Erdogan’s Fire and Brimstone

What’s the next step for a prime minister who has lost his patience?

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Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan has called the protesters "vandals" and "terrorists."

Scheherazade S. Rehman is a professor of international finance/business and international affairs at The George Washington University. You can visit her homepage here and follow her on Twitter @Prof_Rehman.

The prime minister of Turkey is losing his patience!

It has been 10 days since the country's crisis erupted with protests flowing into more than 78 cities and towns. The clashes are now happening for many reasons, although the underlying cause is the growing anxiety of Turkish citizens about losing their personal freedom. Turks all around the country are banging on pots and pans from their windows, a symbolic gesture of support for the young protesters on the streets.

The world is well aware that Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan won 50 percent of the Turkish vote in his last election, because he has repeated it at every press event since the first clash with protestors. But doing some loose math, that equates to more than 36 million Turks who did not vote for him. He must broaden his appeal and his constituency, or the fires in city squares are going to spread and the noise from the pots and pans are going to grow louder.

[See a collection of political cartoons on the Middle East.]

It is clear in retrospect that Erdogan wanted to teach the young upstarts (for whom he has little patience or tolerance) a lesson in Istanbul on the very first night of their protests. He answered with aggressive use of tear-gassing and water cannons. What he inadvertently did was spray water on an oil fire. It spread.

After that first miscalculation, he has made many more. Instead of the conciliatory tone of a modern democratic government, he sounds more and more frustrated and stumped by the growing protests. He is even bristling at the world's negative reaction to his actions. He sounds more as if he was chosen by a higher power, rather than an elected prime minister.

[Read the U.S. News Debate: Has Obama Properly Handled the Arab Spring?]

His speeches now promise fire and brimstone to the protestors, their families and supporters, the window pot bangers, markets, private banks… anyone who opposes him. First, he called the protestors' looters, anarchists and terrorists. Then he said that anyone backing them is the same. Now he is admonishing private banks and the markets for taking monetary advantage of the volatility.

He has been quoted as saying he will "squeeze the throat" of speculators in the stock market who are taking advantage of the chaos. Perhaps not the most appropriate choice of words when your economy is dependent on foreign investors. It would seem that the lessons of the 2001 Turkish financial and economic crash have been forgotten.

The smell of a full-on confrontation is in the air if this government continues to escalate its words and actions. But if it scars the youth of the most trusted Middle East democracy, it will never be at peace. If it worries the markets seriously – the party is over.

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