Monday, June 13, 2011

Turkey's Election: An Islamist Revolution

This article appears in the Jerusalem Post but I own the rights.

By Barry Rubin

Remember this: By the end of 2011 more than 250 million people in the Middle East may well be living under what are in reality anti-American Islamist governments, mainly in Iran, Turkey, and Egypt, plus the Gaza Strip and an allied (but not Islamist) Syrian regime. Might this be a problem?

The elections in Turkey mark a revolution. When Iran’s revolution happened and the Islamists took over in 1979, everyone knew it. In contrast, Turkey’s revolution has been a stealth Islamist operation. It has succeeded brilliantly, while Western governments have failed shockingly to understand what has been going on.

Now we are at a turning point, an event every bit as significant as the revolutions in Iran and now in Egypt. Of course, it will take time but now Turkey is set on a path that is ending the republic established by Kemal Ataturk in the 1920s. The Turkey of secularism and Western orientation is finished. The Turkey that belongs to an alliance of radical Islamists abroad and of Islamism at home has been launched.

Here are the numbers from the parliamentary election:

The stealth Islamist party, Justice and Development (AKP), received almost exactly 50 percent of the vote. Under the Turkish system this will give it 325 members of parliament, or about 60 percent of the seats.

On the opposition side the social democratic Republican People's Party (CHP) got about 26 percent of the vote and 135 seats. The right-wing Nationalist Movement Party (MHP) took 13 percent giving it 54 seats. There are also 36 independents, all of them Kurdish communalists. Eleven parties didn't make the minimum ten percent barrier (they received only about 1 percent or less each).

Now is this good or bad?

The AKP won 363 seats with a bit over 34 percent of the vote in 2002; 341 seats with 46.58 percent of the vote in 2007; and 325 seats with almost 50 percent of the vote in 2011.

In statistical terms, the AKP lost 6 MP's despite getting 5 million more votes, the MHP lost 18 MP's despite tallying half a million more votes while the CHP gained 33 seats adding 3.5 million votes. On paper, then, while the AKP stays in power, it is very slightly weaker than before.

But the outcome is nonetheless overwhelmingly bad. As you can see above the AKP's percentage of voters keeps rising. Most of the people who back the party don't want an Islamist regime and they don't think of the AKP in those terms. It rather seems to them to be a strong nationalist party respecting religious tradition that is making Turkey an important international power and is doing a good job on the economy.

The AKP got almost--remember that almost--everything it wanted. It increased voter support more than any other party and will be in power for four--and perhaps many more--years, infiltrating institutions, producing a new constitution, intimidating opponents, altering Turkish foreign policy, and shifting public opinion to dislike Americans and Jews to a larger degree.

The only point on which the AKP  fell short is that it didn't get the two-thirds of the seats, 357, that would let it pretty much write Turkey's new constitution any way it wanted. It is, however, close to the 330 needed to take a constitution that it produced to a referendum.

But so what? Deals with a few willing parliamentarians from other parties could provide the five additional votes needed for subitting an AKP-authored constitution to a referendum. The government can offer individuals a lot, including what I will delicately call here personal benefits for their support. And given the way the parliamentary elections went, the AKP can almost certainly win that referendum.

In short, the AKP is entrenched in power and can now proceed with the fundamental transformation of Turkey.

The AKP has become famous for the subtlety of its Islamism, disguised as a "center-right" reform party. Some people in the Arab world are starting to talk about this as a model. Notably the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt is fascinated by the strategy. Yet as the Islamist party gains more and more power and support--Turkey has demonstrated this--it becomes more ambitious, daring, and extreme.

This would include:

--A constitution that would take the country far down the road to a more Islamist state and society.

--A more presidential style of government empowering the mercurial (a nice word for personally unstable and frighteningly arrogant) Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan to become the chief executive.

--The government can now infiltrate, take over, and transform the remaining hold out institutions, especially the armed forces and courts, along with the remainder of the media that has not yet been bought up or intimidated by the Islamists.

--A government whose policy is to align with Islamists like Iran, Syria (not Islamist but part of the Tehran-led alliance), Hamas, Hizballah, and perhaps the Muslim Brotherhood.

--A government against U.S. and Western interests.

--A government that, to put it bluntly, hates Israel and many of whose members hate Jews.

--For Israel, any dreams of restoring the alliance with Turkey, or even a friendly relationship or normal diplomatic relations are finished. This is the regime that sponsored the first Gaza flotilla and is now behind the second one. From an Israeli interests’ perspective, Turkey’s government is now on the other side, the side of its enemies.

It is hard to place these unpleasant realities and many will not want to face them. There will be no shortage of soothing analyses and encouraging talk about Turkish democracy succeeding, moderate Muslim politics, and how “great” it is that the army’s political power is destroyed.

Don’t be fooled.

This is a disastrous day for the United States and for Europe; for the prospects of stability and peace in the Middle East. And it isn't great news for the relatively moderate Arab states either.

It is the end of the republic as established by Kamal Ataturk in the 1920s and modified into a multi-party democracy in the 1950s.

Yet how many people in the West actually appreciate what is happening? How many journalists will celebrate the election as a victory for democracy? Lenin once reportedly remarked that he would get the capitalists to sell him the rope with which to hang them. The AKP has gotten the West to provide that rope as a gift.

Barry Rubin is director of the Global Research in International Affairs (GLORIA) Center, editor of the Middle East Review of International Affairs (MERIA) Journal, and a featured columnist at PajamasMedia His latest books are The Israel-Arab Reader (seventh edition), The Long War for Freedom: The Arab Struggle for Democracy in the Middle East (Wiley), and The Truth About Syria (Palgrave-Macmillan). The website of the GLORIA Center is

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