It’s the Islam, stupid!

It’s the Islam, stupid!

Well actually it is not, at least not in the case of Turkey. Actually, political Islam died the day the Justice and Development Party (AKP) got elected. A discourse featuring fair prospects of “justice” turned out to be a version of authoritarian crony capitalism. 

Political Islam is again under the spotlight as moderate Islamists in the Middle East lean toward secularism in some form. Tunisia was the country where the so-called Arab Spring started. Tunisia’s Ennahda’s founder and leader, Rached Ghannouchi, declared at the latest party convention that “we are leaving behind political Islam and entering democratic Islam.”

Gamal Heshmat, an exiled member of the Muslim Brotherhood Shura Council in Egypt, revealed that the group intended to separate the political work from religious “Dawa” or guidance. Heshmat told the Anadolu Agency that the members believe there is a need to separate the group’s political activity from its religious preaching. He added that they needed time and a strong will. 

As political Islam seems to be fading, how will the AKP of Turkey change? Well, it won’t because the AKP is not an Islamist party but an Erdoğanist construct.

After Mohamed Morsi was elected as Egypt’s president, Recep Tayyip Erdoğan was among the first leaders to visit Egypt. In a speech he gave in Cairo, he noted that secularism does not mean being against religion, raising some eyebrows at the time.

Secularism was a point of discussion at the beginning of May, when the head of the Turkish parliament said, “Secularism should not be in the new constitution.” He was widely criticized, Erdoğan ended the discussion by stressing secularism was the idea that the state maintained “an equal distance from all belief groups” and suggested that debates on the issue only distracted from the country’s agenda.

Well, there is only one agenda-setter – Erdoğan, of course. The agenda is not Islamism; there is an Islamist aspect, it is rather a crude nationalism rising upon a lumpen mentality.

İmam Hatip schools, which teaches the Qur’an alongside other lessons, are supported by the existing government, as are the huge mosques being built all around Turkey. But the rest is business as usual. Islam as a discourse and a strong aspect of national identity is being used by Erdoğanists to legitimize their positions. In each election or government reshuffle, Islamists have been ousted from party or government positions. Only the ones who are loyal to Mr. Erdoğan are here to stay. The new cadres consist of pragmatists with nationalist leanings.

Bekir Bozdağ, the justice minister, put it very well when he said, “This is Tayyip’s party.” It is indeed. Likewise, Prime Minister Binali Yıldırım stated that “the president is the leader of this movement. We will work in coordination.” 

The region might be changing, sometimes slowly, in the case of Iran, or quite fast, in the case of Tunisia. Such a change is not on the horizon for Turkey.