Just to make everything worse, the prime minister announced last week a new set of strict restrictions on the consumption and sale of alcohol in Turkey to "protect new generations from such un-Islamic habits" and raise them according to the Turkish and Islamic culture. While Erdogan's many fans among the Turkish electorate probably welcome such measures, it has aggravated the many others who prefer a secular lifestyle and reject the imposition of religious rules on a diverse society.
But there's another issue that has is making many Turks wary of the current administration's policies. For a long time now the government has been providing direct (though undisclosed) support to Syrian opposition groups -- support that has taken a variety of forms short of supplying the rebels with actual weaponry. Though Turks have little sympathy for the government in Damascus, that doesn't mean that they automatically sympathize with those fighting against it. Many Turks correspondingly view the two car bomb attacks that killed 51 people in town of Hatay close to the border with Syria on May 11 as evidence that Erdogan's policies may be drawing Turkey into the war. The Turkish government responded to the bombings all too characteristically: by imposing a ban on any press coverage of the incident.
The tipping point in this long series of disconcerting events came when Erdogan announced the plans for Taksim. He has personally pushed the development project forward despite the disapproval of the government's own regulatory agencies, who have cast doubt on its legality, and even some potential investors, who have decided against participating in the scheme due to the widespread public opposition. The current clashes are, quite simply, a grassroots response to the top-down actions of the Erdogan government. The general discontent has now morphed into the anti-government demonstrations that are now being suppressed by tear gas and police batons in Istanbul and Ankara.
I am afraid that the government of Prime Minister Erdogan, like so many others before him in this country, has finally succumbed to the siren calls of dictatorship. Social engineering and authoritarian decision-making have now become the government's top policy tools. The Islamists seem to have replaced the Kemalist dreams of authoritarian modernization with their own dreams of authoritarian Islamization. But perhaps there is a bright spot in all of this. I suspect that the current protests in Ankara and Istanbul will soon spread to other cities. If that happens, it could very well mark the beginning of the end of Erdogan's ambitions to govern against the will of his own citizenry.