Will Erdoğan benefit from demonstrations?
Some avid supporters of the Justice and Development Party (AKP) believe Prime Minister Erdoğan will come out stronger from the ongoing anti-government demonstrations because they think he managed these events well. They like his angry tone and the fact that he is defying “international powers that have always had designs on Turkey.”
These powers, for them at least, are headed by the US, Israel, the EU, and now also include Erdoğan’s nemesis Bashar al-Assad. According to them Assad’s agents are the prime mover behind the protestors in Istanbul’s Gezi Park. The reason, according to them, is that “Erdoğan is the only leader who stood up bravely and honorably to Assad while a cowardly world looked on.”
Those who initially supported Erdoğan and the AKP include a large number of liberals. It would be wrong to blame them for doing this since Erdoğan was being hounded at the time by a military that was working in an undemocratic way to undermine him and his government. In other words Erdoğan had the advantage of being the victim then.
Most liberals were also happy about the realistic manner with which the AKP approached the Cyprus issue in 2003, and were pleased to see him trying to push Turkey’s EU vocation further. They were also pleased about his bold opening as far as Turkey’s Kurdish issue was concerned.
In addition to these liberals there were conservative elements that supported Adnan Menderes’s Democratic Party (DP) in the 1950’s, and Süleyman Demirel’s Justice Party (AP) in the late sixties through to the end of the 1970’s. Both Menderes and Demirel were toppled by the military leaving an ingrained dislike of the military in this portion of society, which happens to be conservative but is not fundamentalist when it comes to a religion. Therefore many who hail from this segment of society admired Erdoğan for putting a halt to its undemocratic interferences in the political domain.
Then there was the fact that Erdoğan’s government kept the economy stable and growing, a fact that pleased the Istanbul business community, prompting it to support the AKP, especially after the country entered its economic take-off period under this government.
Of course the economic policies the AKP implemented were not of its own making, but were handed down by the Ecevit government that preceded it. However the AKP did not stray from a path essentially charted by the IMF in 2001, a fact that was also appreciated by the international business community.
Put another way, the overwhelming support Erdoğan has been enjoying since the AKP came to power in 2002 was not based solely on his and his party’s Islamist identity. His supporters included a diverse coalition comprising various interest groups that were promoting genuine democracy and human rights, getting even with the military for its past misdeeds, or merely hoping to line their pockets more in the stable economic environment.
With such support behind him and a massive mandate from the electorate Erdoğan, with proper governance, could have truly etched a place for himself in the history books as one of the greatest leaders Turkey has produced. Now however it appears more and more that it is the Islamist Erdoğan who is up front and as such he has no interest in making peace with the secular elite. In other words Erdoğan is embedded in the past and is leading a war which has more to do with this past than it has with Turkey’s future.
Neither he nor his supporters seem to realize, however, that this also makes him a man of the past and not of the future. It is therefore a wide open question as to whether those elements that supported him for reasons other than his Islamism in the past will continue to do so in the future. In other words, whatever his avid supporters may believe, it is not a certainty that Erdoğan will emerge stronger from the latest events, especially after the way he managed these events which has not unified but divided the country more.