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Erdogan Tightens Grip on Turkey, Putting Nation at Crossroads
Source: WSJ, for demonstration purpose
ISTANBUL—As mayor of Istanbul in the late 1990s, Recep Tayyip Erdogan publicly read a poem that included the lines: "The mosques are our barracks, the domes our helmets, the minarets our bayonets and the faithful our soldiers." The Islamist message earned him a few months in jail from Turkey's military-backed secular government.
A few years later, Mr. Erdogan re-emerged in politics as a champion of liberal democracy calling for sweeping institutional reforms and closer ties with Europe, became prime minister and led Turkey through a decade of prosperity and influence.
Now, Mr. Erdogan has tacked back in the other direction, igniting weeks of protests from Turks concerned by what they see as Mr. Erdogan's efforts to consolidate his power and Islamize public life. The shift has raised new questions among many Turkish voters about whether the prime minister is democrat or autocrat. How far Mr. Erdogan pushes his new agenda may determine the durability of Turkey's revival.
The protests were ignited by Mr. Erdogan's development plans for an Istanbul park but quickly spread into a national crisis. Mr. Erdogan on June 15 restored order by sending riot police to storm the park, sending protesters fleeing in a hail of tear gas and water cannons.
Consequences are starting to emerge. Germany, Turkey's largest trading partner, this week sought to block the start of new talks about Turkey entering the European Union. The U.S., which has called on Turkey to show restraint, is watching to see if the protests constrain Mr. Erdogan's ability to pressure the Syrian regime that President Barack Obama wants to oust.
How the prime minister navigates the next stage could affect other Muslim countries that have viewed Mr. Erdogan's brand of Islam-infused democracy as a model. Turkey was quick to champion the pro-democracy uprisings that unseated dictatorships in Tunisia, Libya and Egypt in 2011. In Egypt, Turkey offered more than $2 billion to bolster the economy and dispatched leading officials and businesspeople to help President Mohammed Morsi reform the country's secular-dominated institutions.