Will Erdoğan learn?

Will Erdoğan learn?

Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s political arrogance has started to cost the country much, whatever the damage to his own international image and reputation may be at a time when he is vying to become what amounts to a president with unencumbered powers.

I have always argued that the age of military coups in Turkey is over. But I cannot say the same for massive public upheavals which can, as a result of political mismanagement and anti-democratic pressures, result in serious social conflict. Once again we see that this is a country where you can push people only so far before the flood gates on anger burst open.

Erdoğan intimated defiantly on Saturday that if he wanted he could have filled Taksim square with a million of his followers. He does not understand the difference between people taking to the streets spontaneously, and a crowd that is guided like sheep into pen. The subject is not one of numbers.

There is nothing to justify what is becoming oppression based on an electoral majority aimed at curbing freedom of expression and people’s secular lifestyles. But Erdoğan has seen now that the field is not as empty as he would have liked in order to push his Islamist agenda. His statements carry increasing overtones of this agenda too. Take for example his following remark.

“Whatever the religion concerned is, if it dictates what is true, are you going to oppose it? If legislation introduced by two drunks is respectable, why do you feel a law dictated by religion should be rejected?”

Whatever he may have meant here, one of the drunks mentioned by him was taken by many as a reference to Mustafa Kemal Atatürk, the founder of the secular republic. Many sins of commission and omission have been committed against people of faith in the past by successive Kemalist governments, of course.

A very large element of the Turkish population nevertheless remains committed to the memory of Ataturk and is touchy about the manner in which his name is evoked, directly or indirectly. It was inevitable therefore that something should break due to Erdoğan’s agitating remarks, especially when such remarks are combined with increasing interference in secular lifestyles.

Erdoğan felt the need on Saturday, as the rioting across the country was going on, to say, that they are not here to interfere in lifestyles and impose the will of an electoral majority. How sincere he is remains to be seen, especially when the sum total of his remarks on Saturday and Sunday amount to angry defiance.

Unless he seriously tones down his abrasive ways the country will most definitely head for more trouble. Erdoğan is also angry at the reactions from the EU, the U.S., and even from Hollywood stars to last weekend’s events in Turkey. He must realize though that he can’t have it all his way. If you want Turkey to be a star in the world, you have to accept critical international scrutiny.

So it remains to be seen if Erdoğan will draw the necessary lessons from all this? It is not difficult to have serious doubts on this score since he sees himself as more than just a mere politician. He is a man with a mission, and that mission is seen increasingly to be driven by Islam. Erdoğan is, after all, the one who said in 2012 that he wanted to see a religious youth emerge in Turkey.

He could have said “What I want to see emerge is a well educated, modern, democratic youth which respects human rights, values, and freedoms, as well as all those other things that go to make up a truly developed and advanced democracy.”

But he didn’t. He nevertheless sees now that a large element of Turkish youth, with support from all ages and walks of life, has other expectations of him, which, if not met in democratic ways, will spell trouble for Turkey as a whole.