As Turkey’s protest movement entered its second week, embattled Turkish prime
minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan faced a difficult choice.
Should he cancel
his three-day visit to North Africa or continue as planned? Erdogan chose the
latter, an act intended to show that the recent demonstrations engulfing his
country would have no affect on his resolve or schedule.
This was quite a
gamble. Not only has his leaving the country been viewed by protesters and
opposition leaders as irresponsible and even cowardly, but when he returns
Erdogan will face a transformed political climate.
activists openly calling for Erdogan to resign, have spread to nearly every
major city in the country from the epicenters of the movement in Istanbul, Izmir
and Ankara to the eastern cities of Antakya, Mardin and Van.
240,000-strong Confederation of Public Sector Trade Unions (KESK) declared its
solidarity with the protesters against “state terror.” No longer can Erdogan
dismiss the activists as mere “looters,” “marginal elements” or
The two-day union strike starting Wednesday threatens to shut
down schools, universities and public offices, deeply affecting the economy.
This economy, the pride of Erdogan’s decade in power, has already shown
Not only is the country’s stock market down by six
percent, but also bond prices have fallen as did the lira. Some analysts now
predict that Turkey’s annual GDP growth of 5% may reduce to 3.5% in the coming
Turkey’s tourist industry, the sixth biggest in the world and worth
over $20 billion, is also likely to be hit. As it enters its peak summer season
several countries including Britain and the United States have issued travel
warnings to avoid areas affected by the protests. In Istanbul, over 40% of hotel
reservations have been either postponed or canceled.
Often hailed as a
model Muslim democracy, Turkey’s international standing has already been
affected. US Secretary of State John Kerry voiced concern over the excessive use
of force by the Turkish police. Similar sentiments were expressed by the
European Union’s foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton. The UN’s human rights
office has called for an investigation into the heavy-handed police tactics and
potential abuse of human rights. Even Erdogan’s arch-nemesis, Syria’s Bashar
Assad, has joined the condemnation.
Erdogan’s hopes of changing Turkey’s
constitution to allow for greater powers for the president, an office he is keen
to take after his term as prime minister, is now but a distant
Worse for Erdogan still, cracks within his own Justice and
Development Party (AKP) are emerging.
Erdogan has insisted he will stick
to his decision to redesign Gezi Park. But Erdogan’s former culture and tourism
minister, Ertugrul Gunay, has spoken out against the project. “The few remaining
green areas in Istanbul’s district of Beyoglu shouldn’t be turned into a
shopping mall just so that somebody can make a profit,” declared
Almost immediately after Erdogan’s departure, Abdullah Gul, who
holds the largely ceremonial office of president, defended the right of citizens
Deputy Prime Minister Bulent Arinc made an apology for the
violent police response to the initial protests. “We are open to all reactions,
all demands within democratic culture and the legal framework,” Arinc publically
This is not the first time that the three leading founders of the
AKP have found themselves at odds. The AKP was never a united political body,
but rather a working consensus of various political factions united in order to
govern. Now under the stress of the protests, the balance of the troika is being
shaken. Some analysts have noted that both Gul, Arinc and other senior members
of the AKP are frustrated by Erdogan and his ambition to became president after
his term as prime minister finishes.
Erdogan told reporters before
leaving Turkey, “On my return from this visit, the problems will be solved.” But
protestors seem determined to stay put and their presence has an air of
In the Taksim area of Istanbul a library has been established
as has an orchestra.
Free food stands are everywhere. Even Yoga classes
are being run.
When Erdogan returns to Turkey he will find that his
troubles have not gone away, and he will have to navigate a completely different
Emre Caliskan is a London-based freelance journalist
writing on Turkey and Middle East Affairs.
Simon A. Waldman is a lecturer
in Middle Eastern Studies at King’s College London.