vol. 5 no. 12
11 June 2012
WHAT THE COLUMNISTS SAY
The recent drift back to Islamism of Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan and the ruling AKP has led several influential, otherwise government-friendly commentators to issue dire warnings. They write that the AKP is abandoning the mission to democratize Turkey, and warn that the party is jeopardizing its hold on power by antagonizing, indeed humiliating, those who are not religious conservatives. What is striking is that the criticism is most strongly expressed in particular in the columns of the daily Zaman, the flagship of the movement associated with the Islamic preacher Fethullah Gülen. İhsan Dağı in Zaman predicts that the urban, educated religious conservatives will not accept the AKP’s version of social engineering, while Şahin Alpay, also in Zaman, anticipates that the AKP will fall from power if it pursues Islamist policies.
BAYRAMOĞLU: SHIFTING TOWARD IDENTITY POLITICS, THE AK PARTY BECOMES REACTIONARY
Ali Bayramoğlu in Yeni Şafak notes that for whatever reason, perhaps because this is his last term as prime minister, Recep Tayyip Erdoğan seems to be in a hurry to increasingly impose his views on issues like morality, women and the body on the rest of society. As he does this, he is acting on the assumption that those who voted for him also cast their votes in support of his inner world. He assumes that the support that he has received only emanated from one sector of society, that it was the expression of only one demand and that it mirrored only one view. Although the AK Party stands for change when it comes to macro-political matters such as popular sovereignty, the military and supremacy of civilian politics, it is reactionary regarding micro-politics, women, the body, the family; that is one of the fundamental paradoxes of the AK Party. Until now, there was a balance between these two extremes; indeed, in policy terms, the balance often tipped in favor of macro-politics. However, recently the AK Party has begun to emphasize micro-politics; and the more it privileges identity politics, the further it moves away from what is democratic, and the support behind it is undermined.
ALPAY: QUO VADIS AKP?
Şahin Alpay in Zaman writes that the rhetoric of Prime Minister Erdoğan and the policies of the governing AKP have become unmistakably authoritarian since the election last June. Erdoğan is basically saying “I am popular sovereignty, I am the people. People don’t know what’s best for them, I do.. I decide who’s going to get contracts, what the media is going to write… I am the one who knows football, art, theater, religion, abortion, caesarean births best…” Simultaneously, all the democratizing reforms that were expected have been halted. Now, it is claimed that there is no Kurdish problem, only a PKK problem. Meanwhile, it has become doubtful that a democratic constitution is going to be drafted. Where will this authoritarian turn take the AKP? If Erdoğan fails to pay attention to the criticism, this drift will sooner or later cost the AKP its power. Erdoğan may not even get elected president. Turkey has changed; with its strengthened economy, civil society, its media that does not flinch from criticizing, and with a population that is increasingly acquainted with the world and which demands freedom and democracy, Turkey will not settle for authoritarianism. Indeed, even a part of the AKP will not accept this.
DAĞI: THE NEW RELIGIOUS ELITE WILL NOT ACCEPT AUTHORITARIANISM
İhsan Dağı in Zaman writes that the AK Party is abandoning its democratic identity, as it is trying to impose conservative values on society. Erdoğan is fast moving away from the center-right tradition and returning to the (Islamist) tradition of Erbakan. Populist religious conservatism may indeed strike a chord among the population. But there is nonetheless a problem with this project of social engineering, although it enjoys a popular base: are the “new religious conservatives” who have become emancipated and autonomous during the last years going to sacrifice their newly won freedom and independence to the state-centered utopia of a new society? I think not. The well off, educated and urban new generation of pious realizes that their own space of freedom is threatened as well by this project. The battle that was waged against the Kemalist project of social engineering served as an education for religious-conservative intellectuals, opinion leaders and businessmen; it taught them to be autonomous and free individuals who can take action by themselves. I do not think that they are going to give up their hard-won freedom to a state bent on creating a homogenous society; an influential part, at least, will resist. Freedom, pluralism, respect for differences were not only instruments used against the Kemalist project. One should not ignore the existence of those who see these as eternal values.
ALTAN: ERDOĞAN USES RELIGION TO HUMILIATE THE SECULARS. AND TO HIDE HIS OWN LACK OF VISION
Ahmet Altan in Taraf notes that Prime Minister Erdoğan says that he is going to outlaw abortion, put a stop to caesarean births, see to it that every opera house gets a Muslim prayer room and build a gigantic mosque overlooking the Bosporus, that is going to be visible in all parts of Istanbul. In fact, religion is being used by a man who has run out of all of his visions, and who has no solutions to offer to the major problems of the country; it serves the purpose of hiding his lack of visions, so that he can safely climb up into the presidential chair. Tayyip Erdoğan is using religion as a stick with which to hit those who do not accept a conservative lifestyle on their heads. Tayyip Erdoğan is simply out to demonstrate his power to those who do not look like him; it’s a way of humiliating them. Erdoğan’s demand that every opera house is equipped with a prayer house makes just as much sense as secularists demanding that an opera house is built next to every mosque. There are of course conservatives in this country who want to humiliate and punish those who are different than themselves, and who think that the time of revenge has arrived. But are they as numerous as Erdoğan assumes?
AYDINTAŞBAS: HOW ERDOĞAN WANTS TO GO DOWN IN HISTORY WILL DECIDE THE FUTURE OF THE KURDISH ISSUEAslı Aydıntaşbas in Milliyet comments on the meeting between Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan and Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu, the leader of the Republican People’s Party (CHP): I really love Turkish politics. Two leaders, who as recently as two days ago were exchanging invectives, suddenly donned the hats of “statesmanship”. Nonetheless, I think that the summit between Erdoğan and Kılıçdaroğlu does amount to a promising start. The initiative of the CHP is an important and historic step. Ultimately, however, the prospects of this initiative, and whether or not the Kurdish problem will solved through dialogue, will be determined by one man and notably by how he decides to define his historic role. Tayyip Erdoğan is at a crossroads; with two years left to the presidential election, he will either decide to be elected president by a record vote, after having secured the Turkish nationalist vote, subsequent to an agreement with the Nationalist Movement Party (MHP), or he will move up to Çankaya (the presidential mansion) as the man who solved the Kurdish problem. At the end of the day neither CHP, nor any gathering of “wise men” or any commission will matter. The decision on how he wants to go down in history is one that only Tayyip Erdoğan himself will make.
© Central Asia-Caucasus Institute & Silk Road Studies Program Joint Center, 2012. This article may be reprinted provided that the following sentence be included: "This article was first published in the Turkey Analyst (www.turkeyanalyst.org), a biweekly publication of the Central Asia-Caucasus Institute & Silk Road Studies Program Joint Center".
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