Turks Take to the Streets, but Erdogan Remains

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A man cleans a window of a bank on Taksim square in Istanbul on 3 June 2013 after days of protests against the demolition of nearby Gezi park. (Photo: AFP - Bulent Kilic)

By: Hüsnü Mahalli

Published Monday, June 3, 2013

Overnight, what was once a consensus on the stability of Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s government turned into a schism. The barrier of fear collapsed and demonstrations spread throughout the country, leading to clashes that left many injured. However, the "Sultan" remains, at least for now.

Istanbul – The bloody wave of clashes in Turkey over the past two days has raised many questions, from comprehending the Turkish government’s disproportionate reaction, to debating the possibility of a wider “Turkish Spring.”

The information is conflicting, but there is one constant: The barrier of fear that has protected Turkish PM Erdogan, who has exerted his authority over the entire country, has come tumbling down. Though the view prevails that Erdogan is still firmly in control, there is no denying that the events took everyone by surprise.

It is clear there is more to the issue. The transformation of a public square into a mall does not warrant hundreds of injuries and arrests, or people from 47 districts taking to the streets.

Erdogan blamed the Republican People's Party (CHP) and its president Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu. Yet there is no denying that the control and hegemony practiced by Erdogan, which by and large turned the private media into an official spokesperson for the government, is a large factor in the turnout.

The reason might also be Erdogan and his party's interference in the private affairs of individuals, such as the recent decision to ban alcohol. Or it could be popular discontent with the Syrian issue, with some polls indicating that up to 80 percent are not happy with the situation.

Kılıçdaroğlu expressed it boldly. The government's policy toward Syria is a threat to Turkey national and homeland security. Erdogan's reply, as usual, was violent and provocative, accusing him of "supporting Syrian President Bashar al-Assad because they are both Alawis."

Some believe that Erdogan's attack on Hezbollah and Iran is another reason behind the popular discontent with the prime minister. There are about 20 million Alawi Turks, albeit known to be the most ardent defenders of secularism in the country.

No matter what, Erdogan’s strength lies in the political, economic, and moral support of the US. Istanbul's stock market has 66 percent foreign investment. What does that mean? It means that Erdogan, who has sold off almost all of the public sector, is now a hostage to this money and investment. If foreign investment declines, it will lead to an economic collapse, taking with it Erdogan and his Justice and Development (AKP) party.

The AKP came to power following an economic collapse. They remain in power due to economic "achievements." It was interesting that in all this confusion, several Turkish, US, and British newspapers rooted their analyses in this framework. However, they differed about the outcomes.

Those who believed it was a Turkish Spring cited its causes in economic and cultural reasons, as well as fear of the Islamization of the state.

The Turkish press say that talk of a Turkish Spring is “exaggerated.” However, some Turkish pundits admitted that the current events are “a turning point in the sanctity of the image of Erdogan and his party."

Nevertheless, the Turkish press agreed that the demonstrations "reveal the gap in the opinions of citizens and the view of the ruling AKP.”

This article is an edited translation from the Arabic Edition.


Erdogan is a very confident and very authoritarian politician, and he doesn't listen to anyone anymore. But he needs to understand that Turkey is no kingdom, and that he cannot rule Istanbul from Ankara all by himself."real problem is not Taksim, and not the park, but the lack of any form of democratic decision-making process and the utter lack of consensus. We now have a PM who does whatever he wants."We have to fight for our rights, and now they deny us the few rights we still have

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