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Thursday, June 6, 2013

Turkey: Possible Outcomes & What Protesters Want

As protests continue on the streets of Turkey's cities large and small, one can't help but wonder: what will come of all this? What are the possible outcomes? What do the protesters actually want?

On Saturday I wrote that, unless a viable challenger to Erdoğan miraculously appeared, all this protesting may fade into history with little fundamental change. After almost a full week of protests, I'm starting to think I was (at least partially) wrong. I still think that Erdoğan will continue to lead the country (i.e. not resign before completing his term) and the well-organized AKP will likely stay in power even through the next election unless a viable opposition arises. But when the tear gas clears the air and the makeshift barricades are finally removed from Taksim Square, some things will have changed.

Firstly, although the mainstream Turkish press has been woefully absent from reporting on the protests, the international press should get kudos for being in the thick of it. One can literally read dozens of analyses in English and other languages (@OccupyTaksim has a good round-up and I regularly update my twitter feed with good articles) on the events of the past week. And for once (my dissatisfaction with foreign reporting on Turkey is well-documented), many show a level of true understanding of the underlying reasons why people have taken to the streets. Perceptive enough to see that the protests are more than over a few trees in Taksim, journalists, facebookers, tweeters, inquisitive friends-of-Turks and practically anyone using the internet now knows about the Prime Minister's troubling blend of paternalistic, authoritarian Islamism.

One outcome of the protests is thus the termination of the honeymoon between Erdoğan and the international press who regularly touted his brand of 'mildly Islamic' 'democracy' as an example for the region. They now see that an Erdoğan-led Turkey is "fast turning from democratic haven in the Middle East to unblemished authoritarianism", perhaps leading to more external scrutiny directed at him from foreign media and, ultimately, governments.

Undoubtedly there will be other outcomes. Many protesters call for the resignation of the PM (#TayyipISTIFA) and police leaders in some cities. I'm not so sure that this will (or even should) happen. Police leaders? Probably. Erdoğan? Unlikely. Better to search for a viable challenger in the next election, thus derailing his aspirations to be President after increasing the power of that largely ceremonial office (i.e. 'pulling a Putin').

What outcomes would the protesters actually like to see? As with the initial 'Occupy' movements on Wall St. and elsewhere around the world, you'd probably get 50 different answers if you asked 50 different protesters. However, an anonymous group of Turks will publish a full-page ad in tomorrow's New York Times (paid for entirely by crowdfunding from 'concerned individuals around the world') outlining the best, most realistic set of demands I've seen yet (click here for the full text of the ad):
We demand an end to police brutality.
We demand a free media.
We demand open democratic dialogue between citizens and those elected to public service, not the dictates of special interests.
We demand an investigation of the government’s recent abuse of power, which has led to the loss of innocent lives.
That's not too much to ask, is it Mr. PM?