If Turkish opposition unites, Erdoğan will lose – dissident theologian 

If opponents of Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan unite, it will be impossible for him to win elections on June 24, but he may not recognise the results and refuse to stand down, dissident Muslim theologian İhsan Eliaçık said in an interview.

The founder of the small anti-capitalist Muslim movement, a synthesis of Islamic and socialist thinking, Eliaçık has appealed to elements across the political spectrum, but faces possible imprisonment on terrorism charges.

Eliaçık was a prominent figure in the 2013 Gezi Park protests, which began as an attempt to block the destruction of a small Istanbul park but quickly developed into the biggest nationwide demonstrations against Erdoğan’s government since his Justice and Development Party (AKP) came to power in 2002.

Erdoğan last week called surprise early parliamentary and presidential elections for June 24, 17 months ahead of schedule. Opposition parties are now scrambling to try to find a strong unity candidate who can challenge Erdoğan, who has dominated Turkish politics for a decade-and-a-half. 

The winner of the presidential race will also take on new executive powers narrowly approved in a referendum last year, making it a crucial vote for both Erdoğan and the opposition, which accuses the president of seeking to subvert democracy in favour of authoritarian rule.

Eliaçık said that if the mainly secular Turks who had opposed Erdoğan during the Gezi protests and opposition parties that came together to campaign against approving the new presidential powers in last year’s referendum could unite, they could defeat the conservative Islamist AKP.

“When I look at the current situation, if the Gezi protestors and "no" bloc could put forward a single candidate, it wouldn't be possible for the current administration to win. Unless, of course, the opposition makes a serious mistake,” Eliaçık said.

The results of the referendum, won by Erdoğan’s “yes” campaign by 51 percent, were marred by accusations of ballot box rigging and election fraud. The vote also took place under a state of emergency imposed after the 2016 failed coup attempt that gives the government sweeping powers and allows it to rule by decree. 


The United States is concerned the state of emergency, still in place 21 months after the abortive putsch, means the elections will not be free and fair.

“They might be rigged,” Eliaçık said. “But even if the opposition were to win, then he (Erdoğan) could say he doesn’t recognise the results. Even if the Supreme Electoral Council were to accept the outcome, then he could say, ‘I’m not resigning’… and he may even call on his supporters to protect him.”

If that were to happen, Eliaçık said, the opposition would need to insist on their rights.

“Democracy is not just going to the polls and voting. If the elected candidate is cheated of their rights, then the candidate should call those who voted for him to gather around the Supreme Electoral Council if necessary to sit there until they get the mandate. There's no other way,” he said.

While the main opposition parties from the left, the nationalist and dissident Islamist wings of Turkish politics have been in talks this week to attempt to agree on a joint candidate to challenge Erdoğan, none of them have reached out to the main pro-Kurdish party, the Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP), which came third in the last elections in 2015.

The government and its media, Eliaçık said, had successfully maligned the HDP to dissuade opposition parties from including it in talks about an alliance, as that would be seen as “meeting with terrorists”.

Ihsan Eliacik

“But this should not be a concern. Because wherever you look, the HDP has 10 to 13 percent of the vote. These votes won't go easily to anyone else. Let's say these are Kurdish votes. This will be the deciding factor,” Eliaçık said. 

A Turkish court this month sentenced Eliaçık to more than six years in jail on charges of making propaganda for a terrorist organisation for a speech he made at a conference in Diyarbakır, the biggest city in Turkey’s mainly Kurdish southeast. Eliaçık is still free, pending appeal, but barred from leaving Istanbul during the process. A number of other cases against him are also pending.

“I’m not wealthy in terms of property, but I am in terms of lawsuits,” he said.

Eliaçık’s views on religion pose a particular challenge to the ruling AKP, which puts itself forward as the champion of conservative devout Muslims previously shut out politically and economically by decades of staunchly secular rule. The government’s critics accuse it of corruption and awarding lucrative contracts to its close supporters, who have become a new business elite.

Eliaçık said the government’s mixing of Islam with politics, far from resulting in the emergence of the “pious generation” that Erdoğan has repeatedly called for, had led to many young people turning away from religion altogether.

“In the research I've conducted by looking at concrete data over the past four to five years, we can see three Muslim countries where deism and atheism have become widespread; Saudi Arabia, Iran, and Turkey,” he said. “The common thread found in these countries includes religion in power in some way, religious teaching in primary and secondary schools, and religion in politics.” 

Eliaçık said pronouncements by Turkish religious authorities had also caused people to turn away from religion. He cited a number of examples such as the state religious body saying men were allowed to marry nine-year-old girls, and a fatwa issued by theologian Nurettin Yıldız saying men and women should not ride in elevators together, or eat ketchup as it was likely to provoke lust.

In response, Eliaçık said people would begin to think that, "if Allah sent such prophets and if this is written in the book, then there must be a mistake somewhere”.

In contrast to the government’s clientelist capitalist policies, Eliaçık said that true Islamic economic views were more akin to socialism.

In the Quran, “there are two basic sentences; 'property belongs to Allah' and ‘there is no god but Allah’. That's how I see the shahada,” he said, referring to the Islamic declaration of faith that says: there is no god but Allah, and Muhammad is the messenger of Allah. 

“It's made up of two sentences. The first sentence is a declaration of who owns property and the second sentence is the rejection of any authority established over them,” Eliaçık said.

"Property cannot belong to one person, as property belongs to everyone. Factories, mines, large lands, banks, media, among others must belong to the people. In other words, property must be socialised,” he said.

“When I say that all ‘property belongs to Allah’, I think it's close to socialism and communism. When I say that ‘there's no god but Allah’ and no authority, I think that's close to anarchy. I'm not saying I'm just like them. Anarchist, communists, and socialists are anti-capitalists. We should all put our heads together to conceive of a new world.”