The July elections in Turkey have clearly demonstrated once again, Turkey’s sham political system which many western politicians and commentators continually promote as the ideal model for the Muslim world. The crisis in Turkey concerning the presidency and the role of Islam in politics represents the trend in the Muslim world as a whole. Some feel that the vociferous opposition expressed in the streets of Ankara, and in the military headquarters last May, seems to indicate that Mustafa Kemal’s secular legacy is safe for the time being. However, the real story is of a country in transition, slowly being transformed as part of a wider dynamic across the Muslim world.
The cause of this crisis was the decision of the ruling Justice and Development party (AKP) to put forward Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan, and then the foreign minister Abdullah Gul, as candidates for the post of president. The presidential office is the apex of the staunchly secular political system established by Mustafa Kemal in the aftermath of World War I. Turkey had been the seat of the Caliphate until Kemal banished the Ottoman Caliph and his relatives in 1924. Hence, there are unique sensitivities towards any hint of the return of Islamic politics. Due to this legacy, the green-tinged secularism of the AKP, who invoke religion less frequently than the Christian Democrats in Germany, is treated as the spearhead of an Islamic challenge to the Kemalist system. In a country where the majority of women wear the Islamic headscarf, the greatest indication of the ‘Islamist menace’ is the fact that Gul’s wife, Hayrünnisa Özyurt also wears the hijab.
The major demonstrations on April 14th and 29th drew crowds of three hundred thousand and then up to a million. Such numbers are usually associated with widespread mobilisation of the masses, when a regime is on its last legs. In recent times we have seen similar numbers in the ‘colour’ revolutions of Eastern Europe. In Turkey’s case however the dynamics of these demonstrations of ‘people power’ are vastly different. Rather than representing the coalescence of the masses facing down the state, the demonstrators had the full backing of the establishment. One of the main organisations behind the protests was the Ataturk Thought Association (ADD), which is closely linked to the army.
Sener Eruygur, president of the ADD, is the former head of the country’s paramilitary forces. He has been linked in recent months to a plan, allegedly formed by senior officers to launch a coup against the AKP government. Due to the international climate, it is clear that the Turkish military cannot overthrow the government without serious diplomatic consequences. However media-friendly rallies mask the mobilisation of elite power with an acceptable veneer of popular outrage.
In reality, the opposition to the AKP candidacy is much more about fear than anger. Sadly, it is a fear of the majority of the Turkish people and their Islamic sentiments that is motivating this opposition. As one protestor remarked of the religious Muslims moving into her wealthy area of Istanbul “They have started to look down on us…they are trying to be part of the ruling class.” It seems strange to such protestors that people who do not meet their standards of civilisation and refinement should have, in their view the temerity to influence political life in their country, just because they represent the sentiment of the majority.
In recent years, the largely ceremonial post of president has become akin to a gatekeeper engaged in a secular crusade, rejecting appointments to academic and civil service posts if the candidates are “excessively” religious. As the Islamic identity of Turkey’s people has become more pronounced, the state has become more active in vetoing such appointments; hundreds of officers are removed from the armed forces each year and particular attention is devoted to the upper echelons of the judiciary and central government.
The political crisis in Turkey is part of a broader picture being drawn out across the Islamic world. As the poll conducted by worldpublicopinion.org for the University of Maryland shows, a large majority of Muslims support the implementation of Shari’ah law within, and the unification of Muslim countries into one Caliphate. The elite in Turkey are facing a similar problem to their counterparts in other countries. Imbibing secular western values since their childhood, they are simply unable to relate to the values of the overwhelming majority of their countrymen. The predominant beliefs, values and traditions are so alien to them that they regard the broad mass of their population with a mix of fear and disgust. An inevitable result of this is that whenever the population have the chance to express their sentiments, the elite find themselves repelled by what they hear. Frustrated by their own illogical arguments and rejected by a Europe that has shown its anti Islamic credentials, the ruling elites lash out wildly at their own countrymen.
It is clear that liberal secularism increasingly shown as ineffective in western nations has no future in the Muslim world as the latter move towards an Islamic system more in tune with their religious beliefs, history and heritage. Within such a system, Muslims elect their ruler, there is accountability and the ability to criticise officials no matter their position, an independent judiciary, a rule of law, a strong obligation to eliminate poverty and the fruits of modern technology and science. In addition Islamic texts clearly reject eighteenth century western doctrines of liberal secularism (the detachment of religion from public legislation) or the privatisation of vital resources such as water and energy, as well as the failed laissez faire social model. Islam also comprehensively rejects the flawed basis of political unity being achieved through the destructive force of nationalism; an anachronistic throwback to the nineteenth century. As the Muslim world moves beyond the false bonds of race, the secular world retreats back to the dark ages of Westphalian nation state supremacy and patriotic concepts such as being proud to be Turkish.
Turkey was the capital of a superpower once, the centre of a flourishing civilisation with Islam at its centre. Today it begs European states such as Greece and Cyprus to pass it some crumbs from the ‘grown-ups’ table. No wonder an increasing number of people believe Kemalism belongs more to a museum than in a modern 21st century state.