Amongst the tear gas, the noise and the crowd, it might smell like, feel like and look like protests in Tunisia and Egypt, yet, Turkey’s Taksim square is not Egypt’s Tahrir square.
Rural migration, like in Arab states currently experiencing revolts, is an underlying factor of this protest, as Peter Beaumont explains in The Guardian:
The rapid urbanisation of Turkey – and huge growth of Istanbul in the past two decades – has defined the transformation of Turkish society and politics. The continuing migration from rural areas like eastern Anatolia to Istanbul has fuelled the growth of the city, driving a building boom. Politically, it has been prime minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan‘s moderate Islamist AKP that has benefited from this expansion, the recently urbanised being more socially conservative.
But comparisons with Arab protests are a bit far-fetched because of the dynamism of Turkey’s economy and the absence of call to regime change in protesters’ speech.
Yet, these protests are important, as Sinan Ulgen, with EDAM think-tank explains:
First, the mass demonstrations are against the non-participatory style of decision-making adopted by the Erdogan government, but they are not ideological. They have not been hijacked or led by any single political party or ideology, as the protesters hail from disparate backgrounds and represent the rich diversity of Turkish society.
Second, there is for the first time a sense of empowerment against a government that has dominated the political scene for the past decade. This sense of popular empowerment stands in stark contrast with the dismal performance of Turkey’s parliamentary opposition.
And then there is the media. [...] The government imposed a blackout and the widespread self-censorship further discredited the mainstream media in the eyes of the Turkish public, which turned to international media outlets or to social media to follow the events on their streets. Indeed, one clear winner has been social media
The sustainability of these protests remains to be seen as the movement has its own weaknesses (its diversity) anf face uncertainties (the acceptance by rural areas of Turkey, The governement’s determination…), yet some interesting conclusions can be drawn from it, especially when considering Turkey as a regional power.
- The first lesson learnt is for Erdogan. Turkish population is less monolithic than he thinks, which means he cannot stop listening to the population between two votes. Should he forget it, new demonstrations are likely to remind him about this fact.
- The admission of Turkey into the EU will not depend on these protests. Yet, the outcome and the management of these protests will surely be an interesting phenomenon to measure Turkey’s potential to undertake further steps towards the fulfillment of admission criterions (freedom of the press for example).
- Turkey has often been mentionned as a model for several Arab states undergoing changes (Tunisia and Egypt, mostly). Witnessing how can an islamist political party manage such a crisis is intersting. Indeed, if the AKP wants to continue ruling a country of Muslim tradition while negotiating its admission into the EU, compromises to please both conservative parts of the population and European societies are inevitable.