By June 25, 2013 Read More →
Protest, Politics and Paternalism in Turkey

Protest, Politics and Paternalism in Turkey

The brutal police response and inept political reaction to protests in Istanbul’s Gezi park (and later throughout Turkey) have served, among other things, to prick the Erdoğan “bubble” that has thrived in recent years. As Zeynep Korkman writes,

Most observers of Turkey have been surprised by Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s unwillingness to compromise with the Gezi Park protestors, whose resistance for the preservation of an İstanbul park has transformed into a nationwide wave of popular urban protests—despite ongoing efforts at violent suppression—and threatens to become a full-fledged political, and economic, crisis.

How did the ruling AKP get this so wrong? And where has the vitality and persistence of the protest movement come from? In a recent piece for the LRB blog, Çağlar Keyder provides an interesting perspective on the changes that Turkish society has undergone this past decade, offering some answers to these questions. It seems fair to suggest that a stratum of young people has emerged who are far less inclined to tolerate the heavy hand of state abuse than their elders may have been…

Almost all the protesters in Gezi Park were young people with no direct experience of military rule or state repression. They were the beneficiaries of economic growth and greater openness to the world. They now wanted the basic rights that they knew existed elsewhere: they wanted to be able to defend public space against neoliberal incursion, and they refused to live under the authoritarian guidance of a self-appointed father of the country. They felt at home in a collective way of life with gender equality and respect for diversity — a recipe for a new covenant that makes irrelevant the pretensions of Erdoğan’s supposedly benevolent (and now wrathful) paternalism. It might once have been possible for the political class to dismiss their demands as the aspirations of a cosmopolitan minority in Istanbul, but their resistance found widespread (and unexpected) support in many urban areas, with a rich mix of civil disobedience, demonstrations and street politics.

…It is evident that the old guard don’t know how to respond to a challenge that lies outside their understanding of politics as a struggle to rule. The government’s response is at the level of greater coercion: they keep trying to find ‘the culprits’ and redouble police powers to repress any hint of dissent. In their panic they variously rage against the haute bourgeoisie of Istanbul, the European Parliament and their former supporters. They seem to have given up on hegemony and are banking on violent domination. Meanwhile, the protesters’ displays of fraternity, resistance, creativity and humour expose the failure of the tutelary regime. Erdoğan’s project to be anointed an omnipotent president through a change in the constitution is now no more than a dream. The newcomers to the political arena may not yet be in a position to draft a new set of rules, but they have shifted the keystone that supports Turkey’s patriarchal firmament.

Read more:

Çağlar Keyder – Law of the Father – LRB Blog

Zeynep Kurtulus Korkman and Salih Can Aciksoz – Erdogan’s Masculinity and the Language of the Gezi Resistance – Jadaliyya

Burak Kadercan – Turkey’s ongoing protests may yet lead to a backlash from the government’s supporters and a new ‘Turkish winter’ – LSE EUROPP

Zeynep Devrim Gürsel – Covering Gezi: Reflecting on Photographing Daily Life during Extraordinary Events – Jadaliyya

Nabataeans – The Istanbul Gas Festival

(Wikimedia Commons image courtesy of fleshstorm)

About the Author:

William Oliver is Nabateans’ editor for international economics and Middle East current affairs. He obtained his degree in History from the School of Oriental and African Studies in London. While his studies focused on the Middle East in the 18th and 19th centuries, William has a long-standing interest in international finance and the political economy of development. William’s work is aimed at understanding how the Middle East integrates with the global economy, and into the wider geopolitical landscape.

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