On the Origins and Possible Consequences of the Gezi Protests
Gezi Park Resistance Article Series – No. 10
On the Origins and Possible Consequences of the Gezi Protests
When the AK Party was established, it promised to the society economic and political stability. It was these promises that brought it to power only after a year. During its government, the AK Party’s success in fulfilling these promises increased its social support and consolidated its place in power.
On the other hand, in order to become entrenched in the politics of Turkey, the party needed to determine a political identity for itself and its voters. For the sake of appealing to larger masses, it did as such on a flexible and amorphous liberal-conservative basis. Rather than defining itself according to what it is, it did so according to what it is not. Establishing the CHP during the single-party rule and the military-civilian bureaucracy that followed it as its antithesis, it automatically obtained the sympathy of those who disliked them due to various experiences. However, it has not been able to completely resolve what it exactly is. Perhaps that is why its discourses and policies vacillated from time to time, even at times with sudden and sharp zigzags.
In the meantime, the increase in its influence over the bureaucracy and its proportion of votes in the ballot box boosted its self-confidence. Combined with the prime minister’s peculiar temperament, the party’s augmented self-confidence rendered the government increasingly indifferent to the opposition.
The government’s vacillating policies and headstrong attitude created an increasing antipathy in various segments of the society. Although this antipathy has long been manifested through sporadic protests and reactions, because of the fragmented status of the opposition, these have been carried out by particular groups, creating only limited impact. The AK Party in its turn was easily able to ward off the potential effect of these incidents on its voters by simply attributing them to nationalists, communists or Kemalists, i.e. the groups it had already othered.
Eventually, however, three triggers, none of which appears really political at first glance, (i.e. environmental awareness, anti-consumerism and the worry caused by police violence) led the groups that had long harboured antipathy toward the government but lacked the vote share to replace it to rise up altogether, and this state of uprising still continues today. Evidently the AK Party experiences difficulty in making sense of the situation. For it does not quite understand how come the streets are filled by students (whose fees it has removed and to whom it hands out textbooks for free), members of ethnic and religious groups (whose hearts it has long endeavoured to win through various openings) and liberals (with whom it has been fighting shoulder-to-shoulder against military tutelage). Since these protests, unlike their precedents, are performed by a constellation of social groups, the “we-they” codes that it previously adopted do not work as a viable tool of self-defence. In this case, the prime minister tries to maintain the support of the party’s rank-and-file and voters by stigmatising the protesters as “marauders” or “a cat’s paw of interest lobbies” and hence portraying them as a menace to economic stability, one of the central accomplishments of the AK Party governments so far.
Having briefly identified the current situation let me ask a couple of questions about the future and try to make predictions.
About the future the first question that comes to mind is whether these protests can generate a political alternative to the AK Party. As of now, the emergence of such an alternative seems impossible in the short term and quite difficult in the medium term. This is because, the performers and supporters of the protests, while opposing the AK Party for various reasons, constitute a highly heterogeneous community having differing world-views and lacking a common political identity. Just like what the AK Party does, they also define themselves according to what they are not. Moreover, they do not have a concrete project or promise that would attract a broader popular support, such as “economic and political stability,” which the AK Party promised when it emerged. One may at first glance consider the rhetoric of “more freedom,” upon which the opponents of the AK Party appear to have converged, as quite appealing for the masses, but it would be hard to expect these groups, constituted by a wide spectrum ranging from anarchists to right- and left-wing nationalists, to agree upon how freedoms should be formulated. Therefore, if these protests, in all its unlikelihood, were to result in a revolution, it is possible to anticipate that this would lead to either a subsequent “ugly” revolution (pace Marx) whereby the stronger groups among the revolutionaries suppress the will of the others, or a lingering state of conflict among groups.
Another question would be whether the protests can bring a new outlook to the AK Party. Considering the fact that the party has carefully observed the expectations and concerns of the majority of the society and acted accordingly, this does not seem quite likely, either. After all, its above-mentioned vacillations were, in a sense, products of tactical manoeuvres that it adopted to comport with prevailing concerns of the society and to minimise reactions. Abandoning this policy of delicate adjustment would be a risky step for the AK Party. For a more liberal AK Party will likely upset the (pious and/or nationalist) conservatives, who still constitute the vast majority of the society, while a more conservative AK Party will likely radicalise popular dissidence even further.
To conclude, it would be unrealistic to expect significant political results from the on-going social movement. For such results to happen, a political movement with a concrete programme, projects and promises to attract a wide audience and, at the same time, substantial credibility should emerge first.
No matter how limited their political consequences will be, however, the recent incidents still have remarkable benefits for both the ruling party and its critics. As perhaps the most important benefit for the latter, the incidents have demonstrated that, even though the country has been enjoying an unprecedented degree of political and economic stability, there is still a considerable energy for opposition within the society, which can be converted into a strong political force if wisely harnessed.
On the other hand, the protests are a pre-warning for the ruling party, giving it a chance to question itself and pointing out the need for a more comprehensive political thinking and more careful statements and policies to ensure the satisfaction of a larger part of the society. Although there is no political actor that can challenge it in the short term, the AK Party can accelerate the emergence of an alternative political movement if it does not adopt a more tolerant and inclusive attitude. If it chooses to respond to the protests by deepening polarisation, it will be inevitable that increasing social instability will disrupt economic and political stability, the greatest promises and achievements of the party.
Mehmet Uğur Ekinci, PhD Candidate, University of London, SOAS
Ekinci, Mehmet Uğur (June, 2013), “On the Origins and Possible Consequences of the Gezi Protests”, Vol. II, Issue 4, pp.71-72, Centre for Policy and Research on Turkey (ResearchTurkey), London, Research Turkey. (http://researchturkey.org/?p=3630)
 The party’s most recent political manifesto declares that the AK Party has a “conservative-democrat political identity … [that] has been shaped by Turkey’s socio-cultural characteristics and has a political style that has been shaped by Turkey’s local dynamics.” A subsequent phrase (“The most important aspect of the political identity that AK Party has developed is its aim to normalize Turkish politics”) emphasises the party’s difference from the earlier political actors, by impliedly declaring them as ‘abnormal’: 2023 Political Vision of AK Parti (Ankara, 2012), pp. 4-6.
 Karl Marx, “Die Junirevolution,” Neue Rheinische Zeitung, 29 June 1848.