Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan had many opportunities over the last three weeks to resolve the political crisis in Turkey peacefully and quickly. However, with almost every statement and directive he has made the situation worse, increasing concerns at home and abroad over his authoritarian tendencies and Turkey’s future as a democratic model in the Muslim world.
Instead of engaging with activists who opposed a plan to turn a park in Taksim Square in Istanbul into a shopping mall, the government cracked down on them with tear gas and water cannons, stirring widespread outrage over Mr. Erdogan’s arrogance and his infringement on free speech and other liberties. At least four people (three demonstrators and a police officer) have been killed and more than 7,500 people have been injured since the turmoil began. Scores of lawyers, journalists and medics have been detained. But Mr. Erdogan seems to have ruled out talks and compromise.
News reports said police on Wednesday were questioning more than 100 people in Istanbul, Ankara and other cities for alleged involvement in violent acts. The deputy prime minister has said that the Army could be called in to quell the unrest. Equally alarming, Mr. Erdogan has labeled the protesters as terrorists, a sinister term that could be used to excuse any form of government abuse.
Mr. Erdogan has worked hard to promote Turkey as a democracy aligned with the United States and Europe. Yet he is now intimidating the local news media, attacking the international news media, making veiled anti-Semitic remarks and suggesting that undefined “foreign forces” are behind the unrest. During his decade in power, Turkey’s economy has prospered, and he has positioned the country as a regional leader. His Islamist party has made important gains in health care, income levels and housing, and exerted civilian control over an Army once enmeshed in politics.
But Mr. Erdogan has gone too far in pushing conservative views on a secular state and in suppressing dissent. There is no expectation that he will be forced from office because he retains broad support. But the unrest has already shaken the economy, given Germany another excuse to keep Turkey out of the European Union and exacerbated divisions among Turks. Mr. Erdogan should consider what he wants his legacy to be.
"The New York Times," June 20, 2013