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

Video Anti-Muslim Sponsor of Texas Cartoon Contest Draws Ire

Pamela Geller's supporters say she speaks truth about sensitive topic, while critics say she preaches 'that Islam is inherently evil' More

East Meets West in Exhibition Showing Chinese Influence on Fashion

Metropolitan Museum of Art exhibition juxtaposes influence of art, imagery and culture, from Imperial China to the present day, on Western fashion and design More

South Africa Begins New Love Affair With Vinyl Records

Enthusiasts say the 'rebirth' of vinyl is resulting in a rebirth of music in South Africa 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.
Mass Grave Exposes Entrenched Trafficking in Thailandi
X
May 05, 2015 5:50 PM
Police in southern Thailand have found two more camps believed to have held human trafficking victims -- one containing a buried skeleton. This comes just days after officials announced arrests in connection with the grisly discovery of 26 bodies in a mass grave at another location. Officials suspect as many as 400 mostly ethnic Rohingya from Myanmar were being held for ransom at the remote camp near the Malaysian border. Steve Sandford reports on developments in the case.
Video

Video Mass Grave Exposes Entrenched Trafficking in Thailand

Police in southern Thailand have found two more camps believed to have held human trafficking victims -- one containing a buried skeleton. This comes just days after officials announced arrests in connection with the grisly discovery of 26 bodies in a mass grave at another location. Officials suspect as many as 400 mostly ethnic Rohingya from Myanmar were being held for ransom at the remote camp near the Malaysian border. Steve Sandford reports on developments in the case.
Video

Video Russia's 'Victory Day' Glory Over Nazis Overshadowed by Ukraine

ussia is preparing to commemorate the 70th anniversary of the end of World War II, known since the Soviet era as “The Great Patriotic War,” with a massive parade on May 9th of military hardware and millions of medals handed out to veterans or their relatives. But critics say the Soviet-style display of power and nationalism overshadows tragic scars during and after the war that still influence politics and foreign policy, especially in the current Ukraine crisis.
Video

Video WWII Anniversary Brings Old Friends and New Worries

The 70th anniversary of the end of World War II has special significance, with Russia becoming more assertive in Ukraine and sending its military planes to the edges of western countries’ airspace. Changes in the geostrategic balance and the transatlantic relationship are felt across the continent, not least in German towns that have hosted U.S. military bases since the defeat of Nazi Germany. VOA’s Al Pessin visited Schweinfurt, Germany, where a large base closed last year.
Video

Video Abraham Lincoln Funeral Re-created for 150th Civil War Anniversary

Over the last four years, commemorative events to mark the 150th anniversary of the U.S. Civil War have brought thousands of visitors to battlefields and historic landmarks across the country. As VOA's Kane Farabaugh reports from the Midwest state of Illinois, the final event in the Civil War's sesquicentennial honors the final journey home of the slain American President, Abraham Lincoln.
Video

Video Campaign Raises Money to 'Uncuff' Journalists

Beginning Sunday – World Press Freedom Day – the Committee to Protect Journalists, a private U.S. group, is launching a campaign to bring attention to their plight and encourage efforts to free them. Deborah Block reports.
Video

Video Volunteers Pull Together to Aid Baltimore Riot Victims

Calm has returned to Baltimore, Maryland, after authorities lifted an overnight curfew imposed almost a week ago to stem the rioting that followed the funeral of Freddie Gray - the 25-year-old black man who died of spinal injuries suffered while in police custody. Six police officers, three of them African-American, have been charged in connection with his death. Baltimore is now trying to get back to normal, in part with the help of volunteers who responded to calls to help those in the city'
Video

Video From Aleppo To Berlin: Band of Brothers Escapes Civil War

Hundreds of thousands of Syrians have fled the civil war in their country and journeyed to Europe by boat across the Mediterranean. It is a terrifying ordeal with dangers at every turn. A group of Syrian brothers and their friends describe their ordeal as they try to reach Germany. VOA's Henry Ridgwell reports. ...
Video

Video Rural Nepal Suffers Brunt of Quake’s Devastation

Nepal is still coming to grips with the full extent of the devastation and misery caused by last Saturday’s magnitude 7.8 earthquake. Some of the hardest-hit communities have been cut off by landslides making it difficult to assess the precise toll. A VOA News crew has been among the first to reach a few of the smaller, remote communities. Correspondent Steve Herman reports from the Sindhupolchak district, east of Kathmandu, which suffered greatly in Nepal’s worst quake in more than 80 years.
Video

Video Obama Praises Work of 3 Immigrant Journalists

President Barack Obama met with three immigrant journalists at the White House Friday to praise them for their work ahead of World Press Freedom Day, May 3. In attendance: Dieu Cay (his pen name) a blogger from Vietnam recently released from prison; Lily Mengesha from Ethiopia who was harassed and detained for exposing the marrying off of young girls as child brides, and Fatima Tlisova, an ethnic Circassian from the North Caucasus region of Russia, who works for VOA's Russian Service.
Video

Video Middle East Atheist Channel Defies Taboo

In Egypt, a deeply religious country in a deeply religious region, atheism is not only taboo, it is dangerous. It is sometimes even criminal to publicly declare nonbelief. Despite the danger, one group of activists is pushing back with a new online channel that defends the right not to believe. VOA’s Heather Murdock reports.
Video

Video Nepal Quake Survivors Tell Their Stories

Against all hope, rescuers have found a few more survivors of the devastating earthquake that hit Nepal last Saturday. Mountain climbers and hikers trapped in remote places also have been airlifted to safety, and aid is finally reaching people in the areas closest to the quake's epicenter. Survivors and rescuers are now recounting their experience. Zlatica Hoke has this story.
Video

Video Lessons for Germany, Europe Remain on Anniversary of WWII's End

The 70th anniversary of the end of World War II will be marked May 8-9 in all European countries except Germany, which lost the war. How is the war viewed there, and what impact is it still having? From Berlin, VOA’s Al Pessin reports.
Video

Video Nepal Town Destroyed By Quake Counts Itself Lucky

Foreign search teams on Wednesday began reaching some of the communities outside Kathmandu that suffered worse damage than Nepal’s capital from last Saturday’s massive earthquake. VOA Correspondent Steve Herman is in Sankhu - a town of about 10,000 people - where there is relief the death toll is not higher despite widespread destruction.
Video

Video Somali Hotel Chain Owner Strives to Make a Difference

Many in the Somali diaspora are returning home to make a new life despite the continuing risks. Since 2011 when a military campaign against Al-Shabab militants began making progress, members of the diaspora community have come back to open hospitals, schools, hotels, restaurants and other businesses. Abdulaziz Billow in Mogadishu profiles the owner of a chain of hotels and restaurants who is helping to bring change to the once-deadly Somali capital.
Video

Video Child Migrants Cross Mediterranean Alone, Face Unknown Future

Among the thousands of migrants making the deadly journey by boat to Europe, there are unaccompanied girls and boys. Some have been sent by relatives to earn money; others are orphaned or fleeing war. From a shelter for young migrants in the Sicilian town of Caltagirone, VOA's Henry Ridgwell reports.

Poll: Baltimore Police Charged

Poll archive

VOA Blogs