Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan addresses his supporters and lawmakers at the parliament in Ankara, Turkey
By Michael Werz
Center for American Progress | June 27, 2013
Three weeks ago, Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan was set to enter
the history books as Turkey’s most successful politician since the
Republic’s founding father, Mustafa Kemal Atatürk. But
bad mismanagement of a fortnight of urban protest has irreparably
damaged Prime Minister Erdoğan’s political legacy and his party.
What began as a modest demonstration of concerned environmentalists
in Istanbul’s city center has evolved into a much broader protest,
reflecting accumulated anger over increasingly restrictive government
policies and disproportionate police action, which has resulted in four
deaths and 7,500 injuries. One of the United States’s closest allies has
just failed a major leadership test.
The prime minister and his allies made three political mistakes.
First, Prime Minister Erdoğan refused to accept that protest as a
legitimate and necessary part of an open society, instead missing out on
an opportunity to deepen Turkey’s democratic exchange. Second, the
Justice and Development Party, or AKP, underestimated concerns of the
middle class about restrictions on freedom of expression, new alcohol
regulations, the prime minister’s increasingly despotic leadership
style, and the outsize role of the state in average Turks’ lives. Third,
the prime minister’s aggressive rhetoric was laden with thinly veiled
conspiracy theories and threats. He repeatedly distinguished between the
“real Turkey,” consisting of his supporters and the “extremists” that he and his cabinet characterized as terrorists. All of this served to deepen existing divisions within Turkish society.
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