Mohamed Hemish: Why Erdogan is failing to deal with Gezi
Protesters scramble for safety as Turkish riot police officers dismantle the tent camp set up by demonstrators in Gezi Park in Istanbul, June 15, 2013. © Marco Longari / AFP
Mohamed Hemish: Why Erdogan is failing to deal with Gezi
Last updated: June 17, 2013
Mohamed Hemish: Why Erdogan is failing to deal with Gezi

“It seems Erdogan has brought the reforms to Turkey but failed to bring them to himself and his government”

Banner Icon Turkish PM Erdogan and his government have demonstrated to the world that Turkey is nowhere near a modern state where people can exercise their right to protest peacefully without having to worry about the government coming after them for disagreeing with that government or its policies.

Erdogan claims that the protests against him and his government are some kind of plot that has been staged and planned by the opposition parties in order to undermine his government. Erdogan refuses to come to terms with the fact that the protests are not like the ones that took place in the past. The core of protests in the past has been political ideology and in most cases they’ve turned violent. Yet this time is a first in the fact that it is directed against the government not because of ideology but because of discontent with its day-to-day policies in which people claim they are not being included.

Erdogan and his government seem to not understand that such protests are possible in Turkey. Erdogan doesn’t understand, like plenty of other leaders in the Middle East, that young people in this age are less about ideology and more about individual freedom.

Yet the fact that Erdogan does not get it is understandable. He was a member of a party that was suppressed by the same people he now claims are plotting against his government. In 1997, the then PM Necmettin Erbakan of the Welfare Party, which Erdogan was part of, was forced to resign as part of 1997 military memorandum, which was issued by the Turkish military leadership in order to “protect secularisim ideology” in Turkey.

One of Erdogan’s missions as a PM was to reduce the power of the Turkish military and to bring them under the civil authority while reducing the influence of the military generals. Erdogan has managed to bring democratic reforms to Turkey that no other leader or government could accomplish in such a short time. Erdogan has also succeeded in seriously engaged in a solution for the Kurdish problem in Turkey; a problem that has prevented Turkey from achieving its political and economical potentials. This new Turkey welcomes different groups with different ethnicities and ideologies who wish to live side by side without conflict yet only require their freedom in a modern way, in they way the modern countries have.

It seems Erdogan has brought the reforms to Turkey but failed to bring them to himself and his government. The way the government is reacting to the peaceful protests in Turkey makes you feel like they are not seeing what the rest of us are seeing.

Erdogan cannot get beyond the fact that people could unite despite their different ideologies, colors or ethnicities; something that some of his party members seem to understand. Turkish Education Minister, Nabi Avcı said on June 10, 2013:

“We have succeeded in five days in doing something that the opposition wouldn’t have been able to do in years. And we have made very different segments, groups and fractions meet each other under the dust who would never have gotten together under normal conditions.”

On the other hand, the majority of AK party officials don’t seem to have difficulty understanding the situation and went even further than Erdogan’s comments.

On June 11, 201, Istanbul Governor Huseyin Avni Mutlu posted on Twitter that police would enter Taksim Square and take down banners and clean up the square without going into Gezi Park, where the “peaceful protesters” were staying.

“Our aim is to remove the signs and pictures on Ataturk statue and the Ataturk Cultural Centre. We have no other aim, Gezi Park and Taksim will not be touched."

At the meantime, some clashes in the square started accruing with police firing tear gas at people and some protesters at the square throwing Molotov cocktails and rocks at the police. By the end of the night the police had taken over the square without going into Gezi Park. Also, Gezi Park protesters made some kind of deal with the police that if no one throws rocks at the police the police would do nothing in return.

What was really disappointing about Istanbul’s governor is the fact that at 2 am in the morning he came live in CNN Turk and said that parents of the youngsters in Gezi Park should “remove” their children from Taksim and advise them to come home because it might be dangerous in Taksim. Mubarak and Gaddafi have made similar statements previously during the protests against their regimes. The fact that the governor would talk about the protesters in a way that undermines their cause is an insult to them and a testament to the backwardness this government still suffers from.

The young MEN and WOMEN in Gezi Park are people who need no parent to advise them on what to do or what not to do and they are not being manipulated by anyone. Their decisions are their own and they are responsible for their actions and old enough to bear its consequences. Moreover, such statements will only backlash and deepen the resentment people in Gezi Park and around Turkey have towards the government.

These protests will define AK’s future and Turkey’s future as a whole. Government officials ought to start considering their first choice when dealing with protesters to be compromise and humbleness. Compromise in this case, unlike Erdogan’s belief, is a virtue and not a weakness.

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