work in progress in social theory and cultural sociology

Turkey on knife’s edge

06.11.2013 · Posted in Uncategorized

This morning there should have been talks between representatives of the protesters and Prime Minister Erdoğan. Last night police moved in on Taksim Square with tear gas and rubber bullets. This could either be a strangely inept attempt at “divide and rule” – separating “violent” and “left wing extremist” protesters and “hooligans” from the “reasonable” ones that are more concerned about the initial environmental issues and about civil liberties in general. Or it could be that this is another instance of the derin devlet, the “Deep State” (the coalition of nationalist/militarist elites trying to recuperate some of the power they have lost over the last decades) trying to thwart the development of a civil society in which coexistence between traditional (and modernist) Muslims and secular liberals is possible without military supervision. (The least conspiracy-theorist and most balanced account of how the derin devlet operates can be found in Kerem Öktem’s Angry Nation)

So far Erdoğan’s politics worked well on a divide-and-unite-and-rule basis. Push the boundaries a little on public presence of Sunni Islamic faith, and reassure those who would find this most intimidating – the Alevi minority – more rights and recognition in exchange, for example. Negotiate peace with the Kurdish guerrilla PKK and make some concessions to the ultra-nationalists to alleviate their fears around territorial integrity. Etc. The novelist Elif Şafak compared the development in Turkey under the AKP with the way an Ottoman marching band, well, marches: two steps forward one step back, two forwards again, one back again. Etc.

The protests confronted Erdoğan with a new situation in that suddenly all the groups that have this or that grievance with aspects of his politics (restrictions on alcohol, neoliberal economics, tendency towards nepotism, lack of transparency, slow progress on minority rights etc.) suddenly stood up together and realise that, although they might not have much else in common, in sum they are the other 50% who are no longer happy with an authoritarian approach to democracy (i.e. the idea of electoral dictatorship on time). Part of those 50%, in the past, used to rely on the military to intervene whenever democratically elected Islamists “went too far” (the consequence of such interventions regularly being that another part of the 50% ended up brutally persecuted). Now the powers of the military have been curtailed and the only means left is that thing which in the past we used to call the “public sphere” – and which thanks to the microelectronic revolution has become a much more dynamic place (hence Erdoğan’s condemnation of Twitter as the devil’s work indicates that he intuitively understands this).

He seems back in negotiation mood… and now this? Turkey’s at the cross roads. Either the situation will be “solved” with military force (be it by a putsch, be it in an emerging nationalist/Islamist coalition along the lines of the “Turkish-Islamic synthesis” emerging under the last military dictator, Kenan Evren) – or, as in other liberal democracies, the expression of discontent in protests will take over the role of the “watchman” reminding any elected government that even with a majority – you can’t ignore those who didn’t vote for you. Given the broad basis of the protests and the political skill of Erdoğan, this might just happen.

update 14th June

it might just have happened…

update 16th June

it didn’t

update 17th June

and getting really scary now



Comments are closed

Skip to toolbar