Erdogan’s Turkey: De-moderation or Consolidation of Power?
My latest piece for ForeignAffairs.com, Dreaming of Russia in Ankara, argues that Turkish politics is drifting not toward Islamism but secular authoritarianism; in more concrete terms, the Russian rather than the Iran political model. I have made similar arguments previously on this blog and wanted to take the opportunity to directly address the theoretical debate I am in conversation with, namely inclusion-moderation theory. Inclusion-moderation or moderation theory holds that if groups holding extreme political positions are included in the institutions of governance they will be forced to moderate their ideological positions due to the demands of practical politics, namely attracting votes, working with other political groups and addressing practical issues of governance. This theory was developed from the experience of religiously-based political parties in Europe but is most often discussed in the context of Islamist parties in Muslim-majority countries.
Needless to say, moderation theory and the mechanisms it describes have examined and re-examined by political scientists and I won’t subject you to the full debate here. I will address just one element that is the subcontext of my Foreign Affairs, namely whether power can make an Islamist party de-moderate, ie revert to more conservative and religiously-influenced positions. One of the latest contributions to this debate , and one that my arguments directly relate to, is Shadi Hamid’s Temptations of Power. Hamid draws on extensive fieldwork done in Egypt, Jordan and Tunisia with the largest Islamist political organizations in each respective country. Drawing on his interviews and the historic trajectories of these parties, he argues that “Islamists are Islamists for a reason.” We should take the religious roots of these parties seriously and not be surprised when, if and when they gain significant political power, they institute religiously-informed and illiberal policies, even if they had previously disavowed such policies.
Hamid makes a very convincing case and some commentators have suggested his analysis explains Turkey’s current political situation. However, I argue that the phenomena he is describing is not de-moderation but continuation of the current (secular) authoritarian Arab political tradition and therefore rooted in an Islamism per se but in the institutions these Islamist groups inherit when they come to power. In the case of Turkey, the AKP is succumbing to the “temptations of power” that are already embedded in the institutions and traditions of the Turkish Republic: state control of religion, media censorship and a reverence for strong and authoritative political leaders.
Ultimately, only time will tell whether it is Hamid, myself, or neither of us who are right about the motives and trajectory of Erdogan and the AKP. The best case scenario, the one that I am holding out hope for, is that events intervene before it becomes clear who “won” this debate.
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