ISTANBUL // The anti-government protests that have rocked Turkey have undermined the government's efforts to present the country as a model democracy for the Middle East, analysts say.
Hundreds of people have been injured and more than 1,700 arrested across the country since the unrest broke out on Friday after police used force to break up a sit-in against government plans to erect a building in a park in central Istanbul.
"The moral edge that Turkey gained in the last years has taken a very serious hit," said Cengiz Aktar, a political scientist at Istanbul's Bahcesehir University. "Turkey has lost parts of its political capital."
The four days of protests have highlighted the resentment that some Turks feel towards the conservative government of Recep Tayyip Erdogan, the prime minister.
But Mr Erdogan yesterday rejected comparisons with the Arab Spring upheavals that unseated authoritarian regimes in Egypt, Libya and Tunisia and triggered an uprising in Syria.
"In Turkey, parliamentary democracy has taken root," Mr Erdogan said before leaving for a four-day visit of Morocco, Algeria and Tunisia.
He said people in Turkey had the freedom to create or join different parties. "Did Tunisia have such a right? Did Egypt have such a right? Is there such a right in Syria at the moment?"
Mr Erdogan is a popular figure in the Middle East because of his anti-Israel rhetoric. He secured an apology from Israel in March for the death of nine Turkish activists during an Israeli raid on a Turkish ship carrying aid for the Gaza Strip in 2010. But Turkey's standing in the region is under scrutiny.
As a Muslim country with a western-style democracy, secular constitution and a market economy, Turkey has been trying to portray itself as a regional leader. During a visit to Cairo in 2011 after the overthrow of Hosni Mubarak, Mr Erdogan called for a Turkish-style secular system in Egypt.
"Questions will be asked about Turkey's credibility," said Oytun Orhan, an analyst and the Center for Middle Eastern Strategic Studies (Orsam), a think tank in Ankara. "During the Arab Spring, Turkey always called for the people's demands to be fulfilled and for governments not to use force."
The Erdogan government was keen to point out that Turkey had free elections, in contrast to the authoritarian systems toppled by the Arab Spring, Mr Orhan told The National. The current unrest served to show "the limits of Turkey's power", he added.
In the run-up to the general election in Turkey two years ago, Mr Erdogan's ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) hosted dozens of activists from Middle East countries to show them how to run a successful campaign. The AKP captured nearly 50 per cent of the vote in that poll.
The police's heavy-handed response to the protests also drew international condemnation, including from the country's closest allies in the West, among them the United States, European Union and Germany.
Mr Orhan said it was obvious that some governments in the Middle East who did not have good relations with Turkey would use the unrest "as an opportunity" to get back at Mr Erdogan.
Syria gleefully turned the tables on the Turkish prime minister over his response to the anti-government demonstrations, publicly advising its citizens against travel to Turkey, which has been supporting the Syrian opposition and has called for the resignation of president Bashar Al Assad.
The travel warning was a clear riposte to Mr Erdogan's strong criticism levelled against the government in Damascus since the uprising in Syria began in March 2011.
Syria's foreign ministry said it advised Syrians "against travel to Turkey for the time being for their own safety, because of the deteriorating security situation in several Turkish cities ... and the violence of Erdogan's government against peaceful protesters", according to Reuters.