by Salman Hameed
There are a lot of claims about what the protests in Turkey are about (on secular vs Islamists; just about the trees on Taksim Square; a reaction to the alcohol restrictions, etc) and the participants who make up the protestors (also see yesterday's post here). Here is a level-headed article in Al-Monitor by a reporter who has been covering the protests from the Taksim Square: Who Are Turkey's Protestors? (tip from Berna Turam):
I was, in my capacity as a reporter, among the thousands of citizens who thronged the streets of central Istanbul on May 31 in what some are labeling “A Turkish Spring” and “A Turkish Occupy” movement. Other commentators have resorted to the lazy old clichés of “secularists versus Islamists.” Turkey’s Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan insists they are "provocateurs."
None of these capture the nature of protests that have engulfed the country. These began when police staged a predawn operation on May 31 to disperse citizens who were demonstrating peacefully against a government-backed development project that would uproot dozens of trees in Taksim Square. The diversity of the protesters defies any such neat categorization.
After describing the make up of protestors, she reaches the following conclusion:
My overall impression, and it’s commonly shared, is that the Taksim Park project has morphed into a vehicle for popular resentment against Erdogan’s increasingly dismissive and authoritarian ways. Under a decade of AKP rule, Turkey has become the world’s top jailer of journalists. Its interventionist policy in Syria is causing alarm. The systematic and disproportionate use of force against the slightest display of dissent obscures that the AKP was democratically elected and remains the most popular government in modern Turkish history. Yet, egged on by the slavishly self-censoring Turkish media, Erdogan seems increasingly out of touch.
Be it through restrictions on alcohol or disregard for the environment, people who do not share Erdogan’s worldview are being made to feel like second-class citizens. The sentiment is especially strong among the country’s large Muslim Alevi minority whose long-running demands for recognition continue to be spurned much as they were by past governments.
Hard-core secularists who massed in the district of Kadikoy, a CHP stronghold on the Asian side are keen to paint the protests as a backlash against the “Islamist” AKP. It's not just CHP supporters who feel their lifestyles are being infringed upon. Conscientious objectors, atheists and gays, almost anyone who falls outside the AKP’S conservative base is feeling squeezed. The majority, however, are sick of old-style politicians and their tired ideas. So where will they go? The question is growing ever more pressing in the run-up to nationwide local elections that are to be held next year.
Erdogan’s political fortunes hinge on how the government handles the crisis. Pulling back the police and allowing the crowds to gather on the second day was a step in the right direction.
Turkey is not on the brink of a revolution. A Turkish Spring is not afoot. Erdogan is no dictator. He is a democratically elected leader who has been acting in an increasingly undemocratic way. And as Erdogan himself acknowledged, his fate will be decided at the ballot box, not in the streets.