Current Trends in Islamist Ideology

Turkey's Declining Democracy

Associate Professor, Başkent University, Ankara-Turkey

The politics of Turkey have been transformed in profound ways during the rule of the Justice and Development Party (JDP), or, as it is also commonly known, the Adalet ve Kalkınma Partisi (AKP). The party, which has roots in the Turkish Islamist movement, first came to power in 2002. Especially since the start of its second term in 2007, the JDP has been mobilizing its followers against the institutions of Turkey’s secular democratic state and, through this, the party has exerted enormous power over the country’s executive, legislative, and the judiciary branches. Moreover, as the party’s popular support and influence has increased through the 2007 and 2011 general elections, it has steadily abandoned its earlier support for Turkey’s European Union (EU) membership process. The party has since begun to reveal its authoritarian tendencies and, by infiltrating Islamists into the state bureaucracy, it also has made efforts to impose Islamist values on Turkish society. Islamic brotherhoods and Islamist businessmen have strengthened their organizational and financial capabilities, while the JDP government has severely curtailed media and academic freedom and acted to redesign Turkey’s education system in ways that promote political Islam.

As the JDP has reshaped Turkey’s domestic politics, it also has reformulated the country’s foreign policy according to its Islamist worldview and conception of the essential “brotherhood” of all Islamic countries. As its power has grown, the JDP has abandoned Turkey’s historically balanced Middle East policy, which had been characterized by a conservative reluctance to involve Turkey in the region’s many conflicts and a clear stance against terrorist groups. Even before the Arab Spring of 2011, the JDP actively pursued “rapprochement” and common ground with the region’s radical forces—including Iran, Syria, Hamas, and Hezbollah. In doing this, the JDP government aimed to establish Turkey as a regional “Muslim” power, and it became a vocal defender of the region’s radical forces against the West and Israel. With the start of the Arab Spring, the JDP has further modified its foreign policy along sectarian lines. It has formally sided with an emerging Sunni Islamist axis, including Gulf states such as Saudi Arabia and Qatar, Egypt when it was under Muslim Brotherhood rule, and Hamas against a Shi’a Islamist axis represented by Iran, Syria, and Hezbollah in Lebanon. As Turkey’s foreign policy has increasingly been defined by Islamist ideology, the common perceptions and strategic interests once shared by Turkey and its former NATO allies have been eroding. Tellingly, Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan stated in February 2013 that EU membership “is not a must for Turkey.”1

As the JDP’s power has grown, various international organizations’ reports have described the general decline of Turkish democracy, including the deterioration of press freedom, human rights, and gender equality. Freedom House, for example, in its 2014 Press Freedom report, downgraded Turkey from “partly free” to “not free” by ranking it 134th out of 197 countries, behind countries such as Nigeria, Lebanon, Tunisia, Kenya, Liberia, Uganda, Algeria, and Kuwait.2 (In 2013, Turkey had been ranked at 120.) Likewise, the Reporters Without Borders’ January 2014 report documented the declining press freedom in Turkey under JDP rule: Turkey’s ranking in worldwide press freedom, which was 116th in 2003,3 declined to 154th out of 179 countries, behind countries such as Qatar, South Sudan, Afghanistan, Zimbabwe, Libya, Democratic Republic of Congo, and Iraq.4 The report additionally observed that Turkey “continues to be the world’s biggest prison for journalists.”5

The Economist Intelligence Unit’s Index of Democracy for the year 2012 defined Turkey as a “hybrid” regime by ranking it 88th out of 167 countries, behind countries such as Bangladesh, Tanzania, Malawi, and Zambia.6 A hybrid regime has the trappings of democracy and holds elections but is in fact authoritarian, with little opportunity to oust the ruling party.7 Meanwhile, the Human Rights Watch’s (HRW) 2014 World Report noted that the JDP “has demonstrated a growing intolerance of political opposition, public protest, and critical media”8 and called Prime Minister Erdoğan’s method of ruling “increasingly autocratic.”9 Likewise, the HRW’s 2012 World Report argued that after winning the general elections for the third term in 2011, the JDP government took increasing steps to abridge rights in Turkey. “The government has not prioritized human rights reforms since 2005,”10 the report stated, adding that the JDP “has restricted freedom of expression, association and assembly with laws that allow authorities to jail its critics for many months or years while they stand trial for alleged terrorism offenses on the basis of flimsy evidence.”11 Furthermore, the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) found that Turkey followed Russia with the greatest number of violations of ECHR standards in 2013 and 2012.12 In 2011, Turkey was in fact the country with the highest number of violations of the ECHR.13

The treatment of women in Turkey is taking a conservative Islamic tilt as well. The World Economic Forum’s 2013 Global Gender Gap Index ranked Turkey 120 out of 136 countries, behind countries such as Jordan, Ethiopia, Kuwait, Zambia, Bahrain, and United Arab Emirates. This represents a further decline from 2006, when Turkey’s ranking was 105.14 The Organization of Economic Cooperation and Development’s (OECD) 2013 report found that Turkey’s 28.7 percent employment rate for women is the lowest among 34 OECD member countries.15 Moreover, the JDP Justice Ministry disclosed in February 2011 that the murder rate of women in Turkey increased by 1,400 percent between 2002 and 2009.16 The rise of violence against women may be a reflection of the greater Islamization in Turkish society. In Islamism, the position of women is secondary given their supposed physical, mental, and moral inferiority vis-à-vis men.17 Prime Minister Erdoğan, while condemning the violence against women, has stated that he does not believe in equality between men and women.18 Moreover, even though the JDP government asserts that it has taken the necessary steps to protect women’s rights in Turkey, the law and law enforcement mechanism in the country continues to be weak.

The Political Rise of the JDP

The JDP’s power has been built around a hierarchically structured and country-wide organizational network, which includes a strong Islamist and religiously conservative constituency that is composed of a wealthy business class, civil society associations, significant media and publishing houses, periodicals, newspapers, and labor unions.19 Diligent party workers distribute material incentives (e.g., coal, food, healthcare, financial assistance, and scholarships) to poorly educated low-income voters in shantytowns and rural areas, and this largesse helps build loyalty to the JDP that has translated into electoral success. The JDP thus has controlled the Grand National Assembly since late 2002. The party has since increased its votes in three consecutive general elections: from 34.3 percent in 2002, to 46.6 percent in 2007, and to 49.8 percent in 2011. In the 2007 general elections, the JDP candidate Abdullah Gül won the presidency of Turkey, and this has enabled the party to exercise unprecedented control over the executive and legislative branches of Turkish government.

During its first term (2002—2007), the JDP sought to portray itself as a pro-Western party of democratization. It downplayed its Islamist roots while it regularly took pro-EU positions and actively courted the support of Europe and the U.S. as it strove to limit the power of Turkey’s staunchly secular state establishment in the military and the judiciary. Importantly, the EU and the West more generally supported the JDP’s effort to reduce the role of the military in Turkish politics, as this was seen as an important step for EU membership.20 In a similar vein, the party pursued a common agenda with Turkish liberals, including the pro-Western businessmen’s association TÜSİAD (the Turkish Industrialists’ and Businessmen’s Association) and the secular-oriented media. As a result of this, many Western analysts regarded the JDP as an essentially democratic party that stood for pluralism and toleration. By extension, Turkey under JDP rule was seen as a model for the Muslim world.

In hindsight, it appears that the party successfully exploited Turkey’s longtime quest for EU membership to advance its own authoritarian agenda. In August 2005, Prime Minister Erdoğan pointed out that his government’s “democratic reforms” came as a result of the EU reform packages and said that the JDP has initiated “a silent revolution” in the country.21 Yet overall, the JDP did not increase democratization. While the JDP effectively diminished the military’s power and political influence, it also increased the power of the police, a force which is now widely seen as loyal to the JDP. While in office, the JDP has increased the total size of the police force,22 which Erdoğan has described as “the assurance of the regime in Turkey.”23

Moreover, in January 2010 the JDP-dominated Parliament Internal Affairs Sub-Commission passed an amendment in the weapons law to allow the Ministries of Internal Affairs and Industry and Commerce to import heavy weapons and equipment such as missiles, tanks, artillery, warplanes, and submarines for the police and the National Intelligence Organization. Before the amendment, the Ministry of Defense had the sole authority to import heavy weapons and only for the military.24 The new law, which entered into force in January 2011, is widely seen as an effort to militarily strengthen the police as a force loyal to the party.25 More recently, Erdoğan has praised the police officers for their “heroic”26 service during the crackdown on the anti-government Gezi Park protests of June 2013. During the crackdown, eight demonstrators died (at least four as a result of police violence), more than 8,000 people were injured, 104 sustained serious head injuries, and 11 people lost an eye as a result of the police’s excessive use of force (e.g., live ammunition, tear gas, water cannon, plastic bullets, and beatings).27

A close examination of the JDP’s first term reveals that it has acquired power by following the political strategy of the failed Islamist political parties that the JDP grew out of. Since its inception, part of the Islamist movement in Turkey has focused on proselytizing an Islamic way of life in the belief that the spread of Islamic piety will lead to an Islamic society and the transformation of the country into an Islamic State. Likewise, the JDP’s strategy has aimed to Islamize society from below.28 It has employed a range of Islamic social networks—foundations, associations, media, dormitories, the Imam-Hatip schools (or prayer-leader and preacher schools),29 private schools, and Quran courses—to establish a strong constituency and to bind together Turkey’s diverse Muslim and Islamist groups. As the JDP’s power has grown, it has increasingly pursued policies that reflect its Islamist agenda. This has included efforts to establish chapels (ibadethane) in each residential building;30 trying to open up year-round Quran courses and their dormitories (which are normally only open during summer months); enabling evening-time Quran courses to provide accommodation and food for children from poor families;31 and making it easier for the graduates of Imam-Hatip religious schools to enroll in all departments of universities.32 Because of heavy criticism from the secular segment of society and the vetoes of the pro-secular President Ahmet Necdet Sezer in 2003 and 2004, the JDP either withdrew its proposals or postponed public deliberation over them to a later date.

The JDP’s actions in the course of its first term raised questions among secular Turks about the party’s intentions. Some thought the party was pursuing a “moderate” Islamist or conservative social agenda, but that politically it was committed to democracy. Other Turks worried that the JDP was instead hiding its Islamist political agenda and that it had embraced the practice of takiyye (a permitted behavior of dissembling or disguise for the sake of promoting the cause of Islam). The JDP would, indeed, have had abundant reason to do this insofar as it wanted to avoid the secular military’s harsh response and the fate of its Islamist predecessors, including the National Order Party (NOP), the National Salvation Party (NSP), the Welfare Party (WP), and the Virtue Party (VP).33 It should be noted that after four years in office, Prime Minister Erdoğan stated, “I have never changed. Islamic ideas do not change.”34 Now that the party’s power has grown, and it has successfully limited the military’s political influence, it is freer to purse an agenda that is overtly more Islamist.

The JDP Mobilizes Against the Secular-Democratic State

After its electoral victory in the 2007 general elections, the JDP abandoned its policy of seeking consensus and common agenda with Turkish liberals. The JDP-dominated parliament’s election of former JDP foreign minister Abdullah Gül as president in August 200735 gave the party greater power and allowed it to mobilize the Islamist social movement. Unlike his pro-secular predecessor President Sezer,36 Gül approved most of the JDP’s bills and the party’s appointments of high-ranking bureaucrats into key state institutions.37 Thus, in the course of Gül’s presidency, the JDP has appointed a growing number of Imam-Hatip graduates and Islamic brotherhood members as high-ranking civil servants in public administration.38

With the legislative and executive branches under its control, the JDP started to increase pressure on the judiciary,39 universities, and the press. In December 2007, following President Gül’s approval, the JDP amended the Law on Judges and Prosecutors, which required that all judicial candidates be interviewed by the Ministry of Justice.40 Thus, the party created new opportunities for forming a pro-JDP cadre inside the judiciary. During the first eight years of JDP rule, more than 4,000 young lawyers and prosecutors sympathetic to the party’s policies became judges.41 Meanwhile, President Gül appointed Yusuf Ziya Özcan, a professor viewed in secular circles as pro-JDP, as chair of the Higher Education Board—an institution that controls all universities in Turkey.42 The new chairman created a pro-JDP cadre at the board.43 The JDP also created new opportunities for Islamist media to wield greater influence. For example, the JDP used legal means to transfer the country’s second largest media conglomerate to a pro-JDP businessman.

As JDP’s actions and policies continued to strengthen the Islamist movement, the chief public prosecutor of the Supreme Court of Appeals filed a case with the Constitutional Court in March 2008. The case expressly asked the court to outlaw the party for being “a center of anti-secular activities” and to ban 71 party members from politics for five years.45 The initiative did not win the support of an important segment of the Turkish public,46 the U.S., or the EU. In July 2008, the Constitutional Court declared that the JDP was, in fact, a center of anti-secular activities, but the court issued a judicial warning and a financial penalty instead of outlawing the party.

Meanwhile, the JDP allied with the followers of the Fetullah Gülen congregation47 in the police, judiciary, and the media. The group’s leader is a self-exiled Turkish imam in the U.S. who is said to have at least one million followers in Turkey. After it allied with the followers of the Gülen congregation, the JDP used a controversial court case called Ergenekon to suppress its pro-secular critics. The Ergenekon case is based on an allegation that a large number of people conspired to launch a violent coup against the JDP government. The alleged conspirators included an array of nationalist-oriented organized crime bosses, intelligence officers, retired generals, military officers, journalists, university presidents, professors, politicians, businessmen, civil society association members, and artists. Ergenekon suspects were arrested (and some were detained) without an indictment. Authorities interrogated them based on their private phone conversations, which the police had wiretapped. The arrests of several prominent secular-oriented JDP critics in the course of the Ergenekon investigation raised suspicions that the JDP government was trying to suppress its pro-secular critics by arresting and detaining them together with possible real criminals.48

In the course of the investigation, it was disclosed that the JDP government was making widespread use of wiretaps, and this became a contentious issue in Turkish politics. In June 2008, it became clear that the Ankara Heavy Criminal Court had authorized the police in April 2007 to wiretap all citizens’ phone and e-mail conversations throughout the country.49 Even the judiciary was not immune from the wiretapping. In November 2009, it was revealed that the wiretaps involved phones of 56 judges and prosecutors, including the chief prosecutors of Istanbul and Ankara and the central phones of the Council of State, the Supreme Court of Appeals, and a number of court houses.50 Even though no evidence was found suggesting that the wiretapped judges and prosecutors were linked to the alleged Ergenekon terror organization,51 the JDP government used the Justice Ministry, the Telecommunications Directorate, and the police to intimidate an important segment of the judiciary.52 Meanwhile, the JDP continued to curtail press freedom in Turkey. Those journalists who criticized the JDP government’s policies were detained as suspects of the Ergenekon terror organization or they were fired from their posts as newspaper owners bowed to government pressure.53

By the Winter of 2010, the scope of the Ergenekon investigation with respect to the military had widened. In February 2010, a number of retired and serving military officers were arrested and detained, this time within the framework of the so-called “Sledgehammer” (Balyoz) investigation, which is based on the allegation that current and retired generals and military officers tried to initiate a violent coup against the JDP government. The Sledgehammer case was later combined with a branch of the Ergenekon case.54 The JDP successfully used both cases to mobilize its base and public opinion against the secular military. Indeed, a January 2010 public opinion poll conducted by the Istanbul-based A&G research firm revealed the drastic decline in Turkish society’s trust in the military from around 90 percent in 2008 to 63.4 percent—a historic low—following the Ergenekon investigation.55 Thus, the secular military, the Islamist movement’s main adversary, no longer enjoyed its former popularity among the Turkish public.

Yet, according to The Washington Post in March 2011, much of the evidence that the prosecutors pursuing the Ergenekon investigation relied on looked “flimsy and even fabricated.”56 The Human Rights Watch’s 2012 report made similar arguments about the case.57 In addition, Turkish, U.S., and German forensic experts concluded that the digital evidence on a number of CDs in the Sledgehammer case was forged.58 For example, the Sledgehammer indictment asserts that the documents on the CDs were prepared in 2003 to plot a coup against the JDP government.59 However, those documents were prepared using the Calibri font—a typeface that Microsoft did not release until 2007.60 Despite this evidence that the CDs were fabricated, in September 2012 a Turkish court sentenced more than 300 current and retired generals and military officers to prison terms between 16 and 20 years in the Sledgehammer case. Later, in an August 2013 ruling in the Ergenekon case, a Turkish court sentenced 275 journalists, academicians, politicians, and high-ranking retired generals to hundreds of years of imprisonment in total and several aggravated life sentences.61 In October 2013, the Supreme Court of Appeals approved the convictions of 237 suspects in the Sledgehammer case and called for the re-trial of 88 convicted suspects.62 Meantime, the Ergenekon case has been awaiting for the Supreme Court of Appeals’ approval.

The September 2010 referendum on the JDP’s constitutional amendment package—which 58 percent of the Turkish electorate has approved of—further increased the JDP-dominated executive and legislative branches’ power over the secular judiciary.63 While the voter turnout in the referendum was a high 78 percent, polls suggested that nearly half of the electorate could not name a single amendment.64 The JDP’s distribution of economic incentives particularly to poor urban voters has played a significant role in the party’s success.65 Following the referendum, the size of the Supreme Board of Judges and Prosecutors (SBJP) and the Constitutional Court was increased—from 7 to 22 and from 11 to 17, respectively—and President Gül and the JDP-dominated parliament appointed pro-JDP personnel to these institutions.66

In the October 2010 SBJP elections, 11,000 judges and prosecutors voted for all 16 of the Justice Ministry-supported candidates—another major victory for the JDP.67 The ministry’s official representation on the board increased from two to five.68 In November 2010, the new SBJP promptly approved the Justice Ministry’s annual appointment list of 190 high-ranking judges and prosecutors.69 And in December 2010, the SBJP elected chairmanships for its three chambers, which regulate promotions, appointments, duties of serving judges and prosecutors, their expulsions, and admission of new judges and prosecutors to the profession. Three Justice Ministry-supported SBJP members were also elected as the chamber chairs.70 In the winter of 2011, the JDP continued to restructure the high judiciary. In February 2011, the JDP-dominated parliament passed a new regulation to increase the number of members of the Supreme Court of Appeals and the Council of State: The Supreme Court of Appeals’ membership increased from 250 to 387 and that of the Council of State from 95 to 156.71 The JDP maintained its policy of increasing its control over the high judiciary by appointing pro-JDP people.72

Meanwhile, the JDP began to use its growing power to impose Islamic values on Turkish society. In January 2011, the party introduced a new regulation that severely restricted the consumption, sale, and advertisement of alcohol,73 while Erdoğan implicitly called Turkey’s first and second presidents, Mustafa Kemal Atatürk and Ismet Inönü, “drunken lawmakers.”74 The new regulation officially came into force in September 2013. In March 2011, the Directorate of Religious Affairs launched the new so-called “family imam” project. Along with other religious officials including the Mufti of particular regions, the imams would pay visits to citizens’ homes to listen to their problems, provide advice on resolving them, and warn the society at-large about the harms of using alcohol, cigarettes, and drugs. As the imams traveled from neighborhood to neighborhood, they would collect information about the residents and help distribute assistance to the needy.75 This practice has helped to grow the party’s core constituency among Turkey’s middle and lower classes.

The fact that the Directorate of Religious Affairs represents only the Sunni sect of Islam makes the JDP’s family imam outreach particularly problematic from the perspective of pluralism and the democratic principle that the state should treat all citizens as equals—including Turkey’s Alevis, non-Muslim minorities, and nonbelievers. Nonetheless, as the JDP leaders opened up new opportunities for the Islamist mobilization across society, Islamists in the state bureaucracy,76 some other JDP officials,77 and Hezbollah members78 all followed suit. Today, the JDP’s policy initiatives are having their intended effect. A comprehensive survey by Professor Binnaz Toprak between December 2007 and July 2008 revealed that secular-oriented Turks felt they were under increasing JDP-backed Islamist pressure to conform. Secular Turks have faced increasing discrimination in their daily lives and workplaces from both Islamists in the bureaucracy and the brotherhoods that have become empowered under JDP rule.79 The effects of this in Turkish society have become evident. A February 2011 report by Istanbul-based Bilgi University entitled “Discrimination Based on Religion and Faith in Turkey” found that many victims of religious discrimination have bowed to Islamist pressure and opted for changing their life-styles.80

In August 2010, the government revised the National Security Policy Paper (NSPP) and removed Islamist “reactionism” or fundamentalism from the list of threats. Before the revisions by the Interior Ministry, Foreign Ministry, General Staff, and National Intelligence Organization, Islamist reactionism had been on the list of crucial domestic threats to the secular-democratic Turkish state. The new NSPP defined the Kurdish separatist PKK terrorism as the foremost domestic threat to the Turkish state.81

In January 2011, the Supreme Court of Appeals released from prison a number of high-ranking Hezbollah members along with some PKK members and other notorious criminals on the ground that the court did not approve the lower courts’ rulings on time.82 This occurred because of an amendment in the Turkish penal code known as the Code of Criminal Procedure.83 This amendment limited the imprisonment period without a conviction to 10 years unless the Supreme Court of Appeals approved lower courts’ rulings by that time.84 After their release, it was discovered that the Hezbollah members had actually been directing the terrorist organization by using the Internet from the Diyarbakır prison.85 Almost all members subsequently fled Turkey.86 Even though some of the released members were detained again, all were released from various prisons in October 2011.87 Later, in January 2012, published a seventeen-page manifesto demanding more political and cultural rights for Kurds in eastern and southeastern areas of Turkey.88 The demands included autonomy, independence, and the use of Kurdish as an official language. By the end of the year, had formed a political party called the “Free Cause Party” or “Hüda-Par.”89 It seems that the JDP regards the Hüda-Par as yet another means to Islamize the Kurds in the eastern and southeastern areas of Turkey and thus, it regards the party as a counterbalancing force against Kurdish PKK (the Kurdish Workers’ Party, also known as Kongra-Gel) separatism and terrorism.

The 2011 General Elections and Its Aftermath

The 2011 general elections, which were a tremendous victory for the JDP,90 forced the tension between the secular military and the party to come to a head. In late July 2011, the Chief of the General Staff and commanders of the Land Forces, Air Forces, and Navy resigned from their posts to protest detentions of 250 generals and military officers as part of the Sledgehammer investigation. The detained generals and military officers were awaiting promotion at the High Military Council’s annual meeting, held between the military and government representatives. Prime Minister Erdoğan rejected the promotions. The military high command’s resignation created an unprecedented opportunity for the JDP to appoint generals that it trusted, thus consolidating the party’s control over the military. Erdoğan promptly appointed Commander of Gendarme Forces General Necdet Özel, who remained in office as the highest ranking commander, as the new chief of the General Staff. The pro-JDP Islamist media portrayed the general positively.91

During its third term in power, the JDP has focused on changing the education system in ways that favor the Islamist movement. In February 2012, Erdoğan stated that his government initiated a “silent revolution” in Turkey, and he called for raising a “religious and revengeful youth.”92 Despite the protests of both center-left and center-right secular segments of Turkish society,93 in March 2012, the JDP-dominated parliament amended the mandatory education system to favor the Islamist mobilization. Among other things, it reopened the Imam-Hatip schools, the religious secondary schools that had been closed by the secularist government following the soft military coup of 1997 in what came to be known as the “February 28 Process.”94 In the aftermath of the coup, the military released a report to the press arguing that there was a correlation between the rising number of the electorate graduating from the Imam-Hatip schools and the increase in the Islamist Welfare Party’s votes. In order to curb the Islamist movement, the military had initiated an education reform bill designed to reduce the number of these schools.95

The JDP’s education bill introduced a mandatory 12-year education that would be divided into three layers: four years of primary school, four years of secondary (middle) school, and four years of high school. The bill not only kept the mandatory teaching of the religion curriculum, but also introduced two additional elective religion courses—the Quran and the Life of Our Prophet, His Majesty. Following the vote, Prime Minister Erdoğan declared that “the last trace of the February 28 process has been erased.”96 Moreover, a JDP parliamentarian stated in August 2012 that following the new education bill, the government had the chance to make all schools in the country follow the model and curriculum of the Imam-Hatip schools.97 Furthermore, in September 2012, the JDP announced that it has been working on a regulation allowing Imam-Hatip graduates’ admission to the military academies.98 Subsequently, the General Staff announced that it did not have the authority to reject the JDP’s draft regulation.99

In the spring and summer of 2012, the JDP took further steps to roll back the freedoms that the liberal segment of Turkish society has come to take for granted. Women’s rights were a central focus. Prime Minister Erdoğan, who has said that women in Turkey should have at least three children, called abortion “murder.”100 In May 2012, the JDP government prepared a draft law whose stated goals was to increase fertility across the country. The draft law aims to restrict women’s rights by imposing an abortion ban after the fourth week of pregnancy (including in cases of rape and incest) while severely restricting Caesarean births (which the prime minister has described as an “unnatural” procedure.)101

The JDP has also sought to impose religious obligations on other parts of society. In the cultural sphere, for example, the JDP curtailed the freedom of the arts by controlling theatres’ repertories, starting with Istanbul municipality-owned city theatres.102 The JDP moreover announced that each theatre and opera house would have a small mosque (mescit).103
In higher education, the JDP ordered that with the assistance of the Directorate of Religious Affairs, each university should have a mosque on its campus.104 The JDP banned the public’s celebration of national holidays, including the republic’s foundation day. It erased the “Turkish Republic” from official buildings and tried to intimidate citizens who protested the JDP’s policies by sending the riot police to disperse demonstrators.

The JDP’s efforts to replace the secular-democratic principles of the Turkish state with its conservative interpretation of Islam finally resulted in mass anti-government demonstrations throughout Turkey. These demonstrations have collectively come to be identified with the Gezi Park protests. On May 31, 2013, people from all walks of life spontaneously gathered together throughout the country to protest the JDP government’s authoritarian policies and the police’s excessive use of force against peaceful protesters.105 Protesters included liberals, pro-seculars, conservatives, center-leftists, center-rightists, leftists, anti-capitalist Islamists, Turkish nationalists, Alevis, white-collar professionals, workers, and students. The Gezi Park protests revealed the deep polarization that now exists in society, mainly liberals and pro-seculars versus Islamists and urban and rural poor, who receive JDP incentives. Despite the mass protests, Prime Minister Erdoğan managed to consolidate his power.

By the fall of 2013, the JDP had silenced its pro-secular rivals in the state establishment and mobilized against its former ally, the Gülen congregation. A considerable portion of private test preparation schools, which prepare students for university entrance exams, are financed and run by followers of the Gülen congregation. It uses these schools as social networks for recruiting new young members to the congregation.106 To weaken the Gülen congregation’s organizational and financial power, the JDP prepared an education bill intended to close down these schools. In March 2014, the JDP-dominated parliament passed the bill, which requires the closure of these schools by September 2015,107 and President Gül approved it.108

In mid-December 2013, on the eve of the March 2014 local elections, the Gülen congregation mobilized its followers in the police and judiciary (some of whom played crucial roles during the Ergenekon and Sledgehammer investigations) against Erdoğan’s close circle by conducting a corruption probe in mid-December 2013. The police detained around 60 people on charges of money laundering, gold smuggling, and bribery. They included sons of the minister of interior, the economy minister, the environment and urban planning minister, the chair of a public bank,109 several bureaucrats, and high-profile businessmen. In May 2014, an Istanbul prosecutor dismissed charges against the suspects.110 While denying his involvement in the investigation, Gülen called on his followers to vote for the second party after the JDP in each district, that is, either the center-left Republican People’s Party (RPP) or the Turkish nationalist Nationalist Action Party (NAP).

Prime Minister Erdoğan dismissed the corruption allegations as part of an international conspiracy involving the Gülen congregation to overthrow his government.111 He called the congregation a “state within a state.”112 And Erdoğan declared his government would eradicate the “parallel structure” in the state.113 The JDP then removed the investigation’s lead prosecutors and thousands of police officers. It banned Twitter and YouTube for airing recordings that support corruption claims against the prime minister, his children, and various cabinet ministers.114 It increased government control over the judiciary by introducing a new judiciary bill, which President Gül approved in February 2014.115 The new judiciary law gave the justice minister, who already chairs the SBJP, more direct control over the board and a stronger role in its decision-making. Critics argued that the government could have undue influence over judges and prosecutors because of its power to discipline or reassign them. The new law also gave the justice minister the power to authorize the investigation of council members for misconduct and disciplinary matters.116 In April 2014, the Constitutional Court overturned the judiciary law.117

Despite the corruption scandal and mass protests, the JDP secured 45.43 percent of the vote in the March local elections in provincial councils, which was followed by the NAP with 20.71 percent and the RPP with 16.87 percent. The JDP’s vote in large city municipal elections is 45.54 percent, which is followed by the RPP’s 31.04 percent and the NAP’s 13.65 percent. During his election campaign, Prime Minister Erdoğan turned the elections into a referendum on himself and his government.118 The March 2014 local elections showed that an important segment of the Turkish electorate continues to regard the JDP as representing “financial stability and competent management.”119 “They may steal but they also get things done” is a common argument among JDP supporters.120

A January 2014 poll by the Istanbul-based KONDA research firm found that 77 percent of Turkish citizens believe in the corruption scandal. Although almost half of the JDP voters agree, they will continue to vote for the party.121 Indeed, an April 2014 poll by the Istanbul-based Ipsos polling firm found that the corruption scandal persuaded only 4.6 percent of the JDP’s voters to switch sides. The poll indicated that for 75 percent of JDP voters, the corruption allegations had no effect on their voting preference, while 20.1 percent said they have become more attached to the JDP. Eighty-four percent of JDP voters stated that they voted for the party because of the party’s leader and the party’s services. The poll showed that claims of the Gülen congregation’s infiltration into the state bureaucracy persuaded only 4.4 percent of the JDP voters to switch sides.122

The JDP’s success in the elections seems to have emboldened Erdoğan to run for president in the August 2014 election.123 Meanwhile, the JDP maintains its policy of increasing its control over the Turkish state and society. In April, the JDP-dominated parliament passed a bill enabling the National Intelligence Organization (NOP) to demand without a court order any data deemed threatening to national security. This covers individual Web browsing activity, email and text messages, and company sales records.124

The JDP has won the support of an important segment of the Turkish electorate mainly by providing services to the urban and rural poor and by maintaining robust economic growth, reaching an annual rate of nine percent in 2010 and 2011, thanks to the flow of foreign capital into Turkey during the last decade. (It is interesting to note the capital flows into Turkish economy from unidentified sources, which was $4.8 billion in January 2014 and $10 billion in September 2013.125) Turkish citizens have enjoyed a threefold increase in the country’s GDP and per capita income since 2003.126 Whether the JDP will be able to maintain this success is questionable given that much of the economic growth came from consumer spending (70 percent of GDP) based on credit.127

Over the past decade, the JDP used incoming foreign capital to spend on consumer goods and construction instead of on new businesses that would support lasting growth. Even though Turkey’s $800 billion economy is among the 20 biggest in the world, the IMF recently warned that “it is not built on a sustainable model and remains too vulnerable to dangers outside its borders.”128 Likewise, Standard & Poor’s noted that “the boom in consumer credit had become a serious risk for Turkish leaders.”129 Indeed, following the U.S. Federal Reserve’s announcement of a scale back in its stimulus program in May 2013, foreign investors were reluctant to lend to emerging markets such as Turkey, and the Turkish lira lost a quarter of its value as a result. Turkey, which has one of the biggest current-account deficits in the world—7.9 percent of GDP in 2013—was particularly vulnerable.130 By way of comparison, the current account deficit of South Africa is 5.3 percent of GDP, Brazil is 3.6 percent of GDP, Indonesia is 3.3 percent of GDP, and India is 2.6 of GDP.131

Moreover, consumer debt in Turkey, which is about $131 billion, equals 55 percent of household disposable income, while debt by the Turkish private sector totals more than 60 percent of GDP (one of the highest among developing countries). Inflation runs at more than 7 percent.132 Among 14 developing countries, Turkey has the lowest savings rate: 12.6 percent of its GDP, compared with an average of 33.5 percent.133 Thus, Fadi Hakura, associate fellow at the Chatham House, convincingly argues that “Turkey is in a vicious circle: economic growth drives investment needs that cannot be satisfied by domestic savings, which causes addiction to fickle and footloose speculative financial flows (‘hot money’) to finance its CAD”134 [current account deficit].

So long as the JDP is able to maintain its policy of distributing material benefits to the urban and rural poor without taxing to pay for them, then the party is likely to preserve and even increase its voter base in the 2014 presidential and 2015 general elections. Yet, as the nationwide Gezi Park protests have showed, even if the JDP wins elections for the fourth time, growing polarization within society may prevent the party--and the nation--from maintaining the stability it has enjoyed for more than a decade. Indeed, Turkish citizens have become increasingly polarized and divided by the JDP’s Islamist agenda—with liberals and pro-seculars versus Islamists and the urban and rural poor who receive JDP’s material benefits and incentives; Alevis versus Sunnis; and Turks versus Kurds. Prime Minister Erdoğan regards Sunni Islamism as the common bond of Turkish society. Having secured half of the Turkish electorate’s support over the past decade, he has been successfully pursuing the strategy of polarization by using the rhetoric of “us” (pro-JDP voters) versus “them” (the others). By doing this, the JDP leadership forms unity among the JDP electorate and mobilizes it to vote for the party in the elections. In August 2014, the Turkish electorate will directly elect their president for the first time. If he wins, Prime Minister Erdoğan aims to strengthen the office of the presidency. If the JDP succeeds at this, it will further erode the already weakened separation of powers in Turkey and will likely take the country toward greater autocracy and greater instability. As such, Turkey may become yet another zone of instability in the conflict-ridden Middle East.