By Sean Savage/

Widespread protests in Turkey are threatening
the decade-long rule of Islamist Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan,
raising questions over his ambitions to transform his country.

Click photo to download. Caption: Can Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan, pictured, weather the storm of protests in Turkey? Credit: World Economic Forum.

The protests, which began in
Istanbul’s famous Taksim Square over government plans to turn nearby Gezi park
into a shopping mall modeled after Ottoman-era army barracks, have turned into
a widespread rebuke of Erdogan’s Islamist rule, spreading to several other
major Turkish cities such as Ankara and Izmir as well as several cities abroad
with Turkish ex-pats.

As the protesters swelled in numbers
on Friday and then again Saturday night, police began a widespread crackdown, firing
tear gas and water cannons at protestors. Later on, Turkish police retreated,
leading to widespread jubilation among the protestors.

On Sunday and into Monday, tens of
thousands of protestors again flooded into Taksim Square chanting, “Victory,
victory, victory,” “Erdogan, you’re a dictator, resign!” and “Erdogan thinks he
is a sultan,” Israel Hayom reported.

As protests have grown and spread
throughout Istanbul, numerous reports by protesters on Twitter and other social
media outlets claim police brutality. Turkish Interior Minister Muammer Guler said 1,750
people were arrested since May 28 in connection with the protests.

Professor Efraim
Inbar, director of the Begin-Sadat Center for Strategic Studies at Bar-Ilan
University and an expert on Turkish-Israeli relations, told, “There
is a large secular population, particularly in western Turkey around Istanbul, that is very frustrated by the Islamization of Turkey [under Erdogan].”

“This has accumulated over the past decade into
what we are seeing now,” Inbar said. “However, the problem is the secular
parties have no leadership. This was not instigated by the secular party. This
is popular rage.”

Since the formation
of the modern Turkish Republic from the remains of the once-mighty Ottoman
Empire under secular leader Mustafa Kemal “Ataturk,” the country has had an
uneasy relationship with its former empire and Islamic heritage. The military,
which has traditionally been the vanguard of secular values, has intervened
numerous times to maintain the country’s secular footing. But this has taken a
toll on the country’s democratic institutions and economy.

One of Erdogan’s
biggest claims to success has been the stability he has brought after decades
of military coup d’états. Under his leadership, the economy has dramatically
improved and the country’s international profile has grown. Consequently, many
experts touted Erdogan’s rule as an example of blending Islam and democracy
together as an example for the rest of the Middle East.

But that model has
come at a cost. Erdogan has grown increasingly authoritarian, arresting dozens
of journalists and other activists, purging the military of its secular
stalwarts, and jailing hundreds of generals and other officers on charges of
plotting to oust his Islamist government, according to the Economist. At the same time, Erdogan has been gearing up to amend
the Turkish constitution to increase the powers of the presidency, and then
seeks to run for president in 2014.

“We see a lot of autocratic tendencies of
Erdogan. We see attacks on the press and other democratic institutions. While
it is still a democracy, but a very problematic democracy, this is …read more


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