Egypt Protests: Could Turkey Be Next?
The Gezi Park demonstrations happened because Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan and the Justice and Development Party (AKP) attempted to commercialize Gezi Park by constructing a shopping mall and a replica of Ottoman military barracks. In return, Turkish authorities assaulted the demonstrators with tear gas and water cannons on Monday. Prior to this, the Egyptian Revolution resurfaced because Egyptians were unsatisfied with the actions and policies instituted by former President Mohamed Morsi. This resulted in Morsi's resignation from office on July 3. Although both situations are similar, political instability should not engulf Turkey as it did with Egypt because Turkey defended Gezi Park from ruination whereas Egypt sought democracy, an economic renewal, and Morsi’s resignation from office — three much larger and more complicated demands.
The Egyptians accused Morsi of only using his presidency to extend the Muslim Brotherhood’s supremacy. Morsi assigned Adel al-Khayat, one of his allies, with control over Luxor which irritated many Egyptians because al-Khayat is a member of Gamaa Islamiya, an extremist organization responsible for the 1997 Luxor Massacre. Akin to this, the Turks feared that Erdogan and the AKP were succumbing to totalitarianism.
Erdogan attempted to reform the economy and curtail the military’s authority, decreasing the likelihood of any coups. Like the Egyptians, the Turks saw this as Erdogan furthering his supremacy and shifting tremendous political influence to the AKP. In addition, his rallies also incited the Turks’ apprehension of totalitarianism infesting the country. “In his speeches at these rallies and in subsequent weeks, the prime minister’s provocative language about terrorism, Kurds, the Alevi minority, and desire for controlling press and social media reinforced the Turks’ concerns that their country is shifting from democracy to authoritarian,” said Professor Vernon James Schubel, chair of religious studies and director of Islamic civilization and cultures at Kenyon College. Based on this, the Turks feared that their previous successes would be tarnished if Turkey conformed to totalitarianism.
Both countries valued the same treasure: freedom. However, the difference between the two situations is much greater than the similarities, as the Egyptians fought against tyranny and the Turks fought for the preservation of Gezi Park.
The Egyptians disliked Morsi because he failed to repair the economy and seemed only interested in gaining control of Egypt from the Mubarak administration, crippling the country. “From just before 2011 to today: GDP growth is down (from nearly 6% to under 2%); unemployment is up (from 9% to over 13%); foreign exchange reserves are down (from $35 billion to just under $15 billion; and the budget deficit has more than doubled (from nearly 100 billion Egyptian pounds to over 230 billion),” said the Atlantic Wire. Thus, the Egyptians wanted Morsi to acknowledge their cries and problems with their country. The Gezi Park demonstrations, on the other hand, showed that the Turks value their history. Embodying solidarity and history, Gezi Park is a monument of symbolism and nostalgia for the Turks. “People became brothers here, and it was very crowded tonight because we all missed the brotherhood,” said 22-year-old student Ozer Sari. “This park will always be a symbol of people’s unity, power and harmony.” Thus, the Turks saw Gezi Park as an area of pure recreation and socializing instead of a land in need of redevelopment.
The differences between the protests lay in their causes: the Egyptians longed for political equality and economic stability whereas the Turks fought for the preservation of their history and symbolism in Gezi Park. Another way to see this is human rights versus environmentalism. It is uncertain if more unrest will manifest in Turkey, but for now, it does not seem to be another Egypt.