Gökhan Bacık
Jun 12 2018

The “revolutionary situation” in Turkish politics

The main aim of the Islamic movement in Turkey, including its small local religious orders as well as its sophisticated and nation-wide organised political parties, has always been creating an Islamic order.

Solving Turkey’s key economic or other problems has always been among the targets of Islamic actors, but they have always been of secondary importance. The essential purpose of the Islamic movement in Turkey is to reorganise the political regime according to Islamic norms.

Thus the Turkish Islamic movement’s DNA has always carried revolutionary genes.

This DNA obliges Islamic actors to pursue an Islamic revolution with an ultimate goal of creating a religious political order. As the Islamic outlook sees it, there is a non-Islamic regime in the country, and it is required to replace it with an Islamic, i.e. legitimate, one.

Under the impact of this revolutionary DNA, the Islamic movement has never been satisfied with any gain so far: For example, Islamic actors successfully dominated many key fields including the bureaucracy, media, business and intelligence.

However, none of these huge gains has satisfied the Islamic actors’ appetite simply because they do not guarantee a complete creation of an Islamic order.

Islamisation, as coded in the tradition of the Turkish Islamic movement, is not only about gaining control of the bureaucracy or business, but to create a new political order that recognises Islamic norms as the ultimate reference points. But it has not been realised yet in Turkey.

Thus, it is not realistic to expect Islamic actors to be satisfied by huge gains in fields like the economy or bureaucracy. To put it differently, as long as the revolutionary genes in the Islamic actors’ DNA are protected – which seems possible only with a paradigmatic change – they will not give up their revolutionary aim of achieving an Islamic Turkey.

So while analysing Turkish politics, one should not forget the country is in a kind of “revolutionary situation”. Politics is no longer taking place according to conventional rules. Instead, though partially and many times in informal ways, there is a nascent set of Islamic patterns that affect political actors and procedures.

A revolutionary situation refers to a political setting where there is a possibility of a revolution destroying the current political system.

Turkey now has a hybrid political order that simultaneously answers to secular and Islamic norms in legitimising actors’ decisions and behaviours.

Here, it might also be important to remember how Islamic actors imagined the Islamisation of Turkey. They never desired a radical revolution as in Iran in 1979 or in Russia in 1917. Instead, the Turkish Islamic revolution was envisioned according to a gradual roadmap.

The Islamic movement in Turkey – except several marginal groups – adopted this gradual and soft method as its main tactic. The strategy worked very well until the infamous fight between the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) and the Gülen Movement virtually destroyed the sociological and political foundations of the soft Islamisation strategy.

Therefore, particularly after the 2013 culmination of the rift between the Gülenists and the AKP, the ruling party had no option but pursuing a more radical Islamisation in order to survive. Islamisation is no longer a main aim but a required strategy to survive.

In fact, Islamisation and authoritarianisation have played a special role in the AKP’s survival. For almost five years, the AKP has survived mainly due to its ability to suspend or change the rules of the existing political regime as well as its ability to create de facto rules in its favour, almost giving an impression of a nascent political regime.

Meanwhile, key Islamic actors are already convinced that they are facing a historic opportunity to Islamise Turkey, a chance that should not be missed at any cost lest such an opportunity never come again.

Given all these facts, Turkish politics is in today a “revolutionary situation”. The political debate in Turkey is thus not only about who will govern the country. It is more than that. Turkey is now in the midst of a complex political fight to determine the nature of the political regime.

In this fight, the secular bloc is striving hard to stop Islamic actors en route to an alla Turca Islamic regime. Apparently, quite a large group of secularists seems to believe it is still possible to stop Islamic actors within the rules of the existing political system.

It is up to Turkish society to live as it wishes. However, without judging what is happening in Turkey as good or bad, let us remember a few points:

Turkey now has a hybrid regime. Its symptoms are not only in politics and law, but a peculiar Islamic statism now prevails in the economy.

Given that Turkey is in a “revolutionary situation”, two points are now particularly important. Firstly, conventional political analysis is misleading.

Secondly, political actors might think they can act according to the de facto law of the revolutionary situation rather than the existing legal framework, a case that mostly applies to the Islamic actors.