Wise move can defuse tension in Turkey
Najm Eddin, a Turkish young man, sent me a letter saying that my last article on the downfall of ideology was tough on Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan. He felt uneasy about my comparison of Erdogan and Khamenei.
He justified Erdogan’s actions to be in Turkey’s best interests, its people and its future. He emphasized that Erdogan has been trying to ban alcohol and restore Istanbul’s historical importance. However, an engineering student at the university said that Erdogan must go as he has divided the Turkish society into two halves with each having its own perspective.
It seems to me that the young Turkish man is unaware that Rachid Ghannouchi is both a friend of Erdogan and his mentor. When Ghannouchi victoriously returned to Tunisia, he assured the public that his party would not impose religion on them.
But Tunis was unable to repeat the economic achievements of the Turkish government; the Ghannouchi party was not able to honor its commitments. This only led to redoubling the intensity of the liberal and civil movement in Tunisia to the point of a clash between the two components of society. This is exactly what the Muslim Brotherhood is doing in Egypt today. The rush to control society has prevented them from chalking up economic success. Interestingly, this has helped trigger a counterrevolution.
Najm Eddin was mistaken that my article is a critique against Erdogan. In fact, Erdogan the phenomenon, needs profound analysis.
His political and economic success does not mean that he has the right to affect huge transformations at the social and cultural levels. This is because societies remain in fear of the dominance of totalitarian ideologies. Seen in this way, the protest movements in Turkey reveal internal accumulations that reject the ruling based on religion.
The economic success of Erdogan has plunged Turkey into a cultural and social crisis. Secular forces fear that secularism is under threat. This is most apparent in the Taqsim Square episode, which reveals this dichotomy. The unraveling conflict can be seen as one between East Istanbul and West Istanbul reflecting a conflict between two different cultures.
These cultural contradictions surfaced suddenly and thus were not taken into account earlier. The ruling party felt that the economic successes were enough to make religion a practical and acceptable replacement of Kamalist rules and norms, which the secular and leftist forces have been trying hard to restore. The latter reject anything that counters these values, even economic achievements.
That said, no one denies the role played by the party in realizing political and economic stability for Turkey. But there are those who stress the need to maintain the secular nature of the state. If anything, the protests show that economic success does not mean imposing a cultural project on society.
This means that bringing religion into politics does not help establish modern states that can absorb religious, social and national diversity. Egypt is a case in point.
The Iranian model is different in terms of focusing on revolution, resistance and heeding the call of the repressed. All these have enabled Iran to interfere in political affairs beyond its borders. In fact, all of Iran’s cards — Hezbollah, Houthis, Islamic Jihad, Al-Qaeda, and Assad — are seen as bargaining chips to realize Iran’s strategic interests. Indeed, it is focused on militarizing the state and the society while using the “cards” to further Iran’s interests.
Therefore, the Iranian regime is going to explode for two reasons: The economic factor and the lack of trust in the role of religious leaders and their political domination. The Muslim Brotherhood found inspiration in the Iranian revolution and supported it wholeheartedly. However, the Iranian revolution was exposed after its Persian and Safavid dimensions became clear. Even the Shiite Arabs have reservations about it because only those parties and movements that are funded by Iran are connected to the revolution.
We all remember that when Necmettin Erbakan assumed power in Turkey he was received with open arms by the political Islamist movement but unfortunately he was too utopian and therefore quickly rejected. In contrast, the Development and Justice Party has been focusing less on the Islamic dimension and more on economy. Although it managed to garner Turkish support for almost 10 years, there is no guarantee that it will continue to do so in the future.
I think that the protests in Turkey will not last for long. At the end of the day, Turkey is a state of institutions and has a longstanding experience in power rotation. Additionally, Turkey has good relations with the European Union which makes any illegal action a difficult one to take.
And yet the protests have taught the ruling party and its leader the necessity of striking a balance between internal politics and economic success. Certainly, economic achievements do not warrant the ability to implement decisions even if they are correct especially if they are against public opinion.
In the early stages of the Syrian crisis we whispered in the ears of the Syrian government to offer concessions and form a new constitution. But they decided to quell the unrest with violence which led to the killing of over 90,000 Syrians and turned two million into refugees.
Now we whisper in the ears of the Turkish prime minister to offer concessions to the Turkish people. There is too much focus on Erdogan as a symbol of success. This can prove to be beneficial for Turkey if Erdogan realizes the importance of modesty.