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Turkey’s ‘stealth revolution’

By Missing Peace

Turkish Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan’s AK Party has won a resounding third consecutive election victory in the national elections that took place on Sunday 12 June, 2011.
Preliminary results based on 99.8 percent of the vote showed AKP winning 49.9 percent, or 325 seats, just below the 330 required for a plebiscite, and less than the 331 of the 550 seats it had in the last parliament.
The vote marked AKP’s highest electoral score since it first came to power in 2002, but it fell short of Erdogan’s stated goal of a two-thirds majority. That would have allowed him to unilaterally change the constitution .

Erdogan’s declared goal had been to launch a debate on a new constitution immediately after the elections. He planned to convert Turkey’s existing parliamentary system into a presidential system based on the French model, apparently with himself as president.

In order to push through a new constitution based on his ideas, he would have needed at least 330 seats. That would have allowed the AKP to approve a new constitution in parliament as a first step, which would then be submitted to voters in a referendum. Erdogan would probably have won such a referendum. A super majority of 367 seats would have allowed the government to change the constitution without a referendum. Now the prime minister will be forced to cooperate over his constitution plans with at least one of the other parties in the Turkish parliament.

EU praise
Following Erdogan’s re-election various leaders from over the world congratulated him and applauded the outcome of the elections
The EU for example, lauded Erdogan’s victory and said it would enable further modernization and reinforce democracy in Turkey.
It seams these reactions only focussed on Turkey’s economic boom and growing prosperity (and thus its alleged progress).
However, the question should be asked if the world would also have applauded Erdogan’s victory if his party had indeed won the super majority of 367 votes, thereby gaining an unprecedented amount of power and undermining the Turkish democracy.

Erdogan’s real intentions
More attention should be paid to Erdogan’s real intentions.
The AKP owes its enduring popularity mostly to economic success and improved public services.This followed decades of financial instability that haunted Turkey under shaky coalition governments in the past. Under the AKP, the economy grew by 8.9% in 2010, outpacing global recovery, and per capita income has doubled to $10,079. But his economic credits aside, Erdogan – once the driving force of EU-sought reforms – has come under fire for autocratic tendencies and growing intolerance of criticism.

With dozens of journalists in jail, the opposition is alarmed also over creeping restrictions on the use of internet and an unprecedented outbreak of compromising wiretaps and videos of opposition figures circulating online.Compromising sex tapes forced 10 top MHP members to quit the election race. This followed a similar scandal last year that saw the veteran CHP leader resign.
There’s no evidence that the AKP is behind the publication of these tapes, but the mere fact that only the opposition has been attacked in such a way has already been suspicious enough. (http://www.dw-world.de/dw/article/0,,15149879,00.html).The Turkish government also initially banned several Kurdish political leaders from participation in the national elections. The ban was only partially lifted after international and national pressure .

Some more examples of Erdogan’s autocratic tendencies:

‘Mr. Erdogan interpreted his 2007 victory as a green light to limit freedoms and harass his opponents. After amending the country’s constitution in 2010, the AKP single-handedly appointed a majority of the high court without a confirmation process. The new, post-2007 AKP has also attacked the media. According to a report of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe, Turkey leads the world in jailing journalists, with 57 currently behind bars’.

Just before the elections, Mr. Erdogan warned two prominent columnists, Nuray Mert and Abbas Guclu, that “they will pay after the elections.” Ms. Mert had criticized Mr. Erdogan for not having a Kurdish policy, and Mr. Guclu had reported on irregularities in college entrance exams.

Islamist tendencies
In recent years Turkey has also become more Islam-oriented. It is obvious that Erdogan and his party actively support this new trend.
Many secular Turks are afraid of the outcome of this process. They fear that Turkey will lose its secular identity. Questions have been also been raised as to whether Turkey will come to resemble Iran.

Turkey has also shown an increase in confrontational foreign policies. It has done this by giving more support to Iran, thereby encouraging the Iranians’ nuclear ambitions.In the beginning of May Turkey defied US and EU policy towards Iran, by signing three agreements that aimed to boost economic cooperation between the two countries.

Furthermore Erdogan also supports Hamas and Hizbollah and was keen on improvement of relations with Syria.This rapprochement might also be the reason that Turkey remained largely silent during the recent uprisings in the various Arab countries. These uprisings could serve Erdogan’s Islamist agenda.

The relations with Israel however, are at an all time low. The deterioration in the ties between Israel and Turkey goes back to Gaza war and the Davos Economic Forum in 2009, when Erdogan walked away after a speech by Israel’s president Shimon Peres. During that meeting Peres fumed at Erdogan’s hypocrisy and arrogance when he lambasted Israel’s handling of the Gaza war.

The crisis in Israeli Turkish relations aggravated after the interception by the Israeli navy of the Turkish ship Mavi Marmara during the first Gaza flotilla at the end of May in 2010.It has yet to be seen how this situation can be improved, especially in light of Ankara’s continuing support of the terrorist organization IHH, that is preparing for a second flotilla to Gaza later this month.

Victory speech
Erdogan’s victory speech also leaves a lot of room for debate. He alluded to Turkey’s aspiration to be a voice in the West for the Middle Eastern region and Muslims, saying Bosnians, Lebanese, Syrians and Palestinians also benefited from his victory.
Believe me, Sarajevo won today as much as Istanbul, Beirut won as much as Izmir, Damascus won as much as Ankara, Ramallah, Nablus, Jenin, the West Bank, Jerusalem won as much as Diyarbakir.”

Western media like the Dutch news show NOS Journaal deliberately ignored this part of Erdogan’s victory speech, or omitted the reference to the Palestinian cities (Financial Times).Some analysts like the US based journalist J.E. Dyer labeled his speech ‘Ottoman rhetoric’.
“Imagine Nicolas Sarkozy proclaiming in a victory speech that Moscow had won as much as Paris, Washington as much as Lyon, Ankara as much as Marseilles. Equally to the point, imagine David Cameron announcing that New Delhi had won, as much as London; Boston as much as York; Dublin as much as Leeds. You can’t. Because it is freighted wording – imperialist at worst, absurdly arrogant at best – to speak of your electoral victories as conferring benefits on foreign humanity – especially on those once occupied by your nation in its days of empire…. The tenor of his appeal is both Islamist and Ottoman”, Dyer wrote.

Erdogan’s victory speech is indeed in line with earlier statements and with his attempts to make Turkey a dominant player once again.

State power
From an underdog party Erdogan’s AKP has now become a major state power, all the while fighting against Turkish secularism, and slowly gaining ground. In 1997 Erdogan was sentenced to a 10 month prison term on subversion charges related to his pro-Islamic stances During a speech that year Erdogan said: “The mosques are our barracks, the domes are our helmets, the minarets are our swords, and the faithful are our army.” He was the leader of the Islamic-oriented Welfare Party at the time.

In January 1998, Turkey’s supreme court banned the Welfare Party and its members from politics, saying the party sought to undermine Turkey’s secular fundament. Weeks later, Erdogan was indicted on subversion charges, including inciting “an army of jihad” and “using democracy to establish an evil order.” A military court sentenced him to 10 months in jail, which he started serving in March 1999.” While in prison he founded the AKP and started the slow process of the Islamization in Turkey.
http ://middleeast.about.com/od/turkey/p/me080210.htm

Stealth revolution
The question is what will be the outcome of this process for the Turkish society and what will be its impact on the Middle East.
The use of Islamist rhetoric, the warming of relations with Iran, Syria and Islamist organizations have already caused an alienation from the West and its allies in the Middle East.

This and the baseless attacks on Israel; the use of anti-Semitic expressions and even campaigns over the last few years have alarmed many Israeli analysts and politicians.At the same time however, few Western media and politicians seem to have noticed the development of what professor Barry Rubin recently coined ‘ the stealth revolution’ in Turkey.

Sharon Shaked and Yochanan Visser


  1. http://missingpeace.eu/en/2011/08/erdogan-takes-off-gloves-kurds-pay-the-price/
    Erdogan takes off gloves: Kurds pay the price | missingpeace.eu/en
    on August 28, 2011 at 2:38 pm wrote:

    […] Back in June, Missing Peace published an analysis on Erdogan’s victory in the Turkish elections titled: ‘Turkey’s stealth revolution’.  […]