The protests that began in Istanbul last month and soon spread throughout Turkey have become a globally watched demonstration against Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan and his recent policies. By their nature and, most importantly, because this crisis was so badly managed by the prime minister, the protests will undoubtedly represent a turning point in the country’s political life, affecting Turkish society and democracy. However, the past month’s events, while alarming, do not necessarily represent the worst-case scenario for Turkish democracy that many have made them out to be.
In fact, the protests in Turkey are reinvigorating public debate in a remarkably positive way for the country’s politics. Although events have revealed a divided society, the growth of an effective popular opposition stands in sharp contrast to the failure of political parties opposing Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s Justice and Development Party (AKP) in the national discourse over the past decade. The current eruption of political engagement is great news for Turkey in the medium term, as it will inspire parties to adapt and modernize to capture the spirit of the opposition in the street. There are clearly significant immediate challenges facing Turkey, but it is the prime minister’s personal political future that is at great risk, not the future of the country.
Above all, the protests raise two fundamental questions: How did the AKP, elected three times in the past decade with increasing majorities, end up inspiring so much hostility? And what does the spontaneous and profound unrest say about modern Turkey?