Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan returned to Turkey on Tuesday from a diplomatic trip to northern Africa. He's scheduled to meet with the leaders of the movement protesting against the demolition of Gezi park on Wednesday.
On Tuesday in Istanbul, riot police were dispatched to Gezi park, the focal point of this protest, where they answered the stones and Molotov cocktails hurled at them by the protesters with tear gas.
The Gezi park protests began on May 28 in response to an order from Erdoğan – who has been in power for a decade – that the park be razed to make way for a shopping mall. The park, although not large, is one of the last green spaces in Istanbul, said Professor Henri Barkey, Cohen Professor of International Relations at Lehigh University. The decision to building this mall was completely unilateral, Barkey said, and the demonstrations are really the result of years of frustration over what many Turks feel is Erdoğan’s increasingly authoritarian streak.
But Barkey, along with Senior Fellow for Middle East Studies at the Council on Foreign Relations Steve A. Cook, on a media call on June 5, cautioned that this was not the Turkish Spring. “This is the most significant political challenge to Erdoğan’s decade in power,” Cook said, but, “I don’t think that we’re looking at the Turkish analogue of the Egyptian uprising.”
"If there were an election, he might not get 49.95 percent of the vote," Cook continued," but he would get a strong tally. This is clearly a message sent from a significant number of Turks who are frustrated, and feel like they've been hemmed in by a one-party, one-man state and have no options."
Further, said Barkey, Erdoğan is adept at handling crisis, even though it could be said he's mismanaged this one so far. "He had a bigger crisis in 2007 when the military warned him of a potential coup" over a political nomination, Barkey said. "At the time, he called their bluff, and made them sit and and behave as generals should do. That was a much more serious threat."
At the talks tomorrow, Erdoğan will probably take a "softer tone," Barkey said, and will also be banking on the fact that these protests can't last forever, and that people "have to go back to work." "He's a good politician, he'll adapt," Barkey said.