Contrary to much recent commentary, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan is a big fan of the protests that have been shaking Istanbul for the past five weeks.
The standoff began in the first days of the year, following his decision to appoint a non-academic and acolyte of the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) as the new rector of Turkey’s top public university, Bogazici. This sparked on-campus protests calling for the new rector’s resignation and a university system free of government control.
Authorities cracked down hard, wielding batons, spraying teargas and arresting dozens of protesting students, which in turn encouraged more students to protest, joined by faculty. The Bogazici protests soon swelled in size and scope to move beyond Istanbul and encompass broader issues such as high unemployment and widespread dissatisfaction among Turkish youth.
The crackdown has continued apace, with dozens more arrested last weekend. But the demonstrators have held their ground. Some news outlets have hailed these protests as the political emergence of Turkey’s generation Z, which has known only Mr Erdogan as its leader and is now saying it has had enough.
Why might all of this please the Turkish president? For starters, these demonstrations pull eyeballs away from the most urgent issue in the country today, which is how its deeply troubled economy is driving more people into poverty.
The government has subtly acknowledged the depth of this problem with a new campaign to help Turkish citizens survive on next to nothing. On Sunday, a programme on state-run television network TRT advised people not to waste food and explained that eggs could be eaten after their expiration date.
The day before, the front page of Takvim, a newspaper closely linked to AKP, presented a grim walk-through on wielding one’s will power to save money while grocery shopping. “Shop on a full stomach.” “Avoid nice smells.” “Don’t touch the products – the feeling of ownership will force you to buy it.”
Read more: The National News