After Egypt and Tunisia, is Turkey witnessing ‘demise of Islamism’?

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The Blue Mosque’s minarets are covered by dense fog, Istanbul, March 17, 2005. (photo by REUTERS/Fatih Saribas)

What’s happening in Turkey is truly awful for all those who care about a contemporary democratic structure in a Muslim country. That’s because the Muslim world has no equivalent to Turkey’s successful modernizing experience. Turkey’s GDP is $800 billion, and its economy doesn’t depend on oil or natural wealth but on industry, agriculture and services.

Summary⎙ Print After the ousting of the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt and the new modern constitution in Tunisia, the scandal in Turkey may mark the beginning of the end of Islamism there, too.

Author Jihad al-Zein Posted January 17, 2014

Translator(s)Rani Geha

Original Articleاقرا المقال الأصلي باللغة العربية

What’s really harmful is the terrible failure of the leader of the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP), Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan, in recognizing the depth of the emerging Turkish internal and external crises, which portend the aging of the AKP’s experience and thus its failing to prepare for a deep review, of which one courageous choices would be for Erdogan to withdraw from political life.

He should withdraw either in favor of a transitional figure that is more balanced in understanding and dealing with transitions, such as Erdogan’s partner President Abdullah Gul, or in favor of a new generation that is more able to express the needs of the new avant-garde forces in Turkish society.

Even liberal and secular intellectuals and commentators who have voted for Erdogan and supported him since 2002 have come to warn about his “fascist” deviations in the exercise of authority.

This is the real harm. The authoritarian deviation in various forms, the last of which was the oppressive and demagogic atmosphere promoted by some AKP members of parliament and on the sidelines of discussing an Erdogan-supported bill, may end up subduing the Supreme Council of Judges and the prosecutors in face of the government’s authority.

A smooth democratic transition of power in Turkey, which will save the Turkish model, will not be permitted to easily happen. The Turkish model is not exclusively linked to a party or to a generation. It is a result of accumulated efforts by generations and of roles played by secularists and “Islamists.”

Many people are underestimating the nature of the dynamic phase in Turkey. It is a “moment” marked by the return of secular pressure in Turkish society. The size of the achievements made by a modern economy, politics and by the new forces spawned by them is unlike the Islamic dynamic of the 1990s and 2000s.

The Islamist rise was the result of mass dispossession by a majority having Islamist aspirations that started demanding entry into public life and had strength and funding against the traditional secular elite.

Today, the civil middle class has expanded (in the era of Erdogan himself) and aspires to integrate into the Western lifestyle (according to writer Ertugrul Ozkok) after a large Islamist wave.

The popular support that brought an Islamist party to power in the early 2000s is no longer as strong because the priorities of Turkish modernity have moved to a new dynamic. The priorities seem, at least, “less religious” than before and, at most, about a Western secular direction.

What’s happening in Egypt, despite its military-popular aspect and the fact that it’s being led by army officers, and what’s happening in Tunisia in the form of a new constitution led by members of parliament in the Constituent Assembly, may converge with the Turkish dynamic, where the Turkish judges are playing a role. The title of that convergence may be the beginning of the end of the Islamist tide in its various manifestations.

Of course, it is too early to say this with any certainty because of the different conditions in the Arab world and Turkey. The latter is a lot more stable and has made bigger achievements while the popular frustration in the former is much larger. Moreover, the problem in Turkey seems to be a conflict between two Islamist groups within the state.

It should be noted that in all three countries the subject of research is Muslim Brotherhood organizations. And we are talking here about countries that remained coherent relative to the Levant countries. (Could the Syrian civil war be considered as an effective element in this decline because it showcases extreme Salafist terrorism?)

Nothing in Turkey expresses the risk of deviating toward authoritarianism more than the issue of the relationship between the judiciary and the executive authority, i.e. Erdogan’s government. This matter should be monitored by the judicial bodies in countries such as Egypt, where the judiciary is the means by which all parties to the conflict are imparted legitimacy, and Lebanon, where the judiciary completely follows the political system, or, more precisely, the sectarian political system has full control of the judiciary, regardless of the personal and intellectual value of many judges.

In France, there have been judges and prosecutors with political leanings. But in the end, what sets the balance in French public life is a steady and strong combination of factors: legitimate elections, a strong and present public opinion and a tradition of judicial independence within a mechanism where each sector keeps check on the other.

The Turkish corruption issue raised by the magistrates and the police — and which has led to the arrests of AKP associates — has shown that Erdogan considers his popular legitimacy (the elections) to be higher than the judiciary and the police (and the army before them).

It is hard to imagine that Erdogan would make such stubborn and arrogant statements about corruption charges — the most serious in the history of the Turkish Republic. He transferred dozens of police officers from their posts and placed the chief prosecutor Zakaria Oz of the Ergenekon trials, which broke the political tutelage of [favoring] the army over political life, under personal pressure by means of media and political statements.

During the Ergenekon trials, Erdogan considered him a “hero,” but after he opened the corruption file he was seen as a conspirator. The corruption arrests were stopped just before they could reach Erdogan’s son Bilal regarding real estate corruption. (There’s another corruption file about cooperation between Turkey and Iran allowing the latter to bypass sanctions in a way that benefits the Turkish economy.)

The hard question being posed in Turkey, and which must be posed in our countries, is: Does a judge’s political motives invalidate the value of the evidence supporting the charges? And if so, why wasn’t the Ergenekon evidence been invalidated? (Mustafa Akyol in The New York Times.)

The answer is: Of course not. Political motives do not nullify the value of the evidence. In addition, as is established in countries like France and the United States, corruption files are not revealed except when there is some kind of deterioration in public life, regardless of which “cow” fell today or tomorrow. So how will the situation be in our “farms”?

Since the Gezi Park events last summer, Erdogan has seemed very similar to the Arab rules that we have experienced over two generations in many Arab countries, where any disagreement with the ruler is deemed “a conspiracy against the country.”

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