February 22, 2018
When the AKP Islamic Party came to power in Turkey at the turn of the century, the event was saluted by many specialists as a victory for political Islam. For an entire decade, Turkey became a model of Islamic democracy envied by many in the Arab world. The 2011 revolutions were ignited by the hope that other Islamic societies might achieve the level of economic development and political stability that characterized the AKP rule in the first years in power.
Not anymore. The AKP moderates – such as former President Abdullah Gul, or former Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu – were sidelined or brutally dismissed from office in a power-grabbing exercise that consolidated the authority of a single individual, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, over both the party and the country as a whole.
One of the most unsettling consequences is the 180-degree change in Turkey’s foreign policy. During the first 10 years of AKP rule, the then Foreign Minister Davutoglu – a noted professor of International Relations – crafted a policy called “zero problems with the neighbours”. He initiated dialogues with the Kurds, the Greeks and other neighbouring countries, and tried his best to make Turkey a respectable regional player in Asia and in Europe.
This enlightened foreign policy has been all but abandoned a few years ago in favour of military interventionism in Iraq, then Syria, as well as an unwise increase in tensions with both Russia and Greece. The revival of Ottomanism by President Erdogan is nothing new, in a country subjected to authoritarian rule. The use of history in order to elicit widespread popular support for government policies and to shore up one-man rule has been tried countless of times before in many other countries around the world. What makes Turkey’s Ottoman nostalgia particularly dangerous is the fact that it takes place at a point in time when the Middle East is a war zone and the European Union is practically unable to defend its borders. By unleashing hundreds of thousands of Syrian refugees onto European shores, Erdogan has proven to many an EU political leader that his intentions towards Europe, and particularly towards Greece, are at least as bellicose as his rhetoric.
This turn of events in Turkey brings thus to a sad conclusion an experiment with political Islam that had started as very promising, but may yet end up in disaster.