Turkey’s Troubles Continue as Elections Loom

    Rusen Cakır

    Security, Middle East

    Supporters of Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan wave national flags during a rally for the upcoming referendum in Konya, Turkey, April 14, 2017. REUTERS/Umit Bektas

    The election will not only determine the fate of Erdogan but also the future of religious communities who are betting their future on him.

    Every time there is a Turkish election, journalists who work on Islamic groups and movements like me are asked the question “which Islamic community supports which party?” This is a difficult question to answer since Islamic communities were banned shortly after the foundation of the Turkish Republic in 1923. They remained underground until the start of the multi-party system in 1946 when they gained more political legitimacy despite being still considered illegal. And, over the years, their illegal status became a convenient tool to deflect calls for “transparency” regarding these groups’ activities in the areas of education, healthcare, media, tourism, and many other fields.

    Most of these Islamic groups followed politics very closely and kept in close contact with political parties. This allowed not only their survival as a religious community but also enabled them to benefit from government patronage and services. Yet, a certain level of duplicity was still ingrained in the leadership and public face of these Islamic communities. They tried to outbid each other with claims of being above politics despite their willingness to cut political deals behind closed doors.

    But today we observe an entirely different situation before the double (parliamentary and presidential) elections of June 24, 2018. For example, Turkey’s most powerful Sufi movement, Naksibendis, openly declared its unconditional support for Recep Tayyip Erdoğan and his Justice and Development Party (AKP) in the presidential and parliamentary elections. This also included Naksibendis’ the three branches based in the Erenkoy, Menzil and Ismail Agha communities. Furthermore, smaller religious communities followed suit in with one exception—the Yeni Asya community. The Yeni Asya is one of the prominent branches of the Nurcu Movement, which has instead declared support for the opposition.

    These declarations illustrate that the nature of the relationship between Islamic communities and Erdoğan’s AKP is change. The AKP has been in power for the past sixteen years and there is no longer a pretense of distance or impartiality. Instead, there is a pronouncement of organic association and loyalty between the Islamic communities and the AKP. This is a risky move for civil society movements which normally should maintain some level of independence from the government.

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