Turkish time machine: Back to 2011

Turkish time machine: Back to 2011

By 2019, Turkey’s Islamists will have been in power for 17 uninterrupted years. By 2023, when the number of students at religious imam-hatip schools will have surpassed two million, Islamists will have been in power for 21 uninterrupted years.

“Those of us with the headscarf (the Islamic turban) have won,” the then prime minister, Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, said in his famous balcony speech after his landslide election victory in June 2011, when his Justice and Development Party (AKP) won half the national vote as it did last Sunday. It was not certain whether “those of us without the headscarf” had lost or would lose, but they certainly would not win. 

Four years later, fortunately, that divisive rhetoric has disappeared. But the mindset and spirit behind it have not. In his own kind-of-balcony victory speech, Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu promised to “sow the seeds of love.” Judging from Prime Minister [and President] Erdoğan’s love-themed victory speeches, your columnist personally felt in danger from Mr. Davutoglu’s love-themed lines. In particular, the last four years have proven that the Islamist “love” can be quite perilous for non-Islamists who do not agree or who do not passionately love their Islamist rulers.

Perhaps more worryingly, only a couple of weeks after his government appointed trustees to privately-owned newspapers and TV stations (to practically “steal” them) and reversed their anti-government editorial line, Mr. Davutoğlu, in the same victory speech, said: “Freedom of thought and expression for all citizens is under our guarantee.”

Again, not a good sign. It sounds like the royal Saudi family announcing that: “Full gender equality for all Saudi women is under our guarantee,” or North Korean President Kim Jong un claiming to be the guarantor of global nuclear non-proliferation. Past experiences clearly show that dissidents often face disastrous times after Islamists win an election and claim to guarantee their rights.

Earlier, your columnist wrote here that it was bizarre that Mr. Davutoğlu was possibly the only prime minister in the world whose political career is structured on ending his career as prime minister. Now he is closer to that goal.

All the same, in all likelihood he will not care the least. After all, his devotion is not to the seat he occupies, or to decent governance, but to a not-so-mysterious thing he calls the “dawa” (“cause” in Arabic and in Turkish if written with a “v” instead of a “w”]. He is pursuing the “dawa,” not election victories. It may sound strange that election victories and occupying the top executive seat of the country do not satisfy a politician. It should not. The “dawa” refers to the advancement and spread of Islam - a much broader goal, and one that inspires the prime minister more than anything else.

But the Turks tend to share his passion, reminiscent of what scientists call the “Stockholm Syndrome.”

Remember Soma, the Aegean town that lost more than 301 of its people in a mine disaster last year? The same town where Mr. Erdoğan was captured on video slapping a mourner? Where one of his advisors kicked another mourner who was being held on the ground by the police?

In a piece written after the disaster, your columnist wrote that he would bet all his money that Mr. Erdoğan would earn the largest share of the vote in Soma in the presidential election in August later the same year, just four months after the disaster. Indeed, Mr. Erdoğan did get the biggest share of the vote there.

(A couple of months before the disaster, opposition MPs had requested a parliamentary investigation into the mine because they suspected safety flaws. The request was rejected by Mr. Erdoğan’s party’s benches.)
In the June 7 parliamentary election, Mr. Erdoğan’s (or, technically, Mr. Davutoğlu’s) Justice and Development Party (AKP) won the biggest share of the vote in Soma – a neat 39 percent. On Nov. 1, a year-and-a-half after the mining disaster, nearly half (49.6 percent) of the locals in Soma voted for the AKP.

But these are mere trivialities. Mr Erdogan’s was a win-win bet when he pushed for snap polls. He could not lose worse than on June 7. He won spectacularly. Now he can go back to his "Project-Raise-Pious-Generations."