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Editorials
These are the responsibility of the editor and convey the newspaper's view on current affairs-both domestic and international

Challenge to Erdogan

The Turks are protesting against a government that is increasingly authoritarian and religious

What began as a protest at the disappearance of a green space in the center of Istanbul has become an open challenge to Turkish Prime Minister Erdogan and his government. More than 1,000 arrests and hundreds of injuries, in five days of violent confrontations characterized by police brutality, have so far been the toll of an outburst of popular resentment against Recep Tayyip Erdogan and the Justice and Development Party (APK), after 11 years in power and a string of unquestioned economic and political successes.

The head of the Turkish government is committing a gross error when he blames extremism and its links in other countries for the massive protests, which have clearly cut across lines of social class and ideology, and have attracted mass participation even in quarters of Istanbul where Erdogan’s governing party, a sort of Islamic version of the Christian democrats, enjoys broad voter support. The fact that the ire of his compatriots is only partially aimed at the cutting-down of trees and the building speculators who profit from it, is all too apparent in the way that the protests quickly spread to the capital, Ankara, and to numerous other cities where crowds clamored for Erdogan’s resignation.

Turks resent both the Islamic-oriented party’s interference in their daily lives, and its ever more obvious antipathy to democracy. The APK, after sidelining the secular elites that governed the republic founded by Kemal Atatürk, has been attaching disproportionate importance to the religious aspects of Turkish society. Erdogan’s authoritarian leanings are reflected in ambits as various as restrictions on alcohol, the alarming number of journalists in jail, and the ambiguity of the Turkish anti-terrorist laws and the arbitrary nature of their application. In 2011 almost half the population did not vote for the governing party, which throughout a decade has gradually consolidated its control of the machinery of state and the news media.

In spite of his considerable achievements, not the least of which is that of having disciplined the unruly Turkish generals, Erdogan cannot impose his world view on his compatriots. When all is said and done, the vigorous public protests of recent days show that democracy and civil society have begun to take root in Turkey, a cornerstone country of NATO whose present political effervescence is viewed with concern in Washington. It seems indispensable for the head of the government, a victim of his own excessive arrogance, to show that he has understood the message.

The prime minister, in power since 2002, aspires to the presidency of the republic in next year’s elections. And he is not hiding the fact that he wishes to convert the office of head of state, now basically ceremonial, into an instrument with decisive powers. It would be suicidal if, with so ambitious an agenda, and important fronts of conflict still open or heating up (the pacification of the Kurds and the war in neighboring Syria, among others), Erdogan were to add a new problem owing to his own estrangement from reality.

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