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The sultan is not ...exactly naked
by Thanos Kalamidas
2013-06-10 07:28:31
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Before anything else when talking about Recep Tayyip Erdoğan we must make clear one basic thing. Despite all the scenes we see on our television or computer screens, the man enjoys amazing popularity in Turkey.

If the country held elections tomorrow Erdoğan would enjoy victory with more than 50% approval.

02_07062013a_400One more thing we must remember is that the man has enjoyed ten years of establishing himself in an almost unchallenged position, even though he is the focus of the protesters in Istanbul and other Turkish cities.

Over the last decade, especially under Erdoğan’s leadership, there has been conflict between the neo-Islamism, capitalism, pro-European front and the traditional Kemalists, as well as the guardians of the secular state, the army.

Coming to the state we have another schizophrenic situation. While the neo-Islamist Erdoğan guarantees democracy, the secular army has a past full of barbaric dictatorships and corruption which Erdoğan revealed.

In the middle of all that are the people. The people who don’t want their simple and everyday rights disappearing under the veil of neo-Islamism – the measure of not kissing in public, might sound ridiculous but it is one more sign of the neo-Islamic reality. At the same time, they don’t want to see the army parading in the streets outside their barracks.

The only political opposition Erdoğan has is the Republican Party CHP, but the CHP has seen its power shrink to something like 20% in the last few years. Their oration is limited to accusing Erdoğan of superciliously, arrogance and a lack of democracy, yet their arguments disappear under the more than 50% approval.

Even though everything happens because of a planned shopping mall, it was enough to make the people demonstrate in the streets, although it definitely doesn’t look like a Turkish-style Spring.

What led more people to the streets was the brutality of the police shown from the very first day. It was fear that mainly pushed them into the streets; fear that they are losing their rights. The rest came after.

02_07062013b_400The demands for more democracy, the demands for constitutional changes and the change in the police came after. This is why after a few very damaging nights Erdoğan withdrew the police and then in a televised appearance started talking to the people. It is why Turkish president Abdullah Gül demonstrated loudly and publicly his disappointment in the police.

The police overdid it. Their actions were at least barbaric and definitely inappropriate for any democratic country dreaming of European Union membership. Actually, the police are now responsible for the rise in demands.

While Erdoğan could have eased the situation in the first 24 hours, now he has to do something radical to calm down these people and punishing the leadership of the police will not be enough.

For the last two years, the Turkish prime minister has inspired a feeling of stability, following the peace agreements with the Kurds and especially after the dramatic turn of their imprisoned leader Abdullah Öcalan.

Now the Turkish people want to improve their democracy and enjoy the freedoms that have been reduced after decades of military dictatorships. They want to be part of Europe and enjoy the same freedoms other Europeans do, but it seems that Erdoğan is not ready for that.

He wants to control the way to democracy and, most importantly, he wants to filter and refine this road with Islam – that in a country that has been forcefully secular for nearly a century.

While all these things are going on there is another game behind the curtains. The army over the last decade has lost its power monopoly and the deep state has found itself facing accusations of conspiring against the people, as well as corruption. They have been waiting for their chance for the comeback.

The demonstrations have given them exactly this chance. Suddenly – to the limits to build a conspiracy theory – the army started defending the people from the police. Demonstrators found shelter in the army barracks, surprising even them.

Add to that the differences – economic, cultural even social – between east and western Turkey, you get a very strange cocktail with too many elements in the same place.

If you add to that the demands neo-Islamic capitalism has created to the big Turkish metropolises, such as Istanbul, a city of 12 million – 17 million, according to some – of souls looking for a better and more “European” future away from the hard east, you get a pressure cooker ready to explode. And it did.

After a century of secular, not very democratically friendly dictatorships, supported by the army, you have a country without democratic traditions, whose only way to democracy, however strange, was the neo-Islamic Erdoğan.

But now the people want more and Erdoğan is perhaps limited by his Islamism to give more. Yet, at the same time, the secular army is again on the move, at least from the shadows, while the people continue to demonstrate in the squares.


First published for GBTimes

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