Have the Arab uprisings made their way to Turkey? It seems the Turkish people took a page out of the Arab peoples’ playbook, with large numbers demonstrating in the streets in order to bring about political change. The protesters seem to be made up of more secular Turks affiliated with the opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP), founded by Mustafa Kemal Ataturk in 1924.
Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan of the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) is acting according to character, defying the pressure and promising to plow ahead with his plans to build at the Istanbul Park. He painted the protesters as criminals: “They are burning, damaging the shops. Is this democracy?” he asked.
However, Erdogan seemed to give in a little, saying that there would not be a mall, but a mosque, to replace Taksim Square.
It is hard to see how the prime minister would give in to the opposition or even quit if the pressure keeps up.
Efrat Aviv, a researcher at the Begin-Sadat Center for Strategic Studies and a lecturer in the department of Middle East studies at Bar-Ilan University, who closely follows the Turkish media, toldThe Jerusalem Post that it is difficult to find out what is going on because Turkey does not have a freedom of the press and its media are not broadcasting much about the protests.
In addition, she said, one of her contacts inside the country said that on Saturday, Facebook and Twitter were shut down for a few hours.
Aviv sees the outburst as a result of a building tension that blew up because of a number of factors that have been irritating a large segment of the population, and not only secular Turks, but also some religious people and Erdogan voters.
The jailing of generals and political activists, the limitations on alcohol and smoking, the failure to act in Syria, which has created a major refugee problem in Turkey, police brutality, and upset over the peace process with the Kurds were already on the minds of much of the public when the police overreacted at the park, causing masses to turn out in protest, after what might have been a non-event if not for the police action.
However, perhaps it was just a matter of time before an event like this caused things to boil over.
“Erdogan is not Mubarak,” said Aviv, adding that she does not see this like an Arab uprising. Perhaps the protesters got some inspiration about the power of the people from the uprisings, but Turkey is a democracy, not a perfect one, but definitely on a completely different level than the Arab states, she said.
The Post spoke with Taner Aydin, the bureau chief in Israel of the Anadolu Agency, the official government news agency in Turkey. He articulated and defended Erdogan’s positions as though he were a Turkish diplomat, saying that the protest was illegal to begin with, sparked over a non-issue – moving some trees.
Aydin complained that the Western media was not fairly portraying the protests.