The paradoxes of ‘new’ Turkey: Islam, illiberal democracy and republicanism

First published in International Affairs, 93: 4, 1 July 2017, Chatham House, London.

Turkey is in turmoil. It was the first Muslim country to engage with European modernity and transformed itself from the Ottoman Empire into a secular nationstate at the beginning of the twentieth century. Modern Turkey has been at the centre of debates concerned with the future of liberal societies, secularism, democracy and economic development in an Islamic context. When the pro-Islamic Justice and Development Party (Adalet ve Kalkinma Partisi or AKP) first came to power in 2002, Turkey was described as a shining example of ‘the only Muslim democracy’ in the Middle East.1 The party has remained in power since then. The ‘new’ Turkey under AKP rule has missed a historic opportunity to prove that liberal democracy could work in a Muslim country.2 On 16 April 2017, the majority of people (51.4 per cent) voted ‘yes’ in a public referendum to change Turkey’s political system from a parliamentary democracy to an executive presidency (Cumhurbaşkanlığı sistemi). The ‘democratically’ approved change of political system and the new constitution strengthens the presidency of Recep Tayyip Erdoğan by extending his powers. In fact, this final stage of a ‘regime change’ has plunged Turkey into turmoil.

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