Semih Sayginer Joins Protests in Turkey

Semih Sayginer

The latest round of protests in Turkey have included the famous Carom player Semih Sayginer. A photograph from turkey shows Sayginer holding up one end of a banner that decries that the government is trying to "Steal Baghdad Street". This is after the Prime Minister again outraged the citizens of Turkey by announcing that he would allow a shopping mall to be built on the site of a historic and popular town park.

For the sake of backgrounding, we went to Time magazine for a little history on the troubles in Turkey. This is from an article detailing Prime Minister Erdogan's latest reactions and moves:

"Erdogan has remained defiant, refusing to acknowledge the protesters as anything more than “marginal elements.” In a series of TV appearances on Sunday, he dismissed them as “looters” and “bums,” called Twitter a “scourge” and seemed to suggest that anyone who drank alcohol was an alcoholic. The significance of his only concession — that Gezi Park would not be converted into a shopping mall after all — faded immediately when he declared that he would proceed with plans to build a mosque in Taksim, whether the protesters or the main opposition liked it or not. On Monday, ignoring suggestions that he should adjust his travel plans, and downplaying the protests’ importance, he departed on a four-day tour to North Africa.

It was exactly the kind of imperious behavior that has riled Erdogan’s critics in recent years and which made him, more than anything or anyone else, the target of the ongoing protests. First elected in 2002, Erdogan has since marched his ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) to two more consecutive victories in the polls, including a landslide win in 2011, in which the AKP won 50% of the vote, nearly twice as much as the main opposition. In its first years at the helm, Erdogan’s government passed a number of democratic reforms, reducing the power of the once omnipotent, ever meddling military, granting new cultural rights to the country’s Kurdish minority, and cracking down on police torture and honor crimes against women.

Around 2005, however, just as accession negotiations with the E.U. commenced, its reformist zeal began to fizzle. The E.U. talks have since ground to a halt, and Erdogan seems to have busied himself with consolidating power across all institutions of the state and keeping the roaring economy on track, while jailing opponents inside the military and harassing dissenting journalists. With his power almost unchecked, the protesters say, he has grown increasingly patronizing, domineering and allergic to criticism.

Today, however, after a week of protests that have left at least two people dead and 3,000 injured, Erdogan may be becoming more vulnerable than ever. While the vast majority of the Prime Minister’s electorate seems to have stayed at home — most of the protesters TIME encountered were leftists, students and secularists, people who had never voted for Erdogan in the first place — there are signs of dissent among his political allies. Zaman, a newspaper owned by supporters of Fethullah Gulen, a powerful Muslim cleric who had until recently remained close to Erdogan, and whose followers are said to be a powerful force within the Turkish bureaucracy and the police, has run a number of critical articles. In Monday’s edition, Ihsan Dagi, a veteran commentator, slammed Erdogan and his government for their “I’ll do as I please” attitude. A number of AKP bigwigs, meanwhile, though far from openly defying Erdogan, have shown they are not reading from the same script as their leader.

On Tuesday, Turkey’s Deputy Prime Minister Bulent Arinc apologized for the excessive use of force by the police, acknowledging that the Gezi protesters, with the exception of “marginal and illegal groups,” had “shown their legitimate, logical and righteous reaction.” He later agreed to meet with protest leaders on Wednesday morning. As of Tuesday evening, thousands of people were still out on the streets in Istanbul, but the clashes had died down. “In the short run, this has weakened Erdoğan,” Suat Kiniklioglu, a former member of Parliament, told TIME. “Overall, many AK supporters are unhappy with how he dealt with this.”

The biggest challenge to Erdogan may have come from President Gul, who helped the Prime Minister mold the AKP from an outlawed Islamist party in 2001 into a regional political juggernaut. Gul, who has served as President for the past six years, is yet to announce whether he intends to run again in 2014, a decision that would pit him directly against Erdogan, who is known to covet the post and, after two terms, is no longer eligible to run for Prime Minister. Over the course of the protests, however, Gul has made it clear that he and the Prime Minister have drifted apart. When Erdogan insisted in an interview that people should exercise their democratic rights at the ballot box and not on the streets, Gul, within hours, retorted that democracy consisted of more than elections. Perhaps it was no coincidence that, after the President’s remarks, the news networks — previously cowed into a blackout — began covering the protests around the clock.

While the protests are yet to acquire the kind of critical mass that would force Erdogan to even consider stepping down as Prime Minister, the next few days may be crucial to his hopes of winning the presidency next year. “If he comes back from Africa, takes a conciliatory tone, he may have time to bounce back,” says Kiniklioglu."