Summer is not exactly the best time for Turkey’s Prime Minister, Tayeb Erdogan. Last year’s summer was heated by the Gezi Park demonstrations in June, to be followed a couple months later by the corruption probe which kept Erdogan quite shaken until the local elections earlier this winter when he finally started to breath normally.
However, as Turkey heads towards the August presidential elections, and when the country was due to remember the victims of the Gezi park demonstrators, more than 300 miners died in Soma only 300 miles away from Istanbul. Thus, the young Turks were more than infuriated when they gathered to celebrate the first anniversary of the Gezi Park protests.
But like all Islamists, considered by the West as conservative reformists, Erdogan and his Justice party have managed to polarize Turkish society. The young Turks are either seen as pious individuals or glue-sniffers, and thus divided as “Faith’s descendants” or “the drunkard’s descendants.” For the latter, prosecutors in southern Anatalya demanded up to 98 years in prison for five Gezi protesters who took part in the demonstrations held after the death of a young man at Gezi park.
Aysha Deniz, publicly known as the “Girl in red foulard”, was unabashedly tied to socialists by the police due to the color of her scarf. She now faces between 24-to-98 years in prison. Charged with being a member of a “terrorist organization” and “resisting law enforcement officers”, Aysha is seen in Turkey as an example of Erdogan’s authoritarian rule.
Kemal Kilicdaroglu, chairman of Turkey’s opposition party, the Republican People’s Party (CHP), said in a report on the Gezi movement, “Sadly, I have to acknowledge that the citizens’ basic rights in our country are being limited by a political regime whose authoritarian tendencies have become increasingly evident. This oppressive regime is not content with limiting the political liberties; it interferes with the individuals’ private lives, and restricts their freedom of personal choice.”
The Gezi movement started, developed and became popular mainly because of the people’s reaction towards the prime minister’s rhetoric and behavior. Erdogan’s desire to keep all parts of Turkish society under control, the way he speaks in a vindictive, hateful, disdainful and reprimanding manner towards segments of the society (as seen during his visit to the Soma mines), and his “what I say goes” attitude were found derogatory, particularly for the Turkish youth.
Sultan Erdogan, as seen by the Gezi demonstrators, is also titled as the dictator by CHP chairman… but not by the West that has strong interests in his survival. For Europe, Turkey is its prime choice for an alternative gas route to the current Russia-Ukraine pipeline. The trans- Anatolia Natural Gas pipeline, will transport Azerbaijan gas from the Azeri fields in Shahdeniz to Europe via a 1,800 kilometer pipeline in Turkey.
Turkey’s Erdogan is also vital to promote the United States’ interests in the region. For the US to manage the ongoing fighting in Syria and the divided Syrian opposition, Istanbul is its center. It was also the centre for heads of Muslim Brotherhood groups who gathered to discuss the “unfortunate” developments in Egypt which took them out of their ruling offices. At that time, Turkey was promoted as an example for the Arab Spring’s new rulers wherein a Muslim “autocrat”, or Erdogan, heads the regime. However, the Turkish premiere seemed to be toothless to many liberals in the Arab world but their experiences here and in Ankara have later boosted the Islamists’ image as a new type of dictatorship in the making.
Turkey’s chess game has two additional dimensions. It has been the balancing regional stone as far as the Iran dispute with the international community over its nuclear programme is concerned. Moreover, the Sunni leader in Ankara balances the Shi’it Malki in Iraq who is currently siding with Iran in its fight against the Iraqi Sunni population.
Even Israel will have a piece of the Turkish cake. The warming ties between Tel Aviv and Ankara are vital to the former’s regional interests. The Arab Spring has been a blessing to Israel which found in the Muslim Brotherhood’ rule of major Arab countries a pretext to be recognized as a Jewish state. Moreover, Turkey, headed by the Islamist Erdogan, was the real sponsor of the Brotherhood’s ruling clique in the region and thus has the necessary influence once its role as a mediator is developed.
Erdogan’s summers will always be hot and long but their end will be abrupt.