Few other leaders in a multi-party system enjoyed the sort of broad political consensus that Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan enjoyed just a few short weeks ago. Seen as virtually politically unstoppable, he parlayed economic success into a perception that he was the most dominant Turkish leader since Mustafa Kemal Atatürk’s death in 1938.
That’s all changed with the advent of popular protests against his authoritarian style of rule, exacerbated by a violent crackdown on what started as modest protests, and has now turned into a nationwide movement. Erdogan, for the first time in a long time, is looking vulnerable.
But don’t tell him that. Brimming with the confidence enjoyed by every other Arab Spring ruler (at least until the end), Erdogan has stood defiant, condemning the protesters as extremists and terrorist-backers, and sticking to his heavy-handed position despite overwhelming evidence that it is backfiring.
Erdogan’s strategy seems driven entirely by a perception, dominant in his party’s leadership, that a ruler must never show weakness and never backtrack. While his aides insist they will never allow Erdogan to be ousted, terming him a “centenary leader” behind Turkey’s “great transformation.” As he stays the course, however, he seems to be creating a growing movement uncomfortable with his autocratic policies.