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Recep Tayyip Erdoğan's Lurch towards Islam: An Electioneering Tactic or His True Face Revealed?

Recep Tayyip Erdoğan's Lurch towards Islam: An Electioneering Tactic or His True Face Revealed?

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This brief looks at the Turkish ruling party's apparent strategy to appeal to its conservative base.
This brief looks at the Turkish ruling party's apparent strategy to appeal to its conservative base.

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Categories:Types, Research
Published by: German Marshall Fund of the United States on Jan 27, 2011
Copyright:Attribution Non-commercial


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: With less than sixmonths left before nationwide
parliamentary polls, Erdoğan has
struck an overtly, indeed aggres-sively conservative stance. Theprime minister’s election strategyclearly targets the 58 percent of  the electorate that said “yes” to the constitutional changes thatwere put to a referendum onSeptember 12. The 42 percentwho said “no” feels unnerved by
Erdoğan’s lurch not only towards
religious conservatism but towards nationalism as well. The
 trouble for Erdoğan’s detractors,
as ever, is that the oppositionremains weak and divided. What
will Erdoğan do with a third term?
Will his slide towards conserva-
 tism persist? Or will his prag 
matic side prevail? Is his lurch towards Islam mere politicking or
does it convey a deeply ingrained
ideology? The answer is, both.
The question of just where Turkey
is heading under Erdoğan will be
best answered by the new consti- tution he has vowed to deliver.
Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s Lurch towardsIslam: An Electioneering Tactic or His True Face Revealed?
by Amberin Zaman
January 27, 2011
, DC
(In theName o Allah the All Compas-sionate and the Merciul).” With thesewords urkey’s Prime Minister Recepayyip Erdoğan launched into anelectriying speech during a recentceremony in Kuwait to present himwith the “Outstanding Personality in the Muslim World” award. Teaudience o mainly Muslim scholarsclapped hard as he railed against Israeland its treatment o the Palestinians.Among them sat Bulent Yildirim,the chairman o the urkish aidcharity that had led the ill-ated MaviMarmara otilla. “In strawberry elds,in schools, in playgrounds in hospitals,be they children, women, the elderly,you [Israel] brutally kill people and weare meant not to see not to hear this.Really?” Erdoğan asked. “Everyonemay approve by remaining silent. Butwe will not remain silent…o this youcan be sure,” he cried to a resh burst o applause.Erdoğan capped the ceremony by donning an Arab gown and bran-dishing a silver dagger as he stoodalongside women in black chadors.Te aair oered resh evidence o Erdoğan’s growing stature amongmillions o Muslims disaected withtheir largely corrupt and authoritarianleaders. It also provided ammuni-tion or those who claim that underErdoğan’s ruling Justice and Devel-opment (AKP) party, urkey ismoving away rom the west. At home,Erdoğan’s embrace o Muslim soli-darity — he recently claimed that “We[Muslims] can be sel sucient”— hasraised new questions about where hewants to lead urkey.I was among a clutch o journaliststravelling with Erdoğan to Kuwait,and I asked him whether he was “thenew leader o the Muslim world?” Hesmiled and replied, “I have no suchpretensions.” Until recently, my ques-tion would have spurred an angry rebuttal. oday, with the once omnipo-tent urkish army in retreat, Erdoğanappears to have struck a comortablebalance between his Muslim identity and urkey’s strategic alliance with thewest. He can, he believes, have the besto both worlds.Tus, while agreeing to NAO plans toerect a nuclear deense missile shieldover Europe that takes aim at Iran, heits through the Middle East orging
With the once omnipotent Turkish
army in retreat, Erdoğan appears
 to have struck a comfortablebalance between his Muslimidentity and Turkey’s strategicalliance with the west.
new riendships and lucrative business deals. “Anyone whoignores the religious sentiments o our society can neverhope to win an election, not solidly,” opined a leadingurkish contractor who was among the 400 or so busi-nessman travelling with the prime minister.Opinion polls conrm that view. Tis may help to explainwhy with less than six months lef beore nationwideparliamentary polls, Erdoğan has struck an overtly,indeed aggressively conservative stance. He has orderedthe destruction o a giant monument dedicated to peacebetween urks and Armenians that was built in Kars, agritty northeastern city on the edge o Armenia. “Its areak,” he told us. His objections were not purely aesthetic.Te prime minister’s ire stemmed primarily rom the actthat it was within close proximity o the tomb o a 10
 century Islamic scholar. Erdoğan also inormed us that withdivorce rates rising in urkey, he was going to incorpo-rate “guarantees or the integrity o the amily” in the newconstitution he has pledged to write ollowing the elections.He did not elaborate, but it could mean that divorce lawswill be toughened or that he may even be thinking aboutreviving his earlier calls or criminalizing adultery. Erdoğanalso hinted that bans on the Islamic-style headscar instate institutions might be eased, just as they have been inuniversities nationwide.Meanwhile, a draconian bylaw issued last May by theAlcohol and obacco Market Regulatory Authority cameinto orce on January 7. Tis severely restricts the use o alcoholic products in advertising and in the sponsorship o cultural and sports events. Additionally, it raises the age o consumption rom 18 to 24 at public gatherings. Te bylawcomes on top o staggering value added taxes that wereslapped on alcoholic beverages when the AKP rst came topower in 2002. Erdoğan has shrugged o charges that histrue aim is to ban booze altogether. “Tey drink until they wheeze and sneeze and we say nothing,” he declared in theurkish parliament. Bulent Arinc, the inuential deputy prime minister, was equally dismissive: “Lie isn’t just aboutsex and booze,” he said.All o this goes down well with Erdoğans conservative base.Te prime minister’s election strategy clearly targets the58 percent o the electorate that said “yes” to the constitu-tional changes that were put to a reerendum on September12. Te reerendum had boiled down to a contest betweenthose who support AKP and the 42 percent o the elec-torate who don’t. It is this 42 percent that eels unnerved by Erdoğans lurch not only towards religious conservatism buttowards nationalism as well.Te Istanbul-based liberal intelligentsia, who until recently were counted among AKP’s most zealous advocates, isexpressing qualms as well. Ahmet Altan, the editor-in-chie o the liberal daily 
newspaper, which has reservedmuch o its pages to deconstructing the urkish army, isamong them. In a blistering editorial, he attacked Erdoğanover his calls to destroy the Kars statue. Erdoğan respondedby slapping a L 50,000 libel case against Altan.Te trouble or Erdoğan’s detractors, as ever, is that theopposition remains weak and divided. Kemal Kilicda-roglu, the newly anointed leader o the main oppositionpro-secular Republican People’s Party (CHP) has ailedto capture the public’s imagination. Low on charisma andresh ideas, he has yet to make a tangible dent in Erdoğan’sarmor. He remains timid on the Kurdish problem. And hisgrasp o oreign policy is uncertain. A new team o advi-sors, including urkey’s ormer ambassador to Washington,Faruk Logoglu, could alter this. Attacking Erdoğan over hisrupture with Israel makes perect sense. But then, it is no vote winner.Opinion polls continue to show the AKP set to return toa third term. Te question is, what will Erdoğan do withthis mandate? Will his slide towards conservatism persist?

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