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Erdogan should watch his own party, not Taksim 12 juin 2013

Posted by Acturca in Istanbul, Turkey / Turquie.
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Financial Times (UK)  Wednesday, June 12, 2013, p. 7

David Gardner

Yesterday’s forced entry by Turkish riot police into Taksim Square , ending a 10-day commune in the heart of Istanbul, looks for now more like a show of force than an attempt to crush by force a very diverse protest against the authoritarian ways of Recep Tayyip Erdogan .

While he treats this national outburst of rage and irreverence as a vast conspiracy to bring him down by extra-parliamentary means, the prime minister is shrewd enough to draw different arrows from his quiver. Today he is supposed to meet protesters, whose attempt to stop him building over Gezi Park near Taksim spontaneously combusted the rebellion. But he has also called out his supporters to take over the streets of Istanbul and Ankara, the capital, this weekend.

After the tumult of Taksim, he intends to show Turks that Tayyip Erdogan does not just steamroll at elections and bulldoze in government. Lest anyone is in any doubt, his Justice and Development party – the neo-Islamist AKP – also commands the public square.

This is not to endorse ludicrous comparisons made between Taksim and Tahrir or even Tiananmen squares. Mr Erdogan is the prime minister of a republic, who has won three victories with a rising share of an increased vote. If he believes he is God’s gift to Turks and Muslims, that does not make him Hosni Mubarak or the Chinese Communist party. The problem lies elsewhere.

After a decade in office, Mr Erdogan looks intoxicated by power. With no political and few institutional checks on his wilfulness, he appears to regard himself as consubstantial with the nation – alongside Mustafa Kemal, founder of the republic, better known by his title of Ataturk, or father of the Turks. But Ataturk was a great general, whereas Mr Erdogan is behaving like a general fighting the last war. He almost daily likens the present crisis to orchestrated instability preceding the military coups of 1960 and 1980, or the army’s last – and failed – attempt to unseat the AKP in 2007. « I request all activists to see the big picture, understand the plot and withdraw from the streets, » he said yesterday.

But it is the prime minister who has lost the plot, like Lear upon the blasted heath, railing against filial ingratitude, « a man more sinn’d against than sinning ». Mr Erdogan appears not to understand the diversity on display in Taksim and dozens of Turkish cities, and that Turks who did not vote for him – as well as lots who did – refuse to be poured into his paternalist mould.

A young, increasingly urban and sophisticated society that shook off the regimental strictures of Kemalism has no wish to exchange them for attempts to restrict alcohol or abortion, or Mr Erdogan’s exhortations to drink yoghurt, shun white bread and have more babies.

The prime minister nevertheless remains in a strong position. The established opposition of Kemalists and ultranationalists is a howling irrelevance. The communards of Taksim have changed the terms of debate but are unlikely to coalesce politically. The real action now will be in the AKP and its ecosystem.

Next year will probably see a referendum on a new constitution and the first direct elections for the presidency, which Mr Erdogan wants to invest with new powers and take over from Abdullah Gul, the current president with whom he co-founded the AKP. Their joint project is up for grabs, as the prime minister polarises and the president – as his office mandates – attempts to unify all Turks. Mr Gul, emollient during a crisis in which Mr Erdogan was pugilistic, holds the key.

The AKP is a rare modern example of a genuine mass movement – one that peacefully supplanted a Kemalist self-perpetuating elite – and yet its fate now hinges on the authoritarianism of one man. But if Mr Erdogan wants the presidency, he will have to stand down and lose leverage in a party that will seek out an equivalent vote-winner, and Mr Gul is by far the most popular successor. The space for communes started closing yesterday. The space to watch is the ruling party.


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