NURAY MERT > Is Turkey going to be another ‘illiberal democracy’?

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“The Rise of Illiberal Democracy” was the title of Fareed Zakaria’s much debated 1997 Foreign Affairs essay. Long before the Arab Spring, Zakaria was alarmed by the prospect of rising nominal democracies that did not have the politics and culture of liberalism, especially in the “Islamic world.” He claimed: “In many parts of that world, such as Tunisia, Morocco, Egypt, and some of the Gulf States, were elections to be held tomorrow, the resulting regimes would almost certainly be more illiberal than the ones now in place.”

The so-called Arab Spring has proved what he said, especially in Egypt. Nevertheless, it is not only the Arab Spring and the Islamic world in general that poses a challenge for the future of liberal democracy.

After the end of the Cold War, we also witnessed another paradox: The rise of undemocratic economic liberalism. The rise of Chinese capitalism is the best known example, along with the small countries of “economic miracles” like Singapore and Dubai. Besides, the rise of Russian economic and political power has also shown us that the textbook case of “capitalist liberal democracy” is becoming mostly irrelevant. The idea that the dominance of capitalism throughout the world would also foster the rise of liberal-democratic politics and culture was pure delusion. On the one hand, the rise of economic liberalism has nothing to do with the rise of democracy and liberal politics, while on the other the rise of democratic procedures does not always lead to the rise of liberal politics of rights and freedoms.

At the beginning of the 2000s, Turkey was considered to be almost a test case of a non-Western democracy and was promoted as “a model country.” This was especially so for Muslim countries, as ex-Islamists had come to power through democratic elections and managed to realize a smooth transition from authoritarian secular modernity to a conservative but democratic one, while also realizing amazing economic growth.

Nevertheless, it seems that the so-called conservative democrats of Turkey increasingly lost their enthusiasm for democratization, after they managed to get total political power and started to dream of unchallenged political and economic power, both domestically and internationally. Recently, Prime Minister Erdoğan shocked many by stating his willingness to join non-Western alliances like the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO), rather than the EU. In fact, it is only surprising in the sense that Turkey is one of the key members of Western alliances such as NATO. Otherwise, he sounds genuine in terms of his understanding of politics when he states that “we have more in common with the members of the SCO in terms of values.”

The political values that the present government cherishes are very much like the absolutism of Putin’s Russia, as well as the model of economic growth at the expense of democratic rights and freedoms in China. The issue is not the rise of “Islamic conservative” values, but rather the rise of the values of authoritarian capitalist countries. Islamic conservatism is an important factor, but only so long as it serves to repress the democratic and liberal cultures of rights and freedoms.

Finally, more than any other example, it is Turkey that proves the point of the end of the grand delusions of post-modern social and political theory - being not only a rising capitalist economy and declining democracy, but also being a Muslim country with a failed attempt at democratization. Turkey is therefore going to be a very good example showing the irrelevance of the thesis of “market economy as political liberator” on the one hand, as well as the paradoxes of hip sociological theories such as “non-Western modernities,” “life as politics,” and “Islamic democracy” on the other hand.


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Tekion Particle

2/11/2013 7:07:09 PM

@Kerem Kemal, You are right, you can be happy without democracy if you are a "Dictator".

Blue Dotterel

2/5/2013 4:48:41 PM

If you want to understand the US corporate mentality, read this: "The Pentagon and Slave Labor in U.S. Prisons" by Sara Flounders at Global Research. A quote: "Hand in hand with the military-industrial complex, U.S. imperialism has created a massive prison-industrial complex that generates billions of dollars annually for businesses and industries profiting from mass incarceration." The lists of corporations cashing in on this racket is illuminating. The US has the most prisoners in the world.

Blue Dotterel

2/5/2013 3:47:56 PM

@Köksüz, without the publicly funded CERN, Berners-Lee wouldn't have had the opportunity to develop the World Wide Web, and "none of us would be typing on this website". As I have often said, the public sector paves the way for significant advances in technology, not the private sector. The private sector feeds at the trough and benefits after, but taxpayers pay for it in the beginning.

Köksüz Kosmopolit

2/5/2013 11:33:07 AM

@Philpot, you're right! If it weren't for that "big corporate" CERN and its relentlessly profit-driven CEO Tim Berners-Lee, none of us would be typing on this website.


2/5/2013 10:06:35 AM

@Blue you are dead right about corporate capitalism. it is the destruction of nature and all organisms.

andrea dealmagro

2/4/2013 10:25:05 PM

Capitalism is a ruthless system but had to self-tame after the Red army conquered half Europe in WWII and communists were poised to take over in Italy and France. That brought the Marshall Plan and the Cold War. Many emergent nations were born. Social justice was the promised paradise. Western liberalism was the antidote against communism and led to prosperity in the West. As communism failed, elites tossed liberal facade in the West and ideology in the East. 9/11 served to facilitate process.


2/4/2013 8:15:14 PM

While our so-called liberals and intellectuals were pre-occupied with things like head covers,"imam-hatip" schools and when sheria will be introduced in Turkey, AKP has consolidated its hold on all branches of government. Danger was never Islam or sheria, the danger was always a single party dictatorship in traditional Eastern style, and we are almost there.

Tekion Particle

2/4/2013 7:57:07 PM

Some people do not get it. Just because a political party's name contains the word Christian it does not mean their rule is based on the church’s teachings. Furthermore, they do not preach Christianity or try and build giant churches here and there. Tax payers (the voters) would never allow above mentioned behaviour. People usually concerned about jobs and their standard of living. In Turkey the government see themselves as all knowing wise guys who do not care once they are in power.

Blue Dotterel

2/4/2013 5:41:07 PM

@philpot, What monopolistic corporations do, governments can do more cheaply, and universities can do more honestly when it comes to research. We would be better off with changes to corporate laws limiting their size and existence, and restricting the length of patents. Corporations are regarded as persons, but cannot be jailed, as people can, when they commit crimes. BP and HSBC have gotten away with crimes you or I would be languishing in jail for. The corporate institution is a menace today

Isa Kocher

2/4/2013 4:52:43 PM

quote "A valuable contribution to the debate on the apparent oxymoron, 'an Islamic democracy'." no more oxymoronic than the last half century of christian democracy in europe, where christain democratic parties have ruled in most coalitions.
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