July 12, 2012 § 2 Comments
Issandr El-Amrani has a terrific post over at The Arabist on the various labels that people assign to Arab political parties, and he makes the case that there is too much inappropriate conflation between different types. For instance, he says that all non-Islamists in the recent Libyan election were dubbed as liberals, when in fact that group included many parties and that were neither economically liberal or socially liberal. Similarly, secularists and liberals are often used interchangeably, when in fact secularists might be moderate Islamists or decidedly non-liberal conservative felool. He also argues that the term Islamist is overly broad (an argument that most knowledgeable observers have made and would agree with) but dives down even deeper than the Salafi/non-Salafi divide, asserting that in Egypt one can speak of Ikhwani Islamists, Salafi Islamists, and Wasati Islamists. He has a lot more in there, and you should go read the whole thing for yourselves.
It got me thinking about Turkish politics and the labels that outsiders tend to use with regard to Turkish parties. You almost universally see the AKP referred to as Islamist, but this is wrong in many respects. To begin with, the AKP itself rejects the Islamist branding, and looking at virtually every other Islamist party in the world, it is easy to see why. The AKP does not advocate for disbanding the secular state or legislating according to the principles of sharia, and it has not made any overt moves to do so. The AKP governs not as an Islamist party, but as a secular party whose members are personally devout. The fears that many expressed upon the AKP coming to power in 2002 have not come to pass, and even if the party has led the way toward a more visibly pious or conservative Turkish society, nobody can credibly argue that it has done this through legislative government action. Compared to Arab Islamist parties, the AKP is not even in the same ballpark, and should reasonably be characterized as a socially conservative party rather than a religious one. Prime Minister Erdoğan won himself no Islamist fans in Egypt when he traveled there last fall and lectured a Muslim Brotherhood audience about the vital need for a secular state, which is a strange move for the head of a supposed Islamist party to make.
Similarly, the terms secular and liberal have not traditionally coincided in Turkish politics. The current incarnation of the CHP under Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu has tried to remake itself as a socially liberal party, but historically the CHP’s fealty was to Kemalism above all else. Atatürk and Inönü were not liberals in the sense we use the term today although they were (to turn a phrase) religiously secular and carried out socially liberal reforms that conformed with their secular vision, and the CHP and other secular parties abetted much illiberal behavior on the part of politicians and the army. Turkey’s military coups were carried out by staunch secularists, but the coups were the very apotheosis of illiberal behavior. The 1982 constitution enshrined military-imposed secularism basically at gunpoint (yes, I know that there was technically a referendum, but that was not exactly what we would call a free and fair election free from coercion), which may have enshrined principles that we associate with liberal governance but was certainly not a liberal document. The nationalist party, the MHP, is also a secular nationalist party that is not a liberal one, and thus the secular-liberal fusion that we are used to in the West does not apply to Turkey quite so neatly.
None of these ideas are new, but they bear repeating. It is considered common knowledge in most of the world, and even within some quarters in Turkey, that the AKP is Islamist, which is what drives much of the talk about applying the “Turkish model” to Arab states where Islamist parties are strong. It is also assumed that any secular parties in government will automatically be less authoritarian and more committed to liberal democracy than the AKP appears to be at times. Both of these assumptions are fallacies, and those of us who work on Turkey might want to take El-Amrani’s words to heart and be a lot more careful about the terms we use and what those terms imply when we discuss Turkish politics.
April 5, 2012 § 2 Comments
In what is an amazing scene, General Kenan Evren, the instigator of the 1980 military coup and a former president of Turkey, is being prosecuted in a civilian criminal court for the atrocities and human rights violations that were carried out during the period of military rule. The entire Turkish political establishment is lining up against Evren, with over 500 co-plaintiffs including the CHP, MHP, and BDP, and the prosecution of Evren was paved by a referendum in 2010 that proposed to nullify the constitutional provisions granting Evren immunity for life.
Dealing with the perpetrators of the coup and the subsequent dark era in Turkish history is an important move for Turkey, as only by airing this type of dirty laundry out in the open can Turkey once and for all move past the era of military interventions in politics. The trial is one step on this path, and the scrapping of the 1982 constitution in favor of a new one will finally establish civilian control over the military as complete. That nearly every important Turkish politician, institution, and public figure is of one mind over the Evren trial, and that the military has so far remained quiet, is a great sign of how much Turkish democracy has matured. Prosecuting Evren does not read as a quest for vengeance so much as a desire to grapple with and face an unpleasant reminder of Turkey’s more authoritarian past, and it will make a future authoritarian takeover that much harder to accomplish, whether it emanates from the military or from Turkey’s civilian rulers.
Putting Evren on trial does not, however, come without consequences. I will leave the analysis of what nullifying these types of pacts does to the mindset of the SCAF in Egypt to those who are expert in both Egypt and Middle Eastern militaries and have written on the subject of pacts before (paging Steven Cook on all counts), but it will also affect internal politics in Turkey. Whatever one thinks of Evren and the validity of the 1982 constitution, the fact is that he only consented to returning power to civilians because of the immunity safeguard, and the uncomfortable truth is that the 1982 constitution is still the operative governing document of Turkey until it is replaced. Evren deserves to answer for his crimes, but this smells of mob justice rather than proper procedure. Furthermore, if Evren can be hauled in front of a court to answer for his crimes three decades later and despite his age (94) and bad health, it makes it that much more unlikely that should Turkey suffer an authoritarian relapse, the offenders will agree to leave absent some serious fighting and bloodshed. As unsavory as the golden parachute may be, it serves a distinct purpose, which is to pave the way for smooth transitions to democracy. Finally, while the ultimate objective here may be deterring the military from ever overthrowing the government again, it might have the opposite effect on the mindset of the officer corps. Erdoğan and the AKP have shown no hesitation at going after more contemporary military targets, such as Ilker Başbuğ, and this might be the straw that breaks the camel’s back so that the next time a military coup plot is uncovered, unlike Ergenekon and Sledgehammer it will be based on reality more than fiction.