Taksim Protests: Turkish Demonstrations Are a Sign Of Future Regional Unrest

The recent events in Turkey have spiraled out of control as a result of the destruction of around 600 historic trees in Gezi Park in Taksim, Istanbul. What began as a protest against the trees' removal has largely transformed into a social movement which has brought hundreds of thousands of Turkish citizens to the streets of Istanbul. The governing Justice and Development Party (AKP) has come under fire due for its lack of resolve in attempting democratic reforms within the country as well as its indifference to the rights of the Kurdish peoples in Turkey. Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s actions are increasingly seen as authoritarian, and the secular population within Turkey has largely been dismissive of the prime minister's Islamic approach to new ordinances. The protests have now taken on an anti-government identity, and they have become a challenge to Prime Minister Erdogan's grasp on power within Turkey.

The social unrest in Turkey thus could alter the balance of power in the Middle East with potentially dangerous and devastating consequences. In Iraq, Prime Minister Nouri Al-Maliki worries about the potential security implications of the situation, revealing that Turkey is “an essential part of the stability of the region.” Prime Minister Al-Maliki also stated that he believes “resorting to violence will widen the circle of violence … in the region.” A prominent political analyst, Sule Kulu, believes that Erdogan destroyed his own hold on power by creating “...a new opposition, formed by different groups of the population, including those who fully supported him in the past”. With Erdogan’s deteriorating popularity and ability to control the population of Turkey, the United States' relationship with Turkey may also become even more strained.

The U.S. has been publicly supportive of such protests in the Middle East, but at the same time the protests have often created vacuums of power that have left the region even more conflicted than before. Elad Uzan, a jurist and researcher at the Interdisciplinary Center of Herzliya (IDC), believes that, “the glory days of Israel's relations with Turkey will not return to what they were as long as Erdogan's Islamist party is in power.” So although the region may experience marked unrest with the potential downfall of Erdogan, the continuing power of the prime minister would still spell a rocky future for the Israeli-Turkish relationship, an important facet of U.S. foreign policy in the region. Thus the revolts could have both potentially positive and negative effects with regards to U.S. interests in the region. What is clear, however, is that the protests will most certainly cause a new level of instability within the region at large for the foreseeable future.