Turkish Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan May Be In Real Trouble His values betray contempt for opponents and for pluralism, the foundation of any modern democracy

By Paolo von Schirach

June 7, 2013

WASHINGTON – The recent wave of anti-government riots show that Turkish society is deeply divided. Half or almost half the Turkish people like the religious revival spearheaded by Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan and his Justice and Development Party (AKP). The problem is that a large chunk of Turkish society does not like the open and at times heavy handed attempt to impose conservative values on everybody from the top. Hence the spontaneous riots sparked by the relatively trivial issue of a government plan to cut down trees in a public park.

The revolt of secular Turks

After days of widespread unrest that affected most of the country the critical question is: does this wave of massive protests have legs? In other words can this intense but not well organized opposition to Erdogan jell into a coherent and politically viable opposition? Hard to say at this stage. However, it is very clear that Prime Minister Erdogan as yet does not believe that the rioters should be taken seriously. He has called them “looters” and “extremists”. Basically, in his eyes, this is just a lawless mob that should be repressed by the police; not people who may have a point.


This dismissive defiance betrays Erdogan’s blind zealotry. He is right. His principles are right. Those who are against him do not have any standing. They are not legitimate. True enough, Erdogan enjoys the genuine support of a religiously inclined political base, located mostly in Turkey’s interior. Still, the problem is that almost half the country would like to continue along the secular path launched long ago by Mustafa Kemal Ataturk, the real father of modern Turkey.

As long as Erdogan continues to believe that his vision and values are the only ones and that the rest of Turkey will have to bend and conform to his party’s religious principles, there will be inherent conflict. If his defiance goes beyond a certain threshold, he may also lose the support of his more moderate supporters.

Fundamentalism and democracy do not mix

In the end, this sudden Turkish crisis reconfirms a basic principle. Religious fundamentalism is incompatible with democracy, because deep down it does not accept pluralism. According to the fundamentalists’ narrow world view, other people holding different values are just a lawless mob, criminals who must be neutralized. This is how Erdogan described his opponents. This openly intolerant approach may work only in an autocracy. It has nothing to do with a real democracy. 



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