For the third week, anti-Erdoğan government protests continue to rage in Turkey, showing no signs of abatement. The motives and the objectives of the current crisis remain unknown, puzzling both Turks and Western analysts.
What is going on in Turkey cannot be described as the “Turkish Spring,” given the lack of leadership among the middle-class youth protesters, whose political affiliations remain unknown. The only clear thing is that one of the major reasons behind this crisis is the government’s wrongful handling of the initial protests. Even some of Erdoğan’s own supporters admit that the crisis could have been handled in a more reasonable manner.
In fact, part of the blame lies with the excessive force used by police against demonstrators at the start of the protests. Despite the mystery surrounding the events in Turkey and the difficulty of predicting their outcome, three questions remain unanswered: What are the consequences of the protests? Where are the protests heading? In what way will that influence the region?
Of course, we do not have specific answers—only more questions, particularly because the Turkish model is based on the Muslim Brotherhood model, and has always been praised by everyone. Even the current US administration considered the Turkish model to be the way out for our region’s crises. A question then arises: Does this mean the end of the Turkish model? Or rather, for fear of being accused of rashness, one should rephrase the question: Does this mean the end of Erdoğan’s model?
Many think that Erdoğan resembles Margaret Thatcher at the end of her political career. Perhaps it is true that Thatcher was destroyed by believing in her own power—but Erdoğan today is threatening to deploy the Turkish army to preserve the regime.
The success of the Turkish model did not only come from its economic achievements; much of its success lies in Erdoğan’s distancing of the military from the political process. By threatening to use the military, Erdoğan invalidates his political achievements—namely returning the military to its barracks. This achievement was what led Washington to consider Ankara as a role model that the countries of the region should follow in order to establish a common ground between Islam and democracy, and to build a strong economy. This led the US to welcome the Muslim Brotherhood, who took power in the region following the Arab Spring. Moreover, some non-Islamists hoped that the Muslim Brotherhood would follow in the footsteps of the Turkish Islamists.
Today, Turkey stands at a crossroad, which might—similar to what happened with Thatcher—mark the beginning of the end of Erdoğan’s political career. However, the likelihood of the Erdoğan’s government being a role model is seriously in question, particularly after the rash handling of the crisis. The crisis—whether caused by by the Gezi Park clashes or dealing with the general behavior patterns the government wanted to confront—could have been resolved much easier had the government avoided escalating the situation.
Questions about the future of the Turkish model require much research and contemplation, because not only Ankara, but also the whole region, will be affected by the consequences of the events in Taksim Square.