Turkey's version of the Arab Spring started as a protest against government plans to raze a public park for a shopping mall, but that was just "a tipping point." Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan instead has placed the blame squarely on drunkards, extremists, foreign agents, and a "menace" called Twitter.
Because tens of thousands of protesters now in their fourth day of refusing to cave in are really just "looters" and "bums," The New York Times reports that a defensive and angry Erdogan has "vowed to push ahead" with the demolition of the public Gezi Park in Taksim Square that first prompted a peaceful demonstration that turned violent. Erdogan is now blaming the opposition party for being sore losers in the election and trying to reclaim political territory using the protests.
The nonviolent protest at the park, or even that park's proposed demolition, was not the spark that set off the countrywide revolution. It was the violent response from the police against the demonstrators that was the straw breaking this country's back.
Erdogan has challenged the country's secular foundations in the recent past. The simmering anger that erupted on Friday had been growing for some time as Erdogan's administration tried to impose authoritarian rules on a proudly secular country. They recently restricted the sale and consumption of alcohol, and recently decreed that more trees will be cut down in Taksim Square to accommodate a mosque.
His bristly attitude to his country's protests is not shared by President Abdullah Gul, who has acknowledged the right of the people to make their voices heard. While Gul is trying to maintain a conciliatory stance, Erdogan is boasting that he is capable of bringing a lot more people to the streets that support his ideology and politics.
Erdogan's arrogance is ironically similar to that of Syrian President Bashar Al-Assad. Erdogan was a former ally of Assad but demanded his Syrian counterpart stop the brutal crackdown on his own citizens.
Syria has now issued a travel warning against Turkey due to the recent unrest. And with even greater irony, the Syrian information minister told Reuters, "The demands of the Turkish people don't deserve all this violence ... If Erdogan is unable to pursue non-violent means, he should resign."
If Syria tells another country to pursue "non-violent means" to tackleprotests, that is when you know the situation is excessively grave. But Erdogan, like all egomaniacal leaders who believe they are right and everybody else is wrong, isn't going to back down just yet.