Turkey’s demonstrators have claimed affinity with the pro-democracy protesters of Egypt’s Tahrir Square and taken to calling the country’s largest city “Resistanbul.”
“But Taksim was never Tahrir, let alone Tiananmen, because Turkey is not a dictatorship,” says a prominent analyst.
“It is an electoral democracy – a very imperfect one, to be sure, with an eroded rule of law, inadequate minority rights, an intimidated or manipulated mass media – but still a democracy,” writes Timothy Garton Ash, professor of European Studies at Oxford and a senior fellow at the Hoover Institution at Stanford:
Politically, a realistic outcome is that the current president, Abdullah Gul, and his now more moderate tendency in the ruling party, could gain the upper hand. Even in a more genuinely liberal democracy, the “Turkish model” would not be some French Republic in the eastern Mediterranean. It would, in the best case, combine secularism and democracy with recognition of Islam as the religion of the majority.
“As such, it could again become a magnet for much of the wider Middle East, as well as a serious candidate for EU membership,” he suggests.
The protests not only present a quandary for the US, but also for the EU.
Brussels still supports opening a new “chapter” in Turkey’s accession process, the European Commission’s enlargement spokesman said today.Peter Stano, the European Commission’s enlargement spokesman, today said Brussels was still in favour of opening a new “chapter” in Turkey’s accession process, arguing it was the best forum to address Mr Erdogan’s handling of the crisis.
“The recent events underline the need to engage more with Turkey, especially in discussions working on political criteria, rule of law, respecting fundamental rights and freedoms,” said Peter Stano. “The best platform to tackle these issues, to discuss these issues, and to engage with Turkey on these issues is the accession process.”
Erdogan’s authoritarian streak is the principal cause of the protests, says Professor Omer Taspinar (above). He predicts further polarization between Turkey’s conservative religious masses and its liberal, upper class.
“Analysts noted that a growing rift between Turkey and Europe would only accelerate a shift by Ankara toward the Middle East that gained force as the euro crisis made the European Union increasingly unattractive to many Turks and as the leadership sought new regional clout in the wake of the Arab Spring,” The New York Times’ Dan Bilefsky reports.
The protests in Istanbul had exposed the extent to which the European Union had lost leverage to influence Erdogan’s behavior, said Sinan Ulgen, a visiting scholar at Carnegie Europe in Brussels.
“The E.U. has lost so much leverage in Turkey,” he said. “The only way forward is to use carrots — not sticks.”
“If the E.U. had been a more visible and engaged player, the Erdogan government’s actions would have been different.”
The unrest also suggests that Erdogan’s blend of Islam and democracy is too restrictive, according to the LA Times’ Jeffrey Fleishman and Glen Johnson.
“Erdogan’s vulnerability now is the secular middle classes that have risen against AKP governance. And that genie will not go back into the bottle,” said Soner Cagaptay, director of the Turkish Research Program at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy. “This is a new dynamic in Turkish politics and this will challenge him on his urban renewal and foreign policy programs. So far, he has had an easy ride.”
The crisis is “not defining in the sense that Erdogan and the AKP will lose elections or that there will be a fundamental shift in the balance of power,” said Shadi Hamid, director of research at the Brookings Doha Center. “There is no obvious take away from these protests of the sort we saw in Egypt and Tunisia.”
But the demonstrations will “put a real wrench in Erdogan’s plans in revising the constitution and perhaps plans to run for the presidency.”