“Stay Tuned for Round Two”: This is Not an Arab Spring Moment (Göknar), but Erdoğan Won’t So Easily Recover Either (Leventoglu)
by JULIE POUCHER HARBIN, EDITOR, ISLAMiCommentary, on JUNE 5, 2013:
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. (See http://islamicommentary.org/2013/06/erdag-goknar-why-turkey-is-up-in-arms/ and http://islamicommentary.org/2013/06/scholars-notebook-ayse-soysal-on-turkeys-cultural-rifts-and-a-prime-minister-losing-touch/)
“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.”
front page photo: Protesters under clouds of tear gas in Taksim Square; May 31, 2013. credit: showdiscontent.com