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Opinion: Is Taksim another Tahrir? | ASHARQ AL-AWSAT English Archive 2005 -2017
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Protesters light flares during a protest at Taksim Square in Istanbul June 12, 2013.(Reuters/Osman Orsal)

I long held the view that the US constitution made a grave mistake in limiting a presidential term to just four years. In light of the 22nd amendment, which limits presidents to just two terms in office, the entire situation seemed quite extreme to my eyes. My view was based on looking at previous US elections and presidential terms; it seemed to me that no president can rule effectively or implement his election platform when they are forever preoccupied with preparing for the next elections. It was clear that a president governs for three years, and then his time is taken up with preparing for re-election—never mind the hotly contended mid-terms elections.

Yet, as time passes the wisdom of limiting a president’s term in office has become increasingly clear. America has gotten used to seeing its president’s performance slacken during his second term as his popularity wanes, often to the extent that his policies are met with little support. In addition to this, it is also true to say that scandals most often reveal themselves in a president’s second term. In this light, eight years in power seems too much for any president.

What brings me to this topic is the protests that erupted over the plans to cut down trees in Gezi Park, and which ended with a revolution in Taksim Square and calls for the ouster of Turkish prime minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan. This is the same Islamist leader that some Muslim Brotherhood groups have called to be installed as caliph over all Muslims. These protests came as a complete surprise, just like those successive regional surprises that saw the ouster of leaders to the utter bewilderment of political analysts. However a number of reasons emerged for these revolutions: widespread corruption, a media that stripped presidents and leaders of their legitimacy, the strong emergence of different Islamist leaders, the growth of the middle class, rigged elections, and much more. Let me add one more reason to this list: presidents remaining in power for long periods, coupled with the belief that they were seeking to remain in power forever.

In the case of Egypt, it was subsequently revealed that many cases of corruption, which people had long sought to raise, were not based on solid evidence, and so lawsuits were dropped one after another. It is striking that although everyone agrees that vote-rigging took place in the 2010 elections, nobody has been prosecuted for this. Suspicions were raised about Egyptian president’s Mubarak’s decision to stand for election for a sixth term in office, namely that he intended to bequeath power to his son. This was also the case with Zine El-Abidine ben Ali in Tunisia, who even amended the constitution in this regard. Muammar Gaddafi of Libya also sought to bequeath power to his sons, as did Saddam Hussein in Iraq. The constitution in Syria was also changed in order to allow Bashar Al-Assad to hold the reins of power following his father’s death, something that Ali Abdullah Saleh of Yemen failed to secure.

A president remaining in power for long periods of time, along with and the people witnessing the same family rule, at the same time as globalization and the digital revolution meant that change was unavoidable, even in a democratic country like Turkey.

There have been numerous reasons put forward for what is happening in Turkey, particularity at a time when everything seemed to be moving in the right direction and Ankara appeared to be well on the way to putting a neo-Ottoman empire into action thanks to its political, economic and military influence. Turkey is today wealthier than ever before, and its membership of the G20 is striking. Although several European countries were burned by the economic crisis, Turkey remained not just stable, but on the rise. The issues with Iraq, Cyprus, Syria and the Kurds are all are under control.

The whole story revolves around protests against the removal of trees from Gezi park, and so a group of youth took to the streets in Taksim Square on May 28 to protest. Just two days later, everyone forgot the trees issue, and people were protesting against the government in over forty towns and cities across Turkey. The police confronted the demonstrators with water hoses and tear gas, killing one and injuring hundreds, and Taksim Square has become a second Tahrir. The same old excuses that were put forward in other states were also provided here: Turkey is not Egypt, just as Egypt was not Tunisia. Each case is independent, yet the phenomenon is the same: the world cannot remain unchanged.

In the past, the issue of remaining in power was not of much concern to people because the world was changing slowly, but now the world is changing with the speed of light. This was noticed by the youths in Egypt who were responsible for a major political change. But just two years later, the complete incompetence of the Muslim Brotherhood has become clear, and they failed to take Egypt to a new era. The Tamarrod [rebellion] movement has now emerged and is following a path. Nobody knows where it will lead. The reason for our bewilderment is that such phenomenons have major impacts, yet we were ignorant of the nature of such changes. We wrote about “globalization” and the increasing number of youths, yet we had no idea where this would take us. We no longer have the ability to know what the tsunami will do when it hits the coast.

This is the regional situation; what is happening in Turkey is the most recent incident. Numerous reasons could be stated, yet the most important of all is that no one was ready to accept Recep Tayyip Erdoğan for a third term, particularly as there are indicators that he intends to change the Turkish system into a presidential one with himself at the helm. This could lead to a situation where Turks have experienced ten years of Erdoğan’s rule, with ten more years to come. Of course, Erdoğan does not accept such rhetoric, and speaks of foreign and domestic conspiracies just like all his predecessors. However, the basic fact is that he has been in power for longer than the Turkish youth can stand, and now is the time for him to step aside.

What remains to be said here is that this lesson is not just for Erdoğan alone; everybody must be aware of this.