Ideas & Philosophy — 01 July 2013
Thinking Beyond Erdogan

Ali Harfouch

Reactionary v. Revolutionary Positions

To be reactionary, means quite simply, to react to an existing [constructed] reality. Being a revolutionary however means one changes the existing reality.  Reactionary positions and revolutionary positions are often at odds, as the former merely works within the existing framework of the status-quo. It is precisely these types of actions – reactionary positions – that dominate mainstream “Islamist” discourse en masse. An example of which is the reaction of Muslims to the events in Turkey and Egypt. Although these reactions are largely the expression of positive Islamic sentiments however they remain ‘reactionary’ so long as they do not transcend the existing dismal reality through the adoption and promulgation of an alternative strategic vision. Furthermore, the political turmoil in Turkey should be seen as an indication of the failure of ‘reformist’ politics.

Following the massive protests across Turkey and the intensifying violence in Istanbul, Muslims across the world rallied around the Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan has been under attack and pressure from a diverse opposition. Similarly, Muslims from across the intra-ideological spectrum voiced their support for Mursi as the Egyptian National Salvation Front and other more fringe opposition movements questioned his legitimacy and took to the streets demanding his immediate withdrawal from his position as President. In both cases, the affiliation of Muslims with these two political ‘leaders’ was based on trans-national Ummatic sentiments. This is indeed indicative of the revival of an Islamic consciousness which is increasingly overshadowing and marginalizing the existing national identities. However, these reactions were in response to a pre-existing reality and a growing polarization between ‘Islamic’ and Secular factions. More so they were reactions to initiatives taken by Secular blocs. Secondly, the ‘Islamic’ responses draw on a  sentimental affiliation with symbolic and nominally ’Islamic’ figures as opposed to drawing upon objective Islamic criterion for legitimacy, a criterion which distinguishes between “good intentions” from “illegitimate actions”[1]. By examining the fading euphoria surrounding Erdogan it becomes clear that the support he receives from the Arab-Muslim world is based more on his charisma and stances than his “Islamic” credentials – similar to Hezbollah’s Secretary-General Hassan Nasrullah who after having “defeated” Israel in 2007 was hailed as a hero throughout the Arab-Muslim world. One is then left to ask what will be left of the so-called “Turkish Model” after the departure of Erdogan? And on a domestic level, what is the fate of both Erdogan and the Justice and Development Party after Erdogan’s aggressive capitalist policies take its toll of Turkey’s much prized economy? Surely, the “conservative democratic” ideological foundations of the Justice and Development Party will not serve as a source of inspiration for an Ummah which is moving towards a far more ‘radical’ Islamic trajectory.  The only real support for the “Turkish Model” resonates from Western policy-makers and obnoxiously pragmatic Islamist in Tunisia and Turkey.

Defending the Unsustainable[2]

There are several critical reasons why Muslims shoud reconsider and critically evaluate their defense of Erdogan;

1-       Judge the policies, not the men.

Defending or praising the personal qualities of Recep Tayyip Erdoğan or Muhammad Morsi is therefore counter-productive in that (1) it is irrelevant since the subject-matter is the policies and political programs of Erdogan and Murso and (2) a unbridled defense of these figures purely on the basis of sentimental affiliaton only serves to further polarize the disillusioned Secular opposition. What must be praised, defended, and elucidated by the Muslims collectively is the Islamic alternative which I embodied by revelation and not men. The aim of Muslims should be to bring Islam to power vis-à-vis an Islamic political system and not reducing their aspirations to bringing “Islamist” vis-à-vis Secular systems. When the distinction between the two (Islam v. Islamist) is not clearly demarcated, Islam becomes associated with political figures and accordingly, questioning these figures implies questioning Islam. Yusuf al-Qaradawi, for example, recently warned that protesting and questioning the authority of Muhammad Mursi is prohibited. Other supporters of the Egyptian president referred to the opposition as ‘enemies of Islam’ while on the other hand opposition figures have also come to associate the whole Islamic political project with the shortcoming of the “Islamist” in power. On both sides – government supporters and opposition – Islam has become an instrument for legitimacy or illegitimacy.

2-       Reformist politics only serve to, paradoxically, further polarize the ‘Opposition’.

Critics of Erdogan’s pragmatism and nominally Islamic rhetoric are often reminded that Turkey is the home of a radically Secular opposition. But through such arguments one is bound by a vicious circle of defeat; the Islamist-dominated regime occupies a political system built on a set of power-relations and configurations which create an un-sustainable reality which in turn causes antagonisms within the public sphere. Rallying around “Islamist” political figures who occupy illegitimate power-systems only serve to legitimize those very same power-systems which created the antagonisms that polarized the population into two factions; “Islamist” v. Secular. Paradoxically, their pragmatism and double-discourse only serves to further discredit their policies as opposed to appease both ‘camps’.[3] It is worth noting that this phenomena is not limited to Turkey as we have witnessed similar situations in Tunisia where the “Islamist” Nahda Party faced vehement opposition from Secular factions. And despite Rashid al-Ghannoushi’s (a leading member of an-Nahda) explicit call for a reconciliation of Islam and Secularism and the movements drastic concessions, the polarization in Tunisia continues to grow, creating an environment which various Salafi Jihadi movements have thrived on.

3-       Reformist politics pursue a mirage – the mirage of change.

Supporting the Erdogan’s pragmatism often build on the assumption that gradual reform is necessary however the reformist methodologies such as those [apparently] adopted by Erdogan’s AKP and employed by “Islamist” governments are bound for failure. Mass-based consent (to the political authority) is the product of a harmony of value which exists between the ‘state’ and the ‘society’ – more so – the ‘state’ is the political expression of existing values in a society. Consent however cannot be achieved, through the arbitrary imposition of “Islamic-oriented” laws. A tax or ban on alcohol, for example, does not help minimize the use of alcohol nor does it formulate a conviction about the prohibition of alcohol. In other words, the so called Islamic reformist programs that are incessantly defended in Egypt and Turkey will not bring about change on a structural level because structural change must be preceded by an ideological shift/change on a societal level. As a matter of fact, an imposition of ‘Islamic-oriented’ laws prior to the inculcation of Islamic values in society will only lead to an exacerbation of existing opposition to the Islamic political alternative. To put it differently; structures are the manifestation of ideas however they do not generate ideas in a society. The paradox and irony is that those who employ a methodology of gradualism (i.e. the gradual implementation of Islamic law and gradual structural change) justify their pragmatic actions by pointing to the existence of Secular opposition and yet it is an opposition which they help to sustain.

4-       A defense of Erdogan or Mursi is a defense of neo-colonial ploys in the Middle East.

A continuity of neo-colonial politics in the Middle East require a state of stability which the authoritarian modes of governance in the Arab-Muslim world failed to provide. And thus an alternative mode-of-governance whose legitimacy stems from its aura of “Islamicity” while its politics remain in conformity to the imperatives of Sykes-Picot was necessary. This alternative became known as “Moderate Islamism” and the “Turkish Model” and has been increasingly propagated by policy-makers and think-tanks in the West including RAND Corporation and the former U.S Secretary of Defense Hilary Clinton. This has been, and continues to be the key function of the “Turkish Model” and will be the subject of our upcoming piece insha Allaah.

Towards Revolutionary ‘Reactions’

The political actions discourse, and vision of both these political leaders is shaped and subordinated by the colonial and secular politico-economic structures in the Arab-Muslim world. In other words, their discourse and actions is merely the output of a colonial-secular power-configurations. Good intentions (to which we do not have access) alone does not serve to change the legitimacy or illegitimacy of this ‘output’. Accordingly, our stances from Erdogan and Mursi must be based on an objective Islamic criterion which judges those ‘actions’ (to which we have access) and does not draw upon false-assumptions or emotive reactions. Furthermore, the subject-matter be evaluated is not Erdogan nor Mursi as individual Muslims but rather the subject-matter is the political programs and policies of both.  By doing so, one is able to articulate a principled vision based on the very same ideological foundations from which one objective criterion was drawn; the Islamic-revelatory paradigm.

Our responses to events like the massive protests and growing oppositions in Egypt and Turkey and thus no longer limited to the dismal ‘Regime v. Opposition’ dichotomies, in which both parties are products of a colonial power-structure. We must point out that Islam, as a political force, has yet to enter the political arena and that the existing feuds are  a direct byproduct of the conflict-generating and corrupt political systems.  By retorting to: (1) An objective and autonomous criterion we are able to judge the legitimacy of the political programs of both the existing so-called ‘Islamic’ regime and the opposition and similarly retorting to (2) a holistic, well-rounded analysis which takes into account the international dimensions and politics of any ‘phenomena’ (in this case the “Turkish Model”) thus allowing us to understand the functions of Erdogan’s policies. Our responses are action-based and transcend both parties. Our response is then revolutionary.


[1] Beyond the Mursi Effect | New Civilisation | Ali Harfouch

[2] The following piece is a criticism of the collective responses to the political turmoil in Turkey. However, an article critiquing the so called “Turkish Model” and its un-sustainability will be published soon by the same author.

[3] This polarization is not exclusive to Turkey but rather it is the product of a political paradox in which the ‘native elite’ must represent the interests of two competing groups; the hegemonic West and the local population. For more on this paradox refer to; The Challenging Paradoxes Facing Mursi | New Civilisation | Ali Harfouch.

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