AKP is losing international reputation it built since 2002
It would perhaps be too much to compare ongoing popular uprising in Turkey with the Arab Spring movement but it would be a serious mistake to underestimate the significance of this outcry over the government’s growing interference in different lifestyles.
A humble sociological analysis of the week-long protests tells us about three interrelated factors that transformed a peaceful protest by a handful of environmental activists for the protection of trees in a city park to a massive protest campaign against the government.
In the first phase, there is the destruction of notions of “social justice and public conscience ” with the use of disproportionate force against the Gezi Parkı activists. Footage showing hundreds of policemen removing activists from the park after beating them and spraying pepper gas on them caused fury, especially among university youth who are mainly apolitical and have no an affiliation with political parties. The country-wide protests last Friday were mainly a reaction from these groups.
It should also be said that some illegal and marginal groups within this group were the main perpetrators of the violence and vandalism that received a general condemnation from all responsible groups.
In the second phase, the size of the protestors expanded with the inclusion of an age group between 25 and 40, mostly urban, and who had been seriously disturbed by Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s pejorative language against those who enjoy alcoholic beverages. A majority of them could describe themselves as social democrats, but they also included ultranationalists. Their target was neither the political system nor the Justice and Development Party (AKP), but merely Erdoğan himself. Occupying the city’s main squares while enjoying a few bottles of beer was like an answer to Erdoğan who said those who want to drink can do it in their own house.
In the third phase are those who are older than the first two, who joined them over the weekend by banging pots and pans from their houses and turning the lights of their houses on and off at night. In addition to the first two groups’ causes to take the streets, they have also voiced their concerns on the government’s moves that could undermine secularism and other republican values.
Erdoğan’s description of these groups as “a few looters” and increasing the tension by arguing that he could mobilize at least a million AKP voters to take the streets were simply unfortunate and irresponsible. Although it’s too early to make a forecast on the political and social consequences of this ongoing public uprising inside Turkey, one can get a clearer idea of how all of this is being perceived in the world.
Take this for example: Washington has issued five calls to Ankara since late Friday, two coming from the State Department, one from the White House’s National Security Council, one from the Secretary of State John Kerry and one from U.S. Ambassador to Turkey Francis Ricciardone. The foreign ministries of prominent European Union countries, the United Kingdom, France, Germany and others have all urged Turkey not to violate the people’s freedom to assembly and of expression. Catherine Ashton, high representative of the foreign policy and the security of the EU, joined them with a statement.
The government’s indifference toward these groups’ demands and decision to crack down on protestors by using the harshest law enforcement methods further increased concerns in the international community that the government has shelved its democratization agenda. Instead, it believes, the Turkish government is in the process of building a rather authoritarian regime with plans to adopt a strong presidential system that could remove checks and balances in front of Erdoğan’s one-man leadership. In the eyes of the international community, the pro-democracy, pro-EU reputation this government had built since it came to power in late 2002 is getting tarnished every day.
It’s still in the hands of the government to reverse this trend by reconcentrating on a libertarian and pro-freedom Constitution and abandoning plans to reshape the administrative system for just one individual.