JOOST – AKP: from post-Islamist back to soft-Islamist? (2)

AKP: from post-Islamist back to soft-Islamist? (2)In my previous column I raised the question of how to explain the shift of the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) toward a more authoritarian style and Islamist agenda since 2011. In looking for an answer, I mentioned the ideas put forward by Brookings Institution fellow Shadi Hamid in his much-praised book andldquoTemptations of Powerandrdquo Based in particular on the history of the Muslim Brotherhood (MB) in Egypt, Hamid contends that under the threat of regime oppression, Islamist parties are willing to moderate their views and change to a less confrontational style.

If, however, they manage to come to power, as happened in Egypt in 2012, that moderation often gives way to the more traditional and illiberal positions of the past.The point is, of course, whether Hamidand#39s observations can be applied to Turkeyand#39s ruling party, knowing that Turkey is not Egypt and the AKP is quite a different political entity to the MBThere seems to be no problem with the first part of Hamidand#39s theory, the andldquomoderation under pressureandrdquo element.

Friends and foes of the AKP agree that the party — as it was established in 2001 — was a direct reaction to the military coup of 1997 against the government led by former Prime Minister Necmettin Erbakan, the chairman of the traditional Islamist party to which so many AKP founders belonged. The coup forced now-President Recep Tayyip ErdoIan and other Islamists to become democrats and moderates.

Since it came to power in 2002, for a long time the AKP was considered in academic circles as the most successful example of what was termed andldquopost-Islamismandrdquo The program of the party had basically been andlsquoandrdquode-Islamizedandrdquo and a secular state was accepted as the best framework for doing politics. A few years ago, Ihsan DaII, a professor at Middle East Technical University in Ankara, described the AKP as a perfect example of how the old Islamists had been forced to rethink their vocabulary and utopia and produce andldquopost-Islamism a la Turcaandrdquo: andldquoThe search for survival in an environment of secularist extremism and political authoritarianism has led mainstream Turkish Islamists to settle for democracy, globalization, EU membership, and an Anglo-Saxon form of moderate secularismandrdquo So, oppression worked and produced a new party, an experiment, in DaIIand#39s words, andldquoin merging an Islamist past with a democratic and liberal political agendaandrdquoKeeping in mind the MB regression in Egypt after they came to power, here comes the million-dollar question: Is it possible that the AKP has returned from this new andldquopost-Islamistandrdquo agenda to a more old-fashioned Islamist position because the danger of repression has subsided (the army canand#39t intervene anymore) and the external pressure to reform has weakened substantially (EU membership is not in the cards for the foreseeable future)?In his book, Hamid clearly warns that becoming a andldquopost-Islamistandrdquo party is not a one-way street in the sense that the old Islamists necessarily outgrow their original label once and for all.

In the case of Turkey, he cautiously concludes that after the negotiations with the EU faltered, andldquothe AKP government seemed to lose interest in democratization, increasingly adopting illiberal and authoritarian practices.andrdquo In a recent interview, Hamid labeled ErdoIanand#39s systematic moral teachings in the last couple of years and the ongoing educational reforms as a classic example of an Islamist using the state to promote their values and produce a andldquoradual soft Islamisation of society.

andrdquoI am afraid Hamid is right when he concludes that since 2011 the AKP has moved back to a more openly Islamist agenda That does not mean Islamic law will be introduced or that Turkey will become an Islamic state one day. What we are witnessing is not a return to the sort of hardcore Islamism that we know from many Arab countries but has always been alien to Turkey, even before 1997.

What we are seeing is a kind of going back halfway to some of the pre-2001 roots of Turkish Islamism, especially in the fields of culture and education. In the case of ErdoIan, this soft Islamisation is combined with copying the intimidating tactics used by Russian President Vladimir Putin to suppress opposition against his rule in society and the media and with the anti-Western rhetoric both Putinists and unreformed Islamists are so fond of.

In 2015 Turkeyand#39s conservatives will have to answer the question whether they are still happy with this shift away from the moderate policies and the inclusive approach that made the party so popular in the first place.

SOURCE: Today’s Zaman