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Saturday, June 15, 2013

Turkey's Secular Riot

While superficially similar, the protests in Istanbul's Taksim Square are quite different from those in Cairo's Tahrir Square, which brought down Hosni Mubarak's regime in 2011. In Turkey, the Islamist party is already in power; in Cairo it had been suppressed for decades. The protests are a backlash of the secular, liberal and urban Turkey that hearkens back to Kemal Atatürk for inspiration, and forward to Europe in its aspirations.

Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan represents a different Turkish nationalism, one that seeks to combine Islam with liberal democracy. It is a model that President Barack Obama--who is close to Erdogan--has embraced in his own vision for the future of the Islamic world. If Islamists can be integrated into democracy, the thinking goes, they will shed their extreme elements as face the day-to-day tasks of governing.

That has happened, to some extent, in Turkey. Yet Islamist parties are not involved in politics to accept the institutional, post-modern status quo: they have hegemonic cultural ambitions and are ambivalent, at best, about the means through which these are to be imposed. Erdogan is now serving his third term, with no end in sight; he has been in office since before 9/11. And Turkey's secular liberals sense that a window is closing.


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