A Blog by the Editor of The Middle East Journal

Putting Middle Eastern Events in Cultural and Historical Context

Tuesday, June 11, 2013

Today's Violence in Taksim: Preliminary Thoughts

In the 12 days or so since the Taksim Square/Gezi Park violence in Istanbul escalated, both sides have held back from truly violent confrontations since the police pulled back after the initial clash. Although Prime Minister Erdoğan had been taking an increasingly hard line in recent days, he had also insisted he was willing to meet with the original environmental demonstrator, and said they would be permitted to remain in Gezi Park.

If I understand the authorities' position correctly, they are saying those points still hold; today's action cleared the demonstrators, barricades, and banners from Taksim Square, but not from the adjacent Gezi Park, though the saturating clouds of teargas surely had an effect there as well.

The violence, though non-lethal (water cannons and teargas), certainly escalated the situation, and it is unclear tonight if  any genuine protesters will meet with Erdoğan tomorrow.

As I, and many other commentators, have said before, the major difference between Turkey and the Arab uprisisngs, between Taksim and Tahrir, is that Erdoğan is democratically elected and enjoys a comfortable electoral majority after 10 years in power. Unquestionably Turkish society is increasingly polarizing along class lines, urban/rural lines, and religious/secular lines, and that is dangerous. But Erdoğan might win another election if held right now; his constituency is a real one. But if he chooses religious dogmatism and class warfare over dialogue with his opponents, the situation could deteriorate into something that could look like — well, Taksim today.

As the former Mayor of Istanbul Erdoğan may still feel a proprietary right to micromanage his city, but the degree to which an urban planning dispute escalated into a deeply divisive symbolic battle suggests it is time for dialogue. But today's violence may have made that less likely, as may Erdoğan's apparent intention of distinguishing which demonstrators he will negotiate with.

CNN Today:

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