2 Jun 2013

Turkey cleans its streets, but what of the political debris?

A gentle drizzle was falling over Gezi Park and Taksim Square this morning as protestors embarked on the cleanup.

They put on their rubber gloves and began to bag up the litter and debris left by two nights of rioting and running battles with the police.

Turkey’s a pretty efficient place so they’ll probably remove the smashed up buses and overturned, burnt out cars soon as well.

Which leaves the political debris.

“What the prime minister does next will make all the difference,” said Hugh Pope of the International Crisis Group, who has lived in and studied Turkey for more than a decade. “The government needs to reach out to the groups that organized the protest.”

Yesterday Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan acknowledged that the police had been heavy-handed but he also taunted the protestors, saying that even if they brought 100,000 onto the streets he could muster a million.

It’s probably true. He has won three elections, the last with more than 50 per cent of the vote, and is by far the most effective and popular politician in the country.

But that’s not the point. He’s also the prime minister of those who didn’t vote for him, of secular urban Turks as well as his rural, religious base. Their demands, from cancelling a construction project that will ruin a park to being allowed to buy alcohol at night, indicate how alienated they have become.

“Erdogan has become more remote after ten years in power,” said Mr Pope. “It happens to all leaders after a while.”

This afternoon there’s meant to be a concert in Taksim Square. If that’s allowed to go ahead, it will be a sign that the government is willing to give the protestors some leeway, but two things could go wrong.

First, the thuggish element that you find in any crowd, including anarchists and football hooligans, could sabotage what should be a peaceful gathering with violence.

Secondly, the police may return with their tear gas and water cannon.

This morning Syrian TV showed footage of the violence in Istanbul, and described the police response to the protests as brutal.

That’s pretty rich coming from the regime of Bashar al Assad.

Last year Prime Minister Erdogan went to Damascus on numerous occasions to tell Assad that he should listen to the then peaceful protestors across Syria and find a way to negotiate and compromise.

The question now is, will he take his own advice?

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3 reader comments

  1. Gul baskir says:

    My take on Erdogan: He will listen & learn from it. May not happen today but it will tomorrow. He does care about Turkey and it’s people regardless of their views. He finds the critics difficult as his is not challenged. Also his personally, not quite the cool and calculated one. He is passionate about Turkey. He wants to leave a legacy after him. He is most liked leader regardless. He is aware of other successful leader’s mistake and I believe he will avoid them as much as he can.

  2. Philip says:

    I hope he doesn’t over-react & fail to compromise. Turkey has been a shining example of a Muslim country which has been able to compromise between Islamic beliefs and western-style modernisation – including a democracy which has flourished from rather fragile beginnings. I had hoped they would be a model that those who have come new to power after the Arab Spring would follow, rather than more inward-looking, religiously-conservative options.

  3. Iain Macmillan says:

    I just saw you on the Channel 4 News telling a young lady in Istanbul that she wasn’t oppressed. It’s incredibly arrogant of you to appoint yourself the arbiter of who is and isn’t oppressed, considering the privileged, British/English Establishment background you come from.

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