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Turkey, the Wear and Tear of Power. Part 2


Standpoint of Turkey

Turkey, the Wear and Tear of Power
Part 2

Uraz Aydın


Uraz Aydın

Independent journalist and sacked academic


Turkey, the Wear and Tear of Power. Part 1



Reisçis vs. Islamists?

Erdogan’s close circle—particularly after the eviction of Gül, of well-known founders of the Party (such as Bulent Arinc), and then of Davutoglu—is increasingly made of rather young journalists, economists, and non-confessional politicians without previous political allegiance. Their ideological trajectory is hazy, to say the least. For them, identification to Erdogan has become a political cause in itself. This is of course a deliberate choice by the Reis who no longer wants to be hampered by strong-minded political figures taking the liberty of showing their disagreements with him. However, the confidence with which these newcomers express themselves in the name of Erdogan, criminalizing any difference of opinion, particularly after the coup d’état, has given rise to much protest on the part of conservative-religious segments and, in particular, from older members of the party.

The intervention of pseudo-journalist Cem Küçük during a television show a few days after the referendum thus caused a controversy which crystallized these various antagonisms. A Reisçi chronicler and commentator whose trademark is to call publicly for sacking, media lynching and even for the arrest of dissident journalists, intellectuals and politicians, Cem Küçük this time tackled Islamists, and in particular the foundation which had organized the Gaza Freedom Flotilla of 700 people on the Mavi Marmara which ended up attacked by the state of Israel in May 2010, killing nine volunteers. “It is time for AKP to dissociate itself from radical Islamists, those crazy guys of the Mavi Marmara absurdly fighting Israel, fighting the West, fighting everything. I have a hunch that this is what M. Tayyip [Erdogan] is about to do.” Küçük’s provocation has triggered a large polemical uproar which was viewed by public opinion as a way of settling accounts between Reisçis and Islamists.

The state of mind of the “old guard”, defenders of the Islamic cause, is well reflected in the words of Ahmet Tasgetiren, a longtime Islamist columnist. In one of his pieces, he writes that “the tam-tams of anti-Islamic war declared by a group which pretend to be backed by the Reis” are the greatest plot against Erdogan. “Enough with those attacks by a group that nobody knows who they are [the members] or where they come from! Enough with those lowlifes who are slinging mud every day! The Islamist/non-Islamist divide will destroy AKP (…) This is an operation against Erdogan and AKP. (…) Some people want to blast the mission AKP was created for, that’s my analysis.” (Star, 27 April 2017).

After the end of fasting, I meet with Cihangir Islam, a dissident Muslim intellectual, in a small pizzeria around Taksim to ask him about the supposed debate between Reisçis and Islamists. In the 1990s, Islam was one of the close advisers to late Necmettin Erbakan, a historical figure of Turkish institutional Islamism and leader of the Millȋ Goruş movement. Mazlum-Der, the human rights organization with a strong Muslim spirit founded by Cihangir Islam in the same decade was recently confiscated by the AKP through a change of leadership. Islam also contributed to the Has Party, founded in 2010, which promoted religious-minded democracy and social justice, and was ultimately dissolved by merging its direction within AKP. A professor in surgery, Cihangir Islam was recently dismissed from his position at university by a decree from Erdogan himself further to having petitioned in favor of freedom of speech in support of academics blamed for petitioning for peace.

“It’s the fourth time that I get expelled from the university, he explains. The first three times were during the 1990s for my human rights activism and mostly over the right to wear the Muslim scarf, and the fourth time today under Erdogan. But at the time you had the possibility of filing an appeal, whereas it’s no longer possible today.” Erdogan’s regime constitutes in his eyes both a Machiavellian and Bonapartist administration. “The AKP is not an Islamist party, it is independent of any political value and only seeks means of staying in power. Consolidation around the leader has become so primordial that expressing loyalty became an oath to be repeated daily. It has become almost compulsory. Legitimizing goes through the Reis. This is why even the criticism of self-declared Islamists is not directed at Erdogan himself but at his entourage. And this is why Islamists have nothing to do in that party because even above the prophet there is a principle, a ruling axiom if you like beyond his individual will.”

An expert in Turkish Islamic brotherhoods and columnist for Cumhuriyet—a daily newspaper with several of its journalists and its director currently jailed--, Professor Tayfun Atay is of the same mind: “AKP has never been Islamist, on the contrary. It was only when its founders turned their backs on Islamism that AKP was born, thus opening the way to post-Islamism,” he tells me. And playing on words, Atay explains: “It’s not a religious [dindar] party but a religious fraud [dinbaz], that is to say which uses religion in order to advance its secular, material interests. The Islamic rhetoric is preserved and even stressed, but in the end what lies underneath is just halal capitalism.”

According to him, the case of brotherhoods clearly shows this transformation: “The sects and religious brotherhoods have now all turned into foundations, holdings administrating media outlets, hospitals, Quran courses, supermarkets and various financial companies. It’s Erdogan who opened that road for them, and today, they are his compliant subjects.” When it comes to Reisçis, Tayfun Atay thinks that “the cult of personality based on Erdogan’s charisma and the crony Party structure have caused the emergence of all those supporters of the Reis, those trolls, this lumpen-intelligentsia who cast themselves as hatchet men to fight off the opposition and above all inner dissidents. What they represent is not post-Islamism anymore, but post-mortem Islamism.”

President Erdogan has tried to put an end to the polemic in early May 2017 by addressing criticism to both sides: “It is a complete mistake to create a divide within political activity between those who are Islamist and those who are not. [In the party] you are not trying to find disciples for a Dervish order.” However, he did not refrain from also addressing dissidents: “Some used to support the party which I founded. But they have branched out. They have stepped off the train. We have lately witnessed unacceptable stances. This deviates from the right way.”

AKP, a weary Party?

If the controversy did somewhat abate after the Reis intervened, grievances continued to accumulated over the summer and new debates started off along the same dividing lines. At the end of May, President Erdogan finally announced his explanations for the drop in votes during the referendum: his party was struck with “metal fatigue”. Well aware that he faces a major risk of losing power at all levels in the forthcoming elections of 2019, the Reis has been calling on every occasion for a “profound change” in party leadership, for a renewal of the cadre promoting the young and women. Although Erdogan has asked those who felt weary to pass on their responsibilities, his call was heard, quite rightly, as an announcement of purges to come targeting “proxy-Gulenists”, people acting in the name of the brotherhood (the so-called “Fethullahist terrorist organization”) within the Party.

The daily newspaper Karar, which concentrates the main AKP dissidents and is suspected by Reisçis of being piloted by Davutoglu–as his former adviser, Armenian liberal intellectual Etyen Mahcupyan regularly writes in it—has responded to that “fatigue” type of explanation while not directly standing against the Reis. Longtime journalist Mehmet Ocaktan, also a former AKP representative (as well as poet), thus criticized that interpretation by putting it in perspective: “If the President has felt the need of intervening directly, it must be that he realized that the party was considered weary by the public. But the main question is to know whether it is only a problem of fatigue in its leadership or about the dimming of its bright discourse on universal standards of liberty, democracy and change which AKP had proposed to the society as its founding philosophy. (Karar, 18 August 2017) According to Ocaktan, the renewal effort conducted of the party must be accompanied by a reflection on the causes of its closing down upon itself, of its way of “explaining nearly everything through the ideas of fatherland-nation-foreign enemy” (Karar, 21 August 2017).

Much more explicitly, Karan Albayrak; another columnist at Karar, insisted that the Party needs to recover some heterogeneous views “likely not to crumble under the charisma of a leader.” He calls on the “older figures in the Party, the MPs, the ministers and former ministers to express their reactions publicly.” As he suggests; “If it has become useless to speak behind closed doors, the only alternative left is to discuss openly in front of the public in order to create some social pressure.” Karar, 14 September 2017). 

For the moment however, the renewal progresses at snail pace. Erdogan is well aware that, although he needs a party that will be totally loyal to him, a large-scale overhaul might alienate many of his supporters, whether among the cadre or in the electoral base. What is more, if the loyalty of the Reisçi upstarts is not to be doubted for the moment, “it is very clear, as Professor Atay points out, that they will be the first ones to desert him when time comes. And Erdogan is aware of that too.”

The original version of this article
Turquie. «La fatigue du métal». Controverses et polémiques au sein de l’AKP aux lendemains du référendumappeared on the site A L’encontre in September 27, 2017.




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