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Turkey Turns Away From the Future Turkey Turns Away From the Future
by Europe & Us
2008-07-15 09:23:16
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Until very recently, Turkey was an emerging economic success story; a role model for Islamic humankind. Today the country is increasingly associated with instability and uncertainty. Tension between the old, secularist elite and the Islamic-rooted pro-reform ruling party has reached a climax. The chief prosecutor wants to ban from politics the governing party – a party that received almost half of all votes at last year’s general election. Economic indicators are turning red. The Turkish situation is exacerbated by the fact that everything has occurred just as the global economy has hit dire straits. So what happened?

europeusIt was not long ago that successive governments were passing revolutionary political, economic and social reforms in Turkey. Membership negotiations were launched with the European Union and this process, together with International Monetary Fund-backed structural reforms that had been under way since 2001, were bringing speedy integration into the world economy. As a result, foreign capital inflow reached a record $55bn (€35bn, £28bn) in the past four years. There were growing expectations around the world that Islam and democracy could go hand in hand as a result of the Justice and Development (AKP) party’s performance. Turkey was a country looking to the future with confidence.

The rosy picture slowly started to blur in late 2004. The AKP pushed the EU-backed reform process aside. It failed to develop any new approach to Turkey’s problems. These problems, primarily the Kurdish issue, created an authoritarian environment. The AKP concentrated only on the forthcoming elections.

Despite everything, on July 22 2007 the party won a decisive victory – reaping the fruit of past reforms and successes. Immediately the party lost itself in the flush of victory. Tactical and strategic mistakes followed. Abdullah Gül, the foreign minister, ascended to the presidency, conceived as a stronghold of the 1980 military regime thanks to veto power over legislation and the power to nominate key civil servants. When constitutional amendments were made to lift the headscarf ban at universities, tensions soared.

Today, the AKP is paying for its clumsiness and misjudgments. But the real problem that led to this state of affairs was that the straitjacket Turkey had been wearing since the 1980 military coup d’état was starting to tear apart.

Indeed, since 1980 Turkey has been trying to accommodate two mutually antagonistic processes simultaneously. On one side is a nationalistic, authoritarian and paranoid patriarchal system that allows limited democracy while protecting the state against the citizens. On the other is a reformist approach aiming to emancipate Turkey, integrate the country with the rest of the world and widen social representation in order to include previously excluded elements of society.

Starting with President Turgut Ozal in 1983, the reform process had its ups and downs. It was disrupted by the “soft” military coup of 1997 but always remained on course. The customs union with the EU in 1995 and the start of the membership process in 1999 all strengthened the reform agenda. Reforms reached a peak between 2002 and 2004. Today this transformative process, a quarter of a century old, is at a crossroads. The 1980 regime seeks no more reforms but restoration: that is, the reinstatement of its control.

The first lesson to draw is that the coexistence of the 1980 regime and reformists has reached the end of its life cycle. The second is that, unless there is a countrywide process of soul-searching, one that confronts the consequences of the 1980 coup and examines its roots stretching back to the early 20th century, no social peace can settle: no way out of the present polarisation is in sight. The third lesson is that the impetus, both inside and outside Turkey, is insufficient for this soul-searching to take place.

There are no political forces in Turkey to address those needs. The AKP’s vision is too local and it has already squandered the strong mandate it received at the 2007 elections. The ruling party is no longer acting in a reformist spirit. It surrendered to the regime in all areas apart from on the headscarf issue. Thus, even if AKP wins the next (potentially early) elections, it will not carry out new reforms and will be ready to compromise with the regime to remain in power.

Besides this, there is no convincing liberal left opposition in the country and the EU-inspired external incentive for change no longer exists.

Indeed, for some time now the EU has had no leverage on Turkey’s change and normalisation process because of the failure of the conditionality principle. Neither a guarantee nor even a clear perspective could be given to Turkey regarding membership in return for reforms. This is not to mention the stubborn French hostility towards Turkish accession.

The 1980 regime still fills the political arena. But the prospects that its elected and non-elected (military) representatives can offer Turkey remain unclear. It is uncertain if they have any idea other than the delusion of hegemony outside the western system, together with the Iran-Russia-China axis. In fact, the Turkey of 2008 is not the country of 1980 and a non-reformist agenda cannot run the country effectively, less still move it forward.

In such circumstances, Turkey will have to live with the consequences of its political split personality for some time to come, contenting itself with soccer successes.

Cengiz Aktar is director of the EU Centre at the University of Bahcesehir, Istanbul


(Taken from
www.europeus.org)


   
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