The protests that erupted in Turkey nominally over plans to build over a small park are rooted not only in disgust at Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s arrogance and heavy-handed tactics, but also in distrust at his agenda and vision for Turkey.
I’ve been following Turkey for more than a decade, sometimes visiting five or six times a year, and so as a primer, below are some articles that explain different aspects of Turkey’s transformation as well as Washington’s enthusiasm for Turkey’s Islamist experiment:
- Erdoğan charmed both Washington and Western Europe by suggesting that the reforms he was implementing were promoting democracy. While the Turkish military had suppressed political Islam, the US willingness to take Islamist politicians at their word when they promised to embrace democracy was naïve and shortsighted. This piece — circulated by the demonstrators in Taksim Square to the tune of 10,000 Facebook reposts in just 36 hours — summarizes the changes Erdoğan has implemented.
- When Erdoğan came to power, he presided over a remarkable revival of the Turkish economy. He did not start from scratch, however. Behind the scenes, Saudi Arabia and Qatar helped finance Erdoğan’s political party, allowing them to access more resources than any of their secularist rivals.
- While many Turkey-watchers dismissed Erdoğan’s autocratic tendencies so long as he was targeting Turkey’s military, the fact of the matter is that Erdoğan was already rolling back basic freedoms almost a decade ago.
- It would be an exaggeration to suggest that Erdoğan is Ayatollah Khomeini in a suit. Instead, Erdoğan’s political inspiration appears to be Vladimir Putin. Perhaps the best way to explain the confluence of Erdoğan’s autocratic tendencies and his Islamism would be to imagine if Egyptian President Mohammad Morsi and Russian President Vladimir Putin had a baby. That baby would be Erdoğan.
- Some analysts will say that despite Erdoğan’s foibles, he’s been willing to tackle serious problems. He has been willing, for example, to enter into peace talks with the PKK, a Kurdish separatist group which has fought Turkey for nearly 30 years. Even here, however, Erdoğan appears insincere.
- Most dangerously for the United States, Erdoğan has reoriented Turkish foreign policy in a way that increasingly endangers US national security.
- Over at Commentary Magazine, I blog regularly about Turkey.
The Turkish Spring isn’t going away. Unlike its Arab counterpart, however, it may be Turkish liberals’ last, best hope to reverse Turkey’s return to authoritarianism.