Is it Possible that a Protest Could Take Down Powerful Erdogan and Provoke a Significant Change in the Iinternal and Foreign Policy of Turkey?

by Nikos Karavasilis

When the Turkish government decided to build a commercial center in the area of Gezi Park, surely it did not expect the consequences and developments that followed. A small and peaceful protest, in a matter of days, turned into an assertive movement of continuous occupation of the Taksim square. The undisguised violence used by the Turkish police after the demand of “zero tolerance” from Prime Minister Erdogan, intensified public reactions, resulting in many injuries and deaths.

Since 2002, Erdogan has led the country and within these years Turkey has made important steps of progress and democratization. One can hardly deny that Erdogan is the most important Turkish politician after Kemal Ataturk as well as the great economic power that his policies endowed to the country. But in the last years a certain fatigue has been observed regarding structural reforms while. Moreover, the government has taken decisions that increasingly limit the liberties of the civilians and intervene in their daily life, as for example the prohibition of kissing in public and the limitations in the consumption of alcohol. The return to the Islamic past is now obvious.

The Turkish opposition parties, which were constrained to very low rates because of Erdogan’s “glory and splendor”, and due to the authoritarian behavior of his government, see now their role being upgraded. Furthermore, the Turkish prime minister announced his intention to hold a referendum on the park Gezi issue. In the case that the result is negative for his policy and in combination with the upgraded dynamics of the opposition, the political scene in Turkey might change radically. It is also possible that the opposition demands early elections, a fact that could cause unrest in the current conjuncture.

On the other hand, if the Turkish government does not effectively handle the current crisis, this will probably result in an even greater turmoil, which might give the opportunity to the army to intervene, and also to ethnic and religious groups (such as the Kurds and the  Alewites), to persistently claim their demands. Any turmoil in the interior could significantly affect the foreign policy and the economy of the country thus causing a serious blow to the public image of Erdogan that largely rely on the growth of the economy,

The foreign policy of a country is directly affected by the internal developments. Following that rule, , in Turkey the facts that beset its society have an impact on its foreign policy. First of all, the European Union strongly expressed its dissatisfaction for Erdogan’s practices, who cynically answered that the EU should take care of Greece and not of Turkey and also stated that he does not recognize the authority of the European Parliament. Such statements, spoken by a candidate state for EU accession , are obviously unusual. Lately, the anti-European statements from Turkey are increasingly multiplied, especially because of the non-attribution of a specific accession date and due to the turn of Turkey to the Islamic world.

Moreover, even the relations with the United States of America have been damaged. It is clear that Turkeys efforts to become a regional leader, does not seem a good idea for the US or to their close ally Israel, which demands also the same role in the area. Their relations are being more damaged due to the current events that are criticized by the American government and raise deep concerns about the restrictions of the freedom of expression in Turkey. Erdogan sees that slowly, his former allies are opposing to his policies. It is not a coincidence that regarding the Syrian crisis, Turkey turned out to be the only country demanding a military intervention, because there was no support from other countries and as a result Turkey was obliged to change its stance demanding now, a political solution.

So, we can see how a minor issue –the cutting down of some trees in a public square- might become a threat for a government; how its reaction to a series of bloody protests  can affect the international relations and the foreign policy of the country. Erdogan is now called upon to find the solution that will satisfy the public opinion, without showing that he is falling back – while maintaining the leading and decisive profile he demonstrates- and at the same time addressing concerns of the international community, which seems to be very worried of his domestic policies and the steps of “Islamization” that he takes. 

Nikos Karavasilis has recently graduated from the Department of International & European Studies at the University of Piraeus

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