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New Turkey’s New Vision – Analysis 9 septembre 2014

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Eurasia Review (web site) Tuesday, September 9, 2014                                     Türkçe

By Ozdem Sanberk *

Preserving the ancient culture and deep-rooted heritage of the people of ‘new Turkey’ will require the state to refrain from interpreting and guiding the religious beliefs of minorities, and to continue with liberal reforms based on individual rights and liberties.

Recep Tayyip ErdoÄan won the presidential elections with a narrow margin and became the 12th president of our republic as expected. This result, witnessed amid a painful process associated with the emergence of a new world order in the 21st century, is the precursor of a new vision for a new Turkey.

We need to wait for the general elections of 2015 in order to understand what this new vision offers. But the new government that will be formed can give us a hint.

Conservative revolution

It is a reality that Turkey is on the verge of a conservative revolution with the election of Tayyip ErdoÄan as president. ErdoÄan’s presidency will bring parliamentarian democracy to an end and replace it with another system which is yet to be clearly defined. Decision-making processes will institutionally and de facto concentrate on the office of the president.

Whether checks and balances can remain functional will be revealed in time.

Thus, the new president will bring about a radical change to the functioning of the Turkish republic, and this will turn a new page in the republic’s 90-year history. This new change will not only affect the destiny of Turkey and its region, but it will also affect the balances in the international arena.

In the short term

For now, it is possible to say that the new government which will be formed after the president takes office will pursue two major strategies in domestic politics. First, it will focus on the task of gaining a sufficient majority in the parliament through the 2015 elections to be able to draft a new constitution. Second, it will embark on an all-encompassing campaign to build the social and institutional infrastructure that is entailed by the conservative revolution and epitomized by the slogan « Don’t stop, keep ongoing! »

Within this framework, regarding certain developments that may take place and the primary roadmap that will guide the new government during the critical interim period between ErdoÄan’s assumption of the presidency and the general elections of 2015,we can make the following predictions:

The new government will first and foremost try to maintain economic stability and ensure the continued inflow of foreign capital. As for foreign investors, they will closely monitor the new government’s management of the economy and performance in tackling corruption.

The new government will focus particularly heavily on those policies aimed at keeping the Peace Process alive.Weighty matters such as autonomy and alternative identities will not arrive at an ultimate solution in this interim period, but they will remain on the agenda. In the field of foreign policy, the new government will not significantly deviate from the set of policies that it has maintained up to the present.

President ErdoÄan will continue to place emphasis on Turkey’s alliances with NATO, the EU, and the U.S., and even though our relations will occasionally be strained, the new president will not allow differences of opinion to evolve into serious and overt crises. Considering that the newly elected president previously proclaimed 2014 as the « year of the European Union » in Turkey, the new government and President ErdoÄan can be expected to embark on active initiatives aimed at rejuvenating the negotiation process between Turkey and the EU.

Cooperation with our energy-supplier neighbors, Iran and Russia, and with other countries that produce oil and natural gas will retain its primacy on the Turkish foreign policy agenda. Turkey will remain attentive to maintaining solidarity with oppressed Muslim communities all around the world, and continue to support their cause as it has done in the past. Ankara will also try to overcome threats posed to Turkey’s security by hot conflict zones in the Middle East, the Caucasus, and the Black Sea Basin.

2015 and beyond

If the ruling party government stays in power following the general elections of 2015, Turkish diplomacy will maintain its current course for the most part. This means Turkey will continue to support Hamas, the Muslim Brotherhood, and the anti-Assad opposition in the Middle East. Its established dialogue with Hamas and its alliance with the United States will continue to provide Turkey with wide diplomatic elbowroom throughout the region. On the other hand, this diplomatic elbowroom may remain constricted if Turkey’s broken ties with Egypt and Israel are not mended.

The Islamic State’s acquisition of more power in Syria and Iraq, as well as the security threats and mass migratory movements caused by the ongoing civil wars along Turkey’s southern borders will continue to pose serious domestic and external challenges to the new administration. These challenges, caused by the collapse of the Middle East and obstructing our foreign trade routes, may bring into question once again the necessity of reviewing the regional dimension of Turkish diplomacy in the short and medium terms. However, Turkey’s freedom of action and capability to lean towards new policies may be limited so long as the return of our citizens being held hostage by ISIL is not actualized.

New Turkey will continue to pursue a policy of influence in the region and throughout the Islamic world. Therefore, it will inevitably find itself at the center of power balances and geopolitical rivalries.

If Turkey cannot close the gap between its capabilities and discourse/expectations and adopt long-term, permanent strategic priorities in its foreign relations, troubles and struggles that Ankara will likely face in the relevant fields could exhaust most of its energy in the international arena. And this situation may result in Turkey’s exclusion from multilateral efforts and decision-making mechanisms aimed at resolving globally-recognized problems, such as trade liberalization, nuclear non-proliferation, climate change, and environment preservation, which constitute the true agenda of the 21st century and which are of particular concern to the future of our country and of humanity at large. If global problems are not given priority and if our disheartening relations with Arab countries are not addressed, Turkey’s initiatives aimed at once again becoming a non-permanent member of the UN Security Council will not yield results. If Turkey insists on neglecting EU membership and leaves aside its established goal to become part of a greater European Union which will span the whole continent including the Western Balkans and partly Ukraine, Turkey may find itself consenting to becoming a buffer state that serves only as a physical barricade against the spread of instability and demographic movements originating from the Middle East and heading to the West.

Domestic policy vision

The effects of the conservative revolution that will take place with ErdoÄan’s presidency will be felt within Turkey, especially on the country’s socio-cultural fabric, more than elsewhere. Today, the Justice and Development Party’s conservative revolutionism has gained legitimacy to such an extent that it now reflects the majority’s preference. Religious piety has always been viewed by the vast majority of the people as an element of stability and conservatism. A great majority of our people hold their religious beliefs dear. And this majority, generally, has a character that prioritizes the fulfilmentof religious obligations. By way of their majority, these moderate and right-minded people seek prosperity in order to look to the future with confidence. In this vein, these people, who are mostly from either low income households, rural areas, or the newly emerging urban middle-class, are longing for peace and calm. At the same time, in accordance with their worldview, these people do not credit radical movements and renounce violence.

Rather than as a result of Islam being imposed upon the people, the increasing visibility of religious piety in Turkey’s public sphere in the last decade is essentially due to the fact that conservative masses managed to escape the grasp of an oppressive form of secularism, and now they are able to live and express themselves freely under favorable conditions. The Sunni/Hanafi masses’ understanding of democracy is based on their religious preferences, which have now been emancipated by the current ruling party. These masses constitute President ErdoÄan’s electoral grassroots and they perceive democracy as something that responds to their demand for daily spiritual satisfaction. In this way, the conservative revolution cannot be defined as an imposition; rather, it is embraced by the masses, and therefore enabled to gain democratic legitimacy. This predominant majority, which the opposition parties find difficult to penetrate, does not pose additional demands regarding freedom of the press or freedom of expression. On the other hand, we cannot say the same for Alevis and Christians, who are significant religious groups apart from the predominant majority.

Consequently, we can conclude that the conservative majority in new Turkey will continue to support the state’s affirmation of the public’s gradual transformation into a more religious society, as long as economic and political stability are sustained.

However, we shouldn’t underestimate the risk that popular support for the ruling party leans towards the society’s state-led homogenization, and the elimination of socio-cultural diversity and different lifestyles in our country. Besides, we should take cognizance of the fact that nearly half of the people who voted in the recent presidential elections rejected the social project led by the ruling party to cultivate a religious nation. This other half of the society clearly demands further freedom of expression and freedom of press. Plainly, this segment of our society will resist the imposition of a religious lifestyle, if it happens, in a similar fashion to the way people resisted against the imposition of secularism in ‘old Turkey’. In this case, political life in Turkey will remain longing for peace and tranquility for the foreseeable future.

Overall, the preservation of our people’s diverse cultural and historical heritage, which dates back to ancient times, will depend on the state refraining from interpreting and manipulating the belief systems of minority religious groups, expanding the living space of the non-religious segment of our society, promoting gender equality, and sticking to liberal reforms based on individual rights and liberties.

If these principles lay the foundations of new Turkey’s new vision, Turkey will be able to offer its own contributions to the global order of the 21st century.

* Ozdem Sanberk, Director of USAK

This article was first published in Analist Monthly Journal on September, 2014.

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