ANKARA, TURKEY. Turkey is shaken by ongoing civil unrest. In many cities across the country, tens of thousands of people take over public squares with mass demonstrations that result in collisions between the population and law enforcement forces. The main demand of the protesters is Mr. Recep Erdogan’s resignation from his Prime Minister post. Until recently he was considered to be one of the most charismatic Turkish leaders since Ataturk and the father of Turkish present-day economic growth. Nonetheless, according to the popular protests, he seems to have lost people’s faith.
In fact Erdogan got into the “traditional” for reformist leaders trap. Series of successes such as booming economy, growing political influence in the region and “victories” over his main political adversaries (the Kemalists, military, nationalists) made Erdogan overconfident. His policy ceased to be balanced and looks more inconsiderate as he started to overplay his hand and to ignore public opinion and opinions of his political allies.
Everything started with the Istanbul Gezi park sit-in, where a crowd opposed the uprooting of trees, this protest was responded to by police with violent treatment (tear gas and water cannon used leaving a lot of people wounded) of protesters. This police action caused a broad Wave of anti-government demonstrations all over Turkey. While the first demonstration raised the issue of environmental concerns, the further protests touched issues of freedom of press and expression, accusing government’s authoritarianism and dictatorship, rife corruption and constant raids on secularism.
Finally, the late 2013 corruption scandals resulted in various ministerial resignations from Erdogan’s cabinet. This was an unprecedented challenge to the rule of the pro-Islamic Justice and Development Party (AKP), which immediately claimed the scandal to be a foreign-backed plot against the government. Erdogan referred to the long-standing opponents and hinted at the figure of Fethullah Gullen, a U.S. based Turkish cleric whose “Hizmet” movement claims at least 1 million followers, including in the judiciary and police.
This Gullen movement is known for its ideology towards secularism and separation of religion from education. It is now mobilizing its power against Erdogan.
Meanwhile, Erdogan issued several controversial laws tightening Internet controls, particularly banning the Twitter platform (a move recently suspended by the court), the banning of YouTube, and obtaining greater influence over judiciary. Erdogan refuses to make concessions.
His overconfidence is probably based on the support of his policies by rural population, which embraces his fundamental Islamism and neo-Ottomanism, political ideology promoting deep political engagement of Turkey within regions formerly been under the rule of Ottoman Empire.
At the same time, there are opinions that if Erdogan does not listen to opposition, in this scenario, the country may expect the civil conflict and the army, which has always been a guarantor of internal stability and democracy and actually repressed by Erdogan, will get its chance to revenge the PM and his government.
Notwithstanding, the likelihood of such events is very low. People are aware that there is no real alternative for the AKP. Other candidates for government are nationalists or the Kemalists, who might immediately begin to tighten the screws on matters of religious and civil liberties. Therefore, it is more likely that people simply want to return AKP policies implemented at the end of the last decade and “get rid” of Erdogan.
These desires coincide with the position of several AKP members who openly distanced themselves from the Prime Minister Erdogan. Among them, the President Abdullah Gul, who openly criticized the violent crackdown of protests and later dismissed Erdogan’s suggestions on foreign plot against his government.
Nevertheless, the Prime Minister seems to continue to take a tough stand against his opponents. It may not affect him but various pollsters predict that his party might a price in the upcoming local elections to Republican People’s Party (CHP) may result winning in several important towns, including the capital, Ankara. Next up are the general elections in 2015. It remains to be seen how events develop in the light of these bids.