Turkish protests: Common ground in Gezi Park


After two weeks of civil unrest and political crisis in Turkey, there is a measure of calm: As of Friday, Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan and protest organizers had arrived at what they called a tentative agreement. Only hours before, Erdogan had issued a “final” warning to protestors camped out in Istanbul’s Gezi Park, threatening heightened force to end the occupation. The violent confrontations have already left five dead and more than 5,000 injured. But this shift by Erdogan toward compromise is heartening — as long as the prime minister holds up his side of the bargain.

Erdogan has agreed to suspend plans to redevelop Gezi Park — the initial controversy that sparked the protests — pending a court appeal on the matter. He also agreed that, if the court rules in favor of the government, the question will be put to a referendum in Istanbul. Protesters, in turn, would end their demonstrations. Organizers agreed to take Erdogan’s pledge back to those occupying the park for a vote; as of Friday evening, the protesters had not yet left. But assuming that the deal with Erdogan holds, protesters should capitalize on their momentum to establish a stronger political movement for future elections.

Over the past decade, Erdogan has micromanaged nearly all Turkish policy decisions, from foreign policy to urban development. In the current crisis, he has at times seemed taken aback, even personally offended, by the challenge to this leadership style, which has come despite the government’s accomplishments, which include a booming economy. He has further harmed his reputation in Turkey and worldwide with his obstinacy and disregard for police brutality. Finding a middle ground on Gezi Park should help repair that damage. But Erdogan must fundamentally rethink how he rules. A good start would be to be more respectful of the right to dissent.

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