Archive | Protest

Protest and Democracy in Turkey

The following is a guest post from political scientist Daniel Ksleman. His research addresses the changing nature of political parties in contemporary democracies, with a particular focus on elections and democracy in modern Turkey. He is currently an associate professor of International Relations at the Instituto de Empresa in Madrid, Spain.


On May 28, a small crowd gathered in Istanbul to protest the Turkish government’s plans to transform an urban park into an Ottoman monument and commercial center. Following what has generally been deemed an excessive reaction by the police, thousands more took to the streets in support of the initial demonstrators. Protest which was initially confined quickly evolved into a larger and more aggressive expression of dissatisfaction with the incumbent Justice and Development Party, and its leader Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan.

This discontent has been simmering for years, and can be understood in the context of Turkey’s enigmatic republican history. Turkey was formed in 1921 from the remnants of the Ottoman Empire. Having waged a successful war of independence, the country’s founder Mustafa Kemal Atatürk quickly set forth on an ambitious modernization agenda. This agenda included programs aimed at a wholesale secularization of Turkish society, and envisioned an important role for the public sector in industrialization and economic management.

In part as a result of this history, political Islam and free-market economics have often made interesting ideological bedfellows in Turkish politics. This ideological profile has been distilled in the currently ruling Justice and Development Party (in Turkish: Adalet ve Kalkınma Parti, henceforth AKParti). Since coming to power in 2002, the AKParti has promoted policies to relax restrictions on religious expression, most notably the prohibition of Islamic headscarves in government buildings. As well, they have actively supported private-sector enterprise and have increased Turkey’s international economic integration.

The now decade-long AKParti rule has in many ways been a success. Turkey witnessed a decade of economic growth and stability, and since 2007 has continued to grow despite the global economic recession. Initial efforts to relax restrictions on religious expression were met with support not only from religious conservatives, but also from a subset of liberals and intellectuals who saw these policies as promoting civil rights. As well, the provision of basic services has improved, especially in rural and working-class urban districts. Citizens who have benefited from these developments, many of whom are more religious than their urban middle- and upper-class counterparts, consistently support the AKParti, whose vote share increased from 34% in 2002, to 47% in 2007, to 50% in 2011.

Continue Reading →

Continue Reading

The Dynamics of Information Diffusion in the Turkish Protests

Below is a guest-post from Sandra González-Bailón at the Oxford Internet Institute and Pablo Barberá at NYU’s Social Media and Political Participation (SMaPP) laboratory.

Social networking sites, such as Twitter, Facebook or Tumblr, appear to be playing a prominent role in the coordination of the still ongoing protests in Turkey. There is abundant evidence suggesting that social media have been pivotal in the spread of information, especially in the absence of coverage by traditional media [1]; to recruit and mobilize protesters [2]; to coordinate the movement without the infrastructure of formal organizations [3]; and to draw the attention and support of the international community [4]. That social media is at the heart of these protests was defiantly acknowledged by the Turkish Prime Minister himself when he described them as “the worst menace to society” [5]. There are also reports that 25 people were arrested because of their use of Twitter to spread information about the protest [6]. Continue Reading →

Continue Reading

For Much More Than “A Few Trees” By Many More Than “A Few Looters”

Below is another guest post by Duke political scientist Bahar Leventoglu.


Turkey, a country that has been shown as an example of democracy and progress in the Middle East for some time now, has been in the news this past week because of the widespread government protests. The protests started in Gezi Park to demonstrate against the government project to eliminate a green space in Istanbul to build another shopping mall; and thanks to social media, they have spread across the country and turned into a general protest against government policies and in particular against the Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan. Erdogan called the protesters “a few looters.” The most widely chanted slogan of the protest is now “Tayyip, resign!”

Recep Tayyip Erdogan has been the most popular Prime Minister in the history of modern Turkey. His Justice and Development Party (AKP) collected enough votes to have a majority in the parliament three times in a row, and moreover their vote share has increased with every election, which is quite unusual for incumbent parties. The party got more than 50% of the votes in the last parliamentary election in 2011 (edit: correction, the party received just 49.83%).

So, what went wrong?

Continue Reading →

Continue Reading

A Breakout Role for Twitter? Extensive Use of Social Media in the Absence of Traditional Media by Turks in Turkish in Taksim Square Protests

The following post is provide based on research conducted in the past 24 hours by NYU’s Social Media and Political Participation (SMaPP) laboratory.  It is written by lab members and NYU Politics Ph.D. candidates Pablo Barberá and Megan Metzger.


Over the past several years the role of social media in promoting, organizing, and responding to protest and revolution has been a hot topic of conversation. From Occupy Wall Street to the Arab Spring Revolutions, social media has been at the center of many of the largest, most popular demonstrations of political involvement. The protests taking place in Turkey add to this growing trend, and are already beginning to add new layers to our understanding of how social media can contribute to public participation.

Protests have been ongoing since early this week in Istanbul’s Taksim Square. Organized in response to government plans to tear down the green space in the center of the square and replace it with a shopping center, the protests have morphed into a more visceral expression of the general discontent with the government’s policies over the last several years In response, the police fired massive amounts of tear gas and pepper spray into the crowd and set fire to tents set up for protesters to sleep in, leaving several people injured.  Protesters have begun wearing homemade gas masks while continuing to protest on the street. As of 2 AM Turkish time on Saturday, the protests are still in progress and some protestors have reportedly breached the barrier and entered the park.

The social media response to and the role of social media in the protests has been phenomenal. Since 4pm local time yesterday, at least 2 million tweets mentioning hashtags related to the protest, such as #direngeziparkı (950,000 tweets), #occupygezi (170,000 tweets) or #geziparki (50,000 tweets) have been sent. As we show in the plot below, the activity on Twitter was constant throughout the day (Friday, May 31). Even after midnight local time last night more than 3,000 tweets about the protest were published every minute.


What is unique about this particular case is how Twitter is being used to spread information about the demonstrations from the ground. Unlike some other recent uprisings, around 90% of all geolocated tweets are coming from within Turkey, and 50% from within Istanbul (see map below). In comparison, Starbird (2012) estimated that only 30% of those tweeting during the Egyptian revolution were actually in the country. Additionally, approximately 88% of the tweets are in Turkish, which suggests the audience of the tweets is other Turkish citizens and not so much the international community.


These numbers are in spite of the fact that there are reports that the 3G network is down in much of the area that is affected. Some local shops have removed security from their WiFi networks to allow internet access, but almost certainly the reduced signal will have impacted the tweeting behavior of those on the ground.

Part of the reason for the extraordinary number of tweets is related to a phenomenon that is emerging in response to a perceived lack of media coverage in the Turkish media. Dissatisfied with the mainstream media’s coverage of the event, which has been almost non-existent within Turkey, Turkish protestors have begun live-tweeting the protests as well as using smart-phones to live stream video of the protests. This, along with recent articles in the Western news media, has become a major source of information about this week’s events. Protesters have encouraged Turks to turn off their televisions today in protest over the lack of coverage of the mainstream media by promoting the hashtag #BugünTelevizyonlarıKapat (literally, “turn off the TVs today”), which has been used in more than 50,000 tweets so far.

What this trend suggests is that Turkish protesters are replacing the traditional reporting with crowd-sourced accounts of the protest expressed through social media. Where traditional forms of news have failed to fully capture the intensity of the protests, or to elucidate the grievances that protesters are expressing, social media has provided those participating with a mechanism through which not only to communicate and exchange information with each other, but essentially to take the place of more traditional forms of media. Further, this documentation through multiple sources in public forums serves to provide a more accurate description of events as they unfold. The coming days in Turkey will give us more insight into the processes by which this takes place, but it is certainly an impressive realization of the potential for social media to be used in overcoming barriers to diffusion of information regarding and motivation for protests.


Update: we also wish to acknowledge the contributions of NYU Politics Ph.D. candidates Batuhan Gorgulu and Emine Deniz.


Continue Reading

Social Media and Political Participation Conference to be Live Streamed

I have been helping to organizing a conference in Florence this Friday and Saturday (May 10th and 11th) on the effects of Social Media on Political Participation. We’ve got a great lineup of papers (including the Monkey Cage’s own Henry Farrell). We’ve managed to secure funding to live-stream the conference (it will be available here), and anyone watching will be able to participate through the hashtag #SMaPP_LPD. We’re hoping to convince people that live-streaming is an important use of university resources, so if you are interested (or you know anyone who might be interested) please join us! Most of the papers are now available on the conference webpage.

Here is the conference schedule; please note all times are Central European Time:

Continue Reading

Social Media and Political Participation Conference in Florence, Italy, May 10-11

I am helping to organize a conference on social media and political participation that will take place at NYU-Florence’s Villa La Pietra campus May 10-11, 2013.  We’ve lined up a great collection of scholars to present original in progress research on this newly evolving topic.  The conference is free and open to the public, but you are requested to RSVP if you would like to attend. Abstracts of all papers are available here. The hashtag for the conference is #SMaPP_LPD, and we will have information regarding internet access to the conference for those who can not attend once it becomes available.  The conference is co-sponsored by NYU-Florence’s La Pietra Dialogues, the Center for New Media and Society at the New Economic School (Moscow, Russia), and NYU’s Social Media and Political Participation (SMaPP) laboratory.


Continue Reading

Here’s One Way to Make Political Science Research More Accessible

Just finished up a very interesting discussion over lunch at the Midwest Political Science Association annual conference about ways we can continue to make political science research more accessible to wider numbers of people (which is of course absolutely in line with the mission statement of The Monkey Cage).

With that in mind, I thought I’d share this animated video that Princeton University put together to promote an article entitled People Power or a One-Shot Deal? A Dynamic Model of Protest co-authored by me and Adam Meirowitz that was just published in the American Journal of Political Science. The voice in the background belongs to Meirowitz…

Maybe not the future of the discipline, but still pretty creative!

Continue Reading

2012 Catalonia Elections: Pre-Election Report

Continuing our series of election reports, the following pre-election report on the forthcoming elections in the Catalonian province of Spain is provided by Duke University political scientist Laia Balcells.


On November 25th the Autonomous Community of Catalonia, in Spain, will hold Parliamentary elections. These elections are early, taking place only 2 years after the conservative nationalist party Convergencia i Unió (CiU) retook power in the region, which had been governed by a left-wing coalition during the 2003-2010 period. Artur Mas, the Catalan Prime Minister, called for the dissolution of the Catalan Parliament and new elections on September 20th after a meeting with Mariano Rajoy, the Spanish Prime Minister. In that meeting, Rajoy responded negatively to the request of a “Fiscal Pact”: a bilateral arrangement that would give Catalonia more fiscal autonomy in line with the tax agreements of the Basque Country and Navarre in Northern Spain. According to Mas, the fiscal pact was the only viable solution for a suffocating Catalonia, which despite being a net contributor to the Spanish state is one of the most indebted Autonomous Communities in the country. His early call for elections served different purposes and has important implications for both Catalonia and Spain. This piece aims to shed some light on the main causes and likely consequences of these elections.

First, the calling of early elections was a political move that allowed Mas to win some time in a situation of political and economic gridlock. CiU does not have a majority of seats in the Catalan Parliament, and it has been relying on the support of the Partido Popular (PP) in order to implement austerity measures in the region throughout 2011 and 2012. In exchange, CiU has provided support to PP in the Spanish Congress for the approval of critical pieces of legislation such as the labor market reform. Yet, the relationship between these parties has eroded since the spring of this year when the Catalan government (la Generalitat) started to suffer from major liquidity problems. In July 2012, CiU announced the end of cooperative relations with the PP because the central government was ignoring pleas for measures to give oxygen to Catalan finances. Without the PP support in the Parliament, and without liquidity in the Government, Mas could not do much more than calling for early elections.

The timing, however, has not been casual: in September 11th 2012 (Catalonia’s National day) over 1.5 million people marched on the streets of Barcelona. The lemma of this year’s march was a clear-cut secessionist one: “Catalonia, a new state of Europe”. The participation was overwhelming (i.e. 20% of population in Catalonia) and it provided Mas with a great opportunity to negotiate a new fiscal arrangement with Rajoy. After the expected negative answer from Rajoy, Mas was in good shape to call for elections, and to receive a new mandate: the celebration of a referendum of self-determination in Catalonia before 2016, if he obtains a sufficient majority in the Parliament. Thus, Mas joined the secessionist discourse despite the fact that CiU has never been a genuine pro-independence party.

In the last six years, public opinion in Catalonia has grown increasingly favorable to secession.

Continue Reading →

Continue Reading

What the Response to Recent Protests Reveals about How Threatening They Are to Their Own Governments

The following is a guest post from political scientists Emily Hencken Ritter of the University of Alabama and Nathan Danneman of Emory University.


In recent days, protests have broken out across the Middle East in response to a rogue American-made video with extreme anti-Muslim viewpoints. Demonstrations have tended to be violent and targeted at American embassies and other installments around the Middle East. The New York Times has posted this interactive map (h/t Idean Salehyan), which highlights the locations of video-connected anti-American protests with links to some details about events in those locations. The map highlights that protests seem to have spread across the Middle East, as if protests were a contagious virus or a wildfire (a quick Google search suggests the media thinks this too, frequently displaying maps and employing terms like “spread” and “wave”: see, e.g., here, here, and here).

It may seem like this spate of protests should be a cause of worry, but the states in which they are occurring are not treating them as such. Why is that?

Political violence can spread in space, whether because actors or resources cross from a warring state to a peaceful one (altering incentives) or because similar actors learn from one another (learning processes). Though most work has focused on the spread of civil wars rather than protests, similar processes can also explain the diffusion of protests across borders. As was frequently discussed during the “Arab Spring,” groups with access to the media can observe that protests have occurred in a nearby state (and their degree of success) and follow suit. Kuran (1991) points out that as more actors join a movement, even more will follow suit – and this phenomenon is not constrained by borders. This suggests that though these protests may remain limited to extremists, they are likely to continue happening in other places.

The most common government response to potential or actualized protest is state repression, particularly among states that are not full democracies. One might expect, then, that an increase in protests would lead to an increase in repression in less democratic states. In a forthcoming article, we find that leaders, concerned that conflict and protest will spread to their state, often utilize repression in an effort to preempt unrest before it begins within their borders.

While many of the governments of the states where protests are occurring have made statements and taken some actions to quell the population, they have not cracked heads to stop the violence. What makes the current spate of protests different from the Arab Spring, when states not only repressed violent populations but also populations that had not yet rebelled?

Foremost, these protests do not represent a significant threat to the state authorities who would make such a decision. Joe Young points out that these are small groups of extremists rather than the many thousands who protested in the spring of 2011. More than that, though, these groups aren’t protesting against their own government, as they did then, but the US government. As such, these protests represent low costs or risks to the states in which they are occurring.

Secondly, giving a small amount of rein to protests is useful for governments trying to cooperate with US initiatives without alienating their more extreme constituents.  For example, leaders in Egypt’s Muslim Brotherhood explicitly noted trying to balance international and domestic pressure as a reason why their condemnation of embassy attacks were hesitant and weakly worded.

Though governments are working with the US to try and keep these actions isolated, they are unlikely to take the swift and costly actions that would eliminate them. The domestic costs are not high enough for these governments. Thus, while these states are helping, these protests by a small number of extremists are likely to continue to until protestor enthusiasm wanes.

Continue Reading

Nationalism and Anti-Japan Demonstrations in China

We are delighted to welcome the following guest post by Jessica Weiss, an assistant professor at Yale University who has extensively researched anti-Japan demonstrations in China.


Anti-Japanese demonstrations have been reported in as many as 120 cities across China, following more than a month of escalating demonstrations against Japan’s nationalization of uninhabited islands in the East China Sea. Protests over the weekend turned violent in several cities, destroying Japanese-branded stores and cars. Although the protests have not been as deadly as some in the Middle East, the degree of property damage and vitriol—including some slogans calling for Japan’s extermination—has aroused alarm. With increased patrols by Japanese and Chinese ships and reports of a thousand-strong Chinese “fishing armada” enroute to the disputed waters, risk of military conflict between these two powers is growing. On his trip to Asia, Defense Secretary Panetta stated that “Obviously we are concerned by the demonstrations, and we are concerned by the conflict that is taking place over the Senkaku Islands.”

What significance do these nationalist protests have for China’s foreign policy? Should we dismiss these protests as mere street theater, a pressure valve, or a convenient distraction from domestic grievances? China scholars have debated the extent to which popular nationalism is a state-led strategy to bolster its legitimacy or a grassroots phenomenon that could jeopardize state control. Both views are partially correct. Nationalist protests are indeed dangerous to domestic and diplomatic stability, especially in authoritarian regimes that lack other channels for popular participation. But the government is strategic in whether it allows nationalist protesters to mobilize, weighing the diplomatic and domestic benefits of tolerance versus repression. In my forthcoming article in International Organization, I argue that it is the risk and cost of suppression that makes nationalist protest a credible diplomatic signal, giving authoritarian leaders like China’s the ability to showcase their vulnerability to mass opinion and domestic audiences.

Continue Reading →

Continue Reading