News / Middle East

Turkish Protests Unlikely to Threaten Erdogan

Protesters man a barricade near Gezi park, in Istanbul June 15, 2013, while others in Gezi Park debate the prime minister's proposal to end their park occupation.Protesters man a barricade near Gezi park, in Istanbul June 15, 2013, while others in Gezi Park debate the prime minister's proposal to end their park occupation.
x
Protesters man a barricade near Gezi park, in Istanbul June 15, 2013, while others in Gezi Park debate the prime minister's proposal to end their park occupation.
Protesters man a barricade near Gezi park, in Istanbul June 15, 2013, while others in Gezi Park debate the prime minister's proposal to end their park occupation.
David Arnold
Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan is having his troubles with anti-government protesters these days, but regional experts predict he will survive the challenge and see out his term in office.

The trouble had been brewing for months, with critics accusing Erdogan and his Islamist Justice and Development Party (AKP) of failing to listen to, much less accommodate, opposing political views.

But the situation reached a boiling point last month when Erdogan ordered bulldozers to demolish Istanbul’s Gezi Park to make way for a pet development project honoring the Ottoman Empire that ruled Turkey and much of the Middle East until World War I.

Gezi Park is one of Istanbul’s last open green spaces and the three-time prime minister’s order triggered bitter protests by Istanbul’s liberals and secular elites, which in turn triggered anti-government demonstrations in much of the country. Again, a main complaint was that Erdogan was not listening to opposing views and trying to impose conservative Islamic values on a sizeable percentage of the citizenry that considers itself secular.

Many commentators, mainly outside Turkey, began comparing Erdogan’s plight to Mohamed Morsi, the Muslim Brotherhood leader who was Egypt’s president for a year until being ousted by the military last week. As with Erdogan, Morsi had been accused of failing to accommodate a more secular opposition.

Erdogan's government described Morsi's ouster as an unacceptable military coup and on Tuesday, Cairo summoned the the Turkish ambassador to protest the remark.

Turkey is different

But regional experts say any comparison to Egypt is faulty because under Erdogan, Turkey has been prosperous, its currency has maintained its value, and most of all, the nation has a stable political system.

In contrast to rising joblessness, rampant government corruption and unchecked police repression found in Egypt  and much of the Middle East and North Africa, Erdogan can point with pride to successful economic and development policies that have made Turkey a contender for admission to the European Union, a long-sought goal in Ankara.

Soner Cagaptay, director of the Washington Institute’s Turkey research unit, said the protests inspired by the Gezi Park dispute show mainly that Turkey is maturing into a middle class society.

“I think that would not have been the case if this had been Turkey 10 years ago when it was a much poorer country,” Cagaptay said. “And I think in this regard the AKP, the Justice and Development party, is a victim of its own success.

“It has implemented sound economic policies, which have made Turkey a growing economy and a member of the prestigious G-20 club of economies, but also a majority middle class country for the first time in history,” he said.

Bessma Momani, a Brookings Institution scholar and University of Waterloo political scientist, says there is another, political fundamental factor that sets Turkey apart.

“The Erdogan government is still very much a democratic and legitimate one,” said Momani. “Analogies to Arab dictators are unjustified.”

Gezi Park protests

The Gezi Park dispute started in late May when environmentalists began protesting Erdogan’s plans to replace it with a shopping mall and an Ottoman-style replica of a 1940s military barracks.

There were also proposals to tear down the nearby Ataturk Cultural Center honoring the charismatic leader who set Turkey on the path of secularism in the 1920s, and to build a large mosque on adjacent Istiklal Avenue, now a fashionable entertainment and dining area.

“The mosque would sit right in the middle,” Momani said of the Istiklal Avenue plan. “This is the heartland of the European side of the city, not the Asian side where most of the mosques are and where the less affluent people live.”

On the third night of the anti-government demonstrations in Gezi Park and other Turkish cities, Erdogan ordered in the police, who arrested more than 900 in Istanbul, Ankara and elsewhere. Medical personnel said the raids resulted in two deaths and more than a thousand injuries.

The response was immediate and massive, with even larger protests throughout the country. Critics decried what they said were growing signs of authoritarian rule.

“The issue was not just the park,” said Cagaptay. “It is that the government didn’t listen to the citizens.

Erdogan’s leadership

Erdogan has been described as an outspoken and charismatic speaker who brings tears to the eyes of party loyalists. “He runs the AKP like a one-man show,” Cagaptay said.

“When he gets to the podium,” said Momani, “he yells and there are people who like that, and AKP loyalists love it. For the young, progressive, liberal urban population, it’s just a turn-off.

“He is increasingly very arrogant,” adds Momani. “He is spouting off a lot of things like, ‘You should have four children,’ and ‘You should not have alcohol.’”

Last week, a Turkish court overruled Erdogan’s Gezi Park demolition plans, delaying for at least the time being the prime minister’s urban redevelopment proposals. That decision gave Erdogan a temporary reprieve from the controversy to focus on his political future.

The prime minister can now consolidate the conservative AKP with the political right, Cagaptay said, and that leaves “only a net 40 percent of the vote” for opposition in a political campaign in 2014.

The question is which office he will choose to seek in 2014 elections – another term as prime minister or possibly the Turkish presidency. Both ideas would require some constitutional revisions, either to permit him a fourth term as prime minister or to strengthen the largely ceremonial office of the presidency and allow Erdogan to trade posts with the current president, Abdullah Gul.

Whatever his choice, Erdogan could get a lift from tens of thousands of new supporters.

According to the Brookings Institution’s Momani, these additional supporters are the conservative members of a new urban middle class who have moved from the countryside to the cities, most of them crediting Erdogan’s economic policies for their new-found status.

You May Like

Multimedia Social Media Documenting, Not Driving, Hong Kong Protests

Unlike in Arab Spring uprisings, pro-democracy protesters in Hong Kong aren't relying on Twitter and Facebook to organize, but social media still plays a role More

Analysis: Occupy Central Not Exactly Hong Kong’s Tiananmen

VOA's former Hong Kong, Beijing correspondent compares and contrasts 1989 Tiananmen Square protest with what is now happening in Hong Kong More

Bambari Hospital a Lone Place of Help in Violence-Plagued CAR

Only establishment still functioning in CAR's second city is main hospital More

This forum has been closed.
Comments
     
There are no comments in this forum. Be first and add one

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
The Legacy of Jimmy Carter: The Preacher from Plainsi
X
October 01, 2014 10:45 AM
It is common in the United States to see tourists flock to sites associated with America's presidents. Some are privately owned and others are run by the National Park Service or the National Archives -- but most have helped draw business and people into the towns and cities where they are located. As VOA’s Kane Farabaugh reports, there is one particular presidential hometown that is unique in what it has to offer those who make the trip.
Video

Video The Legacy of Jimmy Carter: The Preacher from Plains

It is common in the United States to see tourists flock to sites associated with America's presidents. Some are privately owned and others are run by the National Park Service or the National Archives -- but most have helped draw business and people into the towns and cities where they are located. As VOA’s Kane Farabaugh reports, there is one particular presidential hometown that is unique in what it has to offer those who make the trip.
Video

Video Hong Kong Protests Draw New Supporters on National Holiday

On the 65th anniversary of the founding of Communist China, Hong Kong protesters are hoping to stage the largest pro-democracy demonstration since the 1989 Tiananmen protests. VOA's Brian Padden visited one of the protest sites mid-day, when the atmosphere was calm and where the supporters were enthusiastic about joining what they are calling the umbrella revolution.
Video

Video India's PM Continues First US Visit

India's prime minister is on his first visit to Washington, to strengthen political and economic ties between the world's oldest and the world biggest democracies. He came to the U.S. capital from New York, the first stop on his five-day visit to the country that denied him an entry visa in the past. From Washington, Zlatica Hoke reports Modi seemed most focused on attracting foreign investment and trade to increase job opportunities for his people.
Video

Video Malaysia Struggles to Stop People Joining Jihad

Malaysian authorities say militant groups like the so-called "Islamic State" have used social media to entice at least three dozen Malaysian Muslims to fight in what they call "jihad" in Syria and Iraq. As Mahi Ramkrishnan reports from Kuala Lumpur, counterterrorism police are deeply worried about what could happen when these militants return home.
Video

Video Could US Have Done More to Stop Rise of Islamic State?

President Obama says airstrikes against Islamic State militants in Syria will likely continue for some time because, in his words, "there is a cancer that has grown for too long." So what if President Obama had acted sooner in Syria to arm more-moderate opponents of both the Islamic State and the Syrian government? VOA State Department Correspondent Scott Stearns reports from the United Nations.
Video

Video Treasure Hunters Seek 'Hidden Treasure' in Central Kenya

Could a cave in a small village in central Kenya be the site of buried treasure? A rumor of riches, left behind by colonialists, has some residents dreaming of wealth, while others see it as a dangerous hoax. VOA's Gabe Joselow has the story.
Video

Video Ebola Patients Find No Treatment at Sierra Leone Holding Center

At a holding facility in Makeni, central Sierra Leone, dozens of sick people sit on the floor in an empty university building. They wait in filthy conditions. It's a 16-hour drive by ambulance to Kailahun Ebola treatment center. Adam Bailes was there and reports on what he says are some of the worst situations he has seen since the beginning of this Ebola outbreak. And he says it appears case numbers may already be far worse than authorities acknowledge.
Video

Video Identifying Bodies Found in Texas Border Region

Thousands of immigrants have died after crossing the border from Mexico into remote areas of the southwestern United States in recent years. Local officials in south Texas alone have found hundreds of unidentified bodies and buried them in mass graves in local cemeteries. Now an anthropologist and her students at Baylor University have been exhuming bodies and looking for clues to identify them. VOA’s Greg Flakus has more from Waco, Texas.
Colonel Steve ‘Spiros’ Pisanos left Greece and came to the U.S. to learn to fly. He flew fighters for the Allies in World War II, narrowly escaping death multiple times.Colonel Steve ‘Spiros’ Pisanos left Greece and came to the U.S. to learn to fly. He flew fighters for the Allies in World War II, narrowly escaping death multiple times.

AppleAndroid