The demise of post-Islamist politics

The demise of post-Islamist politics

"Towards the end of post-Islamism" was the title of my column in this daily, just a year ago (July 23, 2012). I had written: "I think that the model or idea of post-Islamism had already started to crumble a very short time after it began to ascend. Most of you may think that it is too early to suggest…" My references were the failure of Islamist governments after the Arab Spring and of the Justice and Development Party (AKP) in Turkey to deliver more democratic rule. Unfortunately, my suggestion proved to be correct, especially after the turmoil in Egypt, on the one hand, and because of the culmination of the AKP’s authoritarianism after the Gezi protests in Turkey, on the other.

The AKP is giving full support to Morsi and the Muslim Brotherhood and moreover is using the coup in Egypt to discredit the Gezi protests and to whitewash its own authoritarian politics. In fact, the military coup or intervention in Egypt simply overshadows the failures of the Muslim Brotherhood and hampers criticism of them. Nevertheless, one year of Brotherhood rule proved to be politically controversial, not only because it failed to be inclusive, but also because it coopted the previous system in its own interest. For instance, right after Morsi was elected, the Brotherhood and its supporters turned against the Tahrir protesters and accused them of being “anarchists,” despite the fact that, at the time, the protests did not target him but were simply against the old political system. In short, from the beginning the Egyptian experience has been quite disappointing with regard to the thesis that suggests that the moderate Islamists would pave the way for more democratic societies in the Muslim world. Instead, they turned out to be “aggressive majoritarianisms,” motivated by Islamist aspirations.

The cases of Turkey and Egypt differ considerably from each other in many respects. However, Turkey was thought to be “the model” for other moderate Islamists and was presented as such. Thus, its failure has been more dramatic, though also more subtle. I am someone who expressed concern for possible rise of civil authoritarianism replacing the previous status quo as early as 2009, but I could not foresee that Turkey would slide so deep into authoritarianism. Besides, I could never foresee that the Islamists who reinvented themselves as “conservative democrats” under the roof of the AKP would turn back to Islamist ideology and politics. On the contrary, for a long time, I was even an apologist for the AKP, and critical of those who had been skeptical of the AKP’s self-definition as “a center-right party.”

Until very recently, I thought that the problem with AKP’s authoritarianism had its roots not in the Islamist political tradition, but rather in the center-right tradition in Turkey. I still tend to think so, but now I am not as confident as before concerning the impact of Islamist ideology's authoritarianism on PM Erdoğan and the AKP. For some time, AKP politicians have no longer needed to hide their intolerance of difference and they tend now to be more explicit concerning their reservations against liberal democracy.

Under the circumstances, what happened in Gezi during and after protests should not have been surprising, but after the events it turned out that this was not a safe country for dissenters - or even for ordinary citizens, if they are not the supporters of the government. Besides, ever growing political and social polarization has gained increasingly religious overtones, as ruling conservatives turn more and more back to their Islamist identity and convictions. As a result, political debate has turned into a space of religious battle. That is why Erdoğan and his party do not bother to further polarize the country, since he considers himself as a man on a “grand mission,” rather than just an ordinary politician.

In a speech last Friday, Erdoğan advised his audience to report their protester neighbors to the security authorities. It turned out to be so, since the PM and his party consider anybody who is not a government supporter as a threat. Finally, Turkey ended up being ruled by authoritarianism, xenophobia and conspiratorialism, and they have all come together.

No matter how Egypt and Turkey differ, they both need to overcome their democracy deficit and neither the Muslim Brotherhood nor the AKP (or the “pupil” and the “master”) promise bright prospects for their societies. This is what we call the demise of the politics of post-Islamists, and of post-Islamism as the democratic prospect for Muslim countries.