “does not see the prime minister recovering from this as easily as Erdoğan expects.”

“Erdoğan has been the most popular prime minister in the history of modern Turkey,” she said. “His understanding of democracy is about ballot power. As his ballot power increased, he started to get more and more authoritarian thinking that more and more people gave him the mandate to do anything he wanted. Over time, the Erdoğan that was quite a reformer prime minister in his first term disappeared, and we got this angry, know-it-all, almost Putin-esque prime minister that we did not know as much before.”

“A lot of people now see Erdoğan’s policies as a ‘cultural war’ against their lifestyles, and see the government’s so-called ‘Taksim project’ as an extension of this cultural war. Taksim (where the protests were held) is a neighborhood whose lifestyle Erdoğan dislikes, with nightlife and drinking, and is not good for the ‘religious generations’ Erdoğan wants to raise.”

Leventoglu continued: “Erdogan also has no tolerance for criticism. He believes that he knows what is good and what is bad for citizens of Turkey, and so we have to obey him as if we are teenagers being disciplined by dad. I’m sure he was taken by surprise by the protests against the government, as Turkey does not have a long history of this. But times are changing, and Erdogan is behind the times in this one.”

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Mirrored from IslamiCommentary

7 Responses

  1. Erdogan’s announcement that the Gezi project will continue as planned was predictable. He has difficulty with criticism and becomes obdurate or worse. This is the same man who launched a lawsuit against Musa Kart, the cartoonist for the newspaper Cumhuriyet, for the “offense” of depicting him [Erdogan] as a cat entangled in a ball of string.

  2. Erdogan’s airport speech was as combative and tone deaf as all he has said. The protests continue as an overwhelmingly peaceful in the face of violent provocation, creative, often humorous and empathic response to mounting provocations.

    While the President has said the right thing, at least on occasion, he has not acted in any significant way. Erdogan, meanwhile, seems prepared to tank the economy in a fit of pique.

    RTE airport remarks link to docs.google.com

  3. I think Erdogan is in for a rude awakening, as Erdogan’s Turkeys are coming home to roost.

    Ironically he wasn’t received favorably in Tunisia, demonstrators shouting; “Go home Erdogan, you’re not welcome in Tunisia”. I doubt the the rest of his four day trip was exactly a red carpet state visit with pomp & circumstances either.

    However he really has it in his head that he is a benevolent Emperor of the region, going around acting like one!! ;)

    Of course getting a big head is expected when US and his Western allies go around and call Turkey the “other Democracy” in the region!!! As it is said; “when you hear a lie long enough you take it to be the truth”.

  4. How Erdogan’s supporters think (from Hurriyet Daily News):

    “God is Great,” his supporters chanted, and soon moved on to slogans referring specifically to the protesters in Taksim Square. “Let us go, let us crush them,” they shouted. “Istanbul is here, where are the looters?”

  5. I am hearing from numerous friends in Turkey their fear that Erdogan is going to look the other way as his supporters unleash violence, based on (1) his willingness to let his airport supporters chant “Let us crush Taksim!” without silencing them and (2) his comment that he would “give protesters until Monday.”

    I hope they are wrong, but anyone who knows Turkish history will immediately know the scenario.

    • Following up on the above, Turkish journalist Karti Gursel surveys the paranoia swirling through AKP-supporting press, the mood at the airport, and concludes:

      “At the moment, Erdogan seems inclined toward the worst option, both for his image in the world and social peace in Turkey. That would be to attack with a major security force without losing time to recover the square from the protesters at the cost of possible fatalities.

      That would be followed by a witch hunt against the protesters, the media, various business owners, civil society and against anyone empathizing with the protests.”

      excellent article at link to al-monitor.com

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