When protests suddenly kicked off at Taksim Square in the Turkish city of Istanbul, many thought the situation was akin to that in Tunisia, Egypt and Syria at the beginning of their revolutions. Hastily formed opinions made themselves heard; an Egyptian said that he hoped Erdoğan would fall, while Syria’s information minister offered sarcastic advice to the Turkish premier.
Newspapers circulated photos of famous Turkish actors participating in the protests. Publications affiliated with the new Islamist parties said that the protests in Turkey were the result of an Iranian–Israeli conspiracy. Erdoğan himself said that the protests were being mobilized by his Republican Peoples’ Party rivals.
We did not anticipate a revolution erupting in Egypt when it did, and we never could have imagined the events that have taken place in Syria. As such, we have learned to observe such events in much the same manner as we would football games and horse races: we wait for the end to see the result.
Taksim Square in Istanbul is not Tahrir Square in Cairo or Irada Square in Sana’a. However, the attention given to what is happening there is precisely the same as to those other places. Some were preoccupied with looking for a reasons that justify the “environmental uprising” against Erdoğan.
Each person analyzes what is happening through his or her political stance. Iran and the Syrian regime think it is divine help that comes at a crucial time to save embattled Syrian president Bashar Al-Assad. If a revolution erupts in Turkey, suppressing the revolution in Syria will be easier—this is what they wish.
There are also the Israelis. Despite the reconciliation and despite Turkish officials’ subsequent visits to Tel Aviv, the Israelis think that Erdoğan represents a problem, and that he will continue to seek popularity at their expense.
Arab liberal parties also have a stance. In truth, they do not oppose Erdoğan, but rather the Arab Islamists who are seeking to promote him as a model and claim that his political success is a result of their ideology. Arab liberals see the Turks’ uprising as an important and symbolic collapse. They see it as an uprising against the religious camp that rides the wave of democracy to achieve its aims. The Islamists in Tunisia and Egypt seized power by exploiting liberal ideas and democracy. After seizing power, they began to oppose their ideas and change the revolutions in order to suit their own extremist and autocratic views of power.
The truth is that the Turkish Islamist party and Arab Islamist camps are different on a philosophical and practical level. We do not have any real evidence that the Islamist government in Turkey has any intentions of carrying out a coup. The practices of Erdoğan’s party and its government are much closer to the ideas espoused by Arab liberals than they are to those of the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt and elsewhere.
So, is there anything to fear in the youth opposition movement in Istanbul? Turkey is not Egypt, and it is certainly not Syria. Erdoğan’s government is not Ben Ali’s government in Tunisia, or Saleh’s government in Yemen. Turkey is a country governed by elections, and Erdoğan came to power through the ballot box. He was re-elected with a majority of votes. No one questions his legitimacy. On the other hand, Erdoğan is not the prime minister of Britain or the chancellor of Germany, who are committed to the democratic rule of law. He has imprisoned journalists, pursued media outlets that oppose him and sought to restrict people’s freedoms. Perhaps this is what led his rivals to gather against him in Taksim Square, under the pretext of an environmental protest.