Wednesday, 12 February 2014

What the Columnists Say

Published in Roundup of Columnists

A consensus is emerging among commentators of different political stripes that the Islamic movement of Turkey is self-destructing. Ali Bulaç, who is a prominent Islamist intellectual, deplores that the “fire” in the rest of the Muslim world has spread to Turkey, “strangely” pitting the AKP and the Hizmet movement, both Sunnis, against each other. “We are committing suicide!” he warns. Other commentators worry about Turkish democracy. Liberal commentator Ahmet İnsel argues that democracy can only be saved if the upcoming local elections result in a defeat for the AKP. Murat Belge, another liberal, disagrees, predicting that the AKP is going to prevail, because the opposition does not represent an alternative for the majority of the electorate.


Kadri Gürsel in Milliyet writes about the nature of the threat that the 34 million internet users in Turkey are facing: The power of the state authority to severely restrict the freedoms of communication, information and expression is immensely boosted; the power in this regard is concentrated in the hands of the Directorate of Telecommunication, which represents the political power. To record the internet use indiscriminately of all internet users for a period of one to two years amounts to a “big brother” measure. One does not have to be a lawyer to observe that this measure of censorship violates the articles 20 and 22 of the constitution that respectively protect the privacy of individuals and the freedom of information. Let’s see what the stance of President Abdullah Gül – who played a positive and important role in the freeze of the attempt to subordinate the Judges’ and Prosecutors’ High Council to the executive – is going to be.



Let’s try to find an answer together to the question why Muslims are unable to tolerate dissent and to solve the problems that arise between them according to the rules of Islam, writes Ali Bulaç in Zaman. This fire between Muslims has now spread to our country as well. Thank God, it did not erupt between Sunnis and Alevis as we had been fearing – God willing it will not happen; instead, very strangely, seeds of hatred have been sown between the AK Party and the Hizmet (movement).  It imports that both take care not to accuse the base of the other. As I see it, both sides’ allegations – that one is plotting against the other, and that the other side is deep in corruption – should be taken seriously and be subjected to impartial investigations. But punishments for crimes cannot be served collectively; targets (media, financial institutions, schools etc) cannot be selected with feelings of vengeance. The warnings of President Abdullah Gül, who warns “Let’s make sure that we don’t end up being unable to look each other in the face”, should be heeded. He who views this fight from the outside is bound to remember the words of Plato: “From afar, two armies that are engaged in battle appear as one single army that is committing suicide.”  We are committing suicide!



Mümtazer Türköne in Zaman writes that among the dust of the fight few notice that the big loser is Turkey’s half-century old political Islam project. The fight that rages is between the Islam of the state and civil Islam. Historically, these two currents had evolved along different paths; the fight erupted when one of them – political Islam that had laid its hands on the enormous power projection potential of the state – tried to assimilate civil Islam. The AK-Party-“Cemaat” fight is nothing but a confrontation between political Islam and civil Islam. Let’s recall: didn’t the fight start with the attempt of the state to annihilate the civilian realm, with the discussion about the prep schools? Only the Gülen “cemaat” has been able to resist the attempt of the state, through the intermediary of political Islam, to take control of civil Islam. The result is that political Islam’s nationalization project is broken apart. What is falling apart as a result of the graft probe is the project of political Islam itself; what is left behind is not a viable legacy, only the wasted efforts of fifty years.



Ali Bayramoğlu in Yeni Şafak sums up the situation in the power struggle between the AKP government and the Gülen fraternity. The government took a heavy blow on December 17 (when the corruption probe was launched), but it has since managed to prevail, thwarting further moves. But, this time authoritarianism has increased; the measures of the government have hurt democracy insofar as they have challenged the limits of law. Both parties have been hurt. The “cemaat” has surfaced as a political force, and its prestige has suffered; the government suffers from suspicions (of corruption) and of anti-democratic inclinations. The strongest support comes from the Kurdish political movement. On one side, there is the AK Party, the Kurds, the military; on the opposite side the “cemaat”, the liberals and parliamentary opposition… What is beyond doubt is that democracy in Turkey has started to lose terrain, together with many of its actors.



Ahmet İnsel in Radikal writes that Turkey is caught in a double authoritarian trap. On the one hand, the measures that Tayyip Erdoğan enact in response to the challenge against him usher in a state of emergency that suspends democracy; and the prime minister is bound to know that more moves are in store against him, probably realizing that he is going to have to resort to even more heavy-handed, authoritarian measures in order to stave off the challenge; meanwhile, were the Gülen fraternity to succeed, it will have been established as the power centre that makes and breaks governments. That will also amount to the end of democracy and the rule of law. Fortunately, we are headed toward elections. These elections offer us the possibility to escape the double authoritarian trap without forfeiting democracy.  A significant drop in the votes of the AKP; and its loss of the municipalities in Ankara and/or in Istanbul is going to open for this possibility.



Murat Belge in Taraf writes that the policies of the government during the last year cannot be called democratic. It is not in accordance with democracy to give the kind of powers to the executive over the judiciary that the prime minister wants; the laws concerning the Internet obviously limit the communication of knowledge, restrict the freedom of information. Is then society going to react by saying “stop” to the government in the first election that takes place in this environment? No. There is no reason to accuse society because it is not set to punish the government. Reliable opinion surveys tell us that a considerable majority both believe that there is graft, and that there is a “parallel state”. When we then consider why the AKP still succeeds in holding its positions in the opinion, we have to recognize that the problem is the lack of an alternative. The primary rival of the AKP is the CHP; and well, this society has had enough experience of being ruled by the CHP and by the ideology that this party represents. So, every time that there is a revelation of graft, there is a drop in the votes of the AKP; but after ten days, they return to their previous level. By all means, the government has become a problem; but what cripples us in the long run is not so much the ways of the government is, but rather the lack of an alternative.

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The Turkey Analyst is a publication of the Central Asia-Caucasus Institute & Silk Road Studies Joint Center, designed to bring authoritative analysis and news on the rapidly developing domestic and foreign policy issues in Turkey. It includes topical analysis, as well as a summary of the Turkish media debate.


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