Is Taqsim Square the tree that hides the forest? Or is Premier Erdoğan just fatigued? The political dynamic of the region continues to extend its complexities through the on-going protests in Istanbul and the capital city. This protest started with a small group of environmentalists organizing a peaceful sit-in, like Occupy Wall Street in the U.S., Los Indignados in Spain or Mai 68 in France. The Taqsimists object to the destruction of one of central Istanbul’s few remaining public green spaces, Gezi Park, which is destined to be replaced by a mega-shopping mall and a developed housing project.
Yet an environmental dispute has turned into a proxy political discord between Premier Erdoğan and his opponents who describe him as an authoritarian, others as an Ottoman dictator (!) pushing Turkish politics into a crony system like so many of the Arab regimes — and he is setting up the structure of the party along the lines of an oligarchic paradigm. He has considerable aspirations for the party’s direction in a referendum constitutional process to change the political system from a parliamentary system to a presidential system in 2015 à la Putin. All this, not to mention his fight with the “lefty” and the right “bourgeois” press, who, according to their reports, account for about 76 jailed journalists.
This Erdoğan, the son of a sailor, has managed to become one of the world’s most influential leaders reshaping Turkey’s political culture inherited from Mustafa Kemal Attaturk. This has created anger if not hate among the Attaturk nostalgics and the neo-bourgeois elite, the young, lefty, non-partisan nebulous, who are surfing on the Taqsimists’ legitimate demands. It seems the protest is creating a mosaic wave anti-Erdoğan for bringing Turkey back to the Islamic world closer to the Arab world and imposing a moralizing social order on the society. The latest battle: Efes vs. Ayran *1. Why is Premier Erdoğan hated by his opponents and what is the source of his political success? In a country traditionally attached to secularism, he has excelled where the classic politicians failed for decades.
He seduced the lower class in a rich country with so many poor — a reflection also of Algeria where money rhymes with misery. Interestingly enough, Prime Minister Erdoğan has managed to break another taboo. With his vision he has set up a model of viable, political Islam, even though his party doesn’t consider itself Islamist as presented in the media and academia milieus, and has shown it can deal with modernity. Indeed, Tunisia, another country with societal similarities to Turkey in terms of cultural openness and secular values, has followed suit — the Tunisian Islamist Party (En-nahdha), the dissident branch of the Brothers in Egypt led by President Morsi, the Moroccan government of Premier Ben Kiran, and the Algerian MSP are also espousing the political marketing strategy of the AKP. Even as these events unfold, Premier Erdoğan is on tour in the Maghreb leaving the crisis behind to his government team to deal with the protests of radicals as he put it… and is currently in Algiers discussing important economic cooperation with his counter-part Premier Sellal *2.
The rise of the AKP has also upset the secular circles as well as western countries who fear that Turkey may become another Iran or like so many other tyrannical regimes in the Middle East. However, the AKP has dared to hack the code of Turkey’s political black box, putting an end to the ceaseless interference of the army in the political life of the country — a move that was welcomed by liberal intellectuals, unlike the Algerian, Tunisian and Egyptian “secular elites” who still prefer “demo-ctature” over democracy.
Turkey’s democracy seems healthy, although skeptical Turks and the Taqsimists believe the country is heading south under the AKP which is leaning East but clearly not turning a cold shoulder to the West. Recent polls indicate that the Premier and his party still have a solid majority across the conservative lower and rising middle classes who are enjoying economic growth and geopolitical rehabilitation and are far from seeking empirical nostalgia. The peace process initiated with the Kurdish PKK could be an added political value for the Premier, so the Taqsimists have the right to bang their pots and pans to let their voices be heard, and Premier Erdoğan will listen to his people if he doesn’t want the Taqsimists to become Tahrirists.
In sum, Premier Erdoğan will face a hot summer, but these events are neither a Turkish Spring nor a Tahrir Square — it is a Turkish Delight in a sour democracy spiced with some Erdoğan fatigue.
1 — Efes: Local beer; Ayran, a liquid yogurt, a popular snack drink across the Middle East.
2 — He is acting on behalf of the President who is convalescing in a Paris hospital recuperating from a minor stroke last month.