Erdogan ‘hasn’t thought through what his main priorities are’
Mark Almond, a visiting professor in International Relations at
Bilkent University in Ankara, reveals to RT an unceremonious
government that underestimated the diversity of its people, as
well as its own politicians, and how the country’s economics and
issues of foreign policy have set up the atmosphere for one the
biggest short-lasting revolutionary events in Turkish history.
RT: Who do you blame for the violence - the protesters
or the police?
Mark Almond: Well, I think there has been massive police
action, and of course it has backfired. And this is a very
dramatic moment for Prime Minister Erdogan, who’s had for the
first time to step back. He was extremely aggressive in his
initial statements that he wouldn’t tolerate protest. And now the
man who was the first world leader to call for [Egyptian]
President Mubarak to resign is talking rather eerily like Mubarak
did shortly before his own fall. He is now saying he’s going to
investigate the police, he’s concerned for the people. He wants
to carry on the project, so he’s managing to, in a sense, muddy
But I don’t think it will calm the situation, because if he
insists on carrying on with the project, which is very unpopular
- and symbolic of what many people see as kind of a high-handed
approach where property developers and government together simply
push aside local opinion – he still is going to keep the protest
going. But at the same time he’s shown weakness, and this is the
first time he’s shown weakness.
RT: Has the political opposition got any hand in
MA: They’re now beginning to take part in it. One of the
problems, I think, from the point of view of the government’s
failure to really anticipate this problem, was that they thought
that was the main opposition party and the other small parties
were rendered irrelevant. That they’d lost the elections, the
present government had a clear majority. And they were taken by
surprise by a rather complex movement of different groups of
people we see – classic, if you like, student protesters,
anarchists, the Twitter generation. But we’ve also seen, which is
worrying for the prime minister, people from his own side of
politics. We’ve seen Muslims praying in the square opposing this
policy, we’ve seen a Kurdish MP actually injured, trying to stand
in the way of one of the bulldozers. So we now have a situation
that a very broad coalition has sprung up not just in Istanbul,
but in other cities. And some of it is actually from the side of
politics that in the past, and recently has been supporting the
And he’s also got the problem inside his own party. The
president’s public statements are much more emollient. And
there’s believed to be a tension between the president, Gül, who
doesn’t want to stop being a president, and Erdogan, who hopes to
change the constitution so he will become president.
RT: What should the government do to protect other
members of the public as the protest continues?
MA: Part of the problem is that the excessive, massive use of teargas has disrupted ordinary life for many people in this very densely-populated part of the city. It has also disrupted tourism: this is a city that has huge numbers of foreign tourists – many of them have been affected, many of them sought medical help. It’s a public relations disaster with huge economic implications.
And the Turkish economy, which had been doing very well for the
first 10 years of Erdogan, is beginning to stall. The property
boom is turning into a bubble that’s bursting. The war in Syria
is worrying people with violence on the border. But also, if you
then begin to have measures that are fighting off tourists,
including, of course, his measures about alcohol, his moral
reform measures, you begin to have a whole dangerous mélange of
issues all bubbling up together.
And I’m not sure that the government really has thought through
what is its main priority, who are the people that it really
needs to keep on board, does it really need to offend all these
different groups, does, actually, the center of Istanbul, not
need at least one bit of green space. It’s a huge city with a
very little space, and, of course, people say ‘How can we have
democracy, if there’s nowhere where you can demonstrate, if
everywhere is filled in only narrow streets?’ I’m afraid, like it
or not, you need Trafalgar Square, you need Taksim Square.
The statements, views and opinions expressed in this column are solely those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of RT.