Muslim Reformers in Iran and Turkey: The Paradox of Moderation

By Güneş Murat Tezcür | Go to book overview

CHAPTER 1
Introduction

In the summer of 2002, the headquarters of the Justice and Development Party (JDP; Adalet ve Kalkınma Partisi) was hardly a well-known address. Visitors to the newly constructed building located in the Balgat district of Ankara were few in number and had easy access to leadership cadres. The relationships were personal within the party; all divisions worked closely with one another. The party, led by Recep Tayyip Erdoğan and founded by a group of politicians who split from the Islamist1 movement, had around fifty parliamentarians and was in the opposition. The party leadership had an ambitious political vision. The JDP would have a democratic governance structure, establish rigorous ethical standards for its members, actively fight against corruption, realize social justice by redressing income inequalities, and become a leading actor of Turkish democratization, which gained new impetus with the increasing prospects of Turkey’s membership in the European Union (EU). The public was receptive to the JDP in the aftermath of Turkey’s worst post–World War II economic crisis. The tripartite coalition government, which had ruled the country since the April 1999 elections, started to unravel and called for early elections. The JDP fully capitalized on this golden opportunity and swept the polls just fifteen months after its foundation. Erdoğan became prime minister in March 2003 after the ban on his political activity was revoked. The once-quiet headquarters was soon swarmed by people from all over the country who had their own expectations, requests, and hopes. Meanwhile, in the eyes of many outside observers, the JDP was a perfect example of “moderate Islam” demonstrating the compatibility of Muslim faith with democratic and peaceful governance in the post–September 11 era of tensions and conflict.

Another “moderate face of Islam” was already in “power” to the east of Turkey, in a rather unexpected setting, the Islamic Republic of Iran. Mohammad Khatami, a middle-ranking cleric and former minister of Culture and Islamic Guidance, was the underdog candidate in the 1997 presidential elections. He

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