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

AKP: from post-Islamist back to soft-Islamist? (I)One of the defining debates among the domestic and foreign analysts of Turkey this year was centered around the question of how to explain the shift of the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) toward a more authoritarian style and Islamic agenda since 2011.I am not talking about pro-government circles that simply deny there has been such a change and blame a dark coalition of internal and external forces for trying to manipulate public perception.

Letand#39s also put aside those commentators who now claim they were always correct in saying the AKP was an old-fashioned Islamist party from the start and that those who denied this were naive fellow travelers. Both the AKPand#39s die-hard supporters and eternal opponents are unwilling to recognize change.

They do not want to admit that the bullying and intimidating AKP we have witnessed in 2014 is a different animal than the party that came to power in 2002 and implemented a whole series of democratic reforms in its first two terms.In trying to clarify the AKPand#39s metamorphosis, several explanations keep popping up.

Apart from personal factors such as overconfidence and vindictiveness on the part of President Recep Tayyip ErdoIan, there seem to be three structural ones.One is the disappearance of the army as a player in Turkish politics.

The AKP knows that, unlike in the past, elected politicians, even if they misbehave, wonand#39t be corrected anymore by the generals, the self-appointed guardians of the old Turkey. Secondly, the AKP started changing after the EU lost its influence in Turkey as a pro-reform force because the accession process was going nowhere.

Thirdly, after 10 years the AKP is dominating the state after it managed to put its own loyal people in all key institutions. No need to compromise any more, especially not after former allies turned into archenemies.

This provisional assessment reminded me of one of the best books I read this year, andldquoTemptations of Powerandrdquo by Shadi Hamid, a fellow at the Brookings Institute in Washington, one of the leading global think tanks. The book is based on research and interviews in Egypt, Jordan and Tunisia, before and after the Arab Spring, and offers a convincing explanation of the turbulent history of political Islam in these countries.

But there is a clear lesson to be learned for Turkey as well from Hamidand#39s book, on which I will elaborate in my next article.Let me first summarize his main findings.

Hamid refutes the popular idea that the more Islamists are included in the democratic process, the more moderate they will become. His conclusion: Especially in countries where Islamists have their own networks of mosques, clinics, foundations and businesses, Islamist parties are sensitive to (the threat of) regime oppression and are therefore willing to moderate their views and change to a less confrontational style.

As long as they are in opposition, they do not want to lose their institutional roots in society and, after 911, donand#39t want to be perceived by the outside world as violent revolutionaries. In Hamidand#39s words: andldquoThe fear of repression leads Islamists to deemphasize Islamic law and underscore their democratic andlsquobona fides,and#39 in the hope that this will give paranoid governments less reason to attack them Doing so also attracts liberal and leftists support — as well as international sympathy — all of which can serve as a layer of protection.

andrdquoThat deliberate, strategic moderation can be reversed, however, when the same Islamists come to power, as happened in Egypt in 2012. In a way, they return to their more illiberal positions of the past, based on the calculation that it may have been necessary to compromise on their Islamist objectives in the short term, but if that need is gone, why give up on the ultimate goal? According to Hamid, even the most andldquomoderateandrdquo Islamists andldquowant the state to promote a basic set of religious and moral values through the soft power of the state machinery, the educational system and the mediaandrdquoIn my next column I will explain why this analysis, despite all the differences between Egypt and Turkey and between the Muslim Brotherhood and the AKP, matters to Turkey as well.

SOURCE: Today’s Zaman