Turkish elections have potential to alter the balance of power in the Middle East


Center for Security Policy, by John Cordero, Oct. 28, 2015:

Turks head to the polls once again this upcoming Sunday to determine the composition of their parliament. At stake is the direction Turkey will take both internally and externally, with the main domestic concern being unemployment and the principal foreign policy issue being the Syrian civil war.

This election comes after Turkey’s ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) failed to secure a majority for the first time in 14 years, and was unable form a coalition government after the original June 7 elections.

Turkey’s Parliament consists of 550 seats, a minimum of 276 of which are necessary for a party to form a government. In the June elections, AKP failed to secure a majority, with only 258. The People’s Democratic Party (HDP), affiliated with Turkey’s Kurdish community, saw their representation increase to 80 MPs from the previous 40, when they fielded individual candidates, thanks in part to picking up anti-AKP protest votes. None of the AKP’s rivals would consent to a coalition government, hence the need for the upcoming elections.

The AKP’s drop in political support has stemmed largely from the authoritarian behavior of former Prime Minister and current President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan. Under Erdoğan, the AKP has successfully transformed Turkey from a secular NATO ally to an increasingly Islamist government which is openly aligned with the Muslim Brotherhood, supports Hamas, and has been credibly accused of supporting al Qaeda in Syria and the Islamic State. The AKP has also demanded amending the Turkish constitution to enable additional powers for the President (currently Erdoğan, who was Prime Minister since the AKP achieved Parliamentary majority in 2002).

While the AKP continues to enjoy substantial support, its base has been eroded by corruption scandals and the Syrian war, which has proved disastrous for Turkish foreign policy. Erdoğan’s inaction during the Islamic State siege of the Syrian border town of Kobani, during which the Kurdish YPG militia prevailed even after Ankara ignored their requests for assistance, drove many religious Turkish Kurds to support the HDP.

After first courting them via peace talks with the PKK and religious rhetoric, his self-defeatist policy of focusing on Kurds as a threat to national security at the expense of the Islamic State and the other jihadist factions in Syria directly led to the AKP losing their parliamentary majority in June and to the PKK picking up their weapons after a two-year cease-fire and the collapse of peace talks.

This Sunday’s elections represent a bet by Erdoğan that the Turkish people will prefer a restoration of the old order and hand AKP a majority in parliament. John Hannah writes that “the terrorist threat from the PKK will re-emerge, putting at risk civil order, national security, and even Turkey’s territorial integrity. Indeed, Erdoğan has more or less explicitly said that all of these dangers would have been avoided if only the Turkish public had chosen more wisely in the elections.” Rising unemployment, depreciation of the lira, and widespread protests are held up by the President as evidence of what happens when the AKP does not have its majority.

If the AKP once again fails to clear the majority threshold, a prospect that seems very likely, expect Turkey to continue its factionalism along ideological lines: the Islamists, the secular Kemalists, the Kurds, and the Conservatives. The seculars are ideologically opposed to the AKP’s platform, while the Kurds feel betrayed and used for political points by Erdoğan.

The AKP’s only hope to form a coalition government may lie with the conservative Nationalist Movement Party (MHP), which opposes peace talks with the PKK. Instead of calling for yet another election, Erdoğan may have to swallow his pride and enter into a coalition, which may at least temporarily check his neo-Ottoman revival project.

Also see:

Turkey Is on the Path to Rogue Dictatorship

by Daniel Pipes
National Review Online
October 26, 2015

Should President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s AK Party not win a majority of seats in the Nov. 1 vote, the mainstream media hold that his power will diminish. The headline of a much-circulated Reutersanalysis sums up this view: “Erdoğan seen with little choice but to share power after Turkish vote.”Agence France-Presse predicts that winning less than half the seats “would again force [the AKP] to share power or call yet another election.” Almost identically, Middle East Online sees this situation forcing the AKP “to share power or organise yet another election.” And so on, almost invariably including the words “share power.”

The Supreme Election Board (Yüksek Seçim Kurulu) oversees voting in Turkey; will it be forced to rig the election on Nov. 1?

The Supreme Election Board (Yüksek Seçim Kurulu) oversees voting in Turkey; will it be forced to rig the election on Nov. 1?

But what if Erdoğan chooses not to share power? He then has two options. If the results are close, election fraud is a distinct possibility; reports suggest sophisticated software (think Volkswagen) to skew the results.

If the results are not close, Erdoğan can sideline the parliament, the prime minister, the other ministers, and the whole damn government. This sidelining option, which the press ignores as a possibility, follows directly from Erdoğan’s past actions. Since he left the prime ministry in August 2014 to become Turkey’s president, he has diminished his old office, depriving it of nearly all authority. He turned it over to a professorial foreign-policy theorist with no political base, Ahmet Davutoğlu, and controls him so tightly that Davutoğlu cannot even decide on his own aides(who also double as Erdoğan’s informants).

At the same time, Erdoğan built himself a 1,005-room presidential palace housing a staff of 2,700 which constitutes a bureaucracy that potentially can take over the other ministries of state, leaving a seemingly unchanged government in place that behinds the scenes follows orders from the palace.

Erdogan and Davutoglu

Erdoğan will surely sideline parliament as well; not by turning it into a grotesque North Korea-style rubber-stamp assembly but into an Egypt- or Iran-style body consumed with secondary matters (school examinations, new highways) while paying close heed to wishes of the Big Boss.

Then, to complete his takeover, he will deploy his many tools of influence to control the judiciary, the media, corporations, the academy, and the arts. He will also shut down private dissent, especially on social media, as suggested by the many lawsuits he and his cronies have initiated against ordinary citizens who dare criticize him.

At this point, the Hugo Chávez/Vladimir Putin of Turkey, the one who compared democracy to a trolley (“You ride it until you arrive at your destination, then you step off”) will truly have arrived at his destination. As a reward, he may even declare himself the caliph of all Muslims.

Chavez abd Putin

Returning to the present: The number of AKP seats in parliament hardly matters because Erdoğan will do what it takes, legally or illegally, to become the new sultan. He will not have to “share power,” but will seize more power by hook (sidelining parliament) or crook (electoral fraud). Foreign capitals need to prepare for the unpleasant likelihood of a rogue dictatorship in Turkey.

Oct. 26, 2015 update: Kadri Gürsel explores various possibilities should the AKP not win a majority of the votes, including Erdoğan forcing a third round of voting. But he does not raise the sidelining of parliament as one of the president’s choices.

Also see:

Turkey is the Next Failed State in the Middle East

From left to right: A Marxist terrorist holds hostage Turkish prosecutor Mehmet Selim Kiraz (who died in the ensuing shootout) in March 2015; crowds protesting the government's failure to stop ISIS terror attacks are tear-gassed in October 2015; the June 8-14, 2013 cover of the Economist.

From left to right: A Marxist terrorist holds hostage Turkish prosecutor Mehmet Selim Kiraz (who died in the ensuing shootout) in March 2015; crowds protesting the government’s failure to stop ISIS terror attacks are tear-gassed in October 2015; the June 8-14, 2013 cover of the Economist.

ME Forum, by David P. Goldman
Asia Times Online
October 10, 2015

We do not know just who detonated the two bombs that killed 95 Kurdish and allied activists in Ankara Saturday, but the least likely conjecture is that President Erdogan’s government is guiltless in the matter. As Turkish member of parliament Lutfu Turkkan tweeted after the bombing, the attack “was either a failure by the intelligence service, or it was done by the intelligence service.”

Betrayed by both the United States and Russia, and faced with the emergence of a Kurdish state on its borders and the rise of Kurdish parties in the parliamentary opposition, Erdogan is cornered. At risk in the short-term is the ability of his AKP party to govern after the upcoming November elections. At risk in the medium term is the cohesion of the Turkish state itself.

In public, Western leaders have hailed Turkey as “a great Islamic democracy,” as President Obama characterized it in a 2010 interview. That was the view of the George W. Bush administration before Obama, which invited Erdogan to the White House before his selection as prime minister in 2003.

Erdogan’s ability to govern, and cohesion of the Turkish state itself, is at risk.

A minority of military and intelligence analysts, though, has warned that Turkey may not be viable within its present borders in the medium term. The trouble is that its Kurdish minority, now at 20% of the overall population, has twice as many children as ethnic Turks, so many that half of Turkey’s military-age population will speak Kurdish as a first language in fewer than twenty years.

An existential crisis for Turkey has been in the making for years, as I reported in my 2011 book, How Civilizations Die (and Why Islam is Dying, Too). During the past week, a perfect storm has overtaken Turkish policy, and threatens to provoke deep political instability. Turkey may become the region’s next failed state.

Erdogan has suffered public humiliation by both Washington and Moscow.

There has to be a fall guy in the Middle East’s film noir, and that unenviable role has fallen to Turkey. Prior to the bombings, the worst terrorist incident in modern Turkish history, Erdogan suffered public humiliation by Washington as well as Moscow. As Laura Rozen reported October 9 in Al-Monitor, Washington announced a 180-degree turn in its Syrian intervention, abandoning the Sunni opposition in favor of Syrian Kurds.

The United States will supply arms, equipment and air support to Syrian Arab and Kurdish groups already fighting the so-called Islamic State (IS) on the ground in Syria, the White House and Pentagon announced Oct. 9.

The decision to refocus the beleaguered, $500 million Pentagon program from training and equipping a new force to fight IS in Syria to “equip and enable” rebel groups already fighting on the ground came after an interagency review of the train and equip program, US officials said.

“A key part of our strategy is to try to work with capable, indigenous forces on the ground … to provide them with equipment to make them more effective, in combination with our air strikes,” Undersecretary of Defense for Policy Christine Wormuth told journalists on a call on the new strategy Oct. 9.

Until last Friday, America and Turkey both supported the Sunni opposition to the Assad government with a view to eliminating Assad and installing a Sunni regime. That policy has been in shambles for months, but it allowed the Turks leeway to provide covert support to ISIS, the one Sunni force that shows effectiveness in the field. Russian intervention exposed the fecklessness of America’s attempts to find a “moderate” Syrian opposition to back. As the veteran strategist Edward Luttwak wrote last week in Tablet magazine:

Putin must certainly be innocent of the accusation that his air force has bombed the U.S.-trained “pro-democracy” freedom fighters, because the trainers themselves have admitted that the first lot on which one-tenth of the budget has been spent, i.e., $50 million, are exactly five in number, the rest having deserted after receiving their big family-support signing bonus and first paycheck, or after they were first issued with weapons (which they sold), or after first entering Syria in groups, when they promptly joined the anti-American Jabhat an-Nuṣrah, whose Sunni Islam they understand, unlike talk of democracy.

The Russians forced Washington to find something credible on the ground to support, and Washington turned to the Kurds, the only effective fighting force not linked to ISIS or al-Qaeda. That was precisely the result Turkey had wanted to avoid; the Kurdish military zone in northern Syria links up with Kurdish-controlled territory in northern Iraq, and the two zones form the core of a prospective Kurdish state.

Russia humiliated Turkey, meanwhile, by challenging Turkish fighters inside Turkish airspace, leaving NATO to protest loudly. Nonetheless the US and Germany have deactivated Patriot missile batteries–the only weapon system that represents a threat to Russian fighters–despite urgent Turkish requests to leave them in place. Russian fighters over Syria prevent the Turks from providing air cover for ISIS and other Islamist groups in Syria, as I noted Oct. 6 in our Chatham House Rules blog. M.K. Bhadrakumar observed in Asia Times Oct. 9, “Turkey’s scope for maneuvering vis-à-vis Russia is actually very limited and it has no option but to reach an understanding with Russia over Syria.”

Less obvious but no less ominous is the deterioration of Sino-Turkish relations due to Ankara’s covert support for the East Turkestan Independence Movement, a terrorist organization active among the Uyghurs of Western China. Despite official assurances, Turkey continues to provide safe passage to Turkey to thousands of Chinese Uyghurs via Southeast Asia, some of whom are fighting with ISIS in Syria. Thailand claims that Uyghur militants carried out the Aug. 17 bombing at Bangkok’s Erawan shrine after Thailand sent 109 Chinese Uyghurs back to China.

Erdogan has suffered not merely a collapse of his foreign policy, but a public humiliation by countries that backed his regime in the interests of regional stability–and this just before November’s parliamentary elections. After the Kurdish-backed HDP party took 13% of the national vote in last June’s elections and removed Erdogan’s majority in parliament, Erdogan called new elections rather than accept a coalition government. Erdogan also revived military operations against Turkish Kurds in order to elicit support from Turkish nationalists, a transparent maneuver widely reported in the major media.

As the New York Times reported August 5,

Having already delayed the formation of a coalition government, analysts say, Mr. Erdogan is now buttressing his party’s chances of winning new elections by appealing to Turkish nationalists opposed to self-determination for the Kurdish minority. Parallel to the military operations against the Kurds has been an effort to undermine the political side of the Kurdish movement by associating it with the violence of the P.K.K., which has also seemed eager to return to fighting.

Instead of responding to Erdogan’s provocation, the Kurds have shelved military operations in order to concentrate on winning votes in the November elections. After the Saturday bomb attacks, Thomas Seibert noted in the Daily Beast:

Observers agreed that the Ankara blast was probably linked to a decision by the PKK rebels to suspend hostilities with Ankara. The PKK had hinted in recent days that it would declare a new ceasefire in order to boost the HDP’s election chances. The people behind the attack wanted to “prevent the ceasefire” from coming into effect, respected journalist Kadri Gursel tweeted. The PKK’s ceasefire announcement became public shortly after the attack, but the decision by the rebels had probably been taken before.

In short, Erdogan now contemplates American heavy weapons in the hands of Syrian Kurds; the end of Turkey’s ability to provide air support for Sunni rebels in Syria; a Russian campaign to roll up the Sunni opposition, including Turkey’s assets in the field; and a collapse of his parliamentary majority due to an expanding Kurdish vote at home.

Whether the AKP government itself ordered the Ankara bombing, or simply looked the other way while ISIS conducted the bombing, both Turkey and global opinion will assume that the ghastly events in Ankara on Saturday reflect the desperation of the Erdogan regime. Regimes that resort to this sort of atrocity do not last very long.

The best thing that Turkey could do under the circumstances would be to ask the United Nations to supervise a plebiscite to allow Kurdish-majority areas to secede if they so chose. The mountains of southeastern Turkey with the highest concentration of Kurds are a drain on the national budget and of no strategic importance. Neither Erdogan nor his nationalist opposition, though, will consider such action; that would undermine both Erdogan’s neo-Ottomanism as well as the old secular nationalism. The pressures under the tectonic plates will only get worse. Saturday’s bombing may have demarcated the end of the Turkish state that arose out of the First World War.

David P. Goldman is a Senior Fellow at the London Center for Policy Research and the Wax Family Fellow at the Middle East Forum.

Turkey: “An End to an Era of Oppression”

Gatestone Institute, by Burak Bekdil, June 8, 2015:

  • “We, through democratic means, have brought an end to an era of oppression.” — Kemal Kilicdaroglu, leader of the main opposition, Republican People’s Party (CHP).
  • Erdogan is now the lonely sultan in his $615 million, 1150-room presidential palace. For the first time since 2002, the opposition has more seats in the parliament than the AKP.

For the first time since his Islamist party won its first election victory in 2002, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan was nowhere to be seen on the night of June 7. He did not make a victory speech. He did not, in fact, make any speech.

Not only failing to win the two-thirds majority they desired to change the constitution, the AKP lost its parliamentary majority and the ability to form a single-party government. It won 40.8% of the national vote and 258 seats, 19 short of the simple majority requirement of 276. Erdogan is now the lonely sultan at his $615 million, 1150-room presidential palace. For the first time since 2002, the opposition has more seats in parliament than the AKP: 292 seats to 258.

“The debate over presidency, over dictatorship in Turkey is now over,” said a cheerful Selahattin Demirtas after the preliminary poll results. Demirtas, a Kurdish politician whose Peoples’ Democracy Party [HDP] entered parliament as a party for the first time, apparently with support from secular, leftist and marginal Turks, is the charismatic man who destroyed Erdogan’s dreams of an elected sultanate. Echoing a similar view, the social democrat, Kemal Kilicdaroglu, leader of the main opposition Republican People’s Party [CHP], commented on the early results in plain language: “We, through democratic means, have brought an end to an era of oppression.”

What lies ahead is less clear. Theoretically, the AKP can sign a coalition deal with the third biggest party, the right-wing Nationalist Movement Party [MHP], although during the campaign, MHP leader Devlet Bahceli slammed Erdogan harshly for the embarrassing corruption allegations against the president. At the same time, a CHP-MHP-HDP coalition is unlikely, as it must bring together the otherwise arch-enemies MHP and HDP.

Turkey’s Nationalist Movement Party leader Devlet Bahceli addresses supporters after the release of preliminary election results, June 7, 2015. (Image source: MHP video screenshot)

The AKP management may be planning for snap, or early, polls but there are hardly any rational reasons for it except to risk another ballot box defeat. Parliament may try a minority government, supported by one of the parties from outside government benches, but this can only create a temporary government.

Two outcomes, however, look almost certain: 1) The AKP is in an undeniable decline; the voters have forced it into compromise politics rather than permitting it to run a one-man show, with in-house bickering even more likely than peace, and new conservative Muslims challenging the incumbent leadership. 2) Erdogan’s ambitions for a too-powerful, too-authoritarian, Islamist executive presidency, “a la sultan,” will have to go into the political wasteland at least in the years ahead.

The AKP appeared polled in first place on June 7. But that day may mark the beginning of the end for it. How ironic; the AKP came to power with 34.4% of the national vote in 2002, winning 66% of the seats in parliament. Nearly 13 years later, thanks to the undemocratic features of an electoral law it has fiercely defended, it won 40.8% of the vote and only 47% of the seats in parliament, blocking it from even forming a simple majority.

Also see:

Turkey, Friend or Foe?

turkish-prime-minister-turkey-436x350by Kenneth R. Timmerman:

As the battle for the Syrian border city of Kobani raged and prospects of an ISIS-led massacre of thousands of innocent civilians loomed this fall, the BBC interviewed the vice-chairman of Turkish president Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s AKP Party in Ankara.

Why hadn’t Turkey responded to NATO’s request to launch joint military operations to halt the ISIS assault on Kobani? How could Turkey just sit back and watch so many innocent civilians die, BBC correspondent Jonathan Marcus asked.

The replies from Yasin Aktay are telling.

“Why is Kobani the most important problem?” he asked. “There is no tragedy in Kobani as cried out by the terrorist PKK. There is a war between two terrorist groups. You mean we should… favor one terrorist organization over another?”

The AKP deputy leader went on to explain the calculus of death as seen from Turkey’s point of view. “Less than 1000 people have been killed in Kobani, but more than 300,000 people have been killed in Syria. Which is more important?”

Aktay’s remarks reveal much more than just a callous disregard for the Kurds, who comprise roughly one-third of Turkey’s overall population, or for the popular Kurdish Workers Party (PKK), which broke off peace talks with the Turkish government in October to protest Turkey’s stranglehold over the Kurds in Kobani.

According to Vice-president Joe Biden, Erdogan himself admitted that Turkey had ordered border guards to turn a blind eye as new ISIS recruits flooded across Turkey’s borders to join the battle against Assad in Syria. (Okay, when Erdogan was informed of Biden’s comments, he hit the roof and demanded that “loose-lips” Uncle Joe retract them).

In response to a Harvard University student’s question whether the U.S. could have intervened earlier in Syria, Biden went even further:

“[O]ur allies in the region were our largest problem in Syria. The Turks were great friends – and I have the greatest relationship with Erdogan, which I just spent a lot of time with – the Saudis, the Emiratis, etc. What were they doing? They were so determined to take down Assad and essentially have a proxy Sunni-Shia war, what did they do? They poured hundreds of millions of dollars and tens, thousands of tons of weapons into anyone who would fight against Assad except that the people who were being supplied were Al Nusra and Al Qaeda and the extremist elements of jihadis coming from other parts of the world.

“Now you think I’m exaggerating – take a look. Where did all of this go? So now what’s happening? All of a sudden everybody’s awakened because this outfit called ISIL which was Al Qaeda in Iraq, which when they were essentially thrown out of Iraq, found open space in territory in eastern Syria, work with Al Nusra who we declared a terrorist group early on and we could not convince our colleagues to stop supplying them. So what happened? Now all of a sudden – I don’t want to be too facetious – but they had seen the Lord. Now we have – the President’s been able to put together a coalition of our Sunni neighbors, because America can’t once again go into a Muslim nation and be seen as the aggressor – it has to be led by Sunnis to go and attack a Sunni organization.” [h/t to Mark Langfan for excerpting this Q&A from Biden’s speech]

But Erdogan’s treachery goes much deeper.

Kurdish sources tell me that the initial Turkey-al Nusra front agreement was made more than two years ago, and included Turkey’s agreement to help smuggle arms to the Syrian rebels from Benghazi and other parts of Libya.

Earlier this year, Turkish and Qatari intelligence officials met with senior ISIS leaders in Jordan to plot the take-over of Mosul and the predominantly Christian Nineveh Plain.

Also at the meeting was a representative of Kurdish Regional Government (KRG) president Massoud Barzani, who has worked closely with the Turkish government and has spearheaded massive Turkish investment in northern Iraq. Barzani apparently believed ISIS would stop their advance after seizing Mosul and the Nineveh Plain, and ordered his peshmerga fighters to withdraw rather than fight the ISIS advance.

The most dramatic events occurred in Sinjar, when 13,000 peshmerga fighters mysteriously “melted away” in August rather than confront an ISIS assault force of around 1000 men. While much of the national media focused on the plight of the Yazidis, a Shiite sect considered heretical by most Sunnis, ISIS continued to march eastward through the Nineveh plain, massacring the Christians who failed to flee.

Not until they began threatening Erbil, the capital of the KRG, did Barzani apparently realize he had been duped and called on the United States to supply heavy weapons so the peshmerga could halt the ISIS advance. As Kobani was falling, Barzani authorized Kurdish fighters from the PKK and PJAK, who had bases in northern Iraq, to transit through his territory to relieve the besieged city.

Read more at Frontpage

Hamas Celebrates AKP Win; Relies on Turkish Support

Why Turkey’s Local Elections May Have Global Impact

Possible Repercussions From Turkey’s Corruption Scandal

Erdogan’s AKP Party Rocked By Scandal: Who’s Behind It?


Some analysts are saying that, because of this corruption scandal, either Erdogan or what remains of democracy will exit from Turkey.


No one is sure who is behind the corruption inquiries that have been rocking Turkey the past week and upsetting Prime Minister Erdogan’s AKP Party, but there are several theories.

Islamist Prime Minister Erdogan of the AKP (“white”) Party closed down the private language schools of powerful exiled Islamic cleric Fetullah Gulen. Then, to everyone’s surprise (even Erdogan’s), top leaders in the AKP Party found their families being investigated.

Erdogan called this an attack against his government and implicated Fetullah Gulen as being behind the sudden corruption inquiries that landed top government officials, bank presidents, and even billionaire builders in jail.

Gulen denied involvement in the “operation” (as it’s being called in the Turkish news).

No one really knows what is happening right now in Turkey. The U.S. is calling this “a family fight” and doesn’t want to be dragged into it. Whoever is behind this scandal, the fact remains that lots of money is involved.

Photos of cash, huge safes and even ATM machines stashed in the houses of top Turkish leaders have circulated the internet. Erdogan struck back by firing dozens of police officers and even police chiefs across Turkey, including the one in charge of Istanbul.

Gulen cursed this act of firing police officers (and, it seems, in doing so cursed the one responsible for the acts—Erdogan himself). On one of his websites Gulen wrote, ” . . . Those who don’t see the thief but go after those trying to catch the thief, who don’t see the murder but try to defame others by accusing innocent people—let God bring fire to their houses, ruin their homes, break their unities.”

“Maybe the CHP [the main opposition party] is at least partly behind this,” one Turkish man told me. “They are Ataturk’s party and don’t want to see his ideals of secular democracy betrayed. They also want closer ties to Europe and the human rights it offers. Too many Turks now sit in prison simply for speaking or writing what Erdogan doesn’t like. They don’t want to see Turkey become an Islamic state like Erdogan envisions. They don’t want to be dragged back to the time of the sultans.”

Read more at Clarion Project

Turkey’s Gülen Movement: Between Social Activism and Politics

[Left: Fethullah Gülen, from Diyar Muhammed, via Flickr; right: Prime Minister Erdoğan, from World Economic Forum via Flickr.]

[Left: Fethullah Gülen, from Diyar Muhammed, via Flickr; right: Prime Minister Erdoğan, from World Economic Forum via Flickr.]

By Bayram Balci:

Since its election in 2002, the ruling Turkish Justice and Development Party (AKP), under the leadership of Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, has transformed Turkey. The reforms initiated by this conservative government with Islamic roots have amounted to a passive revolution—they have profoundly altered Turkish society, modernized its institutions, and strengthened its economy, which is now the sixteenth-largest in the world in terms of GDP.

Yet it would be a mistake to attribute the many successes that have enhanced Turkey’s role as a major regional and international player to AKP leadership alone. Erdoğan’s government has enjoyed support from a number of political organizations as well as from influential religious and social forces within Turkey. The most invaluable, but also the hardest to assess, is a movement that plays a fundamental role in Turkey’s social and religious life: the Gülen movement of Fethullah Gülen, referred to by the terms cemaat or hizmet.

The AKP and the Gülen movement established an alliance in 2002 based on a common desire to push back the central role of the military in the country and create a new, more conservative, and more Muslim Turkey. Each brought different skills to the task—Erdoğan and his AKP colleagues were experienced in political activism and electoral politics, while the Gülen movement used education and social activism to promote its objectives. This alliance was not without disagreements, but until recently common interests outweighed differences.

During the past few months, however, tensions have deepened between Erdoğan and the Gülenists in the realms of both domestic and foreign policy, causing speculation that the alliance is headed for a fundamental break. There can be no doubt that rifts have emerged over a variety of issues, from the rising power of the Gülen movement to the increasingly authoritarian actions of the prime minister. But talk of a complete break may well be premature.


Fethullah Gülen emerged as a religious authority in Turkey in the 1970s, and little by little he became the spiritual leader of a vast community that now boasts an estimated 3 million sympathizers. Gülen, who moved to the United States in 1999, encourages his disciples to become modern, moderate Muslims. An adherent of free markets, he champions the Islamic faith and the spirit of capitalism. He is also a nationalist, seeking to boost Turkey’s influence and prestige abroad.

Gülen relies heavily on education to transmit his ideas, and he has formed a network of hundreds of schools and businesses worldwide. This network is active on every continent, including in the United States, where his sympathizers run approximately 130 charter schools, mainly in Texas.

He focuses his efforts on educating new generations and promoting the emergence of elites who are simultaneously pious, modern, patriotic, committed to globalization, and comfortable with economic success. Like the Jesuits and other missionaries who trained Turkey’s republican, Kemalist elites to value secularism and follow a Western path through the schools they founded at the end of the Ottoman Empire, Gülen aspires to use education to help forge new generation of Anatolian, conservative elites (or counterelites) that might play a key role in creating a modern, more openly Islamic Turkey.

Read more at Carnegie Endowment For International Peace (H/T Patrick Poole, @pspoole)

What Turkey’s Riots Mean

by Daniel Pipes
The Washington Times
June 19, 2013

Rebellion has shaken Turkey since May 31: Is it comparable to the Arab upheavals that overthrew four rulers since 2011, to Iran’s Green Movement of 2009 that led to an apparent reformer being elected president last week, or perhaps to Occupy Wall Street, which had negligible consequences?


The government of Istanbul told mothers to “bring their children home” but instead they joined the protests in Taksim Square.

The unrest marks a deeply important development with permanent implications. Turkey has become a more open and liberal country, one in which leaders face democratic constraints as never before. But how much it changes the role of Islam in Turkey depends primarily on the economy.

China-like material growth has been the main achievement of Recep Tayyip Erdoğan and the party he heads, the AKP. Personal income has more than doubled in the decade that he has been in power, changing the face of the country. As a visitor to Turkey since 1972, I have seen the impact of this growth in almost every area of life, from what people eat to their sense of Turkish identity.

That impressive growth explains the AKP’s increased share of the national vote in its three elections, from 34 percent in 2002 to 46 percent in 2007 to a shade under 50 percent in 2011. It also explains how, after 90 years of the military serving as the ultimate political power, the party was able to bring the armed forces to heel.

At the same time, two vulnerabilities have become more evident, especially since the June 2011 elections, jeopardizing Erdoğan’s continued domination of the government.

Dependence on foreign credit. To sustain consumer spending, Turkish banks have borrowed heavily abroad, and especially from supportive Sunni Muslim sources. The resulting current account deficit creates so great a need for credit that the private sector alone needs to borrow US$221 billion in 2013, or nearly 30 percent of the country’s $775 billion GDP. Should the money stop flowing into Turkey, the party (pun intended) is over, possibly leading the stock market to collapse, the currency to plunge, and the economic miracle to come to a screeching halt.


Erdoğan instructs parents, “I am watching you. You will make at least three children.”

Erdoğan’s sultan-like understanding of his democratic mandate. The prime minister sees his election – and especially the one in 2011, when the AKP won half the popular vote – as a carte blanche to do whatever he pleases until the next vote. He indulges his personal emotions (recall his confrontation with Shimon Peres in 2009), meddles in the tiniest matters (his deciding the use of a city park prompted the current turmoil), social engineers (telling married couples to bear three or more children), involves Turkey in an unpopular foreign adventure (Syria), and demonizes the half of the electorate that did not vote for him (calling them beer-guzzlers who copulate in a mosque). This attitude has won the fervent support of his once-downtrodden constituency, but also has wrought the fury of the growing numbers of Turks who resent his authoritarianism, as well as the criticism of Europe leaders. German Chancellor Angela Merkel pronounced herself “appalled” by the recent police crackdown.

These two weaknesses point to the importance of the economy for the future of Erdoğan, the AKP, and the country. Should Turkey’s finances weather the demonstrations, the Islamist program that lies at the heart of the AKP’s platform will continue to advance, if more cautiously. Perhaps Erdoğan himself will remain leader, becoming the country’s president with newly enhanced powers next year; or perhaps his party will tire of him and – as happened to Margaret Thatcher in 1990 – push him aside in favor of someone who can carry out the same program without provoking so much hostility.


After two weeks of demonstrations, the Istanbul stock exchange lost nearly 10 percent of its value.

But if “hot money” flees Turkey, if foreign investors go elsewhere, and if Persian Gulf patrons cool on the AKP, then the demonstrations could end AKP rule and rupture the drive toward Islamism and the application of Islamic law. Infighting within the party, especially between Erdoğan and President Abdullah Gül, or within the Islamist movement, especially between the AKP and Fethullah Gülen‘s powerful movement, could weaken the Islamists. More profoundly, the many non-Islamist voters who voted for the AKP’s sound economic stewardship might abandon the party.

Payroll employment is down by 5 percent. Real consumer spending in first quarter 2013 fell by 2 percent over 2012. Since the demonstrations started, the Istanbul stock market is down 10 percent and interest rates are up about 50 percent. To assess the future of Islamism in Turkey, watch these and other economic indicators.

Mr. Pipes (DanielPipes.org) is president of the Middle East Forum. © 2013 by Daniel Pipes. All rights reserved.

Turkey, Closest to Leading the Middle East

by Şenay Yıldız Akşam January 7, 2013


Translation of the original text: Ortadoğu liderliğine en yakın ülke Türkiye Translated by Elif S. Gürbey

N.B.: This translation from Turkish includes numerous changes in the text by Daniel Pipes to improve the presentation and to make it more accurate.

Founder and president of the Middle East Forum, Daniel Pipes is well known for his work on the Middle East and political Islam. Pipes, an award-winning columnist for the National Review and Jerusalem Post, writes commentaries and articles about the Middle East in leading media organizations such as the BBC, Al Jazeera, New York Times, Wall Street Journal, and Washington Post. After visiting Turkey last month, Pipes, who has 12 books and numerous articles on Islam, Syria, and the Middle East, published an article in National Review Online titled “Talking Turkey.” We talked with him [in mid-December] about his impressions of Turkey and his expectations from the Middle East.

– When were you in Turkey the last time? I was in Turkey two weeks ago. I visited in 2007 as well. My first visit to Turkey was in 1972. I spent the summer of 1973 trying to learn Turkish while living in Istanbul’s Üsküdar quarter … but I was not very successful at it.

How long did you stay in Turkey before writing your last article, “Talking Turkey”? Did you meet anyone from the government? I stayed in Turkey for 5 days. My request to meet members of the AKP did not succeed. However, I was able to meet with representatives of the CHP (Republican People’s Party) and the Gülen movement.

Considering your visits to Turkey, what kind of difference do you see between now and then? Two major changes occurred in the last 40 years. First, economic development, especially in Istanbul: there are so many new buildings, businesses, and global brands. This differs completely from the Turkey I saw 40 years ago, which was quite separated from international business. Second, Islam. The religiosity of people in Turkey was semi-visible then. If it was necessary to go to mosques or other places to see them, now they are everywhere.

Do you mean women who wear headscarf? Yes, the turban [headscarf] symbolizes this phenomenon. Many observers used to see Turkey as a European country with a different language. As someone interested in the history of Muslims, I always saw Turkey as a Muslim Middle Eastern country. The Atatürk revolution impressed me and I began writing a book comparing it with the Meiji transformation in Japan. I find it strange to see Turkey as European just because a small part of its territory is in Europe. Would Morocco controlling Gibraltar make it a European country? I think not.

2055– Does Turkey fit exactly into the Middle East? Yes, Turkey is historically, culturally, religiously, commercially, and politically a part of the Middle East.

Do you think Islam’s visibility is negative? I have no opinion if people want to pray, fast, and on pilgrimage to Mecca. I do, however, have an opinion on attempts to implement the Shari’a. The Shari’a causes great suffering, sorrow, and pain. In the past [Necmettin] Erbakan and now [Recep Tayyip] Erdoğan is moving toward Islamic law and I think this a terrible development.

– Do you really think Erdoğan is heading toward Sharia? Almost everybody I spoke to in Turkey told me, “Turkey will never be a country where hands are cut off, of burqas or jihad. Erdoğan, Gül, Davutoğlu, Arınç, and Gülen all know that and accept the order Ataturk implemented 80-90 years ago. They are only trying to create a more religious environment within that order.” Among those I spoke to, only an Alevi person did not subscribe to this opinion. According to him, Erdoğan and Gül aspire to apply Islamic law. “It will take a very long time,” he noted, “but it is their objective.” I agree with this view.

– As someone who lives in Turkey, I am having hard time to understand how you can see implementation of Shari’a. What makes you so skeptical about the AK Party’s goals? Gül and Erdoğan were members of Erbakan’s Virtue Party in the 1990s; and although he failed to achieve his objectives because he was removed from power by the military, Erbakan clearly intended to apply the Shari’a. The question now is: Did Gül and Erdoğan only change their tactics to maneuver better than him – or did they really abandon his objectives? I do not believe they altered their goals. I grant that I am speculating here because I cannot read their minds but it makes more sense to conclude that they only changed tactics.

As I see it, these lieutenants of Erbakan learned a lesson from his mistakes and are now implementing his policies more intelligently. Erdoğan is a more capable and sophisticated version of Erbakan. Should the AKP stay in power, the implementation of Islamic law will begin. The result will not look like Afghanistan under the Taliban, the Islamic Republic of Iran, or Saudi Arabia but the Shari’a will give direction to the social order.

I expect the AKP to rule for a long time, in part because the opposition in Turkey is so weak. It is reduced to hoping for divisions between Gül and Erdoğan, or Gülen and the AKP. The intellectual base of the CHP and the other parties is weak.

 Can you clarify your comment in your last article, that you heard that the AKP aspires “to create a post-Atatürk order more than an anti-Atatürk order”? Does the AKP leadership really accept the order established by Atatürk? I have my doubts. I think, deep in the leaders’ hearts, they want step by step to erase Ataturk’s accomplishments. In this sense, Erdoğan is the anti-Atatürk. Let me add that I have no problem with the removal of Atatürk from walls, quotations, and celebrations. It seems odd that a person who died 75 years ago remains ubiquitous. In the United States, I would not welcome seeing George Washington everywhere.

– Turkey is in leadership struggle for the Middle East. Do you think that Turkey can be the greatest power in the Middle East? Turkey absolutely is the best candidate right now for Middle East leadership. Given its population, the ruling party’s vision, its economic strength, and its intellectual capacity, Turkey is the country closest to leading the Middle East.

– What do you think of highly controversial Gülen movement? I never met Gülen, though he lives near me in Philadelphia. I know a number of people from the movement. It is highly sophisticated, intellectual, and impressive, especially the hundreds of schools. In my opinion, its objective is to make Islam the primary component that regulates people’s lives, and it works for this very carefully and cleverly.

Islamism in Turkey is far more intellectual than, for example, in Egypt. Take a look at Mohamed Morsi: in a few months, he tried to do more than the AKP has attempted in ten years, and for that reason, he is in great danger. Egypt faces so many problems, from a sinking economy to violent protests on the streets. In contrast, Gülen builds schools and has a media empire, which is much more impressive than Muslim Brotherhood, Khomeini, or the Taliban. For me, the most powerful feature that separates Islam in Turkey from other countries is capable leadership.

– The Arab Spring began with high hopes; at this point, do you think it brought spring to the Arabs? I never call it “Arab Spring”; the term Arab uprising is much more accurate. The Arab Middle East was surprisingly stable between 1970 and 2010, with little change of the dictators in charge. These regimes lacked an ideology or vision, so they—except for Syria—established good relations with the U.S. government. Following the incident in Tunisia in December 2010, the Islamists have increased their power. I believe this worsens things for the people of the region: dictators are bad enough but Islamists are even worse. Dictators kill tens of people; Islamists kill hundreds or thousands.

– Why are you contrasting Islamists and Americans? Islamism is the third totalitarian movement. We beat the fascist and communist threats; now we have to defeat the Islamists.

– Saudi Arabia is very close partner of the United States. No, Canada is a close partner. Saudi Arabia is only a tactical partner. The U.S. and Saudi governments work together but differ in everything from ways of life to long-term ambitions.

– Do you criticize Saudi Arabia? Yes, the government in Saudi Arabia is horrible. I am uncomfortable with the extent of privileges given to Saudi Arabia in Washington.

– You have a very negative, inflexible position about Islam? No, I am not negative about Islam, but I am negative about Islamism. A government, a movement, or a people who seek ways to implement Islamic law fully are rather a small minority in nearly every country. They are not the majority, and yes, I am negative about them. My motto is; radical Islam is a problem moderate Islam is the solution.

– Which countries you can think of in the Middle East that can implement a moderate version of Islam? Governments such as Iran, Turkey, and Tunisia that followed a moderate version of Islam are gone. Nowadays, the closest example is Algeria. The AKP and Gülen movement try to look like moderate, but they are not because both want to implement Shari’a.

– In the mission statement of the Middle East Forum’s Legal Project, of which you are the founder, it says, you “work to protect the right in the West to freely discuss Islam, radical Islam, terrorism, and terrorist funding..” But Islam is not the only religion in the Middle East, so why do you not show same concern about Christianity and Judaism? I do not see Islamism is comparable to anything in Judaism or Christianity. As I mentioned earlier, I see it comparable to Communism and Fascism. I see Islamism as far more a bigger threat than Jewish nationalism or a fundamentalist Christianity. You can criticize Jews and Judaism, Christians and Christianity without facing danger. However, you risk your life criticizing Islam.

Talking Turkey: As Turkey’s “chief social engineer,” Erdogan talks up secularism and prepares the way for sharia

Turkish prime minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan

Turkish prime minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan

by Daniel Pipes, December 26, 2012

The menu for meals on my Turkish Airlines flight earlier this month assured passengers that food selections “do not contain pork.” The menu also offered a serious selection of alcoholic drinks, including champagne, whiskey, gin, vodka, rakı, wine, beer, liqueur, and cognac. This oddity of simultaneously adhering to and ignoring Islamic law, the Shari’a, symbolizes the uniquely complex public role of Islam in today’s Turkey, as well as the challenge of understanding the Justice and Development Party (known by its Turkish abbreviation, AKP) which has dominated the country’s national government since 2002.

Political discussions about Turkey tend to dwell on whether the AKP is Islamist or not: In 2007, for example, I asked “what are the AKP leadership’s intentions? Did it … retain a secret Islamist program and simply learn to disguise its Islamist goals? Or did it actually give up on those goals and accept secularism?”

During recent discussions in Istanbul, I learned that Turks of many viewpoints have reached a consensus about Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan: they worry less about his Islamic aspirations than his nationalist and dictatorial tendencies.

Applying the Shari’a in full, they say, is not a feasible goal in Turkey because of the country’s secular and democratic nature, something distinguishing it from other Muslim-majority countries (except Albania, Kosovo, and Kyrgyzia). Accepting this reality, the AKP wins ever-greater electoral support by softly coercing the population to be more virtuous, traditional, pious, religious, conservative, and moral. Thus, it encourages fasting during Ramadan and female modesty, discourages alcohol consumption, attempted to criminalize adultery, indicted an anti-Islamist artist, increased the number of religious schools, added Islam to the public school curriculum, and introduced questions about Islam to university entrance exams. Put in terms of Turkish Airlines, pork is already gone and it’s a matter of time until the alcohol also disappears.

Islamic practice, not Islamic law, is the goal, my interlocutors told me. Hand chopping, burqas, slavery, and jihad are not in the picture, and all the less so after the past decade’s economic growth which empowered an Islamically-oriented middle class that rejects Saudi-style Islam. An opposition leader noted that five districts of Istanbul “look like Afghanistan,” but these are the exception. I heard that the AKP seeks to reverse the anti-religiousness of Atatürk’s state without undermining that state, aspiring to create a post-Atatürk order more than an anti-Atatürk order. It seeks, for example, to dominate the existing legal system rather than create an Islamic one. The columnist Mustafa Akyol even holds the AKP is not trying to abolish secularism but that it “argues for a more liberal interpretation of secularism.” The AKP, they say, emulates the 623-year-old Ottoman state Atatürk terminated in 1922, admiring both its Islamic orientation and its dominance of the Balkans and the Middle East.

Mohamed Morsi could learn a thing or two from Recep Tayyip Erdogan.

Read more at National Review Online

Daniel Pipes (www.DanielPipes.org) is president of the Middle East Forum


Also see: