21
Jun

By Nukhet A. Sandal

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As international media cover the demonstrations in Turkey, even the most seasoned in policy circles are shocked to witness the flagrant human rights violations, including demonstrators of all ages who are beaten and gassed by the police on a daily basis. The news agencies and political commentators write passionately about what is going on, usually representing the protests as the result of the tension between religious policies of the AK Party government and the secular Kemalist opposition who are frustrated with the Islamists. Other analyses have included the symbolic importance of the Taksim Square (where the demonstrations started), Erdoğan’s personality, and comparisons with the Occupy Wall Street Movement and the so-called “Arab Spring.”

What we do not see in the western press is a call for introspection and self-criticism. The Gezi Park Protests, as the countrywide demonstrations are called, are not about the tension between the Islamists and the secularists, but between crony capitalism and a segment of population who dare to question the personal profits that were made from their country’s heritage. In other words, the protests represent the tipping point of the frustrations of the informed public with a government that has treated forests and historical buildings as private property, constructing luxury residences and shopping centers through contracts given to family and friends. These authoritarian policies have long been deliberately ignored by business and political circles in the West, in favor of the seemingly positive economic indicators and the increasing attractiveness of the Turkish market. Such tunnel vision has kept the West from wondering how sustainable this growth will be, let alone forecasting that deficiencies in the country’s democracy would inevitably lead to instability. In terms of arrests and imprisonment of journalists, under the AK Party government Turkey long ago surpassed Iran and China (there are almost no reporters or journalists left to cover the protests in the mainstream media, and the Turkish people followed the demonstrations from international outlets). Still, Turkey remained the Muslim-majority political model of choice for many pundits. Read more…

Nukhet A. Sandal, PhD is a Postdoctoral Scholar at the Watson Institute for International Studies at Brown University.

As published in www.huffingtonpost.com on June 19, 2013.

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