What The Hell Is Happening In Turkey? Ctd

A comparison of the Turkish vs international coverage of Saturday’s protests:

Media Censorship

Juan Cole defends Erdogan’s democratic mandate and record:

[His government] was last elected in June, 2011, at which time [his AKP party] received about half the votes in the country (an improvement on past performances). The elections appear to be on the up and up, and [AKP] seems genuinely popular in the countryside and in many urban districts. The economy has grown enormously in the past decade under Erdogan’s rule, Turkey is now the world’s 17th largest economy (by nominal gdp) according to the IMF. It has been averaging 5 percent growth per year at a time when neighbors in the EU like Greece and Spain are basket cases. It has a huge tourism sector that has benefited from the troubles in Egypt, Tunisia and Lebanon. The economy will likely only grow 3% this year, but that is still a good number given Europe’s doldrums.

However, Cole also links the fate of the country’s democracy to the Erdogan government’s exceptionally poor treatment of dissent and the press:

The protests were not mainly about the environment or retaining green parks but about police brutality. Turkey’s political tradition has never been particularly tolerant of dissent, and unfortunately the AKP is continuing in a tradition of crackdowns on political speech it doesn’t like. Reporters without Borders ranks the country 154 for press freedom, and it has 76 journalists in jail, and “at least 61 of those were imprisoned as a direct result of their work.” Observers are astonished to find that Saturday morning’s newspapers in Turkey are virtually silent about the protests. Editors have clearly been intimidated into keeping quiet about these events.

… By preventing peaceful assembly and deploying disproportionate force, and by an apparent imposed news blackout on the protests, the Turkish government is raising questions about how democratic the country really is.

Elsewhere, Aaron Stein surveys the makeup of those who support Turkey’s ruling AKP party:

[T]he dynamics of the protests now reflect many of the fundamental antagonisms in Turkey’s imperfect democracy. Erdogan’s divisive rhetoric and his penchant for authoritarian rule have steadily eroded the party’s support from small constituencies that it could once count on. While the AKP’s voter base is often simplistically assumed to be religious conservatives, the truth of the matter is that AKP supporters include a small number of liberals eager to do away with the undemocratic constitution, a business sector happy with the party’s handling of the economy, nationalists who are pleased with what they perceive as Turkey’s re-emergence as a global power, Turkish Islamists obsessed with the proliferation of Ottomania (a growing desire among the Turkish population to reconnect and reacquaint themselves with the country’s imperial past), and some members of Turkey’s Kurdish minority who are pleased with AKP’s democratic reforms. …

[D]uring the early years of Erdogan’s rule, which were characterized by a sustained push to reform Turkish laws along European Union standards, the ruling party was able to co-opt some parts of the more liberal segments of the population. Lots of people that did not compromise part of the AKP’s core constituency, for example, would lambast Erdogan publicly but would quietly vote for him because he was handling the economy well and they were pleased with the growing liberal freedoms. This dynamic has ended.

Taking another angle, Peter Beaumont zooms in on the rampant corruption that makes people so suspicious of the government development plans like the ones that started last week’s protests:

As Transparency International made clear in a recent survey of Turkey, while its elections largely have been free and fair, corruption, especially linked to the construction industry, has been a growing problem. In April, for the first time ever, two officials in Turkey’s public housing administration – which enjoys a virtually unopposed monopoly to redevelop private and public land, including a 20-year, $400bn urban renewal budget – were charged with extorting bribes and abuse of power. Indeed those who have benefited from recent large projects have allegedly included key players in Turkish society, including members of Erdogan’s own party, a company run by Erdogan’s son-in-law and the Turkish armed forces.

The perception in Turkey that barely regulated development is being driven for the economic benefit of entrenched interests with links to party politics, rather than in the public interest, has been fuelled by the hard data about some of the most controversial developments, including Gezi Park. As a recent article in Hurriyet Daily News made clear, Turkey, and Istanbul in particular, hardly needs more malls. Istanbul already has so many that 11 in the city have been forced to close down.