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Thursday, March 24, 2011

AKP's Achilles Heel

On March 13th 30,000 doctors, nurses, pharmacists, lab technicians and other healthcare workers from across Turkey travelled to Ankara to hold what may have been the largest anti-government protest to date. Turkish healthcare is in very poor shape. Yet, the AKP only wants to have its own share by selling state institutions to the highest bidder. Yesim Erez examines the AKP's slow murder of the Turkish healthcare system.

Turkey, under the Justice and Development Party (AKP) is increasingly run as an autarchy. With the June general elections looming, it is busy manufacturing consent. A victory in June will be much more than just a political win, it will allow AKP to continue the implementation of neo-liberal policies, limiting welfare and increasing costs in an environment already lacking social balance. Among these industries is healthcare, traditionally a state welfare system which provides a safety net to the poorest classes. Number of physicians per capita is less than half of the OECD average and according to ’06 UN population data, infant mortality at 27.5 deaths per 1000 born, a figure several times higher than any country in the EU. Turkish healthcare spending actually needs to be better managed and increased as a whole but AKP wants to have its cake and eat it too. How this is carried out is examined below:

To quiet dissent, AKP has obtained control of media by buying national outlets. More than 50 journalists are in prison on charges of a so-called “Ergenekon plot” to overthrow the government, a measure meant to serve as a scare tactic for the remaining independent media outlets which are already wire tapped by the government. The September 2009 referendum called for a Yes/No vote on a package deal of 26 constitutional amendments and the results limited the military’s, Constitutional Court’s and the High Council of Judges and Prosecutors powers to show opposition or to remain independent. 

Healthcare, an Achilles heel for the AKP, had been a large driver in the 2002 and the 2007 elections, as votes are typically driven by individuals’ needs rather than political issues. Healthcare generally ranks at the top of issues that drive the vote and AKP predictably aims to use healthcare to garner votes in the upcoming general election in June.

On the other hand, AKP juggles wider access to healthcare with keeping healthcare expenditures low as deficit has a direct impact on Turkey’s credit rating. The two objectives being at odds, there is no way to optimize a real solution in the short term so marginal payments for healthcare services were introduced and also a set of regulations depriving citizens who owe on insurance premiums was passed. The new law cuts cost further by pushing out of the social welfare system, not only unemployed and seasonal workers but also women, who are increasingly under-employed under the AKP regime, by excluding them from health insurance coverage as dependents of their families. (Cosar/Yegenoglu 4/09). Government cash reimbursements for state health benefits to hospitals is also being reduced, controlled and delayed.

The Turkish State Statistics Agency conducted a 2009 report on public satisfaction reporting a 15 percentage point increase in overall satisfaction with healthcare services since 2003 to 65%.   While AKP,s move to allow citizens use their state benefits at private hospitals gained public praise, the highest driver of dissatisfaction was healthcare worker availability, followed by the response to a leading question “How satisfied are you that doctors serving at public hospitals are allowed to have their private practices?”. The construct of this state survey foreshadows the AKP agenda to force doctors to leave private practice positions to only work in public hospitals.

70% of all Turkish inpatient healthcare facilities are publicly owned. According to a brand new set of healthcare regulations, doctors working part-time in state hospitals must now close down any private offices, giving up their only meaningful income. In state hospitals, compensation has been switched to become proportional to the number of patients examined and the number of surgeries performed. Appointments are dictated at 5 minutes per patient and no more or the doctors pay is cut, a move that seriously increases the likelihood of malpractice. 

In response to the new regulations, doctors in the public sector began resigning to practice privately. AKP then confronted them with a new by-law which enumerated unreasonable requirements for private offices including dictating the office size, the dimensions of the doors and the number of toilets, effectively precluding opening of a new office. This new by-law compelled most of the doctors who only worked in their private practice to quit working.

Pay for performance system dictates that training of residents at teaching hospitals is now neglected due to an abnormal schedule and patient overload. Furthermore, to cosmetically increase the number of general practitioners referred to as “family doctors”, a grossly inadequate 10 day training was implemented for medical school graduates who lack specialization, following which, they are allowed to serve as general practitioners. The AKP regulations are thrown together in haste, without either consultation with medical professionals, or consent from professional associations. More importantly, they endanger public health and health education for the price of making short term cosmetic changes.

On one hand, AKP is coercing physicians to work only for state run hospitals, on the other hand, it is squeezing out private hospitals not affiliated with its sympathizers: It holds the purse strings of state benefits reimbursements to private hospitals, and has control over the cash position of each hospital. Medical Park chain, 40% of which was recently sold the US firm Carlyle, or example, is rumored to be owned by those close to the prime minister. Remainder of the private hospitals have to deal with a severe cash constraint imposed by the government and were told they can increase co-pays from 30% to 70% in order to make up the shortage, making them very expensive.

In March 2010, AKP adopted a State Hospitals Union Bill which requires a gradual privatization of all state hospitals.  While the move is concealed as an attempt to bring market economies, it actually aims to sell off state hospitals to the highest bidder with no concern for public health. Privatizing the public system will decrease the quality of the healthcare and eradicate an important safety net for the working class.

Doctors, nurses, pharmacists, lab technicians- the entire community of healthcare workers are dismayed about AKP’s policies held what may have been the largest public protest in the capital city of Ankara on March 13th. Over 30,000 professionals from all over the country traveled to Ankara, the capital to hold a protest together in harsh winter conditions. Photos from the event can be seen on www.tabip.tv but there was no significant media coverage of the event. While this is partially explained by the fact that media outlets have been quieted, neither of the main opposition parties CHP and MHP made meaningful endorsements of the healthcare professionals cause. Both have refrained from aligning against the AKP on the healthcare issue since the consent AKP has “manufactured” around its success of its health policies. 

Not standing up against AKP’s slow murder of the Turkish healthcare system is a mistake CHP and MHP must avoid making.  Healthcare is AKPs Achilles heel and laying out an alternative plan that saves public health and addresses the valid concerns of the Turkish healthcare professionals could help the opposition win the next election.

Saturday, March 5, 2011

View From Turkey: A Deliberate Middle East Overture

AKP wants to become a political stabilizer and the leading economic power in the Muslim world, and is shifting Turkey’s focus toward the Middle East. At the same time, the US is losing direct influence in the same region. Yesim Erez analyzes how foreign policy will evolve to accommodate this new dynamic and its risks.

BOSTON- AKP (Justice and Development Party), the party in power in Turkey has an ambition to become a political stabilizer and the leading economic power in the Muslim world, and is shifting Turkey’s focus toward the Middle East. At the same time, the US is losing direct influence in the same region.

AKP’ leader Erdogan’s show of leadership is not a last minute attempt to fill in a void in the Middle East, rather; it is a deliberate foreign policy which has been percolating for years. Under AKP, Turkey drastically increased its trade relations through the Middle East in the last few years. In 2009, Turkey advertised a “Zero-Problems” policy, stating that it first aimed to normalize its relations with all its neighbors. As a part of this initiative, meetings were held with Iraq and Syria to sort out economic and security issues and visa requirements with Syria, Lebanon, Jordan and Libya were abolished.

In 2009, Erdogan made a planned anti-Israel outburst at Shimon Peres at Davos during a panel discussion on Gaza. In 2010, IHH, a Turkish Islamic NGO, set off a ship purchased from the Istanbul municipality towards Gaza, with the premise of delivering humanitarian aid. It tried to enter the Gaza blockade and refused Israel’s procedure to have the cargo inspected at port of Ashdod and to have the goods delivered. When the ship did not stop, Israeli teams abseiled the IHH boat from aircrafts and speedboats and were attacked with weapons. As a result of the clash, 9 activists onboard were killed. The Turkish authorities who blessed the aid trip had been well aware of the likely consequences and deliberately took advantage of the anti-Israel, pro- Palestine sentiment domestically and more importantly, in the Middle East.

Today, AKP plans to establish a free trade zone with Jordan, Lebanon and Syria. Iraq, UAE. Libya and Egypt are 4 of the top 5 trading partners with highest net contribution to the Turkish trade balance.

Recently when the governments of Egypt, Tunis, Libya started unraveling, Turkish diplomats scurried to fortify their regional relationships: Turkey just signed a nuclear deal with Jordan and hosted the Crown Prince of Bahrain in February 2011. As regimes collapsed, Erdogan meandered his rhetoric to fit the circumstances, distancing himself diplomatically from ousted leaders, and toward encouragement of dissent. Al Jazzera which was then involved in negotiations to buy a TV channel in Turkey, played up Erdogan’s statements on freedom on Egyptian TV during the protests. Erdogan is keeping relatively mum about supporting the citizens on Libya but it is assumed this is due to his acceptance of the Al-Gaddafi International Prize for Human Rights last November which allegedly came with a $250,000 reward.

Few factors have eased the way for Turkey’s leadership ambition: Domestically, Turkey’s new found prestige plays well to the pro-Islamic sentiment. EU’s discrimination of Turkey had led to a drastic decline in popularity of the accession and prospect of alignment with the west by the Turks. Turkish support for EU accession declined from 73% in 2004 to 40% in 2007. A feeling of rejection by the West rendered increased involvement with the Middle East more palatable to a nation comparing themselves to the West. Internationally, a growing Anti-American sentiment in the Middle East created a need for a leader in the region – this is a position Turkey and Iran are both vying for.

In contrast, USA continues to have interests in the increasingly unstable area but with much less leverage than ever before. Tunisians, Egyptians alike realize that the US was supporting the leaders they just ousted. They have finally attained liberty despite the US and not because of it.  The US has been caught by surprise by the ability of the populations to drive change.  Spokespeople made conflicting statements as situations changed, often withholding endorsement of support for the protesters which caused further diminished credibility in the region for the US.  In contrast, Erdogan jumped at the opportunity to culminate his leadership strategy by making popular statements on Middle Eastern TV stations. This except from his exaggerated Cairo speech shows a desire to position Turkey in a pivotal role in the region, while directly conflicting with the human rights violations of protesters and minorities in Turkey: “Not only in Turkey but everywhere in the world, the Justice and Development Party has shown no fear or hesitation in siding with the oppressed and the victim. It has always taken its position against the status quo and against pressure and oppression… Turkey is playing roles that can upturn all the stones in the region and that can change the course of history” 

How will the US deal with protecting its interests in the Middle East while the landscape is shifting drastically? Firstly, it will need to deal with any contingencies taking a role in the emerging governments such as the Muslim Brotherhood. Secondly, since the US has very small leverage in the region, it may closely align with a regional power who agrees to push US interests. The only viable candidate is Turkey since a close relationship with Iran is unlikely.

Meanwhile, US governments public reaction to Turkey’s new aggressive foreign policy includes expected statements of concern from the pro Israel contingencies in Washington. What we do not hear from US official channels is that Turkey’s leadership and authority in the Middle East can satisfy some of the US needs in the region: During an era of diminished influence in the Middle East, US may be best served by supporting the AKP regime and its Middle Eastern aspirations. 

However, there are challenges to a US-Turkey alignment of interest. Firstly, Turkey’s Middle Eastern overture may not succeed: Iran has coveted the same regional leadership role but it is showing temporary tolerance for Turkey’s Middle Eastern assumptions because of the high direct trade volume and Turkey’s support for its nuclear program. Secondly, having rid themselves of their autocratic leaders, no Middle Eastern nation is anxious to return to a nostalgic Ottoman era type construct when the Middle Eastern peninsula was under the Ottoman regime for four centuries. 

Third and most important challenge to the US aligning with the AKP is that Erdogan and his team resemble the very autocratic leaders the US made the error of supporting for years. As the June 2011 general elections approach, there is increasing reaction to AKP and its human rights abuses. The blatant manipulation of trade to benefit AKP partisans is also not sitting well with the Turks. Just like in Egypt and Libya, a smaller insurgence is first organized through social media, and protests gain mass as a larger population is encouraged to participate and to speak up. The more nervous AKP gets about its domestic footing, the more aggressively it is expected to embrace Middle Eastern leadership politics to distract from domestic issues.

The US should be very careful in its support for the current regime in Turkey and must apply the lessons it learned in the Middle East so far: AKP’s human rights record and its domestic popularity must be taken into careful consideration. The best US foreign policy toward Turkey right now is the same as all through the Middle East- to watch the will of the people and to stand for democracy not only in rhetoric but with authenticity.
4 March 2011

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

USA Called Out (Published by Cumhuriyet, Eng Ed, 2/1011)

The US severely needs to overhaul its image.  In the 2010 annual BBC World Service Poll, 70% of Turks indicated that they had a negative image of the US, up from 63% a year ago.  As a matter of fact, the US holds an average (all countries surveyed combined) reputation of around 40% positive, lower than both India and Brazil.   You would think Turks didn’t grow up watching Dynasty and Star Trek and envied the American lifestyle we saw on TV in the 80’s and 90s!
Nowadays, any conversation about politics on the streets of Istanbul leads to the mention of dissatisfaction with the ruling AKP and lamenting the US for its support of Kurdish separatism- all within the first five minutes.   The common Turkish man’s misery seems to be indexed to the US involvement in Turkey’s affairs.  Why do Turks think they are miserable? Is it because the US bestrides the Middle East like the Colossus?  
Rather, it is because Turks know who is supporting the current government and why:  AKP has tolerated the US policy of supporting a Kurdish entity in Northern Iraq, which would have been unacceptable to any other political faction.  
The AKP regime has a dismal human rights record:  According to an October press release by the European Parliament, it has not detained any of the 400 government officials against whom the EU has received “credible allegations of torture of detainees from prisons and from police detention facilities or even at peaceful demonstrations”.   According to a Human Rights Watch report published last November, there are 50 documented cases of unarmed protesters being treated harshly as terrorists, violating the public’s freedom of expression.
The reason people of Turkey, Egypt, Yemen are so unhappy with the USA is tied to the US policy preference for “stability” over democracy.   While the US State Department makes claims of promoting democracy around the world, its realpolitik has involved support of oppressive regimes which are willing to promote the US economic interests.  The oppressive Wahhabi regime in Saudi Arabia, Mubarek and Saleh are examples.  This realpolitik of “stability” over democracy is severely problematic: 
The late 20th century observed the US shifting from use of diplomacy to a “war on terror”, a “crusade” which began with Al Qaeda but is supposed to defeat all terrorist groups. The US approach shifted from one derived from moral and civic principles into one with a punitive orientation.  Domestically, color coded terrorism alerts fortified the population’s conviction that there is a continuous threat.  By 2004, a Pew research study found that 41% of the American public perceived “War and terrorism” as the number one problem for America.  Economic issues were rated a distant second at 26%.   Today, the Transportation Security Administration (the folks in uniform at the airports) are an over 50,000 force with a budget of more than 7.8 billion dollars, and they yet have to catch a single terrorist.  A large industry feeding the “war against terrorism”, supplying weapons, transportation, software, etc. continues to churn even today, under the Democratic Obama regime.  Egypt is second to only Israel in buying the most weapons from the US.
A result of the war on terrorism and the subsequent need for security is that Washington is now making a foreign policy trade off:  It is trading off a more altruistic mode of support for local democracies with support for dictators who protect US commercial interests such as the priority access to the Suez Canal in Egypt, giving American military vessels expedited transit.   The dictatorial regime willing to offer incentives to the USA, however, sets off a cycle of oppression, building pressure over the years as in Tunisia and Egypt.  This continues until a tipping point of tolerance is reached then leads to a sudden collapse.   
Why does this vicious circle of predictable events happen?  In order to protect the status quo in the region, US backed dictators such as Ben Ali, Mubarek, and Saleh have blocked opposition and handicapped domestic democratic processes.  A political power vacuum is therefore likely to follow when the dictatorial regime eventually collapses. This is because grassroot organizations have not been allowed to form and the only entities available are groups of protesters who would find it difficult to organize on their own, or worse, fundamentalist Islamic contingencies such as the Muslim Brotherhood, who are relatively organized.   The collapse can leave a country vulnerable to fundamentalist Islamic influences.
When the protesters called for regime change in Egypt, they were also protesting against the US neo colonialism and an end to the fulcrum balancing the USA on one end and Mubarek on the other.   The image of the US has become closely tied to the illegitimate and oppressive regimes it supports.   When these regimes collapse, the US is also likely to lose not only face but also strategic partnerships.   This is a Type II error on the part of the US, where the wolf at the door is missed. 
To avoid the pitfalls of a negative international image and the possibility of losing dialogue with allies, the US must refocus its foreign policy principles to support the will of the people.   It must support democracy and encourage its allies to actively promote democratic processes.    In Egypt, it is still not too late-  the protesters can be helped to organize.
Long after Mubarek is gone, American interests will remain in Egypt, Turkey and elsewhere.  The extent to which the US pays serious attention, and not just lip service, to the what the people on the streets want instead of investing in autocratic regimes, it is likely to find friendlier ears in the future administrations.      

Digital Democracy (Published by Cumhuriyet, Eng Ed 2/2011)

Obama, then a relative unknown, first won the US Democratic candidacy and later, the presidency with an unprecedented level of on-line donations and viral support.  How he accomplished that has to do with a multi-layered communication strategy that leveraged social media from web sites to You Tube to Facebook.    He was able to get his grass roots supporters to do the viral marketing which multiplied the campaigns effectiveness.   Obama may be a good example of the power of social media which has become a standard tool for political campaigning.   Political use of social media is an under utilized wild card in Turkey.   If employed properly, it offers the upside of a few percentage points of support before the upcoming elections.

Ten years ago, it used to matter what country, city and neighborhood you are from.  As Turks in living in the USA, we hang out with other Turks, gravitating toward people with whom we shared a common culture.  These days, it is still fun to get together with Turkish friends to enjoy a glass of raki with meze, but thanks to the World Wide Web, we now have no trouble finding people who are just like us in that they share our opinions- and they are just as likely to be from Germany, the US or China as they are from Turkey.  

On Facebook, I am a fan of “Cumhuriyet Halk Partisi”  with 800,000 plus others, “100% Electric Motorcycles” and an avid follower of a band called Wilco with 330,000 Facebook fans.  If I can find Turks who support the CHP party, who like clean transportation who listen to Wilco, I am sure to have a lot in common with them.  This is quite likely given that in Turkey, almost a third of the population uses Facebook including my parents who are in their 60’s and 70’s.   

Social media has made it possible to find commonalities among individuals:  These are similar interests, think of them as “horizontal” relationships across geographic boundaries which can alter the modern definition of identity.  Today, we are not only likely to have more in common, and identify with friends on the internet as we do with our neighbors.  Facebook communities, for example, serve the purpose of sharing information and soliciting reaction from like minded members.  Social media is instrumental in mobilizing activism locally and internationally.  By definition, it is infinitely more useful in mobilizing crowds when a reaction to the status quo is required.  

Social media acts as social glue.. While some claim they don’t like to communicate on-line because they may prefer face-to-face interaction, I know first hand that this is a misnomer.  My high school class is still tight knit 25 years after graduation thanks to Yahoo groups.  We initially used Facebook for sending reunion invites, then started to spend a lot more time with each other as a group.    Social media brings people together.  For example, the recent “Drinking to AKP” protest by Turks would have been impossible to organize without social media.

During the recent uprisings in Egypt, the government has tried to restrict access to the internet with limited success.  Activists have been able use Facebook, You Tube, internet messaging and Twitter to share news and to organize protests against the regime.  For example, “We Are All Khaled Said”  named after the 28 year old Egyptian tortured to death by policeman currently has over 38,000 fans.   It shares information with the followers on latest events, information on how they can help support the cause and pulls in supportive coverage from overseas.

Twitter and Facebook helped mobilized the crowds not only in Egypt but also in Tunisia.  Communication enabled protest and brought attention and results.   Dire economic and social conditions were the prerequisite to the movement:  Egyptians earn less than $4 per day, half of the population is illiterate and the educated are underemployed.  During the past 30 years, these conditions could not be resolved using democratic methods until the availability and popularity of social media reached a tipping point.

Social media has become an indispensible tool for political activism because it is accessible and egalitarian.  When the Turkish AKP government exercises control over news media by threatening media outlets, by imposing tax levies and sentencing columnists to prison, traditional press outlets have had to to succumb to pressure.  Social media however, remains independent.   If the government attempts to shut off access as the Egyptian Government tried to do, masses can easily circumvent by using fax, telephone and other more traditional means of communication. 

Social media has become a standard tool for politics- the extent to which a political party can utilize this tool effectively will benefit them but will also demonstrate how organized and transparent it will be after winning an election.   For example, if CHP can seriously adopt a viral marketing policy and management system, it will add several percentage points to its tally until the elections.   Especially when it comes to securing votes among the under 30 educated urban masses, effective social media participation is now a requirement of success.

What constitutes an effective viral campaign?   The campaign must tie directly to the party’s strategy and reflect learnings from market research so that every web posted message is directed at the correct audience.  While it must be consistent with the non-viral components of the campaign such as TV coverage and other media interviews, an online campaign can go into detail in a targeted fashion.  A campaign’s success is determined by its messages that synergistically integrate across various modes of communication to reach its audience.  TV presence supports street marketing which in turn is fueled by social media.

The viral component of a campaign must arm the fans with encouragement and information.  A fan in Kadikoy must be able to  find a link to look up where to go for the next local meeting and who to call to get on the invite list.  Grassroots party participation is a two way stream, and not a monologue of pearls of wisdom of a single leader.  A good social site seeks dialogue and inspires grassroots action.   Surveys can be used to prompt dialogue and requesting action can be as simple as asking the fans to invite all their friends to the site or it can be taking part as a volunteer in the next party meeting.   Lastly, a good fan site must tie in with links to the network of other sites such as Tweeter, MySpace and Meetup groups.     

Creating a Facebook site for a cause is hardly sufficient for success.  MHP has very slim presence with no substantial content and CHP fails to properly utilize its web presence by maintaining only a monologue:  The site is used to only disseminate words of wisdom recently uttered by the upper echelon of the party.  Instead, the site’s management must fall under the strategic marketing arm of the party, supervising a dialogue with partisans to foster grassroots support.  Meetup is another great site for forming local organizations and for finding local supporters who can meet among themselves.   I have seen very efficient uses of this in the US local elections  but none of the parties in Turkey are currently using this site.

Mistakes from Turkish opposition party social sites also include writing in all caps, which is the web equivalent of screaming, and letting people who don’t understand social media post updates in a tone of voice that doesn’t sync with positioning their candidate in clear presidential form.   Postings that exhibit inter party disputes must also be avoided. 

Web mass communication is by definition, more efficient when righting the wrongs and when reacting to the status quo.   It is on the people’s side.  This is why it is more important than ever that opposition parties start paying attention to social media 101. 

Cheers of Protest (Printed by Cumhuriyet, Eng Ed. 2/2011)

I have lived in the United States since 1985 and visit family in Turkey every chance I get.   Political and social changes can be even more obvious when observed once every few months, capturing disparate snapshots, instead of continuously being in that environment.  This is why my visits to Istanbul over the years have created a unique panorama of views on trends.  My January 2011 illuminated significant social changes: 

My favorite pastime in Istanbul is walking up and down the pedestrian street Istiklal, in the district of Beyoglu.   In the early 2000s. dense packs of 20-25 year olds would rush down like buffalo herd to various bars and coffee shops along the street, illustrating the result of immigration from the underdeveloped southeast regions coupled with high birth rates.  Istanbul’s population is said to have tripled between 80’s and the 2000’s.

The Istiklal Streetyouth would have been born in a period which was also a stage to the 1981 coup d’etat.  The intervention aimed to depoliticize Turkey limiting democratic processes in order to facilitate central control, a reaction to combat the instability, believed to have resulted from the failure of the previous democratically elected governments.     

Following the coup, our school bags were searched every morning by armed soldiers in front of my all-girls middle school.   Political discussion was not tolerated in the schools or outside.   My generation had its democratic wings clipped early on in life!

During my strolls along Istiklal Street 20 years later, I assumed that the 20 year olds, raised in this depoliticized environment would not embrace their rights to speak up and take the political reigns.   My theory seemed to sync with the boisterous advent of the Islamic oriented AKP party.  AKP, in its untypically long rule in government, sought to limit the rights of critical government institutions such as the military and the high courts, staffing them with pro-Islamic partisans.  Yet, they had secured almost half of the national votes.

Along Beyoglu, extremes were still present…. The occasional communists selling their publications, Green Party representatives, factory workers on strike…  These tiny groups were precious tokens, a symbol of non conformism we had to nurture.  Every time I went for a stroll along
Istiklal Street
, I would return with their magazines under my arm, my name signed under every petition.

AKP party must have shared my conviction about the overall depoliticization and lack of public reaction.  After winning 58% of the votes in a constitutional referendum to boost its own reigns of power, AKP brazenly believed in its license to take their Islamist agenda to the next level.   It had already been wire tapping its opposition and sending anyone who speaks against them to jail based on ungrounded allegations, AKP proceeded to ban alcohol from sports events, limiting its sales to licensed shops, whilst claiming no ideological motive although Turkey has the lowest alcohol consumption per capita of any European nation. 

What AKP didn’t realize is that the tipping point of the public tolerance against Islamic extremism had finally been reached.   In January 2011, at the Galatasaray Stadium opening ceremony,  Prime Minister Erdogan was booed by thousands of sports fans.   He threw a temper tantrum, leaving the match and proceeding to claim that his government paid for the stadium and that Galatasaray fans were ungrateful.  I can imagine his political strategists’ dismay at his reaction.  

In December, at a conference at Ankara University, eggs were thrown in protest at an AKP party deputy.  The Prime Minister lashed out against the students, blaming the university administration for their lack of control.

January 19, 2011 witnessed the fourth anniversary of the murder of the Turkish-Armenian journalist, Hrant Dink.  Although the criminal was detained, justice has still not been served-   even official inspectors believe that the National Intelligence Organization (MIT) may be involved and yet, identified parties have not been questioned in the investigation.   On January 19, tens of thousands walked along
Istiklal Street
, placards in hand, chanting in Turkish and Kurdish “Justice for Dink” , “We are all Armenians”, “Government is the Murderer”.   Upon hearing my participation in this march, my mother was dismayed “I warned you not to go to Beyoglu!” she scolded me.  Yet, walking along the thousands in this protest was the safest I ever felt in Beyoglu.  Given the choice, I would want to be a part of a nation full of people I walked with that day, screaming for justice and ready to do something about it. 

On January 29, thousands have planned a “raise your glasses against AKP’s restrictive policies” protest against restrictions on drinking.  The event will be held in various cities in Turkey and abroad.   The event has been announced in social media which will increasingly become the synergistic adhesive amongst the internet generation for spreading opinions.   

I had been wrong about the 80’s youth -  Political protest is in their DNA.   On January 29, I will be raising my glass from Boston not just to protest the AKP, but also to celebrate the resurfacing of political reaction in Turkey.    AKP’s demise will come from the organized participation of the young generation in the political processes and nothing can hold them back.