Magazine article Current Trends in Islamist Ideology

Turkey's Declining Democracy

Magazine article Current Trends in Islamist Ideology

Turkey's Declining Democracy

Article excerpt

The politics of turkey have been transformed in profound ways during the rule of the Justice and Development Party (JDP), or, as it is also commonly known, the Adalet ve Kalkinma Partisi (AKP). The party, which has roots in the Turkish Islamist movement, first came to power in 2002. Especially since the start of its second term in 2007, the JDP has been mobilizing its followers against the institutions of Turkey's secular democratic state and, through this, the party has exerted enormous power over the country's executive, legislative, and the judiciary branches. Moreover, as the party's popular support and influence has increased through the 2007 and 2011 general elections, it has steadily abandoned its earlier support for Turkey's European Union (EU) membership process. The party has since begun to reveal its authoritarian tendencies and, by infiltrating Islamists into the state bureaucracy, it also has made efforts to impose Islamist values on Turkish society. Islamic brotherhoods and Islamist businessmen have strengthened their organizational and financial capabilities, while the JDP government has severely curtailed media and academic freedom and acted to redesign Turkey's education system in ways that promote political Islam.

As the JDP has reshaped Turkey's domestic politics, it also has reformulated the country's foreign policy according to its Islamist worldview and conception of the essential "brotherhood" of all Islamic countries. As its power has grown, the JDP has abandoned Turkey's historically balanced Middle East policy, which had been characterized by a conservative reluctance to involve Turkey in the region's many conflicts and a clear stance against terrorist groups. Even before the Arab Spring of 2011, the JDP actively pursued "rapprochement" and common ground with the region's radical forces-including Iran, Syria, Hamas, and Hezbollah. In doing this, the JDP government aimed to establish Turkey as a regional "Muslim" power, and it became a vocal defender of the region's radical forces against the West and Israel. With the start of the Arab Spring, the JDP has further modified its foreign policy along sectarian lines. It has formally sided with an emerging Sunni Islamist axis, including Gulf states such as Saudi Arabia and Qatar, Egypt when it was under Muslim Brotherhood rule, and Hamas against a Shi'a Islamist axis represented by Iran, Syria, and Hezbollah in Lebanon. As Turkey's foreign policy has increasingly been defined by Islamist ideology, the common perceptions and strategic interests once shared by Turkey and its former NATO allies have been eroding. Tellingly, Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan stated in February 2013 that EU membership "is not a must for Turkey."1

As the JDP's power has grown, various international organizations' reports have described the general decline of Turkish democracy, including the deterioration of press freedom, human rights, and gender equality. Freedom House, for example, in its 2014 Press Freedom report, downgraded Turkey from "partly free" to "not free" by ranking it 134th out of 197 countries, behind countries such as Nigeria, Lebanon, Tunisia, Kenya, Liberia, Uganda, Algeria, and Kuwait.2 (In 2013, Turkey had been ranked at 120.) Likewise, the Reporters Without Borders' January 2014 report documented the declining press freedom in Turkey under JDP rule: Turkey's ranking in worldwide press freedom, which was 116th in 2003,3 declined to 154th out of 179 countries, behind countries such as Qatar, South Sudan, Afghanistan, Zimbabwe, Libya, Democratic Republic of Congo, and Iraq.4 The report additionally observed that Turkey "continues to be the world's biggest prison for journalists."5

The Economist Intelligence Unit's Index of Democracy for the year 2012 defined Turkey as a "hybrid" regime by ranking it 88th out of 167 countries, behind countries such as Bangladesh, Tanzania, Malawi, and Zambia.6 A hybrid regime has the trappings of democracy and holds elections but is in fact authoritarian, with little opportunity to oust the ruling party. …

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