• August 3, 2008

Turkey’s AKP escapes ban, tensions disguise ‘Islamo-secular convergence’

Turkey’s AKP escapes ban, tensions disguise ‘Islamo-secular convergence’

Turkey’s ruling AK Party will not be banned, the head of the Constitutional Court decided today. But the party will be denied state funding.  There had been speculation that Turkey’s highest court could decide as soon as today whether to ban the ruling AK Party following the public prosecutor’s charges that the party is undermining the secular constitution.


The case against the AK Party, re-elected with 47 percent of the vote last year, has been described as “a brazen conspiracy to undo the liberal reforms” recently implemented as part of Turkey’s possible accession to the European Union.


Although the party would probably have re-emerged under a new name, a ban would have undercut efforts to promote reform and democracy in the Middle East, warned F. Stephen Larrabee, co-author of a recent analysis of Turkish Islam. Moderate Islamists in the Middle East would have seen the party’s closure “as proof that it is impossible to achieve their political goals by democratic means and could turn to more radical solutions,” he wrote.


 


The current crisis cannot be reduced to a struggle between secularists and Islamists, but is in fact a power struggle between elites, Omer Taspinar, director of the Brookings’ Turkey Project, told a recent Washington meeting. His assessment is echoed by Ihsan Dagi, a professor at Ankara’s Middle East Technical University, who argues in the latest issue of the Journal of Democracy, that “looking at the AKP’s platform, its public discourse, its social base, and above all its record in government, one does not see an Islamist faction, but rather a globalist, market-oriented, pro-western, and populist political party”.


The AK party’s illiberal tendencies have come to the fore in its second term of office, according to Chatham House analyst Fadi Hakura, as it has “resorted to Islamic populism and confrontational, majoritarian politics.” But he is hopeful that recent trends, notably an Islamo-secular convergence, suggest that the country “could be on the cusp of a novel style of politics, emerging as a phoenix from the gathering ashes of the ideologues’ battles.” He notes that the Office for Religious Affairs or Diyanet, is engaged in a comprehensive re-interpretation of Islamic texts.


The AK Party’s critics may have legitimate concerns about creeping authoritarian or Islamizing tendencies, but a judicial coup is an inappropriate and illegitimate response. Instead, the AKP’s opponents “should be working towards the establishment of a legitimate political opposition and demanding reforms that will safeguard institutional checks and balances,” argues Diba Nigar Goksel, senior analyst at the European Stability Initiative.