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Turkey’s image problem after Gezi Park 28 mai 2014

Posted by Acturca in Middle East / Moyen Orient, Turkey / Turquie.
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Deutsche Welle (Germany) 28/05/2014

Thomas Seibert

It’s been one year since the violent crackdown on mass demonstrations surrounding Istanbul’s Gezi Park. Observers say the Erdogan government’s actions have cost Turkey its status as a role model state in the Middle East.

During the Arab Spring of 2011, Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s Turkey tried to market itself as a model state following the fall of a string of despotic rulers in the region.

The government appeared to stand by its Islamic values, while at the same time winning democratic elections, and leading a country with a successful, Western style market economy. That was the image Erdogan and his conservative Islamic Justice and Development Party (AKP) wanted to convey.

But on May 28, 2013, after the protests surrounding Istanbul’s Gezi Park erupted, new images of water cannons, tear gas and police brutality started flickering on television screens across the Middle East.

‘Authoritarian response’ to Gezi

The violent crackdown on the mass protests in 2013 has caused serious damage to Turkey’s model state image, according to Murat Somer, a political scientist at Istanbul’s Koc University.

« For Middle Eastern populations aspiring for more democracy and human rights, the AKP government’s authoritarian response to the Gezi protests was all too familiar from their own countries, » he told DW. « Thus, not the unrest itself but the government’s response put an end to the AKP’s image as a party synthesizing Muslim-conservative and liberal-democratic values. »

The Erdogan government has missed its chance to show people in the Middle East how to handle anti-government protests in a democracy, Somer added.

Failure of political change

Erdogan’s heavy-handed response to the demonstrations has « visibly damaged his democratic legitimacy, » Fethi Acikel, political scientist at Ankara University, told DW. « Obviously, this would worry any government in the world, or at least it should. »

From Somer’s perspective, the crushing of the Gezi demonstrations combined with the subsequent absence of political change in both political parties and the parliament, also served as a sobering signal for protest movements in other countries.

« The Gezi protests have shown the limits of new types of decentralized protest movements we witness from Turkey to Brazil, without effective political parties and grassroots social movements, » Somer said.

« Gezi protesters came from very different social and ideological backgrounds and lacked a political program and identity apart from their opposition to the government’s authoritarianism and unfettered hunger for power and growth. »

Turkey loses prestige

Immediately after the Gezi protests, a sizeable chunk of the good reputation Turkey had established in the Middle East in recent years began to crumble. According to Middle East expert Tarik Oguzlu, the government’s handling of the demonstrations has weakened Turkish « soft power. »

« Soft power » refers to a state’s ability to wield influence beyond its borders with the help of its political and cultural values.

In an analysis piece for the Ankara-based think tank Orsam, Oguzlu writes that Turkey’s « soft power » had been a key asset in the Middle East – but the country’s image took a hit during the Gezi protests.

Whether the nation can still serve as a « source of inspiration » for transitional regimes in the region, he writes, « will be very much formed by whether Turkey becomes a truly liberal polity alongside its ongoing democratization process. »

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