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Monday, June 24, 2013

Turkish riots aren't just about a park

As you might have suspected, the riots in Istanbul over the past few weeks aren't just about a park. They're about the efforts of President Obama's Best Friend Forever, Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan, to erase secularism from Turkey's history.
The government’s plan to destroy Gezi Park, a section of Taksim Square, and build a replica Ottoman Army barracks and mall set off weeks of violent street protests, presenting Mr. Erdogan with the greatest political crisis he has faced in more than a decade in power. But the plan to build a large mosque in the square is, in the eyes of many analysts here, the real nub of the dispute.
The building of such a mosque is a decades-old hope of Turkey’s Islamists, and even played a role in the last military intervention in Turkish politics in 1997, when army generals maneuvered to overthrow an Islamist prime minister.
Now that the people — rather than the army — have risen up against the current Islamist government’s urban development plans, analysts have suggested that one of the consequences of the unrest is that Mr. Erdogan will ultimately be unable to realize his vision for Taksim.
If so, it will represent the second time he has tried and failed to build the mosque, and at serious political costs. As the mayor of Istanbul in 1997, he saw the same dreams dashed by the military’s intervention.
Not that he has given up. As the protests engulfed his government, Mr. Erdogan backed off from the plans for a shopping mall in Taksim, but he continued to promote the mosque.
“A mosque will be built in Taksim,” he said, in a recent speech. “I do not need permission from the main opposition and a few looters. We have been granted authority by those who voted for us at the ballot box.”
In the 1990s, under Turkey’s first Islamist prime minister, Necmettin Erbakan, Mr. Erdogan oversaw a local commission in charge of the mosque project, but the idea was anathema to Turkey’s secular elite, who could still count on the military to safeguard the country’s secular underpinnings.
A local news article published in January 1997 reported that secular Turks objected to the mosque because it would “symbolize the power of the Islamists over Taksim as well as the whole country.” Those words could easily be spoken by today’s protesters.
Ayse Hur, a historian and columnist for the newspaper Radikal, said, “The circles that oppose the project of a mosque at Taksim or the barracks may be interpreting this as an attempt to rewrite the official secular history.”
Ms. Hur added, “We know how the government adores Ottoman history and how hostile they are toward the history of the republic.”
So, Ms. Hur and others say, it was mere happenstance that the antigovernment protests that have shaken Turkey over the last several weeks began with a sit-in to save Gezi Park, which was never a particularly special place for most Istanbul residents, and was thought to be dangerous and a nighttime hangout for drug users.
But as the government began bulldozing trees, it came to symbolize for thousands of aggrieved citizens the hubris and rising authoritarianism of a government now in power for more than a decade and determined to forge ahead with the even more controversial mosque project.
Read the whole thing

Morsy. Erdogan. Nusra Front. Obama. There's a pattern here.

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