To Continue Surfing, Stand Up to Erdogan

Most Turkish businesspeople know to steer clear of the Turkish premier when an election is underfoot. But with a clampdown on Internet freedom at stake, one woman is taking the challenge.

Since January of 2010, Umit Boyner has held one of the most important positions in Turkey. The chair of the Turkish Industry and Business Association, Boyner is responsible for the umbrella organization of most of the country's industrialists and businesspeople, which was established in 1970.

Because of its members' economic power, Tusiad, as the association is known, is considered not only as guiding the state's economy but also as having the power to influence the country's domestic and foreign policy.

Protest Turkey - Reuters

The ruling Justice and Development Party and especially Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan have little affection for Tusiad. Erdogan prefers the competing Musiad, the Independent Industrialists' and Businessmen's Association, which was founded in 1990 and represents about 15,000 companies.

While Musiad's charter omits any references to religion or the advancement of Islam in Turkey, is it simple "known" as the Islamist businessmen's trade association and as a supporter of Erdogan and his party.

These two organizations are now very involved in the main issue engaging Turkey, the parliamentary elections that will be held on June 12. Each of them has branches around the country, employs millions of people and is able to raise huge amounts of money for the candidates it supports.

Umit Boyner, who serves as the vice president in charge of finance at her husband's huge textile group, Boyner Holding, is promoting a democratic platform for changing the Turkish constitution, though not how Erdogan plans to do so.

She believes in equal rights for Kurds and complete freedom of the press and is opposed to the government's initiative to impose restrictions on the Internet, which are slated to be implemented at the beginning of August.

The restrictions include among other things a demand that every user be registered at one of four content filters the government has decided upon, with each of the filters preventing entry to certain sites the government does not specify. A previous proposal by the government, to declare a list of more than 130 words the use of which would blacklist sites, has in the meantime been rescinded.

Boyner, who among other things is heading the public campaign against restrictions on Internet use, last week became a direct target for an attack by Deputy Prime Minister Bulent Arinc, a quiet but very influential conservative figure in the ruling party.

"If Boyner and those who support her ideas come into power, they are liable to permit use of porno sites and sites that promote violence and describe acts of murder," Arinc said. "Boyner, as the mother of a child, should be pleased with the plan the government is promoting."

Boyner's reply was unequivocal.

"Arinc is demonstrating an unhealthy worldview when he links supervision of individual freedom and control of citizens' private lives with pornography and violence," she said.

The dispute is not all business. Erdogan and the Boyner family share a history of tension and mutual loathing.

To this can be added the economic war Erdogan has waged against the family of Aydin Dogan, a Turkish billionaire who critical of Erdogan. His daughter Arzhuhan was the previous president of Tusiad.

Dogan himself retired from the management of the corporation he built after the court imposed a fine on him of about $2.5 billion for income tax evasion. In order to pay the fine he had to sell some of the media outlets he owned to pro-Erdogan companies, making the prime minister a media strongman without him having to actually control any media.

The fight against restrictions on Internet use has brought thousands of Turks out to demonstrate in the streets and a number of representatives in the European Parliament voiced their opinions against this undemocratic measure, but less than two weeks before the parliamentary election the Justice and Development Party does not have a real rival.

After "persons unknown" published embarrassing videos on the Internet in which members of the nationalist MHP party are seen being intimate with women who are not their wives, 10 senior members of the party resigned. It seems MHP, which ran on a platform of family and morality, will have difficulty winning the 10 percent of the vote necessary in Turkey for getting into parliament.

In effect this leaves only the Republican People's Party, the most veteran party in Turkey, which is also not going anywhere and apparently will not be able to constitute an effective opposition to the Justice and Development Party.

But Erdogan does not want just an "ordinary" victory. Erdogan wants his party to take a supermajority of two-thirds of parliament seats, enabling him to implement his long-sought constitutional reforms without any opposition.

The most significant change that is expected is the total neutralization of the army from politics and in doing that Erdogan hopes to free Turkey from the threat of military coups.

What's good for Turkish democracy could remove an important check keeping Turkey from sliding into Islamist theocracy, critics warn. One of these critics is Umit Boynar, even though her husband, Cem, is religious.

Many Turkish business people are familiar with Erdogan's vengeful hand and understand that it is best not to come out against him when elections are looming.

Without fear, though, are the fans of the Trabizon soccer club, which two weeks ago lost the Champions League trophy and reacted by promising to take revenge on the Justice and Development Party. Why target the party? Because Erdogan is an ardent fan of the champion, Fenerbahce.