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Islamism, Electoral Hegemony, and Democracy: Lessons from Turkey, Egypt, and Tunisia

Islamism, Electoral Hegemony, and Democracy: Lessons from Turkey, Egypt, and Tunisia

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This policy brief explains that electoral hegemony has proven to be a pathway toward monopolization of power and an important obstacle to democratization in the wider Middle East region.
This policy brief explains that electoral hegemony has proven to be a pathway toward monopolization of power and an important obstacle to democratization in the wider Middle East region.

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Published by: German Marshall Fund of the United States on Dec 16, 2013
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Summary:
Widespread popular protests and the military coup in Egypt in the summer of 2013 and the sustained political turmoil in Tunisia have not only
exemplied the tumultuous
course of the Arab Spring but they have also reignited the debate on the compatibility of Islam and democracy. But the monopolization of power is more pertinent to democratization than incumbents’ political identity. The experience in recent years in countries like Egypt, Tunisia, and Turkey has indicated that superior capacity of Islamic parties to mobilize supporters has functioned as a mechanism of electoral hegemony, which combined with a majoritarian understanding of democracy has proven to be a pathway towards monopolization of power and an important obstacle to democratization in the region.
Analysis
Islamism, Electoral Hegemony, and Democracy: Lessons from Turkey, Egypt, and Tunisia
by Sebnem Gumuscu and E. Fuat Keyman
December 16, 2013
Analysis
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OFFICES
Introduction
Widespread popular protests and the military coup in Egypt in the summer o 2013 and the sustained political turmoil in unisia have not only exem-plified the tumultuous course o the Arab Spring but they have also reig-nited the debate on the compatibility o Islam and democracy. Observers who ormulated the transitions along these lines reduced politics in the region to a dichotomy o Islamism vs. secularism. But the monopolization o power is more pertinent to democ-ratization than incumbents’ political identity. Te experience in recent years in countries like Egypt, unisia, and urkey has indicated that superior capacity o Islamic parties to mobilize supporters has unctioned as a mecha-nism o electoral hegemony, which combined with a majoritarian under-standing o democracy has proven to be a pathway towards monopolization o power and an important obstacle to democratization in the region. Recent developments have shown that monopolization o power under an executive who rules with a majori-tarian impulse and relies extensively on an electoral understanding o democracy rather than a pluralist and participatory one has serious repercus-sions or minority and women’s rights, horizontal and vertical accountability o elected officials, and inclusion and participation o various social groups in democratic politics. Such an under-standing o democracy indeed gener-ates serious political crises pertaining to governability and stability, even inviting democratic breakdown, as has occurred lately in Egypt.
Islamism and Democracy
Te question o compatibility o Islam and democracy has dominated the debates since the onset o the Arab uprisings. Accordingly, political developments in Egypt, unisia, and even urkey, have been reduced to a alse dichotomy o Islamism and secularism. wo points are in order with respect to this relationship. First, as Olivier Roy claims, democracy and Islamism are now inevitably inter-twined.
1
 Te popularity and ability o Islamic parties to mobilize the masses make them central actors in prospec-tive democracies in the region. It is
1
Olivier Roy, “Islam: The Democracy Dilemma,” in R. Wright ed.,
The Islamists Are Coming: Who They Really Are
, USIP Books, Washington, DC, 2012; and Olivier Roy,
The
Failure of Politcal Islam
, I.B. Tauris, New York, 1994
 
Analysis
2
 
Analysis
The Turkish experience in the past decade has indicated that
secularism alone is not sufcient
for democratization. Issues pertaining to electoral hegemony and monopolization of power are equally pertinent.
also this popularity and unmatched ability that encourage Islamists to unction in a democratic, multi-party system.Furthermore, Islamic parties have so ar ailed to offer a distinct and coherent ideological program alternative to capitalism and democracy. Tey have lacked a political blueprint or an Islamic state, while Islamic projects remained institutionally underdeveloped. Te act that the Islamic parties in unisia and Egypt expressed their prox-imity to the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) in urkey, which has abandoned Islamism as a political project a decade ago and unctioned within the existing secular ramework as a service-oriented, socially conservative, neoliberal party, confirmed the ailure o political Islam as a distinct political project.
2
 Te urkish experience in the past decade has thus indicated that secularism alone is not sufficient or democratization. Issues pertaining to elec-toral hegemony and monopolization o power are equally pertinent.
AKP Hegemony
Since the AKP came to power in 2002, it has dominated the electoral process in general and local elections, attaining success unmatched by another political party in the history o urkish democracy. Tis electoral hegemony in the existing institutional setting delivered the AKP strong majorities in the parliament, the presidency, and control over metropolitan municipalities, enabling the party to monopolize power. Te AKP’s desire to control power has been a result o its belie that effective governance is a unction o a strong executive, increasingly embodied in the personality o Prime Minister Recep ayyip Erdoğan. Prioritizing consequences over procedures, the AKP government has built its image on effective governance while requently complaining o the “hurdles” they meet on their way (presented by the judiciary, the opposition, civil society etc.). Te monopoly on power, however, has had mixed results or democratic consolidation in urkey. While the party successully neutralized the unelected centers o power like the military and the judiciary, growing power consolidation led to erosion in accountability, sidelining o the parliament, and significant erosion in reedoms o expression, inorma-
2
Katerina Dalacoura, “Turkey, Iran and the Arab Uprisings: The Failure of Polical Islam and Post-Ideological Polics,” keynote Lecture at St. Anthony’s College, SEESOX, Oxford,
November 21, 2011, published by
Politcal Reecton
, 2/4, pp. 68-73
tion, and assembly. Tis has been most evident in pressure on the media, which turned urkey into the biggest prison or journalists in the world in 2012. Unsurprisingly, press reedom in urkey deteriorated drastically; its rank declined rom 99
th
 in 2002 to 154
th
 in 2013 in the Press Freedom Index.
3
 Nevertheless, Erdoğan’s growing authoritarianism, majori-tarianism, and exclusionary attitude, which lef little room or dissent and pluralism even within his own party, coupled with his insistence on super-presidentialism to institutionalize a monopoly on power, culminated in widespread societal resistance in June 2013. A varied array o disaffected social groups, including anti-capitalist Islamists, LGB, liberals, lefists, and secular-Kemalists  joined the Gezi protests. Te diverse background o the protesters supported by a number o Islamic intellectuals and human rights organizations seriously challenged the conception that the protests were a secularist backlash and a “counter-revolution” to the AKP rule. In the ace o such diversity, Erdoğan took his majoritarian and exclusionary understanding o democracy to a new point by heavily investing in social and political polarization, increasing police brutality and censorship, and restricting civil society activism.
3 Press Freedom Index, Reporters without Borders, http://en.rsf.org/spip.php?page=classement&id_rubrique=1054
 
Analysis
3
 
Analysis
The costs of power monopolization in an institutionalized yet unconsolidated democracy differed remarkably from the costs incurred in transitioning countries.
Egypt and Tunisia
Egypt and unisia have displayed similar behaviors to that o urkey since the onset o the uprisings in 2011. Notably, the Muslim Brotherhood (MB) in Egypt and Ennahda in unisia have enjoyed an unmatched popularity in their countries, while their opponents have proven to be highly ragmented and parochial. Tus, these parties emerged  victorious in post-uprising elections. However, the MB and Ennahda have ollowed rather different trajectories in their approach to power once they were elected. As in urkey, electoral strength delivered the Brotherhood the Egyptian presidency, the majority in the Constituent Assembly, and the capacity to exert control over the state and society. In the course o this transition, the conser- vatives with hegemonic impulses — Mohammad Morsi among them — consolidated their power while purging moderate voices within the ranks. Hegemonic leadership in the MB generated an exclusionary and unilateral presi-dential rule under Morsi during the transition process, as evident in drafing o the constitution and crackdown on the opposition and the media through arrests o activists and journalists. Tis disaffected significant parts o the society that had initially supported Morsi’s presidency. Te act that the uprising in June included several ormer Morsi supporters with conservative backgrounds affirmed this disappointment with Morsi’s image as the president o the Muslim Brothers rather than o the Egyptian people. While Morsi resembled Erdoğan in his majoritarian and exclusionary governance, there are important differ-ences between the AKP and the Brotherhood. Firstly, the AKP came to power in an institutionalized electoral democracy as a veteran in democratic politics, and it has gradually monopolized power as it consolidated its elec-toral hegemony in successive elections. Secondly, strong entrepreneurial spirit and economic dynamism within the AKP constituency took advantage o the global economic context and acilitated sustained economic growth, effec-tive governance, and stability, which proved to be the major shortcomings o the Morsi administration. Finally, the costs o power monopolization in an institutionalized yet uncon-solidated democracy differed remarkably rom the costs incurred in transitioning countries. Tis difference is best captured by the act that social discontent in Egypt led to a military intervention while a similar democratic breakdown remained a distant possibility in urkey.Ennahda in unisia, in contrast, rerained rom a monopo-lization o power and ormed a coalition with social-demo-cratic parties, sharing critical posts with their partners, rather than co-opting independents to establish a single-party government. Te act that pragmatists, who seek moderation and compromise with other parties, prevailed over the groups with somewhat hegemonic impulses in the party allowed Ennahda to make critical compromises in the constitutional process (i.e. to not to state Shari’a as the basis o law in the constitution), which has been more inclusive compared to the process in Egypt. Similarly, greater room or internal discussion in Ennahda permitted the party to skillully manage political crises, such as the assassination o main opposition leaders or the recent protests that called or the dissolution o the Constituent Assembly. With these important points o divergence, Ennahda has proven that monopoly on power is not inherently an Islamist tendency. Most importantly, Ennahda has also shown that despite severe economic problems and occasional political crises, under conditions o power sharing, compromise, and inclu-sionary politics, democratic transitions may have better prospects. Te experience in urkey, Egypt, and unisia shows that electoral hegemony and monopolization o power hurts prospects or democratization through political crises uelled by social polarization, disaffection, and exclusion. Tese crises during democratic transitions incur substan-tial costs or societies, providing space or military coups and external interventions. As these countries write their constitutions anew, they should learn the lessons o the past and thoroughly analyze the recent crises. Te remedy is not less democracy but more democracy through cultivation o trust among political actors, strengthening o internal deliberation within political parties, and careul designing

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