In spite of the trouble at home, Turkey’s prime minister went ahead with his tour of North African countries. Recep Tayyip Erdogan was in Morocco on Monday. He’s scheduled to get back by Thursday. On arrival in Rabat, he predicted that: “In a few days, things will return to normal.” Those calling for him to resign found that arrogant. He gave no indication he was preparing any concessions. They accuse him of fostering a hidden Islamist agenda in Turkey, which has a secularist constitution.
Before leaving, Erdogan had delivered the dismissive remark: “We will not give away anything to those who live arm-in-arm with terrorism.”
He went on: “Putting aside the naive, emotional people who joined this protest when called through social media, extremist elements organised these protests. Unluckily, people joined in. Those who failed to defeat us in democratic elections are trying to defeat us by using these methods.”
President Abdullah Gul, on the other hand, said: “If there are objections, criticism, apart from during the elections, it’s very natural to express them. Peaceful protests are part of this.”
That was more conciliatory, and also in keeping with Gul’s image. As the unrest escalated, there has been talk that he might benefit politically from that contrast with the prime minister.
Both of them created the ruling AK (Justice and Development) Party in 2001. It has roots in Islamist parties banned in the past. It also embraces centre-right and nationalist elements. It won a sweeping victory in the 2002 elections, becoming the first Turkish party in 11 years to win an outright majority. Erdogan would have become prime minister, but a pro-Islamist conviction from 1994 forbade it, and so Gul became prime minister.
In 2003, however, he stepped into the post, and has not left it since. With him at the helm, the AKP won three elections and the country prospered as never before, increasing Turkey’s influence in the whole region.
Gul became foreign minister, and then, in 2007, president – a mostly ceremonial position in Turkey. Polls later began to present Gul as the more popular figure, though Erdogan remained popular with the country’s new, conservative-minded middle class – especially in the religious heartland.
Although Gul rejected the idea of a conflict, their differences grew increasingly open, Erdogan irritated with the “double-headed government” system.
With reforms the AKP has brought in, a newly-created powerful presidency is expected to change the already tense political landscape at elections next year.