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The people of Turkey are beginning to ask a critical question: “Why are we sacrificing everything for economic growth, what are we growing for and who is this benefiting?” In this piece Raja El Fani addresses how the growing Turkish protest movement could be starting to undermine the neoliberal growth policies of its PM Erdogan.
Comment by RAJA EL FANI
Taksim square, after a week of tension, is becoming the official piazza of the Turkish riots. Artists and intellectuals hang out there, quite peacefully endorsing their causes, while organisations calmly oversee the occupation and activists work to bolster media coverage. Meanwhile, the Turkish police continue to attack the ‘direnists’ (‘resistant force’ in Turkish) during the night. Elsewhere, at Ankara, the pro-government forces are beginning to stage some anti-protests. All in all, things seem to be stabilising.
In the meantime, Erdogan, the ‘good liberal’, has been on tour in the Maghreb to settle a fruitful accord with North Africa concerning an offshore Turkish industrial development (France, China, the USA and Qatar all use North Africa for offshore industry). Following visits to Morocco and Algeria, the Turkish leader has been welcomed in Tunisia by Prime Minister Larayed of the Islamist party Ennahda, still engaged in a war of justice against the secular internal opposition. In the Maghreb, the leader of AKP arrived to represent Islamic business interests, which have already enjoyed high profits from investments in Saudi Arabia and Qatar.
The Maghreb has for some time functioned to produce economic growth, not only from various developments (the region is also advertised as a tourist hotspot). The price of this appeal for capital in the free trade zone of North Africa is clearly political: colonial ideologies of industrial competitors are fast-becoming established. One striking example is Tunisia, where the fine print of fat real estate contracts drawn up by Saudi Arabians controlling Tunisian territory forbids the use and sale of alcohol on the site for multiple centuries ahead. Only Chinese developers seem to be offering neutral settlements in North Africa.
This doctrinal aspect concealed within the bilateral pacts between ‘brother countries’ helps us to contextualise the Turkish protests, given that for many Turks, there are historical justifications for the negation of Islamic culture as part of their identity. Advocates of Taksim thus wish to distinguish themselves from the Arab Spring, whilst implicating its strategy. These protests represent a kind of competition for which Mediterranean country can be more atheist, more avant-gardist. However, they are forgetting that even the Maghreb hasn’t seen cultural assimilation without an attempted reconciliation of religious beliefs. The problem in all non-European Mediterranean countries is not cultural, it’s political: the Islamists are homogenizing local consumption and at the same time proclaiming anachronistic social restrictions.
For this reason, Erdogan fails to live up to his image as leader of ‘a moderate Islam’, the post-terrorist compromise that so appealed to international diplomacy. The Turkish leader in fact appears to be on the verge of being deligitimized by Obama, who is now embarrassed to define him as a model of Islamic democracy – a sharp blow to many Turks who identify with a more liberal culture than their Arab neighbours. Taksim, like all pluralistic movements, still doesn’t know how to generate an alternative politics between western and middle-eastern culture, capable of undermining Erdogan’s rule.
Next door, Syria is armed and burning yet has failed to affect a just political juncture: neither Assad nor the rebels can be comfortable with the (local) democratic format ratified by the White House. Since Tuesday, France and the UK, who have finally presented an official report on the use of chemical arms in Syria, have begun to press for an armed intervention which Obama still prefers to delay. Erdogan’s hard work as a reliable spokesman for the Middle East since the start of the war in Syria, hosting NATO in Turkey and positioning his country at the disposal of the big economies, might suffice for his continued political support abroad. Turkey, therefore, cannot hope for a revolution if it doesn’t first dissolve the Syrian crisis.
One of our listeners in Turkey sent us a link to this video with the following commentary:
The government had decided to make a big mall in that area, and they are ready to destroy the most important historical park , and tree in Istanbul. The police is attacking to peaceful protestors by gas bombs, metal sticks, firing a gun, and going into hospitals and attacking to the doctors who help to injured environmentalist. The police is attacking to anybody more than 2 without considering old, young, baby, or pregnant. You see in the videos that environmentalist protestors are making a peaceful protests to protect their historical park, their trees, and the most important historical statues in this park. You will see that the police is going into the homes, and attacking to the innocent citizens who help to environmentalist protestors. Innocent citizens are trying to protect themselves with pots, and pans iin their home.The Turkish Medical Association has reported that at least 4,177 people have been injured, of which 42 were in serious condition and 10 had suffered from loss of vision. The government puts the figure at around 300.
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