Erdoğan fails to get the point, Gül does

Erdoğan fails to get the point, Gül does

Prime Minister Tayyip Erdoğan looked tense and tired during his Istanbul press conference before departing for Morocco on June 3. He got into row with reporters asking questions to him about the Taksim protest that has now spread across the country. They not only involve young protestors in street clashes with the police, but also drivers honking and flashing continuously, housewives inside and in front of their houses with a cacophonic band of pots and pans, and turning the lights of their houses on and off when the sun goes down.

In his four-day North Africa trip, Erdoğan is going to talk about the merits of democracy in Morocco, Algeria and Tunisia, the latter of which was the starting point of the Arab Spring back in 2010. Perhaps he will have to answer some questions about the state of democratic rights in Turkey. Most mainstream Turkish TV stations have not covered the now week-long protests very much, worried about the possible fury of the prime minister, but Erdoğan was still upset at the fact that people were communicating over social media. “Twitter is a trouble maker” he said in a live TV show on June 2, raising question marks over the possibility of a ban.

On June 3, before leaving, he reminded the protestors - who he describes as “marauders” - that he had the support of 50 percent of voters in the last (2011) elections, and that he could “hardly stop” his supporters from standing against them. In a sense, he was threatening one section of his own people with another section of his own people. He also said that “those who ask for moderation from me should look at themselves first.”

Almost half an hour after Erdoğan’s departure, President Abdullah Gül made a statement, which was his second intervention in the incidents in 48 hours. The first was on June 1, when everybody started to have fears of bloodshed after another statement from Erdoğan. Gül’s statement said he had held a telephone conversation with the prime minister, after which the police were withdrawn. In his second intervention, in contrast to what Erdoğan had said, Gül underlined the need for different lifestyles living alongside each other, and asked for the “moderation of all parties,” which in theory included the prime minister himself. Gül also pointed out that the ballot box alone was not enough for a proper democracy. He also gave an appointment to Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu, the leader of the main opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP), who had requested to talk with him about the issue.

The picture is becoming clearer with almost every hour. Erdoğan fails to get the point, but Gül does. Gül sees that the protests have no precedent in Turkish history, and are no more about claiming back a park in Istanbul’s Taksim Square. They are about to turn into a fight for the lifestyles of a section of Turkish society that has tasted the secular and modern way of life and doesn’t want to lose it.

Erdoğan’s insistence on getting his own plans implemented at all costs has turned a modest protest for a park into a nationwide social movement. The further toughening of his style will further politicize a social movement; that is what Gül is trying to avoid.