Video: Erdogan’s take-it-or-else offer to Gezi protesters

posted at 10:41 am on June 14, 2013 by Ed Morrissey

Under pressure from the US and other NATO partners to negotiate with leaders of a spontaneous protest in Istanbul, Turkey’s PM Recep Tayyip Erdogan today offered a possible solution — as well as a warning. Erdogan proposed to let a court decide on his plan to redevelop Gezi Park, which touched off the initial protests that turned into a demonstration against the Erdogan government in general, and perhaps even a referendum. But if the offer isn’t accepted, protesters will be leaving Gezi in another manner altogether, Erdogan promised:

Turkish activists leading a sit-in were considering a promise Friday by Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan to let the courts — and a potential referendum — decide the fate of an Istanbul park redevelopment project that has sparked Turkey’s biggest protests in decades.

In last-ditch negotiations after Erdogan issued a “final warning” to protesters, his ruling party announced early Friday that the government would suspend a controversial construction plan for Istanbul’s Gezi Park until courts could rule on its legality. Even if the courts sided with the government, a city referendum would be held to determine the plan’s fate, officials said.

The unilateral pledge aimed to cajole protesters into ending a two-week standoff that has damaged Erdogan’s international reputation and led to repeated clashes with riot police. After initially inflaming tensions by dubbing the protesters “terrorists” and issuing defiant public remarks, Erdogan has moderated his stance in closed-door talks this week.

It remained far from clear, however, whether the overture would work. The park is one of the few green areas left in the sprawling metropolis of Istanbul and many protesters were still seething over the forceful operations by riot police that at times devolved into violent clashes with stone- and firebomb-throwing youths.

Such scenes prompted the European Parliament on Wednesday to condemn the heavy-handed response by Turkish police and sparked a heated riposte from Erdogan.

Erdogan’s offer probably wouldn’t exist at all if not for that pressure.  As Pew and the Washington Post noted earlier this week,  the long-time PM remains more popular in Turkey than most US presidents during their tenures:

A recent Pew Research poll confirms that Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan, whose Islamist-leaning party has been elected to power three times in a row, is popular among Turkish voters, with 62 percent saying they have a favorable view of him. It’s possible that the backlash against his crackdown on protests in Istanbul(where he receives only 46 percent approval) may have reduced this number but, as of the time the poll was taken, he enjoyed remarkably broad public support.

This poll put Erdogan way above many Western leaders in turns of popular support. President Obama has a 47 percent approval rating among likely voters. United Kingdom Prime Minister David Cameron recently put up a 32 percent approval rating and French President Francois Hollande, according to one poll, has only 29 percent support.

This highlights two important differences between Turkey’s protest movement and, for example, Egypt’s in 2011. First, Erdogan and his party were democratically electedwith the help of its grassroots support base, unlike Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak, who seized power and attempted to force it from the top-down. And though Egypt’s revolution turned on mass protests in the country’s largest city as well, one in four Egyptians live in the greater Cairo area, the country’s center of gravity. Only about one in seven Turks live in Istanbul.

The longer this protest goes on, of course, the more erosion that Erdogan might see in his approval ratings. However, he has long way to go before getting too concerned.  Even with this offer, he’s not risking much.  Would a court defy Erdogan on a land-use issue in an already-highly-developed city? Probably not.  The polling matters for the referendum promise, too; with that kind of political capital, it’s not much of a risk.  The big risk for Erdogan is in applying excessive force and creating political martyrs that could undermine his mandate for rule.

Basically, Erdogan is demanding that the protesters accept a thin premise of moral victory before beating a hasty retreat.  By making the offer and pairing it with the warning of what will happen if they refuse, Erdogan is defusing some of the real risk to his standing pre-emptively.  It’s a smart move, and doesn’t leave the protesters much room to maneuver.

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Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan

When I see this name, I think of Hobbits…

right2bright on June 14, 2013 at 10:45 AM

See this is what Tea party protests look like in the US / liberatard

watertown on June 14, 2013 at 10:46 AM

That’s not going to end well.

dogsoldier on June 14, 2013 at 10:50 AM

This highlights two important differences between Turkey’s protest movement and, for example, Egypt’s in 2011. First, Erdogan and his party were democratically electedwith the help of its grassroots support base, unlike Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak, who seized power and attempted to force it from the top-down.

Yes. And the word “tyrant”, in the original Greek, means a dictatorial leader who attains power at first by popular acclaim. Like Erdogan, or Il Duce, or a certain Austrian watercolorist. Or, for that matter, The One.

And though Egypt’s revolution turned on mass protests in the country’s largest city as well, one in four Egyptians live in the greater Cairo area, the country’s center of gravity. Only about one in seven Turks live in Istanbul.

As for the Muslim Brotherhood who succeeded Mubarak, riots do not equal a popular movement, simply a loud, vicious minority everyone else is afraid to cross. You could ask Ernst Rohm and Gregor Strasser how well that worked for them. Up to a point.

Don’t put too much stock in Erdogan’s “popularity with the masses”. It may just mean he’s (a) breaking heads they like seeing broken, or (b) that the masses aren’t big enough fools to cross the guy who controls the guys with the guns.

clear ether

eon

eon on June 14, 2013 at 10:53 AM

Obama is taking notes…

albill on June 14, 2013 at 11:21 AM

Wait… This was about zoning issues? Redevelopment of a park? Sheesh I need to start paying better attention.

at least Egypt was about the price if wheat and lack of jobs.

LtGenRob on June 14, 2013 at 11:22 AM

I remember a time where replies and comments were coherent….ahhhh memories…

cmarceron on June 14, 2013 at 11:25 AM

Dont worry LtGenRob…you dont know because the MSM has not told anyone…they like people to think they are trying to overthrow a dictator…the MSM dont like democracies….

cmarceron on June 14, 2013 at 11:27 AM

The question is, is Turkey next on the list of Islamic countries that might have a civil war? Their Prime Minister is quelling his opposition with his remarks.

SC.Charlie on June 14, 2013 at 11:32 AM

I understand Erdogan has been using gas on the protesters. A new secret weapon called the BreakWind PU-a Flatulent Assault Radio Targeted (F.A.R.T.) WMD of great potency. Let no crisis go to waste. Why wag only one dog when you can wag two simultaneously?

MaiDee on June 14, 2013 at 11:51 AM

Turkey’s version of Occupy. Water cannons do a great clean up job. We could have used them here. How odd is it that such a vehicle exists to begin with? Imagine what it was like in the design phase. Well, lets see, we need to blow people off their feet @ 100 yards. Check. A nice body crushing bull dozer blade up front just in case. Check. Madness.

LeftCoastRight on June 14, 2013 at 12:02 PM

“The eastern world, it is exploden, rockets flarin, bullets loaden”

steel guy on June 14, 2013 at 12:14 PM

“The eastern world, it is exploden, rockets flarin, bullets loaden” -steel guy on June 14, 2013 at 12:14 PM

Barry McQuire’s song “Eve of Destruction”. Boy do I remember that song, I turned 14 that year.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=IwYNWYaS3bI

SC.Charlie on June 14, 2013 at 12:30 PM

SC.Charlie on June 14, 2013 at 12:30 PM

Funny how the Middle East is still a mess 45 years since Barry McQuire wrote his famous song.

steel guy on June 14, 2013 at 1:05 PM

Funny how the Middle East is still a mess 45 years since Barry McQuire wrote his famous song. – steel guy on June 14, 2013 at 1:05 PM

I would say it more sad than funny. It might really be one the Eve of Destruction.

SC.Charlie on June 14, 2013 at 2:01 PM

Allah don’t need no stinkin’ approval numbers.

NoDonkey on June 14, 2013 at 2:50 PM

at least Egypt was about the price if wheat and lack of jobs.

LtGenRob on June 14, 2013 at 11:22 AM

We’ll see those soon enough.

MelonCollie on June 15, 2013 at 7:42 AM