Taksim Square is again at the centre of the news as the Turkish PM makes it clear that he will not tolerate the protests against his ever tightening hand on power there. Tayyip Erdogan has sent in the army with more tear gas, rubber bullets and water cannons to shift people from protesting both in the central square of Istanbul and in the neighbouring Gezi Park – but what’s at the root of the issue? It’s not as simple as some would have us believe.
Many media outlets are claiming it is about the spread of Sharia Law into a secular country and this would be a populist way of looking at the issue considering the current view on the Muslim faith across some of the west – but from listening to interviews with Turkish people living both in the country and abroad it is more a reaction to the reduction of liberties in general than the religious issue. Since 1994 Tayyip Erdogan has ben a prominent figure in one of the country’s largest cities, first being Mayor of Istanbul and for the last ten years has been the Prime Minister and according to many reports a once popular figure is slowly testing the patience and resolve of his people.
Many of the new laws and restrictions have widespread support – he himself has enjoyed up to 90% approval ratings – but there is a tide turning in a country that has always kept church and state separate to some he appears to be blurring the lines. The main issue is with his aggressive and despot attitude that is leaving many of his opponents with a bad taste in their mouth. In today’s speech he claimed: “They say the prime minister is rough. So what was going to happen? Were we going to kneel down in front of these [people]? If you call this roughness, I’m sorry, but this Tayyip Erdogan won’t change.” Referring to your self in the third person is the first warning sign and he appears to believe that he is untouchable – he contradicted his own Governor of Istanbul Huseyin Avni Mutlu by allowing the army to move into the peaceful protest in the park where environmental campaigners were holding a peaceful demonstration against the development of the park into buildings.
The public demonstrations have been largely peaceful and Tayyip Erdogan’s responses have so far cost four people their lives and over five thousand have had treatment for injuries and the effects of tear gas. When the first attacks on the groups took place last year many tourists, families and children were caught up in this angry response with young children in pain from the effects of the gas. This is a man who appears from the outside to be losing the plot and turning from a democratic leader to a demonstrative and even dictatorial one. I think the rush to judgement over the Sharia law issue is wrong as there are differing views on the implementation depending on which set of Muslims are being considered – Sunni or Shia – as there is a disagreement between the two not only in Turkey but across many areas in the Middle East and to use the words “Muslim” or “Sharia Law” doesn’t take this into consideration.
This is more a case of a leader losing the plot and showing his power through action rather than meeting or listening to those round him or from the opposition groups. His scheduled meeting tomorrow with protesters will not happen now and if he continues to be so heavy handed in his response to peaceful, hard working people he may find the protests in Ankara and Istanbul grow. You need to see this more as what the UK experienced in the early 90s with the Poll Tax riots and not an extension of the Arab Spring.
These people are fighting for their basic democratic and human rights. Fingers crossed a solution is found before anymore people get injured or die in this power struggle.