The Decline and Fall of the Turkish Model

(By Erdağ Göknar for IslamiCommentary)

Erdağ Göknar

Erdağ Göknar

Most observers agree that Turkey’s ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) has mishandled the current political crisis. The AKP, led by Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, once aspired to civil society and pluralism, but has recently embraced a strain of single-party authoritarianism. The government has sought increased control over the judiciary and the media; exacting a high price in terms of domestic politics (freedom of expression), foreign policy (Turkey’s regional leadership role), and economic growth (a mainstay of the AKP platform). In the process the “Turkish model” — a successful mix of democracy, market capitalism and Islamic conservativism — has been endangered through the rising tyranny of the AKP’s parliamentary majority.

Some liken Turkish politics to a melodrama; major internal tensions have unfolded in the run up to municipal elections (Mar. 30, 2014), the first-ever presidential election by popular vote (August 2014) and a general election in June of 2015. But this political theater currently playing out also threatens to do long-term damage to Turkey’s regional and global influence.

Obstructions of Justice vs. Freedom of Information

On Dec. 17, 2013 a corruption and bribery investigation linked to the government’s urban renewal projects and patronage networks went public. Dozens of people were arrested on suspicion of corruption, including the sons of three AKP ministers.

Erdoğan, acting swiftly upon his return from Pakistan the following week, had all the police officers involved in executing the corruption case removed or reassigned. He reshuffled his cabinet at the same time as four ministers affiliated with the case resigned. He removed the public prosecutors who had initiated the case, and has since started legal inquiries against them. And the prime minister prevented the execution of a second wave of corruption arrests on Dec. 25, subsequently placing limits on the authority of the judiciary so it would no longer be able to execute such cases.

Observers agree that the independence of the judiciary has now been compromised and the separation of powers has been upset. The corruption investigation has since been obscured in a political storm of words and ideological grandstanding that, often intentionally, blurs the line between fact and fiction.

Meanwhile, alleged evidence against Erdoğan has appeared on social media through the handle “Haramzadeler.” “Haramzadeler,” through various social media accounts (the identity of the person or group behind it is unknown), is leaking what appears to be incriminating evidence of Erdoğan’s involvement in high-level corruption, and has been repeatedly suspended, some claim by a designated AKP social media watchdog team created in the wake of the Gezi protests last summer. Each time it’s blocked, “Haramzadeler” reopens under similar names on Twitter, Vimeo, YouTube, Scribd, WordPress, SoundCloud and Weebly. (A currently active “Haramzadeler” Twitter account is .)

The “Parallel State” and the “Deep State”

While the recently appointed pro-AKP Justice Minister stalls and dismantles the corruption and bribery investigation, Erdoğan has identified the influential Gülen movement, once an ally, as a “parallel state” that needs to be purged and abolished. The AKP and the Gülenists, in a series of trials between 2008 and 2013, worked together to successfully try members of the Turkish top brass for their purported involvement in coup attempts; effectively sidelining the military. (Before the trials the military/state alliance was referred to as the “deep state” ­­– an entity beyond the rule of law.)

Though tainted by irregularities, these cases managed to extricate the military from Turkish politics, and were championed by the liberal intelligentsia, the EU and the international community. As a result, the military is no longer a player in Turkish politics in quite the way it had been as late as 2007. This is also why an Egypt-style military coup is not likely to happen in Turkey, contrary to what some have been predicting (See for example this Foreign Affairs piece and Murat Belge article.)

Rather, Egypt today stands as an unpleasant reminder to the AKP of Turkey’s old military-influenced order, which had often targeted “anti-secular” activities and conservative political parties.

In a desperate attempt to remind the public of that old order, that deep state, Erdoğan has spent the last two months, with pro-government dailies supporting him, trying to recast the corruption investigation as a conspiratorial coup attempt by the Gülen movement. This is an ironic plot twist, as the two groups previously worked together to establish a conservative and capitalist Turkish model based on the rule of law and separation of powers — a model embraced by the international community.

The Gülen Factor

On Dec. 21, during one of his regular sohbet dialogues with his followers, Fethullah Gülen, a Turkish Muslim cleric living in Pennsylvania and founder and leader of a transnational faith-based movement focused on education, social welfare, and political influence, veered from his usual message of tolerance, unity and interfaith dialogue to directly address the corruption investigations.

Alluding to the AKP, he called for the wrath of God to befall those who had transgressed the tenets of the faith, modern law and democracy. Also notable, the normally reclusive Gülen was interviewed by the The Wall Street Journal (Jan. 20, 2014) and by BBC TV (Jan. 27, 2014).

Gülen’s increased visibility and comments confirmed a permanent split in the Turkish conservative right between the AKP and Gülen movement. This has resulted in an unexpected outcome: some traditional Turkish secularists and members of the Gülen movement have begun to oppose the AKP from similar perspectives, as is reflected in their respective newspapers, Cumhuriyet and Zaman.

All this indicates a tectonic shift in the Turkish political scene with many aftershocks to come. Turkish President Abdullah Gül, who is seen to be more sympathetic to the Gülen movement, is one of the only members of the government who understands that a Muslim Turkish model that took a decade to create can be compromised in short order by mismanagement. He openly stated this during the Gezi protests in summer 2013: “You can strive for ten years to create an image [of Turkey] but destroy it in one week.”

Presently, Gül, mindful of not taking sides before the upcoming election cycle, has withdrawn from the AKP/Gülen melodrama as factions on all sides have called for his increased involvement. He has also expressed misgivings about a new draconian internet censorship law that would allow further government control over social media, including Twitter. He has openly stated that there are “problems” with this law as well as another law that brings the HSYK (the Supreme Council of Judges and Prosecutors) under AKP party control.

Turkish Isolation from Europe and the Middle East

Other aspects of the Turkish model have faltered. Turkey has made little or no progress in its Middle East foreign policy. Once pro-Assad, its support of the Sunni opposition in the ongoing Syrian civil war, has not led to a resolution of the conflict, but only an influx of refugees within its borders. The international community is worried about the presence of al-Qaeda linked foreign fighters in Syria, which some see as being inadvertently sponsored by Turkey.

Turkey’s close ties with Iran has also presented a problem. This situation won’t be helped by the revelation of an a Turkish-Iranian “oil-for-gold” program that violates international sanctions. One of the key figures in this scandal is Reza Sarraf, an Iranian businessman who resides in Turkey and who is currently in custody as part of the Dec. 17 corruption investigation.

Additionally, Turkey has long been frustrated with the international community’s response to this summer’s coup in Egypt. The AKP still supports Morsi as the legitimate leader of the country.

Turkey was also involved in an attempted oil and gas deal with Iraqi Kurdistan that bypassed and angered the central government in Baghdad. Finally, Turkey’s own controversial reconciliation process with Kurds in Turkey, through secret negotiations with jailed PKK leader Abdullah Öcalan, has been put on hold until after the municipal elections in March.

Erdoğan had declared 2014 the “year of the EU,” but the corruption scandal has put an end to that. Instead of making strides to enter the EU, Turkey seems to have entered what economists are calling the “Fragile 5” (including Brazil, South Africa, Indonesia and India). These countries are heavily reliant on foreign capital; and thus, the argument goes, they are particularly vulnerable to currency fluctuations, (US) Fed tapering, foreign direct investment, and investor confidence.

The Turkish lira has lost nearly 30% of its value since May 2013. To prevent it from losing more value, the Turkish Central Bank, in a emergency meeting on January 29, significantly raised Turkey’s interest rates. Meanwhile, in light of Turkey’s political, economic and foreign policy crises, Erdoğan on February 4 openly asked for more support from Germany in Turkey’s EU accession process. In a meeting with Erdoğan, though, Angela Merkel responded by expressing concern; stating that she was “skeptical about full membership for Turkey” and emphasizing that EU talks with Turkey are “open ended.”

The Outcome

Erdoğan has begun to fuse party and state, to blur the distinction between law and legitimacy and to confuse privileges and rights. The state tradition in Turkey, history reveals, tends to concentrate power in incumbent parties. But, in time, the populace (or in the past, the military) intervenes in that centralizing, authoritarian trend. In 2014, it is not the military, but elections, the economy and international pressure that will determine what happens in Turkish politics. The AKP stands to make another strong showing in March, but it will be at the expense of transparency, the rule of law, the separation of powers, and a free media.

What we are witnessing, effectively, is Turkey’s second period of mono-party rule. The only party that has ruled longer than the AKP is Atatürk’s party of the 1920s and ‘30s. That period resulted in Turkey’s alienation from Europe and the Middle East; and that same kind of isolation today endangers the regional and international appeal of the Turkish model.

Mirrored from IslamiCommentary


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4 Responses

  1. By and large excellent analysis, however:

    1. He’s seriously undersold the “irregularities’ in the Ergenekon/Balyoz trials and the extent to which they were used to imprison journalists who opposed either the government or the Hizmet movement,

    2. Gul has a long track record, still intact, of saying reasonable-sounding things and, in the end, doing whatever Erdogan desires. In this case, he signed the Internet bill and I expect him to sign whatever HSYK bill comes out of Parliament. (Oh, sure, he says he asks for changes — lipstick on the proverbial pig — but you’d think that after the Cyprus-EU accession that sort of arrangement would have been thought irreparably tainted.)

    3. The reference to the PKK talks need a a lot more discussion of whether there is any actual policy intent or, as it seems so far, only a vote-getting mechanism; the negotiations actually slowed to a crawl once it was clear that the BDP was not going to support Erdogan’s plans for a Putinesque presidency.

    4. “The year of the EU” really came to an end in late May with the beginning of the Gezi protests and the government’s response. Curiously, the “year of the EU” seems to have coincided with the year of The Magnificent Century and an eastward turn in the reconstruction of the built and ideological landscapes.

    What’s beyond doubt is that Erdogan, having neutered the army with the EU’s blessing is, as he says, Goknar says, “fusing party and state.” A decade ago, AKP opponents warned about this and were damned as white Turks, Kemalists, and crypto-fascists. Perhaps they were, but they now also appear prescient.

  2. “A decade ago, AKP opponents warned about this and were damned as white Turks, Kemalists, and crypto-fascists. Perhaps they were, but they now also appear prescient.”

    Bravo KRMCN,

    The so called Turkish model and its success depended on the flow of money into the Turkish market. That’s why the country leads the world in largest current account deficit/Total GDP.

    A country that doesn’t produce much, leave aside culture and civilization had been duped by cheap credit and all the success was attributed to a semi-educated idiot that is the Prime Minister.

    Primitive political cultures hold individuals solely responsible for success and failures. The country used to be obsessed with a dead man, not it is obsessed with a live one of a much much inferior quality.

  3. & today, doing what anyone but a fool knew he would do, President Gul signed the law that turns the supreme board of Judges and Prosecutors over to the Prime Ministry.

  4. And today, on the scuzzy, slimy, side of the AKP’s definition of democracy, from Hurriyet Daily News (filed under “It’s OK if you’re not a ‘Kemalist'”):

    Preventing the main opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP) posters from being hung up in Ankara’s streets is not a crime but an “honor,” Ankara Metropolitan Mayor Melih Gökçek has said after the release of an audio recording on the matter.

    “What have I done? What’s my crime? I have prevented the CHP’s posters from being hung up. Look at that crime. You will decide whether this is a crime or an honor,” Gökçek said on Feb. 26 during an opening ceremony in Ankara after being asked over phone call recordings in which it was alleged Gökçek had blocked the CHP’s posters.

    “I have prevented the CHP’s posters, and the CHP has filed complaint against me. It is an honor for me if the CHP sues me,” Gökçek said during the opening of an election coordination center for his Justice and Development Party (AKP) in Mamak.

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