The decision of a Turkish local court to stay the execution of a ban on Twitter was widely expected. Turkish Twitter users are expected to regain access to the microblogging platform as soon as the administrative court in Ankara informs the country’s Telecommunications Authority of the ruling. Ordinary Turks will definitely heave a sigh of relief at the court order. Twitter is so closely woven into the daily lives of people that it’s difficult to imagine life without it.
Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan is clearly the loser in the episode. Though he has been very emphatic about the reasons that led him to resort to such a drastic step, nobody had expected to take such a step. First of all, in this highly connected and intertwined world, it’s not fully possible to implement such a ban. Even before the court lifted the ban, there were signs it was failing. Half a million tweets from Turks were recorded in the first 10 hours after the attempted ban, including one from President Abdullah Gul. Secondly, the ban decision made the prime minister more unpopular at home and abroad. The United Nations bodies, the US and European governments were quick to issue condemnations of the decision. Turkey is a democratic country and the muzzling of freedom of expression by democratic countries invites more virulent condemnations compared to similar actions taken by non-democratic countries.
Twitter has been used to disseminate a series of apparently incriminating audio recordings suggesting massive corruption inside the Turkish government. Even if Erdogan’s accusations of unfair targeting by his opponents are true, Twitter or other social media are only the medium. Banning it would be akin to killing the messenger.
Turkey has gone through enough turmoil and it’s time for all sides to come to the negotiating table to find a solution. The country was touted as a model to the Arab world until recently, where democracy and religion worked in perfect harmony. But that image has taken some beating. The economy too has suffered severely. One of Erdogan’s biggest achievements has the economic revival of his country, which won him praise at home and abroad. And this progress was not achieved easily. But much of that progress too has suffered a setback after the crisis started.
Erdogan’s party has won three national elections since 2002 and the prime minister still enjoys substantial support among his people. But that should not blind him to the dangers of overreaction. Turkey is a democracy in which the people will be the ultimate winners.
The prime minister’s mandate expires in 2015, and self-imposed term limits mean that he must either give up power or switch to the presidency while enhancing its powers. Having tasted power, it’s difficult to relinquish it.