Ask Fareed Zakaria Anything: What’s Up In Turkey?

In our first video from Fareed, he explains why he’s not worried about the ongoing protests:

Henri J. Barkey points out that the country’s only opposition party is a mess:

[T]he Republican People’s Party, [or CHP,] is a party in name only. It has proven incapable of appealing to voters, organizing itself to contest elections; and, most importantly, offering alternative policies to the AKP. Instead, it is in a state of constant turmoil as cadres fight for spoils that can at best be described as crumbs. The hapless state of the opposition propels the demonstrators: people have found out that they cannot count on the opposition to fight for their rights. Hence, the only outlet they have is the street.

He also notes Erdogan’s increasing insularity:

Having surrounded himself with yes-men (and yes, they are all men), he has become a victim of groupthink.

His advisors only reinforce what he has already decided to do. This is not to say that he is always wrong; some of his calls have been gutsy and courageous—and if he listened to his advisors, he would have never risked taking them. The attempt to end the Kurdish uprising is one such bold move.

… When he has found himself in a tight spot, his superb political instincts have always helped him escape or allow him to pivot. …  But the crisis-management skills he’s displayed [in response to these protests] have been abysmal. Rather than defusing the situation, his public pronouncements have further inflamed passions. By blaming foreigners—the most standard Turkish defense mechanism—he has diminished himself. What is particularly worrisome is that by any stretch of the imagination, this was not a major crisis that endangered the very existence of his party or rule or threatened the well being of the republic. It was all about a shopping mall. Erdogan has now suffered a deep and self-inflicted wound.

Steven A. Cook offers explanations for Erdogan’s appeal as well as his paranoia:

Even today, as the tear gas continues to fly, there is no question that Erdogan would win an election. It is hard to see how the moribund opposition can capitalize on Erdogan’s missteps, and although AKP supporters may be watching developments with consternation, they are not ditching their membership cards. This is because, consistent with Erdogan’s record as mayor of Istanbul, he has done many things as prime minister to make the lives of Turks appreciably better. Advances in transportation, health care, and economic opportunity are profoundly important to a growing middle class who returns the favor in the form of votes.

Still, Turkey is decidedly split. Erdogan governs one half the country — his supporters — and intimidates the other. His political lineage and personal background have instilled within him a certain amount of paranoia. Turkey’s Islamists, no matter how powerful they become, are always on the lookout for the next coup or round of repression. (In 1998, for example, Erdogan was jailed for reciting a poem that was allegedly a call to holy war against the Turkish state even though the author is one of the most important theorists in Turkish nationalist pantheon.) For the rising new political and business class that Erdogan represents, correcting the past wrongs of the Kemalist elite — which discriminated and repressed the two bogeymen of the Turkish politics, Kurds and Islamists — has been a priority. They have worked to accomplish it through both democratic and (more often recently) non-democratic means.

Fareed Zakaria GPS airs Sundays on CNN, as well as via podcast.  Zakaria is also an Editor-at-Large of TIME Magazine, a Washington Post columnist, and the author of The Post-American WorldThe Future of Freedom, and From Wealth to Power: The Unusual Origins of America’s World Role. Our Ask Anything archive is here. Our previous coverage of the protests in Turkey is here.