In the wake of the Taksim Square uprising, Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan literally repeated what Syrian president Bashar al-Assad said when the Syrian revolution erupted. Erdogan said: “He who says that what’s happening in Taksim Square is a Turkish spring does not know Turkey.” Assad had said: “Syria will not join the countries that witnessed revolutions. He who says [otherwise] doesn’t know the Syrian people!” Erdogan described protesters as terrorist groups that want to exploit the protests. This is what his old friend has said and what he still says.
The incident in Gezi Park has come to crown a decade of slowly built-up tensionHazem al-Amin
This note does not aim to say that there’s a similarity between Syria’s situation and Turkey’s and that the latter will have the same fate as the former. Not at all. But this similarity is really worrying when it comes to Turkey because its premier is of little sensitivity regarding his intuition. Even a formal approach of the Syrian president’s performance in running the crisis raises a lot of questions: What was Erdogan thinking when he said what he said? What was he thinking when he decided to defy protestors and resume the ‘Gezi Park’ project?” Answering this puzzling question must be preceded by recalling that Erdogan won three consecutive elections. He first won the presidency of Istanbul’s municipality. Turks agree that he fulfilled great economic achievements for his country, cracked “the deep state” that was ruling Turkey (the military institution) and led Turkey to taking effective leadership role in the region.
A confused front
This man suddenly broke down due to a protest in Taksim Square. Then he negated the statements of President Abdullah Gul who told protesters, “we got your message” and the statements of Deputy Premier Bulent Arinc who apologized over the police’s violence. Erdogan appeared from Tunisia and said: “We will resume work in building the commercial complex.”
Many are seeking answers. So far, answers revolve around one core issue regarding Erdogan – it seems that staying in authority for three consecutive terms likely turns one into a snob despite all achievements. The man feels he can do anything he wants as per the jurisdiction he attained via the elections. Erdogan is a great leader, but this is the exact problem. Modern democracies do not bear “a great leader” even if they have produced him. This explains why they exercise limited authority for two consecutive terms.
Normal people have the tendency to commit bad things, so what do you expect when someone attains authority three times in a row via elections? The “fair dictator” concept inspires Turkey’s first man. “Justice,” as according to the Turkish sense of the word, may include an “Ataturkish” cruelty or a backwards understanding of justice similar to that of the Brotherhood. Erdogan is subject to suffering from both.
The current crisis goes beyond problems with Erdogan’s character. It has to do with the problems the great country piled up during its “Brotherhood” years, along with its achievements. In Turkey, there is the Justice and Development Party that resembles the Muslim Brotherhood. Turkey is also a country that resembles the West on the level of its public and private choices. What happened in Taksim was a clash between these two spheres. Those who resemble the Brotherhood ruled Turkey for more than two decades attempting to employ their successes in a project that aims to slowly and maliciously “brotherize” the state and society. Those who resemble the Europeans observed the prohibition of alcohol after 10 p.m. and lamented Erdogan’s success in ending the legacy of Mustafa Kemal Ataturk, founder of modern Turkey. They are surprised that a young man and woman were punished for being caught kissing in Ankara. The incident in Gezi Park has come to crown a decade of slowly built-up tension.
It seems this clash of ideologies has facilitated protests in Taksim Square by the cabinet’s small failures. Erdogan went half way towards reconciling with the Kurds and then stopped. This deprived him of the support of Turkish nationalists regarding this case, and it did not make him win the Kurds’ amiability. Istanbul’s Kurds took to the square the minute they heard of the Gezi Park crisis. Alawite-Bektashi (a religious grouping) took to the square for opposite reasons. According to them, Erdogan represents the end of the Ataturk era that granted them some rights, they believe Erdogan is leaning towards the restoration of an Ottoman Turkey that persecuted them.
Politics in Turkey is a process of managing all of these contradictions where successes is equal to silent failures. Erdogan, the “successful” popular economy leader and former football player, failed in the test of democratic systems thinking that elections are an absolute source of authority. His first reactions indicate that he is not a descendent of a pluralistic culture. Plurality here is not limited to diverse groups but it also includes several problems.
Didn’t the Germans once elect Hitler? What did the Fuhrer do with this mandate?
The piety practiced by the Justice and Development government regarding major issues linked to the Turks’ lives is what leads to suspicion. Their party has never been frank with its citizens about its intentions. It says it is concerned over Turkey’s secularism. And then it punishes people over kissing in public and prevents the display of alcohol in shop fronts. It says it respects the state’s Ataturk history and attempts to present Ottoman history before it. This is exactly what the Egyptians feel regarding their “Brotherhood” government.
It’s really worrying that Erdogan says what’s happening in Taksim Square is not part of the Arab Spring. Apart from the fact that this statement resembles the statements made by other presidents, it implies a snobbishness that resembles other president’s snobbishness. This is if we rule out that his statement does not include a bumptious tendency that is not void of ugly nationalism.
A friend of mine in Taksim Square told me protests there are to protect the regime and not to topple it, and that they aim protect the regime from Erdogan. This friend of mine has been more moral in establishing the difference between “toppling regimes” in Arab Spring countries and protests to topple Erdogan in Istanbul.
This article was first published in al-Hayat on June 9, 2013.
Hazem al-Amin is a Lebanese writer and journalist at al-Hayat. He was a field reporter for the newspaper, and covered wars in Lebanon, Afghanistan, Iraq and Gaza. He specialized in reporting on Islamists in Yemen, Jordan, Iraq, Kurdistan and Pakistan, and on Muslim affairs in Europe. He has been described by regional media outlets as one of Lebanon's most intelligent observers of Arab and Lebanese politics.